Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Catholic Catechism 2: God, Creation, Sin

Continuing my take-away from our Monday reading group going through the Roman Catholic Catechism to compare it with Wesleyan theology:

Week 1: Introduction and Revelation

This week's reading of the catechism was over Part 1, Section 2, chapter 1.  This is over the first line of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe in God the Father."

I once again didn't see much in this section of 58 pages that stood out to me as horrendously problematic for Wesleyan theology.  We would consider a few things strange.  But in general, Roman Catholics would more have a problem with us than we with them.  Here are some notes.

1. For the bulk of this section, Wesleyans would either strongly agree or not really care.  For example, Wesleyans accept the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds (although not necessarily the anathemas at the end, 192-94).  Wesleyans believe in the Trinity (232-67). Wesleyans believe that God's nature is love (221).  

2. To be sure, a Wesleyan who quoted 2 Maccabees in defense of creation out of nothing would get a strange look.  But Wesleyans do believe God created the world out of nothing.  I actually don't think we have a clear statement on the topic, but I don't know any Wesleyans who don't think so, if they've even asked the question.

3. Wesleyans don't venerate angels (352).  We don't think a lot about their names or ranks, by and large.   As a reminder, veneration is not the same as worship for Roman Catholics.  I suppose if a Wesleyan venerated angels, we would  think they were weird and a little out of kilter.

4. Wesleyans don't have a dog in the filioque debate over which East and West divided (246).  RCatholics believe the Spirit proceeds from the the Father and the Son, while the Orthodox believe the Spirit comes from the Father.  Most Wesleyans have never even heard of the debate.

Indeed, there is both a blessing and a curse that I grew up with almost no sense of these Christian debates.  The blessing was that I at least think I was less encumbered when studying the Bible to listen to it on its own terms.  Wesleyans, for good or ill, have a lot of the Baptist "freedom of conscience" in their blood.  The curse is of course that Wesleyans are probably "soft heretics" on a lot of issues without realizing it ;-)  ... and susceptible to foreign influences.

5. One such issue is the question of free will.  In practice, most Wesleyans may be "Pelagians" or at least "soft Pelagians" without realizing it.  Technically, Wesley believed in total depravity like Calvin and the Reformed, meaning that none of us can do any good at all in our own power, nor are we morally free in any way by nature.  Roman Catholics, by contrast, don't believe in total depravity.

However, RCatholics and Wesleyans have the same view practically in terms of how freedom ends up.  Roman Catholics officially believe that original righteousness, something God added as a gift to original humanity (donum superadditum), was lost in the Fall, but that humanity remained partially free by nature.  Wesleyans believe that, although we are technically depraved entirely by nature, God's prevenient grace empowers humanity to be able to "sign up" for more grace. We thus end up having free will.

Thus in the end, Wesleyans end up with the Catholics as "synergists," individuals who believe that human will and divine will work together toward moral choices.  While we are closer to Calvinists in what's under the hood (in using the language of total depravity), when you close the hood the car looks far more like the RCatholics than the Calvinists on this question.  Like I said, most Wesleyans in our history have pretty much looked like Roman Catholics on this issue.

By the way, my sense of Paul is that it is not human nature that is fallen but that the world as a whole--and the flesh which is a part of the world--is under the power of Sin since Adam.  We thus do not sin genetically or naturally but because our flesh is weak and in our default situation we lack the power to overcome temptation.  The Spirit, by contrast, gives us the power to overcome the power of Sin.

6. Most Wesleyans would look at you strange if you articulated even a Methodist view of original sin in relation to baptism.  Methodists, along with the RCC, see infant baptism as cleansing the original sin of Adam.  Wesleyans functionally don't associate any guilt or need for cleansing on our part because of Adam's sin.

7. Most Wesleyans also don't care whether you believe the soul is created at birth (RCatholics) or whether the soul is passed down genetically (Wesley).  Some Wesleyan thinkers are even willing to explore the possibility that the soul is somewhat of a metaphor for the part of us that transcends death.  We thus don't have an official dog in that race.  Most Wesleyans do take the idea of the soul literally, but we have no official position on the issue.

8. Wesleyans find the idea that the Virgin Mary was born without sin (immaculate conception) weird (411).  We believe Jesus was without sin and wonder why, if Mary had to be without sin for Jesus to be without sin, then why didn't all the women back to Eve have to be without sin too.  Surely the RCC has an answer but our group doesn't know it.

So Mary was really, really cool.  We're okay with that.  But if she stole some cookies as a child and had to ask forgiveness for it, we're okay with that being true too (not with her stealing them, mind you ;-).


Robert Brenchley said...

I wonder how many Methodists do believe that baptism cleanses Adam's sin? I only know British Methodism, but over here, I suggest you'd be hard put to find any.

Nathaniel said...

4. http://www.wesleyan.org/beliefs#part4

That Wesleyans may not practically have any buy in on the filioque, but officially they do profess it.

Ken Schenck said...

Good catch...

John Mark said...

Always had the same question about Mary and the 'immaculate conception.' I would love to know if anyone anywhere has answered it. I suppose one of those Catholic answers programs might have at some point....

Tom S. said...

Catholics don't, or ought not, argue that God "needed" Mary to be conceived without sin; it's merely fitting. With the parallels between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant it makes a kind of sense that Mary was without sin.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Maybe I'm "off" (as usual), but, isn't the Wesleyan view more about "the social", than the "personal" though, Wesleyans allow both.
Wesley was an evangelist (the personal), a scholar (rationalist) and a promoter of "social holiness" (moralist).
The problem of "social holiness" is the problem of "the collective" and how our understanding of indiviudality and diversity collides/colludes, isn't it?
I do not think it healthy to always defer to others, but neither is it healthy to demand that others always submit to your thoughts, desires, goals, etc., even when you think that you have "absolute truth".
Isn't mutuality and consent the "main emphasis" in our soceity where it concerns relationships, even in the church. Therein lies the difficulty when "elders" are to "watch over your soul" and our society designs for responsible self determining adults.
So, creation, sin and "God" can have many definitions, understandings and corrolaries. I prefer not to think in those categories, because of the appendages that are often put upon those terms. And people do so without even thinking about it, and become offended when another doesn't understand things "their way"!