This is an interesting challenge. In his opening paragraph, the author of the referenced article, Jimmy Akin, asserts:
I agree completely with both points Akin makes here. Farther down the page, however, I found arguments with which I disagree or which beg comment. In addressing these, I wish to make clear that what I have to offer are my own views, and are not intended to defend or justify the work of other non-Catholic writers.
In the following paragraphs, Akin addresses Mike Gendron's assertion that together, the Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican II generated over 100 anathemas against those who believe that “salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”
Akin responds to this statement by pointing out that the word “anathema” is not used in any of the 20 documents produced by Vatican II. This does not seem unusual, for this council produced not a single dogmatic definition the violation of which would result in anathematizing the offender.
The Council of Trent produced some 127 canons bearing the statement “let him be anathema.” This council also produced a few of what I choose to call crypto canons. Though not clearly identified as canons, these crypto canons include statements such as found, for example, at the conclusion of the Doctrine on the Sacrament of Penance, which imposes penalties on those who disagree that the canons which follow are to be inviolately observed:
As Akin correctly points out, far fewer than 100 of the Trent canons specifically address salvation. The Decree on Justification includes 33 canons that might be considered to deal with God's salvific process as understood by the Catholic Church.
Akin errs, however, when he posits that there are no canons which “properly understood, condemn the three points of soteriology Gendron names.” Canon 9 of the Decree on Justification, for example, certainly appears to condemn the doctrine of salvation by faith alone:
The “proper” Catholic understanding of justification by faith is explained in chapters 8 and 11 of the decree.
Akin continued with a quote from James White's book The Roman Catholic Controversy, which he followed with a comment from “a knowledgeable friend,” who suggested that White's statement may have been calculated to deceive persons ignorant of how the word “anathema” is used. I know James White well and I confidently declare that his intent was to educate; certainly not to deceive. The Catholic apologist then reasonably suggested that those who do not properly understand the term make an effort to discover how Catholics use and understand the word. He follows this suggestion with a brief etymological study of the word “anathema.”
The Catholic Church has not always maintained different understandings for the words “anathema” and “excommunication,” as Akin explains:
While reading on anathema in one of the older books in my library, I came across a brief look at the development of Catholic understanding of the term:
Akin provided a very brief summary of the “external solemnities” mentioned in the above quotation. As might be anticipated, the procedure for imposing anathema involved a variety of symbolic activities used, no doubt, to give evidence of the Church's imposition of penalties and to impress bystanders with their mystical qualities. The Catholic writer correctly states that such solemnities have been performed only rarely in Church history and the term anathema is not to be found in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
I believe that it should be known that it was not necessary that anathema be imposed only in external solemnities described in the Pontificale Romanum. Perhaps Mr. Akin was not aware that some offenses by their very nature resulted in ipso facto excommunication as mentioned in the above quotation from Professor Pietro Parente and associates. It should also be noted that Parente cites the canons of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council in support of his position.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the term ipso facto, I offer this definition:
After dealing with the etymology of the term anathema and its historical understanding and use, Akin attempts to refute some “nearly ubiquitous” views subscribed to by those he identifies as “anti-Catholics.”
He is correct. Anathema, like excommunication, placed someone outside the pale of the Catholic Church:
Participation in some of the Catholic sacraments is obligatory if one is to remain in the good graces of Mama Church. Thus, I believe it accurate to state that the Council of Trent established anathemas which, whether imposed solemnly or ipso facto, had the effect of condemning the sinner to Hell until such time as he had repented and was returned to the bosom of the Church. While Vatican II imposed no anathemas, the same cannot be said of Vatican I, which produced 18 anathemas in the Canons of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith and one in the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ.
The wording here is a study in obfuscation. I fully agree that only God can know with certainty the eternal state of anyone. That being true, then it must follow that there can be no sure sign that a person is or is not in a state of grace. It seems likely, however, that loss of sanctifying or habitual grace in the Catholic understanding must result from the act or belief that led to the imposition of anathema or excommunication.
Certainly it is possible that an anathematized individual may have repented of the action or belief that caused him to be anathematized; however, I believe it would be true to state that at the moment of being anathematized he was not in a state of grace.
The argument that a person may not have been in a state of mortal sin when the anathema was imposed does not hold water. It is just as easy to declare that an individual was in a state of mortal sin when the anathema was imposed. Without supporting evidence, neither position can be proved definitively. It seems likely to me, however, that failure to accept and believe doctrinal statements proposed by the Extraordinary Magisterium may well constitute the grievous sin of denial of truth, as understood in the Roman Church.
However, as presented, I must agree that being subject to anathema is no sure sign that a person was not in a state of grace. God alone can know with certainty the eternal state of a person.
I agree that as originally intended, anathemas, like excommunication, were designed to bring the sinner to repentance and to restoration within the community of believers. We see clear evidence in Paul's dealings with the incestuous sinner in Corinth who was first cast out of the congregation and then, having repented, restored.
I do not accept Akin's position here. For my reasons, see Pietro Parente above.
I believe that Aklins is wrong. Once again, see Pietro Parente above.
Agree; with reservations. There was a period of time when anathema was considered to be just another way of saying excommunicated. I suspect that the anathemas imposed with that understanding may very well remain in effect today, even though the word “anathema” is no longer to be found in the Code of Canon Law. In that, as I understand it, anathema is an ecclesiastical penalty of the Catholic Church, canon lawyers would be needed to argue the specifics of any case before a Church tribunal in order to determine the condition of an anathematized person
Once again, I agree with Akin's position.
Though the judicial penalties once imposed for failure to accept doctrinal definitions have faded into history, the definitions remain as infallible teachings of the Catholic Church
Sigh! I reckon that, having been born into and raised within the suffocating embrace of Mama Church, I should start looking for a good canon lawyer to plead my case. Naah. That would be pointless, since not even wild horses could haul me back into the Romish cult.
In his parting shot, Akin misses the ball again.
Wrong again, Mr. Akin. I cannot imagine anyone being more anti-Catholic than me, yet I have made a sincere effort to respond to your arguments and, which should not be surprising to anyone who has read much of my work, agree with some of the points you make.
On the other hand, I do agree that God will sort things out one day as every soul who ever lived will be called before the Great White Throne. I pray daily for a number of Catholics whom I hope to see in heavenly mansions prepared for them.
And that is all I have to say on this matter.
Home | More Questions | Catholic Stuff | PTG Forum