Born of a Woman

 The Mother of God

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
Galatians 4, 4

Since apostolic time, Catholics have believed and the Church has taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly the Mother of God or, in ancient Greek, Theotokos which means “God-bearer.” This honorable designation means Mary is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man by having conceived and given birth to the Divine Logos in his sacred humanity (Jn 1:1,14). Surely, Mary did not create the divine person of Jesus who existed with the Father for all eternity, but she did provide all the genetic material that was needed to allow God to become a man by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the “seed” or offspring of the woman who God put at enmity with the serpent (Gen 3:15).

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled at the Annunciation once Mary gave her joyful consent in response to the good news that was brought to her by the angel Gabriel: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son whose name shall be Emmanuel” (7:14). The Hebrew name means “God with us” (cf. Mt 1:23). Mary’s cousin Elizabeth deferentially acknowledged the singular blessing conferred on her kinswoman when she asked her, “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord (Κυρίου or Kyrios) should come to me?” (Lk 1:43). 

The divine title Adonai ( אֲדֹנָי, lit. “My Lords”) is the plural form of the Hebrew word adon (“Lord”) along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic. As with Elohim, Adonai’s grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty. In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God about 450 times. The divine name YHWH was increasingly regarded as too sacred to be uttered; it was thus replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lord”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God Himself in His divine person and as such the Hebrew God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob incarnate.

Early Sacred Tradition

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made
and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of
God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, 7
(c. A.D. 110)

“After this, we receive the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, of
which Jesus Christ our Lord became the first fruits; Who bore a Body, in
truth, not in semblance, derived from Mary the mother of God in the fullness
of time sojourning among the race, for the remission of sins: who was
crucified and died, yet for all this suffered no diminution of His Godhead.”
St. Alexander of Alexandria, Epistle to Alexander, 12
(A.D. 324)

“Many, my beloved, are the true testimonies concerning Christ. The Father
bears witness from heaven of His Son: the Holy Ghost bears witness,
descending bodily in likeness of a dove: the Archangel Gabriel bears witness,
bringing good tidings to Mary: the Virgin Mother of God bears witness: the
blessed place of the manger bears witness.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, X:19
(c. A.D. 350)

“Just as, in the age of Mary the mother of God, he who had reigned from
Adam to her time found, when he came to her and dashed his forces against
the fruit of her virginity as against a rock, that he was shattered to pieces
upon her, so in every soul which passes through this life in the flesh under the
protection of virginity, the strength of death is in a manner broken and
annulled, for he does not find the places upon which he may fix his sting.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, 14
(A.D. 370)

“Let, then, the life of Mary be as it were virginity itself, set forth in a
likeness, from which, as from a mirror, the appearance of chastity and the
form of virtue is reflected. From this you may take your pattern of life,
showing, as an example, the clear rules of virtue: what you have to correct, to
effect, and to hold fast. The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is
the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God?”
St. Ambrose, Virginity, II:6
(c. A.D. 378)

“If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God,
he is severed from the Godhead.”
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, To Cledonius, 101
(A.D. 382)

“And so you say, O heretic, whoever you may be, who deny that God was born of the Virgin, that
Mary the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ ought not to be called Theotokos, i.e., Mother of
God, but Christotocos, i.e., only the Mother of Christ, not of God. For no one, you say, brings
forth what is anterior in time. And of this utterly foolish argument whereby you think that the birth
of God can be understood by carnal minds, and fancy that the mystery of His Majesty can be
accounted for by human reasoning, we will, if God permits, say something later on. In the meanwhile,
we will now prove by Divine testimonies that Christ is God, and that Mary is the Mother of God.”
St. John Cassian, The Incarnation of Christ, II:2
(A.D. 430)

“But since the Holy Virgin brought forth after the flesh God personally
united to the flesh, for this reason we say of her that she is Theotokos, not as
though the nature of the Word had its beginning of being from the flesh, for
he was in the beginning, and the Word was God, and the Word was with
God…but, as we said before, because having personally united man’s nature
to himself…”
St. Cyril of Alexandria, To Nestorius, Epistle 17:11
(A.D. 430)

“If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin
is the Mother of God (Theotokos), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh
[as it is written, ‘The Word was made flesh’]: let him be anathema.”
Council of Ephesus, Anathemas Against Nestorius, I
(A.D. 430)

Ave Maria

Pax vobiscum

Confess Your Sins

 The Sacrament of Reconciliation

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the LORD
will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore,
confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be
healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah
was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not
rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
James 5, 15-17

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Confession, involves Catholics thinking about what their sins are (examination of conscience), resolving to avoid the sins in the future (the desire for amendment), confessing their sins to a validly ordained priest, and performing the penance the priest assigns to them. The purpose of confessing their sins is to mend their broken relationship with God and receive sanctifying grace to heal their souls and repair that relationship, allowing them to enter back into communion with the Church. Faithful Catholics obtain absolution for the sins that they’ve committed against God and their neighbor upon making their confession.

During Confession, Catholics enumerate all the sins that they can remember and are manifested to their minds by the voice of conscience. In order to make a good or beneficial confession, the faithful must confess all mortal or “deadly” sins (cf. 1 Jn 5:17). These are the sins that they have committed since their last confession, including the same sins that may have been committed by habit (habitual sin). Catholics are bound to go to confession at least once a year, preferably during the Easter season. But the Magisterium of the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the sacrament regularly and as often as is necessary because of mortal sin.

We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that this sacrament is also called the “sacrament of conversion” since Jesus is made present to us in the sacrament calling us to the conversion of heart and return to the Father from whom we have strayed in sin. The sacrament is also called the “sacrament of penance” since it “consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction” to God (1423). The sacrament is a “sacrament of forgiveness,” since, by the priest’s absolution, God grants the penitent soul “pardon and peace.” This sacrament is essentially called the “sacrament of confession” and the “sacrament of reconciliation” since we are “called to acknowledge and confess our sins before God” in recognition of “God’s loving mercy” and be restored to friendship with him and be reconciled with our neighbor (1424).

Jesus calls us to conversion. This is an essential part of his proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. “Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life” (CCC,1427). We are “washed, sanctified, and justified” when we are baptized (1 Cor 6:11). However, the initial cleansing and regeneration of life in the Spirit haven’t eradicated the frailty and weakness of our human nature nor the inclination to sin (concupiscence) that remains in the baptized, such that they rely on the grace of final perseverance from that time on.

Catholics believe that “Christ’s call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians.” This daily need for conversion or “second conversion is an interrupted task of the Church, which… is at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. The endeavor of conversion is not just natural human work. It is the movement of a contrite heart drawn and moved by grace to the merciful love of God who loved us first” (1428).

True conversion is a conversion of the heart or interior conversion. Without this, acts of penance are sterile and serve no purpose. Exterior observances are unfruitful if unproduced by a conversion of the heart. But interior conversion calls for an “expression of visible signs, gestures, and works of penance (fasting and mortification)” since, after all, actions speak louder than words (1430). The Catholic Church has always taught since ancient times that interior repentance is a “radical reorientation of our whole life, a return to God with all our heart, and end of sin.”

Interior conversion involves the genuine desire of “turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the sins that we have committed” as baptized Christians. Simultaneously, a conversion of the heart “entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life” or continue to grow in holiness despite the occasional backsliding. What makes doing penance fruitful is the “conversion of heart that is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness” and the desire to restore equity of justice in our relationship with God (1431).

Hence, penance involves a heaviness of heart brought about by God’s cooperative grace that turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is God who takes the initiative and causes our hearts to return to him, but not without our cooperation (Lam 5:21). God gives us the strength to be renewed by the outpouring of His Spirit. Moved by the Spirit to repent, we confess our sins and make acts of reparation that are ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we have initially received in Baptism. It’s by the agency of the Holy Spirit that “our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from Him” (1432). It’s our love for God that cleanses us of all sin. If we love God, we’ll demonstrate our love by doing acts of penance to restore the equity of justice in our relationship with Him.

Christ initiated the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church, especially for those who have fallen into grave sin after their baptism. We lose the sanctifying grace that we initially received in baptism by committing a mortal sin. The sacrament of Penance “offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification.” The sacrament of Reconciliation is incomplete without disciplinary acts of penance and restitution. Penitential acts are necessary for us to be fully reconciled to God (commutative justice).  So, these are the essential elements that make the sacrament one of forgiveness and reconciliation: “contrition, confession, and satisfaction” (1446-1449).

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, “bishops who are their successors, and priests – the bishops’ collaborators – continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ’” (1465). The priest fulfills the ministry of the “Good Shepherd” when he performs the sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance by “seeking out the lost sheep” in the fold. He acts like the “Good Samaritan who binds up wounds,” like “the father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return (reconciliation with the Church), and like the “just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (1464).

The confessor isn’t “the master of God’s forgiveness, but its servant. He must “unite himself with the intention and charity of Christ” (1466). A priest is in persona Christi because he acts as Christ and as God with an authority invested in him by Christ. Bishops and priests are given the power to act in the person of Christ when they exercise their sanctifying, teaching, and ruling functions for the sake of the members of Christ’s body, which is the Church. Through the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests are incorporated into the person of Christ, the Head of the Church.

Like all the sacraments of the Church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is supernaturally effective. The penitent is forgiven of their sin and restored to the life of grace even though the minister of the sacrament might be depraved and sinful. The righteousness of the minister doesn’t convey the power of the sacrament, but Christ does through the Holy Spirit. The priest is a covenantal mediator just like Moses was when he pleaded with God to forgive the sin of the Israelites after they had constructed and worshiped the golden calf. A mortal sin is essentially an act of idolatry in that the sinner places their disordered desires before the will of God.

Thus, St. Paul instructs us: ‘Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work’ (1 Thess 5:12-13). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is just as efficacious as any other sacrament, including Baptism since the true minister is always Christ our High Priest in whom and through whom our Catholic ministers work. All seven sacraments act ex opere operato by the very act of the actions being performed.

Jesus granted his apostles the authority to forgive sins. He said to them prior to his ascension into heaven, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). As Christ was sent by the Father to forgive sins, our Lord commissioned his apostles and their ordained successors to forgive sins in his name. We read in the gospel, that Jesus breathes on his apostles and gives them the power to “forgive and retain” sins (Jn 20:22-23). Jesus speaks of “the sins of any” meaning the personal sins of individuals. From this phrase, we can infer that the penitent must first confess their sin to an apostle or successor of his in the ministry of the priesthood before their sin can be forgiven or retained judging by the genuineness of conversion. Although he is a divine Person, Jesus forgave sins in his humanity through the power invested in him by his heavenly Father. He did this to convince the scribes and Pharisees that he had, in fact, the authority to forgive sins though he isn’t the Father (Mt 9:6; Mk 2:10; Lk 5:24). Jesus transferred this authority to his apostles, and they in turn to their appointed successors in the ministry or divine office.

St. Paul forgives sins in persona Christi as a validly ordained minister (2 Cor 2:10). The “ministry of reconciliation” or the ministering of the sacrament was given to the “ambassadors” of the Church (2 Cor 5:18). Soon after returning from Jerusalem to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were formally invested with this new commission by the laying on of hands and receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:3). In Acts 14:23, St. Paul established presbyters (ordained priests) in every place on his return through Asia Minor on his first mission  (Acts 14:23). In 1 Thess 5. 12-13 he told the people to obey the religious authorities (1 Thess 5:12-13).

The apostles, and therefore their appointed successors in the priestly ministry, were given the power to “bind and loose” (Mt 18:18). The authority to bind and loose included administering and removing the temporal penalties due to sin. As Jews, the apostles would have understood this for it was the power that the priests in the Temple had until then, which included defining divine revelation. Jesus ordained the apostles as priests at the Last Supper by performing the Levitical ordination ritual of the washing of feet (Jn 13:1-20). Jesus told Peter he couldn’t have a share in his priesthood or have a part of him (in persona) unless he allowed our Lord to wash his feet after he objected to this. Peter then replied by saying, ” Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”

The washing of the head and hands was included in the Levitical ordination ceremony, but Jesus focussed only on the washing of feet which symbolized humility and service in the ministry. In the midst of the “consecration” of Aaron and his sons, Moses “washed them with water” (Lev 8:6-10). We also see Aaron and his sons washing their hands and their feet (Exodus 40:30-32). Moreover, the mention of having a “part” (meros) in John 13:8 recalls the priestly Levites having their portion (meris) in the LORD or in persona (Num 18:20; Deut 10:9, LXX).

Jesus concluded this part of the Last Supper by telling his apostles that they should do as he had just done in his ministry by being as humble and loyal in their commission, and he added, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Jn 13:20). Thus, Jesus did, in fact, transfer his priestly authority to his apostles, and they were to act in his name in persona Christi for the dispensation of his grace. With this authority, they could also ordain Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, and countless others who, in turn, would do the same up to our present-day in the Catholic Church by the laying on of hands in an unbroken physical chain or line of apostolic succession through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Orally confessing sins to other people and not strictly privately to God was practiced and considered necessary in the infant Church and would continue in post-apostolic time in the early Church. James explicitly teaches us to “confess our sins to one another” (Jas 5:16). This passage must be read in context with Vv. 14-15 which refers to the physical and spiritual healing power possessed by the priests to whom we should confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the grace of forgiveness. Indeed, countless people came to the apostles and their anointed associates to orally confess their sins (Acts 19:18). They didn’t go home and confess their sins directly to God in private with indifference toward the divine authority of the apostles or elders and presbyters. The faithful practiced professing their faith and orally confessing their sins before human witnesses (1 Tim 6:12).

Our Lord faithfully cleanses and forgives us our sins provided we confess our sins to one another (1 Jn 1:9). Confessing one’s sin and making public restitution to re-enter the community of faith was a practice of the ancient Jews (Num 5:7). The Israelites stood before a public assembly to confess their sins and intercede for each other (Neh. 9:2-3; Baruch 1:14). In fact, God desired that His chosen people should confess their sins and not be ashamed to do it publicly (Sirach 4:26). Many people who came to John the Baptist at the Jordan river orally confessed their sins to him in a spirit of repentance and a firm desire for amendment (Mt: 3:6; Mk 1:5). So, the Sacrament of Reconciliation has its roots in ancient Judaism.

Mortal sins lead to spiritual death and must be absolved in the sacrament if we hope to be saved. Venial sins (that don’t incur spiritual death or cost us our salvation) don’t have to be confessed to a priest, but pious Catholics include them in the confessional in order to receive graces for spiritual growth in holiness and avoid entering or spending more time in purgatory (1 Jn 5:16-17; Lk 12:47-48). Breaking the least of the commandments is a venial sin (Mt 5:19).

Finally, repentance is incomplete if the debt of sin remains in the balance. God forgave David for his mortal sins of murder and adultery after he sincerely repented and confessed his sins with a contrite heart and broken spirit. But to offset his transgressions and restore equity of justice, God took the life of the child David conceived in his act of adultery with Bathsheba for having murdered her husband Uriah: an innocent life for innocent life, or an eye for an eye. And God also permitted the rape of David’s wives for his act of adultery (2 Sam 12:9-10, 14, 18-19). Only then could David’s broken relationship with God be fully amended, provided he accepted his pain and loss as a temporal punishment for his sins to restore equity of justice in his relationship with God.

The debt of sin can be fully remitted only by having to do penance for it. Doing acts of penance, whose pain and loss counterbalances the sinful pleasure one is heartily sorry for or accepting the pain and loss that God permits because of our sins, completes the temporal redemptive process. Christ didn’t suffer and die so that we should no longer owe God what is His rightful due for having offended His sovereign dignity (Mt 5:17; Job 42:6; Lam 2:14; Ezek 18:21; Jer 31:19; Rom 2:4; Rev 2:5, etc.). This is from Jesus himself: “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish”(Lk 13:3); “Bring forth, therefore, fruit worthy of penance” (Mt 3:8). True repentance for the forgiveness of sin calls for fruit worthy of our act of contrition. Our outward acts (almsgiving/fasting) must conform to our inner disposition or spiritual reality (charity/temperance) to offset our vices and sins (greed/gluttony) which have been forgiven by the act of contrition pending full temporal restitution. This is all part and parcel of our confession through the sacrament given to the Church by Christ Himself.


“In church confess your sins, and do not come to your prayer with a guilt
conscience. Such is the Way of Life…On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common
to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
Didache, 4:14,14:1 (c. A.D. 90)

“Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness
of conduct, and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards
God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop.”
St.Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyraeans, 9
(c. A.D. 110)

“Such are the words and deeds by which, in our own district of the Rhone, they
have deluded many women, who have their consciences seared as with a hot
iron. Some of them, indeed, make a public confession of their sins; but others of
them are ashamed to do this, and in a tacit kind of way, despairing of
[attaining to] the life of God, have, some of them, apostatized altogether;
while others hesitate between the two courses, and incur that which is implied
in the proverb, ‘neither without nor within;’ possessing this as the fruit from
the seed of the children of knowledge.”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:13
(A.D. 180)

“Father who knowest the hearts of all grant upon this Thy servant whom Thou
hast chosen for the episcopate to feed Thy holy flock and serve as Thine high
priest, that he may minister blamelessly by night and day, that he may
unceasingly behold and appropriate Thy countenance and offer to Thee the
gifts of Thy holy Church. And that by the high priestly Spirit he may have
authority to forgive sins…”
St. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 3
(A.D. 215)

“The Pontifex Maximus–that is, the bishop of bishops–issues an edict:
‘I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins
both of adultery and of fornication.’”
Tertullian, Modesty, 1
(A.D. 220)

“In addition to these there is also a seventh, albeit hard and laborious:
the remission of sins through penance…when he does not shrink
from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord.”
Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, 2:4
(A.D. 248)

“For although in smaller sins sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of
discipline come to public confession, and by the imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy
receive the right of communion: now with their time still unfulfilled, while persecution is still
raging, while the peace of the Church itself is not vet restored, they are admitted to communion,
and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet
made, the hands Of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the eucharist is given to
them; although it is written, ‘Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord
unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.’”
St. Cyprian, To the Clergy, 9 (16):2
(A.D. 250)

“For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and
compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw nigh to that blessed and
pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit
has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and
others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation.
For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with
the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an
authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been
said to them, ‘Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and
whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.’ They who rule on
earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding
lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here
below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants.
For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given
them when He says, ‘Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye
retain they are retained?’ What authority could be greater than this? ‘The
Father hath committed all judgment to the Son?’ But I see it all put into the
hands of these men by the Son.”
St. John Chrysostom, The Priesthood, 3:5
(A.D. 387)

“The Church holds fast its obedience on either side, by both retaining and
remitting sin; heresy is on the one side cruel, and on the other disobedient;
wishes to bind what it will not loosen, and will not loosen what it has bound,
whereby it condemns itself by its own sentence. For the Lord willed that the
power of binding and of loosing should be alike, and sanctioned each by a
similar condition…Each is allowed to the Church, neither to heresy, for this
power has been entrusted to priests alone. Rightly, therefore, does the Church
claim it, which has true priests; heresy, which has not the priests of God,
cannot claim it. And by not claiming this power heresy pronounces its own
sentence, that not possessing priests it cannot claim priestly power. And so in
their shameless obstinacy a shamefaced acknowledgment meets our view.
Consider, too, the point that he who has received the Holy Ghost has also
received the power of forgiving and of retaining sin. For thus it is written:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit: whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto
them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.’ So, then, he who has
not received power to forgive sins has not received the Holy Spirit. The office
of the priest is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and His right it is specially to forgive
and to retain sins. How, then, can they claim His gift who distrust His power
and His right?”
St. Ambrose, Concerning Repentance, I:7-8
(A.D. 388)

“All mortal sins are to be submitted to the keys of the Church and all can be
forgiven; but recourse to these keys is the only, the necessary, and the certain
way to forgiveness. Unless those who are guilty of grievous sin have recourse
to the power of the keys, they cannot hope for eternal salvation. Open your
lips, them, and confess your sins to the priest. Confession alone is the true gate
to Heaven.”
St. Augustine, Christian Combat
(A.D. 397)

“Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in
the New Testament the bishop and presbyter binds or looses not those who are
innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard various
kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed.”
St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 3:16,19
(A.D. 398)

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20, 21-23

Pax vobiscum

God Saw that It Was Good

 The Fall

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Genesis 1, 31

I believe it’s safe to assume that all Christians believe God is sovereign over all things, and that the fall of Adam and Eve didn’t catch God by surprise. Nor did Satan in the form of a serpent deceive God by any means. Yet Catholics and many non-Catholic Christians radically differ over how it was God wasn’t taken by surprise by our primordial parents and duped by the serpent. Without sounding negative or trying to be polemical, I wish to simply explain how it was neither Satan nor Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace by no free will of their own. Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden weren’t intentionally prearranged or determined by God only so that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ could come into the world strictly for the glory of God. Yet, there are countless Reformed and Evangelical Protestants who believe that’s how it was. Certainly, there’s nothing good about that.

Protestants who adhere to the false teaching of double predestination often cite Ephesians 1:5 which reads, “[God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” They believe that God predetermined some people to be destined to glory and other people to be destined to eternal damnation since no human soul is worthy of being saved by any natural merit of their own or even supernatural merit in the system of grace. However, the verb “predestined” is taken from the Greek word προορίζω (proorizó) which means “to know or declare in advance” by God’s foreknowledge. What God has known in advance is that faithful Christians shall be called to be adopted children of God through Jesus Christ but not necessarily to the preclusion of their free will.

Indeed, St. Peter refers to “the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” when speaking of faithful Christians who are sanctified or justified by the working of the Holy Spirit who prompts and strengthens them to be obedient to Christ to the point of having to endure persecution and face death because of their faith (1 Pet 1:2). St. Paul and St. Peter are referring to predestination to grace, not to eternal glory, which has been foreseen by God since before the creation of the world and humanity.

Yet we believe that the martyrs of the faith must have been destined to glory, though no human creature can know with absolute certainty whether they belong to the elect who are destined to glory. This is something only God can know from all eternity outside of time. But, unfortunately, some non-Catholics confuse the meaning of predestination (God’s foreknowledge of what we choose to do in faith by becoming Christians) and predetermination (the erroneous belief that God determines what we will do without any will of our own). Just because God knows what we will do, it doesn’t mean that He determines what we do. Of course, if God knows that we will do something, then we will do it, but only because God knows everything. Nothing escapes his foreknowledge. In our finite humanity, we can infer that it will rain by looking up at dark, threatening rain clouds that have covered the entire sky. Should it happen to rain, it won’t be because we looked up at the sky and declared it will or might rain.

God isn’t the author of evil. We choose good or evil of our own free will. We choose to be baptized and/or live up to our baptismal commitment upon reaching maturity. The early martyrs chose to become Christians and be faithful to Christ by suffering and dying in union with the Lord because of their love for him. They weren’t sentient machines designed to walk into the Roman Coliseum so that God could be merely glorified in Christ and Christ in God. God is forbearing toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that everyone should reach repentance. God desires all to be saved, but our salvation depends on whether we choose to repent and receive God’s grace by His prompting in the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 3:9).

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
Deuteronomy 32, 4

No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’;
for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.
James 1, 13

It certainly wasn’t God’s plan before the creation of the world that all humanity must die in Adam so that all could be made alive in Christ. God didn’t create sinners for the sake of making them need Jesus to spare them from God’s justice. Such reasoning does in a sense place the cart before the mule. True, the fall of humanity didn’t catch God by surprise since He is omniscient. However, God didn’t preordain or decree that Adam and Eve’s fall from grace should happen. If God did act on a whim in this way, He would surely have to take full moral responsibility for their sins. And if this were the case, there couldn’t be such a thing as sin at all or the need for a savior.

Catholics, on the contrary, believe God simply permitted the fall to happen, though it wasn’t something He desired. And God did allow the fall to happen for the sake of the greater good or else it wouldn’t have happened. But it wasn’t for the greater good that God directly and intentionally caused the fall of humanity either. God might be the physical cause of our transgressions since He knew that by creating Adam and Eve all their descendants would fall along with them short of His glory (Rom 3:23). But our sovereign Creator certainly isn’t morally responsible for the sins of humanity. We must also consider the serpent which has freely played a part in this drama by initially tempting Eve. It wouldn’t have tempted Eve in the first place if she and her husband had no free will. The truth is we are morally culpable for our own sins, or else we couldn’t be justly rewarded or punished by the Lord. God has given us the freedom to choose between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, and life and death (Deut 30:19).

Hence, Jesus came into the world because of sin. Sin didn’t enter the world because of Jesus. God did not create the world so that we should sin to allow Him to flaunt His divine mercy. If God permitted the fall of humanity, it was because He knew Jesus would come into the world and gain for us a life immeasurably more glorious than the preternatural life in the original paradise. In His justice, God has always loved us and has desired our spiritual well-being even before He created Adam. His omnipotence and sovereignty don’t negate His mercy and justice. All of God’s essential attributes co-exist harmoniously.

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get
a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Repent and live!
Ezekiel 18:32

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14, 33

In Catholic theology, there is a marked difference between what God desires and what God decrees. What God desires is His antecedent will, and what God decrees is His consequent will. God desires that everyone be saved (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 John 2:2, etc.), but He decrees that unrepentant souls must be cast into the everlasting fire of Hell in eternal expiation for their grave sins (Matt 25:41; Lk 13:3, etc.). And so, what God did intend, according to what He desired, was to create a world in which each human being would be free to respond to his grace as a sign of their love for Him. There can be no true love without human free will and liberty. The fall of Adam and Eve was a consequence of their moral freedom which God in His goodness and justice decreed they should possess in order to truly love Him and make their abode with Him (cf. Jn 14:23). It was because of their inordinate love of self that Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent and consequently disobeyed God.

Because of the fall, which God foresaw when He created the world, it was His predestined (not predetermined) plan and His grace that went before Him to give us the chance to be saved once we had fallen from His grace. Therefore, a person must willfully reject God’s ‘predestined’ plan for his salvation in order to be eternally damned. God has intended that a soul be saved this way: by not rejecting His word and resisting His grace. As a consequence of the reprobate’s act, God has predestined him to eternal damnation by His consequent will. With this, we perceive God as not being self-contradictory – willing two different things at once – but as completely faithful to Himself. God does desire that everyone come to repentance and be saved, but He is also a just God who doesn’t tolerate sin and will punish those who refuse to repent: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4).

Thus, what God hasn’t intended is to predetermine the eternal destiny of souls either way (double predestination) which is why He appeals to us to obey His commands and cooperate with His saving grace (2 Cor 7: 1; Eph 6:11-13, etc.). If God were, in fact, the author of confusion rather than peace, He wouldn’t implore us to renounce our carnal ways and receive His Spirit in our hearts so that we should be reconciled to Him and have eternal life with God.

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel
of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan;
even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand
plucked out of the fire?
Zechariah 3:1,2

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands
you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4, 7

If God has intentionally created evil over and against the good that He desires, then God can’t be good. And if God weren’t good, then there could be nothing good at all in His creation (cf. Gen 1:31). Obviously, if we know the difference between right and wrong, we can freely decide how to act – for good or for evil, for or against God who is absolute goodness in His divine essence. Meanwhile, God in His goodness and mercy has made sure that it shouldn’t be impossible for us to resist evil temptations by giving us sufficient grace which operatively enables us to direct our will to what is good and pleasing to Him.

Moreover, we couldn’t perceive anything as evil unless we first knew what is good in its proper measure according to our conscience. There would be no point in even having a conscience if we had no free will and moral responsibility. Nor would God have given us a conscience if, in fact, He were the author of evil. Love is good, and thus it originates from God who is love because He is good, but inordinate self-love isn’t good. Selfishness is an evil that freely arises out of a vacuum from within our natural selves. God expects us to love ourselves, but in proper measure, and He expects us to renounce our selfish desires which often lead to sins against Him and our neighbor. Certainly, we cannot hold God morally culpable for our own innate selfishness or inordinate love of self which original sin basically is. Human beings are the moral cause of entertaining dark thoughts and committing wicked deeds regardless of who created them physically. They have the moral liberty and capability to renounce their selfish desires.

Temptations arise within the order of creation, which Satan has been granted a certain limit to exploit. It’s because of the devil’s involvement in human affairs that our temptations are more difficult to overcome. Indeed, God blamed the serpent for having wrought what had tragically transpired in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:14). Nevertheless, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin by choosing to act on the serpent’s words which appealed to them in their inordinate self-love. They were morally responsible for their own actions. Instead of remaining in friendship with God, our primordial parents decided to draw away from Him by trying to be like God but apart from God and against His will. Satan didn’t face much resistance from Eve when he attempted to deceive her. This is why he succeeded. The thing that appealed to her more than her Creator was what He had created.

Thus, in His goodness and kindness towards us, God desires that we renounce our pride and inordinate love of self which are the root of sin, and humble ourselves before Him so that He will exalt us by helping us prevail over the false allurements of evil in our short-sightedness (1 Pet 5:6). It’s up to us to allow God to persuade us from succumbing to temptation with insufficient resistance because of our inclination to please ourselves with things that really aren’t good and enslave us.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51, 12-14

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things
that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on
earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with
him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality,
impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Colossians 3, 1-6

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that perfection in this world amounts to someone or something achieving its purpose. Human perfection lies in us achieving our proper end, viz., our intellectual capacities of understanding God and directing our will towards God by conforming it to His will. As I see it, Adam and Eve were created perfect in this way, but they were not created absolutely perfect. It’s a dogma of the Catholic Church that only God is absolutely perfect. According to the Angelic Doctor of the Church, God is absolutely perfect because He is entirely actual with no potential. All beings and things are perfect in proportion to their actuality. Adam and Eve were created perfect, but not absolutely, since they had the potential to freely fall short of achieving their purpose, which was to be good and in friendship with God by aligning their will with His. If God were responsible – though not morally responsible – for anything, it would be because of His wise decision to create an imperfect and free world in which we may choose or reject God. God desires that we want to be with Him in Heaven more than anything else to be there.

Ontologically, absolute perfection or immutability is an attribute of God as a composition of His divine essence which binds all His other attributes together. God’s faithfulness and justice, for instance, stem from His non-moral attribute of immutability which presupposes God cannot do any wrong by contradicting Himself. So, God can never be better or worse than He essentially is. Absolute perfection cannot be improved upon. His righteousness and justice are immutable. In His essence, God cannot ever be less righteous and just or unrighteous and unjust than we human beings can be. Nor can He be more righteous or just. God told Moses, “I am who I am. (Ex 3:14). God cannot be more or less than who He is.

Thus, if God had directly caused or pre-programmed Adam and Eve to sin, He would have acted or sinned against Himself by acting unjustly, and so there would be mutability in God. No Christian in their right mind can profess belief in a just and loving God while believing God caused Adam and Eve to sin against their will so that we would need a savior. An immutable God couldn’t possibly act on a whim to His own discredit.

As we noted above, there could be no reason for God to reward the righteous and punish the wicked if He determined how they should behave without any will of their own. By nature, in comparison with His creatures, God is perfect. In His essence, God is absolute perfection, just as He is absolute love, righteousness, and justice. There is no such thing as less-than-perfect perfection or a less-than-perfect God, one who deliberately damns people for no fault of their own or rewards people who don’t merit being rewarded. What we have here is a contradiction in terms: A god who can’t possibly be God.

In guilt I was born; a sinner was I conceived.
Psalm 51, 5

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I
agree that the law is good.  So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which
dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is,
in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the
good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Romans 7, 15-19

Catholics believe original sin (a state) is proper to each human being; that we all have inherited Adam’s moral weakness in our humanity. But original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of us. Adam’s personal guilt is something no human being has incurred. I suppose, since we are all inclined to sin and do, in fact, sin, we are guilty by association and thereby must often repent of our personal sins. Our human nature must be genetically transferred by our original ancestors. As soon as we are conceived in the womb, we acquire a nature that has the potential to draw us away from being good or godly and thereby less perfect. We do things that we don’t really want to do or hate doing, or we don’t do things that we know we are supposed to do and want to do – signs of our original goodness impaired by our moral faults and weaknesses affected by the stain of original sin. At some point in our lives, once we’ve morally matured, we commit our first sin. This is inevitable since we haven’t been created absolutely perfect. Our imperfect world is a moral testing ground that God has permitted us to inhabit so that we may show our love to be worthy of making our eternal abode with Him.

Hence, we are deprived of the original state of sanctity and justice because of this potentiality to sin against God. Original human goodness is manifested in our natural inclination towards what is good and comes from God. We all have the ability to direct our will towards what is good and is sustained by God’s sufficient grace since God is good and we have been created in the divine image. Yet, because of the fall, we possess a wounded nature that prompts us to choose what isn’t good and pleasing to God despite our knowledge of good and evil. Pride comes before the fall. Adam and Eve do in fact live inside each one of us. We all have inherited their selfishness which lies in the natural fabric of our being, so we are in daily need of conversion and being restored to God’s grace. However, the shame we might feel because of our sins reveals that human beings are still essentially good, having been created in the divine image, which Adam didn’t forfeit for his descendants (Gen 1:26). It’s just a matter of our living up to it, which isn’t an insurmountable feat and is necessary for our salvation (1 Jn 1:5-7).

Early Sacred Tradition

“Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which
pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces,
together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable
adultery, and execrable pride. ‘For God,’ saith [the Scripture], ‘resisteth the proud, but giveth
grace to the humble.’ Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us
clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off
from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.”
St. (Pope) Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 30
(A.D. 98)

“I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but all
humanity is made the same, sometimes belonging to God and sometimes to the
devil. If anyone is truly spiritual they are a person of God; but if they are
irreligious and not spiritual then they are a person of the devil, made such not
by nature, but by their own choice.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians
(c. A.D. 107)

“But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer,
but that each man by free choice acts rightly or wrongly…The stoics, not observing this,
maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God, in the
beginning made the race of men and angels with free will they will justly suffer in eternal fire
the punishment of whatever sins they have committed, and this is the nature of all that is
made, to be capable of vice and virtue.”
St. Justin Martyr, Apologia 2
[c. A.D. 160]

“The wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself;
and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds,
since it was in his free choice that he did not transgress the will of God.”
St. Tatian the Syrian, Address to the Greeks 7
[A.D. 170]

"So likewise men, if they do truly progress by faith towards better things, and receive the
Spirit of God, and bring forth the fruit thereof, shall be spiritual, as being planted in the
paradise of God. But if they cast out the Spirit, and remain in their former condition, desirous
of being of the flesh rather than of the Spirit, then it is very justly said with regard to men of
this stamp, 'That flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God;' just as if any one were
to say that the wild olive is not received into the paradise of God."
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:10,1
[A.D. 180]

"You are mistaken, and are deceived, whosoever you are, that think yourself rich in this
world. Listen to the voice of your Lord in the Apocalypse, rebuking men of your stamp with
righteous reproaches: 'Thou sayest,' says He, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have
need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind,
and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and
white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not
appear in thee; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.' You therefore,
who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself of Christ gold tried by fire; that you may be pure
gold, with your filth burnt out as if by fire, if you are purged by almsgiving and righteous
works. Buy for yourself white raiment, that you who had been naked according to Adam, and
were before frightful and unseemly, may be clothed with the white garment of Christ. And
you who are a wealthy and rich matron in Christ's Church, anoint your eyes, not with the
collyrium of the devil, but with Christ's eye-salve, that you may be able to attain to see God,
by deserving well of God, both by good works and character."
St. Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms, 14

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 5, 48

Pax vobiscum