Tag Archives: Peter Kreeft

Why did Christ establish the Church?

Peter Kreeft wonders: What if Christ didn’t establish the Catholic Church? . . .

Peter Kreeft

The fundamental reason for being Catholic is the historical fact that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, and was God’s invention, not man’s — unless Christ, her founder, is not God, in which case not just Catholicism but Christianity is false.

To be a Christian is to believe that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” To acknowledge him as Lord is to obey his will. And he willed the Catholic (“universal”) Church for all his disciples, for all Christians. We are Catholics because we are Christians.

Many Protestants become Catholics for this reason: They read the Church Fathers (earliest Christian writers) and discover that Christ did establish, not a Protestant Church that later became Catholic, but the Catholic Church, parts of which later broke away and became Protestant.

Suppose Jesus had not established a single, visible church with authority to teach in his name. Suppose he had left it up to us. Suppose the Church was our invention instead of his, only human and not divine. Suppose we had to figure out the right doctrine of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the sacraments, Mary, and controversial moral issues like contraception, homosexuality and euthanasia. Who then could ever know with certainty the mind and will of God? How could there then be one Church? There would be 20,000 different churches, each teaching its own opinion.

Instead, we do have one Church, with divine authority. As the Father gave authority to Christ (Jn 5:22; Mt 28:18-20), Christ passed it on to his apostles (Lk 10:16), and they passed it on to the successors they appointed as bishops, the teaching authority (Magisterium) of the Church. “Authority” does not mean “power” but “right”—“author’s rights.” The Church has authority only because she is under authority, the authority of her Author and Lord. “No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority” (CCC 875).

The authority of the Church has been necessary, for example, for us to know the truth of the Trinity. This most distinctively Christian doctrine of all, the one that reveals the nature of God himself, the nature of ultimate reality, was revealed by God clearly only to the Church. It was not clearly revealed to his chosen people, the Jews. It is not clearly defined in the New Testament. God waited to reveal it to the Church.

This authority of the Church, then, is not arrogant but humble, both (a) in its origin, as received from Christ, under Christ; and (b) in its end, which is to serve, as Christ served (see Jn 16) — if necessary, to the point of martyrdom. Blessed Mother Teresa’s oft-quoted saying describes these two things: “God did not put me on earth to be successful, he put me here to be faithful.”

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

Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal: “In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. The holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God … may attain to salvation.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #874

Confession: How to make Satan shudder

There has been a radical decline in the use of the sacrament of Penance among Catholics . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

We frequently hear of the value of positive self-esteem and confessing our worth today, but we hardly ever of the value of confessing our sins. In fact, there has been a radical decline in the sense of sin and even in the understanding of its very meaning.

There has also been a radical decline in the use of the sacrament of Penance among Catholics. Obviously these two phenomena  are related as cause and effect. Those who think they are well do not to go the doctor. There are two extremes here: We can be overscrupulous or underscrupulous. If previous eras were often oversensitive to sin, our era is insensitive to it as few times or cultures have ever been.

We are wholly good in our being, our God-created essence. But we are not wholly good in our lives and choices and actions. We are made in God’s image, but we have marred that image. We are ontologically good — “good stuff” — but not morally good. In fact, we are better than we think ontologically and worse than we think morally. If we take God’s Word as our index of truth rather than our fallen human nature and feelings, we find a double surprise: We are so good that God thought us worth dying for and so bad that God had to die to save us.

We usually think we are morally pretty good because we measure ourselves, not against the standards of our Lord, but against the standards of our society — a society that is fallen not only from Eden and innocence but also from religious faith and the admission of guilt. Modern Western society is not even pagan, that is, pre-Christian: It is secular or post-Christian. The difference between the two is like the difference between a virgin and a divorcee.

Many people today are suspicious of talk about sin because of negative stereotypes from the secular media. But even if these were wholly true, although the sense of sin and guilt may have been badly overemphasized and misused in the past, the error of the present is more dangerous: It is living in denial. Rejecting one extreme does not justify embracing the other.

One powerful antidote to denial is the realization that we must die. British author Samuel Johnson wrote, “I know no thought that more wonderfully clarifies a man’s mind than the thought that he will hang tomorrow morning.” Satan, however, tempts us to deny responsibility for our sins. Our only defense is to take responsibility for them. The only weapon that can defeat the Prince of Darkness is light. That is the purpose of the sacrament of Penance. The priest in the confessional is a more formidable foe to the devil than an exorcist.

Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 63 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

Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession. There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: “My son, your sins are forgiven.” He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them. He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1484

All work can be an ‘opus dei’

All of our work can be redemptive if we just offer it up for the glory of God . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

The Church has a deep theology about the seventh commandment, which deals with property and labor. “You shall not steal” regulates worldly goods — money and anything money can buy.

This commandment is one of five basic areas of human relationships in all times, places and cultures. Every culture has some version of the Ten Commandments regulating each of these five areas: family (4th commandment), life (5th), sex (6th, 9th), property (7th, 10th), and communication (8th). Although, objectively speaking, property is not as important as life, family, sex or communication, this commandment is important because so much of our time and energy is spent on property. We live, by divine design, in a material world, and we are put here to learn how to use the things of this world as training for greater things in the next.

We could think of the whole material world as an extension of our body. The goodness and importance of the body correspond to the goodness and importance of the material world of things. Just as these mortal bodies of ours are preliminary versions of our future immortal resurrection bodies, so this world will pass away and be replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).

Catholic morality on this issue is based on basic principles of reality. What ought to be is based on what is. Therefore, it is balanced and complete, doing justice to both the real and ideal dimensions of the human situation. This distinguishes it from ideologies, which are based not on objective reality but on fashionable and changing human ideas and desires and therefore always exaggerate some one aspect and downplay its opposite.

Related to the seventh commandment, one of the areas of modern life where the Church has developed her principles the most today is in the area of a “theology of work.” The fundamental principle is this: “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation” (CCC, 2427). Thus, work is creative.

On the other hand, because of the Fall, work is also a hardship. But “it can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. Work can be a means of sanctification” (CCC, 2427). All human work can be an opus Dei, a “work of God.”

Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 63 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).

Sex: the world’s obsession

Peter Kreeft says sex is the world’s obsession, not that of the Church . . .

Peter Kreeft

By its own admission, what our age finds most unacceptable in the Church’s perennial wisdom is her sexual morality. Almost every controversial issue dividing “dissenters” from the Church’s teaching is about sexual morality: fornication, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and most especially abortion.

The Church has always shared her Master’s holy unpopularity. But never before the “sexual revolution” did this unpopularity center almost exclusively on sex. In all eras and cultures, fallen man has never been very good at obeying any of God’s commandments. Man has always failed to practice what he preaches. But today he denies the preaching, the ideal itself, when it concerns sex.

Most other areas of traditional morality are still assumed to be rightful and attainable ideals. But traditional sexual morality is almost always assumed to be unhealthy and unattainable, and the Church is usually portrayed as obsessed with sexual morality. This obsession with sex is not the Church’s but the world’s. There is much more to the Church’s sexual morality than “just say no,” much more to the Church’s morality than sexual morality, and much more to the Church’s teaching than morality.

Each age has a different perspective. It seems incredible to most modern minds that, in the fourth century, the Church nearly endured a schism over the right date to celebrate Easter and did go into schism, in the eleventh, over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only or from the Father and the Son. Our Catholic ancestors would be just as shocked at our preoccupation with sexual morality as we are at their very different priorities.

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 this world but from heaven, not 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 and a rock that will make them fall” (1 Pet 2:8), just as Christ himself did. We should expect that. Chesterton said, “I don’t need a Church to tell me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong. I need a Church to tell me I’m wrong where I think I’m right.”

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). Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 63 books.

We’re all called to evangelize

Every Christians is charged with bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

Every Christian is called to share the Good News of Christ according to his or her individual gifts and station in life. This is why our Catholic faith is called “apostolic.”

All other great religious teachers subordinated themselves to their message. They pointed away from themselves to their teachings. For instance, Buddha said, “Look not to me, look to my dharma [doctrine, teaching].” But Christ said, “Come to me” (Mt 11:28). Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.” But Christ said, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5). Moses and Muhammad claimed only to be prophets of God; Jesus claimed to be God (Jn 8:58).

Any other religion could survive the loss of its founder. If Muhammad or Buddha or Confucius were proved to be mythical and not historical figures, the religions that stem from them might still survive. But Christianity could never survive without Christ. For other religious founders only claimed to teach the truth; Christ claimed to be the Truth (Jn 14:6).

The Church’s claim of superiority over other religions is not for herself but for her Lord. And therefore, as Christ commanded her, she “has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize” (Ad Gentes Divinitus, 7). Thus, the Church is apostolic because of her mission, her “apostolate” to evangelize, and because she is “built upon the foundation of the apostles” (Eph 2:20), who ordained their successors (bishops) as Christ had ordained them. “The bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ” (Lumen Gentium 20 § 3).

Not only the bishops, but “the whole Church is apostolic. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways” (CCC 863). “The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him. From the beginning, the first disciples burned with the desire to proclaim Christ” (CCC 425). Yet you cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot give what you do not have. The primary requirement for any Christian teacher, preacher, evangelist or catechist is not just to know about Christ but to know Christ. “Whoever is called ‘to teach Christ’ must first seek ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus’” (CCC 428).

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). Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 63 books.