Essentials of Catholic Theology - Lesson 2

Roman Catholicism as a System Grounded on Two Axioms

The relationship between nature and grace, and also the interconnection of Christ and the church are the two foundational axioms on which everything in the Roman Catholic Church is structured. Everything from the nature of God to how creation works to salvation to church services to what happens after you die depends on these two ideas. Everything in Roman Catholic theology and practice is consistent with and determined by these two principles. 

Gregg Allison
Essentials of Catholic Theology
Lesson 2
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Roman Catholicism as a System Grounded on Two Axioms


A. A systemic approach to Roman Catholic Theology

B. Roman Catholic theology grounded on two axioms


A. Nature

B. Grace

C. The Fall and sin of humans

D. Interdependence of nature and grace

E. Doctrinal examples of salvation and Mary

F. Evangelical assessment


A. The Church as a mediating subject between nature and grace

B. Principle of incarnation

C. The Church as the prolongation of the incarnation

D. Support for the Christ-Church interconnection

E. Doctrinal examples

F. Protestant assessment

  • Have you stopped to consider what Protestants and Roman Catholics have in common theologically and in practice? Thre are quite a few areas of agreement that can create opportunities for dialogue and fellowship. There are also significant differences in core principles and even differences in the way theological terms are defined. Key theological terms like grace, mercy, justification and sacraments have different meanings for each group. Listening to this lecture is a great opportunity for you to see the main similarities and differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It will also provide context for the other lectures in this course. 

  • The relationship between nature and grace, and also the interconnection of Christ and the church are the two foundational axioms on which everything in the Roman Catholic Church is structured. Everything from the nature of God to how creation works to salvation to church services to what happens after you die depends on these two ideas. Everything in Roman Catholic theology and practice is consistent with and determined by these two principles. 

  • On what authority does the Roman Catholic Church base their teachings and beliefs? What do they mean by general revelation and divine revelation? How and by whom is revelation transmitted and interpreted? What role does the Bible play in this process? Who makes up the Magisterium and what is their role? Why is the Catholic Bible different from the Protestant Bible? Understanding what the sources of revelation for the Roman Catholic Church are and how they transmit and interpret them will give you insight into their theology and practice. 

  • What is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church? How are they celebrated? Why are there seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church? What is their significance? What does, "Christ's Pascal mystery" refer to? This course gives you the opportunity to understand more about what the sacraments are, how you celebrate them and why they are a central element of Roman Catholic theology.

  • In Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Why is this true? What are the elements of the Eucharist and what takes place with the elements when the Eucharist is celebrated? What effect does it have on the people that participate? How is the Protestant view of the Eucharist different? What difference does it make? Take some time to consider the meaning of the Lord's Supper and why it is important to you.

  • In Roman Catholic theology, what is required for salvation and how do you accomplish it? Part of the answer lies in understanding the interface of law, grace, justification and merit. Also law, remission of sins, regeneration and sanctification are involved, all within the context of the Roman Catholic Churchas both mother and teacher. Listen further to understand how these parts are connected and intertwined. Then compare Protestant theology? Which position is Biblical? 

  • Why is Mary mentioned throughout Roman Catholic liturgy and theology? What is Dr. Allison referring to when he says that Mary is not just a tangent of Roman Catholic faith, but that Mariology epitomizes the core of their theological system? Why is this the case? How does this affect how people worship God and practice their faith? How does this compare with a Protestant view of Mary? As you listen, consider why Mary was important and what her role was in the life and ministry of Jesus. 

This course takes a systemic approach to explain the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and gives a comparative assessment to evangelical theology in the areas of salvation, Jesus, the church, eucharist, baptism, and Mariology.

The quotes that Dr. Allison is reading are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official catechism approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Recommended Books

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

This course takes a systemic approach to explain the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and gives a comparative assessment to evangelical theology in the areas of...

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

Essentials of Catholic Theology

Dr. Gregg Allison


Roman Catholicism as a System Grounded on Two Axioms

Lesson Transcript


Roman Catholicism as a system grounded on two axioms or two foundational principles. By way of introduction, I don't take an atomistic approach to discussing Roman Catholic theology and atomistic approach looking at individual doctrines. Mary the papacy justification, the Old Testament apocryphal writings, and then not connecting them. Rather, I take a systemic approach looking at Roman Catholic theology as an entire cultural view, a worldview, a system that hangs very well together. So all these various doctrines are part of a system. So that's how I look at this. And in this discussion I want to look at Roman Catholic theology as a system that's grounded on two axioms or two foundational principles that nature, grace, interdependence, and the Christ Church interconnection. I will look at these two axioms, these two principles, and then I'll engage in an evangelical assessment of them. First, the nature, grace, interdependence. Let's start with a definition of nature. Nature is anything that is created the universe, the Milky Way galaxy, the planets of our solar system, Earth, mountains, water trees, beautiful flowers, livestock, bears, gorillas. Elephants. Human beings. Water, oil, bread, wine. These are elements of nature. Anything that's created in terms of grace, grace is God's unmerited favor, in terms of the fact that God created the world and providentially cares for it, as well as God's unmerited favor for saving fallen human beings. Nature, Grace. Let's think for a moment about the fall and sin and its impact on nature. Nature in Roman Catholicism incorporates both creation and sin, in contrast to the typical evangelical distinction between creation, sin and redemption. This different understanding of Sin's impact means that Grace finds in the Roman Catholic idea of nature a receptive attitude. Thus, we find Roman Catholic having a pretty optimistic view of human beings over against a pretty typical reformed Protestant doctrine in which sin is devastatingly destructive.


The first principle that I want to talk about is the nature, grace, interdependence. What do I mean by the interdependence of nature and grace? God has designed nature and grace to be interdependent. That is nature. Again, think of water, oil, bread, wine. Nature is capable of receiving and transmitting. The grace of God. And grace must be concretely expressed, concretely transferred, concretely communicated by nature. Elements in the realm of nature. We've mentioned water, oil, bread and wine when consecrated by the church, receive God's grace and are able to convey God's grace. Moreover, by God's design, this grace must be conferred through these elements of nature. So let me give a couple of examples. Water An element in nature is consecrated by the Catholic Church. It becomes a conduit for divine grace that through the sacrament of baptism, cleanses an infant from her original sin, regenerates her and incorporates her into Christ and his church. Consecrated oil becomes a channel for God's grace that through the sacrament of confirmation, pours out the fullness of the Holy Spirit. On a ten year old girl going through confirmation class, bread and wine that are consecrated by the church become a medium for divine grace that through the sacrament of the Eucharist, nourishes a 20 something woman with Christ's body and Christ's blood so that she can earn eternal life through her grace aided good works. A couple of examples. This would be salvation. Salvation, as we will see later, becomes a synergistic or cooperative work between God's grace, then communicated through the sacraments, which transforms fallen human beings, rescues them from sin, and enables them to do their part in engaging in good works and meriting eternal life. In terms of Mary, another topic to which we will return, we see her as a human being, a an element of nature, of being capable, of receiving the grace of God, and then communicating the grace of God through giving birth to our Lord.


So these are a couple of examples of the nature of grace, interdependence. How would evangelicals, how would Protestants assess this nature? Grace. Interdependence. What Protestants often find lacking or amiss with this principle can be summarized in three points. The first point is the lack of a scriptural basis for the Catholic notion of nature. The principle is philosophical rather than biblical. I don't think you've recently, or even in the long past, ever heard a sermon or a Sunday school teaching on the whole concept of nature, being capable of receiving and transmitting the grace of God. We don't have it within our Protestant or evangelical circles because it's not a biblical concept. It's more philosophical. The second point goes beyond the principles lack of biblical support to its contradiction of scripture. Put simply, the Bible does not view nature as hospitable to grace. What happens when Adam and Eve fall? God casts them out of the realm of grace, the Garden of Eden. And then the Earth becomes cursed. Paul picks this up in Romans chapter eight versus 18, and following where he talks about nature creation has been subjected to futility. God cursed such that it is now suffering, it's hostile, it's not a receptive place for human beings. So nature, the whole idea of this nature, grace, interdependence is contradictory to scripture. Third point the two traditions separate over the idea of grace that is conferred or symbolized by these elements of nature. Within the Catholic framework, the elements infuse a grace that transforms its recipient's character, thereby rendering them able to cooperate with divine grace and do good works to merit eternal life. So there is an infusion of grace. It's almost the idea of a substance that's imparted. That communicated into human nature, thereby morphing it, transforming it, metamorphosis and changing it so that it becomes more able to engage in good works and thereby merit eternal life.


From the Protestant perspective, the elements of nature promise or portray the mighty acts of God and the human response to them. So think of baptism. Think of the Lord's Supper, our two sacraments, or our two ordinances. We have the loaf of bread which we break. Very powerful portrayal of the broken body of Jesus Christ. We have the cup which portrays the shed blood of Jesus Christ in terms of baptism. Water vividly portrays the cleansing from sin and identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But according to Protestant evangelical theology, these elements don't infuse grace for character renewal. Rather, our reliance for salvation is on God's declaration that we're not guilty but righteous Instead, because the righteousness of Jesus Christ isn't infused, it isn't communicated, isn't conveyed into us, but it is credited to our account. It is put in our favor because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. So Roman Catholic theology as a system is grounded on the axiom or the principle of natured grace, interdependence, and Protestant evangelical theology disagrees with this foundational principle. The Christ Church interconnection. This principle is also a foundational axiom for Roman Catholic theology as a system. The church, the Roman Catholic Church views itself as a mediating subject between nature and grace. Roman Catholicism needs a mediator between nature and grace to bring nature into communication with grace and to bring grace into communication with nature and this mediating subject. This element enjoins nature and grace, according to Roman Catholic theology, is the Roman Catholic Church itself. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church considers itself to be the only true Church of Jesus Christ because it alone mediates nature to grace and grace to nature. Moreover, the Roman Catholic theological system holds to a principle of incarnation.


That is, God has designed his creation with a principle of incarnation. Now, certainly the most important and well known application of this principle is the incarnation of the Son of God. About 2000 years ago as Jesus Christ. But according to Roman Catholic theology, there is another application as well. So we turn to the incarnation of Christ and the Church as the prolongation of the Incarnation. The Roman Catholic Church is itself considered a second application of the principle of incarnation. Indeed, the church identifies itself as a prolongation is a continuation of the incarnation. It mirrors Christ as a divine human reality. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church being the on going second application principle of incarnation, views itself as a second Christ. It is therefore impossible for Roman Catholicism to cry with the Protestant reformers. Solus Christus Christ alone for this would be breaching the organic bond between Christ and the Church. What is the support for this Christ Church interconnection? Three matters. The Christological analogy. The Todas Christus and the Church as a sacrament. First, the Chris the Christological analogy, similar to the fact that in the incarnation the Sun took on human nature and is thus both divine and human. So the Church considers itself to consist of both divine elements and human elements. It's the ongoing incarnation of Jesus Christ and thus has a divine aspect as well as a human aspect. Second, support comes from Augustine's notion of the total as Christus, the whole Christ. Augustine, who died in 430, developed the idea that the church is the Todas Christus, the whole Christ. That is, the Roman Catholic Church is the deity, the humanity and the body of Jesus Christ, deity, humanity and body of Jesus Christ. The church is the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.


Third, the Church as sacrament. The church in Christ is in the nature of a sacrament. A sacrament is a visible and tangible sign of an invisible, yet real grace. So in sacramental terms, the church considers itself to be a sign, an instrument of communion with God and the unity of all men. The church represents the union between God and his people, as well as their unity among themselves. More than that, it is the means to establish and develop the Divine Human Communion. And the human human community and the church is sacrament. Like achieves that goal as the ongoing incarnation of Jesus Christ, as the Incarnate Christ was the go between nature and grace. So is the Catholic Church, as the prolongation of his incarnation, the intermediary between the realms of nature and grace. The church mediates grace to nature and connects nature to grace. Some doctrinal examples of this in terms of ecclesiology, right? The church considers that it has both a divine nature and a human nature, that it and it alone is the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. A second doctrinal example is the priesthood. When a priest baptized as a three month old infant girl, for example, it's actually Christ who is doing the baptism. There is such a strong connection between the Church and Christ that the priest baptized, that is Christ himself baptized as. In terms of how we as evangelicals, as Protestants might assess these matters. Protestants raise three concerns about this principle of the Christ Church interconnection. The first concern is the law of incarnation. The second is Augustine's todas Christians. And the third concern is Christ's ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. To begin with, the Catholic claim that God created the world with a law or principle of incarnation is without warrant.


Certainly, Catholics and Protestants rightly affirm the incarnation of the Son of God. About 2000 years ago. We all agree with that. At the same time, evangelicals find no biblical support for a law or principle of incarnation without such a law. There is one and only one incarnation, which is the manifestation of the incarnate Son of God as Jesus Christ. That alone is the manifestation of the incarnation. Without such a law, without such a principle, the Catholic Church does not have grounds for associating itself with other another manifestation that is the church as the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. A second concern focuses on Augustine's idea of the church as the todas Christus, the whole Christ deity, humanity and body. It is based on misunderstandings of several passages of Scripture and thus doesn't have firm biblical support. Third, the ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit present problems for this Christ Church interconnection. First, the Ascended Jesus is not here. This is not a denial of the fullness of Christ filling His body. Ephesians 123 In the sense of His divine omnipresence, his presence everywhere. But it does underscore the error of the tortoise. Christus Because King Jesus, the ascended God man, is not in his church in terms of its essential nature. He can't be. Second, this reigning king will one day return from heaven to earth if he is already here, as the Christ Church interconnection maintains. Then in what sense can he come back again? Third if he is not here now, but will return later, how is he present in the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper? The Ascension presents problems for the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist, specifically its belief in the presence of Christ through transubstantiation. We'll come back to this idea if Christ is not here.


How can he be here in his body and blood? Fourth between the first and second coming of Christ. The Holy Spirit is characteristic of the New Covenant Church. He gives birth to it empowers its mission guides. The church endows it with gifts. He grants unity to the church. He establishes leaders in the church. The Christ Church interconnections. Seems to have little room for this ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. So we've explored the Roman Catholic theology as a system that's grounded on two foundational principles the nature, grace, interdependence and the Christ Church interconnection. We've looked at both of these axioms. We've sought to explain them, and we've also assessed them and found them wanting. According to evangelical theology and Scripture, I have a question. Yes. For Protestants. The whole idea of exemplary operators is something that's just different. It's strange to us and and you didn't explicitly connect it to the nature, grace, interdependence, but they really are tied together. And because the only way that grace can happen automatically is if God set up nature to automatically flow into grace. Is that accurate? Absolutely. That's a great observation. Okay. I've never really thought of that. That's a great. Yeah. So if these elements water, oil, bread, wine are set up according to God's design, such that they can receive and convey grace, of course, then all we have to do is consecrate those elements of nature, and then they become conduits of this grace. And it works no matter the state of the priest, even the receptivity of the.