Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Straight to heaven…by Scripture alone?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 02, 2023

In Divine Providence there may be no such thing as a coincidence, but through a combination of timely interventions I am currently reviewing two very different Catholic books at the same time. When I say “reviewing”, I do not mean writing a review, though that is also true. I mean acquainting myself with the contents of the two books by a careful examination, in the sense of “reviewing the material”. If I were to be so foolish as to offer full disclosure, I would admit that this “reviewing” process does not always involve reading a book word for word. That’s a very labor-intensive way of broadly assessing the overall quality of a book and its particular value.

You can learn a great deal about a book by looking at the table of contents, reading the introduction and conclusion, paging through to see how subtitles are used (if any), and sampling a chapter or two. Such a course typically allows the reviewer to decide whether a book is (a) Clearly written; (b) Interesting; (c) Well organized; (d) Helpful with respect to its subject; (e) Suited to its target audience; and (f) In the context of what one may know of the relevant alternatives, worth recommending.

Everybody ignores most books altogether, of course. Of those I am offered for review, sometimes the publisher’s or the author’s name is enough to discourage interest. Of those from publishers with good Catholic judgment, I will keep on my desk any that look like timely treatments of worthwhile topics, and I will try to make that judgment with respect to not only my own interests but also the interests of significant proportions of the audience of When I get the chance I will examine these more closely and decide whether I am interested enough (for either myself or my audience) to dig into them more deeply.

For those that look very like “keepers”, I’ll go through something very like the process I describe above. In the case of the two books I am considering today, I’ve done all that and, in addition, have read the first third of each book. Moreover, they are both good enough that, as time permits, I’ll skim, with occasional slow-downs, through the rest of them. As my overall title suggests, the first book is a thumbnail guide on how to get to heaven, and the second is a critique of the Protestant principle of “Biblical Perspicuity”—the conviction that the plain meaning of Scripture is so clear that anyone who reads it with an open heart can learn all he needs to know about God’s plan and how to get to Heaven.

But if I had not, for whatever reason, been looking them over at the same time, I would not have realized how well these two fit together. For they both deal with the same fundamental issue: The path to eternal happiness.

Straight to heaven…

Fr. T. G. Morrow, in his new book Straight to Heaven from Sophia Institute Press, offers “a practical guide for growing in holiness”. Divided into three parts, the book covers Motivations for Holiness (four chapters), The Life of Grace (thirteen chapters), and The Life of Virtue (six chapters).

Obviously these topics can be made either interesting or dull, depending primarily on the manner of presentation. For example, one could not only organize them in the form of a basic catechism (which Fr. Morrow has done very well) but also treat them as an exercise in rote memorization of formulaic statements (which Fr. Morrow has avoided very well). The book is written not only to instruct but to engage and inspire. Its target audience is not those who have to master some basic facts in order to qualify, perhaps, for the reception of a sacrament, but those who are actually wondering how they can improve their spiritual life and so draw closer to God and be with Him forever in Heaven.

For such readers it is a simple, practical guide peppered with vignettes from the lives of the saints and timely quotations, so that each topic is presented in an engaging, illuminating and transformative way. The presentation is not formulaically memorizable: It is simply memorable.

Fr. Morrow was ordained in 1982 for the Archdiocese of Washington, and has a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He has hosted radio programs as well as appearing on EWTN, and has written many books and booklets which make key aspects of the Catholic Faith easy to understand, to put into practice and to love (see also Catholic Faith Alive!).

But before we leave him to get on with his work, I will share just one of his very apt stories—one that illustrates the problems we all face when trying to concentrate at prayer:

St. Bernard was out riding with a friend once and lamented his distractions in prayer. His friend remarked that he was never distracted in prayer. Bernard said he found that hard to believe and offered to give his friend the horse he was riding if the friend could stop right there, kneel down, and say one Our Father without a single distraction. His companion accepted the challenge. He dismounted, knelt down and began to pray out loud. When he got to the words “give us this day our daily bread” he stopped, looked up at St. Bernard, and asked: “Do I get the saddle too?”

Been there, done that. And precisely because of its combination of depth and simplicity, this very easy-to-read book can be used by anyone, with the kind of encouraging enjoyment which leads to spiritual growth.

…from Scripture alone?

With the second book, we are in academic—but still readable and enjoyable—territory. Casey Chalk has a Master’s Degree in Theology from the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College, and has written widely for a number of conservative and Catholic magazines—not to mention another book on courageous Christians living iunder Muslim rule. A convert from Calvinism to Catholicism, Chalk has produced a definitive critique of the Protestant idea that the plain meaning of Scripture is clear to all those who read with a pure heart—that is, the Protestant idea of “Biblical perspicuity”.

His book, which I regard as yet another triumph from Emmaus Road Publishing, is introduced by Scott Hahn. The title is The Obscurity of Scripture; the subtitle is “Disputing Sola Scriptura and the Protestant Notion of Biblical Perspicuity”. Unlike what Julius Caesar found to be the case in Gaul, the book is divided into just two parts:

  1. Hitting (and Demolishing) Protestant Bedrock: Seven chapters which explore the nature and problem of the idea of perspicuity in Protestantism, its philosophical and question-begging weaknesses, the irresolvable conflict with ecclesiastical authority which results in constant splintering, and the utter historical failure of the principle of Scriptural perspicuity.
  2. A Different Model for Scriptural Interpretation, and Answering Objections: Five chapters covering the Catholic understanding of Scripture, the rejection of perspicuity by the Fathers, a consideration of “proof texts” relating to perspicuity, a consideration of “proof texts” relating to interpretive authority, and answers to common objections to what some consider Catholic obscurantism.

Chalk deals his material with a deft hand. It would be possible, of course, to dismiss the Protestant principle of Scriptural perspicuity on the sheer basis of its results in the constant fracturing of Protestantism and its common commitment over time to an ever-diminishing set of certain truths. It is, as Chalk points out, a separatist system in which people preserve a fictitious perspicuity of Scripture simply by separating from each other so each group can be comfortable in its own undebated grasp of that perspicuity. Famous convert after famous convert has fled “back to Rome” precisely to save (rather than, as alleged, to abandon) his intellectual sanity.

But Chalk has studied his subject extensively. He presents strong evidence of the different ways in which Protestant theologians have themselves grappled with and ultimately defined their notion of Scriptural perspicuity. He distinguishes concerns that have merit from those that simply beg the question. He provides every opportunity to those whose position he goes on to refute. And he leaves ample room (as he must) for a Catholic to draw spiritual nourishment from Scripture with the genuine assistance of the Holy Spirit, without elevating each personal insight into a dogma which challenges the fundamental authority of the Church Christ established as our sure and certain guide.

There are many who will find this study fascinating, of which I am one. But no one who understands it can find in it an example of Catholic tyranny. We can all develop our own personal relationship with God’s Word without any danger whatsoever. The secret is to read Scripture always with and from the heart of that same Church which Christ Himself established to recognize and preserve it whole—and without which we cannot even begin to read Scripture, since we cannot distinguish what is inspired from what is not.

Rev. T. G. Morrow, Straight to Heaven. Sophia Institute Press, 2022. 200pp. Paper $17.95; eBook $9.99.

Casey J. Chalk, The Obscurity of Scripture. Emmaus Road, 2023. 306pp. Hardcover $24.95; eBook $18.95.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Jun. 04, 2023 6:21 AM ET USA

    Perhaps it would do well to dovetail the latest postings from the Beard and the Bard and come up with, 500 years is more than enough to prove the [protestant] revolution did not work?