Question 39

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March 3

 

Fifteen questions for Catholics. In a continuing series begun on January 14, The Believer’s Dilemma is examining the problematic theologies of Augustine, Luther and Calvin, which were based on original sin.  What do modern Christians believe?  This week we have an interview with Dr Paul Allen, Associate Professor, Department of Theological Studies, Concordia University, Montreal.

 

Officially, all Christian theologies make some reference to the Fall of mankind in Eden as the origin of evil, sin and death. In practice, believers hold a wide variety of views about whether Eden is a literal event that occurred circa 4,000 BC or is an allegory for the human experience. This series of interviews represents denominational beliefs as understood by a single knowledgeable individual.  

 

History:  The Roman Catholic Church, with over a billion members, is the largest Christian denomination and the most influential. The authority of the Pope is traced back to the apostle Peter, who is believed to have died in Rome. Peter was the first apostle to recognize Jesus as ‘the Messiah, the son of the Living God’ and in return was chosen as ‘the rock’ upon which Jesus would build his Church and the apostle to whom Jesus would entrust the keys to heaven and hell. (Matthew 16:13-20)  Rome was a predominantly pagan city until the 4th century when Emperors Constantine and Theodosius adopted Christianity as their personal faith.  The earliest churches were established in modern day Israel, spreading north through Lebanon, Syria, Armenia, Turkey and across to Greece, and south through Egypt, Ethiopia and North Africa.  All ecumenical councils for the first thousands years of Christianity were held in modern day Turkey.  The New Testament and all commentary of the first centuries of Christianity were written in Greek in Eastern regions of the Roman Empire.  

 

After embracing Christianity in the 4th century, Constantine built an Eastern capital at Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The ‘New Rome’ was a purely Christian city from its foundation and was located in the heart of the ancient ‘Bible Belt.’ There was always tension between the older Greek churches and the newer Latin churches which led to a complete rupture in 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church.  Rome became the uncontested centre of Christian authority until the 16th century, when the Protestant Reformation sparked centuries of violence between Christians.  Protestant churches fragmented into a myriad of denominations, divisions, independent churches and free churches which hold different beliefs. Roman Catholicism is governed by carefully documented tradition and final authority which resides in the Pope.  The clearest statement of Roman Catholic beliefs is found in the Catechism.        

 

Position:  The official positions of the Catholic Church are quite conservative although many Catholics hold more liberal views. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world which produced many changes such as translating the liturgy from Latin into vernacular languages and encouraging an open dialogue within the Church.

 

Current situation:  In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has struggled with scandals, declining attendance and closing churches.

 

Note: Italicised texts are taken from the 1997 Catechism. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

 

1)  The Universe

 

(Catechism) 283 The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers.  

 

293 Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: "The world was made for the glory of God."  

 

337 God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work", concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God."

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Does the universe exist for a purpose?  If so, what is it?

 

Paul Allen: There is a lot of truth and a very good poem in the Genesis creation story. But a poem, by its very nature, is not giving a historical or literal account.  Yet it can be ‘true’.  For example, Augustine is willing to concede that the seven days of creation are not seven literal 24-hour days.

 

2) Natural Evil

 

(Catechism) 310   But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Why is the natural world plagued with catastrophic events? 

 

Paul Allen: The modern Catechism’s way of talking about Creation and physical evil is different than a Calvinist view. Catholic thought on this question has upheld the goodness of creation. Physical evil, to go back to Augustine, is a privation of nature rather than something than marks it utterly. The truthful Christian answer to the question of natural evil is simply that we don’t know why it exists. This is not fully a satisfying answer, but it would be horrifying if the direct cause of tsunamis or earthquakes rested with God. The Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has written about tsunamis and theodicy on First Things website.

 

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/05/tsunami-and-theodicy

 

3)  Human Beings

 

(Catechism) 1 God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.

 

45 Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness.  

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Do human beings exist for a purpose? If so, what is it?

 

Paul Allen: ‘The best answer is found in the Baltimore Catechism (1885, revised 1941) Question 6 ‘God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.’

 

http://catholicism.about.com/od/baltimorecatechism/The_Baltimore_Catechism_Q_A_From_the_Baltimore_Catechism.htm

 

4)  The Existence of Evil

 

(Catechism) 324 The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life.

 

374 The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.

 

376 As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called "original justice".

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Why did a God of perfect goodness create - or permit - evil?   

 

Paul Allen: Humans were created, as the Psalm says, a little lower than angels and that it why we suffer and die. If human beings had not chosen freely to sin, then we can speculate that in some way, we would have been more angelic. We cannot know how things might have turned out differently, so there is not much more to say about this other than that the failure to choose good - the failure to pursue truth, goodness and beauty - is what marks human existence.

 

(Catechism) 388 With the progress of Revelation, the reality of sin is also illuminated. Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story's ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin.  

 

389 The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the "reverse side" of the Good News that Jesus is the Saviour of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ.

 

390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

 

Believer’s Dilemma:  Describing ‘the Fall’ as a primeval event that took place at the dawn of history sounds quite Augustinian.

 

Paul Allen: Paul, more than any other Biblical writer links failure and sin to suffering and death. Yes, this does conform to some kind of original sin narrative. But it’s ultimately Christian redemption, which is both an overcoming of our sinful nature and an overcoming of our tendency to die. We all die and we all sin, even the most upright of saints.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: The Augustinian interpretation of Eden makes God sound surprised that Adam and Eve exercised their freewill in rebellion, as if God created humans perfect and expected them to remain perfect. Had they done so there would have been no sin, suffering, evil or death. A modern reading of Eden would simply see intelligent creatures free to make choices and suffer the consequences. God does not have to be surprised or angry about Augustinian ‘original sin.’ Pelagius, the arch-nemesis of Augustine, argued that we are simply free in what we choose.

 

Paul Allen: The dispute between Augustine and Pelagius had to do with the nature of Grace. Pelagius never disputed that sin exists.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Right. Pelagius never disputed the universality of sin or its seriousness. He questioned whether we inherited our fallen/depraved nature from Adam or are naturally free to choose good or evil. Focussing on a damaged will rather than the free will takes salvation in a completely different direction.  Is the problem ‘original sin’ or is the problem simply sin?

 

Paul Allen: The doctrine of ‘original sin’ is simply trying to explain where sin comes from. Does it do so flawlessly? No.  There are flaws in the historical aspect and the idea of direct biological transmission. Nevertheless it is essential to try to understand where sin comes from.  

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Isn’t the problem of personal sin sufficiently complex without linking it to a problematic historical concept of original sin?  Does Adam’s sin change my own propensity to sin? Am I spiritually crippled or morally depraved because of someone else’s actions? Is it not confusing to retain the heavily freighted term ‘original sin’ to speak about universal sin?

 

Paul Allen: It is true that the transmission of sin is not as important as its universality. We all share in this conundrum of being creatures who can freely choose between good and evil, and who often choose not to do good. This universality is the important part of the doctrine of original sin.   

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Is it important or essential for you to retain the term ‘original sin’?

 

Paul Allen: We have to have a way to talk about sin that is not just my sin or your sin or her sin, but the universal condition.

 

(Catechism) 402 All men are implicated in Adam's sin, as St. Paul affirms: "By one man's disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners": "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned." The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in 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."

 

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul". Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.

 

1008 Death is a consequence of sin. The Church's Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man's sin.  

 

Believer’s Dilemma: The catechism teaches that death is a consequence of sin. How do you interpret that?

 

Paul Allen: This affirmation is a metaphysical and existential point. It is not a straightforward empirical point.  On this question I think both Augustine and Luther took the connection between sin and death directly from Paul.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Not everyone has interpreted Paul the same way. Augustine’s conception of original sin was so severe that unbaptized babies were condemned for their inherited sin alone.  Every unbaptized sinner was condemned to eternal damnation. Augustine did not get that from Paul. Luther read Paul and came up with a complete doctrine of predestination and election. These ideas are in Paul but no one else came away with the Reformation dogma that fallen humans are afflicted with Total Depravity which crippled their will, and that Jesus provided Limited Atonement for salvation.

 

Paul Allen: To sin and suffer death are things that Christian faith teaches us we can be redeemed from. Even Christ suffered death and was redeemed from it. This is a promise made to all Christians. We will all suffer and die but through faith we can be saved. Augustine went too far in saying that if one is not baptized you cannot be saved. That goes counter to a tradition that he was otherwise affirming – God’s ability to save.   

 

5) The Conflicted Human Nature

 

(Catechism) 407 The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man's situation and activity in the world. By our first parents' sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails "captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil". Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Why does human nature appear to be a mixture of good and evil?  

 

Paul Allen: On the question of good and evil - why did God create beings who could rebel? - the insight that we need to take away from all of this is the nature of God. God is a being who wants to relate to humans primarily through love. God didn’t create robots because they are not interesting. Elie Weisel said, ‘God made man because he loves stories.’ The tension in the human/divine relationship is caused by creatures who are free to choose to do good or evil, and God, their creator, who allows them to do good or evil.

 

Believer’s Dilemma:  The story of a God who made humans free to ‘make stories’ is much more engaging that the story of a God who is shocked or angered by their choices.

 

Paul Allen: I don’t see the idea that God is shocked. My reading of Eden is quite different. When God is asking Adam - ‘Where are you?’ - it seems clear that God already knows what has happened. He is not shocked.

 

Believer’s Dilemma:  In the modern world we don’t think of original sin as it was taught by Augustine in the 5th century and later revived by Luther and Calvin.  Yet the modern Catechism ‘affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.’ This appears to make a direct link between a historical event and the cause of sin and death. This vision of Eden and the Fall is the foundation of many disturbing aspects of our theology, whether we are Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant

 

Paul Allen: I do not believe in a literal, historical Garden of Eden but I do believe in the doctrine of original sin.  I can reconcile these two ideas in the way that Reinhold Niebuhr does, namely that original sin is a concept that pertains to human existence. Human beings have natures and/or wills in which we are inclined to sin. Not all the time, but the inclination is always there.

 

Believer’s Dilemma:  Is that because of our ‘fallen’ nature or our ‘human’ nature?  Would our nature have been different had somebody at some point acted differently, or was the capacity to sin always part of our nature?

 

Paul Allen: Science has shown that human beings descended from apes. We share DNA and all kinds of genetic markers with other mammals of the animal kingdom. We have tendencies toward selfishness and all the vices, which are biologically grounded throughout the entire human species. Niebuhr himself made the claim that the doctrine of original sin is the most empirical of all Christian doctrines because there is so much evidence that argues for its universality.  Pick up any newspaper and it is full of human nature and original sin.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Billy Graham spoke in the same terms during his crusades. But ‘sin nature’ and ‘original sin’ - in the sense of something historically originated and universally transmitted - are two different concepts.  The moment you speak of evolution from apes and DNA you are worlds away from depravity transmitted from two historical beings.

 

Paul Allen: I’m not a creationist.  I’m not going to trace sin to a historical couple. The Catholic catechism is careful on this question by not matching the doctrine of original sin with a particular historical event. 

 

Believer’s Dilemma: The Catechism speaks of ‘a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.’ That sounds quite historical.  Section 402 says, ‘All men are implicated in Adam's sin...’ This sounds quite particular. 

Section 403 says, ‘the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul".’ This sounds like pure Augustine.

 

Paul Allen: I wouldn’t say pure Augustine. The use of the word ‘transmitted’ is not helpful, particularly so near the words ‘primeval event,’ because it does bring in a particular historical inheritance which is direct cause and effect. There is a great deal of theological literature and tradition from the last two hundred years which talks about Adam and Eve as stand-ins rather than historical characters. I don’t think a reading of the Genesis text or the Catechism allows us to jettison the doctrine of original sin. Particular things can be jettisoned, such as the idea that the world is only 6,000 years old, and that there was a historical man and woman who lived in a garden between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but the doctrine as a whole can stand.  I don’t have a problem with a ‘primeval event’ assuming – and this is a big assumption – that you can talk about human beings at a particular point, and apes at a particular point just prior. Paleo-biologists are not in agreement about when that moment occurred. We are not even capable of defining what we mean by human nature.  Is it the ability to think or make tools?  Aside from that huge debate, we can talk about a time when humans first began to grapple with the question of moral agency. Regardless of whether it was in a clan of pre-hominids struggling with rivalry or greed, which reared its head for the first time, there was a starting point, a primeval event.  That is my perhaps overly generous reading of the catechism.

 

6)  Primitive Peoples

 

(Catechism) 31 Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of "converging and convincing arguments", which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These "ways" of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.

 

35 Man's faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man, and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith.(so) the proofs of God's existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason.

 

37 In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: What form of religion was known to ancient cavemen, such as Neanderthals? How did they know it?

 

Paul Allen: The Christian belief in the communion of saints is not entirely divorced from ancestor worship, in a very nuanced sense.  Heaven is a place where everyone is in communion. Human spirituality from its very earliest form grasped onto the insight that after death one does not cease to exist.  It is not my specialty, but the cave paintings of Lascaux also elevate the lives of animals as well. The paintings of the deer and stags on caves walls suggest animism and ancestor worship.   

Believer’s Dilemma:  The catechism says ‘Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him.’ So there were ways of coming to know God in the absence of scripture and the absence of tradition?

 

Paul Allen: Of course, yes. And some people have even gone so far as to say that people who respond to God’s grace who are outside the Christian tradition can be called ‘anonymous Christians.’  The phrase is problematical from at least two angles. 

 

7)  Laws and Commandments

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Prior to Jesus (0 AD) there was no New Testament and prior to Moses (1500 BC) there was no Old Testament.  Multitudes of people had access only to parts of the Bible or none of it. How did a God of perfect justice reveal Laws and Commandments to all the peoples of the earth?   What would salvation have meant to people who did not have our written revelations?

 

Paul Allen: The author of salvation remains God and no one knows what the result of God’s saving will mean in the end.

 

(Catechism) 634 "The gospel was preached even to the dead." The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

 

635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades", so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."

 

Believer’s Dilemma: The Catholic Church had a concept of a Limbo of the Patriarchs. When Christ was crucified and descended into Hell or Sheol, he preached to those who had been seeking him. That is an explanation for those who lived prior to Christ.  What about non-Christians in post-incarnation times? The catechism says that sacraments are necessary for salvation

 

(Catechism) 1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Saviour.

 

Paul Allen: The sacraments are necessary because the church understands faith as being necessary to salvation. I think that is a more important answer. The qualifier, which the catechism eventually explains, is that faith leads to certain things. The Catholic understanding is that faith without works is dead, as it says in James. If there is no outward expression, what would faith consist of? Some kind of silent faith? Hence the catechism’s language about the necessity of sacraments.  

 

8)  Reconciliation via Laws and Commandments

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Jews and Christians had access to the Laws and Commandments but did knowledge alone reconcile believers to God and cause them to live righteously?   

 

Paul Allen: Gnosticism held that in various ways that knowledge was the way to salvation. The Church made a different claim that knowledge alone is not going to help. It is an attitude of faith that is determinative.

 

 9) Salvation

 

(Catechism) 1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word

 

1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.  The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth

 

Believer’s Dilemma: What is required for salvation to occur?   

 

Paul Allen: The short answer is faith in Christ.

 

(Catechism) 1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

 

Believer’s Dilemma:  That leads to the question: what happens to those who didn’t have - couldn’t have - faith in Jesus? If catechumens who die unbaptized can be extended exceptional salvation, what of people who never came close to the Christian sacrament of baptism?

 

Paul Allen: The concept that is important here was developed in the Middle Ages. It is called the baptism of desire, which is simply the idea that if you desired God or Christ, the desire is sufficient on its own to lead to the salvation that is offered to all of us.  

 

10)  Who is Saved?

 

(Catechism) 1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery."  Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

 

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: Salvation appears to be assured for those who are baptized and possible for those who merely desired to be baptized.  There is ‘hope’ for unbaptized infants.  Can we define who is saved?   

 

Paul Allen: The truth is that God alone knows. It is one thing to affirm we know what can bring salvation, but we don’t know which individuals have made that choice.

 

(Catechism) 161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation.

 

678 Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgement of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God's grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude to our neighbour will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the Last Day Jesus will say: "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

 

679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgement on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He "acquired" this right by his cross. The Father has given "all judgement to the Son". Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one's works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

Believer’s Dilemma:  There seems to be a breadth of grace in remote times and places based on seeking God to the best of one’s knowledge and ability. But when we get into more contemporary times, belief in Jesus is essential.  What is meant by ‘rejecting the spirit of love’ and ‘culpable unbelief’?

 

Paul Allen: ‘Culpable’ reminds us there is a sense of justice in God. It’s something that should be affirmed. God is just and there must be consequences for the choices and actions we make in this life. I prefer to use that kind of logic in a moral context.  Someone can make many bad choices and be a notorious sinner and criminal but they can still repent and be saved.

 

Believer’s Dilemma: The idea of ‘culpable unbelief’ can be used in a very narrow way to condemn multitudes of non-Christians.  

 

Paul Allen: And that does happen.

_________________________________

 

15 questions for Catholics, with Dr Paul Allen, to be concluded next week:

 

11) Does divine love and justice ensure that salvation is available to all?  

 

12) What role does human freewill play in salvation?  

 

13) How does salvation bring an end to sin, suffering and death?     

     

14) Does supernatural power intervene in the natural world to answer prayer?

  

15) What is the eternal state?

 

Tags: David Bentley Hart, Augustine, Pelagius, Elie Weisel, Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham.

 

Questions or Comments?