Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #46

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Sorry for no newsletter last week. I’ve been putting a lot of time into annual tax filings in the last couple of weeks and, given the choice of making the IRS happy or getting a newsletter out in any given week…’nuff said.


I received a reply from Raymond Woodward to my last email, but I haven’t had time to read more than the first few sentences of it, much less type up a response. So, I will put all of that in next week’s newsletter.

This week, then, I am going to do something a little different. A few months back someone suggested that I re-visit Dr. Joe Mizzi’s website (justforcatholics.org) and respond to some of the lies that he has posted there about the Catholic faith. So, I thought this would be a good time to do just such a thing.

Below is a question and aswer regarding venial sins from Dr. Mizzi’s website that you can click on from his home page. My responses to what he says are mingled in with his comments. His comments are in italics, mine are in bold.


From Joe Mizzi’s website:

Venial Sins

QUESTION: Do you think that people who believe in purgatory might use this as an excuse to keep on sinning? I am no better then others, for I do sin. But the Holy Spirit is at me right away and I feel bad for the sin I’ve done and must ask God for forgiveness. Some sins could be quite enjoyable and if I believed in purgatory I would probably keep on sinning and have purgatory cleanse me when the time comes. I thank Jesus for showing me the way and the Holy Spirit for being my little voice.

Here we have a perfect example of the ignorance that pervades people’s views of Catholic teaching. Catholics do not believe we can sin as we please because we can have Purgatory to “cleanse [us] when the time comes.” Purgatory is for those who die in a state of grace but who have not yet been “made perfect” (Heb 12:23)…those who have not yet achieved the holiness necessary to see the Lord (Heb 12:14). It is for those who have sinned, repented, confessed their sin, and striven to do better. We are indeed cleansed, or purged, of our imperfections in Purgatory. But, if someone has presumed upon the Lord’s mercy and gone out and sinned as much as they pleased because they have Purgatory to fall back on…well, folks like that probably never made it to Purgatory in the first place. It just doesn’t work that way.

What’s more, Dr. Mizzi knows that this question misrepresents Catholic teaching on Purgatory. You can tell that by the fact that his answer doesn’t directly address the main point of this person’s question. So, what does this good “Christian” man do when he sees that someone has a misunderstanding regarding Catholic teaching on Purgatory? Does he clear up the confusion that is apparent in this person’s question? Does he quote from Catholic sources…like the Catechism…to give an accurate representation of Catholic teaching on Purgatory? Well, let’s see…


ANSWER: A typical Catholic feels that he is not good enough to go directly to heaven, but he is not bad enough to go to hell either. I know that this is what I felt as a Catholic.

Who is Dr. Mizzi to speak of what the “typical Catholic feels”? He’s basing his assumption on what he felt as a Catholic. Well, two things: 1) He left the Catholic Church – the “typical Catholic” does not leave the Church; 2) He left the Faith as a teenager – how much had he actually studied the teachings of the Church as a teenager? How much did he actually know about Church teachings as a teenager? I’ll wager little to none. So, again, how can he claim to know anything about what the “typical Catholic feels”?

This results from two false doctrines, namely salvation by works and the downplaying of the seriousness of sin. Since a Catholic has to earn salvation by his works, and since he has to make up for his sins by prayers and religion, it is understandable that he never feels secure of heaven. Have I done enough? Would there be enough ‘good’ on one side of the scale to overcome the ‘bad’ on the other side?

Two points to make here: 1) Catholics do not believe they have to “make up for [their] sins by prayers and religion.” We do not believe we have to “earn salvation by [our] works.” (For more on this, please see my debate with Dr. Mizzi on the “Debate” page of my website.) If a Catholic does believe such a thing, it is because he doesn’t know what his Church teaches. But, even if Joe has come across such a Catholic, you cannot take the beliefs of any individual Catholic and claim that is the teaching of the Catholic Church. To do such a thing is an act of intellectual dishonesty. All one needs to do is pick up a Catechism of the Catholic Church and read for themselves what the Church does or does not teach on any particular topic. The problem here is that Joe is taking what he believed as a misinformed, under-educated Catholic teen on his way out of the Church, and making that the official teaching of the Church. Again, that is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

2) Where, o where, does the Catholic Church downplay the seriousness of sin? Give me a passage from the Catechism, Joe, or from some encyclical or from the teachings of some Council of the Church to back up what you’re saying here. What’s going on is that Joe knows that the Catholic Church teaches that there is a distinction between sin…the distinction between mortal and venial sin…the distinction between sin that leads to death and sin that doesn’t lead to death (I’ll get into this a bit more below)…and in his mind, that means that we downplay the seriousness of sin – because we say that some sin is less serious than other sin. Again, this is in his mind that we downplay the seriousness of sin, it is not in the teachings of the Church. In fact, as I will show below, it is Joe’s belief of once saved always saved that not only downplays the seriousness of sin, but completely removes any consequence of sin.

Thank God, we know that it is not by our merit that we are saved, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of Him, we can be sure that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life.

Dr. Mizzi believes that Catholics cannot ever feel “secure of heaven.” This is because (according to him) we can never know if we’ve done enough works to “earn our salvation.” But, in the debate we had on justification, Joe stated that works are important and that one cannot get to heaven if he does no works…because not doing the works would show that one didn’t really have a “saving faith,” that one was never really saved. In other words, one does not merit with one’s works, but one has to do the works to “prove” they have a saving faith.

So, my question is this: Joe, how many works does one have to do in order to know that they indeed have a saving faith? 1? 10? 100? If one does works for a year or two after they are “saved,” but then stops, does he have a saving faith or not? Was he really saved or not? How many works does it take for you to know for sure that you have a saving faith? How many works does it take for someone else to know that you have a saving faith? Fact is, folks, that Joe’s beliefs cannot make someone “secure of heaven” because one cannot ever know if one has done enough works to really know for sure that they have a saving faith. So, all of his talk about knowing he is saved and having “eternal security” is a joke. It is yet another instance of intellectual dishonesty.

On the other hand, Catholic theology classifies sins into two categories – mortal and venial. Mortal is like killing somebody, or doing something really gross. Venial is like stealing an item form the supermarket, saying a dirty joke, etc. The venial sins are not that serious. You still go to heaven if you do them. You only have to make up for them by your good works, and other things down here, and suffer in purgatory on the other side.

This is a great deception. All sins are serious. The wages of sin is death! And the smallest of sins is still heinous and immense in the eyes of God because in essence every sin is a rebellion against the God of the Universe.

It is indeed a great deception, and he is the deceiver. How he can say this stuff with a straight face is beyond me! First of all, notice that a few paragraphs above, he states that Catholics “downplay the seriousness of sin.” What he is actually referring to is that, in his opinion, we downplay the seriousness of venial sins. But, that’s not what he stated, is it? He originally states it in such a way as to make one think Catholics downplay the seriousness of all sins.

Secondly, to say that we teach that venial sins are “not that serious” is a gross distortion. His implication is that we teach serious sin (mortal) vs. non-serious sin (venial). That is incorrect. We teach that both types of sin are serious, but that venial sins are not as serious as mortal sins. Joe takes that division between venial sin and mortal sin to mean serious vs. not serious. We take the division to mean serious unto death vs. serious but not unto death. There is a big difference. “Venial Sin: Sin which does not destroy the divine life in the soul, as does mortal sin, though it diminishes and wounds it,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). Tell me please, Joe, where you ever read in Church documents that diminishing and wounding the divine life in the soul is not a serious matter? All sin is an offense against God! As such, all sin is a serious matter. But, not all sin causes the death of the divine life within the soul.

Joe, are you not aware of 1 John 5:16-17? “If any one see his brother committing what is not a mortal sin [a sin “unto death” in the King James Version], he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal [unto death]. There is sin which is mortal [unto death]; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal [unto death].” In the very plain words of Scripture, it tells us that there are two types of sin: sin unto death and sin not unto death. As Catholics, we call those two categories of sin mortal and venial sins. Call them whatever you like, but they are two separate categories of sin, with different levels of seriousness. One is more serious – mortal sin – because it leads to death (of the soul) and one is serious, but less so – venial – because it does not lead to death (of the soul). I don’t know how it can get any clearer than that. Again, he calls this teaching of the Church, which is found directly in the Bible, a “great deception.” He says all sin is serious. Well, as Catholics, we agree. Once again he misrepresents (deliberately?) Catholic teaching. And, to do so, he has to completely ignore the very plain verses found in the Word of God.

The other thing that kills me about what he says here, is that he is railing against Catholic teaching as downplaying the seriousness of sin, yet his beliefs reject any consequences for sin. Catholics believe there is sin that leads unto death, just like the Bible says. Joe doesn’t. The only thing of any consequence in Joe’s theological system (such as it is), is whether or not one has faith in Jesus Christ. Sin is of no consequence – for the believer or the unbeliever. An unbeliever doesn’t go to Hell in Joe’s theology because he sins, he goes to Hell because he doesn’t believe. An unbeliever can live a perfect life, a life free from all sin, and if he has never heard of Jesus Christ, and thus never confessed a belief in Christ, he goes to Hell. And if a believer sins, he doesn’t go to Hell, because he’s a believer. So, in Joe’s theological system all sin is indeed the same – it is all irrelevant. That’s why he has to ignore passages like 1 John 5:16-17 about the different types of sin, and that’s why he has to ignore all the passages about the consequences of sin, because sin has no consequence in his belief system. Yet, he has the gall to talk about Catholics “downplaying” the seriousness of sin. Can you say…hypocrisy?

To restate this, Catholics believe that there is sin that can destroy the divine life within the soul – mortal sin. Joe doesn’t believe any sin can do that. Catholics believe that there is sin that can diminish and wound the divine life within the soul. Joe doesn’t believe any sin can do that. So, who is it that is “downplaying the seriousness of sin”? It’s not Catholics, it’s Joe and those who teach the false doctrine of eternal security.

We will escape hell not because our sins are venial and small, but because we have a powerful and merciful Saviour. We know that our sins were not trivial; our Saviour had to die on the cross to free us from our sins!

Again, I believe Joe knows that the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus did indeed have to die on the cross to free us from our sins. Yet, he words things in such a way as to completely ignore, and thereby misrepresent (deliberately?) Catholic teaching on this matter. This is the same un-Christian tactic he uses throughout his website.

Knowing how ugly sin is, let us flee from it like the plague. Let us live godly lives for the sake of him who loved us so much to secure our salvation by his own blood.

Do you see what he says here? “Knowing how ugly sin is…let us live godly lives for the sake of him who loved us so much…” In other words, live godly lives for Christ, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it, because your sin has no consequence. It’s Bobby McFerrin theology: Don’t worry, be happy.

Do you see how he talks out of both sides of his mouth here? On the one hand he says that all sin is “serious” and that the “wages of sin is death!” and that “the smallest of sins is still heinous and immense in the eyes of God” and that “every sin is a rebellion against the God of the Universe,” on the other hand he says that if you sin you are still saved…in other words, there are no consequences to your sin. How can the wages of sin be death yet you’re still saved no matter what kind of sin you commit and how often you commit it? How can the smallest of sins be heinous and immense in the eyes of God, yet not have any consequence for you? How can every sin be a rebellion against the God of the Universe, yet you can still be “secure of Heaven”?

Joe’s false doctrines are an affront to God. His is indeed the great deception. The intellectual and scriptural bankruptcy that pervades the false teachings on his website is surpassed only by the hypocrisy that one finds there. Unfortunately, though, for him and for them, Joe is leading people astray from the one true Church of Christ. We need to keep him, and all those like him, in our prayers.

One last word on this. As I’ve said before to Joe, the place of greatest difference in regard to our beliefs on justification, is that he believes our works cannot “merit” anything, whereas, as Catholics, we believe they do…if, we are united to the Body of Christ when we do these works. Joe’s beliefs, in essence, decapitate Jesus. I’ll explain what I mean by that.

If I take a History test and answer every question correctly, then I have merited a score of 100 on that test. Would anyone of you say, “Well, John’s head merited that score, but not John’s feet?” Or, “John’s head merited that score, but not his body?” Would anyone say such a ridiculous thing?

Yet, that is exactly what Joe’s beliefs lead to. When we are baptized, we become members of the Body of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, we have God’s grace…His very life…flowing in us and through us – like blood in the human body. If we perform some good work, or make some act of faith, as members of the Body of Christ, who can be said to merit something from this good work or this act of faith? Joe’s theology says that only Christ can be said to merit. In other words, the Head of the Body merits, but the Body does not merit. As in the example I gave above, does that make any sense whatsoever? In essence, Joe is decapitating Jesus. He is cutting the Head off from the Body. The Head merits, but not the Body. Well, Joe, are we one with Christ or not? Does Christ have an intact Body or not?

Catholics don’t decapitate Jesus. We can be said to merit from our good works and from our acts of faith because we are members of the Body of Christ. Because it is the life of Christ, God’s grace, flowing in us and working through us for the greater good of the Body. Because as members of the Body we are one with Him. As husband and wife are one, so we, the members of His Body, the members of the Church, are one with Him. That is how we can be said to merit. Because you don’t separate the Head from the Body. If, however, we are ever cut off from the Body, or if we are never baptized into the Body, then our works mean absolutely nothing. Which means that to claim, as Joe does, that Catholics believe our works, in and of themselves, earn us salvation…is at best ignorance, and, at worst, a deliberate lie and distortion to mislead others.

In Conclusion

It is obvious, again, that Joe knows enough about the Catholic teaching on Purgatory to know that the questioner in this instance was suffering from a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching. Did Joe do anything to try and clear up the questioner’s misunderstandings? No, he does nothing of the sort. He simply ignores this person’s misunderstanding and goes on to spout his (Dr. Mizzi’s) own misrepresentations, half truths, and outright lies regarding Purgatory and other Catholic teachings.

The proper Christian response would be to first address the questioner’s misrepresentations of Catholic teachings before giving an answer – even if your answer contains its own set of misrepresentations. Dr. Mizzi, as a Christian, has an obligation to give someone an accurate rendering of what others teach…whether those others be Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, or Catholics. He is free to disagree with what someone believes, but, again, as a Christian, he is obligated to accurately represent those teachings he disagrees with. As I have said before, directly to him, he does not accurately represent Catholic teaching on his website. Because of my exchange with him and because of the exchanges that many others have had with him, it is difficult for me to ascribe his misrepresentations to mere ignorance. It almost seems that he deliberately distorts Catholic teaching because the arguments for his position are so weak, that he is left with no choice but to do so. His arguments against these distorted Catholic teachings can carry some weight, but his arguments against actual Catholic teaching fall woefully short.

Dr. Mizzi’s email address is: justforcatholics@yahoo.com if anyone feels the need to forward this newsletter to him.

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Apologetics for the Masses