The Catholic Sin of Presumption

©Copyright 2007 brother Michael

Some thoughts today on the Roman Catholic doctrine surrounding the sin of presumption. First, in doing this short study I turned to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia to gain some insight into Rome’s definition for presumption.

Presumption is here considered as a vice opposed to the theological virtue of hope. It may also be regarded as a product of pride. It may be defined as the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them. Joseph F. Delany. “Presumption.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. (emphasis added)

Note what is being said here. Rome defines presumption, which she labels a vice as “opposed to the theological virtue of hope”, as a person who has a “badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy” where this individual hopes “for salvation without doing anything to deserve it.” This is an amazing statement and sheds ample light on the theology of Rome and the false version of “salvation”. For Rome’s false salvation is based not only on what you do to maintain it, but also what you do to obtain it.

The words defining Rome’s sin of presumption really jumped out at me for who amongst this fallen lot of humanity can do anything to deserve salvation? Deserve salvation; nay rather we deserve the wrath of God for it is we who have sinned against the all Holy and Righteous God. Standing before this God not unlike a condemned serial murder does before a righteous earthly judge listening dolefully to his conviction and sentence of death. A condemned murder who is incapable of doing anything to merit mercy or salvation so as to avoid this terminal verdict. This with the sole exception of possibly the faintest prospect of the judge extending unmerited mercy by sparing the murder’s life. Apart from this mercy, the condemned has no hope.

Continuing with the New Advent article on presumption one will find Rome’s enumeration of five examples where an individual is said to be guilty of the sin of presumption. Looking specifically at number two an individual will be guilty of the sin of presumption if “a person might look to have his sins forgiven without adequate penance (this, likewise, if it were based on a seriously entertained conviction, would seem to carry with it the taint of heresy).” Ibid.

We will not get into a detailed discussion of Rome’s doctrine of penance now, but in short, penance is a work of man where a Roman priest via auricular confession officiates in the extension (or withholding) of forgiveness for the sins of an individual. Forgiveness that, if it is granted, is obtained not per God’s grace, mercy and the penitent’s belief in the shed blood of Jesus Christ as payment for all sin, but rather by a prescription of works concocted by the priest. Works from what I recall during my years as a Roman Catholic as typically being the rote recital of numerous “Our Father’s” and “Hail Mary’s”. Of course there are more prescriptions proscribed as means of payment for sin and the remittal of “Divine justice” as we can read below.

In order to have it [Divine justice] canceled here, the penitent receives from his confessor what is usually called his “penance”, usually in the form of certain prayers which he is to say, or of certain actions which he is to perform, such as visits to a church, the Stations of the Cross, etc. Alms, deeds, fasting, and prayer are the chief means of satisfaction, but other penitential works may also be enjoined. The quality and extent of the penance is determined by the confessor according to the nature of the sins revealed, the special circumstances of the penitent, his liability to relapse, and the need of eradicating evil habits.” Edward J. Hanna. “The Sacrament of Penance.” New Advent

This doctrine sadly demonstrates the fact that in Rome, faith in Jesus’ shed blood to cleanse his children from all sin (see I Jn 1:7) is never enough as one always has to do something to satisfy Divine justice. And if one in Rome does not make their penitential payment on this side of eternity, then they are required to settle the books after death by being tormented in the purging fires of Purgatory so as to satisfy Divine justice.

Is any of this true and found taught in the Scriptures? No, it is not and one simple parable as taught by Jesus will act to both destroy Rome’s sin of presumption along with her works-based penance as payment for Divine justice.

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Lk 18:9-14)

Much can be learned by humbly listening to Jesus’ word from this beautiful parable. First, we can see clearly that the Pharisee was a man who most certainly did not have a “badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy…without doing anything to deserve [salvation].” Certainly not for the Pharisee’s reliance was not on God’s mercy without doing anything but rather the exact opposite. For he was one who not only trusted in himself and his righteous acts to merit God’s favor but he outwardly boasted of these things for all to hear. And it was with his list of virtues that he presented before God in order to gain further approval even as he looked with contempt at the publican sinner.

Now, compare this attitude with that of the publican. Firstly, the publican, or tax collector, was a despised man in society being looked down upon by all but especially by the Pharisees. This man, an obvious sinner, came to God not boasting of the good he had done, for certainly he could have done this, but rather he came as a spiritually bankrupt and naked sinner. No “theological virtues”, no laundry list of all the good he did, and certainly nothing to present to God in a foolish attempt to gain mercy and forgiveness. Instead, this man “…would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven” but beat his breast calling out for God to be merciful to him a sinner.

And it was the publican sinner, not the “righteous” Pharisee, who went down justified. For it was he, the despised publican, who humbled himself in prayer and acknowledged that he was a sinner who would not even look unto heaven. One who knew that he had nothing to present to God except a prayer in faith hoping that peradventure God would hear it and answer his petition. A petition that the Pharisee and any “religious” person would have scoffed at as religious men always do towards those who exhibit a simple, childlike faith in God and his son Jesus Christ.

I know for these are the protests I hear from many Catholics towards those who do not place their hope in Mother Rome but rather Jesus Christ. Protests against those who believe that by placing faith in Jesus they will be “…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24) whereby they will be “…justified by faith [in Jesus’ shed blood as payment for sin] without the deeds of the law [or works].” (Rom 3:28)

This is exactly the case for the publican as he was justified, or made right with God, through faith and not works. All of this acting to uncover the falsehood of Rome’s doctrine of presumption and penance as we show below by revealing the truths taught by this parable.

  • The publican went directly to God to seek forgiveness. He did not go through a man but rather went directly to the Father above;
  • The publican went to God as a lost sinner and did not first “get right” with God by doing this or doing that;
  • The publican came to God with nothing in his character or works to deserve or merit God’s forgiveness. Instead all he came with was “a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, [thereby hoping] for salvation without doing anything to deserve it”;
  • Forgiveness was granted to the publican without any strings attached nor the requirement for any penitential works (i.e. penance). Rather, he was justified as soon as he came down from prayer.

We can see in reading this parable and the lessons taught above that contrary to Rome’s definition of presumption, God actually requires us to come to him with a total and absolute dependence on his mercy. For it is written that “[t]he sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psa 51:17) Humility is what God is looking for not pride or religious works of self-righteousness. Persons who see themselves as they really are, that is as vile and wretched sinners who have no hope for justification and salvation but for the unmerited mercy of God. For Jesus said it was this man, the publican in our parable, who “went down to his house justified…for he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Lk 18:14)

The question I close with is how will you, the reader, come to God? Will you come to him as the boasting Pharisee being clothed with a robe of self-righteousness that you wear in a vain attempt to cover your spiritual nakedness? Will you, if you are a Roman Catholic, continue to seek God’s approval by Masses, indulgences, alms giving, candle lightings, stations of the cross, Lenten fastings, penitential acts, crossings, rosary praying and more so as to “deserve” salvation?

My prayer specifically to my kinsmen according to the religion of Rome is that you strip off your religious robes of works and prostrate yourself before Jesus as a spiritually naked and bankrupt sinner and cry out to him for mercy and grace. For it is written that “[t] he LORD is nigh [near] unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psa 34:18)