Within the course of salvation history there have been many questions about the work of Christ and the role of the human freedom, or free will. There has been no shortage of theories. Church history shows that there have been many heresies from those trying find a synthesis between the two.
There seem to be two extremes when it comes to this issue—those who think that Christ will save us no matter what we do after coming to faith and those who think that one must continually work to attain salvation (Pelagianism).
The Catholic Definition of Freedom
Saint Pope John Paul II wrote two encyclicals titled Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Missio that deal with this important issue.
The Pope reaffirms the teaching of Christ in John 14:6 that He is the way and the truth. He echoes the words of God is creation where he saw the things that he created as good. The work of Christ is expressed as an act of love, and a love that the Father had from the beginning with creation. It was through this act of love that man was restored and made whole. Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God again and again offered to man” (Redemptor Hominis Para 9). Man is unable to enter into relationship with God unless it is through Christ (Redemptoris Missio Para 5). What Christ did for man was the greatest act of love that ever done. It is one that our feeble minds can barely start to fathom freedom!
The Pope firmly establishes that it is Christ who is the only way and is the source of our salvation. The work of Christ on the cross was an act of love that echoes back to the point of creation, and he reconciles man to himself. How about human freedom? The freedom of man is a source of controversy for many.
Our lives as lack meaning if we do not have love. We were made to love and live in communion with each other. Through His life, death, and resurrection Christ has shown us what love is. This love changes the lives of the apostles, and they passed that on and it changed the world.
Freedom to Choose Life
God offers this newness of life to every man, but man has the freedom to reject it. In this regard Pope John Paul II writes, “Faith demands a free adherence on the part of man, but at the same time faith must also be offered to him” (Redemptoris Missio Para 8). Freedom is not the ultimate end as the world teaches it to be. Freedom is the choice to do as we ought to.
Freedom is only a gift if one knows how to use it for everything that is true good (Redemptor Hominis Para 21). When we encounter Him that is truth we can either accept of deny what he says. He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NRSV).
Once we reach this realization Christ calls us to a higher standard of living. We are bound to regulate of lives with this truth, and we have the freedom to do so or not (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).
Human freedom is a part of the redemption. By his work on the cross, Christ redeems us by an act of love. We are called to love others and do what Christ commands of us.
John Paul II. Redemptor Hominis 1979 Web. Accessed September 9, 2019.
John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio 1990. Web. Accessed September 9, 2019.
About our guest blogger:
William is aconvert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the churchhewas ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William liveswith his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out hiswebsite/blog atwilliamhemsworth.comfor more great and informativeCatholic content!
What are the qualities of a good doctor? Is it talent alone? Medical training? Ability to communicate? Or a combination of these skills plus others?
Medicine is a broad field and so is the term doctor. I always have been interested in the process of healing, treating, and combating infirmities. I even contemplated getting thought about pursuing a science degree in college! Lately, my wife and I have been re-watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning of the series. While I don’t condone the morality of many of the characters, I do admire their strong desire to best care for their patients.
Humanity Needs Healing
Humanity is a broken race in need of healing. People suffer from physical, mental, and spiritual illnesses. Outwardly and historically, physical ailments have been most obvious and most attention focused to resolve. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I am pleased with the efforts made in the 21st century to spread more awareness of mental illnesses. What has definitely fallen by the wayside is spiritual health.
Side effects from failings to treat spiritual health include the following: selfishness, greed, envy, laziness, lust, despair, and self-doubt to just name a few. We need spiritual healing just as much, actually more so than other kinds of healing. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 386,
Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile. To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history.
The false philosophy of materialism rejects the idea that humanity is in need of spiritual healing. This is a dangerous and slippery slope to follow. While Jesus is the Ultimate Divine Physician, God sometimes raises up particular saints whose writings provide prescriptions to remedy sin. These individuals are known as the Doctors of the Church. This third installment of Spiritual Surgeons will focus on probably one of the least known Doctors—St. Lawrence of Brindisi.
The Capuchin Franciscan’s ability to promote peace amidst strife, Scriptural shrewdness, and voluminous insight on the Virgin Mary rightly place him among the greatest spiritual specialists.
According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his March 23rd, 2011 General Audience, “Thanks to his mastery of so many languages, Lawrence was able to carry out a busy apostolate among the different categories of people.” Living during the 16th century, the Franciscan priest was a key figure in refuting the heresies of the Reformation. Benedict XVI described the diplomacy of Lawrence as effective against the Protestants arguments. “With his calm, clear exposition he demonstrated the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of faith disputed by Martin Luther.
Along with the German pope’s accolades, St. Lawrence maintained the peace promoted by his predecessor and spiritual father—St. Francis of Assisi. In his First Sermon for the Feast of St. Francis St. Lawrence declared, “‘God is wonderful in his saints’ for if the works of nature are marvelous much more marvelous are the works of grace.” At select points in history God raises up saints to combat the errors of the time. Just as St. Francis was raised to fight the corruption of the 12th century, St. Lawrence fought charitably against the errors of the Protestant reformation.
Another gift the Holy Spirit granted St. Lawrence was an ability to interpret Scripture both skillful and faithfully.
The Apostolic Doctor’s Three Sermons for the Feast of St Francis displays his penchant for reading and applying the Bible. He makes frequent references to Old Testament figures such as Jonathan, Jacob, Daniel, Mordecai, and Moses to describe how God clothes a “lesser” figure with grace. Lawrence wrote in his First Sermon, “As the servant is sometimes dressed in nobler clothes than the Lord, so it will be permissible for me to say that Francis is the more wonderful Crucified than Christ, as God has so arranged for His greater glory.” Wow! His high praise of Francis definitely resonates with the biblical tradition that God selects the imperfect to testify to Divine Love and Truth.
Master of Mariology
Before researching this post, I honestly knew very little about St. Lawrence of Brindisi. As impressive as his diplomacy and academic knowledge are what impressed me most about the Apostolic Doctor is his mastery on the subject of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the Capuchin saint as “a highly qualified Mariologist” (March 23rd, 2011 General Audience). According to Cuthbert Gumbinger, O.F.M. Cap, S.T.D. in St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Apostolic Doctor, “Specialists in Mariology declare that the sixty-two sermons of Lawrence’s Mariaele form a complete summa of this matter, prominent in Marian literature not only at his time, but ever since!” (emphasis mine).
A reflection on the Annunciation demonstrates Lawrence’s masterful understanding of the significance of Mary. Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with you.’ This is a new form of greeting, never heard by another, never encountered before,” Lawrence writes. What makes the Capuchin priest exemplary in his study of Mary is the combination of simplicity and unwavering truth. In his First Sermon in the Mariale, Lawrence reflecting on Revelation 12 tells us,
Moreover, for this has She been clothed with the Sun, that we might know, that just as the Sun, one though it be, nevertheless illumines each and every man and warms with its heat as if it had been founded by God for each individual man, for there is not one who can hide himself from its heat;94in the same manner the Virgin Theotokos is the Mother of each and everyone, thus common to all as the very own Mother of each.
Here in this sermon Lawrence seamlessly discusses all four major doctrines pertaining to Mary: Her Virginity, Motherhood, Assumption, and Excellent Virtue (Immaculate Conception). Never have I read such a clear, consistent, and intriguing homily on Mary.
Although St. Lawrence of Brindisi is not a household name like an Augustine or Therese of Liseux, his sundry of vocations throughout his life as a diplomat, teacher, preacher, and scholar are second to none!
Collect Prayer from Feast Day for St. Lawrence of Brindisi
O God, who for the glory of your name and the salvation of souls bestowed on the Priest Saint Lawrence of Brindisi a spirit of counsel and fortitude, grant, we pray, that in the same spirit, we may know what must be done and, through his intercession, bring it to completion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Did the early church believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ? To answer this question the writings of the following four early church fathers will be discussed: St. Ignatius of Antioch who lived from approximately 35-108 A.D., St. Justin Martyr who lived from 100-165 A.D., St. Irenaeus who lived from 130-202 A.D., and St. Augustine who lived from 354-430 A.D. There are many more who write about the subject, but this is a small sampling.
St. Ignatius of Antioch
St. Ignatius of Antioch is an individual who has several distinctions in Church history. He learned the faith directly from St. John, but he also was the second bishop of Antioch after St. Peter (Johnson 46). While he was being led to Rome for his eventual martyrdom he wrote seven letters to a series of Christian communities. At the time he wrote these letters there was a dangerous heresy known as Docetism that was gaining steam. This dangerous error taught that Jesus was not really a human, and what people saw only seemed to be human. In many ways it was similar to Gnosticism in it view of who Jesus was.
St. Ignatius warned against this false teaching in a very strong manner. One of the ways he refuted this teaching was in the Eucharist. In his letter to the Smyrneans St. Ignatius writes, “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again” (Ignatius of Antioch 89). To defend the orthodox teaching of who Christ is he states that the Eucharist is the body of Christ who suffered for our sins. If it was a just a symbol, then this teaching on the Eucharist would have meant nothing to combat the Docetic heresy.
The Eucharist Provides Unity
In his letter to the Philadelphians, St. Ignatius writes about the importance of unity. He writes about union with the Bishop, avoiding schism, and how there is only one Eucharist. Regarding the Eucharist St. Ignatius writes, “Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons” (Ignatius of Antioch 81). Here we see a bold claim, at least in today’s world, that there is one true Christian church and that the Eucharist is at the center of its sacramental life (CCC 1407).
St. Ignatius also sees the Eucharist as not only the body and blood of Christ, but as a connection to him. In addition to being the true body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist is a source of unity and strength to continue the Christian journey. For St. Ignatius, the grace given through the God in the Eucharist helped him to proceed to his eventual martyrdom. The sacramental worldview involves seeing God work through ordinary things, and through his grace the Eucharist becomes what Christ says it is and helps us through life.
St. Justin Martyr
Another church father that taught that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ is St. Justin Martyr. A philosopher by trade, St. Justin was one of the first of the layman apologists. In his First Apology, St. Justin writes to the emperor to defend Christianity from misconceptions that were spreading in the Roman empire (Kreider 233). In this apology he lays out the order of mass in striking detail and addresses the charge of cannibalism that was often levied against Christians. He states that no one can receive the Eucharist unless they believe what the church teaches and only after baptism.
Regarding the Eucharist St. Justin states, “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Justin Martyr 185). The charge of cannibalism was serious offense on the Roman Empire, and Justin clarifies that the Eucharist is to eliminate doubt. However, he still says that it is the flesh and blood of Jesus.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons
The Gnostic Heresy was a big problem and became quite popular in the early church. St. Irenaeus of Lyons was concerned for the souls which he was responsible for. He wrote an excellent treatise titled Against Heresies in which he took the teaching of Gnosticism to task. The Gnostics taught that all matter was evil and that the true teaching of Christ was passed down in secret, and salvation can only be attained by attaining this secret knowledge. To combat this heresy, he said that all true churches have a rule of faith that has been passed down via apostolic succession. Essentially, he stated that all bishops can trace their lineage to the Apostles. This is still the teaching of the Catholic church today.
According to St. Irenaeus the sacrament allowed the Lord to shine through the follies of human weakness and strengthen us on the road to heaven, or immortality as he called it. He argues that Jesus was real person with flesh and bones, and he gave his flesh to nourish the body and soul of his followers. Regarding this, St. Irenaeus writes, “He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body” (Irenaeus 528).
St. Augustine of Hippo
The last church father to be discussed regarding the Eucharist is the great St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine was familiar with the Gnostic movement as he was a member of the Gnostic movement known as Manichaeism (Hitchcock 91). He understood the Gnostic movements teaching of all material matter being evil. He probably had a deeper appreciation of the sacraments and of the sacramental worldview. St. Augustine was a prolific writer and homilist, and as such he said and wrote much about the Eucharist.
In one of his sermons he was instructing a group that had just received the sacrament of baptism. Augustine had promised to explain the nature of the Eucharist after they had been washed from the stain of original sin and received the seal of the Holy Spirit in confirmation. Regarding the Eucharist St. Augustine states in sermon 227. “The bread you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what is in the chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Akin 297). Augustine goes on to say that our eyes see ordinary bread and wine, but when they are consecrated our faith obligates us to believe that they are the true body and blood of Christ.
St. Augustine wrote much more about the Eucharist, but from the quotation above we can deduce two things. Firstly, he strongly believed that the Eucharist was the literal body and blood of Christ and it is something that must be believed. Secondly, that the ordinary elements are transformed when God sanctifies them. God uses ordinary elements, infuses his grace, and takes material things that cause us to sin and transforms them to become a cause for our sanctification.
Akin, Jimmy. The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church. San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010. Print.
Hitchcock, James. History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012. Print.
Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Justin Martyr. “The First Apology of Justin.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Kreider, Alan. The Origins of Christendom in the West. Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark, 2001. Print.
About our guest blogger:
William is a convert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out his website/blog at https://tucsonapologetics.org/for more great and informative Catholic content!