Tag Archives: Peter Kreeft

Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic

Peter Kreeft
Sophia Institute Press
133 pages

Peter Kreeft is a gifted writer in that he facilely breaks down complex ideas into simple language. Here he offers his personal testimony as to why he embraces the Catholic faith, in 40 brief chapters. His stated reasons run from the intellectual (“Because Catholics still do metaphysics”) to the personal (“Because of my mother”) to the almost playful (“Because of the nouns”), and each is thought-provoking in its own way. Perhaps some will lead the already-Catholic reader to reflect thoughtfully on the vital question which ought to elicit an answer backed with conviction: “Why am I Catholic?”

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Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?

Peter Kreeft 
Ignatius Press, 204 pages

October 31 marks 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, an act that sparked the Reformation. Can divided Christendom ever be healed?

Ecumenical progress seems slow, but philosophy professor Peter Kreeft believes Christian unity is possible if we build upon common beliefs. He sees the biggest obstacle as already having been resolved with the 1999 “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” the fruit of a Lutheran-Catholic dialogue involving mutual listening, honesty and charity.

We can resolve other dividing issues similarly, Kreeft holds, always mindful that unity is Christ’s will. His book provides encouragement for making that happen.

What is natural law and why is it important?

Moral laws are based on human nature. That is, what we ought to do is based on what we are. “Thou shalt not kill,” for instance, is based on the real value of human life and the need to preserve it. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is based on the real value of marriage and family, the value of mutual self-giving love, and children’s need for trust and stability.

Peter Kreeft

The natural law is also naturally known, by natural human reason and experience. We don’t need religious faith or supernatural divine revelation to know that we’re morally obligated to choose good and avoid evil or to know what “good” and “evil” mean. Every culture in history has had some version of the Ten Commandments. No culture in history has thought that love, kindness, justice, honesty, courage, wisdom, or self-control was evil — or that hate, cruelty, injustice, dishonesty, cowardice, folly, or uncontrolled addiction was good. Speaking of pagans, St. Paul says that “they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Rom 2:15).

The term “natural law” is sometimes misunderstood. “This law is called ‘natural,’ not in reference to the nature of irrational beings [that is, animals — it is not a law of biology], “but because reason, which decrees it, properly belongs to human nature” (CCC #1955). For example, the Church teaches that artificial contraception is against the natural law, not because it’s a rational human intervention rather than an irrational biological process, but because it’s contrary to right reason. It violates the integrity of human nature by divorcing the two naturally united aspects of the essence of the sexual act — the unitive and the procreative — that is, personal intimacy and reproduction.

“The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men” (CCC #1956). It’s not universally obeyed, or even universally admitted, but it is universally binding and authoritative. (“Authority” means “right,” not “might.”)

“The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history” (CCC #1958) because it is based on God-made essential human nature, which does not change with time or place, rather than man-made cultural developments, which do.

Because man’s essence does not change, but his circumstances and situations do, “application of the natural law varies greatly” (CCC #1957). For instance, capital punishment may be morally necessary in a primitive society but needlessly barbaric in a society with secure laws and prisons; and the moral restrictions on warfare today, with its weapons of mass destruction, must be far stricter than those in the past.

“It provides the necessary basis for the civil law” (CCC #1959), for civil law forbids many acts, such as rape and torture and slavery, because they are morally wrong and harmful to human nature’s health and flourishing. Without a natural law basis for civil law, civil law becomes based on power, whether collective or individual.

PETER KREEFT is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. This column is reprinted with permission from his book Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2001)

Catechism 101

The divine and natural law shows man the way to follow so as to practice the good and attain his end. The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. It hinges upon the desire for God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of all that is good, as well as upon the sense that the other is one’s equal. Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1955

Peace and the just war doctrine

The Church is both idealistic and realistic about war. On the one hand, “the Church [urges] prayer and action so that the divine goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war” (CCC #2307).

Peter Kreeft, Just War

Peter Kreeft

On the other hand, “insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ.” Therefore, “as long as the danger of war persists … governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense once all peace efforts have failed” (Gaudium et Spes #79). The same moral standards apply to collective self-defense by nations as to self-defense by individuals.

No war is just in itself. War is a sinful and barbaric invention. It is murder on a mass scale. But the choice to go to war can be just, if it is necessary self-defense. The aim of a just war (that is, a just “going to war”) is peace. The aim is not taking lives but saving lives: the lives of the innocent victims of aggression. The end that makes a war just can only be peace.

The “traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine” are the following “strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force” (CCC #2309). Defense: As implied above, a just war cannot be aggressive, but only defensive, a response to aggression. (Interestingly, the Quran teaches the same doctrine to Muslims: “Allah hates the aggressor.”) Grave damage: “The damage inflicted by the aggressor … must be lasting, grave and certain.” Last resort: “All other means of putting an end to [this grave damage] must have been shown to be… ineffective.” Hope for peace: “There must be serious prospects of success” and the ultimate aim and intention must be not war but peace.

Not graver evils: “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. Rules of war: It’s not true that all’s fair in love and war. The mere fact that war has broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.

There has been a tradition in the Church of principled Christian pacifism, as well as a tradition of “just war.” Church doctrine does not pronounce in a final and authoritative way on all moral questions, leaving many up to prudential human judgement. Pacifism — the refusal to bear arms — is not a requirement for Christians, nor is it forbidden. It is an honorable opinion.

Therefore, “public authorities should make equitable provisions for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve … in some other way.” (CCC #2311).

PETER KREEFT is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war:

Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2317

How to Be Holy

Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Press, 2016
172 pages, paperback $16.95

French writer Léon Bloy once famously quipped: “Life, in the end, has only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.” That’s Kreeft’s jumping off point for his latest — and perhaps most important — book, subtitled First Steps in Becoming a Saint.

Kreeft demonstrates that striving toward holiness is the whole purpose of life. Using insights and experiences of saints and great spiritual writers, he shows what holiness is and how it can be achieved. He especially draws upon Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ, who writes that the surest way toward spiritual growth is always to accept God’s merciful will.

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How are sins forgiven?

PETER KREEFT: We cannot be forgiven while we are planning to sin again…

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

Objectively, by Christ’s death. That paid sin’s price.
Subjectively, by our repentance and faith. That
appropriates Christ’s payment. That is applied to
us as individuals publicly in Baptism, which forgives
original sin, and the sacrament of Penance, which forgives all actual sins that are confessed and repented of.

Sincere repentance is a condition of receiving forgiveness. We cannot be forgiven while we are planning to sin again. But our repentance does not cause forgiveness. All of the sacraments, including Penance, work ex opere operato, that is, objectively, from the power and presence of Christ in them, not from the power of our souls’ right subjective dispositions.

God has given this power to his Church: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (Jn 20:23).” “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

How does God’s forgiveness work? Theologians have different explanations. The Church does not dogmatically assert any one of them to the exclusion of others. As with electricity or gravity, we do not need to know how it works, we just need to know that it works.

Some explanations, or human analogies, given by Scripture are: the legal: Christ satisfied the demands of the law; the financial: Christ paid the price; the military: Christ defeated the devil; the mathematical: Christ restored the balance sheet; emancipation: Christ released us from the slavery into which we had sold ourselves; laundry: Christ washed us clean in his blood; scapegoat: Christ become our substitute; and shield: Christ endured God’s just wrath and shielded us from it.

What we know is not the spiritual technology, so to speak, the theory of how it works. What we know is something much more practical: what God did and what we must do. What did God do? He died. Christ’s death caused our sins to be forgiven. That is our divinely revealed data. How it worked is theological theory.

What God did was to become a man and suffer the hell we deserved in our place, for us. God got us off the hook by putting himself on the hook, on the Cross. The price of our soul was his body.

What must we do receive the forgiveness of sins? To the world’s most practical question —“What must I do to be saved?” — God has given us a clear answer: Repent, believe, and live in charity. These three requirements for salvation correspond to the three “theological virtues,” faith, hope and charity (1 Cor 13:13). Repentance involves hope in Christ, seeking God’s forgiveness. Baptism involves faith in Christ, accepting God’s forgiveness. Charity involves love of Christ and the members of his Body, loving the forgiven ones.

PETER KREEFT is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

The Apostles’ Creed associates faith in the forgiveness of sins not only with faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with faith in the Church and in the communion of saints. It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #976

Why is the Church so strict about sex?

PETER KREEFT: Sexual sins bring misery and destroy our relationship with God . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

by Peter Kreeft

We should not expect the Church’s teachings to coincide with “the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor 1:20) in any age or culture, for her teachings do not come from man but from God.

Man has gone off the track set for him by God — “sin” means separation from God — so God’s track has always appeared to fallen man as “a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall” (1 Pet 2:8).

Living according to God’s laws makes us holy, happy and healthy. Violating them makes us unholy, unhappy and unhealthy. This is as true of sex as of anything else. First, sexual sin is sin, and it separates us from God.

Second, since God loves us and wants our happiness, disobedience to his plan for us will necessarily bring us unhappiness. Worldly statistics confirm this heavenly logic: Every one of the sins that adulterate sexual love brings with it a catalog of miseries.

Divorce, for instance, means the destruction of society’s most indispensable foundation, the family. It will stamp the same destructive marks on society at large as it already has on its immediate victims, millions of children: a hard, cynical spirit; the death of security, of trust, of faith in persons and promises; and in the adventure of self-giving love.

Third, sexual sin has obvious and radical health effects: the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, now affecting over half of all sexually active people, the fear of AIDS, and the rising infertility rate. But the most notable physical effect of the Sexual Revolution is death. The human victims in just one generation of the abortion holocaust in most Western nations already vastly outnumber the victims of all the wars in their history. It’s high time to turn our attention to God’s alternative.

Controversies have a way of narrowing our vision. They are usually resolved only by backing up and enlarging our perspective, especially by looking at foundations. The foundations of Catholic sexual morality include:

• God as the creator and designer of sexuality;

• the centrality of love (the very nature of God);

• procreation and sexual love as an image of divine love;

• the primacy of the family;

• the divinely designed intrinsic purpose of sex as procreating new eternal souls for God’s family;

• and above all, sex as a sign of the goodness of life. Every baby conceived is a sign that God has not given up on man. It’s not a mere product of automatic nature, but a deliberate act of God. God makes a soul when we make a body. He is not forced to do this; he chooses to.

PETER KREEFT is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter — appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility.

In a word, it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1643

What are the Four Last Things?

PETER KREEFT breaks down the Catholic understanding of God’s judgment . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

The Church’s teaching about life after death is summarized in the Four Last Things — death, judgment, heaven, and hell. However, even humanity outside the Church instinctively knows something about these four things.

Life’s one certainty is death. Everyone knows this, though not everyone knows what comes next. Nearly all religions, cultures and individuals in history have believed in some form of life after death. Man’s innate sense of justice tells him that there must be an ultimate reckoning, that in the final analysis no one can cheat the moral law and get away with it or suffer undeserved injustices throughout life and not be justly compensated. Since this ultimate justice does not seem to be accomplished in this life, there must be “the rest of the story.”

This instinctive conviction that there must be a higher, more-than-human justice is nearly universal. Thus the second of the Four Last Things, judgment, is also widely known. As Scripture says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). The final judgment is an encounter with Christ.

Most men also know that justice distinguishes the good from the evil and, therefore, that after death there must be separate destinies for us — rewards for good and punishments for evil. Thus mankind also usually believes in some form of heaven and hell.

There are only two eternal destinies: heaven or hell, union or disunion with God. Each one of us will be either with God or without him forever. If hell is not real, the Church and the Bible are also liars. Our basis for believing in the reality of hell is exactly the same authority as our basis for believing in the reality of heaven: Christ, his Church, and her scriptures.

If hell is not real, then Jesus Christ is either a fool or a liar for he warned us repeatedly and with utmost seriousness about it. There is no reincarnation, no “second chance” after time is over. There is no annihilation, no end of the soul’s existence. There is no change of species from human being to angel or to anything else.

The particular judgment occurs immediately after each individual’s death. The general judgment takes place at the end of all time and history.

So the scenario of final events is: (a) first, death; (b) then, immediately, the particular judgment; (c) then, either hell, or purgatory as preparation for heaven, or heaven; (d) and, at the end of time, the general judgment; (e) and the “new heavens and new earth” for those who are saved.

PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.

Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation. At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1021-1022

Why bother with Confession?

Peter Kreeft asserts that confession is good for the soul and so much more . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft01

Over the past several generations there has been a radical decline in the sense of sin — and even in the understanding of the meaning of the very concept of sin.

Sin is not something vague like “forgetting God’s love” or “not appreciating God’s gifts.” Sin means something specific and concrete: disobedience to God’s commandments. It’s not a lapse of feeling like unappreciativeness or a mental lapse like forgetfulness; it’s a moral lapse, a free choice of the will.

Sin must be admitted if it’s to be forgiven. We cannot be forgiven for sins we do not confess and repent of, for sin is in the soul what disease is in the body.

Forgiveness is a healing operation — a real spiritual change. It requires the light of truth to shine on it by Confession. Only then can we find peace. There is no other way to peace. We cannot be at war and at peace at the same time: Sin is like being at war with God, while repentance, Confession, and penance bring peace with God.

Many Protestants are increasingly realizing the need for Confession. For not only is it needed objectively — to live in the truth — but also subjectively, on the level of human psychology.

Everyone needs to “let it out,” to “unload.” Even more, everyone needs to hear and know that they are forgiven — ideally, by the authoritative word of the priest of the Church of the Christ against whom they have sinned.

The healing words are not “forget it” but “forgive it.” We need our sins forgiven, not just forgotten; admitted, not denied. Pardon and peace come from Confession.

Why must we confess to a priest and not just to God? Throughout Scripture, God’s forgiveness is always mediated. In the Old Testament it was mediated by the high priest and the scapegoat in the Hebrew feast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In the New Testament it was mediated by Christ on the cross (the fulfillment of all these Old Testament symbols), and then it was mediated by his commission to his apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:23).

The fact that Christ made forgiveness available to us so concretely through Confession to a priest is a sacramental sign of his concrete presence.

He — the one who alone forgives sins — is just as really present as his priest is. And the privacy of individuality of the one-to-one encounter between priest and penitent is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for each of us as individuals.

PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the right to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The confession … of sins — even from a simply human point of view — frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission, man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1455, 1461

What happens after we die?

Scholar Peter Kreeft writes that death teaches us the infinite value of human life . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

Nothing brings home to us the importance and value of human life more sharply than death. We seldom appreciate life until we realize how fragile it is, when friends and family are taken from us by death.

Death clarifies our perspective, sharpens our sight, and brings our whole life to a point, like the single summit of a many-sided mountain. Death teaches us all the truth of Jesus’ words: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (Lk 10:41). That “one thing” is God. Only God is necessary in his own being, and only our relationship with him is absolutely necessary for our being.

I don’t know any specific facts about you. I don’t know your present life, whether you’re believer or unbeliever, saint or sinner, young or old. I don’t know your past. I don’t know your future, what the rest of your life in this world will be like or whether you’ll spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Only one concrete fact do I know with certainty about you: You will die.

The Church knows that about you too, but the Church also knows the meaning of death. The Church comes to you as a newspaper reporter with a startling piece of good news about death — and life after death — from the Man who claimed to be God and proved it by rising from death. The skeptic asks, “What do you know about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there?” And the Catholic answer is: “No, but I know Someone who has, and I believe him.” We Catholics know Him — that is the essential thing we know and the essential reason to be a Catholic — and therefore we know the meaning of death, through his witnesses, his apostles and their successors, the Church.

Death is both very bad and very good (if we are in Christ). It’s very bad because what is lost is very precious: life, the body, the whole world to the individual who dies. Christ wept at his friend Lazarus’ grave, and so should we if we love life as He did. But death is also very good if we die in Christ, because what is gained is infinitely more than what is lost. For if we live in Christ, death means only more of Christ and more of life. This body dies, like a precious little seed, but a greater body rises, like a greater and glorious plant (see Jn 12:24 and 1 Cor 15:35-53).

PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from the book Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt. In a sense, bodily death is natural, but for faith it is in fact “the wages of sin.” For those who die in Christ’s grace, it is a participation in the death of the Lord so that they can also share his Resurrection.

Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: Remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1006, 1007