Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Catholic Examination of Conscience

Readers of this blog have on several occasions seen me extol St. Thomas More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies, a book that I would nominate as the finest work of Catholic apologetics in the English language.  This product of St. Thomas More's uncluttered mind is as lucid, good-humored and easy to read as it is devastating in its logic and precision, and it is no less timely and urgently needed now than when the saint penned the first edition in 1528.

The Dialogue Concerning Heresies is especially needed today by Catholics.  I wish I could make it required reading in every parish and every seminary.  Too many of us no longer think like Catholics.  Too many of us do not believe that there is such a thing as the True Church, let alone that that True Church is the Catholic Church.  Too many do not even care whether there is a True Church.  Too many Catholics are prepared to believe that the Church may lead them astray, and therefore they are free or even obliged to pick and choose which doctrines they will believe.  Indeed, too many Catholics deny, or are indifferent to, the existence of truth per se.  This is why Western Civilization in general, and America in particular, are teetering on the edge of the abyss.  

That many Catholics have abandoned Catholic thought becomes apparent in the light of the Dialogue, which dissects many heretical notions that many Catholics either accept as consistent with the Catholic faith, or don't find the least bit appalling.  Part 4, Chapter 2 of the Dialogue is a syllabus of Luther's errors.  It pays to go down this list of errors and ask oneself seriously whether one recognizes them as errors.  Here are just some of them, as set forth by Thomas More.  Each one is followed by the relevant citation to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which also contains Scriptural and patristic authorities.  Are you a Catholic who believes any of these propositions?  If you see anything here that you go along with, I beg you to make use of the citations to the Catechism and think about it.

A Catholic Examination of Conscience

He [Luther] first began...with indulgences and with the Pope's power, categorically denying either of them to be of any effect at all.  Indulgences: CCC at 1471-79.  The Pope's power: CCC at 880-884, 937; 

...he denied all of the Seven Sacraments except Baptism, Penance and the Sacrament of the Altar, saying straight-out that the rest are but fabricated things and of no effect.  CCC at 1113 et seq. Penance he says that there is no need for either contrition or satisfaction.  Also he says that no priest is needed for the hearing of confession, but that every man -- and every woman, too -- is as competent to hear confessions and give absolution, and do everything that a confessor is supposed to do, as is a priest.  CCC at 980-982; 1430-1470; 1480-84.

Item: He teaches that faith alone suffices for our salvation with our baptism, without good works.  He says also that it is sacrilege to attempt to please God with any works and not with faith alone.  CCC at 1815; see also the CCC on Penance and Indulgences above.

Item: That no sin can damn any Christian, but only lack of belief.  For he says that our faith swallows up all our sins, however great they may be.  See above, also CCC at 1033-37.

Item: He teaches that no one has free will, or can do anything with it, even if the help of grace is joined to it, but that everything we do, good and bad, we do nothing at all there in ourselves, but only allow God to do everything in us, good and bad, as wax is wrought into a statue or a candle by human hands, without doing anything itself thereto.  CCC at 1701-15.

Item: He says that God is as truly the author and cause of the bad will of Judas in the betraying of Christ as of the good will of Christ in the suffering of His Passion.  As for Matrimony, he says straight-out that it is no sacrament; and so says Tyndale, too.  God's goodness: CCC at 313, 385.  Matrimony: CCC at 1601 et seq.

Item: That every Christian man and every Christian woman is a priest.  CCC at 1536 et seq.

Item: That every man can consecrate bread into the Body of Christ....he goes on to say that every woman and child can consecrate bread into the Body of Our Lord.  CCC at 1322 et seq.; 1536 et seq.

Item: That the Host in the Mass is no oblation or sacrifice.  CCC at 1322 et seq.

Item: That the Mass with its canon in the form that is and always has been used in Christ's Church is a sacrilege and an abomination....he teaches that it is heresy to believe that there is not, in the Blessed Sacrament, real bread and real wine joined with the Body and Blood of Our Lord.  CCC at 1345 et seq.;  1376.

Item: Zwingli and Oecolampadius, pupils of Luther...teach that the Blessed Sacrament is not the real Body or Blood of Our Lord at all....[Luther] teaches also that the Mass avails no one, alive or dead, except only the priest himself.  CCC at 1345 et seq.

Item: He teaches that people should go to Mass as well after supper as before breakfast, and in their regular clothes, as they go all day, without candlelight or any other honorific ritual used therein.  See if this is consistent with CCC at 1322 et seq.

Item: He teaches that every man and woman should take the Holy Sacrament, and not refrain from touching It and handling It as much as they please.  See if this is consistent with CCC at 1322 et seq.

Item: He says that the Blessed Sacrament is ordained by God to be received, but not to be worshipped.  CCC at 1378.

...he teaches, against Scripture and all reason, that no Christian is or can be bound by any law made by human beings, nor is obliged to observe or keep any.  CCC at 532; 1897-1904; 2052-82. 

Item: He teaches that there is no Purgatory.  CCC at 1030-32.

Item: That all people's souls lie still and sleep till Judgment Day.  CCC at 1021-22.

Item: That no one should pray to saints, or attach importance to any sacred relics or shrines, or do reverence to any images.  CCC at 2683, et seq.

Item: He says that every other woman now living, if she has the same faith, can as rightly be prayed to as Our Lady, and profit us as much with her prayer.  CCC at 148-149; 484 et seq.; 721-726; 963 et seq.; 2673 et seq.

Item: He teaches that people should give no veneration to the Holy Cross that Christ died on.  He says that if he had it whole, or all the pieces of it, he would throw it in such a place as no sun should ever shine on it, to the end that it should never be found to be venerated more.  CCC at 616-618.

He teaches that no man or woman is obliged to keep and observe any vow they have made to God of virginity or widowhood or other chastity outside of marriage, but that they may marry as they please, their vow notwithstanding.  CCC at 1618-1620; 2101-03.

As long as this post is, it seems fitting to close with a reflection by St. Thomas More, from Part 1, Chapter 27 of the Dialogue, on why it is God's will that Christians submit to the authority of the Catholic Church.
...[I]t is the perpetual order which Our Lord has continued in the governance of good people from the beginning, that just as our nature first fell by way of pride to disobedience of God with the inordinate desire of knowledge like unto God's, so has God ever kept man in humility, bridling him with the knowledge and confession of his ignorance and binding him to the obedience of belief of certain things of which his own intellect would indeed think the contrary.  And therefore we are bound to believe not only against our own reason the points that God communicates to us in Scripture, but also what God teaches His Church outside Scripture, and (also against our own mind) to give diligent hearing, firm credence, and faithful obedience to the Church of Christ concerning the sense and understanding of Holy Scripture.  Not doubting that since He has commanded that His sheep be fed, He has provided for them wholesome food and true doctrine.  And that He has for that purpose to such an extent inspired the old holy theologians of His Church with the light of His grace for our instruction that the doctrine in which they have concurred and which has been assented to through many ages is the really true faith and right way to heaven, its having been put in their minds by the holy hand of Him "Qui facit unanimes in domo," Who makes the Church of Christ all of one mind [Psalm 68:7].


  1. Excellent Post. Sadly, I know many Catholics, too many, who would fall under these categories of falsehoods. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you. I hope it helps. And I hope every Catholic reads Dialogue Concerning Heresies. The Man for All Seasons was no dope.