Two passages are cited by Armstrong under the subtitle of “Carrying Christ’s Afflictions in our Bodies,” 2 Cor. 4:10 and Col. 1:24. Colossians 1:24 is very commonly cited by RC theologians and apologists in reference to the doctrine of penance, purgatory, and indulgences, all related to the idea that our sufferings can be meritorious (when they meet certain conditions) and hence “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”). Almost a full decade ago now I debated Robert Fastiggi in Austin, Texas, on the subject of indulgences, and in the course of that debate, took note of the comments of Bishop Lightfoot, the great Anglican scholar, regarding Colossians 1:24 and the term “afflictions” from his commentary on Colossians (as the quote is a decade old in my notes, it uses the Mounce Greek font instead of BibleWorks: converting would be rather time-intensive):
“tw’n qlivyewn tou’ Cristou’ ‘of the afflications of Christ,’ i.e. which Christ endured. This seems to be the only natural interpretation of the words. . . . The theological difficulty, which these and similar explanations are intended to remove, is imaginary and not real. There is a sense in which it is quite legitimate to speak of Christ’s afflictions as incomplete, a sense in which they may be, and indeed must be, supplemented. For the sufferings of Christ may be considered from two different points of view. They are either satisfactoriæ or ædificaatoriæ. They have their sacrificial efficacy, and they have their ministerial utility. ( I ) From the former point of view the Passion of Christ was the one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. In this sense there could be no uJstevrhma of Christ’s sufferings; for, Christ’s sufferings being different in kind from those of His servants, the two are incommensurable. But in this sense the Apostle would surely have used some other expression such as tou’ staurou’ (i. 20, Eph ii. 16 etc.), or tou’ qanavtou (i. 22, Rom. v. 10, Heb. ii. 14, etc.), but hardly tw’n qlivyewn . Indeed qlivyi” , ‘affliction,’ is not elsewhere applied in the New Testament in any sense to Christ’s suffereings, and certainly would not suggest a sacrificial act. ( 2 ) From the latter point of view it is a simple matter of fact that the afflictions of every saint and martyr do supplement the afflictions of Christ. The Church is built up by repeated acts of self-denial in successive individuals and successive generations. They continue the work which Christ began. They bear their part in the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor. i. 7. . . . Phil. iii. 10. . . .); but St Paul would have been the last to say that they bear their part in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. This being so, St. Paul does not mean to say that his own sufferings filled up all the uJsterhvmata , but only that they went towards filling them up. The present tense ajntanaplyrw’ denotes an inchoate, and not a complete act. These uJsterhvmata will never be fully supplemented, until the struggle of the Church with sin and unbelief is brought to a close.
“Thus the idea of expiation or satisfaction is wholly absent from this passage; . . . Romanist commentators . . . have found in this passage an assertion of the merits of the saints, and (as a necessary consequence) of the doctrine of indulgences. They have not observed that, if the idea of vicarious satisfaction comes into the passage at all, the satisfaction of St Paul is represented here as the same in kind with the satisfaction of Christ, however different it may be in degree; . . . It is sufficient to say to say that, so far as regards this particular passage, the Roman doctrine can only be imported into it at the cost of a contradiction to the Pauline doctrine.” (pp. 165-167).
Hence, to seriously suggest that he is “confounding” Protestants on the basis of Bible passages, Dave Armstrong would have to wrestle with a presentation such as Lightfoot’s, and would have to establish that in context, both of these passages are indicating that there is some kind of “satisfactory” element to the sufferings of believers that would fit the Roman Catholic concept. For obviously, a Protestant can read 2 Corinthians 4:10 and say, “Yes, I die to sin daily, not sacramentally or partially so that I remain imperfect (as in Roman theology), but as the result of the perfect standing that is mine in the righteousness of Christ the Holy Spirit works within me to conform me to the image of Christ and by so doing brings the reality of my union with Christ in His death so that His life will be ever more seen in me.” How have I been “confounded” in this passage?
Armstrong, again, does not offer any exegesis of the cited texts. Instead, he devotes a little over two pages to arguing that in Roman Catholic theology the concept of suffering does not detract from the finished work of Christ, and that Protestants, like Albert Barnes, just don’t get it. He writes,
No Protestant denies that prayer helps others. Why should not suffering and good works and self-sacrifices undertaken on behalf of others do the same? For prayer is just as much a work as any of these other things….We freely cooperate with God, by his grace. (p. 131)
You can see now why I strongly suggested reading Indulgentiarum Doctrina when I began this section of the review. When we pray for someone, how are they “helped”? It is not by a transfer of merit. The debt of temporal punishment I owe is not lessened by my prayers, either. I am not adding to the thesaurus meritorum by praying or doing good works or suffering (there is no such thing to begin with). And if Armstrong wished to communicate with a serious minded non-Catholic based upon these passages (he is the one claiming the passage confounds Protestants) he would explain why we should understand qli/yij to refer to satisfactory sufferings (as opposed to Lightfoot). Of course, no such attempt is made, for I seriously doubt Mr. Armstrong is even aware of the issue, let alone able to interact meaningfully with Lightfoot. But I do note, he has no basis for complaint, since he himself refers to “Catholic exegesis” of the texts on p. 130 (he just doesn’t bother to provide it).
Finally, a note on Armstrong’s constant attempt to paint Calvin in the worst possible light. In this section he cites Calvin from The Institutes, but not from Calvin’s actual commentary on Colossians 1:24. I thought it would be worthwhile to see what Calvin actually wrote there. Here is the online version. Scroll down to the section on Col. 1:24 and note that Calvin, unlike Armstrong, actually addresses the verse in its context prior to responding to Rome’s misuse of it. I wonder why Armstrong does not refute Calvin’s actual exegesis and commentary? I leave that to the reader to decide.
Next up in our review of The Catholic Verses? Mr. Armstrong gets himself in way over his head when he does actually seek to venture into the original languages, and this is especially the case regarding Mary and the Greek term kecaritwme,nh. Indeed, at one point Armstrong writes, “Even a severe critic of Catholicism like James White cannot avoid the fact that kecharitomene (however translated) cannot be divorced from the notion of grace, and stated that the term referred to “divine favor, that is, God’s grace” (White, 201).” Is Armstrong right, or has he once again demonstrated a fundamental inability to understand the issues at hand? Stay tuned!