Some theologians have a gift for popularizing difficult ideas without over-simplification. Michael Voris is not one of them. In fact, he is not really a theologian at all. He has written and published no books of theology, nor even any articles of theology (that I could find). He presents his theological assertions in video clips that make difficult ideas easy to understand — by oversimplification and distortion to the extent of doctrinal error and outright heresy. And he speaks to his audience, with great condescension, as if his audience were ignorant, and as if his own assertions were indisputable truth. There is no trace of open theological questions, or mysteries beyond complete human comprehension. There is no trace of the complexities that are found in the vast field of Roman Catholic theology. He presents the teachings of Catholicism as if all could be explained in relatively few words, in a very simple manner. As a result, grave doctrinal errors are being taught by him under the guise of Catholic teaching.
In his video on the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, a few different doctrinal errors are asserted by Voris. The worst is his false claim about grace.
“Grace does not appear when I decide to believe. Grace is a free gift of God, of which there are two types: sanctifying and actual grace. Sanctifying grace is the indwelling of the Holy Trinity, which we receive in and through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Actual grace does not abide in us, but acts on us. Hence the name ACTual grace. It suggests to us to seek God and to do good. But neither comes to us as a result of my actions or your actions.” (Voris, video on Amazing Grace)
It is true that grace precedes our acts of love, faith, and hope; that there are two types of grace: sanctifying grace and actual grace; that sanctifying grace is the indwelling of the Trinity. However, sanctifying grace is only received through Baptism, though if lost by actual mortal sin, it may be restored by Confession or possibly by the Anointing of the Sick. It is inaccurate to say that sanctifying grace is received in and through the Sacraments in general.
And sanctifying grace may also be received by a Baptism of desire or of blood, outside of any formal Sacrament, and outside of the visible structure of the Church. This point is neglected by Voris, whose stark words contrasting the Church with everything else in the world suggests a condemnation of all that is formally outside the Church, including all other religions (Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, etc.).
Voris’ description of actual grace is not correct. Actual grace does not merely ‘suggest to us’ that we should seek God and do good. Actual grace enables our will to be free and our intellect to recognize truths on matters of faith and morals. Actual grace precedes, accompanies, and follows our good works done in cooperation with grace. It does not merely suggest that we do good; actual grace enables and assists us, every step of the way, in doing good works in imitation of Christ.
Actual grace is of two types: prevenient and subsequent. In prevenient actual grace, God acts on our free will and our intellect, apart from any cooperation by us, so as to enable our will to be truly free and to enable our intellect to recognize eternal truths. Prevenient grace is not a result of our actions; it is the free unmerited gift of God — merited for us by Christ. Prevenient grace acts on us. But subsequent actual grace requires our cooperation; it is the free exercise of our intellect and will with the grace of God. Subsequent grace acts with us, not merely ‘on us’.
And if we so cooperate with the grace of God, then we do merit additional graces. The claim by Voris that neither sanctifying grace nor actual grace comes to us as a result of our own actions is false and heretical.
For, according to the Council of Trent, the good works that we perform through the grace of God, truly merit for us an increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life. And God is so generous and merciful, that He will that the good works of one who is justified by God be both the gift of God and the merit of him who is justified. So some of the actual graces that we receive are merited by us; they come to us as a result of our free cooperation with grace. The Council also issued an anathema against anyone who would deny this doctrine.
Similarly, though sanctifying grace is a free unmerited gift, merited for us by Christ, we remain in a state of sanctifying grace only because we continue to freely cooperate with that state of grace, at least to the extent of avoiding any actual mortal sin, whether of commission or omission. Furthermore, when adults prepare for Baptism, they cooperate with actual graces while conducting that preparation. So while the initial grace of justification is unmerited and prevenient grace (not cooperating grace), the preparation involves our cooperation with grace, and the continuation in that state of grace involves our cooperation with grace as well.
So both actual grace and sanctifying grace can come to us, to some extent, by our own actions. Some actual graces are merited. The justification of an adult by Baptism of water, or desire, or blood typically involves some prior actions of cooperation with grace on the part of the recipient. Voris’ oversimplification is a serious doctrinal error.
His description of grace is a distortion by oversimplification. But this type of oversimplification is more typical of Protestant fundamentalism. It should be foreign to Catholics, since it is one of the chief errors of Protestants. So while Voris decries Protestantism, and speaks as if there were nothing good left in Protestant Christianity, he commits one of their most common errors: fundamentalism, the oversimplification of a religion to the extent of grave moral or doctrinal error.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Biblical scholar
Thank you for this clarification. I do believe the types of errors made by Voris are not the kind that will cost souls. You agree with him that Catholic apostasy is underway; his scoldings are consistently aimed at American Catholics and their Church hierarchy. Not only is his outrage justified, his zeal brings out a strong emotional response from the viewer. His candid talk about hell, contraception, abortion and homosexuality is geared for persons “on the street,” and the 4-8 minute snippets are perfect for posting on Facebook. He has a knack for showing us how far we as Catholics have fallen, and makes his point quickly in order to capture the typical attention span he is aiming at. The shock value demands comments and feedback, while competing with the other nonsense on social media. He occasionally revisits his personal sinful past and conversion, and posts his credentials without pretending to be anything more than STB.