Saint Augustine on martyrs

We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers.  Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.

No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.”  No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs.  We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.

So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us.  We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle.  We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.

But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone.  The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshippers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel.  If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.

The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas.  When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.

Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another.  There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.

(Lib. 20, 21: CSEL 25, 562-563) – Taken from Office of Reading for the memorial of Pope Saint Damasus I

What we can clearly see is the Church’s understanding of the communion of saints, celebrating the memory of the saints and asking for their intersession.  That this practice and teaching were there from the beginning of Christianity is undisputed.

Notes on The Mystery of Predestination

God, by His Eternal Resolve of Will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness. (De fide) (FCD Pg 242)

Biblical Basis:

(Rom 8:29 – 30) 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The Problem:

If Predestination is conceived as Predestination to glory alone, then the question arises whether the Predestination to eternal bliss occurs by reason of the foreseen supernatural merits of man (post praevisa merita) or without consideration of them (ante praevisa merita).  According to the former view, the Devine Resolve of Predestination is conditioned (hypothetical) according to the latter, it is unconditional (absolute). (FCD P243 2.a)

Two views to solve the problem:

Thomist View (absolute Predestination)
God freely resolves to bestow grace on those Predestined to eternal glory without consideration of the merits of man. (Rom 8:29, Rom 9:11-13,  Rom 9:20)

Molinist View (conditioned Predestination)
God sees beforehand how men would freely react to various orders of grace. In the light of this knowledge He chooses, according to His free pleasure a fixed and definite order of grace.  He elects for eternal bliss those who by virtue of their foreseen merits perseveringly cooperate with grace.  Molinists invoke passaged which stress the universality of the Devine desire for salvation. (1 Tim 2:4)

Properties of Predestination:

Immutability
God knows and determines with infallible certainty in advance, how many and which man will be saved.  What the number of the predestined is, God alone knows. (FCD 244 3a)

Uncertainty
The Council of Trent declared against Calvin, that certainty in regard to one’s predestination can be attained by special Revelation only. Holy Scripture enjoins man to work out his salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). He who imagines that he will stand should take care lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). In spite of this uncertainty there are signs of Predetermination (signa praedestinationis) which indicate a high probability of one’s predestination, e.g., a persevering practice of the virtues recommended in the Eight Beatitudes, frequent reception of Holy Communion, active love of one’s neighbour, love for Christ and for the Church, veneration of the Mother of God. (FCD 244 3b)

From the 6th session of the Council of Trent:

CHAPTER 12
Rash Presumption of Predestination is to be avoided
No one, moreover, so long as he lives this mortal life, ought in regard to the sacred mystery of divine predestination, so far presume as to state with absolute certainty that he is among the number of the predestined, as if it were true that the one justified either cannot sin any more, or, if he does sin, that he ought to promise himself an assured repentance.

For except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen to Himself.

Related Canons:
Canon 15.
If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema.

Canon 16.
If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema.

Canon 23.
If anyone says that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or on the contrary, that he can during his whole life avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin, let him be anathema.

CHAPTER 13
The Gift of Perseverance
Similarly with regard to the gift of perseverance, of which it is written: He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved, (Matt 10:22; 24:13) which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands,(Rom 14:4) that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls, let no one promise himself herein something as certain with an absolute certainty, though all ought to place and repose the firmest hope in God’s help. For God, unless men themselves fail in His grace, as he has begun a good work, so will he perfect it, working to will and to accomplish. (Phil 2:13; Canon 22) Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall,(1 Cor 10:12) and with fear and trembling work out their salvation,(Phil 2:12) in labors, in watchings, in almsdeeds, in prayer, in fastings and chastity. (cf 2 Cor 6:3 ff) For knowing that they are born again unto the hope of glory,(cf Pet 1:3) and not as yet unto glory, they ought to fear for the combat that yet remains with the flesh, with the world and with the devil, in which they cannot be victorious unless they be with the grace of God obedient to the Apostle who says: We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die, but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.(Rom 8:12 ff)

Related Canons:
Canon 22.
If anyone says that the one justified either can without the special help of God persevere in the justice received, or that with that help he cannot, let him be anathema.

Errors:
There are several errors that arise from an incorrect view of predestination.  One is that of Pelagians.  Pelagians teach that men can obtain salvation without the aid of God’s grace. The other error is that of Calvinists and Jansenists.  They teach that Christ died only for the elect and the rest God predestined to eternal damnation.  They further teach that once one is saved one cannot lose their salvation contrary to the scriptures.  They also teach that if God choses you for damnation then you cannot do anything about it.  Pelagians say that God has nothing to do with salvation.  Calvinists and Jansenists say that man has nothing to do with salvation.  Both are contrary to apostolic tradition, scriptures, magisterium of the Church and common sense.

Spe Salvi – Purgatory

pope-benedict-1-sizedOne of my favourite passages from Spe Salvi encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. Here he speaks about purgatory.

46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ[39]. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too[40]. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.