The Saintly Case for Catholicism

St. Maximilian Kolbe
St. Maximilian Kolbe

In 2002, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said to a meeting of the group Communion and Liberation:

I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.

I think that both of these paths to the truth – beauty and the Saints – deserve a more serious examination, but I want to look at the second one today. Extraordinary holiness is a confirmation of orthodoxy, and both Catholics and Protestants need to be more thoughtful about the implications of that radical reality.

To take a personal example, I was troubled by these words by St. Maximilian Kolbe, in which he talks about the relationship between the “uncreated Immaculate Conception” (the Holy Spirit, Who eternally proceeds from the love of the Father and the Son) and the “created Immaculate Conception” (the Virgin Mary):

This eternal “Immaculate Conception” (which is the Holy Spirit) produces in an immaculate manner divine life itself in the womb (or depths) of Mary’s soul, making her the Immaculate Conception, the human Immaculate Conception. And the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for him; there he conceives in time- because everything that is material occurs in time- the human life of the man-God.

And so the return to God (which is love), that is to say the equal and contrary reaction, follows a different path from that found in creation. The path of creation goes from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit; this return trail goes from the Spirit through the Son back to the Father; in other words, by the Spirit the Son becomes incarnate in the Womb of the Immaculata; and through this Son love returns to the Father.

And she (the Immaculata), grafted into the Love of the Blessed Trinity, becomes from the first moment of her existence and forever thereafter the “complement of the Blessed Trinity”.

In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in one there is all the love of the Blessed Trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love. So it is that in this union heaven and earth are joined; all of heaven with all the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love. It is truly the summit of love.

At Lourdes, the Immaculata did not say of herself that she had been conceived immaculately, but, as St. Bernadette repeated, “Que soy era immaculada councepciou”: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

If among human beings the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him, is one with him, becomes equal to him and is, with him, the source of new life, with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom he lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace?”

Even as a Catholic, that letter sounded a lot like Mary worship. And I’m apparently not the only one who had this reaction. At the canonization, amidst declaring Maximilian Kolbe a Blessed, Pope Paul VI felt the need to clarify that Kolbe didn’t worship Mary:

 

Let no hesitation restrain our admiration and commitment to all that our new Blessed had left us as a heritage and an example, as if we too were distrustful of such and exaltation of Mary in view of two other theological movements, the Christological and ecclesiological, which seem to compete today with the Mariological. On the contrary, there is no competition, for in Father Kolbe’s Mariology, Christ holds not only the first place but the only necessary and sufficient place in the economy of salvation. His love of the Church and its salvational mission was never forgotten either in his doctrinal outlook or in his apostolic aim. On the contrary, it is precisely from our Lady’s complementary, subordinate role in regard to Christ’s universal, saving design for man that she derives all of her prerogatives and greatness. […,]

Therefore our Blessed is not to be reproved, nor the Church with him, because of their enthusiasm for the formal religious veneration of the Mother of God. This veneration with its rites and practices will never fully achieve the level it merits, nor the benefits it can bring precisely because of the mystery that unites her to Christ, and which finds fascinating documentation in the New Testament. The result will never be a “Mariolatry,” just as the sun will never be darkened by the moon; nor will the mission of salvation specifically entrusted to the ministry of the Church ever be distorted if the latter honors in Mary an exceptional Daughter and a Spiritual Mother.

The pope’s words provided me with some measure of comfort: an official clarification of how not to read what Kolbe is saying. But what really put my mind at ease was knowing a bit about Maximilian Kolbe’s own life. That troubling letter that I mentioned? It’s the last thing that he wrote before being arrested by the Nazis: it was written just a few hours before his arrest, on February 17, 1941.

After being sent to Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kobe lived a Christ-like life. One of the other prisoners later recounted a characteristic event:

I could see that Father was straining hard, but was unable to budge the heavy load. I stopped and offered to make the trip in his place. The guard caught us talking. First he beat us both with his whip, Then he ordered me to sit in the wheelbarrow, making Fr. Kolbe’s burden even heavier. Without a word of complaint, the little priest found superhuman strengthen to push the wheelbarrow to the site where the crematorium was being built.

Fr. Kolbe comforted the man by saying, “Henry, don’t lose heart. Everything we suffer is for the Immaculate Virgin. Even here, we must pray for those who harm us.”

And Kolbe also died a Christ-like death, a fact that even the New York Times seems to have recognized. In the 1995 obituary of  Franciszek Gajowniczek, the Times recounted the extraordinary circumstances of Kolbe’s death:

Mr. Gajowniczek, one of several prisoners selected by the Nazis to die by starvation in a dungeon at Auschwitz called the “hunger bunker,” survived because the Rev. Maksymilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

When the punishment was imposed because another inmate had escaped, Mr. Gajowniczek, who was a farmer in civilian life, pleaded that he should be spared because he had a wife and children.

On a visit to the United States last December, Mr. Gajowniczek told the story himself: “Father Kolbe told the commandant, ‘I want to go instead of the man who was selected. He has a wife and family. I am alone. I am a Catholic priest.’ ” The priest also contended that he was “elderly,” Mr. Gajowniczek said. Father Kolbe was then 47. Mr. Gajowniczek was 41. The commandant agreed to the switch.

In the underground cell the priest sought to console the condemned men, leading them in prayers and hymns. After ten days, on Aug. 14, 1941, he and three others remained alive. Then a German doctor came and killed them with injections of carbolic acid.

It’s one of the most extraordinary stories I’ve ever heard: a priest volunteering to die by slow starvation to save another man’s life. And it really leaves only two possibilities: either St. Maximilian Kolbe performed these extraordinary actions (1) because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, or (2) on his own, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. But the second possibility, the idea that we can do these sort of extraordinary good works apart without grace and the involvement of the Holy Spirit, is the heresy of Pelagianism. Ultimately, that would mean that we could have goodness without God, which is contrary to what Christianity teaches about the nature of God (and about goodness).

So we have to conclude that these extraordinary works weren’t just natural goodness, but the work of the Holy Spirit through St. Maximilian Kolbe. Once you realize that, it’s virtually impossible to deny that (a) Kolbe died a Saint and (b) he’s held up for us by the Holy Spirit as a model. That is, we’re not talking about someone who barely made it into Heaven, but someone who died a glorious Christian death, the kind of death made possible only by special graces of the Holy Spirit. It’s the kind of death that the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews points to as evidence of the power of faith (see Hebrews 11:35-38).

The point of Hebrews 11 is twofold: first, that these great deeds are possible only through faith; and second, that these Old Testament Saints are a model for all of us. That’s made clear in the verses immediately following: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2). So these extraordinary lives (and deaths) of the Saints are given to us to inspire our own faith.

That means that we can’t say that the Holy Spirit saved St. Maximilian Kolbe in spite of his theology. We can’t say that he barely made it into Heaven. Why would the Holy Spirit choose to hold us as an example someone who we shouldn’t listen to? So it’s just impossible to recognize these facts and hold that St. Maximilian Kolbe was a heretical, idolatrous Mary-worshipper.

II.

I’m using St. Maximilian Kolbe simply as an example. What I’m saying really applies both to any of the great Saints, and even to the ordinary saintly believers that we run into in our daily lives. Protestants and Catholics have a healthier relationship now than perhaps at any point since the Reformation, and that’s beautiful. More than ever, Protestants number holy Catholics amongst their friends and neighbors. And more than ever, they’re ready to affirm that (at least some) Catholics are Christians, that the great Catholic Saints really are Saints. This is all wonderful, but it also raises a number of serious theological problems.

First of all, Christians are called to be in communion with one another (John 17:20-23) but separated from unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). So the growing recognition within Protestant circles that Catholics really are Christians raises the question: if you accept us as brothers and sisters in Christ, how can you justify not being in full union with us (or with one another)?

But second of all, the obvious fact that faithful Catholics really are Christian challenges a lot of what Protestantism teaches theologically. By way of analogy, consider the moral relativist who can’t shake the reality that murder really is objectively wrong. His theory points in one direction (there are no moral absolutes!) while the reality of his lived experience belies this. At some point, he has to either reject reality, reject his theory, or continue to live in a state of cognitive dissonance by holding to two contradictory positions. If murder is always wrong, then moral relativism is false.

How does that apply? Because historically, Protestant theology has viewed Catholicism as heretical, and Catholics as not true Christians. And this is the logical conclusion if Protestantism is true. If Catholics are wrong about the Real Presence, then we’re worshipping bread and wine. If Catholics are wrong about Mary and the Saints, then we’re wasting our time (at best) or offending God (at worst). We’re accused of being a “Jesus-plus” religion. believing that Jesus isn’t enough and that we have to add our good works, etc., instead of relying upon Him. If all of that were true, it’d be easy to see why we Catholics wouldn’t be true Christians.

But this theory is belied by two things: the great Saints of history, like St. Maximilian Kolbe, and the everyday witness of Jesus-loving Catholics living holy lives centered upon Jesus Christ. So you’ve got to either reject reality, reject your theory, or continue to hold two contradictory positions. If Catholics are Saints, then the charges against Catholicism are false.

If it is heretical to worship the Eucharist, how come there are so many Catholics who were/are obviously saintly? And if it isn’t heretical to worship the Eucharist, then come and kneel down next to us in front of the Eucharistic Lord!

And of course, this same line of reasoning applies whether we’re talking about the Eucharist, or praying to Mary and the Saints, or any number of other issues. If the core parts of Catholicism are heretically false, whither these extraordinary (and ordinary) Saints?

39 Comments

  1. A question and a point:

    Q: Do the Orthodox and Protestants have saints such as these? It would seem so, though Saint Francis would seem like an especially hard to equal saint but I am not well-learned on saints (Help Al!)

    P: You bring up something interesting to ponder, but it is really not all that convincing. We have had Buddhist monks burn themselves to death for a lie, for example. Non-believers have died to save the innocent.

    When I was in Cambodia two months ago, my neighbor across the street was a very pious, friendly young woman. Pregnant with what I think was her third child, she burned her incense every morning. The Buddhist Monks see this (it’s like the smell of a sucker I suppose) and they shook her down, one after another for blessings (which you must pay for in Cambodia.) She was a surprisingly cordial woman–kind to the whole neighborhood. (The Cambodians are a cold and ruthless people, generally.) Further, she was extremely generous though they were not middle class people. She saw me and my wife every day, obviously we are Americans, and she would refuse payment for things that we needed from her store. When I purposely left money with her, she insisted to give money back to me. Being that I refused, she later brought mangos to my Ming, worth far in excess to what I gave her (around the equivalent of 20 cents.)

    Clearly, God’s common grace was strong with this woman, and it is with many unbelievers. Yet, the saving work of the Spirit is not present.

    God bless,
    Craig

    1. I don’t think any of the Catholic Readers here know what you mean by “Common Grace”. You will need to explain it to us.

      I think what you’re doing here is attempting to distinguish between sanctifying grace and actual grace:

      Sanctifying Grace: A share in the Divine life of the Holy Trinity (Absolutely necessary for salvation).
      Actual Grace: Necessary Divine assistance to living in virtue (Sanctifying Grace alone is not sufficient to work virtue).

      Your premise seems to be: seeing works of virtue implies the presence of Actual Grace, not necessarily Sanctifying Grace. I think I more or less concur.

      In the case of Maximilian Kolbe though, he died for Christ as a Martyr. The Scriptures (particularly the promises of our Blessed Lord) are pretty clear that anyone who dies in such circumstances is going to heaven, and thus certainly has Faith, since without it, it’s impossible to please God. If St. Maximilian Kolbe had True Faith, unto seeming extraordinary virtue, that’s a pretty strong sign that Reformed Protestants are wrong about Mary. Not only this, but there are many other examples of Christians who had an immense devotion to Mary, but are also amongst the greatest Christians. You’ve got to admit, that the Teleological argument is pretty strong here.

      1. I think we are on the same page. “Common grace” among Protestants means the grace of God that allows unbelievers to do God’s will. For example, almost all cultures ever abhor sexual perversion (or at the very lease recognize chastity as virtuous.) THis is not only a matter of man commonly being able to figure this out on his own but rather a grace God has given to all cultures.

        That being said, being that unbelievers have done very great things and suffered in extraordinary ways, it would seem specious to say that finding this among Catholics, Protestants, or any other group really proves anything so sweeping. However, it does show the great things man can do as image bearers of God.

        1. Pertinent quote:

          “For whosoever have sinned without the law, shall perish without the law; and whosoever have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law. For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves: Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing, or also defending one another, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:12)

      2. The Gospel (or Christian) is my first name; The Catholic Church is my surname. Most are saved by the Gospel, but the “working out of this salvation” in which we stand would be made easier if at the river of life and death, we took the boat that is offered (Holy Church), rather than trying to swim to the other side of a swift flowing river BY OURSELVES.

    2. Craig,

      An important distinction needs to be made between natural virtue (which doesn’t require grace) and supernatural virtue (which does). Prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice [the cardinal virtues] are humanly possible for a person who isn’t in a state of grace, which is why we see them throughout all sorts of cultures and religions.

      It is through grace alone that the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity are given, and we can also see instances of “infused virtues,” supernatural gifts of even the cardinal virtues. So my point wasn’t just that “this Catholic did an extraordinary thing,” but “this Catholic did the sort of extraordinary thing possible only with grace.”

      That’s why counterexamples of people doing radical unvirtuous actions – killing oneself for a false religion, e.g. – aren’t analogous. You don’t need grace to murder yourself (and indeed, such an action is impossible to one remaining in the state of grace).

      I certainly could have been clearer on that distinction in the post, but I’m sort of presuming that Catholics and Protestants agree that faith, etc. need grace while justice, etc. don’t strictly.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      1. I think this muddies the water a bit. If we can have outstanding Protestants, outstanding Atheists, outstanding Confucianists, and etcetera it kind of removes the force of argument that a Saint’s outstanding life is independent verification of his doctrinal beliefs.

        1. No it doesn’t, because if one takes the easy ‘bother’ to study the lives of the Saints, why we need the Catholic Church is made clear IN REALITY. It isn’t just doctrine on paper – its pulsating life of the Sacraments and adopted souls in salutary relation to them. The Saints know – like breathing – that if we have God for Our Father, then the Church is our Mother, and one will lead a spiritually sounder life if we are in a felicitous and reciprocal relation with her.

  2. Ok, you asked for it. 🙂

    Since I was ‘reverted’ by reading the life of a Saint (St. Francis), I think it was the burning love that Francis had for Christ that greatly attracted me back to religion. And, it wasn’t only Francis’ personal example, but it was also that he was able to gather around him a small army of thousands of other brothers, (and sisters also), in a very short time… within about 10 years ,or so, all of whom were intent on living a life of complete devotion to Jesus Christ. So, it was his great passion for God that I was most attracted to, and which brought me back to my former Catholic faith; and I can say that I never lost my admiration for the great St Francis. As a side note, I think it is kind of amazing that I first communicated with my wife a little over 12 years ago, on Oct. 3rd, which is the anniversary of Francis’ death…and which I consider to be a holy coincidence, and probably a gift of Divine Providence. (At the time, I had about 14,000 short selections from Bonaventures “Life of St. Francis” that I had printed in my garage on a small offset printing press, and was distributing free in San Francisco, through the Legion of Mary in my area. Maybe St. Francis found me a wife?? And a good one too! 🙂

    … To answer your first question, I can say that the Orthodox have multitudes of saints that they recognize, but which are also Catholic, as most of these Saints are from the 2nd-5th centuries. Many of these Eastern Empire saints are termed ‘Desert Fathers’, and early saints are actually very similar to St. Francis in their style of faith and life. And, it was actually Francis himself who was really trying to resurrect their examples of virtue, poverty and humility in his own time, about 1000 years after the Desert Fathers started the monastic movement back in the 3rd and 4th the centuries (in Egypt and Palestine). Just a few names from this great list of Orthodox Catholic saints are St. Antony of Egypt, St. Hilarion of Gaza, St. Ammon of Mt. Nitria, St. Paul the Hermit, St. Paphnutias of Egypt, St. Macarius, St. Arsenius, St. Pachomius (who wrote the first monastic rule of life), St. Simon the Stylite (who lived on top of a Greek type pillar for about 40 years), etc.. etc.. So, the Orthodox honor these same saints as their particular hero’s of Eastern Christianity.

    As for Protestantism, I think the ‘lives of saints’ are not focused on, or cataloged, due to the fact that Martin Luther (the founder of Protestantism), was intent on destroying the age old institution of monasticism, which is the same Christian institution founded by the multitudes of early Eastern Saints and Desert Fathers.

    So, with such an antagonistic attitude towards monasticism, how could Martin Luther actually promote the imitation of these same saints who founded these orders, and lifestyles, that he personally abhorred? And it is probably this highly focused Christian lifestyle, of poverty, chastity and obedience, that helped create the great Saints of the Catholic Church throughout the many centuries of Christian civilization.

    A great text site for a study of the lives and sayings of the Desert Fathers (100’s of pages), which is also in the public domain, can be found at:

    http://www.vitae-patrum.org.uk

      1. Are there any Eastern saints like Kolbe after the Great Schism? They did live under Muslim (and then Communist) domination for years so I wonder if there are not more than a few Saints.

    1. The Orthodox Saints aren’t just the desert fathers. THeir saints include them but they also include ALL the CHurch Fathers who were sanctified and recognized as saints, including huge numbers of Saints that lived after the desert fathers, right up to the time of the Greek schism of the 11th century and ever since.

  3. Saint Maxmilian Kolbe teaches us that martyrdom is a gift from God, and never something to be sought after on our own terms (as do the tragically misguided self-styled “martyrs” who kill innocent bystanders along with themselves in their perverted misunderstanding of martyrdom). Kolbe killed no one, but rather saved a life with his heroic sacrifice. The various saints, each in their own way, illuminate some specific truth of the Faith, some ignored or forgotten aspect of Holiness, some path or direction required for one’s unique time and circumstances. In this troubled 21st Century, we need to especially learn from three 20th Century Saints in particular – Maxmilian Kolbe, Maria Faustina Kowalsa, and Pope John Paul II. (How odd that they were all Polish.)

    A personal confession here: On a 2003 trip to Krakow with my family, we decided to visit the nearby Auschwitz Concentration Camp. On the tour, we stood at the doorway to the very cell in which Kolbe and 9 other persons were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis through two weeks of deliberate starvation and thirst. Today the death cell is occupied by a shrine, startlingly beautiful in its stark simplicity. But sadly, that part of the visit was largely wasted on me. I wish (Oh, how I wish!) I had known at the time who Saint Maxmilian Kolbe was and what his sacrifice meant for us, since I looked at that holy sight with no comprehension of how precious was that place, of how much grace had been poured out upon those stones, of what message those walls held for our sorry world today.

    Might I recommend two perfectly marvelous movies about Saint Kolbe that are well worth the time to watch them? The first is “Maximilian, Saint of Auschwitz”, performed by Leonardo DePhilippis – a astonishingly good film in which a single actor plays all the parts (other than some off-screen voices). The other is “Life for Life”, a Polish film told from the perspective of the escapee who was (indirectly, of course) responsible for the Nazi reprisals against the prisoners which led to St. Kolbe’s sacrifice.

    1. Hah! I just checked in on this site to see what comments had been posted of late, and re-reading my own, I discovered a garbled sentence that completely reverses my intent. I wrote

      “I had known at the time who Saint Maxmilian Kolbe was and what his sacrifice meant for us, since I looked…”

      when I meant to say

      “I did not know at the time who Saint Maxmilian Kolbe was and what his sacrifice meant for us, so I looked…”

      Apologies for any confusion caused!

  4. 2 points on this quote:

    “It’s one of the most extraordinary stories I’ve ever heard: a priest volunteering to die by slow starvation to save another man’s life. And it really leaves only two possibilities: either St. Maximilian Kolbe performed these extraordinary actions (1) because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, or (2) on his own, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. But the second possibility, the idea that we can do these sort of extraordinary good works apart without grace and the involvement of the Holy Spirit, is the heresy of Pelagianism. Ultimately, that would mean that we could have goodness without God, which is contrary to what Christianity teaches about the nature of God (and about goodness).”

    1. Pelagianism doesnt say you do good without God but wuthout needed a fresh shot of power, the one from creation (it came from God) still working.
    2. Buddhist priests/monks starve for other people too, so obviously attributing good works to the holy spirit is the heresy (Pelagianism is not).

    1. Not God here, so just betting (not affirming) the Holy Spirit can and does work in non-Christians. Else how would anyone ever be converted?

      1. Your case is basically “God shows what religion is true by giving that religion super saintly monks and priests. But oh, he also gives super saintly monks and priests to false religions also. But ignore that and join my religion because I said do.” Pelagianism makes way more sense.

  5. The witness of Saints, whether they be ancient or current, is the premier means of evangelization according to the Gospel teachings of Christ. How many times did Jesus reiterate this truth when He taught throughout Israel? :

    “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.”

    “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, THAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

    “He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

    “For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    The Catholic Church only canonizes persons who have lived out the teachings of Christ in these Gospel passages. These are Christians who have lived lives of ‘HEROIC VIRTUE’ , which is how the Church defines what a saint actually is. That they were popular while they lived in this world is a testimony that their light was not ‘placed under a bushel’. They also exhibited a love for God’s commandments, by both following them and also teaching others to follow them. They therefore should be the ones who are ‘great in the Kingdom of Heaven’ as Jesus taught.

    It is undeniable that the Catholic saints were great lovers of both Jesus Christ the Lord and King, as well as all others of their fellow brothers and fellow servants here on earth.

    Everyone should read as many full length biographies of saints that they can get their hands on. Their witness is as undeniable as is the saying of Christ:

    “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore BY THEIR FRUITS YOU SHALL KNOW THEM.”

    The ‘fruits’ and great faith of the Catholic Saints are very clear and visible… for any who would just take a few days, weeks or months out of their lives to study their beautiful writings or comprehensive biographies.

    1. Which is why the traditional practise in monasteries was to study the Church Fathers every morning and all the Holy Saints in the Evening. And the lives of the Saints uphold the Bible – they don’t contradict it. Since the Saints are merely the ‘Lovers of God,’ they who are in Love with God include the Love of His Holy written Word, which is as important as the perspective of the Bible being God’s ‘Love Letters’ to us. This is why true Catholic Doctrine includes the Bible as a chief PART of Holy Tradition, not a contradictory and separate source of the Revelation of God. The whole Revelation includes aspects of Sacred Tradition such as the Saints of by-gone ages and their instructive lives. The Orthodox believe this as well – one Source and stream of Holy Tradition (not two) which is essentially the work of the Blessed Holy Spirit in our lives and the calling of and formation of the Mystical Body. ANd the Mystical Body is both organic, visible andvery much alive and pulsating with Truth and Beauty, instructive in a didactic way for us to grow by.

  6. “But the second possibility, the idea that we can do these sort of extraordinary good works apart without grace and the involvement of the Holy Spirit, is the heresy of Pelagianism. Ultimately, that would mean that we could have goodness without God, which is contrary to what Christianity teaches about the nature of God (and about goodness).”
    Joe, I am quite proud of how much you have learned and are growing while in seminary. You are becoming quite the good Lutheran theologian!

    As a side note, some Lutherans are surprised to hear that we still have saints. Some of these surprised Christians grew up in other Protestant churches or the Lutheran church never articulated this. I go out of my way to show that we have saints in the Lutheran church whenever teaching or preaching on the Creeds, and we express it every Sunday in the words of the Creed. Some Lutherans know that we still have and celebrate saints because they may attend St. Mark or St. Martin (not Luther) Lutheran church and celebrate the feast day of that saint. Our biggest event of the year here at Martin Luther Lutheran Church (yes, it is redundant) is the celebration on the feast day of St. Patrick. I make sure to open with one of the prayers attributed to him as a reminder of the saint we celebrate. Grace and Peace to you all!

    1. “But the second possibility, the idea that we can do these sort of extraordinary good works apart without grace and the involvement of the Holy Spirit, is the heresy of Pelagianism. Ultimately, that would mean that we could have goodness without God, which is contrary to what Christianity teaches about the nature of God (and about goodness).”

      But Christ in His teachings says that we can have grace and light from God, but then refuse of our own free will to act under the influence of that same grace and light. Why else would the Christ teach: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, THAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” ? St. Maxmillian Kolbe was obedient to the Grace of God, even unto his death. And multitudes of other martyrs throughout Christianity were like Him. But other Christians throughout the ages decided to NOT to “let their light shine before men”, these same DID NOT confess before kings and rulers, but rather offered sacrifices to foreign gods so as to escape death and martyrdom. So, a Christian might have grace from God, but He might also seek to hide that grace so that his life might be spared, or that he might gain a worldly benefit or pleasure by putting the light and grace of God ‘under a bushel’. St. Peter did this when He denied Christ 3 times. And we can deny Christ in a similar way also. However, there is also a remedy for this cowardly activity. And Jesus gives us the answer: “Pray always that you enter not into temptation.” This is to say, after we have the grace of God, we must work to defend that grace inside of us, in the depths of our souls. We must protect it through prayer and mortification and the practice of virtue. We must listen carefully to Christ’s many teachings and keep it in our hearts always. And in this, we will be obedient to Him and “pray always that you enter not into temptation”.

      This is not Pelagianism. It is following, keeping and being obedient to the words of Christ. In doing so we will be wise servants of Christ, who build our houses not on river beds of sand, where the storms might wash it away, but upon rock, which trial and temptations and sin will not be able to destroy.

    2. Rev. Hans,

      Joe, I am quite proud of how much you have learned and are growing while in seminary. You are becoming quite the good Lutheran theologian!

      You’re a smooth operator. That was very clever.

      As a side note, some Lutherans are surprised to hear that we still have saints.

      Do you have any post-Reformation Saints? Or to put it more provocatively, do you have any Lutheran Saints, or just the Catholic ones you took in the divorce? (I genuinely don’t know the answer to this.)

      I.X.,

      Joe

      1. It is a good question. We have millions of saints. After the Reformation, we understood how all are simultaneously saint and sinner because of justification. I see this played out with St. Mother Theresa. She was a great saint of the church without question, but she was still a real person with struggles, doubt, and sin. She was simultaneously saint and sinner.

        We do not attach the “St.” before peoples names any more. For every St. Max Kolbe, there is a Bonhoeffer.

        We have also ditched the artificial and human process of establishing some as saints and others as not, if I may be so provocative. It should be striking that the early church did not have this spiritual beauty pageant of establishing some as saints and others as not. The early church recognized local people of extraordinary faith as saints. We, like the early church, still do recognize people of great faith locally. There are a million saints of the church known locally for their service and love without ever getting the official title. Every congregation has these saints (though most will never accept such a title or accolade out of sincere humility).

        1. Saints are not free from sin; they just recognize (as in the analogy of the windshield at night vs. in the daylight) that they are sinners and transcend that condition in an extraordinary way. And the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, recognizes such as worthy of exceptional recognition. This in no way demeans the multitudes of Christians going on about their lives in a holy and exemplary manner.

          “We have also ditched” is the problem….who determines what to ditch, and who is right? There are dozens of strip-mall storefront churches here in Colorado Springs which make that decision on their own every day. I would not call that a Scripturally defensible situation. And we could talk awhile on modern Protestant, especially American post-1820’s Evangelical/Mormon/JW/etc., perceptions of “the early Church” and how those perceptions don’t square not only with documented early church history, but the beliefs of the early Reformers.

          I am glad, however, we can have (as Bishop Barron would have said in his “Catholicism” series) a civilized debate on the topic. Sharpens’ everyone’s iron…..and I think in the near future Christians of all stripes are going to be in dire need of sharp iron….

        2. “We have also ditched the artificial and human process of establishing some as saints and others as not, if I may be so provocative.”

          With due respect, I think this demonstrates one of the fundamental differences I’ve discovered between how Lutherans and Catholics view the Church. It strikes me that Lutherans just see the Church as merely a collective of believers; as something accidental (as opposed to essential) to what Christ came to establish. They see it as something similar to how people group together under a common cause or other such form of association. Hence the “Church” is only a loose definition, and is really just a human convention about how to think of the community of believers. As such, the concept of “Church” is just something “human” and “artificial.” This would explain why Lutherans do not consider the Church to be infallible (since what is so infallible or special about an association of ordinary men), and why they seem to be comfortable with a proliferation of denominations. Although they may personally think their denomination has “got it right,” they only hold this position tenuously, since at any moment they may “discover” some insight that will shake up their paradigm of their current denomination, leading them to either change the doctrine of their current denomination, or should that fail, breaking with it and venturing forth a new one.

          Not so Catholics. Catholics view the Church as having been founded by Christ, not by sinful men, and, in addition to being founded by Christ, protected constantly under the vigilance of the Holy Spirit such that she will never lose the deposit of faith revealed by Christ and entrusted to the Church herself through the Apostles and their successors.

          So the canonization of saints, according to the Catholic understanding, is not something “artificial” or “human” in the sense of “from human origin.” Rather we see it as something divine and guided by the Holy Spirit. At the same time, I think we _do_ consider it to be something very human, because God has sanctified the “human” through his Incarnation. So yes, there is a goodness in the “human” element of recognizing Saints (with the capital S) because it meets very human needs of ours (if anything to show us that a life of heroic sanctity is possible, and provide us with examples and ideas to inspire us and integrate into our own lives). But all of this is good – because it comes from God, and in Christ our fallen nature is healed and our humanity has become a new creation.

          “It should be striking that the early church did not have this spiritual beauty pageant of establishing some as saints and others as not.”

          Perhaps this just demonstrates your misunderstanding of the way Catholics view, honor, and venerate the saints. It isn’t a “beauty pageant;” the lives of the saints are not spun sugar candy, they are in essence fundamentally human with all their blemishes and imperfections there for us to see. The real beauty is how God’s grace transformed their lives and made them more than they could ever have hoped to be on their own, and how God does this in a way that respects our God-given free will (something again Lutherans tend to reject a priori). The way He has done so is extraordinary, and so that is why we recognize it – it stands out like brilliant lightning. It offers hope; sanctity itself becomes a new witness to the Gospel message and becomes yet another means for Christ to change the hearts of men.

          “The early church recognized local people of extraordinary faith as saints. We, like the early church, still do recognize people of great faith locally. There are a million saints of the church known locally for their service and love without ever getting the official title. Every congregation has these saints (though most will never accept such a title or accolade out of sincere humility).”

          This is also true of the Catholic Church. We can and do have private devotion to the local people we know and love – perhaps personally. It is precisely through this process that the brilliant lives of the Saints shines forth, when the light of Christ’s life cannot be hidden in their own lives, and the Church publicly canonizes (with infallibility) the fact that these holy men and women are without doubt at this moment spotless in the presence of God as models of the Model (Christ himself) for the benefit of all the Church. And Catholics do have a day which we honor and venerate all of these “uncanonized” saints – All Saints Day (the day after what Protestants generally recognize as Reformation Day).

          You mention “the early Church” without defining what you mean by that. It is very clear from early records that certain Saints were given special recognition among all of the faithful of the Church (the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, the first Popes, the Church Fathers, many of the early Martyrs, the Virgins, the Confessors). Even the passages Joe has quoted demonstrate that this was already common among the Jews and that it is even Scriptural. If you maintain that the “early Church” is only that short period of time encapsulated by the New Testament, you are being both arbitrary and narrow with your historic lens.

          1. Excellent comment Tom.

            Those Protestants who do not care to record the saintly deeds of their fellow Christians, as Catholics do, still don’t understand the scriptures that they put so much of their faith in.

            Jesus explicitly said: “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

            And that these good works were not to remain in the present, but were meant to be passed on also to future generations. Jesus Himself gave an example of this when, close to the time of His passion, He said of Mary of Bethany:

            “Amen, I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memorial of her.” (Mark 14:9)

            So, Christ Himself is the one who gives examples ‘memorializing’ the glorious acts of the saints, for the inspiration of future generations.

            Then again, we have the book of the NT titled ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. Is this not the first ‘lives of the saints’ memorialization in the history of the Church. Are not the Gospels, also, written in the form of ‘Lives of Saints’, which is to say, in the form of ‘biography’?

            Is not the whole of the Old Testament basically ‘saintly ‘biography’, in one genre or the other?

            And lastly, If Jesus said:

            “For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist. But he that is the lesser in the kingdom of God, is greater than he. (Luke 7:28)

            …does this not mean, that the future Church that Jesus was founding, would be filled with multitudes of great saints whose deeds are more worthy of recounting than those of even the great St. John the Baptist?

            Is the great and inspirational story of Christ’s Holy Kingdom, and all of it’s members, suppose to stop at the last word from the book of Revelations? Or, is it to be continued to be cataloged and re-told, as the Catholic Church has done, so far, until the end of the world?

            In view of this, how true is the first quote that Joe provides above, in his excellent post, from Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger):

            “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”

            In light of this, I think every Christian should follow this saying, and spread the ‘Lives of the Saints to as many people as possible.

            Here are some great and inspirational biographies, besides St. Maximilian Kolbe, very worthy of study:

            St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. Francis of Paola, St. Martin de Porres, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Louis de Montfort, St. John Bosco, Sts. Dominic and Francis, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Rose of Lima, St. Francis Solanus, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Margaret Mary, All of the Desert Fathers, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernard of Claireaux, St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri, St. Joseph Caffaso, St. Alphonsus Liguori….and plenty of others.

          2. I also think that was an excellent comment. As members of the body of Christ, we are all called to model Him. In doing so, we provide examples of how Jesus would react in circumstances that were not encountered in His own life on earth and that are often more relevant to the current needs of others. The exemplary witness of the saints in this way makes Jesus more present to us in every age as a guide to how we, the ‘not so exemplary’, should also follow and witness to Him.

        3. The recognition of official Saints goes as far back as Apostolic times: they were mentioned as they are now, by name, at the time of the offering in the Roman canon of Holy Mass. Anyone who is familiar with the writings of the Church Fathers knows very well that, while there is the Pauline and Scriptural account of all of us called to be saints, they also were very clear, since the first martyrs Stephen, James and Polycarp, that the memory of certain official ‘capital S’ Saints was an important source of Holy Tradition, all the more during the oral Word of God and predating the Scriptural canon. THe Saints were not JUST holy men such as Protestant heros: they were on the level of sacramentals and ‘Holy Mysteries.’ There were even early relics, such as Veronica’s cloth with which the Holy Face was captured and sent to the first Armenian and Georgian Christians. Even St Peter’s shadow healed people. Granted it can become superstitious, but the reverence of which early relics were held were not only superstitious, but items in which God dwelled preeminently, all the more valuable before the Scriptural Canon.

  7. Not long ago we even had a “Saintly” Pope who kissed the Koran, so if the Vatican II church can pull that out of its arse anything is possible!

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