I hope you all had an opportunity to read the findings found in the study conducted in February by the Barna Group, an evangelical Christian polling organization, which surveyed some 612 adults from the South Jersey area. The findings are quite interesting, representing the opinion of respondents from the various faith communities and non-believers in our local area.
When compared to other Christians in our area and other Catholics nationwide, Catholics in the Diocese of Camden are notably less likely to attend church, invite others to come to church with them, believe in the inerrancy of the Bible or adhere to the orthodox Catholic doctrine of Christ’s divine nature.
While it is true that any of these findings should be disturbing to our local Catholic community, the finding that uncovered that a majority of Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Camden believe that Jesus sinned when on earth is the most disconcerting statistic of all of them in my opinion. It exposes a radical breakdown in our catechesis and a clarion call to return to the teaching of a Christology rooted and based in the clear teachings found in our Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The prophets of Israel foretold that the Messiah would be without sin and righteous and obedient to God: “Through one act of righteousness…through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous,” (Rom 5:18-19). St. Paul clearly held that Jesus Christ as a human being did not “know” sin, committed no sin and was truly sinless: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,” (2Cor5:21). Jesus’ sinlessness and righteousness set him apart from the rest of humanity.
We find in Hebrews 4:15 “For we have as high priest, not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin.” And again in 1 Peter 2:22 “He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth.”
Faced with erroneous teachings concerning the understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ, in the fourth ecumenical council, at Chalcedon in 451 A.D., the church confessed: “Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess on and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us to his humanity; ‘like us in all things but sin.’ He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.”
We as Catholics believe in the absolute impossibility of Christ committing any sin. Not that he lacked the free will to commit sin or that he couldn’t be tempted to sin in every way that all humans are tempted. These beliefs were confirmed at the Council of Florence in 1347 AD when Jesus was declared free from original sin, from personal sin at Chalcedon in 301AD and the notion that Christ became completely sinless only after the Resurrection was condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople in 434AD.
Around this same time an erroneous teaching purporting that Jesus lacked a human soul and only possessed a divine soul (Apollinarianism) as an explanation for Jesus’ sinless nature was also condemned. Only if Christ possesses a human soul could he be tempted yet never be corrupted by sin. He did not lack the capacity to sin, he just showed us how as humans to live a life without sin.
Pope Benedict has declared this year “The Year of Faith.” When addressing the priests from his home diocese of Rome he explained the essential link between the Year of Faith and the Catechism of the Catholic Church when he said, “the Year of Faith is the Year of the Catechism.” He explained that one of the most serious problems in the church today is the lack of basic understandings of the faith, a form of “religious illiteracy.” He added, “for this reason, because it is the key to the universality of the one Lord, this faith is not only a personal act of trust, but an act that has a content. The fides qua demands the fides quae, the content of faith and baptism expresses this content: the Trinitarian formula is the essential element of the Christians’ creed…this consequently seems to me to be very important, faith has a content and it is not sufficient, it is not an element of unification unless this content of the one faith is lived and professed.”
Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.