Today is the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church. He is also the Patron of writers and journalists so I didn’t think I could let today go by with writing something. He may be the closest thing to a patron saint for bloggers in the Church (I’ll have to do some checking on that).
St. Francis was appointed as the Bishop of Geneva in 1602, when the Calvinist reformers were having a great deal of success pulling people away from the Church. Interestingly, St Francis was only in the city of Geneva twice because he traveled so extensively through Europe. However, he wrote numerous books, articles, and tracts in defense of the faith to encourage those in his diocese.
After looking at today’s Mass readings it seemed only appropriate on the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales to write on salvation, a topic John Calvin greatly twisted in his theology. The greatest error in Calvin’s soteriology (i.e branch of theology dealing with salvation) was his theory of predestination. The following is taken from the chapter on predestination in Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion:
If it be evidently the result of the Divine will, that salvation is freely offered to some, and others are prevented from attaining it—this immediately gives rise to important and difficult questions, which are incapable of any other explication, than by the establishment of pious minds in what ought to be received concerning election and predestination—a question, in the opinion of many, full of perplexity; for they consider nothing more unreasonable, than that, of the common mass of mankind, some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction.
The largest problem with the idea some people are predestined for heaven and some are predestined for hell should be fairly obvious – it removes man’s free will. Why bother loving and serving God when your eternal fate has already been decided for you? If God has already determined you are heaven bound, then no amount of sin and depravation could keep you out and if you hell bound, then no amount of pious works could keep you out of the fire.
Calvinists, along with the LONG list of Reformed Churches that broke ties with them for various reasons over the years, look at a variety of scriptures with a predestination “lens” and apply a meaning to the Word of God that is not consistent with God’s revelation to man, which began with the early Jewish Patriarchs. In fact, in this explanation of Calvinism, there are dozens and dozens of scripture references provided; however, only two are from the Old Testament. One of the hallmark features of Calvinism is its almost exclusive use of the New Testament to justify their positions (cf. Jn 3:36, Titus 3:5, Rm 8:39-39, Jn 10:29). Let me show you a more holistic approach to scripture and revelation that takes us from the earliest parts of the Old Testament to today.
In today’s Mass readings, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is instructing his audience by referencing what they already know; specifically, the old covenant ways (sacrificial offerings by Levite priests), and using it as a reference to instruct them on the new covenant made perfect by Jesus (cf. I Cor 11:25, Heb 7:22). Jesus, as the eternal priest, is the guarantor (ἔγγυος) of the new and better covenant. What makes Jesus’ priesthood superior to the Levitical priesthood in the old covenant is two fold: first, Jesus obedience to the father is perfect (ref. Lk 22:42). The Sinai Covenant (ref. Ex 19-20) also demanded obedience; however, the Jewish people often struggled in that department. Secondly, Jesus priesthood is forever (ἀπαράβατος) as compared with the priests of old who died. The limited efficacy provided by the Levitical priesthood has now been replaced by the Great High Priest, Jesus. He provides all that is necessary for salvation.
This is not to say that we do not need [Catholic] priests now as some from the Calvinist traditions might suggest. Their interpretation of scripture (e.g. I Tim 2:5) would say no additional mediators are required. While it is true Jesus is the one, true, high priest, there can be and are others who also share in Jesus’ priesthood. Here are three examples: when Jesus instructed his disciples to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19 (Eucharist)), and “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23, (Reconciliation)), and,”He who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16 (preaching)), he was granting them a share in his priesthood; he was giving the disciples things to do! This sharing can also be found in the Old Testament in the many times Moses served as mediator between God and the Israelites and in the book of Job when God instructed Job to serve as a mediator between him and Job’s friends (cf. Ex 32:11-14, Job 42:8).
Just as the the merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though finite, could be appealed to even though they acquired them only once, so also the death of Jesus, once for all (ἐφάπαξ), abundantly provides for us. However, it still remains up to us to accept it.