Thursday, January 25, 2007

More on Sinning Against the Holy Spirit

In response to my previous post on sinning against the Holy Spirit, "Jon" made the following comment:
Using Hebrews as the exegetical point; Couldnt the argument be that apostacy is the unforgivable sin. Not despair? Despair, as an emotion. Is temporary in nature. Depression is a horrible thing, but I would not consider it a sin, rather a fault in a fallen world.
I believe the Hebrews passage you are referring to is from Ch. 6:

Heb 6:4-8
4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.
7 For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.
8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

Seeing this (and also Heb 10:26-39), I think one could rightly add "apostasy" to the list of sins that are unforiveable insofar as they lead one to final impenitence. However, I would not include it with final impenitence as a sin that is absolutely unforgiveable.

Yes, Paul does say that "it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened....if they then commit apostasy," but what he has in mind is the state of the apostate for as long as he remains separated from the Church. As long as a man remains in a state of apostasy, he cannot be forgiven because he is willfully living a life in rejection of the Church and her teaching. Such a man surely cannot be forgiven for the simple fact that he is not seeking forgiveness, and he has separated himself from the very Sacraments that insure his forgiveness. But, if he turns away from apostasy and embraces the Church again, he will be surely taken in and forgiven. Paul has in mind the obstinant man, not the contrite one.

As for despair, it is much more than an "emotion" or a part of our fallen world. It is a sin against hope. This is what the Catechism says about despair:
2091 The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:
By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy.
A few Catholic reference works are also helpful here:

1910 New Catholic Dictionary:
Despair -- (Latin: desperare; to lose hope) Psychologically, the passion contrary to hope; morally, the abandonment of all hope of salvation or of the means required for it; not merely an anxiety about one's future state, or fear that one may be lost, but a deliberate yielding to the conviction that human nature cannot cooperate with God's grace, that one's sins are unpardonable, or that Almighty God has cast one away. It is an offense against God's goodness and mercy, temptation to which should be resisted not only for moral but for physiological reasons also, since it commonly results in melancholy, or in sinful indulgence.
Catholic Glossary:
Despair -- Abandonment of hope for salvation arising from the conviction that God will not provide the necessary means for attaining it, that following God’s way of life for salvation is impossible, or that one’s sins are unforgivable; a serious sin against the Holy Spirit and the theological virtues of hope and faith, involving distrust in the mercy and goodness of God and a denial of the truths that God wills the salvation of all persons and provides sufficient grace for it. Real despair is distinguished from unreasonable fear with respect to the difficulties of attaining salvation, from morbid anxiety over the demands of divine justice, and from feelings of despair.
Pocket Catholic Dictionary:
Despair -- The sin by which a person gives up all hope of salvation or of the means necessary to reach heaven. It is therefore not mere anxiety about the future or fear that one may be lost. It is rather a deliberate yielding to the idea that human nature cannot co-operate with God's grace, or that the despairing person is too wicked to be saved, or that God has cast one away. It is a grave crime against God's goodness. Experience also shows that a tendency to despair can seriously injure one's physical and mental health, and ironically can lead to all kinds of sinful indulgence. (Etym. Latin de, the opposite of + sperare, to hope: desperatio, hopelessness, despair.)
As you can see, despair is a very serious matter. It is more than just depression, or sadness, or perhaps some lingering doubts about God's love for you (we are all inclined to such feelings at one time or another). Despair has an element of persistence, and a dogged refusal to believe that God can do anything to save you, help you, heal you, etc. It is a denial of the goodness and power of God. As such, it is most certainly sinful.

I hope that helps.

Pax Christi,

ps: for the sake of clarification, I also slightly modified my descriptions of "obstinancy" and "impenitence" in my previous post.


revprodeji said...

For giggles let me just attach my paper (ignore numbers, footnotes dont copy/paste)
In this paper I will show that when the author says speaks of those who have fallen away he is speaking of willful apostasy. My desire is to show that this verse does not support the soteriological doctrine of “Once Saved always saved1,” or have any relevance in that debate.

What does the OSAS argument have to do with this verse?
This verse is often at the center of the debate on eternal assurance of salvation. The battle lines are drawn in opposing directions citing the same passage to give proof to their argument. Those who argue on for the eternal assurance of salvation believe this verse is a hypothetical, losing salvation is not something that could happen. In a way transforming God into a cosmic bluffer. The interesting dichotomy comes when those who argue that Christians can lose their salvation cite this passage as well. The controversy specifically surrounds verses 4-6
4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have
once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift
and shared in the holy Spirit
5 and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again,
since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves
and holding him up to contempt.2

Those who support the OSAS idea believe that the verse is explaining that the person with faith cannot fall away. They believe the “impossible” is directly related to the falling away. Further leading them to say that someone who does fall away did not have a legit experience of faith. Verse 6 logically is the reason why they could not fall away, it is impossible to restore salvation, thus the saved can not fall away. Assuming that someone could fall away and be restored would assume the sacrifice of Christ was not valid the first time, and would need to be sacrificed again.
The passage moves on to cite an analogy similar to that we see in the gospel Parable of the Seed 3. In using this analogy the OSAS believer will often implicate that the “soil” or the person, is predestined to react a certain way to the message of Christ. In this way someone who has heard the message but lost it is no different than soil that could not grow proper food.
In close4, the argument ends with the writer encouraging the audience of the things he expects of them. The argument would tend to believe that the writer was not actually stating that a believer could lose their salvation, but trying to motivate, encourage, them to grow in their faith. I have even heard sources state that imposing the idea of “losing salvation” imposes a works-based soteriology and that can not work with their view of Pauline theology5.
The opposing side6 sees the verse as clearly implicating that a person can lose his or her salvation. They struggle with the language of “cannot be saved again,” but to set this in line with their theology they look further in Hebrews7 to where it states “If we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment.” The verbiage of “willfully persist” and cite that only persistence in refusing Christ, thus not asking for genuine repentance, they may in time not able to repent. Over time harding themselves, creating a mortal sin.
The apparent and admitted contradiction in these two schools of logic lends one to believe there is more to the statements then the OSAS debate. Both sides claiming they are speaking the logical and clear cut interpretation of scripture.
In this, the goal of my paper then is to show that the author was not speaking about assurance of salvation. Those who cite this portion of scripture in reference of that are not taking it in exegetical or historical context. Is there no forgiveness for some? Does it mean that those who leave the Church will never come back? In this day and age with so many reverts to the Christianity I do not think that is the case.
Here is the way I look at it. I see it from man's perspective rather than God. What I mean is that as the passage indicates, those who were of the faith and knew the faith well and then willfully joined in to apostasy, being in the state of mortal sin, cannot be restored to the true faith by us or themselves. They are in a state that was worse than their first state and it is impossible for us to restore them or for they to restore themselves. Does this mean they cannot be restored? No. But only God's grace can restore them and bring them to the repentance that is necessary for their renewal. I think the passage is about presumption and that we cannot presume upon God's grace to restore us as well. There are plenty of examples of former Christians who have become anti-Christian shedding light on this passage. Often times they simply will not listen and are of the most venomous against the the faith. It does seem impossible to convert them. For me I truly believe it is, yet I know that God's grace can overcome.
This is the only "falling away" that would be so grave that it would propose the "recrucifying of the Son of God." This is the sin of apostasy, of deliberately separating oneself from the faith. This is not a mere doubt of Christian teaching, or a struggling with something that you want to believe but have trouble believing. Apostasy involves a sense of obstinacy, in which you refuse to be reconciled on a certain point. As long as such a person remains obstinate, it is indeed "impossible", as the passage says, "to bring him to repentances again." Essentially refusing to even be open to the grace that God offers. So its not so much applied to the ex opere operantis8 aspect of grace, but more of a refusal of grace altogether.
Claiming that the verse is not only irrelevant to the OSAS debate, but also attaching this understanding of Apostasy demands an exegetical proof be worked out. As I have cited in the OSAS debate, the language of this chapter can be ambiguous and often shaped by the theological tradition applied in reading. To safeguard against this the testimony of others in interpreting this passage must be given weight. The majority of the commentaries I consulted had a strong message of Apostasy. An example being St. Thomas Aquinas
“...Then when he says, and then commit apostasy, he shows the difficulty in rising, after one has fallen. Here it should be noted that he does not say, ‘fallen’, but ‘fallen away’, i.e. completely fallen, because if they had merely fallen, it should not be difficult to rise: ‘A just man shall fall seven times, and shall rise again’ (Pr. 24:16). But if the Apostle had said it is impossible for those who have fallen away to rise again, then it might be said that in this he was signifying how extremely difficult it is to rise, both because of sin and because of pride, as in the devils. But because he says that those who have once fallen away cannot be renewed unto penance, and there is no sin in this world that man cannot repent of, there must be another explanation.
Hence, it should be noted that a certain Novatian, who was a priest of the church in Rome, made this the occasion of his error. For he declared that no one could rise to penance after baptism. But this opinion is false, as Athanasius says in a letter to Serapion, because Paul himself received the incestuous Corinthians, as shown in 2 Cor (chap. 2); and likewise in Gal (4:19), because he says: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you.’ Therefore, it must be understood, as Augustine says, that he does not say that it is impossible to repent, but that it is impossible to be renewed again, i.e., baptized: ‘By the laver of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Spirit’ (Tit 3:5). For a man could never repent in such a way that he could be baptized again. The Apostle says this because according to the Law, the Jews were baptized frequently, as is shown in Mark (chap. 7). Consequently, it was in order to remove that error that the Apostle says this. Then when he says, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account, he gives the reason why baptism cannot be repeated, namely because baptism is a configuration to Christ’s death, as is clear from Romans (6:13); ‘all we who are baptized in Christ, are baptized in his death.’ But this death is not repeated, because ‘Christ rising again from the dead, dies now no more’ (Rom. 6:9). Therefore, those who are repeatedly baptized crucify Christ again. Or, another way, it denotes that is repugnant to Christ’s grace for people to sin frequently and then be baptized again. Then the emphasis is not on the repetition of baptism, but on the falling away of the sinner, who, as far as in him lies, crucifies Christ again: ‘Christ died once for our sins’ (1 Pt. 3:18). Therefore, when you sin after baptism, then as far as in you lies, you give occasion for Christ to be crucified again; and in this way hold him up to contempt and stain yourself, washed in His blood: ‘He loved us and washed us fro our sins in his blood’ (Rev. 1:15)9...”

Numerous other commentaries share in the thought process of St. Thomas. The clear message of Hebrews 6 was a warning against apostasy, not an argument over the eternal nature of salvation.
This portion of scripture not only warns against Apostasy, but also provides a strong lesson in what apostasy is. The answer is provided in verses 4 and 6 of chapter 6.
For it is impossible in the case of those who have
once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift
and shared in the holy Spirit
and tasted the good word of God
and the powers of the age to come and then have fallen away,10,

We see that the people who have committed the sin of apostasy, were first believers. They had once been enlightened. They had heard the gospel of the grace of God. They were not in darkness concerning the way of salvation. A famous example being that Judas Iscariot had been enlightened but he rejected the light. They tasted the heavenly gift. The Lord Jesus is the heavenly Gift. In 6:5 we see That they had tasted the good word of God. As they heard the gospel preached, they were strangely moved and drawn to it. They were exposed to the message of Christ and accepted. Then we see the writer, after making the faith of these people clear, continues in explaining that if they fall away, after enjoying the privileges , it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. They have committed the sin of apostasy. They have reached the place where the lights go out. This is such a grave matter that the author understand the enormous guilt of apostates as it is indicated in the words “since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame11” . This signifies a deliberate, malicious spurning of Christ, not just a careless disregard of Him. It indicates a positive betrayal of Him, a joining of forces against Him, and a ridiculing of His Person and work. In the army there is a phrase, “you must first belong in order to betray”. That is where I see apostasy. Not as someone who plays around with the idea of faith but does not commit. Like the ground in Matt 13:20 that fell away quickly when their faith was challenged. I am not talking about those who were tortured for their faith and recanted either12. I am speaking about the apostasy that is defined as revolt or defection.13 The same apostasy that has repeated warnings against it in the New Testament14.
A characteristic of this apostasy is seen in Hebrews 6:7.
Ground that has absorbed the rain falling upon it
repeatedly and brings forth crops useful to those for whom it
is cultivated receives a blessing from God.
But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is
rejected; it will soon be cursed and finally burned15.

The ground is the person, we see this analogy in the gospels in the Parable of the Seeds. Here the analogy is not about reception to the message. It is clearly established in the previous verse that the person had a legit experience of faith. Rather, I believe, this verse speaks of what happens when someone becomes closed off from God, hardened to grace, yet attempted to produce crop based on the enlightenment they had. Often times the most feverish anti-Christians are former Christians. I see this very clearly when it comes to former Catholics that have made a life mission out of hating the faith they once belonged to. These people are still teaching, still using the “rain” they have been given, yet perverting it. These people are not limited in number either, as a short walk into any Barnes and Noble will lend credibility to. They have not quit producing, just because they have become hardened, rather they continue to produce. What they produce is not a blessing to the body of believers, but rather a curse. They only have bad things to say about the faith. Like disgruntled employees with a negative website. They have lost the taste of grace, and attempt to take it from others as well. This does not need to be limited to just authors, but often is more likely to be the relative that you only see at thanksgiving. They grew up in the church, they went to every Sunday school and bible study, but for reasons unknown they quit. Or, better yet, if they have a reason it is some drama involving people, not an issue of faith. The influence of these people on the early church, and on the present day church can be a cancer to the body. The person becomes so obsessed in hatred that they will not listen to reason, are not open to grace or return. Pride is the root of all rebellion, pride in ourselves, in our thoughts, in our desires. To admit we are wrong and return to faith involves a humility that pride will not allow. This is why the author of Hebrews uses such strong language in describing the sin of apostasy, and giving his audience reassurance that they are on the right path.
Why does someone rebel against faith? Why does someone recant after accepting? I am afraid this is a case by case issue that the author does not reflect on. An issue raised in study is that of someone recanting while being persecuted. I think there is some truth to this, but it needs to be looked at.
If someone has truly experienced faith, as cited in 6:4-5, then they have made a free willed choice to accept this faith and ontologically change as a human. Catholics believe this happens in the sacraments, protestants believe this happens at conversion. Regardless of the faith confession we understand that something literally happens. In that happening we must be free to choose that. In the Joint Working Group Between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches it was noted that Proselytism is “contrary to the message of Christ, to the ways of God's grace, and to the personal character of faith that any means be used which would reduce or impede the freedom of a person to make a basica Christian commitment.16” In defining proselytism the key examples were “employing physical violence, moral compulsion, and psychological pressure.17” Now, if we, as a universal ecumenical Christian body, acknowledge that proselytism can seriously effect the ability of a person to make a true faith commitment, why would we assume that someone who is a victim of physical violence can make a true recanting of their faith? In bounding the will the torturer is asking the potential martyr to recant something they are unable to recant.
A key aspect in my argument of apostasy is that true apostasy is a free choice of the will. In the same aspect as salvation can only be in a free willed choice, so can apostasy. In the same way that someone can not be tortured into faith, someone can not be tortured out of it. The statements made in a time of pain do not necessarily reflect that of the persons heart and inclination of will. Sure, there are numerous people in the history of Christianity that have been able to be tortured and even killed without breaking their confession of faith, but in that we must understand that in the sanctification process people are at different stages in their faith, it does not make the faith more or less legit in a soteriological way. The strength of will is more of an issue in the matters of being tortured then whether or not someone has legit faith. The fundamental option is the key component in determining faith, not the progression of the sanctification. A mother with experience can handle a screaming child much longer than a new mother, that does not mean one loves the child more than the other, just that they have had more time to grow as a mother.
Now, this does not mean that everyone who is tortured should just recant because they can not be at liberty to make the choice. Rather, while the will is still in control, hold on. A martyr like Joan of Arc, who did recant, would never be accused of being an apostate because we understand what she went through. This is a case by case situation. If someone at the threat of torture recants for convenience it could be in doubt if the faith was real, but this is for God to judge and not even the Church will make a statement on this. I am not dying that people in the early church would renounce their faith at the earliest sign of inconvenience. I just feel that this chapter is speaking of a different, more serious form of apostasy.
In summary, falling away is not the sin spoken of here, rather it is apostasy. In speaking of the impossibility of the apostate to come back to salvation we are speaking of man's perspective, not God's. In knowing and experiencing the faith, then willfully leaving means that the person can not bring themselves back, someone who can only offer what they experienced can not bring them back, only God can led someone back. The chapter is about presumptions, and we can not presume that God will bring us back. Those who have fallen away often become anti-Christian, and actively harden their hearts more, being unwilling to listen to current Christians. True apostasy, as spoken in this chapter is a thing so severe, so extreme that we can not reconcile it, nor can other people. Only God's grace can, and often these people will not be able to recover the faith they originally had.
In conclusion, it has been said that the overarching theme of Hebrews is holding on to our confession that Christ is lord. The overarching message of Paul, and apparently those he influenced, is that of unity. In all of the epistles we see a strong unity message. We see that the emphasis is placed on an issue only if it effects the greater community of believers. I feel that the author of Hebrews was focused on this unity, and knew the damage that apostasy could do. Not only to the individual, but in the community as a whole.

revprodeji said...

I dont disagree with your concept of the seriousness of despair. But I do not know if it would be a damning sin. Often times depression, or despair is not a conscience decision. It is not our will making a choice to turn away. I think there is more to this. I would still like to classify this as an illness, in which grace can still be found. There must be an understanding.

Anonymous said...

I actually have a question for the person named Jon who left a comment on this post. If he would get in contact with me, my e-mail address is and my name is Julie. Whoever feels they have an answer can e-mail me also, if they want. My question is about apostasy. Is it considered apostasy when one was once Christian but then turned against Christianity, or is it only when one was once Catholic, and turned against God and His Church? I'm not Catholic, but I'd like to be, but I've been baptized at a non-denominational church in the past, and between the time that I was baptized and the time that I decided I wanted to be Catholic I've had a lot of ups and downs in my faith, especially after that Tsunami and some science classes in college, I became completely atheist...I became quite "maliciously" against christianity and I spoke out against it pretty often (to friends and family) and even mocked it at times. This was in part due to some false information that I had come across, that I didn't realize was false at the time, but believeing it to be true I was quite upset with the religion because I felt that it was decieving people. But, today, I believe again, and I also have come to believe that the Catholic church is the one established by Christ. I haven't started RCIA however, because I'm caught up on this apostasy issue. Sorry to bore you with this, but you guys seem to know what you're talking about, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask. I will be hopefully awaiting a response.

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