I'm making just a quick "hold that thought" note about a complicated topic. This morning after watching Mass on EWTN (Father Pacwa hit his sermon right out of the ballpark, right away, totally excellent, I would have added just one thing :-) there was an excellent brief segment about one of the early church fathers. I'll talk more about who when what later but just want to make this point.
He was a bishop who lived a few centuries after Christ, during a time of terrible on and then off persecutions. The emperors and/or their local people would periodically decide to torture and force Christians to renounce Jesus Christ and worship idols, or die.
This became a huge topic (besides the obvious) in the early Christian Church. Remember that is YOUR church too, there was no "Protestant" versus "false church," you ALL come from the truth and the blood of the one true Church.
The topic was... what to do when a persecution was over with, and people who had denied Christ and thus saved their lives repented and wanted to return to the Church, while those who had not denied Christ had died for the faith. Remember, it was not just words mumbled at the point of a sword. Those who were forced to abandon Christ actually had to now regularly worship idols and false gods, not just cross their fingers behind their back and tell a fib. They truly had to turn their back on Jesus Christ AND actively worship idols.
Some in the Church rightly felt this was unforgivable. However some in the Church rightly felt this was forgivable. This is why there is a "Pope," a "Peter," by the way, not to make stuff up because he feels like it, but to help people to respond to the thorny theological questions of the time when they are in it, I mean, duh. By the way, the Pope during the time of this bishop was martyred in the persecution.
The Popes who reigned during the persecutions came to conclude that this was forgivable and believe you me, that was a really unpopular decision for some. The Popes decided on the side of scripture where Christ said that one should not forgive just once, or seven times, but seventy times seven times. The Popes and the bishops, however, felt that not just a hand wave was needed for such people, but genuine repentence and genuine penance (prayer and deeds) to atone for abandoning Christ.
Now, here is why some people correctly could hold the opposite view-that apostacy or whatever it is called-is not forgivable, and I will advise you how to understand how Christ reconciled the two facts that fuel each side in the debate.
Those who feel it is unforgivable cite the scripture when Christ said that offenses against the Holy Spirit are not forgivable. They correctly understand that denying Jesus Christ and then worshipping idols is an offense against the Holy Spirit. This is why people against forgiveness were not being mean, but were God fearing scripture readers, just like the forgiveness side.
Here is the distinction. Christ is saying to freely forgive genuine human weakness. People who broke under torture, or who feared torture on behalf of themselves and their families, were responding to genuine human weakness. Who cannot forgive genuine human weakness when it is genuinely mourned and repented, and conversion of the heart then occurs? That is why Christ says to forgive them repeatedly, as he would have done.
However, here is where that would not qualify for the repeated or even one time forgiveness. The primary offense against the Holy Spirit is to be cynically willing to sin with the planned assumption that "Hey, I'm going to get forgiven anyways." So those who jumped to worship idols, not doing so out of weakness and terror, but doing so because they figure God is mushy and will just forgive them anyways, they are the ones who will be denied forgiveness because they were committing an offense against the Holy Spirit.
So the "forgiving" side and the "tough" side were equally grounded in scripture and equally correct. They needed to discern the difference between those many who caved in due to genuine terror and weakness, and those who caved in due to attempting to manipulate the forgiveness of God through the Holy Spirit. This is why the Popes and the bishops in general decided on the side of forgiveness, trusting that God in his final judgment will sort out the hopefully minority of those who cynically jumped to abandon Jesus Christ, figuring it didn't really matter to God, who was "sure" to forgive them, anyway.
Here is a modern analogy to make it clearer. Sadly this is an all too common scenario.
A single mother lives with a "boyfriend" who abuses the mother's baby. She does not report the boyfriend until the baby is actually seriously injured or killed, and the cruelty is thus uncovered at the hospital by police.
One such mother scenario is that she is weak and craven and is so scared of the "boyfriend" that she lets the baby be hurt and die. That is still absolutely no excuse, either morally or legally, but she would be "eligible" for lack of better words for appropriate forgiveness after genuine repentence.
The other such mother scenario is that she is weak and craven but also cynically figures that at least she still "has" the boyfriend, and that even when they are caught she can claim that she was too scared to stop the abuse. She is planning ahead her "excuse" for her own selfish reasons (continue to have sex, money or whatever from the boyfriend while he abuses the baby). She, spiritually (and legally, of course) is not eligible for forgiveness, using our analogy.
This, by the way, is one reason the Catholic Church is against the death penalty. They hope against hope that even the worse of the worse can experience genuine conversion and repentence, even if they were cynical about it all their miserable lives.
So I wanted to deeply warn, as I have before, those of you who know the truth of the faith yet continue to deny Jesus Christ and the one true God, obeying him, figuring that you can always do it "later" because good old mushy God and "JC" will "forgive you anyway." That is in the realm of the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. And yes, Protestants, Paul warns against grieving the Holy Spirit too... I know a lot of you feel better when Paul says so "in addition" to Jesus Christ himself! :-)
But those of you who cynically worship idols for money or whatever reasons, including fear, but do not do so from weakness, but from cynical strength, counting on God's mushy and easy forgiveness, even if you are absolved by a priest and so forth, if you are under false pretenses you can well wake up in hell, believe you me, just like the man Jesus talks about in Luke 16.
There is an overflowing abundance of mercy like flowing waters for the genuinely weak and flawed, even if it takes them at the point of the sword to denying Jesus Christ. Manipulators and semi-believers cannot count on that, though, as Jesus Christ, and later Paul, both warn.