Monday, July 25, 2011

In Defense of Amazing Grace

An argument is starting to rage over the internet, which began with a critique of Michael Voris (RealCatholicTV) by Mark Shea. Interestingly, the argument first began over the hymn Amazing Grace (Voris said it wasn't compatible with the Catholic Faith, Shea launched into an attack of Voris). Instead, the argument has descended into critiques of people instead of ideas. People are attacking Mark Shea (just read the comments on the website that I linked to above), and people are attacking RealCatholicTV. I'm not getting into it, and I'm keeping my opinion about these individuals to myself

Since it doesn't appear that anyone is actually talking about the hymn anymore, I thought I would. So I've attempted to look at Amazing Grace in light of the Catholic Faith, to see if the hymn can be reconciled to the Faith.

I originally started working on a defense of Amazing Grace a year or so ago, when I was in an argument with a fellow Catholic over the hymn. The fellow Catholic believed the hymn had no place in the Catholic Church, and (s)he also believed that that the hymn could not be reconciled with the Catholic Faith. This prompted me to go through the hymn, almost stanza by stanza, and provide citations in defense of each stanza (some stanzas are combined, some are separated).

1. Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) CCC 1998 points out that grace “surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.” Sounds like a decent definition of something that is amazing.

2. That sav’d a wretch like me! Judith 9:17 uses the same word- wretch. Compared to G-d, and in a poetic sense, we are wretches! So if simply using the word wretch supports total depravity, like Michael Voris believes, then the book of Judith must be supporting it as well! St. Paul calls himself a "wretched man" in Romans 7:24. CCC 1987-2029 speaks about how grace saves us.

3. I once was lost, but now am found. Someone is lost if they don’t know where they are. In effect, if they don’t know the Truth, then they are lost to the Truth. John 14:6 speaks that Jesus is the Truth. Once we find Christ, we find the Truth and are no longer lost, specifically lost to sin. So once, before I knew the Truth that is Christ, I was lost and now that I have discovered the Truth (insofar as I have discovered and continue to discover it), I am found.

4. Was blind, but now I see. We see the Truth, which is Christ. We don't see perfectly, but we see more perfectly than when we were in darkness. And the more and more I learn about Christ and His Church, the more and more I can see the Truth. One day I will see it clearly, in Heaven- the Beatific Vision.

5. Twas grace that taught my heart to fear. CCC 1831 says that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is fear of the Lord. Because grace is a favor rendered by one who needs not do so, it also can be understood as a gift. Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is a grace given to some of us. We should fear G-d, not in the same way that we might fear the bogeyman, but as an awesome and mighty G-d! C.S. Lewis paints the picture well with Aslan the Lion. When asked if Aslan should be feared, the answer is Yes! I mean, he's a lion for goodnessake! But he is a loving lion.

6. And grace my fears reliev’d. CCC 1808 points out that we have nothing to fear if we are in the grace of G-d. We don't have an absolute assurance of salvation, but we do have a moral assurance that if I continue to believe in He who died for me, and continue to live a moral live in conformity with Christ's love, then I will enter Heaven.

7. How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believ’d! For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). This gift is precious! When we “believe” (used in the Protestant sense of faith, giving ourselves totally to G-d), we finally open our eyes to G-d’s grace. Therefore, the hour I first believed is when I first saw how precious that grace is. The grace first existed before that point, at Baptism, but more graces have been given to us from the other Sacraments. Some people think that the word 'appear' is used to mean the moment when it first existed. This makes no grammatical sense in the context of the verse, as appear is not used as the verb in this sentence but rather used to link precious and grace (the grace appeared precious when I finally opened my eyes, not that grace appeared when I finally opened my eyes).

8. Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home. The CCC article on "Grace and Justification" speaks about how grace brings us safely through the dangers, toils, and snares (traps like temptation) of life. Furthermore, as pointed out before, it is only dying in a state of grace that allows us to enter Heaven. Grace has led us through these dangers, grace will continue to lead us through these dangers, and one day grace- and grace alone- will bring us home to Heaven.

9. The Lord has promis’d good to me, His word my hope secures; John 14:3; John 3:16; and the Sermon on the Mount all give us some of the good promises of Christ. G-d has promised good to us (if we die in His grace, CCC 1023). These promises of Christ give us the hope to work to continue to live in a state of grace.

10. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures. Ephesians 6:10-18 talks about the armor of G-d. G-d is our armor. When we die, we no longer need armor, because there will be no need for it. G-d is our shield against Satan and all of his empty promises. G-d is our shield against lies and temptations.

11. Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease; I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace. Well, we can only enter Heaven if we are dead (Mary and Christ excluded, as well as Enoch and Elisha). And in Heaven, we will have joy and peace. The veil, I believe, referrers to the Bride of Christ, which is the Church (Revelation 21:9-10) CCC 1023.

12. The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,The sun forbear to shine; But God, who call’d me here below, Will be forever mine. Once we are in Heaven, we do not leave. We don’t go to Heaven then to Hell. 2 Peter 3:10 points out the destruction of “the elements”, and how the Earth will be laid bare. G-d calls us to Him here on earth, and if/once we reach Heaven, Christ will be forever ours to worship and glorify, love and find peace in.

13. When we've been here ten thousand years. Poetry, of course, because there is no real time in Heaven, insofar as Heaven lasts forever. Heaven and Hell are in eternity (CCC 1035). The point of the line, however, is to emphasize the longevity of Heaven, as well as the fact that we will never cease to praise G-d (next line).

14. Bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise Than when we've first begun. We will sing praises to G-d in Heaven, similar to the angels in Heaven found in Revelation 4:8. We will shout "Holy, Holy, Holy!" to G-d. And do you know what's best of all? "We've no less days to sing God's praise." We have no limit to the time we can praise and worship G-d.

Can Amazing Grace be understood in light of the Catholic Faith? I hope that I've shown that it can in this post.


  1. You should send this to Michael Voris and see how he responds to it.

  2. Tuesday, March 6, 2012
    Michael Voris affirms rigorist interpretation of dogma outside the church no salvation: says there is no “anonymous Catholic”

    When Michael Voris on Real Catholic TV refers to outside the church there is no salvation he means, outside the church no salvation as interpreted by the Church Councils, the popes, the saints and Fr.Leonard Feeney. Since the baptism of desire and being saved in invincible ignorance or a good conscience are explicit only in Heaven

    The Letter of the Holy Office 1949 endorsed the rigorist interpretation of the dogma when it directly referred to the ‘the dogma’, the ‘infallible’ statement. (1)

    Michael Voris also on Real Catholic proclaims the dogma outside the church there is no salvation (2) and says on another video that there is no anonymous Catholic.

    There is no anonymous Christian no known case of a Catholic saved ‘anonymously’. If there was an anonymous Catholic in the present times it would be known only to God. So it could not be an exception to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus which he endorses in its rigorist interpretation. There can only be the rigorist interpretation! We can never know cases of non Catholics saved in invincible ignorance and the baptism of desire, with a good conscience or the seeds of the Word, with elements of sanctification or in imperfect communion.

    All the Catechisms of the Catholic Church including the present one (3) have affirmed the rigorist interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus as did the Vatican Councils (4).

    We accept the baptism of desire and invincible ignorance as possibilities. We accept in principle that a non Catholic can be saved with the baptism of desire or invincible ignorance. De facto (explicitly, in reality) we do not know any such case.

    Fr. Karl Rahner S.J’s theory of the ‘anonymous Christian’ is irrelevant to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Since we do not know any single case of a person saved as an anonymous Christian it does not contradict Vatican Council II which affirms the rigorist interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. It states all need Catholic Faith and the baptism of water for salvation (to avoid Hell) ( Ad Gentes 7,Lumen Gentium 14).

    No pope or Councils has stated that the baptism of desire etc is an exception to the dogma or that we know explicit cases. So Michael Voris on Real Catholic TV is affirming the teaching of the Magisterium before and after Vatican Council II.
    -Lionel Andrades



    2. ,


    The Vatican Councils of the Catholic Church have clearly taught that formal membership in the Catholic Church IS absolutely necessary for salvation

    No pope has said that those saved in invincible ignorance are known to us and so are exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus

    Being saved in invincible ignorance is not a defacto exception to the teaching of Cantate Domino Council of Florence

    1. Your comment has nothing to do with my post, and I'm tempted to delete it. Please stay on topic. But if you would like to comment on my blog post itself (Amazing Grace), then feel free to do so. But if you post again on a topic not dealing with the post, I will delete it.

      I'm not going to address what you have to say about invincible ignorance, mainly because it would take an entire post to do so. However, you're comment engages in several logical errors and many assumptions. I would look around and see what other Catholic theologians say on the subject.

  3. Brett, while "Catholic Missions" comment was slightly off topic, it was interesting (to me) so I am glad you didn't delete it. I also liked your treatment of Amazing Grace, while I don't totally agree as the song has a 'born again' component to it that is why it is so popular in Southern Churches. Reading Amazing Grace with a 'born again' perspective gives much of the song an entirely different meaning which would seem to goes against Catholic teaching / the Magisterium.

    And, yes, I have attended a multitude of "other" Christian faith Churches before returning to the Catholic Church. I for one like the song, however feel it is not appropriate for Mass.

  4. @Sensei Mitch:

    Thanks for your comment! I've been dealing with a lot of e-mails from people who don't understand how to respectfully disagree with others, so your comment is a breath of fresh air!