+J.M.J+

THEOLOGICAL QUESTIONS


  1. If God created everything, who created God?

    No one created God; God always is. This is hard for our limited minds to understand, but it is the truth.

    Everything we are familiar with had some kind of origin. For instance, we came from our parents, our parents came from their parents, who came from their parents, and so on all the way back. Well, if everything in this universe has an origin, then there must be one Prime Origin behind it all, a "first cause" which started the whole thing but had no beginning itself. This First Cause is God, the Creator of all.

    God is Existence Itself. We only exist because God made us and constantly sustains our fragile existence. So our existence is "borrowed" from our Maker, while God's Existence is essential to what He is. Thus no one created God, for God is the One Who IS!

    Return To Top

  2. If God is all-powerful, can He create a rock which He cannot lift?

    No, and that does not in any way diminish His power.

    You see, when we say that God is "all powerful", we don't mean that He can do absolutely everything - including absurd and self-contradictory things.  We mean that God is the most powerful Being of all; none can be more powerful than Him.

    A hypothetical "rock that God cannot lift" would be more powerful than God in at least one respect, namely inertia,  the ability to resist movement.  Since God is the most powerful Being of all, no creature could be more powerful than Him in any area.  So no rock could ever be resistant to God's power to move it.

    This does not diminish God's omnipotence, rather it confirms it.  God is the most powerful Being of all, thus nothing can be more powerful than Him.  If He could create anything more powerful than Himself, He would not be the most powerful Being of all.  But because He is the highest Power, He cannot create a rock which he cannot lift.

    The same thing goes for all similar questions: "If God is all powerful, can He create a being equal to Himself...zap Himself out of existence...do evil?" etc. ect..  As St. Augustine wrote:  "Neither do we lessen (God's) power when we say He cannot die or be deceived.  This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is....It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible."1

    For St. Thomas Aquinas' explanation of Divine Omnipotence, see:

    Return To Top

  3. How could Jesus be the "only Son of God" if we are all sons of God?

    Christians do not believe that Jesus Christ is the only being in existence who could possibly be called son of God in any sense of the term. The Bible calls many other beings "sons (or daughters) of God", including angels (Job 1:6), the nation of Israel (Exodus 4:22), and Christians (II Corinthians 6:18).

    The difference between them and Jesus is that He is the only begotten Son of God. He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Whom the Father eternally generates, or begets, from the Divine Nature. So He is the "natural" Son of God the Father. No other Person is eternally begotten of the Father, so Jesus is His only begotten Son

    All others are called God's sons or daughters in relation to Christ. The holy angels are "sons of God" insofar as they are created through the Word and partake of the divine nature. Israel became God's "firstborn son" in the Covenant. Christians are sons and daughters of God because they share in Christ's Sonship as members of His Mystical Body and, like the angels, partake of the divine nature (see II Peter 1:4). These are all sons and daughters of God, but since none are eternally begotten of the Father, they are not God's children in the same sense Jesus is. His Sonship is entirely unique, which is why we call him the Son of God.

    Return To Top

  4. How can Jesus be both God and the Son of God?

    Christians believe in only one God, one Divine Essence. Yet this one essence is shared by three Persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (we call this the "Trinity"). Notice that each Person is called "God". In Christianity, the term "God" can refer to any of these Three Persons or to the Trinity as a whole.

    When we call Jesus "God", we mean that He is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. When we call Him "the Son of God", we mean that He is the Son of God the Father! We are just using the term "God" to refer to two different persons.

    Return To Top

  5. "Three Persons in One God" is an absurd contradiction!

    No; if we said "There are three persons - but really only one person" or "There are three Gods - but really only one God", those statements would be contradictory. But we are saying that three Persons (subjects of consciousness) share the same Divine Nature (substance or essence). Since a person and a nature are two different things, this is not a contradictory statement. (See The Trinity: An Explanation on this site for an in-depth discussion of the Triune Nature of God).

    Return To Top

  6. Would it be possible for more angels to rebel someday as Lucifer and his minions did? Or could people in heaven commit another "original sin" like Adam?

    No; the holy angels and saints are incapable of sin because they enjoy the Beatific Vision, they see God "face-to-face". We commit sin because the sin seems enticing to us, but in the Light of God's Glory no sin seems attractive at all. So even though the angels and saints still have free will in Heaven, they do not choose to commit sin because it just doesn't appeal to them.

    (In the beginning, when God created the angels, He withheld the Beatific Vision from them at first, in order to test their loyalty. After the rebellious angels fell, He rewarded the faithful angels with the Beatific Vision, so now they can't fall. He similarly withholds the Beatific Vision from us while we walk the earth, but rewards the faithful with it after death.)

    Return To Top

  7. Why would God insist that Jesus be murdered to cancel out sin?

    "God" and "Jesus" are not two separate entities; Jesus is God the Son, He shares the same Nature with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He also shares the same Divine Will with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This means Jesus eternally willed to die for us on the Cross just as much as God the Father willed for Him to do it!

    Christ's horrific Death on Calvary reveals the extent of His Divine Love for us; He was willing to go that far just to save us! Any attempt to portray it as some kind of "cosmic child abuse" on God the Father's part is ridiculous.

    Return To Top

  8. What does the Apostles' Creed mean when it says Jesus "descended to the dead"?

    Earlier translations say He "descended into hell", meaning not the Hell of the damned but a place in the afterlife called the Limbo of the Fathers, or Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:22). This is where the souls of the righteous of Old Testament times awaited the coming of the Messiah. When Jesus died He went there to usher them into the Beatific Vision in Heaven (Ephesians 4:8-10).

    Return To Top

  9. If God is Uncreated and had no beginning, how could Mary be His Mother?

    The Most Holy Trinity has no beginning, and thus no father or mother. But when God the Son chose to become human, He was born of the Virgin Mary. She conceived Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, gave Him a human Body from her own substance, bore Him, nursed Him, cared for Him, brought Him up; in short, she mothered Him. So she is the Mother of God Incarnate.

    She certainly did not give Him His Deity; after all, she's only human! But she is truly His Mother according to the flesh, and since Jesus remains God in the Incarnation, Mary is truly the Mother of God.

    Return To Top

  10. Don't Catholics consider Mary to be a goddess (or at least treat her like one)?

    No, we believe that Mary is a woman whom God chose to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He had to be born of a human being in order to become human; were Mary a "goddess" (if such a being existed!) she could not have given Him His Humanity!

    We do not treat Mary as a goddess either, since we do not offer her divine worship (latria), the highest honor which is due to the Creator alone. We pay her a lesser honor, called hyperdulia, as the greatest of all mere creatures (Jesus is not a mere creature, but God Incarnate). Yet we believe that even the greatest mere creature is as nothing compared to the Infinite God. So we neither believe she is equal to God nor honor her as such.

    Return To Top

  11. How could Jesus be conceived on December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and born on December 25 (Christmas)?

    The "Immaculate Conception" is not Jesus' conception! This is a very common mistake. The term Immaculate Conception refers to Mary's conception in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne.

    Jesus' conception is called the Virginal Conception, because His Mother conceived Him miraculously, without the help of a man. Mary's own conception is called "immaculate" (or "stainless"), because at the very moment she came into existence, God infused her soul with sanctifying grace, thus preserving her from acquiring original sin.

    The feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception (December 8) falls exactly nine months before the day we celebrate her birth (September 8). And Christmas (December 25) comes exactly nine months after the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) when we celebrate the Angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus. So there is no discrepancy here at all.

    Return To Top

  12. Don't Catholics believe that Mary was conceived virginally, like Jesus?

    No! Some Protestants actually think we believe this. Their confusion is probably due to the misunderstanding just discussed. They think the term Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus' Virginal Conception, so when they hear Catholics say that Mary was "immaculately conceived" they think we are saying that she too, like Jesus, had no human father. This is not Church teaching; we believe that Mary was conceived in the usual fashion by both her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne (Y'hoyakhin and Hannah in Hebrew).

    Return To Top

  13. If you believe in God, why do you pray to angels and saints to help you instead of God?

    We don't pray to angels and saints instead of God; we pray to God and to the angels and saints. The two are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.

    Have you ever asked another person to pray for you when you had a problem? You most likely have, yet I'm sure you pray to God as well. Catholics pray to saints to ask them to pray to God for us. We can and do pray for ourselves, of course, but it helps to have others pray for you, as the Bible says (Ephesians 6:18-19; I Thessalonians 5:25; Hebrews 13:18) and as Protestants themselves do.

    The angels can also pray for us; the Bible shows them in an intercessory role, offering our prayers before the throne of God (Tobias 12:12 DV; Apocalypse/Revelation 8:3).

    Since the holy angels are sinless, and the saints have been made perfect (Hebrews 12:23) their prayers are the prayers of the righteous, and the Bible says "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16). Since they are with God, they know what is best for us better than we do, and so can pray more according to God's will. The Bible says that God always answers prayers which align with His will (I John 5:14-15); hence their prayers are sometimes answered even when ours are not. It's not that God doesn't love us, it's just that our prayers are sometimes selfish, and this blocks their efficacy (see James 4:3). That's why it's good to have holy, selfless prayer partners in heaven helping us out with their own petitions. It is our weakness which make this necessary.

    Return To Top

  14. You shouldn't be praying to the Virgin and other creatures; you're committing idolatry by worshipping creatures!

    Don't confuse prayer with worship. Prayer is request and conversation, worship is sacrifice. Catholics converse with God, Mary and the saints, but we offer sacrifice to God alone. The Church always distinguishes between the divine worship due to God alone (latria) and the lesser honor (veneration) given to Mary (hyperdulia)or the saints (dulia).

    We should pray to Mary and other saints because they are part of our heavenly family. A family member talks not only to his father, but his mother, brothers and sisters as well. Mary is our Mother and the saints are our brothers and sisters in heaven; it's only right that we "keep in touch" with them as members of our family. (See the article God's Extended Family: Our Brothers and Sisters on this site.)

    Return To Top

  15. Why are Catholics so devoted to Mary? Shouldn't more emphasis be placed on Jesus?

    Though some individual Catholics may seem to focus more on Mary than Jesus in their private devotions, Mother Church places more emphasis on Jesus in her official teachings. The official Creeds of the Church speak at length about Jesus, but only mention Mary once in passing. This is because He is the center of our Faith, not she (A fact which all Catholics should recognize).

    Mary is a member of the Church who receives all she has from Jesus. The Second Vatican Council emphasizes this fact by putting its declaration on Mary in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) rather than releasing it as a separate document.

    The new Catechism does something similar. The largest section of the first part of the Catechism is devoted to Jesus (#430-683), and He is mentioned often throughout the rest of the book. In contrast, Mary just gets two relatively short mentions, one in the section on Jesus (#484-511) and the other in the section on the Church (#963-975). She receives hardly any mention outside of those two sections!

    Finally, authentic Catholic spirituality is centered on Christ in the Eucharist. Mary plays a secondary role; she prays for us and guides us to Christ. All Catholics, even those who seem to emphasize Mary in their personal devotions, recognize that Jesus is our God and Savior while Mary is a mere creature whose only aim is to bring us to Jesus.

    Why then have devotion to Mary? Because she is our Mother in heaven, and God commanded us to honor our mothers (Exodus 20:12). She is Jesus' true Mother, and He has perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses by honoring her as highly as He can. Surely all Christians should imitate Christ! If we truly love Christ, that love should naturally spill over into love for the holy Woman whom He chose to be His Mother.

    Return To Top

  16. Do Catholics believe that the Roman Catholic Church saves them?

    Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior. The Church is His Body, and He saves us precisely by incorporating us into His Body through the Sacrament of Baptism. So the Catholic Church is not our "savior" per se, yet one must be united to the Church in order to be saved.

    Non-Catholics see the Church as a mere human institution. So when Protestants hear Catholics say "Outside the Church there is no salvation", they think that we believe the institutional Church is our savior, rather than Christ. This is inaccurate; the Church is Ark of Salvation precisely because she is the Body of Christ. Jesus, the one Savior, established one Church as the locus for that salvation. The Church does not save apart from Christ; rather Christ saves through the Church.

    The following quote from Vatican II might clarify things here:

    "This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved" (Lumen Gentium, 14)

    Return To Top

  17. So does that mean every non-Catholic in the world will go to hell?

    Not necessarily; please see the article Some Things that Catholics do NOT Believe on this website. Toward the end it covers this topic (roll down to #7).

    Return To Top

  18. Does the Catholic Church recognize the validity of Protestant baptisms?

    Yes, as long as the Protestants use the proper formula given by Jesus: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Since most Protestants use that formula, most of their baptisms are just as valid as Catholic ones. Thus they are imperfectly united to the Church by virtue of their baptism.

    Baptism in the Name of Jesus only (characteristic of "Oneness Pentecostalism") would be invalid. Also invalid are baptisms using a so-called "inclusive" Trinitarian formula, such as "In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier". (If a Catholic tried to baptize using such formulas that would also be invalid; only the form Jesus gave is acceptable.)

    Return To Top

  19. Why do you confess your sins to a priest rather than going straight to God?

    Actually, Catholics do confess their sins straight to God. At the beginning of Mass the priest gives us time to pause and silently recall our sins. He then leads us in a prayer to God, asking forgiveness ("I confess to Almighty God..." or "Lord have mercy..."). This is not the sacrament of Penance, but a direct confession of sin to God!

    Mother Church also encourages us to make an "examination of conscience" at the end of the day. That means we pause before our night prayers, think about what we did wrong that day, and say an Act of Contrition. Again, this is not Penance, but direct confession to God. We can say an Act of Contrition at any time of the day as well, and as long as our sins are venial, that's all we need to receive forgiveness.

    But the Bible tells us that some sins are more serious than others (see I John 5:16-17). Serious sins "lead to death", that is, they cause us to lose grace, which is the life of our souls. We call these "mortal (deadly) sins". If we commit a mortal sin, we need more than just an Act of Contrition; we need to receive grace again, and that's why Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Penance.

    When Jesus appeared to His Apostles on the day of His Resurrection, St. John tells us that He "breathed on them and said 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you hold bound are held bound'" (John 20:21-23). He actually gave them the power to forgive sins in His name! This gift was not lost when the last Apostle died; rather it has been passed down to all their successors throughout the ages, right down to the bishops and priests of today. So when we go to Confession, the priest absolves our sins by the power Jesus gave him, and the grace which we forfeited by our sins is restored to us.

    Return To Top

  20. But I don't need to confess my sins to a man, I can go straight to God.

    The Bible nowhere says, "Thou shalt confess thy sins to God alone, and to no other". In fact, it says just the opposite: James 5:16 tells us to "Confess your sins to one another". The Bible actually promotes the practice of confessing sins to other people! So anyone who says "I don't have to confess to a priest, I can go straight to God" is not following the Bible!

    For more information on the Sacrament of Confession, check out the following URLs:

    Catholic Encyclopedia: The Sacrament of Penance
    Why Do Catholics Confess Their Sins to A Priest?
    Forgiveness of Sins
    Confession (Fathers Know Best)
    Sacrament of Penance

WORKS CITED

  1. Saint Augustine, City of God (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1958) 5:10.

I could use some help with this FAQ. Do you have a question about Catholicism - either your own or one posed by a friend? Just email me and I'll consider adding it to this page or writing a whole article response.

(Please do not send any unsolicited commercial email (spam)! I will only respond to questions about the Catholic Faith. Thank you.)

Thank you for your help, and to everyone who has responded so far! God bless you.

A.M.D.G

| Return To Top | Back: Scripture Questions | Next: Policy Questions | Apologetics Index | Site Index | Home Page |