Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fr. Ryan Erlenbush - Reconsiderations

Last Sunday, August 28th, was the feast of St. Augustine – though it was superseded by the Sunday liturgy. The holy bishop of Hippo and Doctor of Grace was, of course, a prolific writer. Almost everything he wrote, however, was a response to particular situations and controversies of the time and, while this is the mark of a true pastor of souls, it also made it more likely that there would be certain exaggerations or even errors in the finer points of his teachings.
And so, towards the end of his life (c. 426-428), St. Augustine wrote the Retractationes or “Reconsiderations” wherein he offers certain clarifications and corrections to his earlier writings.
I wish to offer this post in a similar spirit. In particular, I intend to clarify points which I have made here at The New Theological Movement which could really be confusing to some readers.

The level of authority which I claim when writing
I do not intend to claim any particular level of authority when writing articles for NTM. I do write as a parish priest, but I do not thereby claim to be an expert or to have any magisterial authority. Rather, I hope only to write with a spirit of charity and true pastoral concern – the teachings I present are not my own (or at least, I try to ensure that they are not mine), but come from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and from her greatest theologians.
However, I do readily admit that I often adopt a direct and somewhat forceful style which can give the impression that the opinion I express is meant to be taken as dogma. Certainly, that is not my intention! Still, I do believe that what we offer here at NTM is at least solid and reliable teaching based firmly in the tradition of the Church and the best of modern Catholic theology (recalling that the “modern period” extends from the 16th century to today).
Now, we turn to the reconsideration and re-presentation of certain points.
Regarding penance and the sacrament of Reconciliation
A few friends of mine have helped me to reconsider my claim that reconciliation is not valid if the penitent does not agree to the penance imposed by the confessor. First, I should be clear that I do not really hold this position absolutely. Rather, I have stated that, if the penitent directly and purposefully (with full knowledge of the seriousness of the matter) refuses to fulfill the penance given by the priest – that is, not simply desiring a different penance, but actually and intentionally refusing to do any penance whatsoever which the priest might ask – then that penitent is not disposed to receive the sacrament.
Such is the very clear teaching of the Baltimore Catechism (which I site not as a magisterial absolute, but as a sure guide for catechesis, which is the principal goal of The New Theological Movement): q.191 of the revised Baltimore Catechism n.4
“191. Q. What must we do to receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily?
A. To receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily we must do five things:
1. We must examine our conscience.
2. We must have sorrow for our sins.
3. We must make a firm resolution never more to offend God.
4. We must confess our sins to the priest.
5. We must accept the penance which the priest gives us.”
Similarly, I point to the Catechism of Pius X (question 106):
“106 Q: Is the penitent bound to accept the penance imposed on him by the confessor?
A: Yes, the penitent is bound to accept the penance imposed on him by the confessor if he can perform it; and if he cannot, he should humbly say so, and ask some other penance.”
Now, what I have written is certainly well within the teachings of the modern Catechisms. I do not claim this as a certain dogmatic truth, but I do think it is a reasonable opinion which a Catholic can hold in good faith.
I will admit that I should not have said that the sacrament would be “invalid”, since this is not the technical language which the Church uses. I should have said that the penitent will not receive the sacrament worthily, that he commits a sin (which is probably a serious sin, according to St. Alphonsus and others), and that those sins (at least those mortal sins) confessed without the intention of completing the penance must be confessed again in a later confession (insofar as our memory allows, and here we must avoid excessive scrupulosity) – this is the opinion of St. Alphonsus in his Theologia Moralis. We also ought to confess that we have made a confession without any intention of completing our penance.
Still, I must insist that my principal objective in mentioning the importance of accomplishing penance was to help people enter more fully into the fruitful reception of this sacrament. I would suppose that, on account of ignorance or confusion or misunderstanding, it has occurred (perhaps even quite often) that a particular penitent has not intended to fulfill the penance of the priest and, because this was not a purposeful and intentional fault, the sacrament has been received in a subjectively worthy manner.
The article on “How to make a good confession” can be found here.
Regarding whether most non-baptized children commit a mortal sin as their first rational act
I will deal with this only very briefly. I never claimed that it was a theological certainty that non-baptized children will commit a mortal sin as their first rational act, I only stated that this seemed most likely to me and was the opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas and others (even down to our own day, e.g. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, consultant to Pope Pius XII and the most widely respected theologian in the City of Rome during the early to mid 1900s).
The reason for this claim is quite simple: First, a man is either in mortal sin or in the state of grace. Now, a non-baptized person who comes to the age of reason is (as far as we can presume) still under original sin and therefore is not in the state of grace. However, for a rational individual to not be in the state of grace is for him to be in mortal sin.
Hence, we must presume that the first rational act (and we admit that rationality is a gradual process, but we also insist that there indeed be some act which is the first self-cognizant act) is either to turn to God or to turn away from God (even if this is only an omission). If the child turns toward God, then he is no longer in the state of original sin, but is remitted (by God’s grace) of original sin [perhaps in a quasi-“baptism of desire”] and brought into the state of grace. If, on the other hand, he turns away from God, then he has committed a mortal sin (at least of omission) – since this turn refuses grace and, without grace, the rational man is in mortal sin.
The simple point is this: No one who has the use of reason is deprived of sanctifying grace without committing an actual mortal sin. Hence, those non-baptized persons who come to the use of reason either: a) are moved by actual graces to make a supernatural act by which they receive grace and the forgiveness of original sin; or b) commit a mortal sin of omission by not receiving the grace of God and failing to turn to him in their hearts in the best way they know how.
Now, I only expressed my personal opinion that most non-baptized individuals commit a mortal sin as their first rational act. I do not claim this as certain, but I do think that the primary reason why the Gospel needs to be preached is that those rational persons who are not baptized are not yet in the state of grace, but are in great need of the grace which is ordinarily given through the sacraments.
This is a matter of opinion, but I believe can be safely taught in catechesis because it seems to be the consensus of the Fathers, Doctors, saints and theologians (even, indeed, of many theologians today). The relevant article can be found here.
Regarding the limbo of the children
Again, here I must be clear: I have very emphatically stated that the Church does not require us to believe in the children’s limbo. We are free to believe that deceased non-baptized infants have, by some working of grace beyond our knowledge, gone to heaven. I would strongly defend their salvation as a possible option.
However, we are also free to think that the children who die without baptism go to limbo. Now, I myself am slightly more inclined to this belief, but I am not even personally settled to one side or the other. It is a very difficult question, one which is particularly sensitive today on account of the vast increase of abortions and miscarriages.
What I have tried to explain in my posts on limbo is only what limbo WOULD be if it did exist – i.e. I am only trying to present what the theologians are claiming when they argue for the existence of a children’s limbo.
If there were a limbo for children who die without baptism, it would have to be part of hell because at the end of time there can be no third realm beyond heaven and hell. However, the children there would almost certainly not know that they were missing out on heaven, nor would they know that they are in hell. They would only have a natural knowledge of God – knowing he exists and loving him as the Creator, but completely ignorant of the Trinity and of Jesus. These children would probably suffer no sensible pains (according to St. Thomas), but would instead by very happy and perfectly fulfilled on a natural level.
So, considered subjectively, limbo would be a very good place! However, considered objectively, it is part of hell because the children would have missed out on the salvation which is above our nature and which is given us in Christ Jesus. Knowing and loving God on a natural level, they would still be completely deprived of the supernatural knowledge and love which brings supernatural happiness to man.
In my writing on this subject, I am doing nothing more than re-iterating the teaching of the Baltimore Catechism (and, mind you, I am only trying to present what the theological opinion of theologians has been about limbo; all I’m trying to do is present the teaching which is found in the Baltimore Catechism and other such catechetical works).
From Baltimore Catechism n.4, q. 154:
“154. Q. Is Baptism necessary to salvation?
A. Baptism is necessary to salvation, because without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Those who through no fault of theirs die without Baptism, though they have never committed sin, cannot enter Heaven neither will they go to Hell. After the Last Judgment there will be no Purgatory. Where, then, will they go? God in His goodness will provide a place of rest for them, where they will not suffer and will be in a state of natural peace; but they will never see God or Heaven. God might have created us for a purely natural and material end, so that we would live forever upon the earth and be naturally happy with the good things God would give us. But then we would never have known of Heaven or God as we do now. Such happiness on earth would be nothing compared to the delights of Heaven and the presence of God; so that, now, since God has given us, through His holy revelations, a knowledge of Himself and Heaven, we would be miserable if left always upon the earth. Those, then, who die without Baptism do not know what they have lost, and are naturally happy; but we who know all they have lost for want of Baptism know how very unfortunate they are.”
Again, I do not present this as though it were an absolute teaching, but only to show that this was the common opinion of many. My point here is not to argue for the existence of the limbo of the children, but only to show what the theologians had claimed about limbo.
[The fact that the Baltimore Catechism states that limbo is neither in Heaven or Hell does not contradict my point that Limbo is a part of Hell (i.e. the fringe, which is what the Latin word “limbus” means). Rather, the Catechism is meaning to state that Limbo is not in Hell proper, since those souls do not suffer sensible torments or pains (and it is in this sense that I have stated that the children in limbo do not suffer pains, i.e. they suffer no sensible pains).]
A few lines from the Catholic Encyclopedia will suffice to summarize the traditional position:
“Now it may confidently be said that, as the result of centuries of speculation on the subject, we ought to believe that these souls enjoy and will eternally enjoy a state of perfect natural happiness; and this is what Catholics usually mean when they speak of the limbus infantium, the ‘children's limbo.’ […] Moreover, there was the teaching of the Council of Florence, that ‘the souls of those dying in actual mortal sin or in original sin alone go down at once (mox) into Hell, to be punished, however, with widely different penalties.’ […] What has been chiefly in dispute is whether this happiness is as perfect and complete as it would have been in the hypothetical state of pure nature, and this is what the majority of Catholic theologians have affirmed.” [see the whole article here (with a very good history of the discussion)]
The International Theological Commission, which is the principle consultative body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when clarifying that limbo has never been officially taught as a matter of doctrine, has also stated that “[The children’s limbo] remains a possible theological hypothesis.” (see the 19 April 2007 document here)
I have written on this topic many times, but I will point to these articles: here, here, and here.
Some modernists will claim that the souls in limbo (if there is a limbus puerorum) could not possibly be happy because they are completely without God. However, this is a manifest error – the souls in limbo (as well as those in Hell proper) are not completely separated from God, but are only deprived of any supernatural union with the Lord. Therefore, the souls in limbo could enjoy perfect natural happiness through a natural union with God. Nothing, not even a soul in Hell, is completely separated from God.
Are all wealthy persons guilty of mortal sin?
Though I have written several times on the importance of caring for the poor, I would never claim that all wealthy persons are in mortal sin. I would never claim to be able to judge the state of a man’s soul.
However, I will state this (and I will be as simple and direct as possible): I cannot see how, objectively, it is not a mortal sin (i.e. grave matter) for one man to be rich while his neighbor (i.e. one whom he could easily assist) starves to death or lacks the basic necessities required to continue in life. If a man has abundant resources, he is obligated to give to those whom he can reasonably help if they lack the NECESSITIES which are required for life.
Objectively, it is grave matter for a man to refuse such necessities to the poor when he could reasonably do so (and I mean to those who are truly poor, who cannot continue without assistance). In fact, such assistance is not really an act of charity or almsgiving (in the common use of the words), but is an act which is dictated by justice (so says St. Ambrose, and St. Thomas agrees).
In my article on the subject, I defend this opinion with many citations of Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Ecumenical Councils. See the articles here and here.
Regarding whether Christ is “physically present” in the Eucharist
I don’t want to get into the whole theology of this debate, I have already discussed it many times on this blog (and will do so many more times in the future). I will simply try to explain what I am actually claiming.
I do not say that it is impossible for the Church to teach that Christ is physically present, I only state that I am quite certain that she will never in fact teach this. I base this opinion on the fact that Pope Paul VI (practically quoting St. Thomas directly) states that Christ is not present in the Eucharist as in a place: “Christ is present, whole and entire in His physical ‘reality’, corporeally present, although not in a manner in which bodies are present in a place” (Mysterium Fidei, 46).
Now, when we say that a thing is “physically present” we generally mean that it is present “in a manner in which bodies are present in a place.” But Pope Paul VI (following St. Thomas Aquinas word-for-word) has taught that we cannot say that Christ is present in the Eucharist after the manner in which bodies are present in a place.
Therefore, I don’t think that it is helpful to say that Christ is “physically present” in the Eucharist – though it is very helpful to state that he is present in his “physical reality”. Moreover, I doubt that the Church would ever state that the Christ is “physically present” in the Eucharist, since this is not be the way the Church has spoken of the Eucharist since the time of the Scholastics (or ever, for that matter).
Two articles on this subject can be found: here and here.
On the “age of reason” and the mental development of children
Some (very modern) persons are intent on stating that any notion of “age of reason” or “attaining to the use of reason” is nonsense because, as they claim, the maturation of a child is a gradual process. Reading certain modern writings against the notion of the “age of reason”, one might get the impression that St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Alphonsus Liguori, the writers of Canon Law, Bl. John Paul II (who promulgated that Law), and all the other Fathers, Doctors, and theologians are complete idiots who knew and know nothing at all about human development!
Of course the mental development of a child is a gradual process – but some act must be the first self-cognizant act! Of course we cannot make an absolute statement about the “age of reason” that applies to every child – but, in general, it seems to the pastors of the Church (i.e. to the bishops) that most children only become rational enough to make morally significant decisions at around the age of seven years (and, as a priest who has heard many first confessions, I can testify to the Church’s wisdom in this matter).
In this point, it is important that we reason with the Church, with the Roman Catechism of Trent, with the (current and past) Code of Canon Law, with the current Catechism, with St. Thomas Aquinas, with the moral theologians (including St. Alphonsus Liguori), and with many others down to our own day who have taught and still teach that the words “age of reason” and “attaining to the use of reason” are meaningful ways of speaking.
If, in previous comments over the years, I have been harsh or too direct (as I surely have on occasion), I am deeply sorry and I sincerely ask forgiveness. We all (even us priests) are growing into full maturity in Christ. Please pray for me, as I pray for all of you. Know that, in all things, my one concern is the clear and accurate presentation of the Faith.
I do not present myself as a theologian or as a supreme arbiter of what is Catholic and what is not. I am only a simple parish priest, and I write for this blog in my spare time. I rejoice if I am able to help anyone learn more about our Faith and come closer to Christ our Savior.


Royce Hood said...

Dear Father Ryan,

Thank you very much for your beautiful work! Especially for your humility.

Royce Hood
Founder /
Student of Law / Ave Maria School of Law

A Sinner said...

I suppose what I find troubling, then, is this whole Thomistic distinction surrounding the attainment of Reason as regards grace.

Saying "No rational individual is denied grace without committing a personal mortal sin" sounds arbitrary. At that point, why should infants be either?

If we're positing (and this is clearly a matter beyond the scope of Revelation) that God offers grace extra-sacramentally to the non-baptized at the moment of attainment of Reason...we could just as well posit that He's infusing it (as in baptism) into the non-rational, or giving it to the otherwise personally innocent at the moment of their death, etc.

I know the idea is to exempt God from seeming like a monster for not even offering grace...yet, no one has a right to grace, and in any case, if this were monstrous, it would be just as monstrous, then, to deny it to the non-rational.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm going to copy here a comment (and my response) which comes from the earlier article on whether children can commit mortal sins.


El Eremita said...
Dear Father,

One question: If every unbaptized child commits a mortal sin upon entering age of reason, can it be said to be a truly a free act? If it is indeed free, then there must be an actual possibility of avoiding it.

I also have problems with the opinion that if an unbaptized child turns to God as his first rational act, he will merit the remission of original sin. What is the theological foundation of this opinion? I thought that only Baptism, the desire of it or martyrdom could do this.

Thanks in advance for your time and for this excellent blog.
August 31, 2011 6:03 AM


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...
El Eremita,
Great question! If you don't mind, I'm going to copy it over to the more recent post "Reconsiderations" - - and I will answer it more fully there.

Briefly, I will state that it is almost certainly NOT the case that EVERY non-baptized child commits a mortal sin as his first rational act ... I do think (personally) that most do, but almost certainly not all.

Regarding the infusion of grace, the point is that there is a "baptism of desire" which tends toward the Sacrament of Baptism (either explicitly or implicitly). The Catholic Tradition has always maintained that it is possible for those who have not been baptized to be forgiven original sin and elevated in sanctifying grace through the baptism of blood/desire.
[most theologians agree that those who, through no fault of their own, no nothing at all about the Faith (e.g. little unbaptized children who have just reached reason) can make an implicit act of faith through a desire for God (even though they no nothing at all about the Trinity or the Incarnation).

I hope this helps!
Peace and blessings to you! +
August 31, 2011 9:36 AM


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the encouraging note. Wonderful to see that you are at the Ave Maria Law School!
Please do keep me in prayer, together with all priests, that we might truly follow after the Heart of our Savior. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A Sinner,
You ask a very good question, let me try to explain St. Thomas' reasoning.

From Scripture, and from Tradition, it is clear that God offers grace to everyone who has the ability to respond (i.e. to those who have attained to the use of reason).

Also, again from both Scripture and Tradition, it is clear that the graces given to Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and (most especially) the Blessed Virgin Mary -- graces by which they were forgiven original sin while in the womb, wihtout the use of reason, and also without sacramental baptism -- are very special and unique graces.
Now, there is nothing in the Scriptures which would directly lead us to think that God regularly gives these special graces (esp. that given to Jeremiah and John the Baptist who were both called from the womb and sanctified by the Spirit) to millions upon millions of children.

Hence, though from the perspective of reason alone the distinction may seem a bit arbitrary (at least on the surface), when we recall that this is a matter which is beyond reason and can only be known through Revelation, we must recognize that St. Thomas (and the whole tradition) has a good point.

It is, in fact, a matter of Church teaching that God does offer grace to all who have attained to the use of reason -- everyone is given at least sufficient grace, such that if they cooperate with that grace they would receive sanctifying grace and be saved.
Children who lack reason are not able to cooperate with sufficient grace -- even in baptism, they are moved entirely by grace and not by the free choice of their will (neither are they moved against their will, for they have no use of free will either to accept or reject grace).

We simply must hold that sufficient grace is given to all and therefore all adults have a real possibility of being saved.
This is not because God is bound to offer grace, but because he has promised that he will do so -- he revealed to us that no rational person is damned except for personal mortal sin. He has promised us that everyone is given grace sufficient unto salvation (but, as far as we can tell, children without reason are not able to be saved without the sacrament of baptism).

I hope that this is somewhat clear. I know it is a difficult subject! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

n.b. Obviously the Blessed Virgin is a different case than Jeremiah and John, since she was not forgiven original sin but was preserved from it.
However, I include her in the discussion since most of the theologians of the tradition included her -- now we know even more clearly how special and unique the graces given her really were (and here we see the beautiful development of Doctrine)! +

Anonymous said...

I don't think you've been too harsh or authoritarian, Father. As a matter of fact, it is very refreshing to me to see bold expositions on the Faith, explanations given with force and clarity which highlight the necessity for our acceptance of those aspects of the Faith which are defined dogma. With the pervasive influence of modernism in the Church, we the faithful are often presented with either watered-down catechesis, or dissembling relativistic explanations of the Faith that leave one feeling disoriented and confused, at best. Although I do not often comment, I have found your expositions a very refreshing change of pace, and have given me much hope regarding the younger generation of priests entering the Church. Perhaps I like the Faith presented in a more clear cut manner than some, but I think that clear presentation is in the best traditions of the Faith and is very badly needed at this time.

May God continue to bless you and your apostolate abundantly.

Anonymous said...

Actually, here's a question for you. Can we, through repeated commission of grave sins and being completely unrepentant for them, ever so engage God's Justice that He would damn us while still alive? Is there ever a point where a sinner can sin so much that he cannot repent? I've always believed that was not possible, that God's infinite Mercy is always active until the moment of our particular judgment, but a friend has presented me with some analysis of St. Thomas Aquinas' writings that seems to indicate that the Angelic Doctor did believe that God might cut off the Graces necessary for repentance to someone who is still alive on this earth. My friend also claims that St. Alphonse Ligouri may have thought similarly, but I haven't been able to find any quotes supporting that claim.

This is a big topic, perhaps worthy of a post, if you haven't already done one on it! Any thoughts?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement!

Regarding the gift of grace.
St. Alphonsus had a great insight in this regard -- we are always given the graces needed to pray. And if we pray and ask for more grace, it will be given. And then, if we continue to cooperate with grace (esp. through prayer) we will certainly be converted and saved.

Hence, there is no time (in life) when a sinner is utterly abandoned, since he always has at least the grace necessary to pray and so obtain more graces.

Hope that helps. +
[perhaps I will get the time to make a post on this at some point]

Bernardus said...

Dear Fr. Ryan,
I would believe that your comments could be mistaken as harsh or terse, but I have never found that the case in reviewing them. Perhaps I have never found myself on the receiving end and that makes the difference. As to the authority and clarity of your teaching, I find it refreshing given what most of us "pew sitters" usually are exposed to. I also find every post quite challenging in that I would research my responses and "dig into the matter" as it were. In my mind, and prayer, I want to learn what a particular Church Father or Council or Theologian etc. is bringing completely to the post. That being said, I spend more time researching than offering comment or opinion.
Again, I think you are doing a fine work here. I keep you daily in my prayers. Please continue to pray for me.
Peace and blessings to you.
Ernie(aka Bernardus)

Fr. Gabriel Burke C.C. said...

Dear Father,
I for one value your blog. As one who ended formal theology when I was ordained and try to keep up with theology as best I can. I find your blog a great help.You have especially helped me in learning more about the Fathers. It might seem strange to you but in seminary apart from St Augustine we hardly touched on the Fathers. Since then I have tried to read as mush as possible their writings.
Keep up the good work and be assured of my prayers.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Fr. Burke and Bernardus,
If Fr. Martin and I can be a help to getting the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to be more well known, then NTM is a grand success! +

Anonymous said...

Fr Ryan,

Regarding you reconsideration concerning the validity of the Sacement of Reconciliation, it is good of you to have retracted yourself, because, as you say, it was misleading. Of course, a penitent should strive to make his penance, but saying the Sacrament was invalid it he omitted it was just plain wrong. All the best.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

George, I'm not sure you if you intentionally misrepresenting my earlier article or if you are truly mistaken.
[in any case, it is not particularly charitable to say that I was "just plain wrong", especially since you don't even understand what I said in the first place]

I never said that confession was invalid if a penitent simply omitted to complete his penance.
What I had said was that the penance would be invalid if the penitent refused to do any form of penance whatsoever and did not even have any intention of making satisfaction for his sins.

It must be recalled, however, that contrition implies also the desire to make satisfaction -- hence, if a penitent lacks any desire at all to complete any sort of penance whatsoever (i.e. he explicitly refuses to complete any satisfaction at all), then he lacks even imperfect contrition.
This would be a very serious fault indeed -- it could invalidate the sacrament, through compromising the requirement of (at least imperfect) contrition.

All the best to you. +

Anonymous said...

@ Fr Elenbush 5:27 pm

''I never said that confession was invalid if a penitent simply omitted to complete his penance.
What I had said was that the penance would be invalid if the penitent refused to do any form of penance whatsoever and did not even have any intention of making satisfaction for his sins.''

Sorry Father, this comment clearly shows you are still not clear on the fact that Sacrament is valid even if no penance is made by the penitent.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anon (5:34pm) [presumably Gregory],
1) please remember to use a pseudonym
2) I wish you would read my comment more carefully - since you still clearly do not recognize that my whole claim was never about whether the penance is "made" or "completed" by the penitent, but on the quality of the contrition (which requires some desire to make satisfaction).

3) To be very clear: There are many many many cases in which the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been and will be valid even though the penitent has not in fact completed the penance.

The sacrament is always valid before the penance is completed, so long as the priest says the proper words with the proper intention and the penitent has contrition and makes an integral confession (to the best of his ability, as the Church herself teaches).
My point is that contrition itself at least implicitly contains a desire to make satisfaction (i.e. to do some sort of penance) for our sins. Without a desire (at least an implicit desire) to make satisfaction, we do not have contrition and therefore we do not have a valid sacrament.

Sorry Gregory, your comment shows that you are making no effort to read my comments or articles in a spirit of charity ... in fact, you are very clearly misrepresenting what I have expressly stated.

Anonymous said...

@ Fr .Erlenbush 8:28 p.m


Contrition and confession with absolution are indispensable for the validity of the Sacrament. But the penance of the penitent is essential only for “the completeness or the fruitfulness of the sign,” not for the validity of the Sacrament.

The satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and of the penitent’s contrition and confession are sufficient for a valid Sacrament, even without any acts of penance.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

George (sorry I confused your name earlier),
I completely agree with everything you said in your comment of 8:35pm.

Good, I'm glad we agree!

And, btw, true contrition requires the desire to make satisfaction for our sins (at least an implicit desire). Hence, anyone who explicitly refuses and rejects any act of satisfaction (i.e. penance) does not really have contrition for sin.
Now, if contrition is lacking (as you yourself admit) the sacrament will be invalid.

"Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction." (CCC 1450, Roman Catechism II,V,21, cf Trent [DS 1673])

And our Savior himself said: "Do penance, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Without at least the desire to make satisfaction and do penance, there is no true contrition.

In any case, I am truly glad that we have come to an agreement! +

Anonymous said...

@ Fr. Erlenbush 8: 45

No Father, we don't agree. Even if someone refuses and rejects any act of satisfaction - although they should not - this does not affect the validity of the Sacrament.

The acceptance of a particular penance assigned by the priest is not absolutely required for validity, nor for the forgiveness of sin, and no magisterial source makes such an assertion.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Is it malice or ignorance that keeps you from reading my comments and articles carefully?

Let me say it again (quoting from the above article): " I would suppose that, on account of ignorance or confusion or misunderstanding, it has occurred (perhaps even quite often) that a particular penitent has not intended to fulfill the penance of the priest and, because this was not a purposeful and intentional fault, the sacrament has been received in a subjectively worthy manner."
Hence, even though it may happen that a penitent does not intend to fulfill the particular penance given by the priest it is quite possible that the sacrament be received not only validly but also worthily (due to ignorance).

[so, I think we are in agreement after all]

The Catechism of Trent teaches us that true contrition requires the desire to complete some sort of penance:
"In the next place, our contrition must be accompanied with a desire of confessing and satisfying for our sins."
"Only that satisfaction constitutes part of the Sacrament which, as we have already said, is offered to God for sins at the command of the priest. Furthermore, it must be accompanied by a deliberate and firm purpose carefully to avoid sin for the future."
"Such being the nature of satisfaction, it will not be difficult to convince the faithful of the necessity imposed on the penitent of performing works of satisfaction."

In fact, if a penitent were totally contrary to any act of satisfaction -- not even desiring to make amends for his sins or to complete any sort of penance whatsoever -- the priest should not grant absolution.

Why, after all, do you think it has been called the "Sacrament of Penance"? Perhaps because penance (or at least the desire to make satisfaction) is an integral and necessary part of the sacrament insofar as it is connected (at least implicitly) with contrition?!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ryan,

Given your comments above, it is not clear whether the mere implicit desire to make some type of satisfaction is required for validity, or whether the willingness to accept the penance chosen by the priest is also necessary. Could you clarify?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm not sure what is still confusing ...

Contrition is required for validity. And contrition implicitly contains a desire to make satisfaction for sin.
Hence, explicit and total rejection (knowing and free) of any sense of satisfaction for sin would make the sacrament invalid.

Willingness to accept the penance from the priest is required for a worthy reception -- and this penance can be negotiated, if it seems too hard.

Please re-read my article above ... it's all there.

Anonymous said...

I would not consider myself to have satisfied the requirements for a good confession if I did not do the penance as prescribed by the priest, and in a very timely manner. I had never thought of people who would willfully not do the penance?

Most penances today are so light, anyway! The most time consuming I've ever gotten is to say a Rosary. As if that's a chore! Woo-hoo! Another Rosary!

A Sinner said...

"This is not because God is bound to offer grace, but because he has promised that he will do so -- he revealed to us that no rational person is damned except for personal mortal sin."

Did He?

I'm not sure there is a dogma saying that (assuming "damned" includes Limbo). The inclusion of the rational/non-rational distinction of persons (which is later) seems oddly specific to be a point of Revelation.

After all, as regards the OLD dispensation at least, Dante (not that I'm claiming he was a theologian, but he does represent significant tradition) imagined Socrates and Plato and Homer in Limbo with the infants.

If adults with original-sin-but-not-mortal could be non-heretically imagined as remaining in Limbo from before Christ, I don't see why that changes after Christ (though I know Aquinas, based on what I can glean from the articles on circumcision and pre-Christ justification, might not agree with Dante).

"He has promised us that everyone is given grace sufficient unto salvation (but, as far as we can tell, children without reason are not able to be saved without the sacrament of baptism)."

Revelation doesn't allow us to presume the extra-sacramental salvation of adults either. The former fact (about sufficient grace) doesn't guarantee extra-sacramental grace either, as it's possible all these sufficient graces have been providentially arranged (for those who accept them) to lead to the reception of actual water baptism. Seems "unlikely" perhaps, but not impossible.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A Sinner,
It is very strange that Dante puts adults in the Limbo of Hell ... Certainly, in this regard, he is not following the Fathers or Doctors of the Church.
St. Thomas Aquinas (following the Church Fathers) asserts that it is not possible for an adult (or anyone with reason) to have simply original sin without also mortal sin.
I wrote about this a while back ... it may help to check out that post:
[for an unbaptized person, his first rational act will either be a mortal sin or a grace-filled turning to the Lord which frees him from original sin.]

Regarding whether God always gives at least sufficient grace to all the living ... that is a matter of faith ... we MUST hold to this. In fact, to deny the real possibility of salvation to all people (through the gift of sufficient grace) is part of the heresy of Calvin.

Consider the teaching of Gaudium et Spes: "since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery" (GS 22)

A Sinner said...

"Regarding whether God always gives at least sufficient grace to all the living ... that is a matter of faith ... we MUST hold to this."

I wouldn't deny that at all.

What I would question is whether this necessarily implies extra-sacramental justification (perhaps the actual sufficient graces, for those who accept them, DO always lead to water baptism), and also, on the other hand, the seeming limitation of the living to the rational.

"for an unbaptized person, his first rational act will either be a mortal sin or a grace-filled turning to the Lord which frees him from original sin."

This seems a scholastic construction, though, NOT a dogma of Revelation in any sense of the word, and one which does not even seem to sit well with anyone's memories of their first rational act.

Mortal sin requires full knowledge, no? It seems absurd to claim that all these children, upon reaching the age of reason, suddenly commit a mortal sin on account of some abstract consideration of the nature of the self in relation to God that no one actually remembers making.

My real objection to this line of though, however, is the seeming semi-pelagianism in it all. I wouldn't deny that adults have reason and free will in a way that infants do no, but I question how much this has to do with the mechanics of salvation.

As if in baptized infants it's "all grace" doing the moving but that adults can somehow "earn" salvation through an act of free cooperation with God. Yes, albeit, we'd say the cooperation is itself a grace in some sense (especially in the Thomistic understanding of soteriology and predestination). But there is no particular reason to think this cooperation should be necessary.

We know God can simply infuse grace (as in baptized infants), so why He'd make its extra-sacramental reception dependent on an act of the will...raises not only the question of why deny it to non-baptized infants, but also the question of why still require baptism for adults!?

If all we need is an act of the will for this extra-sacramental justification...well, it leads to a LOT of mental gymnastics seemingly (about most people's first act being a mortal sin, etc) to justify it.

It is at this point which theological speculation beyond the actual contents of Revelation (and, indeed, into matters that seem deliberately non-revealed for a reason)...starts to seem absurd, even prying, in a manner to which I think the Orthodox rightly object.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
1) The reference to the Orthodox, to the "rigidity" of scholasticism, and to semi-pelagianism are all red-herrrings.
2) btw, you are accusing both St. Thomas (the common doctor) and St. Augustine (the doctor of grace) of "semi-pelagianism", on the one hand, and "rigidity", on the other...

3) Grace cannot move in a rational person without also moving their free will. There is no way for an adult to be saved without a choice of the free will -- and this choice is itself moved by grace.

4) Regarding our own memories of childhood ... recall, St. Thomas is speaking about non-baptized children. Also, remember that modern man is far too sentimental about childhood.

5) The question of extra-sacramental graces is indeed an open one. It does seem that any "baptism of desire" though would be potentially connected with the sacrament, as tending toward it.

6) I hope that you do go and look at the article (at least the quotations from the Summa), since anyone who looks at it honestly would never speak of it so derogetorily ... calling it a "scholastic construction" (as though St. Augustine didn't hold it!) or "absurd prying" ... these are Doctors of the Church, how bout a little respect?

Peace. +

A Sinner said...

I'm saying there is a tendency in Western thought to a legalism and rationalism to which I think the East is a necessary balance, and that this is in some ways the case par excellence for demonstrating that.

To me, these all seem needless speculations and, indeed, to posit what is "likely" and "not likely" without any real way of saying that (this is God we're talking about after all, attempting to "predict" His behavior outside what He has revealed seems like something of a dead-end).

To me, it seems enough to say:

A) Water baptism is the only Revealed means we have been given for justification (post-Christ, at least) for both the rational and non-rational;

B) God's hands are not bound by the Sacraments;

C) God truly desires the salvation of all and offers all sufficient grace to be saved.

I'm not sure why any speculation beyond this is needed. A tells us what WE have to do with urgency (not being able to presume, before-the-fact, on anything else), B and C allow for hope (though not presumption) after-the-fact for extra-sacramental salvation by non-revealed means. There is an elegance there.

On the other hand, the traditional Western take seems convoluted in its desire to explain what God has specifically (and, I assume, deliberately) left unexplained in Revelation, and puts a LOT of emphasis on the rational/non-rational distinction between persons.

A Sinner said...

The traditional Western model seems to build up the following tower of speculation:

1) It declares that it is "likely" (almost treating it a certainty!) that God saves some who make an act of good will (almost as if they have a right to it at that point, or at least that it could be assumed).

2) But, the other side of the coin, then also posits (against empirical evidence, merely based on an abstraction about the nature of the first act of the will) that most [unbaptized] people's first free act is likely of bad rather than good will. Mainly, it seems, to "maintain the appearances" and explain why evangelization and adult baptism is still urgent.

3) While, at the same time, positing that it is unlikely that God saves unbaptized infants, and that they go to Limbo.

The estimates of "likelihood," however, seem presumptuous, as speaking of what is "likely" in terms of God's behavior seems the height of folly.

Specifically, the likelihood of 1 seems based on the dogma that God provides all with sufficient grace for salvation. And there is an assumption that (based on how the situation of the world looks) this must mean some people are being saved extra-sacramentally (say, pre-Columbian Amerindians, etc) because there are some people who never even get the option.

However, as I've said above...we have no idea. Perhaps God DOES arrange (even miraculously) for justification by actual water baptism for any adults who respond to the actual preparatory graces (I think even Aquinas discussed this possibility). And/or perhaps all the adults who never even hear the Gospel are people who reject the sufficient grace anyway (and so, in His providence, it didn't matter if God placed them where water baptism would be impossible). There is really no way to call this more or less likely than anything else.

The likelihood of 2 is posited, but built on the already flimsy assumptions made to explain the "likelihood" of 1...and seems basically a way to explain why baptism and evangelization are still urgent given the possibility admitted in 1.

And then 3's unlikelihood is based merely on a LACK of evidence, or some notion that the extra-baptismal infusion of grace for John the Baptist and Mary was extraordinary. Of course, there are tons of problems with this. For one, they were born before Christ, and justification wasn't tied to baptism then anyway. Two, perhaps what's special about these cases is merely that they received the infusion in the womb. But that doesn't say anything about whether God might, say, infuse grace for all other infants at the moment before death (once any and every chance of accomplishing justification through the Sacrament itself has run out).

Indeed, there is no Revelation of this latter possibility. But then, there is no Revelation stating that God's providing of sufficient grace to all implies extra-sacramental salvation of adults either (as I said, it could be that all people who respond DO get water baptism).

Really, we just don't know, so the speculation seems based on tenuous assertions of probability from a human perspective. But what seems probable from a human perspective...has little to do with how God actually is likely to act or not act.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A Sinner,
Yes, there is certainly some speculation here ... however, you are getting dangerously close to denying the old maxim: "Faith seeks understanding".

To say "It's a mystery, let's not think about it" would be a terrible mistake.

Also, it would be heretical to claim that only those can be saved who have been baptized with water. (the heresy of Fr. Fenney)
Therefore, I don't think it is too much speculation to state that it is possible that God saves some who have not been baptized with water.

Reading what you write about scholasticism reminds me of a man who looks at a beautiful work of art and thinks it restricted simply because it is within a frame.

David Urbanski said...

I am convinced that the somewhat forceful nature of your opinions is a "necessary evil," as a result of this less-than-perfect mode of communication.

It's so very important to have serious conversations with individuals, face to face, one on one. This blog is outstanding, but any blog or e-mail is missing body language: tone of voice, facial expressions -- blushing, smiling, gentle looks, harsher looks. Those things are crucial when communicating.

In a society of isolation and fast internet communication like ours, it's so very important to be clear quickly. I think we would meet someone slightly different if we came to see you personally, Father.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thanks for the comment ... truly, I do try to soften my comments and articles when possible ... however, I also do not want this blog to show my personality since (as you mentioned) it is far more important to present the truth clearly and concisely.

In any case, I do thank you for presuming my good will in a spirit of charity. Also, thank you for your kind encouragement.
Many blessings to you! +

Milefolio said...

Dear Father, what about the holy people who lived before Christ? Were they also in Limbo before Christ's descent into Hell? I think it would be odd if people like the prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jacob could have talked intimately to God (and even seen God) in their earthly life but were deprived of God's vision in the hereafter. What do you make of this? Thanks.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The just men before Christ did not go to the limbo of the children but to the limbo of the Fathers ... the two are very different, since the limbo of the Fathers is the fringe of heaven, but the limbo of children is the fringe of hell.
Thus, you are quite correct in your intuitions! +

DomJP said...

Father your opinion please. I have been invited on a retreat that involves abstaining from the most Holy Eucharist for 2 days and then receiving at Mass on the third 'to make it like the first time again'. This fills me with dread and puts me off what appears to be an otherwise worthwhile and solid retreat. How could turning down communion with God be of benefit to one in the state of grace? My whole life is centered on daily reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus and the very thought of a day without this supreme gift of love pains me. Your opinion please and any enlightenment from the Fathers or Saints would be morst appreciated. Dominic John Paul

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