Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Doing a Refresher

I just noted a comment on an old blog post - found here - that dealt with fasting and Luther's noting that eating or not eating is fine as long as sin or righteousness isn't attached to it.

A few days later Chad Myers asks as follows:
Then what is the point of fasting? Jesus himself said this was necessary in some circumstances (when he came down the hill after the Transfiguration and told the disciples that some demons can only be driven out through prayer *and* fasting.

AFAIK, Luther advocated fasting as well:
"Of fasting I say this: it is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body. For when the stomach is full, the body does not serve for preaching, for praying, for studying, or for doing anything else that is good. Under such circumstances God's Word cannot remain. But one should not fast with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work" (What Luther Says, St. Louis: Concordia Publ. House, Vol.1, 1959, p. 506).

I think this hits to the point of difference between a Roman and a Lutheran understanding of Good Works. To the Lutheran, the point of works are not that if we don't do enough God isn't pleased, or that we must earn up the brownie points with God. Good Works for a Lutheran are simply things that flow out of the Christian life that end up being beneficial (for the neighbor or for the self).

Take for example fasting. Again - do not fast so as to think you are meriting salvation for your fast. Rather - it is good for self-discipline. It is good for the tending of others (I'd say fasting goes along with casting out of the demons because in many ways to deny the self is to deny the prince of this world who would try to rule over you with your passions and desires). It is good -- it just doesn't cause or add to salvation. It is a benefit now in this temporal life.


Chad Myers said...

Rev. Brown:

I don't know where you've gotten your information about Catholicism from, but it's highly misinformed. You keep making these strawman arguments about the "Roman" understanding, whack it down, and then proceed to describe the "Lutheran" understanding which is almost always the exact understanding of the Catholic position.

This is another case in point. Fasting has never been taught as a merit for salvation. The Catholic Church has firmly denounced Pelagianism (Council of Carthage 418) and Semipalagianism (Second Council of Orange 529).

According to Catholic teaching, one can only merit rewards in Heaven, but not Heaven itself.

Fasting is all about, as you say, self-discipline, growing closer to Christ through the deprivation of the senses and self.

Your last paragraph is spot on and completely "Roman" Catholic teaching (although it's not just Roman/Latin since the Eastern Catholic Churches teach the same thing and I think they would be offended by being called 'Roman' instead of just 'Catholic')

Chad Myers said...

*Oops, I hit post too soon. Sorry for the double-post*

Fasting falls under Mortification. You should read this article because, if I didn't know better, I think you might have written it based on your past few recent blog posts: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10578b.htm

It speaks exactly to the same points you've been making about hating the sin, becoming more aware of the sin through examination, mortification, and availing oneself of the Sacraments (namely Confession and Eucharist).

The article quotes scripture, particularly: Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5, Galatians 5:24.

And then there's this choice quote from the article which I think you might agree with:

"It is practiced likewise as an expiation for past sins and shortcomings, for it is the belief of the Catholic Church, that, although only the Atonement of Christ can offer adequate expiation for the sins of men, men ought not to make that an excuse for doing nothing themselves, but should rather take it as an incentive to add their own expiations to the extent of their power, and should regard such personal expiations as very pleasing to God."

The last bit may be controversial until you read Colossians 1:24 where Paul talks about "filling up" what was "lacking" in the "sufferings of Christ".

To wrap up, my point is: Please make your point as it is solid. There's no need to deride "Romanism" especially when the derision is misplaced.

Mike Baker said...


The "derision" is not misplaced. You proved his point with your quote:

"It is practiced likewise as an EXPIATION for past sins and shortcomings, for it is the belief of the Catholic Church, that, although only the Atonement of Christ can offer adequate EXPIATION for the sins of men, men ought not to make that an excuse for doing nothing themselves, but should rather take it as an incentive to add their own EXPIATIONS to the extent of their power, and should regard such personal EXPIATIONS as very pleasing to God."

Expiation: (n) atonement: 1. compensation for a wrong. 2. the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing (especially appeasing a deity). 3. to make satisfaction for sin. 4. (theology) the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil. 5. something done or paid to make ammends for a wrong.

Just plug the word "atonement" or "satisfaction" in where you see the word "expiation" and you'll see what the Roman Catholic position is actually saying. The quote is saying that you do Christ's redemptive work through fasting.

Sadly, there is no strawman here. Your own quote clearly states in plain english the exact thing that Rev. Brown is correcting. Fasting is not our attempt to EXPIATE (read: "atone for") our past sins by our own works.

Instead, fasting is a form of self-discipline that does not EXPIATE for past wrongs. There is a big difference here.

The Roman Catholic understanding is that fasting expiates the soul by paying for sin. The Lutheran understanding is that fasting trains the flesh while Christ alone pays for sin.

Kathy said...


You obviously saw that word expiation and went to town. Did you actually read what was said: "only the Atonement of Christ can offer adequate expiation for the sins of men".

God knows our nature. When I hurt someone I love, I tend to want to do something for them. Make them a special dinner or some other act to show them how much I love them.

Fasting or other sacrifices I may do to help make up for my personal or sins of others is my human way of making up for what I did. Is their forgiveness enough? Sure, but it's in our nature to want to do more.

I think that was definition #5 of expiation: "something done or paid to make ammends for a wrong."

Chad Myers said...

As is so often the case in Luthern-Catholic dialog, it usually comes down to different definitions of the same word. IIRC, the Catholic Encyclopedia (from which I quoted) was written around 1910, so it uses some classical understandings of words including expiation, adequate, and "worship" (meaning honor [dulia], not the more common use today of praise of God alone [latria]).

In the quote I used, it's using the 5th definition of expiation.

Also, today "adequate" is usually used to mean "barely enough" but it really means that it is 'satisfactory' or 'acceptable quality'.

Let me be clear, we're not talking about salvific atonement. As the quote clearly said, only Christ's atonement can do that and nothing we can do can do anything for that.

That was the main thrust of your argument. While I can see how you might jump to that conclusion, I ask you to please re-review what was written and consider it in a slightly more classical context and I hope you will see that it's clearly *not* talking about Salvation atonement.

All of this is to say: How can you, using your logic, explain Colissians 1:24?

You might be tempted to say that Catholics believe that "fasting [is]... paying for sin" which is not correct. We categorically reject that (as I explained in my first comment).

So Catholics, on one hand, say they categorically reject works-salvation but on the other hand they talk about fasting and works expiating sins. Either they are schizophrenic, or there's something more about this word "expiation" that's more nuanced than how you are portraying it.

I know you will bristle at this, but I'm going to put it all out there and say that we're all saying exactly the same thing but perhaps Catholics use more language to describe it and use more classical language that is somewhat foreign to modern English speakers.

I would also contend that centuries of bad blood and mistrust between Lutherans and Catholics have lead us to instantly denounce the other over the slightest appearance of divergence of theology. When in fact, if you look deeper, you see that there's very little, if anything different.

Put succinctly, fasting is not about saving ourselves in stead of Christ. It's about imitating Christ including his suffering, knowing that God can put that suffering to good use somehow in our lives and the lives of others. It will result in greater holiness (less attachment to sin) and greater awareness of our mortality and complete dependence upon God for everything (Grace, Faith, and ultimately Salvation).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Wow, look at what happens when I wake up at 2:30 to get to the hospital for a surgery.

A few things.

1. The key distinction is that I am not adding anything to my salvation - Christ alone provides salvation to me. Any language that suggests that I add merit, or even if I do not add that at least I am meriting extra goodness, is dangerous.

2. I've no problem with Carthage or Orange - those were excellent councils. My problems are with Lateran IV, and Trent, which teach that if I do not assign some measure of salvific merit to my works and the works of the saints, then I am anathema. When I criticize Rome, I am not taking shots at things said 1500 years ago - really just stuff in the past 1000 where Rome slid off.

3. As for Colossians 1:24 - again, what we suffer, we suffer for the Body of Christ (i.e. our neighbors). Paul is not earning salvation, but by being in chains for preaching the Gospel, he is bringing them the Gospel of salvation.

The word there for "filling" is antanaplero - plero is "I fill" and the antana is the sense of once again, to redo, to mimic. So this is along the lines of what we hear over and over - that when we suffer, we suffer as our Lord has suffered.

As for what is lacking in Christ's affliction - this is a temporal thing, rather than a salvific thing. Often in Greek you have the idea of things that are yet to be accomplished - what is done to the least of Christ's brothers is done to Him, and so when Paul suffers, it is done to Christ. This is not meritorious language, but participation in the death and resurrection of Christ language.

Now to teach class.

Kathy said...

Pastor Brown,

How is the Lutheran teaching on salvation any different than "once saved always saved"? To read your first point above, I'd think that I'm saved and nothing I do here will make me lose that salvation.

I don't get it.

BTW, was it you who had the surgery or were you there for one of your congregation? Hope it went well regardless.

Mike Baker said...

That may be a part of the Roman Catholic teaching on fasting, but the other definitions are certainly covered in the official literature and by the teachers of Catholicism. They take away with the left hand what they give with the right hand. Of course only Christ can forgive sin, but you can earn that forgiveness through works.

According to Roman Catholicism, fasting mitigates divine temporal punishment and forgives venial sin. Fasting is of greatest "merit" when it is on those certain days of the year imposed by the Church. Not fasting before Holy Communion is a
sin (except in extreme circumstances of course).

Moreover, penitential works done of one's own accord get their value from the merit of the repentant sinner who performs them whereas directed penance (e.g. confession and indulgences) places the merits of Christ and the saints at penitent's disposal which forms the Treasury of the Church.

...that doesn't sound like simply making amends to your neighbor or mundane bodily discipline. If it was just that then why is it of "greatest merit" on certain days? Why all this talk about tapping into your own merit versus Christ's merit?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


While one can't add to salvation, one can abandon it. Consider it this way with your physical life. Our Lord asks which one of us by worrying can add an hour to our life The answer is none of us. Life is a gift from God, and He is the one who maintains this life.

Now, if we are foolish, we can do things which damage and hurt our lives, and in fact, we can even kill ourselves... but we cannot ever GIVE ourselves life.

Likewise with faith. The new birth is like the first. It is given, and then there are ways in which I can use this life of faith that are good. . . and then there are some ways (i.e. sin) that cause damage to this faith. In fact, I can even kill my faith.

May God choose to revive again - God grant it! But this salvation is something that flows simply and purely from God.

Or another analogy. I just had lunch. Am I alive *because* I had lunch? No. Does this lunch make this life better, more enjoyable -- it turns out yes. Could I be foolish and quit eating and starve myself to death. Yes. I can use my life rightly or poorly, but I can never GIVE myself life. That credit remains solely with God.

Likewise with salvation. I do good works. Fantastic. They keep me from doing damage to myself - great. But that salvation is totally and completely a gift from God that doesn't rely upon my strength.

Kathy said...

Wow, Mike, you're quite the expert on Catholicism.

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fasting:


2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:

2043 The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.85

1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers a multitude of sins."

You'll say, that these are works and you just need Jesus. I'll say, God knows the nature of man and He knows we need to be told how to worship Him and how we need to live. He gave us *a* Church to help us grow in holiness and love and one day be happy with Him in Heaven.

And Mike, next time you're acting as the Catholic expert, cite your sources please. Thanks.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Again, there is some talking across each other. I am certain that Mike would agree with me in saying that we ourselves need good works... in the sense that they are healthy and benefit us as regards our own personal growth and development.

However, that growth and development is only possible as an outgrowth of having received the forgiveness of sins won by Christ. That is the Lutheran position - that there is a distinction between salvation and works, and distinction between faith and works. The former flows into and flowers in later, but the later never causes or grows the former.

Rome holds to the idea that works yield faith ... it's why Rome can accept an idea of an Anonymous Christian... someone who has never heard the Gospel, yet by their works demonstrate Christian values, and thus be saved. Sure, Rome will say that they are moved by "grace" - but this becomes a detached Grace that doesn't involve the Physical, Eucharistic Presence of Christ.

I ain't saying there isn't plenty of good in Roman Theology - I'm just saying that some of it, if followed to its conclusions, leads to some weird things. According to Roman positions, I as a Lutheran am anathema, but the Muslim who tries really hard to be a nice person (yet bluntly denies that Jesus is God) may be an anonymous Christian.

(I'd also that with your note above, there is a difference in language - consider the above's use of penance. Lutherans take an approach of Confession and then Absolution. Rome adds a third step (deriving out of laspii in the 3rd Century and really spreading by the influence of monasticism) of requiring penance, or acts of restitution. This fundamentally ties forgiveness with our own works, something that, for the sake of leaving Salvation solely in the hands of God and eliminating the possibility of any sort of Plagiarism, rejects).

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Brown, Mike:

Like Rev. Brown said, there's some talking across/past.

Let me establish a few things because I think these get to the root of the problem:

- merit =/= salvation. Merit is about post-judgement rewards in heaven. Merit, in a Catholic sense (whenever the word is used) is never used to talk about earning salvation -- except when it talks about Jesus Christ meriting our salvation.

- There is no such thing as "salvific merit" except for Jesus Christ's meriting our salvation by His death and resurrection (CCC para 1992)

- Works do not *add* to salvation. They are a participation -- a cooperation with the salvific plan of God through Christ. Faith, works, repentance, penance, repentance, etc are all about aligning oneself with Christ and following him.

- You cannot earn forgiveness. Rev. Brown mentioned this and I want to address that because I think it's a mistaken understanding of Catholic teaching.

From the Council of Trent itself (Session 6, Chapter 8):

"And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace."

These articles explain it better than I do. And they even tie in some Lutheran teaching on the matter:



Rev. Eric J Brown said...

because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification.

But what about what comes after? Then the works and merit kick in, without which Justification is lost - so the hinge is not Christ, but me. Faith is the beginning, says Trent - then I must work and increase in sanctification by my own works. I hold that Jesus is both the author and perfector of my faith.