“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”
I’ve been reading St Augustine recently and he also seems to imply that while there is confession for serious sin once after conversion you cannot go again if you fall again, but you can entrust yourself to God’s mercy, so it seems the Church at the time took this passage to mean you cannotbe forgiven of serious sin more than once after baptism?
Is this what this passage means? If not what does it mean?
We must use caution in singling out a verse or two for our entire understanding of our relationship to Christ. That is a very protestant way of interacting with scripture.
First of all, check out the last part of the verse you list above. This seems to me to be a great deal more than just “falling again” – it refers to a full rejection of Christ and His grace. This would mean that you sin and then say, “so what?” You no longer seek to follow Christ, and you no longer wish to be forgiven, and you no longer wish to grow in virtue and holiness. This is a far cry from a repeat offense that we confess in the Sacrament (or as my younger friends say “the magic box” that cleans us :D)
Remember that St Paul himself refers to his continuing sinfulness in Romans 7:
14 The law, as we know, is something spiritual; I am a thing of flesh and blood, sold into the slavery of sin.
15 My own actions bewilder me; what I do is not what I wish to do, but something which I hate.
16 Why then, if what I do is something I have no wish to do, I thereby admit that the law is worthy of all honour; 17 meanwhile, my action does not come from me, but from the sinful principle that dwells in me.
18 Of this I am certain, that no principle of good dwells in me, that is, in my natural self; praiseworthy intentions are always ready to hand, but I cannot find my way to the performance of them; 19 it is not the good my will prefers, but the evil my will disapproves, that I find myself doing.
20 And if what I do is something I have not the will to do, it cannot be I that bring it about, it must be the sinful principle that dwells in me.
21 This, then, is what I find about the law, that evil is close at my side, when my will is to do what is praiseworthy.
22 Inwardly, I applaud God’s disposition, 23 but I observe another disposition in my lower self, which raises war against the disposition of my conscience, and so I am handed over as a captive to that disposition towards sin which my lower self contains.
24 Pitiable creature that I am, who is to set me free from a nature thus doomed to death?
25 Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. If I am left to myself, my conscience is at God’s disposition, but my natural powers are at the disposition of sin.
Notice Paul’s confession, that he continues to sin in spite of his desire not to. His actions and his heart don’t always go “in sync” as it were. But does he condemn himself? No. He simply states the reality that his human nature and his spirit sometimes fight against each other.
He goes on in the next verse to say that in spite of our sinful nature, we have been saved by Christ’s action, so long as we follow the leading of the Spirit – not so long as we are perfect, but that (in my opinion) our intention is to continue following Christ, no matter how many times we fall. We must continue to confess our sins (how else could we be forgiven 70 times 7 times?) and continue to grow in holiness.
There was a time when the leaders in the Church believed this to be true. Due to the belief most people waited until the very end of life to confess. As you can imagine, this may have left many in jeopardy in regard to salvation.
While still a Catholic, Tertullian wrote (A.D. 200-6) his “De poenitentia” in which he distinguishes two kinds of penance, one as a preparation for baptism, the other to obtain forgiveness of certain grievous sins committed after baptism, i.e., apostasy, murder, and adultery. For these, however, he allows only one forgiveness: "Foreseeing these poisons of the Evil One, God, although the gate of forgiveness has been shut and fastened up with the bar of baptism, has permitted it still to stand somewhat open. In the vestibule He has stationed a second repentance for opening to such as knock; but now once for all, because now for the second time; but never more, because the last time it had been in vain.
In the days of Hermas there was evidently a school of rigorists who insisted that there was no pardon for sin committed after baptism (Similitude VIII.6).
…Fourth Lateran Council (1215). At that time, according to Lea (op. cit., I, 228), the necessity of confession “became a new article of faith” and the canon, omnis utriusque sexus, “is perhaps the most important legislative act in the history of the Church” (ibid., 230). But, as the Council of Trent affirms, “the Church did not through the Lateran Council prescribe that the faithful of Christ should confess — a thing which it knew to be by Divine right necessary and established — but that the precept of confessing at least once a year should be complied with by all and every one when they reached the age of discretion”(Sess., XIV, c. 5). The Lateran edict presupposed the necessity of confession as an article of Catholic belief and laid down a law as to the minimum frequency of confession — at least once a year.
As you can see, the practice evolved over the history of the Church.
If you read the passage (Hebrews) carefully, you will take notice of the words " if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth" - key word is deliberately.
So lets say you confess a sin, and after confession, you go out on purpose, with deliberate malice and forethought, and re-sin that same sin over and over again, and totally disregard our Lords actions on the cross, well what do you expect?
First of all that confession wasn’t really valid if you had decided to sin again on purpose, and secondly you are disregarding our Lords offer of mercy - aren’t you.
It’s like being forgiven for something and knowing full well that you hold that forgiveness in little regard.
I try to live in the present and not in the fifth century.
St. Augustine is my confirmation saint. I pray to him and his mother every day. But his words have to be understood in the context of his time and place and we have to listen to what the Church herself teaches today. St. Augustine was many things, including a doctor of the Church, but he is not the Church.
*Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart. (Psalm 95:7)
again he sets a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7)*
It is enough for me that the Church today says that I can return if I sin. It is enough for me that my Pastor and confessor said, “Don’t ever be afraid to come to the confessional no matter how many times you fall.” That’s enough for me.
Ver. 26. If we sin wilfully. He speaks of the sin of wilful apostacy from the known truth; after which, as we cannot be baptized again, we cannot expect to have that abundant remission of sins, which Christ purchased by his death, applied to our souls in that ample manner as it is in baptism; but we have rather all manner of reason to look for a dreadful judgment; the more, because apostates from the know truth seldom or never have the grace to return to it. (Challoner)
Ver. 28-29. A man making void, &c. He brings this comparison from the manner that transgressors were dealt with under the law of Moses, to shew how much greater punishments Christians deserve when they are ungrateful to Christ after much greater benefits, when they may be said to have trodden under foot the Son of God by despising him, who was the author of their salvation, by shedding his blood upon the cross. (Witham) — What is here said of the crime of apostacy, may in some measure be applied to every deadly sin committed after baptism or the sacrament of penance; for a Christian by returning to sin, treads under foot the Son of God, despises the adorable blood by which he was sanctified, and offers a henious[heinous?] affront to the spirit of grace. Apostacy, though enormous, like all other sins can be forgiven by true repentance; but the apostle declares, there is no victim for the guilt of a person who perseveres and dies in apostacy.
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