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Catholic Christianity Part 1- Theology (What Catholics Believe)


Chapter 1: Faith

So “[f]aith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God” (CCC 150). But “[a]t the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (175).

First lesson seems to be that faith, at least as defined by the Catechism, is not defined as unwarranted or evidenceless belief. According to Kreeft, faith is really just trust in God, or an assent to what God teaches. This can be based on evidence, not just reason, but also supernatural revelation.

What the Church teaches, and summarizes in her creeds, was not invented by the Church. It was handed down to her from Jesus Christ, God in the flesh (179).

Most Protestants reject all the Catholic doctrines they cannot find explicitly in Scripture—for example, Mary’s Assumption into heaven—because they believe sola scriptura: that Scripture alone is the infallible authority. This is the fundamental reason behind all the differences between Protestant and Catholic theology (217).

Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the living Magisterium of the Church, when it defines dogma, are all infallible (preserved from error), certain (for God can neither deceive nor be deceived), and authoritative (binding in conscience) (253).

The Church condemns coercion in religion: “Nobody may be ‘forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public’ ” (262).

Interesting how the Church condemns coercion in religion. What if my conscience is pro-abortion? How about the conscience of atheism? Weren’t people historically forced to change their beliefs?

Only if we believe will we see “the splendor of truth” (Veritatis Splendor). For only when we marry someone do we fully know that person, and only when we accept God’s proposal of spiritual marriage, by faith, will we know the ultimate truth, who is a Person, personally (272).

Non-Catholics who, through no fault of their own, do not believe that the Catholic faith is true can still be saved by the faith in their hearts that leads them to love and seek God. For Christ promised that “he who seeks finds” (Mt 7:8). So while correct belief without faith cannot save anyone, faith without correct belief can (295).

No one can truly say, “I want to believe, but God just hasn’t given me the gift of faith yet, so it’s his fault, not mine, that I’m an unbeliever” (305).

Faith can never contradict reason, when reason is properly used, though faith goes beyond reason. As a result of divine revelation, the Catholic faith tells us many things human reason could never have discovered by itself. But faith and reason are both roads to truth, and truth never contradicts truth (362).

To me, the idea of infallibility, or the idea of believing first, then understanding seems to contradict reason. Assenting to supernatural beliefs based solely on authority seems to contradict reason too. Why not have some tests where faith reveals something we can later find through reason, then we can look and see if faith was correct?

Not only does faith not contradict reason, but reason leads to faith, discovers clues to faith, good reasons for faith. These include: a. the power of the Gospels, and of the figure of Christ met there, to move readers’ souls; b. Christ’s miracles, which continue today in various places throughout the world; c. fulfilled prophecies (Christ in the Gospels fulfilled hundreds of specific Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah); d. the history of the Church: (375).

If this is the case, then it seems strange that we can instead predict a person being Catholic almost totally by whether their parents were Catholic. Among converts, they’ll almost always be the closely related Protestants. Unless Catholics just happened to have all the reasonable kids, this claim is implausible.

The Catholic faith is certain. “It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie” (389).

Except you need to establish that there is a God who cannot lie with perfect certainty. This seems implausible.

(CCC 157). The objective (in itself) certainty of God’s revelation does not depend on the subjective (in our minds) certitude of our feelings or reasons. The object of faith is not anything in ourselves; it is God (390).

God also tests our faith by remaining invisible, so that we must believe him instead of seeing him. He could manifest himself in constant miraculous displays, but he does not do so, for our sake. For more “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (416).

Ad hoc hypothesis. Could be used to explain any level of miracles, or any lack thereof.

No one “loses” his faith, as he loses his watch. Faith is never lost against our will, any more than it is chosen against our will. We choose to believe, and we choose not to believe (424).

This also seems to contradict the experiences of those who value their faith, but find it so deeply unreasonable. I suppose a Catholic could call them liars or deluded, which seems a bitter pill to swallow, but could be true. My own personal experience is a gradual loss of belief. . . not really a force of will, but a slow loss due to lack of evidence, or evidence to the contrary. Kreeft would say that I chose not to believe, which seems implausible from my perspective.

Chapter 2: God

all men by nature know something about God. Scripture itself says so: “His invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). We know God instinctively. Children and primitive peoples never begin as atheists (503).

Not sure this is precisely true. I think that something like supernatural agentic beings are pretty intuitive and universal, but I don’t think that an invisible, super powerful, all good creator of everything is inherent in all people and cultures. Thing Roman Gods or Chinese atheistic buddhism/ancestor worship.

Not even moral sceptics and relativists think it is morally good to disobey your own conscience deliberately (520).

I can think of some exceptions. I don’t trust peoples’ consciences when it is anti-interracial marriage. That makes me question the infallibility of my own conscience. I strive to inform my moral intuitions with facts and reason.

God gave his Church the authority and infallibility that is fitting for God’s own instrument; anything less would have been unworthy of the honor of God and inadequate to the needs of fallen man (551).

the reason for the doctrine of the Trinity is similar to the reason for Einstein’s theory of relativity or any other good scientific theory: it alone explains all the data (649).

The reason God is a Trinity is because God is love. Love requires twoness, in fact threeness: the lover, the beloved, and the act, or relationship, of love between them (667).

This seems a little forced. If God is love, then God could solely be the act- unless the lover is also love, and the beloved is also love. One could easily say that just the action is “love.” I think this is somewhat sloppy philosophy, but I can see how it can be convincing to some.

Because God is love, love is the supreme value. Because love is the supreme value, it is the meaning of our lives, for we are created in God’s image (670).

reason cannot disprove this doctrine either. It is not logically self-contradictory. It says that God is one in nature and three in Persons, but it does not say that God is both one Person and three Persons, or one nature and three natures. That would be a meaningless self-contradiction (684).

If by disprove we mean render impossible, then I suppose so. But reason could render the trinity wildly implausible. The existence of a single nature, tri-person has no precedent, and appears completely foreign to almost anything we have experienced. I would consider it to have a negligible prior probability. What else has one nature and three persons?

Chapter 3: Creation

Fewer than 1 percent of all men who have ever lived have been atheists. To be an atheist you must be an elitist and believe that there was nothing but a fantasy and an illusion at the very center of the lives of over 99 percent of all men and women in history (700).

I think this unfairly stacks the rhetorical deck against atheists. There are plenty of things that historically have been common beliefs, but that the modern world has moved past (or should move past). Earth going around the sun, racism, sexism, naive physics (inertia), naive biology (eyes radiate sight rays to see). Maybe there are better examples, but I think most of these were common if not universal historically, and now we have changed our minds, an act that I don’t think is elitist. Also, Christianity was once a minority. At some point, 99% of humans had been non-Christians. Does this mean that the first Christians were elitist?

we are a part of the universe (in fact, the highest, most recent, most complex, and most intelligent part, according to both Scripture and the theory of evolution) (790).

I’m not sure that all of these follow. Evolution goes against us being the “highest.” We are the most recent, along with modern bacteria, frogs, and other apes. Most complex? Not really. Most intelligent? I think so, although I don’t know if that is an evolutionary finding.

c. If God is our Creator, we have no rights over against God, as we do over against each other. How could a character in a novel have rights over against his author? Since we are created out of nothing, we have nothing we can call our own over against God (795).

Controversial view of rights. Some would say that no matter the creator, no conscious being can be owned by another. If some human had the power to create ex nihilo, I don’t think this gives the human rights to abuse the creation. I would consider that deeply immoral.

God had no need to create. He was not lonely or bored or incomplete. He has no imperfections. “God created all things ‘not to increase his glory’ ” [for that is impossible] “ ‘but to show it forth and to communicate it’ (820).

Why did he do it? The motive for this sharing of his glory is pure unselfish love, “God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness” (822).

If the world is any worse off due to evil, then there appears to be a reason not to create. If it is better off, then that challenges God’s omnibenevolence.

“The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the ‘six days’ ” [of creation], “from the less perfect to the more perfect” (CCC 342). The theory of evolution agrees with this. Like the days of creation, evolution also proceeds in a progressive and hierarchical pattern (846).

If the devil is not real, the Bible lies (for example, 1 Pet 5:8), and Christ was a fool, for he certainly believed in demons and in Satan. (905)

moral evil comes neither from God nor from the material world he created but from our own choices. To find the origin of evil, look not up at the heavens nor out at the earth, but into a mirror. Man brought evil into the world by disobeying God’s good will and law (921).

What kind of free will would justify this? If it is choices are uncaused, then humans are not ultimately responsible. If it is caused, then we can trace the causal chain to God creating it. No combination seems to escape the issue either.

on the question of moral evil we may say that (1) its origin is man’s free will, and (2) its providential purpose is (a) the good of preserving our free will and (b) the good of Christ’s redemption from it (931).

God has free will, yet does not choose evil. Why not humans? If freedom to choose evil makes us better, then why would it not make God better? Free will seems like this black box in which serious issues are hidden.

Chapter 4: Man

when any culture says No to God, it says No to life and becomes what Pope John Paul II has dared to call a “culture of death” (981).

only man is ‘able to know and love his creator.’1. . . [H]e alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity” (987).

Catholic meaning of life is to know and love God, to share in his knowledge and love.

Why should we treat these inconvenient and “unwanted” people as our brothers and sisters? The Church thunders the gentle answer: Because they are our brothers and sisters, “in Christ” (1017).

I feel there must be some inferential steps in to link being brothers and sisters to treating someone well. Being a brother doesn’t create in itself the obligation to be treated well. If it does, I think evolution shows that we are in some way all brothers and sisters, along with the other animals. We all came from a common ancestor.

Man is not merely a body (that is materialism). Nor is he merely a soul (that is spiritualism). Nor is he two beings, like a ghost in a machine (that is dualism). He is one being in two dimensions, bodily and spiritual. “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body” (1042).

Seems to be hylomorphism. I can’t say I understand it yet. What are the implications  that distinguish it from materialism or naturalistic dual-property theory?

The Church does not require us to interpret the creation and Fall stories in Genesis literally, but she does insist that they must be interpreted historically, as something that really happened (1110).

What evidence is there that something like this happened?

This is why secular explanations of evil are not sufficient. “Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure” (CCC 387) (1128).

‘There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good (1168).

Chapter 5: Jesus Christ

If it really happened, it is the greatest fact that ever entered the universe. If it did not really happen, then it is the greatest fantasy that ever entered the universe of human thought (1241).

Can’t say I agree. Seems a bit of hyperbole.

Tolkien says of the Gospels, “There is no tale that [good] men would rather believe is true.” The unbeliever’s only defensible defense against the gospel is that it is “too good to be true”. Only the hard or despairing heart can look on that face on the Cross, know who that is, what he is doing, what love made him do it, and whose sin made it necessary, without melting (1252).

I can think of a few better tales, like a universalist one with no hell. That would be a bit better.

This one Person has two natures: he is both fully divine and fully human. This is a mystery and a paradox, but not a logical contradiction, not impossible. It is not one person and two persons, or one nature and two natures, but one person with two natures (1263).

the word “God” is used in two ways in Scripture: (a) “God” means the one Divine Being, who exists equally and totally in each Divine Person, (b) “God” also means the personal name for the Father, as distinct from Christ, who is the Son of God the Father (1283).

I’m curious as to how this conclusions was reached. Is there a linguistic reason, or a historical reason? It looks like special pleading, but there very well may be good reasons to conclude this.

As the son of a man is a man, and the son of an ape is an ape, and the son of a Martian would be a Martian, so the Son of God is God (1306).

Son of a carpenter? Son of David?

a. “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us” [from sin and its consequence, eternal separation from God] “by reconciling us with God, who ‘loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation” [atonement] “for our sins” [1 Jn 4:10’ 4:14]; (CCC 457), It is as if the governor voluntarily became a prisoner and went to the electric chair in place of the condemned murderer, to set the murderer free (1338).

That scenario seems deeply immoral to me. Wouldn’t it be better if the prisoner died? Isn’t our eternal damnation simply justice, and not something that is “bad”?

Jesus claims to be not only Savior but the Savior, the only Savior from sin and the only way to heaven (Jn 10:7; 14:6; Acts 4:12) (1373).

There are three interpretations of Christ’s “narrow way” sayings, such as John 14:6 (“I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father, but by me”); a. The Church’s traditional interpretation is Christocentric: one must have faith in Christ to be saved, but that faith may possibly be implicit or unclear or unaware of itself, as with the good, God-seeking pagan. b. The very narrow or fundamentalist interpretation is ecclesiocentric: one must have explicit faith in Christ and be in his visible Church to be saved. c. The very broad or liberal interpretation is theocentric without being Christocentric. It maintains that all who seek God in any way are saved, whether through Christ or not (1376).

Pretty important divergence from Protestantism as I see it. It’s possible for pagans, and perhaps atheists to go to heaven. . . maybe. They have to be God seeking, which could mean many things. If one were to seek the truth, and God is truth, then one is seeking God without knowing it. On the other hand, if God exists, and one seems to seek truth but keeps on moving away from belief in God, then from a Catholic perspective it looks like the person is not seeking God.

The Church does not teach the fundamentalist interpretation (1383).

Nothing more concretely and conclusively proves Christ’s divinity than his Resurrection. No one but God can conquer death (1470).

Aliens? Nanotech?

He promised he would return (Lk 21:27-28), and he keeps his promises(1493).

Chapter 6: The Holy Spirit

What did the world call the first Christians? Acts 17:6 tells us: “these men who have turned the world upside down” (1580).

Everyone knows that love is the meaning of life, life’s highest value, the summum bonum, or greatest good (1601).

I didn’t know that.

saints like Mother Teresa seem so smart and sophisticated scholars so silly when it comes to understanding the mind of God (1613).

Big on appearance, but I am not convinced of her “sainthood.”

To whom does God give the Spirit? And what must we do to receive him? Scripture’s answer is scandalously simple—so simple it is hard for us: “I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (1637).

Testable hypothesis, like psychics. When one asks and doesn’t receive, in comes the special pleading.

The Spirit. . . ‘will not speak on his own’ [Jn 16:13]. Such properly divine self-effacement” (CCC 687) is remarkable. God is selfeffacing! God is humble! How dare we be proud (1746)?

I don’t find this convincing as a good reason for the Holy Spirit not to be more well revealed. It’s humility, but at the expense of human souls who stand unaware.

Only one merely human being in history was so “full of grace” and of the Holy Spirit in this world that she was sinless and perfectly obeyed the “first and greatest commandment”, to love God with her whole heart and soul and mind and strength(1792).

So free will is compatible with sinlessness.

Chapter 7: The Holy Catholic Church

The fundamental reason for being a Catholic is the historical fact that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, was God’s invention (1846).

Suppose we had to figure out the right doctrine of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the sacraments, Mary, and controversial moral issues like contraception and homosexuality and euthanasia. Who then could ever know with certainty the mind and will of God? How could there then be one Church? There would be twenty thousand different churches, each teaching its own opinion (1854).

The twenty thousand different churches thing appears to basically be the case. Sure, the Catholic Church claims to be the true one, but it has had branches and splits into many different parts.

The authority of the Church was necessary for us to know the truth of the Trinity (1876).

No Christian has ever learned of Christ except through some ministry of the Church (1883).

Why must this be the case? Why couldn’t the holy spirit inspire aboriginal New Zealander’s to believe? That would be a good piece of evidence for Catholicism, if there were Churches that arose independently in different cultures. Unfortunately, it seems to simply follow the pattern of godless cultural transmission.

Vatican Council I defined what Catholics had always believed: that the pope, like the ecumenical (worldwide) councils, is infallible (preserved by God from error) when defining doctrine or morality for the whole Church. He is not personally infallible, but his office is (1911).

Another important thing. The pope is not infallible in everything, only in certain areas, and when proclaiming an “absolute decision.”

a. “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful . . , he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals” (LG 25). b. “The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme teaching office” (LG 25). c. Even doctrines not explicitly labeled infallible can be binding on Catholic belief because “[d]ivine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter,. . . when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a ‘definitive manner,’ they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching. . of faith and morals (1922).

the Church explicitly teaches that many who call themselves non-Catholics are saved (1952).

“[t]hose who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation” (1954).

A “cafeteria Catholic” or a half Catholic or a 95 percent Catholic is a contradiction in terms. If the Catholic Church does not have the divine authority and infallibility she claims, then she is not half right or 95 percent right, but the most arrogant and blasphemous of all churches, a false prophet claiming “thus says the Lord” for mere human opinions (1994).

Seems to cut out about half or more of Catholics. Is this something that Kreeft would want to admit? The Catholic Church drops down to a much more minimal place as far as world religions go.

If anyone wonders which of the twenty thousand different churches that claim to be Christ’s true church is really the one Christ established, this is how to recognize it. Only one church has all four marks in their fullness: the Catholic Church (2072).

Chapter 8: The Forgiveness of Sins

“Sin” means more than merely bad behavior or bad habits. It means a No to God, his will, his law, and his love (2290).

Because we are not born innocent of original sin, only innocent of actual sins. And our original sin leads us to commit actual sins. Our being conditions our actions. We sin because we are sinners, just as we sing because we are singers. Our nature conditions our acts, as an alcoholic’s brain chemistry and chemical dependency condition his act of drinking. This does not mean we are not responsible for actual sins, for the will’s choice is also involved in the act—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. We ire not determined, but we are conditioned—led, pulled, influenced—by our sinful nature and instincts (2322).

Is there an official Catholic account of free will? I have trouble seeing how libertarian or compatibilist free will would make the above okay. In no case does it seem that humans are ultimately responsible.

No sin is too great for God and his Church to forgive, if repentance is honest. . . . “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive” (2385).

The popular images of hell—brimstone, pitchforks, and torture—and even the biblical imagery of fire, are not to be taken literally (that is part of what is meant by calling them “images”), but they are to be taken seriously. The reality of hell—eternal separation from God—is much more terrible, not less, than the imagery (2401).

all who seek God with a sincere and honest heart find him, whether in this life or in the next (2492).

So those who don’t eventually find him are dishonest and insincere.

Chapter 9: The Resurrection of the Body

What happens at death is the particular judgment. God infallibly knows and judges each soul as either (a) able to enter heaven immediately, or (b) needing to be purified in purgatory first and then able to enter heaven, or (c) set forever (since our lifetime is over) in unrepented sin and capable only of hell (2657).

Is it possible to escape hell ever? Is death the expiration date on the offer for salvation? Why not leave it open?

The significance of Christ’s Resurrection was not merely that it was visible proof of life after death. The soul was always immortal, a fact always knowable by human reason (2680).

What were the reasons?

If science should ever discover how to make our present bodies immortal by genetic engineering, this would not give us heaven on earth but hell on earth. We would be like eggs that never hatched. We know that smell (2684).

Maybe. . . not convinced. The smell thing is a little gratuitous.

Chapter 10: Life Everlasting

The life story of any individual or community gets its meaning, point, and purpose from its end. So to know what kind of story we are in, to know what is the “meaning of life”, we must know our end. The Church tells us our end. It is one with our origin. In the words of the old Baltimore Catechism, “God made me to know him, love him, and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next” (2772).

By end, is he saying teleological end? Like the reason a creator had in mind for the thing? If so, this does not seem like it is necessary a purpose worth pursuing. If I was conceived and raised to be a killer or torturer, I think I would still have a reason to act against this end.

The data here include at least three pieces of evidence for immortality: There is, first of all, our universal longing for “something more” than this world can ever give us. A real “life everlasting” is the only thing that makes sense of humanity’s deep, innate desire for “life everlasting”, a desire that is present in nearly all times and places and cultures (2778).

I think this ignores the evidence we have against immortality, like the mind body link. Fewer things are more supported than that destroying the mind destroys the body. Thus no immortality. Even if the three reasons below were evidence for immortality (I think there are good counter-examples), it still suffers from the flaw of understated evidence.

All natural and innate Tdesires of the human heart, all desires that are found in all times and places because they come from within rather than from without, correspond to realities that can satisfy these desires: food, drink, sex, sleep, friendship, knowledge, health, freedom, beauty. The same must be true of the desire for everlasting life (2783).

“Must” overstates the case. I’m not sure that we really do desire everlasting life. I desire not to be hungry. Does that mean I desire everlasting food, and that everlasting food exists? I think this parallels everlasting life. We can account for our desire not to die without presupposing everlasting life. We can account for our desire not to be hungry without presupposing everlasting food. I think an evolutionary/instinctual argument would suffice to take away the pull from this.

A second reason for believing in everlasting life is the data perceived by love. The eye of love perceives persons as intrinsically valuable, indispensable, irreplaceable. If death ends all, if life treats these indispensable persons as if they were dispensable and disposable things, “then life is an outrageous horror (2785).

Argument from consequences? If life is finite that doesn’t mean it is dispensable or disposable (these words add the implication that they are of no worth). That just begs the question against the person who thinks finite things do have value.

A third good reason for belief in everlasting life is the fact that we have spiritual, rational souls that are able to know eternal truths (2 + 2 is eternally 4) and to know the eternal value of love. This at least strongly suggests that we have a kinship with eternity, that we are more than merely temporal creatures (2789).

Can’t say I understand this reason. Saying we have “souls” and that they are “spiritual” kind of sneaks the conclusion in.

Hell is a real possibility because our will is free. If we look into the implications of the doctrine of free will, we will see the doctrine of hell there as a necessary part of the package (2860).

I’d say the implication is that no one deserves eternal punishment, but I await further explanation of free will.

“God predestines no one to go to hell”6 (CCC 1037). The cause of hell is not God but man (2869).

“The [just] wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). There is no “second chance” after death because there is no more time. Our life-time comes to an end. The time for repentance and salvation is now (2874).

in heaven, we will be perfectly sanctified, with no lingering bad habits or imperfections in our souls. (2925).

So free will and perfection are compatible. Does a soul need to go through some process to become perfect? I think there’s no non-ad-hoc reason that God couldn’t make perfect beings with free will if they are logically possible in heaven.

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