Apologetics for the Masses #405 - Mistakes Catholics Make and Sins Against the Holy Spirit

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Mistakes Catholics Make and Sins Against the Holy Spirit


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     Last week I wrote about some mistakes Catholics are prone to make when they talk about their faith.  One of those mistakes was "Going beyond what the Church teaches" - i.e., coming up with your own unique interpretations of Scripture that go beyond the boundaries of Church teaching and/or stretching a particular Church teaching to make it into something it really isn't.  And, one of the examples I used to demonstrate that type of mistake was a guy who had come up with a novel interpretation of Luke 23:24 and combined that with his own interpretation of the passage from Matthew 12 about sins against the Holy Spirit, to come up with a "Catholic" teaching that isn't really Catholic. 

     Well, I had a fairly involved conversation with him via my "John Martignoni and the Bible Christian Society" Facebook page about his novel interpretation of these passages that I think might be of some catechetical value in regard to what exactly the sin against the Holy Spirit is, and also in regard to how you can check if what you think is Church teaching...actually is Church teaching.  So, I thought I would share that dialogue here. 

     The name he uses on my Facebook page is Jim Victor, although that is not his real name.  I know that because he has emailed me and told me that it is not his real name.  Anyway, the dialogue is a little long, so I'm going to break it up into two issues.  I hope you enjoy...

     HOMEWORK ALERT:  FREE COPY OF MY BOOK to the person who can do the best job of going through the last two responses from Jim Victor below and analyzing the flaws in his reasoning.  I am not looking for lengthy responses.  Just give me some succinct bullet point-type responses as to errors in his logic and/or contradictions in his reasoning and/or any other flaw/mistake you see.  Essentially, give me a short outline of what points you would make were you responding to him. 

{Note: The decision of the judge (me) as to who does the best job - and thus gets the free book - will be completely subjective and is final and not subject to appeal.}


Jim Victor - Original Post on Facebook
     If every sin committed against the Son will be unconditionally forgiven (Luke 23:34) and any sin committed against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven (Matthew 12:31-32), is it logical and/or correct to conclude that the only sins Christ's death redeemed us of are those committed against the Father? Just wondering.

John Martignoni
     Your question misses the mark. First, every sin against the Son is not "unconditionally forgiven". One must repent of the sin and confess the sin and seek to amend their life in order to be forgiven. So, there are conditions. Second, when you say, "Any sin committed against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven...," what exactly do you think constitutes a sin against the Holy Spirit? Once we clear up your apparent misunderstanding of that, then we can properly address your question.

     The assumptions underlying his post are deeply flawed.  First, as I alluded to in my response to him, nowhere does Luke 23:34, especially when taken in context with all of Scripture, say, or even imply, that all sins committed against the Son by everyone throughout time will be “unconditionally forgiven”.  
     Second, it is glaringly obvious that he has a fundamental misunderstanding of what is meant by sins against the Holy Spirit.  But, instead of getting right into it, I wanted to ask him what he thought it meant so that I could use his own words to pinpoint and frame his misunderstanding.  You can do this in your discussions with Protestants whenever they say something that is incorrect about Catholic teaching.  For example, “You Catholics worship Mary.”  Instead of jumping right into an explanation of Catholic teaching on Mary, and on what exactly constitutes “worship,” you can simply ask them, “Why do you say that?  Can you give me some official Catholic teaching that states Mary is to be worshipped?”  And then use their response to help build your case against their misunderstanding.

Jim Victor
     Thank you for your response and to be clear I meant no disrespect against the Church (which I love) in asking this question. It is merely a conclusion my logical mind has taken to me to. I really don't know its significance or if it even means anything, but I was curious to know if there was a flaw in my logic or if anyone of authority in the Church had ever addressed it. Seems like someone over the past 2,000 years might have noticed this.

     With regard to my statement that every sin committed against the Son is unconditionally forgiven, however, I say that because Jesus graciously asked His Father from the Cross for forgiveness for all who'd taken part in His Crucifixion, which He qualified by saying that the Father should do it because they knew not what they were doing. And it is hard for me to believe that the Father would not honor such a noble request. Do you agree? Therefore, since we can all take some share in the Crucifixion, because it was all of our sins that necessitated it, and secondly since none of us can fully understand in this life the extent of the pain we are causing and the harm we are doing (to ourselves and to others) when we sin and these sins no matter how small did contribute to the pain of Christ's death, it is logical to conclude that He was also including our sins against Him when He asked His Father for forgiveness.

     Besides that, from what we read in Scripture, Jesus throughout His life among us never condemned anyone for anything they did against Him personally. That seems to me to be a major point being made in the Gospels, that we follow Christ's example and we unconditionally forgive every transgression committed against us, asking the Father at the same time to do the same regardless of whether the person who committed that sin is contrite.

     So since I don't see anything scripturally or magesterially that conflicts with this opinion, I think it is safe to say that Jesus is not going to hold anything we've done against Him, personally when we stand before Him to be judged. We will be judged rather on our compliance with the Father's will (Matthew 7:21) and apparently solely on the sins we've committed against Him and the Holy Spirit. As to your request that I define what it means to sin against the Holy Spirit, I really don't see the relevance. Suffice it to say that whatever it means to sin against the Holy Spirit (as mentioned in Matthew 12:31) and however the Church wants to define it, is the same way I would define it.

John Martignoni
     Yes, there is a flaw in your logic. First clue of that is that if you "discover" something that no one in the Church has addressed in 2000 years, then there is probably a reason for that, and the reason is...because it is not sound thinking and is not in accord with Church teaching or with Scripture. Something "new" in a 2000-yr. old Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit is probably something not good.

     Yes, we can all share in the blame for the Crucifixion, however, to take Jesus' statement on the Cross as a blanket reprieve from sin for all human beings, is not logical. Jesus also asked the Father to remove the "cup" of the Passion and Crucifixion from Him...didn't happen. So, just because He asks, doesn't mean it automatically happens. God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), doesn't necessarily mean all men are saved. Why not? Because we have free will.
     Jesus never condemned anyone? Have you ever read Matt 23? Brood of vipers! Liars! Hypocrites! Whitewashed tombs! Sons of murderers! Blind guides! Woe to you! How are you to escape being sentenced to Hell?! He also said it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born. Jesus also says that if we do not forgive others, then the Father will not forgive us. Liars, murderers, fornicators, sodomites, adulterers, etc. - will not see Heaven...according to the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God. He says that the road to Hell is wide and easy and many take it.

     Jesus won't hold anything we've done to Him against us? Really? Have you not read Matt 25:31-46. Why do the goats get tossed into the eternal fire? Because of what they did to Jesus. They treated Him with indifference when they didn't feed Him or clothe Him or visit Him when He was sick. Whatsoever you did to the least of my brethren, you did to Me. Were they all forgiven for not feeding, clothing, and visiting Him? Uh...don't think so.

     So, I don't think you're taking all of the Scriptures into consideration to reach your conclusions. Jesus is going to hold everything that we have done against Him against us, if we have not repented and confessed those things...our sins (1 John 1:9)

     Every sin we commit is a sin against God, which means every sin we commit is as sin against Jesus, since He is God. So, there is another flaw in your logic.

     Finally, there is indeed great relevance in the definition of what it means to sin against the Holy Spirit. You don't see the relevance because you're assumptions have carried you down an errant path. The sin against the Holy Spirit is not a particular sin, or sins. All sins can be forgiven by God, if they are repented of and confessed. ALL sins. The sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven, because it is the sin that is not repented of and confessed. The Church Fathers defined the sin against the Holy Spirit as one of two things: 1) Either, attributing the things of God to Satan, and the things of Satan to God, or 2) Despair that God could ever forgive you of your sins. The commonality in both instances - thinking that something you're doing is good (of God) when actually what you're doing is evil (of Satan), and despairing of God's forgiveness - is that it would lead one to not repent and confess their sins. And, again, the unrepented and unconfessed sins are the only ones God will not forgive.
     Given all of that, your conclusions in the original post are entirely without merit.


     Here is the first clue, from his own hand, that there is something wrong with the "revelation" he was putting forth: "...I was curious to know if there was a flaw in my logic or if anyone of authority in the Church had ever addressed it. Seems like someone over the past 2,000 years might have noticed this."  Folks, if you ever find yourself espousing something about the Bible or the Catholic Faith that you have never seen addressed before in Church teaching or the Church Fathers, then you need to stop right there.  You need to go and consult the Catechism and you need to maybe do a search on the Church Fathers or Church Councils. 

     There is an "Index of Citations" of Sacred Scripture in the back of the Catechism.  If you look under Luke 23:34 and Matthew 12:31-32, you will see all the paragraphs of the Catechism that reference those verses.  If Jim Victor had done a search of the Catechism for those two Scripture passages, he would have seen that nowhere in the Catechism does the Church come to the same conclusion about those verses that he came to.  Which would have, hopefully, given him some indication that his interpretation of those verses was a bit off track.  But, he obviously never did such a search.

     Second clue that there is a problem with his conclusions is that he is extending "they know not what they do" - ignorance of sin - to cover every single sin we ever commit.  "...since none of us can fully understand in this life the extent of the pain we are causing and the harm we are doing (to ourselves and to others) when we sin..."   So, since we cannot "in this life" fully understand the consequences of our sins - which is, essentially, true - then he assumes that that makes us ignorant of our sins and thus every sin we commit would fall under the blanket of, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  Ignorance of sin, according to Jim Victor's definition, is no longer simply being ignorant of the fact that you are doing something wrong, it now even applies to those situations where even though you know you are doing something wrong, since you don't "fully understand" the complete and total extent of the harm you do when you sin, you are still "ignorant" and thus unconditionally forgiven.  Really?!

     Third clue is that, based on what he said, "these sins no matter how small did contribute to the pain of Christ's death," then all sins are sins against the Son and the false trichotomy he has set up of the existence of sins exclusively against the Father, sins exclusively against the Son, and sins exclusively against the Holy Spirit is contradicted from the outset by his own words. 

     Finally, Matthew 25:31-46 showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his claim that Jesus condemned no one was flatly contradicted by Scripture.  Which, should have caused him to realize that he was going to a wrong path with all of this.  But, it didn't...

Jim Victor
     First know that I have a very high regard for you and your ministry. I think your scriptural apologetics are awsome and you are much more learned in the Bible that I am. So I hope you do not feel me being disrespectful when I express opinions in this response that are contrary to yours.

     Second, I did not say that no one in 2,000 years has commented on this before. I simply said that I was not aware of any opinion expressed on the matter pro or con. But I am not versed on everything said over that long stretch of time, nor would I guess are you, so that really is an open issue isn't it?

     Third, I also never said that all sins are unconditionally forgiven. And I certainly believe as you do that contrition and repentence are a major requirement to receive the benefits of Christ's redeeming act. I am all in on the idea that we need to work out or salvation with fear and trembling. So there is no argument there.

     But as hard as it is for me to believe or say it, I still think it is you who has misunderstood Scripture when you say that sins committed against the Son are not unconditionally forgiven. And I can maybe appreciate why you might feel that way. You love Christ, just as we all do here. And it is hard, I think, for any of us to accept the idea when we first encounter it that someone could get off scott free when they say or do something against Him, especially if it is a despicable act, something that enrages us. This would be the natural position for any Christian when first hearing it. But I don't think any of the Scriptures you've cited conclusively support your position.

     When Jesus, for instance, condemned the Scribes and the Pharisees, It can be argued, without difficulty, He did so not for what they said or did against Him, personally, but for their hypocrisy and their legalism and the way they misled the people by straining at gnats while swallowing camels. And all of these damnable transgressions, as Jesus referred to them, are easily ascribed into the category of offenses committed against the Father and/or the Holy Spirit.

     Similarly when you cite the indifference shown toward Christ by those who neglect the corporal acts of mercy (and I have to admit, that one was a good argument), aren't those bad actions really transgressions being committed against the will of the Father? At least that is what Matthew 7:21 read in conjunction with Matthew 25:31-48 is saying to me.

     As to John 1:9, I am not sure I am understanding your argument there. So I'll wait on that one until you can clarify. But when you mention Judas's apparent damnation for His role at Calvary, that one I admit is hard to reconcile with what I have said. And I believe I've read that the Church Fathers speculated his damnation was due to the likelihood that he knew fully well what He was doing when He betrayed Christ which would,of course, have exempted Him from Christ's blanket pardon. But you could also argue that even that grave sin could be construed as an offense against the Father since it was committed primarily at the inspiration of Satan as a last ditch and foolhardy attempt to thwart the Father's plan.

     So I am sticking with my conclusion. You've offered some good counter-arguments but they boiled down entirely to one persons fallible interpretation of certain Scriptures pitted against another person's fallible interpretations. Nothing is resolved by that alone: And in the end the one argument that seals the deal, for me anyway, is one you have not really addressed. And it is this: Jesus told us many times in Scripture that we should unconditionally forgive every action committed against us, regardless of whether a pardon was requested. He was adamant about it.

     And Jesus was no hypocrite. There was nothing that He ever asked of us that He didn't do, Himself, right? And He proved that from the Cross by forgiving all who'd sinned against Him that day. Now you correctly point out that the Father did not have to honor His request and you cite Gethsemane as a precedent. But there is a big difference between the two requests. The first was a request that could have altered the Father's plan but the second was simply a request for mercy towards others which would have had no discernable effect on the grand scheme of things.

     So I cannot imagine any reason the Father would not honor the senond request. He still may not have, sure. But the most logical position to me anyway is that He did. And Scripture does not specifically say otherwise. Besides that, to whom has it been granted the power to forgive sins? It is the Son of Man right? And He is also the one who will be deciding our fate at the Last Judgment, not the Father. It is a role granted Him by the Father and the Lamb has more than earned the right.

     So given that there is likely nothing we could do against Christ today that would ever compare to what He had to endure at Calvary and that He's already expressed His desire to forgive those who beat, scourged, tortured and crucified Him, why should we assume that He would not forgive us at our judgment for anything we might do to Him today? I mean wouldn't that conflict with everything He taught us, making Him a hypocrite for not forgiving those who committed sins against Him while at the same time expecting us to do the opposite.

     So that is my dilemma in accepting your argument. It requires of me to see Christ as someone lacking in integrity, someone who doesn't practice what He preaches. And I cannot do that. One final note, yes the Son is in continual hypostatic union with the other two members of the Trinity. But it is Jesus, Himself, who makes the distinction between sins committed against the Son and those committed against the Holy Spirit. So your argument there should be directed against Jesus in Matthew 12:31-32, not me. Again no disrespect intended and I apologize for the length of this response. Just trying to respond to everything you said.

John Martignoni

     Before I had a chance to respond, he followed up with this post:

Jim Victor
     OK Mr. M, having reviewed and prayerfully considered your response and slept on it a few days I now see I have to amend slightly my own position to accomodate some of your objections. I cannot accept your entire premise that any and all sins committed against the Son can only be forgiven on the condition of contrition on the part of the transgressor, because it requires of me to believe that Jesus, our Just Judge, is a hypocrite, that He would ask us to forgive all sins committed against us unconditionally while at the same time requiring conditions before sins committed agains Him can be forgiven. And Jesus was not a hypocrite!

     And I don't just think that, I know it and I am sure you know it too. Nevertheless I can also appreciate why you are so adamant that sins committed against the Son cannot be forgiven without contrition. And several of the Scriptures you cited to support that position (Matthew 25 and Matthew 26:24, in particular) are indeed valid while my original counterargument that those sins could be seen as being committed against the Father, I admit was hasty, contrived and thus invalid.

     So here is my resolution if you can accept it and it has to do with Christ's two natures. . It is only those sins that are committed against Christ's human nature that would appear to be unconditionally forgiven. Those committed against His divine nature require the conditions you stated before they can be forgiven. This would explain why Jesus did not blanket the Father and the Son of God into His statement in Matthew 12:32 concerning the implied unconditional pardon of blasphemies against ths Son of Man.

     So by this resolution when we today neglect to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, etc. failing to recognize that we are in reality neglecting Christ, we are sinning against Christ in His divine nature. And Judas's betrayal, since He knew who Jesus was, would have similarly been against Christ in His divine nature. Peter's 3 denials would have similarly been against Jesus's divine nature, but Peter repented of his sin (the condition required to be forgiven for sins against God the Father and God, the Son). Judas however didn't repent and so he perished.

     As to sins we might committ against the Son of Man today, blasphemy and sins against the Holy Eucharist are the only two that come to mind immediately. But (per Matthew 12:31) they too would seem to be unconditionally forgiven provided the transgressor did not recognize Christ's divinity. And it would be forgiven on the grounds that he/she knew not what they were doing.

     So there is one slight condition afterall. In accord with Luke 23:34, invincible ignorance would be your defense. Failing to recognize Christ's divinity in this day and age is, however, a sin against the Son of God in most cases, so you wouldn't have much of a leg to stand on when you appear before the judgment seat if you tried it. Defintely not a good way to go.

     So what say you John M.? Can you get behind this new ammended position proposed to accomodate your earlier objections from Scripture and to keep away from the absurd but unavoidable conclusion that Jesus was a hypocrite? Or do you have another resolution in mind?

Closing Comments

     This discussion with Jim Victor will continue in the next issue.  Don't forget, if you want a chance at getting a free copy of my book - Blue Collar Apologetics - take a shot at the "homework" assignment in the "Introduction" section above.  I hope you have a great week!


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Apologetics for the Masses