Thursday, January 3, 2008

Vengeance is mine, but I will not repay!

When God punishes sin, does he take vengeance upon the sinner? By vengeance, I do not mean a petulant rage, like a child who smashes his block building because of a flaw. I mean a righteous repayment for sin, either eternal or temporal.

I ask because I keep thinking about the discussion I had with Dr. Liccione, RC philosopher and expositor of the infallibility of the Majesterium. In this discussion I claimed that Trent Session 14 contradicted the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Here is the pertinent section of the CCC:

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.
(Emph. added)

Now, Dr. Liccione said that the CCC is clear, that when God is said to punish sin in Trent, we should take it to mean that God punishes us by allowing the effects of our sin take hold of us, he is not actively punishing, he is only willing that those effects take place, which is termed "vengeance".

I just don't see Trent, or the Scriptures, or anything else in prior Church history teaching any such thing. Are we really to believe that God is not active in inflicting (Trent's term BTW) punishment? Aren't there numerous passages in the Scriptures, in the writings of the Fathers, even in Church art which tell the story of a vengeful God punishing evil? I am not trying to score cheap debating points, but it seems there is more than a little tension between RC tradition before the CCC, and RC tradition post CCC. If "If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by the punishments inflicted by Him..." really means something like "If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by allowing the consequences of the sin to afflict the sinner..." then words really have no meaning, and we are at the extreme end of nominalism, which is not a good place to be, because it only causes confusion.

A for us Lutherans, when God says he inflicts, he inflicts, because if he wanted to say allow, or inspire a council to tell the truth, he would have said allow. That may be too simple for the learned, but it is much more graspable than constantly "clarifying", or in effect saying words have no meaning.

It is, in fact, a big reason I came over to Wittenburg all those years ago.

16 comments:

Nathan said...

Ed,

Wow, you are nailing it. Keep going - I love Pontificator and Liccione, but I simply think you are right on this one.

R.C.'s guilty of nominalism? Talk about turning the tables...

~Nathan

Mike Burgess said...

Actually, I think you might be overstating, Edward. The passage about punishment inflicted in Trent refers to its antecedent "temporal punishment" (as in sanctification), so the punishments inflicted are here the same punishments which are rebukes, reproofs, the chastisements of the loving Father to His children, which is distinct from the eternal punishment He inflicts on unrepentant sinners in Hell. Do you see what I mean?

Nice blog, sir. Hope you don't mind my dropping by. Thanks for the query on Carrie's post at beggarsall.

Mike Burgess said...

I point out specifically this passage from Trent XIV:8 "It was not their understanding, moreover, that the sacrament of penance is a tribunal of wrath or of punishments, as no Catholic ever understood that through our satisfactions the efficacy of the merit and satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured or in any way diminished;[60] but since the innovators wish to understand it so, they teach, in order to destroy the efficacy and use of satisfaction, that a new life is the best penance."

That seems to speak directly to your concern, Edward.

Edward Reiss said...

Hello Mike, and welcome.

You raise two concerns, but first I think a little background is in order. Did you follow the link to Becoming Hinged? Dr. Liccione and Fr. Kimel explicitly stated that the only punishment "inflicted" by God is the effects inherent in the sin itself, punishment, whether temporal or eternal, is not an external vengeance inflicted by God. (This will be clear if you read the thread on Becoming Hinged--link in my blog roll, there is also a link in my post).

So, the idea that God does not inflict punishment is what I have difficulty with. That seems to be wrong to me, and I believe I have good reason for it.

Now, to your specific points.

"Trent refers to its antecedent "temporal punishment" (as in sanctification), so the punishments inflicted are here the same punishments which are rebukes, reproofs, the chastisements of the loving Father to His children, which is distinct from the eternal punishment He inflicts on unrepentant sinners in Hell. Do you see what I mean?"

Yes, I do see what you mean. You agree with me though, that God does inflict punishment, if I read the passage aright. You disagree with Dr. Liccione and Fr. Kimel. They say the opposite, that God only allows th effects inherent in sin to affect the sinner. That is the teaching of the CCC, BTW, so it is infallible. Remember, the CCC says we must not see temporal OR eternal punishment in terms of God inflicting punishment on the sinner, which is what "vengeance" properly means according to Fr. Hardon.

As for your second point, it is well taken, but it is besides the point. It is not necessary for a "tribunal of wrath.." to exist, all that is required is for God to exact "vengeance", which means punishment of wrong, by inflicting punishments. I believe Trent assumes this, and it only by result to subtle sophistry that one can say that "vengeance" means "allow the effects of sin..." Remember, according to the CCC, Fr. Kimel and Dr. Liccione, it is wrong to see any punishments--even if remedial, as originating in God actually inflicting punishment on the sinner. It is only God allowing the effects of sin to affect the sinner that is his vengeance.

Mike Burgess said...

I have not read the complete Becoming Hinged thread, but I am a long-time reader of both Fr. Kimel and Dr. Liccione. I will read it through and see what I come up with.

A question, do I understand you correctly: "That is the teaching of the CCC, BTW, so it is infallible."

Are you suggesting that the Catechism (any catechism) is infallible?

Edward Reiss said...

Mike,

Dr. Liccione says the CCC is infallible because it is a teaching of the Ordinary Majesterium. It is in the thread I referenced, and you can find a direct link to his paper here:

http://www.st-joseph-foundation.org/newsletter/lead.php?document=2006/24-2

Mike Burgess said...

Edward,
This is what I read in Dr. Liccione's ultimate post:
Armed with a general account of levels of authority in Catholic teaching, you will be equipped to understand why the CCC has authority only as an official summary of Catholic teaching. Hint: it is an exercise of the “ordinary and universal” magisterium, as distinct from the “extraordinary” magisterium, of the Church. But as such, its interpretations of “extraordinary” teaching bind Catholics in conscience.

This seems clear enough; there are different levels of authority, the CCC's interpretation of extraordinary teachings bind our conscience. I believe this is consistent with the late PP John Paul II's statement that the CCC is a "sure norm for teaching the faith," but does not mean that it holds the same level of authority as an ecumenical council or papal ex cathedra teaching.

Second, I don't wish to sound pedantic, but we would both probably do well to remember that God's love is His wrath; that is, God's love "functions" as His purifying, magnanimous love toward those to whom He is well disposed and "functions" as His wrath toward those to whom He is not.

Those punishments are punishments, no doubt. They are loving to all, as effects of sin, and they are inflicted by God. Neither of us believe that God is the author of sin, so we needn't get into the question of whether the effects of sin which can be said to be inflicted upon us constitute any such "authorship" on our Lord's part. Since there is no change in God, it cannot be said that He moves from love to hate or from chastising discipline to hateful vengeance. The hard truth is that the turning away from God is what brings about the difference in how the punishments are described from the human perspective.

Edward Reiss said...

Mike,

"This seems clear enough; there are different levels of authority, the CCC's interpretation of extraordinary teachings bind our conscience. I believe this is consistent with the late PP John Paul II's statement that the CCC is a "sure norm for teaching the faith," but does not mean that it holds the same level of authority as an ecumenical council or papal ex cathedra teaching."

Maybe I misread something, but Dr. Liccione seems to say that the Ordinary Majesterium is infallible too.

"Traditionally, and not terribly controversially, Catholic theologians acknowledge the exercise of the extraordinary magisterium as manifesting the infallibility of the Church as a whole. And in theory at least, most will now grant that the ordinary magisterium can also be exercised infallibly by the bishops as a whole, with or without formal papal confirmation. Thus Lumen Gentium:

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held [definitive tendendam].(40*) This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. (LG, 41)"

The "Ordinary Majesterium" is the "ordinary" teaching office of the Church. Ex-Cathedra, again according to Dr. Liccione's paper on the infallibility of the Ordinary Majesterium, is an extra-ordinary function, and serves to clarify what is unclear in the ordinary Majesterium. IOW, both are infallible. Again, maybe I misread, but I don't think so.

"Second, I don't wish to sound pedantic, but we would both probably do well to remember that God's love is His wrath..."

I simply don't believe this. There are too many example in the OT and the New for this to be tenable for me. For instance, in the example I used, are we to see God's inflicting of the illegitimate child of David and Bathsheba as his love? That seems far fetched to me.

"Those punishments are punishments, no doubt. They are loving to all, as effects of sin, and they are inflicted by God."

But every time I hear "effects of sin" I see a contradiction between that and the Scriptures, as well as Trent and just about all the artwork I have ever seen regarding punishment. As I said, unless the death of an illegitimate child is the "effect of sin", God is actively inflicting this, and that contradicts the CCC, but it is inline with Trent. I just don't see a way around it unless we do some serious footwork with words and grammar.

Nathan said...

Mike said:

"God's love is His wrath; that is, God's love "functions" as His purifying, magnanimous love toward those to whom He is well disposed and "functions" as His wrath toward those to whom He is not.

Those punishments are punishments, no doubt. They are loving to all, as effects of sin, and they are inflicted by God. Neither of us believe that God is the author of sin, so we needn't get into the question of whether the effects of sin which can be said to be inflicted upon us constitute any such "authorship" on our Lord's part. Since there is no change in God, it cannot be said that He moves from love to hate or from chastising discipline to hateful vengeance. The hard truth is that the turning away from God is what brings about the difference in how the punishments are described from the human perspective." (end)

Edward, you had some trouble with Mike's "They are loving to all, as effects of sin, and they are inflicted by God", and I believe justly so. In your very clear David example, we see something that clearly does not seem to be the "natural" effects of sin, but something that God Himself, in some sense, enacts from the outside [of the nice, tidy "dePersonalized, purely 'functional', Aristotilean world system", perhaps?].

At the same time, when you say that you simply don't believe that God's love is His wrath (seemingly contradicting Mike's statement "God's love 'functions' as His purifying, magnanimous love toward those to whom He is well disposed and 'functions' as His wrath toward those to whom He is not") I understand where you are coming from, at least as it pertains to pastoral practice (i.e. would we say to David in the midst of His , "God did this for a purpose David" or "God is doing this because He loves you David"). But when you say, "are we to see God's inflicting of the illegitimate child of David and Bathsheba as his love? That seems far fetched to me", are you seriously considering the alternative, which seems to me to inevitably be "He moves from love to hate or from chastising discipline to hateful vengeance"? (perhaps there is another option here). Are we not compelled to say that although pastoral practice would advise caution and timing regarding the words spoken to such a one, we must nevertheless not deny that faith believes that God's punishment of David had meaning and purpose rooted in love - perhaps for David's own spiritual life, but perhaps more so for others - our neighbors, the "whole world" that God loves with I Cor. 13-type love (in other words, wrath always serves to a) destroy the wicked and separate them from believers to protect them ; b) drive us to Christ and make us more and more inclined to cling to Him in faith, and then love?).

Mike's statement that "The hard truth is that the turning away from God is what brings about the difference in how the punishments are described from the human perspective" seems to me to be necessarily invoking the Law-Gospel distinction in some sense. Perhaps this ought to be explored more.

As far as eternal punishment goes, (in my “book”, I have a footnote on this), I would say this:

"I have a hard time with the concept of eternal punishment. I shamefully confess that I like the idea of annihilation (where we are "snuffed out" or cease to exist), although that's not Biblical (and actually has more in common with Buddhism than Christianity). In any case, we know that God does not desire the death (I guess "first" and "second deaths" are in view here) of the wicked - and we know that he even cried over Jerusalem and prayed for their forgiveness on the cross. Do you think that the reason God does not annihilate persons - which would seem be more merciful (in war, we don't think its good to torture our enemies) - is so that He can *never be accused of "taking life" in order to be rid of those relationships*? In other words, *it is man who desires that God not exist, not God who desires that man not exist*.

When Revelation 14 talks about persons suffering forever in the presence of the Lamb, I always take comfort in knowing that He takes no joy in the death of the wicked..."

Even if Rome might on occasion seem to be a lost cause (with their notion of infallibility combined with their errors, notably the incredible, glaring, contradiction you have laid your finger on - which I think shows more captivity then ever to the danger of theological systems - in this case with a lot of Aristotle thrown in - overriding the clear and obvious teachings of Scripture), I still hold out hope (especially with the Orthodox when it comes to finding common ground on what God's love is really like and how that plays out in the Atonement).

Nathan said...

(i.e. would we say to David in the midst of His , "God did this for a purpose David" or "God is doing this because He loves you David").

should be

(i.e. would we say to David in the midst of his sorrow and loss, "God did this for a purpose David" or "God is doing this because He loves you David").

Edward Reiss said...

Nathan,

"..are you seriously considering the alternative, which seems to me to inevitably be "He moves from love to hate or from chastising discipline to hateful vengeance"?"

God is love in the person and work of Jesus Christ, not as an abstract principle to which he is bound.

None the less, God's wrath against sin is a genuine wrath, not his love experienced by the subject of his wrath in a different way.(Which also subtly makes us the focus again, we determine by our orientation if we experience God's love as love or wrath).

We read in Zephaniah 2:

1 Gather together, gather together,
O shameful nation,

2 before the appointed time arrives
and that day sweeps on like chaff,
before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you,
before the day of the LORD's wrath comes upon you.

3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the LORD's anger.

Clearly, to repent is to seek shelter from God's wrath--classic Law-Gospel.

We may say that God's wrath has its origin in his love, because sin destroys the one's he loves, and his creation too. We sinners also blaspheme him to his face, all the while destroying each other and his creation. As I said, God is love. But the fact God is love does not mitigate his wrath against sin and sinners. Part of the problem is when we say that his wrath is "really" his love, as if just scratching the surface of his wrath we will find his love. I don't see it that way, though I can be convinced.

"..in other words, wrath always serves to a) destroy the wicked and separate them from believers to protect them ; b) drive us to Christ and make us more and more inclined to cling to Him in faith, and then love?)."

I don't have a problem with that, what I have a problem with is saying in effect God's wrath is a trope; no, his anger is genuine, and justified too. I mean, God smites people, and as you said, he does this for good reasons, but that does not make the smiting love, otherwise "love" becomes so elastic that Jesus' work on the cross and his condemnation of sinners are ultimately swallowed up in something like a Hindu "oneness" coincept, which removes the differences between them.

I am not sure we disagree.

Nathan said...

You said: "Part of the problem is when we say that his wrath is "really" his love, as if just scratching the surface of his wrath we will find his love. I don't see it that way, though I can be convinced.”

But is it not *necessary *that the Christian ultimately see God’s wrath as His love? Of course, it is not love the way that God wants to love – His wrath is His “alien work” which is necessary due to the fallen world which we have brought upon ourselves. Suffering, pain, tears, death, punishment, vengeance, wrath etc. are not what was originally intended for heaven and earth. From this perspective they are certainly “real”, in that they are intimately and incarnationally connected with Who God is (His personal nature ultimately revealed in Christ - ), but only in some sort of qualified and temporal sense. Just as a good parent’s righteous indignation with their children’s behavior is never ultimately for their condemnation (i.e. actively separating them from them, abandoning the relationship), likewise with the wrath of God.

This is Lutheran pastoral practice. Luther’s views of predestination aside (I, for one, cannot believe for a minute that God ever desires to “pass over” some – meaning that “from the foundation of the world” God did not intend at any time to grant the gift of faith to certain persons. Martin Luther seems to have in some sense believed that God, in his heart of hearts, meant to really call only some – purposing to grant them faith – but not others. If I have no intention of acting to prevent a murderer from utterly deceiving, maiming and destroying the one I say I love – or if I have no intention of acting to save the one I say I love after they have destroyed themselves – when only I have the power to do so - should I be surprised that the sincerity of my love is questioned? Would such an [insubordinate?] question derive from “human standards”, arrived at by mere “human reason” – mere pagan standards? Or, rather, does such a question derive precisely from the revelation of God Himself about what love is – namely, laying down one’s life not only to save, protect, and treasure to the uttermost not only one’s beloved children, but one’s enemies as well?), in practice we preach and truly believe that God intends to grant all repentance that they may be saved.

I’m having a hard time making the connection right now in my head (maybe I can make it explicit later), but I think that this kind of position taken by Gene Veith in a recent Lutheran Witness (http://www.lcms.org/pages/wPage.asp?ContentID=137&IssueID=14 ) may be at the root of the problem I am seeing here.

“We, as well as the people we are witnessing to, need to realize that no one is condemned for not believing in Jesus. People are condemned for their sins”

I say, “No – before God, persons are ultimately condemned because they are sinners who do not believe in, trust in the true God – the Triune God most clearly and explicitly revealed in Jesus Christ from whom many of Adam’s ancestors have turned away from”. People are condemned for their sins, the foremost of which is not believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 3:20 shows us that the ONLY purpose of the Law is to show our need for the Triune God, fully revealed in Christ – the judgment according to our works is simply evidence for the world, for works are nothing before God – trust is everything – even as “faith” is nothing before the world.

Not that I am eager to disagree, but do you still think we agree?

Edward Reiss said...

Nathan,

I think I see where the problem is.

When you say "But is it not *necessary *that the Christian ultimately see God’s wrath as His love?" it sounds like a category error to me. But here is how I would resolve it.

God's wrath has its origins in his love, and it is meant to stop evil (hence the death of the sinner), set an example for the wages of sin, set aright what our sins wrong etc. These are all good things, BTW. But to say God's wrath IS his love I still see as problematic. It is like saying my eating IS my will to stay alive, my breathing IS my life etc. But I might refrain from eating if the food is not nutritious, and I might stop breathing if the air is poisonous--but I would not then say that I no longer want to live because eating and breathing IS the desire to live. For another example, I love my son, and I punish him when he does wrong. My punishment has its origins in my love for my son, but it is not that love itself, it is punishment analogous to God's punishment of sinners.

Also, if punishment IS God's love, why doesn't he enjoy it? Why would God not enjoy loving his creatures?

I still think we agree because you seem to be conflating what something is with what one does. Also, we have to be careful when we say "ultimately", because we tend to skip over the messy details in between. "Ultimately" God is love, yet a lot of people will be consigned to perdition because of his wrath against sin. "Ultimately" everyone will be raised from the dead, yet people die every day etc.

Nathan said...

"God's wrath has its origins in his love"

Fair enough. We do agree, I think. I still don't agree with Veith's comment though. That seems to me a category mistake. :)

Josh S said...

Trent isn't afraid to use vengeance language. For example, XXV.XXI says that those who pay no regard to church laws concerning meats, fasts, and festivals that they "shall feel God himself as an avenger." XIV.VIII says that penance is "not only for the preservation of a new life and a medicine of infirmity, but also for the avenging and punishing of past sins."

Penance is certainly not something God allows passively, but is actively inflicted on you by the Church.

In the final analysis, it's very simple: Tradition is only what the current sitting pope says it is. The Councils and papal bulls only mean whatever the current Magisterium says they mean. The sooner you realize this, the sooner Catholicism will make sense to you.

Edward Reiss said...

Josh,

But wait, we "must not" take anything pronounced by the Majesterium as contradictory!

i have seen this claim advanced quite a lot by RC apologists.

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