Bringing you the "Good News" of Jesus Christ and His Church While PROMOTING CATHOLIC Apologetic Support groups loyal to the Holy Father and Church's magisterium
Home About
AskACatholic.com
What's New? Resources The Church Family Life Mass and
Adoration
Ask A Catholic
Knowledge base
AskACatholic Disclaimer
Search the
AskACatholic Database
Donate and
Support our work
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
New Questions
Cool Catholic Videos
About Saints
Disciplines and Practices
Purgatory and Indulgences
About the Holy Mass
About Mary
Searching and Confused
Homosexual Issues
Life and Family
No Salvation Outside the Church
Sacred Scripture
non-Catholic Cults
Justification and Salvation
The Pope and Papacy
The Sacraments
Relationships and Marriage situations
Specific people, organizations and events
Doctrine and Teachings
back
Specific Practices
Church Internals
Church History


Thomas W. Godfrey wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a Catholic Christian who has been a participant in a non-denominational Christian Bible study group for many years. Most of the other participants are Presbyterians and the studies we conduct are often sponsored by the local Presbyterian Church.

At a recent meeting, we were studying a lesson on events leading up to the Lord's Resurrection from the dead on Easter morning. In the process, we discussed Christ's Sacrifice: His suffering and dying on the Cross for the sins of the world. The discussion got into Christ's dual nature of simultaneously being God and man.

I have always believed that, while on earth,
including His time on the Cross, Christ was always both God and man, and further, that in suffering and dying, He made amends for all the sins of mankind.

During our discussion, I learned that the Presbyterian participants believe that Christ, when on the Cross, did not only make amends for all the sins of mankind, but that He actually took on the weight of all those sins as His Own, and since sin (or sinners) cannot be in the presence of God, that during His time on the Cross, Christ temporarily ceased to be [God/man], and had to be man only in order to take on the sins of mankind as His Own. This is supposedly substantiated by Christ's statement when nearing (human) death, he said:

"Father, why has thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

Researching this issue, I have read portions of the Catholic Catechism, but have found nothing to substantiate the view expressed by the Presbyterians in this Bible study.

It's my understanding that Jesus Christ was unique and, while He was on earth, He took on the dual nature of being God and man. That said, I just find it inconceivable that God (Jesus Christ) could, even for an instant, cease to be God and still be God. God is God and always:

  • has been
  • is, and
  • always will be.

  • If that were not the case, how could He be God?

I appreciate receiving your input on the issue I have raised.

Thank you,

Thomas W. Godfrey

  { Since sin cannot be in the presence of God, did Jesus temporarily cease to be God on the Cross? }

Eric replied:

Hi Thomas,

I have never heard of the heresy of which you speak (and that is what it is). You are of course entirely correct. I cannot even imagine that this would be considered orthodox by the standards of Protestants who uphold the concept.

It is very strange that they would claim that Jesus had to be only a man to take on the sins of the world; the common Protestant view is that Jesus had to be God in order to do this, since only God was the perfect enough sacrifice.

Perhaps my colleagues will have some input to this, but all I see is a bizarre heresy I have never heard of that contradicts even orthodox Protestantism. I am willing to bet that this is not the official Presbyterian position but an error someone picked up at some point.

Thanks for writing,

Eric Ewanco

Mike replied:

Hi Tom,

I concur totally with my colleague Eric on this issue.

You said:
During our discussion, I learned that the Presbyterian participants believe that Christ, when on the Cross, did not only make amends for all the sins of mankind, but that He actually took on the weight of all those sins as His Own, and since sin (or sinners) cannot be in the presence of God, that during His time on the Cross, Christ temporarily ceased to be [God/man], and had to be only man in order to take on the sins of mankind as His Own. This is supposedly substantiated by Christ's statement when nearing (human) death, he said:

"Father, why has thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

I sense what your Protestant friends are trying to do, with good hearts, is logically reconcile the Mystery of Our Lord being both 100% True God and 100% True Man at the same time.

No one can do this, as it is a Mystery of Faith.

Logically trying to resolve this puts you into heresy. As Catholic Christians on earth we can understand most of the faith with our reason, but the other parts we will have to wait until the next life :) The Catechism does tell us in CCC 602 to 605:

"For our sake God made him to be sin"

602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake." (1 Peter 1:18-20) Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death. (cf. Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:56) By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. Philippians 2:7; Romans 8:3)

603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned. (cf. John 8:46) But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:2; cf. John 8:29) Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son". (Romans 8:32; 5:10)

God takes the initiative of universal redeeming love

604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10; 4:19) God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God's love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:14) He affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many"; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. (Matthew 20:28; cf. Romans 5:18-19) The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer." (Council of Quiercy (853): DS 624; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 John 2:2)

Side note: Remember, that when you go to a Protestant Bible Study, you are implying there is something missing in your Faith, that you are hoping a Protestant Bible Study has. My preference would be to see you start or join a Catholic Bible Study. Just my opinion.

Mike

Thomas replied:

Mike,

Thank you for offering your opinion on this issue, however, I believe the crux of the issue for them centers on the highlighted portion of my statement:

Christ, when on the Cross, did not only make amends for all the sins of mankind, but that He actually took on the weight of all those sins as His Own, and since sin (or sinners) cannot be in the presence of God, that during His time on the Cross, Christ temporarily ceased to be [God/man], and had to be only man in order to take on the sins of mankind as His Own.

The text in bold is important to frame what I understood them to be saying, but I believe the issue deals specifically with their perspective that Christ took the sins of the world upon Himself on the Cross, as if they were His Own sins, and since God cannot be in the presence of sin, the only way they can reconcile the conflict created by Christ's dual nature (being God and man) is to conclude that, to do this, He must have shed the God portion of his dual nature for that short time on the Cross.

I have always thought of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross as making amends for all the sins of mankind, not by taking the actual sins onto Himself, but taking the consequences of mankind's sins upon Himself. In that way, He made amends for mankind's sins but did not have to alter His dual nature to make The Sacrifice.

The problems I have with their belief that Christ ceased to be God at some point while on the Cross are:

  • How can God cease to be God, even for an instant, and still be God?
  • How could anyone, if reduced solely to their human nature, even Christ (reduced solely to His human nature), remain free of sin, especially under the circumstances of His torture, crucifixion, and death, were it not for His dual nature (being God and man)?

Your suggestion that I think about replacing my current non-denominational Bible study with a Catholic Bible study is something I will consider, but probably not seriously. I was raised in a very religious household. Both my mother and grandmother attended Mass every day.

I was educated in Catholic schools from the 1st grade through college. My wife converted from Presbyterianism to Catholicism when we married but theologically-based conflicts arose that Church representatives, including an Archbishop, could not resolve. She subsequently returned to the Presbyterian church. I now attend Presbyterian services with her to support her in worship.

I also attend Catholic services for my own spiritual nourishment, but when it comes to encouraging study of the Bible, and for that matter, preaching effective, relevant sermons; I have almost always found the Catholic Church to be lacking. In general, I find Protestant ministers are generally much more effective in teaching the Bible and in making the Bible relevant to our lives ... sad but true, at least for me.

Don't misunderstand me, I will always be a Catholic. Nothing can change that, but the Church is certainly imperfect and there are issues with which I disagree, but I will not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Thanks for sharing your insights on the above issue.

Thomas W. Godfrey

Eric replied:

Hi Tom,

You said:
Thank you for offering your opinion on this issue, however, I believe the crux of the issue for them centers on the highlighted portion of my statement:

Christ, when on the Cross, did not only make amends for all the sins of mankind, but that He actually took on the weight of all those sins as His Own, and since sin (or sinners) cannot be in the presence of God, that during His time on the Cross, Christ temporarily ceased to be [God/man], and had to be only man in order to take on the sins of mankind as His Own.

The text in bold is important to frame what I understood them to be saying, but I believe the issue deals specifically with their perspective that Christ took the sins of the world upon Himself on the Cross, as if they were His Own sins, and since God cannot be in the presence of sin, the only way they can reconcile the conflict created by Christ's dual nature (being God and man) is to conclude that, to do this, He must have shed the God portion of his dual nature for that short time on the Cross.

I simply think they are reading too much into the verses of Scripture that say that Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the world and whichever ones they use to establish that Jesus took on the weight of all our sins as His Own. It is not necessary to understand this in such a way that requires that you embrace a totally unacceptable and utterly absurd notion, that Jesus ceased to be God. This is far worse than believing that God made the sins of the world His Own.

  • As you point out, how can God cease to be God and still be at any time God?

I think the way I would approach this is, first of all, to challenge them to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus at any time ceased to be God.

They of course will be unable to prove this. The conclusion is that this belief is not based on Scripture but is rather an inference someone came up with in order to solve a quandary they were faced with.

Consequently, we have to examine the assumptions that generated the quandary. In particular, the assumption they are making is that it is impossible for Jesus both to take on the sins of the world and be God.

A good discussion would be to find out what they mean by make our sins His Own.

  • What Scriptures do they base this on?
  • How do they understand it?, and

  • if their understanding that relates to this inference is absolutely totally incontrovertible, or
  • whether there is another valid understanding of it that doesn't require such an absurd conclusion.

A few more thoughts. This is predicated on the idea that God cannot be in the presence of sin. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that sin cannot be in the presence of God, and to suggest that God, who cannot change, does not shrink as if in terror from sin, as Victorian ladies shrank from mud. In fact, God obliterates sin.

In other words, to say that God cannot be in the presence of sin is not to say that there is a repellent force that drives God away from sin, but to say that as God cannot be in the presence of sin, so darkness cannot be in the presence of light. Jesus is compared to light in the darkness, and so his very presence not only drives away sin but causes it to cease to exist.

Furthermore, it is beyond me how a mere man can bear the weight of all the sins in the world.

  • How, exactly, would he do so, even if he were perfect?
  • What, exactly, are the mechanics of this — how does the sin get transferred to Jesus, meaning exactly in what sense does He bear it?

If they have any shred of Christian humility, they will admit that they do not know, in which case, I would suggest that if they do not know that, they should not be so confident that their interpretation of this difficult and obscure point is absolutely correct.

God cannot be in the presence of sin in the same way that light cannot be in the presence of darkness. It does not mean that sins are like an oppositely charged particle that would be repelled from Jesus if He were God, nor does it mean that sins are like cooties that Jesus would flee from if they got too close. If the most heinous, most ghastly sin in the world entered the presence of God, it would immediately be consumed with divine uncreated fire, and God would say to the angels,

Did you hear something? It sounded like a twig snapping.

Eric

Thomas replied:

Eric,

Thank you for your reply.

It is helpful and I appreciate it. I will continue to closely review it and, if any of them are willing to continue the discussion, although it being a non-denominational study group, they may not wish to get into what could become a divisive discussion of theological differences, I will let you know and tell you how the discussions end.

Thanks again for your input.

Thomas

Mike replied:

Hi Tom,

I wanted to make a few comment on your wiliness to attend a Protestant Bible Study.

Protestant Bible Studies may:

  • challenge you more
  • make you read and study the Scriptures more and
  • give you more zeal for the faith

but there is only one Church that can feed any Christian and that is the Catholic Church with the Eucharist. When a Catholic receives the Blessed Sacrament in a state of grace, they not only believe they are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, but also making a public statement, that they are in a Common Union with the teachings of the Church. When you attend a non-Catholic Bible study, you are saying you aren't in a Common Union with the Church.

The number of implicit teachings you believe within a Protestant Bible Study is far less then the number of teachings you would find in a Catholic Bible Study group and the implication within Protestant Bible studies is, if the group is reading a Scripture that deals with a Catholic teaching or doctrine e.g. (Matthew 16:13-20, John 6:51-70, 1 Timothy 3:15, or John 20:19-23), the Catholic interpretation of that verse is probably incorrect. Many don't believe in Oral Tradition though the Scriptures profusely support this Catholic Teaching.

I would personally say the Rosary for your wife on a daily basis and, once you show her the scriptural basis for it, pray the Rosary with her on a daily basis. The Rosary is something all Christian couples should be able to do together.

  • What could be wrong with meditating on the Life of Jesus and Mary, his Mother while saying some prayers?

Also, invite her to Mass once in a while.

I used to run a free Rosary for Protestants program that sent Rosaries to seeking Protestants and non-Christians but no longer have the financial or operational means to do this anymore. Nevertheless, if you wish get your hands on a free Rosary just Google for one.

It's a great devotion because whether you are a Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian, or non-Christian, we are meditating on the lives of both Jesus, Our Lord, and Mary, His Mother and it has many blessings attached to praying it.

 

Mike

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
Suggestions for this web page and the web site can be sent to Mike Humphrey
© 2012 Panoramic Sites
The Early Church Fathers Church Fathers on the Primacy of Peter. The Early Church Fathers on the Catholic Church and the term Catholic. The Early Church Fathers on the importance of the Roman Catholic Church centered in Rome.