Aquinas and Trent: Part 3

Mar 24th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles

In this third post in this series, I examine what St. Thomas Aquinas says about the effects of sin, and in particular his discussion of the corruption of human nature by sin. Is human nature entirely corrupted by sin? If not, how can human nature be partly corrupted and partly uncorrupted by sin? What are the four wounds of nature? Is death the result of sin?

The Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; The Expulsion from Paradise

The Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; The Expulsion from Paradise
(Mid 12th Century)
Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel
Palermo, Sicily

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Corruption of Human Nature as an Effect of Sin

The purpose of this series is to understand and explain the theological rationale underlying Sessions Five and Six of the Council of Trent, particularly insofar as it drew from the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. To review this series, see Part 1, which introduces the series, and Part 2, on the essence of original sin.

Aquinas addresses the effects of sin in Questions 85-87 of Pars Prima Secundae of his Summa Theologiae. The effects of sin, according to Aquinas, are three-fold: corruption, stain, and debt. In Question 85 he considers the corruption of the good of nature. In Question 86 he considers the stain on the soul. And in Question 87 he considers the debt of punishment. In this post, I will present a short overview of Aquinas’ teaching in Question 85 on the corruption of nature as an effect of sin.

Sin Diminishes the Good of Human Nature

In the first article, Aquinas teaches that sin diminishes the good of nature [diminuat bonum naturae]. First he explains the three ways in which human nature is good. He writes:

The good of human nature is threefold. First, there are the principles of which nature is constituted, and the properties that flow from them, such as the powers of the soul, and so forth. Secondly, since man has from nature an inclination to virtue, as stated above (60, 1; 63, 1), this inclination to virtue is a good of nature. Thirdly, the gift of original justice, conferred on the whole of human nature in the person of the first man, may be called a good of nature.1

Let’s look more carefully at these three ways, according to Aquinas, that human nature can be good. First, human nature is good in the very principles of nature (i.e. the principles out of which nature is constituted) and in the properties that follow upon these principles. By ‘principles’ here he is referring to the internal principles of form and matter.2  From our form and matter we have the properties and powers that are natural to members of our kind. Aquinas gives as an example the powers of the soul, since the soul’s powers follow from the kind of soul that it is. A rational soul, for example, has by its very nature the power of rationality. Why are these principles good? They are good because one of the three ways in which a thing is perfect is that in which its being consists, [quod in suo esse constituitur], and everything is good insofar as it is perfect.3

Second, human nature is good in its natural inclination to virtue. Man’s reason, according to Aquinas, naturally comes to know both the first principles of knowledge and the first principles of action.4  The very first principle of action, for example, is that good should be done and evil avoided. These first principles, according to Aquinas, are the nurseries [seminalia] of the intellectual and moral vitues. Furthermore, man’s will, according to Aquinas, has a natural appetite for the-good-which-is-according-to-reason [naturalis appetitus boni quod est secundum rationem].5

The third way in which human nature can be good is by way of the gift of original righteousness, which I discussed in Part 2 when explaining the “harmony of original justice.” These three ways in which human nature can be good are not equally affected by sin. Aquinas writes:

Accordingly, the first-mentioned good of nature is neither destroyed nor diminished by sin. The third good of nature was entirely destroyed through the sin of our first parent. But the second good of nature, viz. the natural inclination to virtue, is diminished by sin. Because human acts produce an inclination to like acts, as stated above (Question 50, Article 1). Now from the very fact that thing becomes inclined to one of two contraries, its inclination to the other contrary must needs be diminished. Wherefore as sin is opposed to virtue, from the very fact that a man sins, there results a diminution of that good of nature, which is the inclination to virtue.6

So according to Aquinas, the good of human nature in its very principles, is neither destroyed nor diminished by sin. Sin does not make us into a different species, let alone into a species of lesser goodness. After sin we remain in essence human (i.e. rational animal), even though in our behavior we fall short of what we are by nature.7  By contrast, the good we had in the gift of original righteousness, i.e. the harmony of original justice, was entirely destroyed by Adam’s sin.

But according to Aquinas the second good of human nature, that is, the good of our natural inclination to virtue, is diminished [diminuitur] by sin. This is because our actions affect our inclinations. An inclination or disposition is an act in potency. Dispositions exist in powers of the soul. If a particular power of the soul can operate in different ways, then repeated acts in one particular way by means of that power implant in that power a potency to act in that particular way. This is how habits are formed. And this is what Aquinas is talking about when he says that “human acts produce an inclination to like acts”. Now, if something becomes inclined to one of two contraries (e.g. good or evil), it follows that its inclination to the other contrary must be diminished. Therefore, since sin is the contrary of virtue, then from the fact that a man sins, it follows that the good that consists in his inclination to virtue must diminish.

Sin Cannot Remove the Entire Good of Human Nature

In Article 2, Aquinas argues that sin cannot remove the entire good of human nature. He first shows that this must be true, on account of the ontological relation between good and evil. In the Sed contra he writes:

Augustine says (Enchiridion xiv) that “evil does not exist except in some good.” But the evil of sin cannot be in the good of virtue or of grace, because they are contrary to it. Therefore it must be in the good of nature, and consequently it does not destroy it entirely.8

The Manichees were dualists who held that good and evil were two fundamental principles, neither more fundamental than the other. St. Augustine (354-430) had been a ‘hearer’ among the Manichees for nine years, until in 383 he encountered the renowned Manichee named Faustus, and started seeing problems with Manichaeism. In 386, as a professor of rhetoric in Milan, he encountered the Neo-Platonic alternative to the dualist philosophy of the Manichees. The Neo-Platonists explained evil not as a principle equally fundamental to goodness, but rather as a privation of goodness. This position was philosophically superior to that of the Manichees, and later, as a Christian, St. Augustine found that it fit beautifully with the data of Christian revelation. It treated being and goodness as the same in referent, differing only in sense (i.e. concept). Because being and goodness are the same in referent, therefore a privation of goodness is also a privation of being. Therefore, there could be no such thing as pure evil, for it would have no being.

That conclusion grounds the argument that Aquinas makes here. The evil of sin is in some sense present in sinful man. But because there can be no such thing as pure evil, therefore evil can exist only parasitically in some good. Since sin cannot be in virtue or in grace, because they are contrary to sin, therefore sin in man must be in the good of man’s nature. But if sin entirely destroyed the good of human nature, then sin could not exist in the good of human nature. Therefore, because sin is present in man, it follows that sin does not entirely destroy the good of human nature.

In his Responseo Aquinas continues:

As stated above (Article 1), the good of nature, that is diminished by sin, is the natural inclination to virtue, which is befitting to man from the very fact that he is a rational being; for it is due to this that he performs actions in accord with reason, which is to act virtuously. Now sin cannot entirely take away from man the fact that he is a rational being, for then he would no longer be capable of sin. Wherefore it is not possible for this good of nature to be destroyed entirely.9

Here he refers back to his argument in article 1, to show that the good of nature that is diminished by sin is the natural inclination to virtue. We have this natural inclination to virtue because we are by nature rational beings, and our rational power is by nature our highest power. Furthermore, what makes an action virtuous is that it is in accord with reason. So in order for a being to sin, that being must have a rational nature, because a non-rational being (e.g. a plant or a cat) cannot sin. But since sin does not make us no longer capable of sin, therefore sin cannot make us into something other than a rational being by nature. And since our natural inclination to virtue follows from the very fact that we are rational beings by nature, therefore because sin cannot make us into something other than a rational being by nature, it follows that sin cannot entirely destroy our natural inclination to virtue, even though sin can diminish our natural inclination to virtue.

In the last section of his argument in this article, Aquinas explains that our natural inclination to virtue lies between our rational nature and virtue. Our natural inclination to virtue has as its root [radice] our rational nature, and has as its term and end the good of virtue. Because our rational nature cannot be diminished by sin, therefore our natural inclination to virtue cannot be diminished at its root. But, our natural inclination to virtue can be diminished with respect to attaining its end (i.e. virtue), because by sin an obstacle [impedimentum] is placed against its attaining its end. Since our natural inclination to virtue cannot be diminished at its root, but only at its term, therefore our natural inclination to virtue cannot be destroyed entirely, because the root of this inclination always remains [semper manet radix talis inclinationis].

The Four Wounds of Nature Consequent Upon Sin

In the third article, Aquinas explains the four wounds consequent upon sin. He writes:

As a result of original justice, the reason had perfect hold over the lower parts of the soul, while reason itself was perfected by God, and was subject to Him. Now this same original justice was forfeited through the sin of our first parent, as already stated (81, 2); so that all the powers of the soul are left, as it were, destitute of their proper order, whereby they are naturally directed to virtue; which destitution is called a wounding of nature.10

First, he briefly describes what original justice was, and the general result of its loss. I have discussed already in Part 2 of this series Aquinas’ explanation of original justice (also called original righteousness). By the loss of this original justice through Adam’s sin, the powers of the soul were left, as it were, destitute of their proper order [destitutae proprio ordine], whereby they were naturally ordered to virtue [quo naturaliter ordinantur ad virtutem]. This destitution of their proper order, he says, is called a wounding of nature [vulneratio naturae]. He continues:

Again, there are four of the soul’s powers that can be subject of virtue, as stated above (Question 61, Article 2), viz. the reason, where prudence resides, the will, where justice is, the irascible, the subject of fortitude, and the concupiscible, the subject of temperance. Therefore in so far as the reason is deprived of its order to the true, there is the wound of ignorance; in so far as the will is deprived of its order of good, there is the wound of malice; in so far as the irascible is deprived of its order to the arduous, there is the wound of weakness; and in so far as the concupiscible is deprived of its order to the delectable, moderated by reason, there is the wound of concupiscence.11

There are four wounds of nature consequent upon sin, because the soul has four powers that can be subject to virtue: reason [ratio], in which is the virtue of prudence [prudentia], will [voluntas], in which is the virtue of justice, the irascible appetite [irascibilis], in which is the virtue of fortitude, and the concupiscible appetite [concupiscibilis], in which is the virtue of temperance [temperantia]. These four virtues are called the cardinal or ‘hinge’ virtues, because all the other moral virtues depend upon them. Insofar as reason is deprived of its order to the true, there is the wound of ignorance. Insofar as the will is deprived of its order to the good, there is the wound of malice [malitiae], which Aquinas describes as a certain proneness of the will to evil [pronitate voluntatis ad malum].12  Insofar as the irascible appetite is deprived of its order to the arduous good, there is the wound of weakness [infirmitatis]. And insofar as the concupiscible appetite is deprived of its order to the delectable-moderated-by-reason [delectabile moderatum ratione], there is the wound of concupiscence. Aquinas continues:

Accordingly these are the four wounds inflicted on the whole of human nature as a result of our first parent’s sin. But since the inclination to the good of virtue is diminished in each individual on account of actual sin, as was explained above (Question 1, Article 2), these four wounds are also the result of other sins, in so far as, through sin, the reason is obscured, especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult and concupiscence more impetuous.13

These four wounds were inflicted on the whole of human nature as a result of Adam’s sin. But these four wounds are not the same as original sin. Original sin is the loss of the third good described in Article 1 above, namely, the good of original righteousness. But the four wounds, though consequent on sin, are due to the loss (in the sense of diminution, not total destruction) of the second good described in Article 1 above, namely, the good of our natural inclination to virtue. Therefore, since original righteous was wholly destroyed upon Adam’s sin, original sin cannot be made worse by additional sinful acts. By contrast, because human acts produce an inclination to like acts in the very powers through which those acts are performed, and because the four wounds are wounds to the powers in their natural inclinations to their respective virtues, therefore the four wounds can be made worse by additional sinful acts.14

Death and Other Bodily Defects are not Natural to Man, but are a Result of Sin

In Articles 5 and 6 Aquinas argues that death and bodily defects are results of sin, and are not natural to man. According to Aquinas in Article 5, sin is the cause of death and of all bodily defects, because sin removed the original justice our first parents enjoyed. By this original justice the lower powers of the soul were held subject to reason, without any disorder whatsoever. But original justice was not only the ordered harmony of the powers of the soul to each other; it also included the subjection of the whole body to the soul, without any bodily defect.15  Therefore, by the loss of original justice, our first parents lost the perfect subjection of the body to the soul. This is why the body is now subject to defect and corruption (i.e. bodily decay).

We might then ask why, when all our sin, both original and actual, is removed at baptism, the defects of the body remain. Aquinas answers:

Both original and actual sin are removed by the same cause that removes these defects, according to the Apostle (Romans 8:11): “He . . . shall quicken . . . your mortal bodies, because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you”: but each is done according to the order of Divine wisdom, at a fitting time. Because it is right that we should first of all be conformed to Christ’s sufferings, before attaining to the immortality and impassibility of glory, which was begun in Him, and by Him acquired for us. Hence it behooves that our bodies should remain, for a time, subject to suffering, in order that we may merit the impassibility of glory, in conformity with Christ.16

According to Aquinas God does not without reason allow us to suffer in these decaying bodies during this present life. Through our suffering, we are conformed to Christ’s sufferings, and may merit the impassibility of glory, in conformity with Christ.

In Article 6 Aquinas argues that death and bodily defects are not natural to man. He writes:

[W]e must observe that the form of man which is the rational soul, in respect of its incorruptibility is adapted to its end, which is everlasting happiness: whereas the human body, which is corruptible, considered in respect of its nature, is, in a way, adapted to its form, and, in another way, it is not.17

Aquinas has argued elsewhere that the form of man, which is the rational soul, is incorruptible, by which he means that it naturally subsists per se; it is naturally not in potency to dissolution so as to cease to exist.18  Here he says that the human soul, in respect of its incorruptibility, is adapted to its end, which is everlasting happiness. But the human body, which is corruptible, is in one way adapted to its form, and in another way is not.

As an illustration Aquinas notes that the smith, in order to make a knife, chooses a matter that is hard and can be sharpened. Since iron meets these criteria, the smith chooses to use iron to make the knife. But iron by its very nature is also breakable and disposed to rust. Those qualities of iron are not the reasons the smith chooses to use iron in order to make the knife. Aquinas then concludes:

In like manner the human body is the matter chosen by nature in respect of its being of a mixed temperament, in order that it may be most suitable as an organ of touch and of the other sensitive and motive powers. Whereas the fact that it is corruptible is due to a condition of matter, and is not chosen by nature: indeed nature would choose an incorruptible matter if it could. But God, to Whom every nature is subject, in forming man supplied the defect of nature, and by the gift of original justice, gave the body a certain incorruptibility, as was stated in the I, 97, 1. It is in this sense that it is said that “God made not death,” and that death is the punishment of sin.19

Just as iron is breakable and disposed to rust, though those are not the qualities for which it is chosen to be the knife’s matter, so likewise the body is corruptible due to a condition of matter (for matter is naturally corruptible) though its corruptibility was not the reason it was chosen to be that which the soul informed. More suited to the nature of the soul would have been an incorruptible body. But in forming man, God supplied [supplevit] the defect of nature [defectum naturae], and by the gift of original justice, which ordered the corruptible body to the incorruptible soul, gave to the body a certain incorruptibility [incorruptibilitatem quandam]. By “certain incorruptibility” here Aquinas means a mediated incorruptibility, one that is extrinsic to the body as such, and dependent upon its ordered  relation to something else. By the gift of original justice the body was not made intrinsically incorruptible, but by this gift the body was made incorruptible-by-relation to the soul. So when Adam and Eve forfeited their original justice through sin, they thereby forfeited the mediated incorruptibility their bodies had enjoyed. Death thus entered into the world, through sin.

[A]s through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men ….” (Romans 5:12)

Part 4 can be found here.

  1. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.1. co. []
  2. See his work titled De principiis naturae [On the Principles of Nature]. []
  3. Aquinas explains this three-fold goodness elsewhere when he says: “For everything is called good according to its perfection. Now perfection of a thing is threefold: first, according to the constitution of its own being; secondly, in respect of any accidents being added as necessary for its perfect operation; thirdly, perfection consists in the attaining to something else as the end.” [Summa Theologiae I Q.6 a.3 co.] []
  4. Those are the first principles of speculative reason and the first principles of practical reason, respectively. []
  5. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.63 a.1 []
  6. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.1. co. []
  7. He defends this claim in the next article. []
  8. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.2. sc. []
  9. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.2. co. []
  10. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.3. co. []
  11. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.3. co. []
  12. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.3 ad 2 []
  13. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.3. co. []
  14. I am passing over Article 4 in order to shorten and simplify this summary of Question 85. []
  15. Cf. Summa Theologiae I Q.97 a.1 []
  16. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.5 ad 2 []
  17. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.6 co. []
  18. Summa Theologiae I Q.75 a.6 []
  19. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.85 a.6 co. []
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  1. This is a very important topic to discuss and point out. The problem is that Protestants don’t distinguish between the good/righteousness due to sanctifying grace and that which is due to human nature itself. They mix/conflate the 1st and 3rd type of good, though even that is inaccurate because the 3rd involves the Indwelling presence of God, which cannot be conflated with creation. They base man’s ‘original righteousness’ on a sound human nature, thus when Adam fell it was seen as nature itself turning bad, similar to an apple turning rotten, the “rotten” part was evil/sinful human nature. This is especially significant in their view of ‘concupiscience’ (very different than the Catholic view) which historical Protestant confessions compare to a POISONED water source, contaminating everything it produces. This is a subtle form of Manichaeanism, as the Catholic encyclopedia points out:

    And if Protestants have a radically different view of Original Sin, they are obviously going to have a radically different view of Salvation. Thus, the ‘dispute’ goes far, far deeper than justification by ‘faith’ versus ‘works’.

  2. Nick,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that this is important. It may not seem important, but as you said, the disagreements about justification have their roots in part in the philosophical differences regarding philosophical anthropology. That’s why I’m putting time into these posts on original sin and the effects of sin. In order to answer the question, “What was original righteousness?” we must first know what is a human being, and understand how Trent understood the answer to that question.

    At some point (eventually!) I intend to write a post on the two ends of man: the natural and supernatural. If we don’t recognize that distinction, then either the supernatural end is mistakenly collapsed into (i.e. reduced to) the natural end, or the natural end is [falsely] treated as if it is the supernatural end. And both errors have serious consequences. The latter error deprives man of the beatific vision. But the former error makes grace no longer gratuitous, for a thing is owed what is needed for it to attain its natural end. It also blurs the Creator-creature distinction, because the rational creature is then already by its created nature proportionate to the divine nature so as to enjoy the beatific vision. That is why Pelagianism is not just a heresy with respect to fallen man, but also with respect to man in his pre-Fall state.

    What Aquinas is showing here is that sin cannot remove the 1st type of good, because sin is parasitic on a rational nature. So man must retain his rational nature, in order for sin to remain. Hence, the 1st type of good must remain intact after the Fall. Understanding evil as a privation of good is critical for avoiding the Manichean notion of concupiscence.

    Thanks again for your comments Nick.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. As unpopular, or should I say unknown, as this specific issue is, I believe it is truly the key for Protestants to come home. I believe this specific issue has been missed and ignored, and that’s what’s kept the division alive for so long, but in our lifetime it is going to pick up steam and become a major focal point which Catholics and Protestants will spend their time on rather than flinging verses back and forth but going nowhere.

    I don’t mean to steal your thunder or anything like that, but here is a good blog of a Catholic who is very active on the nature-grace distinction:

    The days of ‘countering’ Romans 3:28 versus James 2:24 are fading away.

  4. Interesting discussion. What, according to the Catholic view is “dead” (as Paul refers to it in Eph 2:1)?

  5. Jeremy,

    In the Catholic view, the more important question is not “What is dead?” (the answer being: the soul), but “In what sense is it dead?” The soul is not dead in every sense, because the soul is the life of the body. So if the soul were dead in every sense, the body too would be dead, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. :-) So, in what sense is the soul of fallen man dead? The Catechism says, “In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.” (CCC 981) It is the soul that is dead, and the soul is dead in the sense that it has not the life of God. That is why “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him”. (John 6:44) In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had the life of God. That is, they had the grace by which we are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). This is the grace by which they were able to fellowship with God, with the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. By sinning, they lost that grace, lost that participation in the life of God, and hence became dead in their sins. So the death there in Eph 2:1 should not be taken to mean that fallen man can do nothing good, but that fallen man (i.e. man without grace) can do nothing proportionate to the life of God, that is, nothing that leads to eternal life.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. I’m posting to make a suggestion for what I think is an important issue.

    There does not appear to be an “notify me by email of new comments” check-box on this blog (though most every other blog has the option), so any new posts to this discussion risk being missed or forgotten about. I suggest you enable that option.

    I would also add to the comment about “dead” in sin. Yes, it is the soul, and it is important to note that does not mean dead in the way many Protestants think. A good example for the Catholic understanding of “dead” is the prodigal son in Luke 15 where the lost son is called “dead” twice, yet while ‘dead’ he clearly could still think (even along spiritual lines) but this did no good (for his salvation) unless and until he reunited with his life giving Father.

    I don’t want to get carried away here, but what many overlook when quoting Eph 2:1-3 is that the way Paul says we get “saved” is by an infusing grace into the soul, making it alive (Eph 2:5). I actually wrote an apologetics article showing how the Catholic view of Eph 2:8 makes much better sense:

  7. Nick thanks for bringing that up. I’ll definitely look into how to do that. If you know how, please let me know!

  8. Thanks Nick/Bryon for response. For years I understood the Catholic doctrine of sin as “watered down”, you’re helping me to see that is incorrect. In traditional Reformed theology, however, it has long been taught that a believer’s love for Jesus will be in direct relation to their knowledge of their own sin. I think the parable of the two debtors in Luke 7 supports this. Spurgeon would put it, “If you’re sin is great than your Savior must be great, but if your sin is small…” So my question is; would Catholic Theology agree with Spurgeon’s point? My concern is that if we measure our sanctificatin by infused grace, then eventually, we’ll see ourselves having less of a need for grace. Does that make sense? Thanks, Jeremy

  9. Dear Jeremy,

    I think there is something to the idea that he who’s forgiven little loves little, and he who’s forgiven much loves much. What I’m not sure I see is why this would be a problem for Catholic soteriology, or why Reformed theology should have an “edge” on this point. You suggest the possibility that since sanctification involves infused grace, the more sanctified (i.e. the more infused with grace) we are, the less we’ll think of grace. But this does not seem to me to follow, inasmuch as our sanctification is being chalked up to grace in the first place; and if we attribute “where we are” in the process of conversion and holiness to grace, I am unclear about why this should make us less impressed with it. But notice, in addition, that Reformed theology would suffer from the same problem, if this were a problem. For Reformed theology also attributes sanctification to infused grace, or to a work of the Spirit working in and through us, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. So if progress in sanctification is supposed to conflict with our need for or appreciation of grace, then any view on which Christians progress in sanctification would have to confront the same problem (including the Reformed).

    This, I think, should suggest that there is something wrong with the argument that appreciation for grace or the greatness of God in salvation must decrease proportionately as God’s grace takes effect in our lives. And, on the face of it, it seems somewhat backward to be concerned that, if God’s grace really works, if it is really effectual in bringing about personal holiness, then that should make us less grateful toward the God of grace. Does that help?


  10. I don’t think my theology is strait on this point in knowing exactly what either Reformation theology or Catholicism teaches. I’ve had a fair amount of exposure to Catholic Priests and very devout Catholics and in terms of Christian identity, Reformed Pastors seem to stress “I am the chief of all sinners” as Paul did in 1st Tim 3, wheras this view does not seem to be as strongly held in Catholcism. I know this is a subjective observation, but it seems to be fairly consistent in what I’ve seen. Would the Priest’s you know view themselves as “the chief of all sinners”? My guess is that much of this comes from “simul justus et pecator” which constitutes the way many Protestants understand themselves after conversion.

  11. Hi, Jeremy:

    I think I’ve had a somewhat similar experience. Everyone should be able to recognize their own sin and the depths from which they’ve been saved, but how this finds expression may differ from case to case. For just one example, one of my former PCA elders argued against singing a particular hymn during worship, because it said something about our loving God in it. He said: “I do not love God. I hate God. Every day I wake up and shake my fist at God and spit in his face!” This is an extreme example, but it is guided by a theology which keeps Christ and His righteousness external to us, and thinks that God is most glorified and praised when everything else in the universe is declared to be really bad. (It is perhaps not a necessary result, but surely an understandable result, of misunderstanding soli deo gloria and the forensic elements of justification. It is also, in a weird way, potentially a function of pride.) At any rate, you are not likely to hear a priest saying something like this in front of his choir, and certainly not in a didactic or instructional capacity.

    Overall, I think it would be helpful to distinguish between what we are saved from or pulled out of — we were once in Adam, dead in sin, etc. — and where God has taken us and is taking us. No matter how far along we are in our sanctification, we can and should always recognize and remember what we were pulled out of, that we were transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom and life of God’s beloved Son. Indeed, the more sanctified we become, I should think, the more our gratitude for this will take hold of us and find expression in thanks and praise. But we should never say, whether from the Catholic or Reformed perspective, that as we grow in God’s grace, we become less and less needy, or that somehow what we were saved from is no longer all that bad.

    Last, there is a Catholic (Augustinian) way of understanding simul iustus et peccator that does not entail a purely forensic righteousness (with complete interior dunghillness). But even putting that aside, it is important to remember that even if the Reformed Christian thinks we are just legally justified sinners now, that is not always how we will be. We will be made perfectly holy and inherently righteous, in the life of the world to come. Else we could not stand before a holy God. (See on this point all of WCF 13.) But even after we’ve been there 10,000 years, all shiney like the sun and whatnot, we’ll still be singing His praise for saving us from sin, delivering us from sinfulness, and bringing us there, right? So if becoming more and more inherently holy means it should be harder and harder to thank God for delivering us, or more difficult to genuinely see the depths from which we’ve been rescued, then heaven ought to be the hardest place on earth (:-)) to worship. But that sounds like a reductio ad absurdum to me.

    What the Catholic thinks, as Frank Beckwith sometimes puts it, is that Catholicism isn’t only about getting me into heaven, it is also about getting heaven into me. And that can happen right now. This is something the Reformed can agree with. If popular Calvinist piety finds expression chiefly by talking about how sinful we all are, rather than giving God glory for His saints and His work in us, then I think that can be explained by a somewhat lopsided emphasis in some (maybe not all?) Reformed folks’ views. But I don’t think any reflective Calvinist should see a problem with (a) being made holy by God’s grace and (b) actually thanking and praising God for the grace that makes you holy.


    PS: Another subjective observation: when I go to confession, after my priest pronounces the formula of absolution, the last thing he asks of me is to pray for him, “for I am a sinner as well.” Catholics aren’t oblivious to sin, what it cost for God to make atonement for sin, and so on. Not in my experience. But there may not be the same drive to prove to everyone how thoroughly you understand and embrace the T part of the TULIP. That does seem to be a more Reformed phenomenon.

  12. “Reformed Pastors seem to stress ‘I am the chief of all sinners’ as Paul did in 1st Tim 3, wheras this view does not seem to be as strongly held in Catholcism. ”

    I don’t agree with this (insofar as I am understanding it) and that’s because of the fact that even in the traditional and ancient Mass, the Catholic priest is the first to say penance in front of the congregation at the very start of the Mass, declaring first and foremost he is indeed a sinner before God and confesses, therefore, his “most grievous fault”.

    This, too, takes place in the current Novus Ordo Missae. The only difference being whereas before, the Confiteor of the priest was said separately from (and primarily before) that of the congregation, now both the priest and his congregation join together in confessing the Mea Culpa.

  13. Thanks, Roma. I had the confiteor playing in my head while I was writing that. I do prefer the traditional “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” with the threefold striking of the breast, to the novus ordo confiteor. I still reach up and strike the breast because it feels so right, but I’m never sure whether I should do it during “I have sinned through my own fault” or during the “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do” part. It’s either 3 strikes for one phrase or 1 strike to few for the four!

  14. Neil,

    Actually, it is I who should be thanking you.

    I’m really enjoying — not to mention, learning substantially (at least, from what I’m able to digest ;^) ) — from much of your detailed responses to such inquiries concerning reformed theology.

    Keep it up, brutha!

  15. Neal, I believe the rubrics for the Novus Ordo call for a strike of the breast at “through my own fault” though its been my experience that this is rarely printed in missalettes.

  16. Yeah, the rubrics call for striking the breast on each of the three “mea culpa”‘s. Since the three has been perfidiously reduced to one in English, the three strikes of the breast have been reduced to one, but it’s still on “through my own fault.”

  17. But now, looking at this, I’m am not so sure:

    The Novus Ordo in Latin retains the three-fold mea culpa and the rubric to strike your breast proceeds it. The English, uh, translation?, doesn’t really match. And the rubric to strike ones breast comes before ““in my thoughts and in my words . . .”, so I’m confused.

  18. Is there any particular reason why you gentlemen insist on making a mockery of the Confiteor, whether in the Novus or in the Tridentine?

    Some folks would sorrowfully acknowledge their sins by such Confiteor before almighty God while others simply sophomorically make fun of it with even Pharisaic smugness.

  19. Er, Roma, I think you were reading my remark with the wrong mental intonations or something. I really do like the confiteor, and I really do like physically responding in the specified way. And I really wasn’t sure about how best to do it in the N.O. translation. (I am not one of the N.O. despisers; perhaps you thought I was, and so thought I was being disrespectful?)

    Chad, thanks. That is where I actually do it (“my own fault”), because it’s done during the mea culpa part in the Latin, and that’s the closest translation for mea culpa, etc.

    So now I know I’m doing it right! Cool!


  20. Roma? I’m not following you. I’ve read all the comments above and I can’t figure out what you’re referring to. Am I missing something?

  21. Nick, comments now have a “notify me” check box. Thanks again for suggesting it!

  22. Thanks Neal, very helpful thoughts. I am interested in what you briefly referred to as far as a Catholic way of understanding imul iustus et peccator. I read something from Karl Adam that the Coming Home Network sent me where he said the same thing. What would you recommend? Is such an understanding supported anywhere by the magisterium?

  23. Jeremy,

    See St. Augustine’s comments in chapter 42 of On Nature and Grace. There’s an example of the Catholic idea that even the best of saints, during this life, is still “peccator”. Yet each is also righteous because they each have sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Joined to Christ by baptism we share in His divine life by His grace. That’s the “iustus”. So, in that sense we can affirm simul iustus et peccator. One very important difference between the Catholic and Protestant versions of that phrase, is the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin. Another is that for Catholics, the baptized believer in a state of grace is not by “nature” a sinner. The term ‘sinner’ refers to his practice, not his nature per se. And it does not mean or entail that every act he does is sinful.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. Hi, Jeremy.

    Good question. When I mentioned that there is a Catholic understanding of simul iustus et peccator, I didn’t mean to imply that it maps neatly onto what Luther had meant by that. (Sorry if I engaged in a little false advertizing there!) What I’d had in mind was the Augustinian formulation, which is I think a fairly intuitive or commonsensical one.

    This formulation does not say that justified persons are considered righteous in view of an extrinsic or alien righteousness applied gratuitously to them, but that they themselves – simply qua justified individuals – are not inherently righteous or holy. (Please note: I am not suggesting that Reformed or Lutheran Christians are antinomians who don’t believe in any interior renovation; I’m just trying to capture accurately the content of the Lutheran formulation.) Instead, what it says is that while it is not absolutely impossible (in respect of God’s omnipotent will) for the Christian to be wholly without sin in this life, we know from Scripture and experience that Christians never fully rid themselves of sin in this life, though recipients of the grace of final perseverance continue to progress in holiness invariably.

    However, it is important to note that, given St. Augustine’s view of justification, he does not put this in terms of an extrinsic/imputed righteousness over against an inherently non-righteous-but-nevertheless-completely-justified-individual. This would make no sense from St. Augustine’s perspective. Let me provide two quotations from McGrath’s Iustitia Dei (2nd edition) which may be of help here; then I’ll provide some of St. Augustine’s own remarks in his very important work, On the Spirit and the Letter. Here is the first, from volume 1 p. 31:

    Augustine has an all-embracing view of justification, which includes both the event of justification (brought about by operative grace) and the process of justification (brought about by cooperative grace). Augustine himself does not, in fact, distinguish these two aspects of justification: the distinction dates from the sixteenth century … The renewal of the divine image in man, brought about by justification, may be regarded as amounting to a new creation, in which sin is rooted out and the love of God planted in the hearts of men in its place, in the form of the Holy Spirit. God’s new creation is not finished once and for all in the event of justification, and requires perfecting, which is brought about by cooperative grace collaborating with the liberum arbitrium liberatum. Whilst concuspiscentia may be relegated to the background as caritas begins its work of renewal within man, it continues to make its presence felt, so that renewed gifts of grace are required throughout man’s existence, as sin is never totally overcome in this life.

    So, the rift between Luther and St. Augustine as to justification should be clear: the latter holds to a transformational element along with the non-imputation of sin, whereas the former upholds an exlusively forensic view of justification grounded in Christ’s imputed righteousness. This difference then manifests in their different perspectives on the sense in which a believer can be “simultaneously righteous and a sinner,” as McGrath helpfully points out in connection with Karlstadt (in volume 2, p. 22):

    …Karlstadt faithfully reproduces the Augustinian concept of justification as the non-imputation of sin and the impartation of righteousness, and does not develop Luther’s extrinsic concept of justifying righteousness … Luther’s extrinsic conception of justifying righteousness is partly a consequence of his totus homo anthropology, which differs significantly from Augustine’s neo-Platonist understanding of man. Karlstadt adopts an essentially Augustinian anthropology, in which justification is conceived as a renewal of man’s nature through a gradual eradication of sin. Iustus ergo simul est bonus et malus, filius dei et seculi. Although this is clearly similar to Luther’s assertion that the justified believer is simul iustus et peccator, it is clear that the two theologians interpret the phrase differently. For Luther, what is being stated is that the believer is extrinsically righteous and intrinsically sinful; for Karlstadt, what is being stated is precisely what Augustine intended when he stated that the justified sinner is partly righteous and partly sinful (ex quadam parte iustus, ex quadam parte peccator).

    Questions of neo-Platonism aside, it should be clear how the two different senses in which we can be at the same time righteous and sinful according to these theologians is just a function of their different stances on justification. For St. Augustine we can be simultaneously “bonus et malus, filius dei et seculi” in the parte/parte sense only, because justification is never exclusively forensic. Not so for Luther, because it always is.

    I have tried to formulate this without using terms (like ‘sanctification’, ‘sanctifying grace’, etc.) that can have different meanings in different mouths, but hopefully the intuitive idea is fairly straightforward. And I’m thinking Bryan will have some very valuable nuances and details to add to this, from St. Thomas’ perspective. But I’ll leave you with book II chapter 65 (“In What Sense a Sinless Righteousness in this Life Can Be Asserted”) of On the Spirit and the Letter, in which St. Augustine touches on some of these themes compactly:

    Forasmuch, however, as an inferior righteousness may be said to be competent to this life, whereby the just man lives by faith [Romans 1:17] although absent from the Lord, and, therefore, walking by faith and not yet by sight, [2 Corinthians 5:7] — it may be without absurdity said, no doubt, in respect of it, that it is free from sin; for it ought not to be attributed to it as a fault, that it is not as yet sufficient for so great a love to God as is due to the final, complete, and perfect condition thereof. It is one thing to fail at present in attaining to the fulness of love, and another thing to be swayed by no lust. A man ought therefore to abstain from every unlawful desire, although he loves God now far less than it is possible to love Him when He becomes an object of sight; just as in matters connected with the bodily senses, the eye can receive no pleasure from any kind of darkness, although it may be unable to look with a firm sight amidst refulgent light. Only let us see to it that we so constitute the soul of man in this corruptible body, that, although it has not yet swallowed up and consumed the motions of earthly lust in that super-eminent perfection of the love of God, it nevertheless, in that inferior righteousness to which we have referred, gives no consent to the aforesaid lust for the purpose of effecting any unlawful thing. In respect, therefore, of that immortal life, the commandment is even now applicable: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might [Deuteronomy 6:5]; but in reference to the present life the following: Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof [Romans 6:12]. To the one, again, belongs, You shall not covet [Exodus 20:17]; to the other, You shall not go after your lusts [Sirach 18:30]. To the one it appertains to seek for nothing more than to continue in its perfect state; to the other it belongs actively to do the duty committed to it, and to hope as its reward for the perfection of the future life, — so that in the one the just man may live forevermore in the sight of that happiness which in this life was his object of desire; in the other, he may live by that faith whereon rests his desire for the ultimate blessedness as its certain end. (These things being so, it will be sin in the man who lives by faith ever to consent to an unlawful delight, — by committing not only frightful deeds and crimes, but even trifling faults; sinful, if he lend an ear to a word that ought not to be listened to, or a tongue to a phrase which should not be uttered; sinful, if he entertains a thought in his heart in such a way as to wish that an evil pleasure were a lawful one, although known to be unlawful by the commandment, — for this amounts to a consent to sin, which would certainly be carried out in act, unless fear of punishment deterred.) Have such just men, while living by faith, no need to say: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [Matthew 6:12]? And do they prove this to be wrong which is written, In Your sight shall no man living be justified? and this: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us [1 John 1:8]? and, There is no man that sins not [1 Kings 8:46]; and again, There is not on the earth a righteous man, who does good and sins not [Sirach 7:21] (for both these statements are expressed in a general future sense, — sins not, will not sin, — not in the past time, has not sinned)? — and all other places of this purport contained in the Holy Scripture? Since, however, these passages cannot possibly be false, it plainly follows, to my mind, that whatever be the quality or extent of the righteousness which we may definitely ascribe to the present life, there is not a man living in it who is absolutely free from all sin; and that it is necessary for every one to give, that it may be given to him; and to forgive, that it may be forgiven him [Luke 11:4]; and whatever righteousness he has, not to presume that he has it of himself, but from the grace of God, who justifies him, and still to go on hungering and thirsting for righteousness [Matthew 5:6] from Him who is the living bread [John 6:51], and with whom is the fountain of life; who works in His saints, while labouring amidst temptation in this life, their justification in such manner that He may still have somewhat to impart to them liberally when they ask, and something mercifully to forgive them when they confess.

    Ahh. I just love St. Augustine.

    Peace in Christ,


  25. Oh, I see Bryan responded while I was writing. Thanks Bryan!

  26. Neal,

    I want to comment on this statement from McGrath:

    for Karlstadt, what is being stated is precisely what Augustine intended when he stated that the justified sinner is partly righteous and partly sinful (ex quadam parte iustus, ex quadam parte peccator).

    Given what I wrote about in the body of this post regarding Aquinas on the effects of sin, we can see how a person can be partly righteous and partly sinful, and yet at the same time be truly sanctified. Given the three ways in which human nature can be good, according to Aquinas, the first way would not play a role here. The second way (i.e. inclinations to virtue) is where there are dispositions toward sin; that could (with some qualifications) be said to be where we are “partly sinful”. Notice that this ‘sinfulness’ is not in our *nature* per se (i.e. the first way), but in our acquired dispositions (i.e. the second way). Nor does it replace our natural inclination to virtue. It diminishes the development of our natural inclination to virtue, by implanting contrary inclinations in the powers of our soul. And the third way in which human nature can be good is precisely where we find Christ’s righteousness (which is also now our own) by the gift of grace. Because of the presence of this grace, and the theological virtues of faith, hope *and* charity, we are truly sanctified, and have the infused moral virtues in the powers of our soul. Yet we can grow in sanctification both by dying to our dispositions to sin (crucifying them daily), and by growing in charity, because insofar as we live in charity, we grow in charity such that we have a greater share or participation in this divine gift. So in short, we can grow in both 2 and 3, even while we are already made righteous by 3.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. Thanks, Bryan. This is precisely what I had in mind when I mentioned that you may want to chip in and adjust the precision, and why I wanted to speak more or less intuitively and avoid words like ‘sanctification’. I think “sinfulness” may be the culprit here, in the sense of providing occasion for misunderstanding, because it can suggest that there is some thing (“sinfulness”) understood as a quality or aspect of human nature in view. But this is not how I intended it, and I think that Sts Augustine and Thomas are in accord here.



  28. Thanks Neal and Bryan, what an amazing passage from Augustine. I’d never read it. It seems to me that Luther himself believed that he was on the same page as Augustine in terms of justification. Maybe he thought he was just taking it a step further. I think this distinction is crucial. The main reason I held onto the Reformed faith rather than converting to Rome, has been, for a long time, that I believed the Reformers were really “more Catholic” than Rome (As all thoughtful Reformed people do). The very first class I took in seminary was an Ancient Church History class and I’ll never forget reading B.B. Warfield when he wrote;

    “It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church. The doctrine of grace came from Augustine’s hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends for his recovery to good and to God entirely on the free grace of God”.

    Interesting that Warfield saw these doctrines (Church and grace) opposed. I think you are right, I think both men emphasized Grace, but I think Luther went wrong in denying, to some level, that in Christ, we really are a new creation. A new creation is not a pile of dung covered with snow.

    Something else I wanted to mention; when the rabbit trail started leading me towards Rome I went to every pastor and every seminary professor I could. The majority of Pastors I talked to had never read the 6th session of Trent on justification. They had only read the condemnations. The first time I sat down to read the 6th session of Trent on its own grounds I did not see (faith + works) as reformers often characterize the position, I got “faith + regeneration”. I saw God as doing all of justification, whether inwardly or outwardly (or both!). Since then (last June) I have been trying to reconcile all the other stuff (Mary, Prayers to the Saints, Purgatory, ect). Would you say my general reading of the 6th session is accurate. I don’t think its helpful for Catholics to argue against Faith alone by implying that faith is not enough. My hope is that the actual Catholic position is that God must do more than impart faith in order to save a person. He must give them faith, regenerate their dead heart, and move them to obedience. I hope this is correct. I’ve gone from hoping Catholicism is wrong to hoping it is right:) Peace in Jesus, Jeremy

  29. Excellent post. Excellent discussion. Does anyone know of any good book-length treatments of Aquinas’s philosophical anthropology and sin’s effects? Any good book-length treatments of the Catholic view of salvation as Bryan has helpfully elucidated here?

  30. Hey, Jeremy.

    Man, I know exactly the change in affection you’re talking about — from denial and fear and distress to actually being drawn in some ways. I can’t remember exactly when or how it happened to me, but it was surprising and unexpected.

    So let’s see, about the famous Warfield quote. Certainly the Reformers left behind St Augustine’s ecclesiology, and it is certainly also true that they maintained a strong Augustinian position concerning grace. They were right to do so, especially as they (I think here of Luther specifically) were reacting against some of the medieval theologians who sounded pretty pelagian at points. My only reservation is this. I don’t think it would be accurate to say that Augustine’s theology of grace “triumphed” through the Reformers over and against the Catholic Church, as Warfield wishes to suggest. To the extent that St. Augustine’s theology of grace triumphed through the Reformers over against various theological positions that needed answering, to that same extent St. Augustine’s theology of grace “triumphed” through Trent as well.

    This is an important point, I think. Trent is entirely compatible with Augustinianism, both on grace and on justification. The Reformers departed from St. Augustine on justification (knowingly), even though they admired his work against the pelagians. This shows that an Augustinian stance concerning grace in salvation is conceptually distinct from Reformational views of justification, which adopt St. Augustine’s position on grace but reject his position on justification. So I guess I would not consider Luther’s overall position to involve carrying St. Augustine’s views to the next step; it is not an organic development of St. Augustine’s thought, it is instead a repudiation of the Augustinian package, although it does retain particular elements of that package (the sola gratia stuff). Perhaps you did not mean that Luther was just taking Augustine’s doctrine of justification to the next step, but rather that Luther was taking his doctrine of grace to the next step. But even here I would disagree: Luther leaves St. Augustine’s emphasis on grace pretty well where it was (and where the medieval tradition as a whole had left it), and develops a different and conflicting doctrine of justification.

    All evidence indicates that Luther knew he was rejecting St. Augustine’s position on justification, and, indeed, he had to respond to the allegation that his own view of justification failed the tests of orthodoxy and catholicity, because it was (a) novel and (b) in conflict with the fathers and the Tradition. Consider these remarks of his from Tabletalk:

    Ever since I came to an understanding of Paul, I have not been able to think well of any doctor. They have become of little value to me. At first, I devoured, not merely read, Augustine. But when the door was opened for me in Paul, so that I understood what justification by faith is, it was all over with Augustine.


    Behold what great darkness is in the books of the Fathers concerning faith; yet if the article of justification be darkened, it is impossible to smother the grossest errors of mankind. St Jerome, indeed, wrote upon Matthew, upon the Epistles to the Galatians and Titus; but, alas! very coldly. Ambrose wrote six books upon the first book of Moses, but they are very poor. Augustine wrote nothing to the purpose concerning faith … I can find no exposition upon the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, wherein anything is taught pure and aright. O what a happy time have we now, in regard to the purity of doctrine …

    And again:

    The more I read the books of the Fathers, the more I find myself offended; for they were but men, and, to speak the truth, with all their repute and authority, undervalued the books and writings of the sacred apostles of Christ.

    And again:

    When God’s Word is by the Fathers expounded, construed, and glossed, then, in my judgment, it is even as when one strains milk through a coal-sack, which must needs spoil and make the milk black; God’s Word of itself is pure, clean, bright, and clear; but, through the doctrines, books, and writings of the Fathers, it is darkened, falsified, and spoiled.

    Because of the importance they assigned to the doctrine of justification, both Luther and Calvin struggled with the implications of their departure from the patristic and medieval tradition on this doctrine. The concern was that, if the true doctine of justification (sola fide/imputation) needs to be upheld in order for the Church to exist, and if the fathers and the medieval Church apparently did not possess the true doctrine, it seems to follow that the Church fell out of existence for a while; yet this conflicts with Jesus’ promises. Matthew Heckel discusses the ways in which Luther and Calvin tried to respond to this concern in a 2004 article he wrote for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, which you can find here. You may find the article enjoyable. And I’ve also written a little post on this called “How Might Luther Say the Church Never Disappeared?”

    The last question about Trent is a great one, and the right one to ask. (Happily, Bryan’s series on Trent is going to make a lot of this clearer for us all, I think!) Overall, I think your perception that the flashpoint concerns whether justification essentially includes ‘regeneration’, so that the faith that saves is a faith alive in graciously bestowed charity (and hope), is spot on. Certainly “faith alone” vs “faith+works” is much too superficial a construal of the debate. And though I hate to plug myself once more, I might recommend taking a quick look at another recent blog entry of mine: “Colson on Benedict on Luther: Why Augustine Won’t Bridge the Gap.” This post directly addresses your remarks and provides some secondary literature you may find helpful (hopefully!).

    Thanks for responding, Jeremy. Have a blessed Lord’s Day tomorrow.


  31. Jeremy,

    The majority of Pastors I talked to had never read the 6th session of Trent on justification. They had only read the condemnations.

    That has been my experience as well. I’m hesitant to extrapolate, but my guess is that this is quite common. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this series, to help Protestants understand Trent 6. As for your question about that session, let me ask you to save your question until we get there in the series. I know the series is going slowly, but God willing we’ll get there!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  32. Ryan,

    For Aquinas’ philosophical anthropology, see Robert Edward Brennan O.P. Thomistic Psychology: A Philosophic Analysis of the Nature of Man (1941), or George P. Klubertanz S.J. The Philosophy of Human Nature (1953). Neither of those explains the effect of sin on human nature. For a more recent book on his soteriology, see Matthew Levering’s Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas (2002).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. Hey Bryan,

    Yeah, I’ll hold off on the questions about Trent 6 until you post on it. Has Called to Communion considered using this website to organize and sponsor debates? I wish their were more debates between high profile Catholic and Reformed apologist. I sent my friend a copy of Scott Hahn’s debate with a guy from Westminster and he was shocked. I don’t know if it’ll make him consider Catholicism, but he was shocked that a person would have thoroughly biblical reasons to go Catholic. It totally changed his view of Catholicism, but that debate was like 15 years ago. I heard Beckwith and Truman were suppose to debate, but I guess it never materialized. Why not put something up on the website that allows people to donate (my wife and I would donate) and then use the money to sponsor debates. Many/maybe most seminary students don’t blog, so this would be a way of increasing the dialogue. It seems like a site called, “called to communion” would be perfect for such an undertaking. Just a thought. Peace in Jesus, Jeremy

  34. Neal hit a nerve on post 30.

    Since the start of the Reformation there has been a very uneasy tension between whether to throw out the fathers because of their lack of understanding the true gospel, or whether to keep them and only selectively quote them. Protestantism has constantly oscillated between those two extremes, though the further we get out from the Reformation the less and less the fathers are looked to.

    Luther’s “Tower Experience” sums it all up:

    “I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: “The justice of God is revealed in it.” I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust. …

    But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. …

    I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.'” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. … All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. …

    I exalted this sweetest word of mine, “the justice of God,” with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise. Afterward I read Augustine’s “On the Spirit and the Letter,” in which I found what I had not dared hope for. I discovered that he too interpreted “the justice of God” in a similar way, namely, as that with which God clothes us when he justifies us. Although Augustine had said it imperfectly and did not explain in detail how God imputes justice to us, still it pleased me that he taught the justice of God by which we are justified. ”

    For one Lutheran who’s life was totally turned upside down after reading Augustine’s On the Spirit and Letter and Trent Session 6, see one of my all time favorite conversion stories from Dr. Robert Koons (philosophy professor from U of Texas):

  35. Dear Nick,

    Thanks for your response. Glad to know how much you enjoyed Rob’s paper (which we’ve linked under our resources bar). Rob’s a great friend of mine, and a co-supervisor of my dissertation! I think many people have been helped by his work, too, and am glad to see it getting attention.

    I had that passage from Luther’s ‘tower experience’ autobiography in mind when, in the earlier comment, I said that all the evidence indicates Luther knew he was departing from St. Augustine. Heckel has a brief discussion of this isolated statement in the JETS article I linked as well. This is, I think, a stretch on Luther’s part. Reading On the Spirit and the Letter in toto makes it hard (to say the least) to imagine that St. Augustine could be understood in Lutheran fashion. Rob’s paper discusses this issue in connection with Melancthon, as you may remember: the latter’s construal of St. Augustine, and his use of isolated (cherry-picked) quotations from On the Spirit and the Letter in particular, really shook Rob’s confidence in Melancthon when he examined On the Spirit and the Letter on its own terms. If I remember right, there is an appendix in “A Lutheran’s Case for Roman Catholicism” in which Rob provides a running commentary of St. Augustine’s piece and demonstrates the incompatibility between it and Melancthon’s construal of it.



  36. I notice you sort of mentioned Luther’s Tower Experience in your quotes above, I was just giving a more full quote.

    I do realize what you are saying and I totally agree that it is a stretch on Luther’s part, what I was getting at is the dilemma Protestants have found themself in since the very start, whether to reject the fathers outright or to more or less cherry pick. It is obviously a deal breaker if the fathers are rejected outright, for if that doesn’t raise a red flag, nothing will. That’s why the Book of Concord and Institutes strives to quote them (though cherry picked). That said, as the centuries went by, more and more did begin to reject the fathers outright. When Luther said “I discovered that he too interpreted “the justice of God” in a similar way, namely, as that with which God clothes us when he justifies us. Although Augustine had said it imperfectly” that was grossly inaccurate if not downright misrepresentation, for Augustine never came close to that notion of imputed alien righteousness.

  37. Re: #28

    Jeremy, for me the moment of revelation occurred when I realized that salvation simply IS incorporation into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. What else can it ultimately be? All the words we employ–justification, sanctification, regeneration, etc., etc.–point us to the fundamental reality of our life in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, I believe, is what the Catholic (and Orthodox) position seeks to state and is why Catholics refuse to separate justification, sanctification, regeneration, etc., etc. We can, and must, make our distinctions; but the indivisible reality is participation in God (theosis).

    Catholic and Protestant dispute is misunderstood, IMHO, when becomes a dispute about the ordo salutis, as if everything hinges on getting right all the theological details. If this is what the dispute is all about, then a pox on both houses! Luther’s fundamental protest was directed against a popular late medieval caricature and misrepresentation of God, and contemporary Catholic theologians have acknowledged the legitimacy of this protest. God is not a God whom we must persuade by our good works and sanctification to love and forgive us. He is a God of love and mercy and infinite grace.

    But if the Catholics joins with the Protestant in rejecting this misrepresentation of the God of the gospel, what then happens to the Protestant protest?

  38. Dear Fr. Kimel,

    Thanks for this. I met with precisely the same realization when I was immersed in the historical ‘justification’ dispute a couple of years ago, and it took (for me) much of the theological oomph from the “material cause” of the Reformation. After all, Trent rejected the crass caricatures as much as Luther did, and the ‘non-real-but-conceptual-separation’ of justification and sanctification seemed undermotived and just not as significant as it was drummed up to be. I’m hoping that, in this particular ecumenical forum, we can try to approach this crucial point through Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ. But however that may be it’s comforting to hear your assessment.


  39. If salvation IS union with God, then the Reformed insistence that the formal cause of our justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness cannot be correct. How can anyone be said to be saved who is not truly incorporated into the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? When the question is put this way, I suspect that most Protestants would agree. The way forward is to push through and beyond the 16th and 17th century debates. We must not allow ourselves to remain trapped in the polemics and confessional formulae of an earlier day.

    I am encouraged by the fact that some Protestant (and Catholic) theologians and biblical scholars are now willing to look afresh at the Scriptures: e.g., Michael Bird Incorporated Righteousness.

  40. Father,

    Pope Benedict says precisely what you say, Salvation is union with God, “Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life”—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what “life” means: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live” (Spe Salvi #27).

  41. Fr Kimel,

    I agree entirely about the need to push ahead. Nothing’s to be gained by holding on to tired slogans, especially when they obscure or distort the content that the slogans might be trying to express. They tend to have a numbing and dumbing effect. However, I see (Calvin on) union with Christ as a potentially useful point of departure in Catholic/Reformed discussions, primarily because this union is generally recognized as the ultimate soteric reality by Calvinists, and because it simply can’t be understood in a purely nominalist or extrinsicist way. So another way to put the challenge you raise, I think, is to ask how, if salvation is fundamentally incorporation into the life of the Triune God, the core element of our salvation (justification) could be understood as purely external to us? This has always seemed to me to be at best completely unmotivated, and at worst not coherent.

  42. Neal, I agree that Calvin (and Richard Hooker’s) understanding of union with Christ represents an important point of contact between the Catholic and Reformed traditions. We also find a similar point of contact in Luther, at least according to the Finnish interpretation of Luther.

    You ask in what sense justification can be understood as “purely external to us.” Perhaps in the same way that God is “external” to us. Salvation is God. Salvation is found in God, not in ourselves. But as soon as we start employing this kind of language, do we not immediately recognize its inadequacy. How is God external to us?

    My concern here is to push beyond the formulae to the mystery. It is this mystery of the God of Love who has grasped us in Jesus Christ and brought us into his triune life–that is what is all of this language of justification and sanctification is really all about. IMHO.

    But we first need to resolve in our minds, once and for all, whether we really and truly believe that God is a God of love in his eternal being. If we say yes, as I think we must, then what are we really are we debating about here? See my articles : Finding the God Who Is Love and The Injustice of Grace, as well as my piece on Hooker: The Grand Question.

    When we finally believe that God has truly committed himself to us irrevocably, that he truly wills our good, then the entire justification debate takes on a new cast.

  43. Fr Kimel,

    I’ve seen your Pontifications page quoted a lot on various blogs, but it appears you stopped blogging for about 2 years now. What happened?

  44. Well said, Father. I hope you stick around and help us to push beyond the formulae and deeper into the mystery.

    I think I’ve read at least one of these articles, but I’ll examine the other two at first opportunity.

    Thanks for the help,


  45. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

  46. Dear Fr. Kimel,

    As a non-Catholic seminarian who is increasingly drawn to the Catholic Church, I just wanted to thank you for your participation on this blog. What is your take on the Federal Vision movement within Reformed Theology. FV stresses union with Christ as the “essence” of salvation. For me, FV theologians like Peter Leithart allowed me to give Roman Catholicism an honest look. What’s crazy is that I have friends who agree with Rome in terms of what the Reformation was about (justification), but will not consider it because of Mary, the Pope, purgatory, ect. I’d be interested in hearing some of your thoughts on Federal Vision theology. Thanks, Jeremy Tate

  47. Hiya, Jeremy. I’m afraid I really haven’t read sufficiently in the Federal Vision theology to comment. My acquaintance with Reformed theology has been pretty much restricted to Torrance, Barth, a bit of Calvin, and evangelical Anglicans like J. I. Packer. I have very little sympathy with the Westminster Confession and the theological and spiritual tradition it represents. I think I have a better acquaintance and sympathy with Luther and parts of the Lutheran tradition.

  48. Jeremy, have you ever read J. H. Newman’s *Lectures on Justification*? If not, then you must run to the library and get the book. Newman may have misunderstood Luther, but he offers a reading of Scripture that I believe is both catholic and evangelical.

  49. […] Filed under: Church, Theology — Thomas @ 11:10 pm Fr Alvin Kimel, in a Called to Communion comment writes: Jeremy, for me the moment of revelation occurred when I realized that salvation simply IS […]

  50. Hi, Jeremy:

    What I think this suggests is something which seems plausible enough anyway — namely, that “the cause” of the Reformation (whether ‘material’ or ‘formal’) really can’t be neatly boiled down to any one particular theological issue, such that when agreement is achieved on that issue all other resistence to reunification will cease. When Horton and Gerstner (e.g.) say that, if today they discover they’re wrong about justification, they’d be at the Vatican doing penance tomorrow, I think this is mostly rhetorical flourish. Some may indeed view justification as supremely important, but I think, for most, even were that issue resolved there would remain something to latch hold of and make a point of protest.

    FV is often portrayed as the “yellow brick road to Rome,” because of what FV proponents say about justification, baptism, and the like. But, from watching this controversy unfold for a while, my sense is that accepting the FV picture about justification (etc.) is not enough to set you on the road to Rome. (Else Leithart probably would’ve become Catholic by now!) If anything, I think it is the FV rejection of gnosticism, its attempt at recovering liturgy, its historical consciousness and the like, that makes people who’ve followed the FV movement more likely to be exposed to the Catholic tradition. And from that point, once you’re exposed to “the real thing,” so that you’re ready to give it a hearing on its own terms, it’s easier to get sucked into Rome’s gravitational orbit. Would you consider that to be a fair description of how some erstwhile FV proponents end up becoming Catholic (or Orthodox)?

  51. Here are Newman’s lectures, for easy reference:

  52. very well said Neal, “Rome’s gravitational orbit”. I like that because it describes what I’ve experienced. I don’t even know when, but somewhere along the line, subconsciously, Rome sort of became the standard from which I would evaluate all theology. Last year I read Chesterton’s “Catholicism and Conversion” and he said something along the lines of, “we need a Church that is not just right where we’re right, but one that is right where we’re wrong.” After I digested that the absurdity set in that to me, the best and most trustworthy syst theology in the world was my own. I measured all things (westminster, whoever) through my own theology. Chesterton woke me up to the foolishness of this.

    Thank you Fr. Kimel, I will look at Newman’s lectures. I have not read much of him (only justification and the debate regarding diakoo). I will check it out. Peace in Him – Jeremy

  53. Bryan Cross: …The Neo-Platonists explained evil not as a principle equally fundamental to goodness, but rather as a privation of goodness. This position was philosophically superior to that of the Manichees, and later, as a Christian, St. Augustine found that it fit beautifully with the data of Christian revelation. It treated being and goodness as the same in referent, differing only in sense (i.e. concept). Because being and goodness are the same in referent, therefore a privation of goodness is also a privation of being. Therefore, there could be no such thing as pure evil, for it would have no being.

    The fruit that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat when they dwelt in Original Justice/Original Righteousness was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:17). It is interesting to me that the tree bearing the forbidden fruit is named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and not simply the tree of the knowledge of evil. I believe that in the naming of this tree that the genius and the divine inspiration of the author of Genesis is revealed. To me, there is contained in name the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a message about the parasitical nature of evil, i.e. the knowledge of what is evil cannot exist apart from the knowledge of what is good. The reverse is not true; the knowledge of the good can exist apart from the knowledge of evil. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve knew what was good without knowing what was evil, hence their Holy Innocence when they dwelt in Original Justice.

    I have had self-professed Calvinists tell me this concerning the forbidden fruit: that although God expressly revealed his will to Adam that he was not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that God actually secretly willed for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. These Calvinists claim that eating of the forbidden fruit would eventually bring about a spiritual maturity to mankind, and that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil gave to mankind a knowledge of morality that Adam and Eve were lacking when they dwelt in Holy Innocence. Without the knowledge of moral evil, mankind could never have known the knowledge of moral good.

    Is this a common belief among Calvinists? Or is this something that is found only in the fringes of Calvinism? It seem to me that Calvin believed that even before the Fall that Adam already knew how to discern good from evil. (I readily acknowledge that I am reading Calvin wrongly).


    “Therefore, God has provided the soul of man with intellect, by which he might discern good from evil, just from unjust, and might know what to follow or to shun, reason going before with her lamp… To this he has joined will, to which choice belongs. Man excelled in these noble endowments in his primitive condition, when reason, intelligence, prudence, and Judgment, not only sufficed for the government of his earthly life, but also enabled him to rise up to God and eternal happiness. Thereafter choice was added to direct the appetites, and temper all the organic motions; the will being thus perfectly submissive to the authority of reason. In this upright state, man possessed freedom of will, by which, if he chose, he was able to obtain eternal life. It were here unseasonable to introduce the question concerning the secret predestination of God, because we are not considering what might or might not happen, but what the nature of man truly was.

    How would Adam have been able to discern good from evil before he ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of the fruit of good and evil? Isn’t it the eating of the forbidden fruit the act that gave Adam the knowledge of evil?

    Also, what does Calvin mean when he talks about the “secret predestination of God”?
    Did Calvin believe that God secretly predestined the Fall?

  54. Mateo writes: I readily acknowledge that I am reading Calvin wrongly.

    That should read: I readily acknowledge that I may bereading Calvin wrongly.

    I hope that someday we can edit our posts!

  55. I feel like I’m missing something. Baptism erases original sin, as you said: “We might then ask why, when all our sin, both original and actual, is removed at baptism, …”. Continuing,

    “So when Adam and Eve forfeited their original justice through sin, they thereby forfeited the mediated incorruptibility their bodies had enjoyed.”

    If original sin is removed, then original justice is restored. Which would mean that the mediated incorruptibility should be restored? Unless this agape, the participation in the divine, which is the ends of baptism, is gifted in the place of original justice? And that agape allows for our participation in the divine and the community of saints. Or am I just In-Left-Field???

    Thanks for the clarifications! Very much appreciated.

  56. JohnO,

    If original sin is removed, then original justice is restored. Which would mean that the mediated incorruptibility should be restored?

    Original sin is the privation of original justice. But that original justice included multiple harmonies, ordered to each other. The body was ordered to the soul, and in harmony with it. The lower appetites were ordered to reason, and in harmony with reason. And reason was ordered to God in agape, and thus in harmony with God. But when man sinned, and by his will turned away from God, all the other harmonies were lost. The essence of original justice, however, is the relation between man and God. The others are were accidental to it. At baptism, we recover agape, but in this life we retain both concupiscence (i.e. lack of original integrity, — harmony of lower appetites with reason) and corruption of the body (i.e. lack of original immortality). So we recover the essence of original justice, but (in this life) not those two gifts that originally accompanied original justice.

    Unless this agape, the participation in the divine, which is the ends of baptism, is gifted in the place of original justice? And that agape allows for our participation in the divine and the community of saints.

    I don’t follow this last question. Adam and Eve originally had agape, and then lost it by sin. We recover it again, at baptism. But we do not recover (in this life) the other preternatural gifts that were included with original justice: i.e. integrity (perfect ordering of lower appetites to reason) and immortality (perfect ordering of body to soul).

    God allowed concupiscence to remain in us so that we might do battle with it, and so gain greater merit. He allowed is to remain mortal, so that we might put off this body of sin, and be resurrected with a divine body, as St. Paul describes in 1 Cor 15. This is why God mercifully blocked the way back into Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned. (Gen 3:22-24)

    I hope that helps answer your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  57. My question “Unless this agape, the participation in the divine, which is the ends of baptism, is gifted in the place of original justice?” is precisely what you answered. In baptism God grants to us the agape which we had lost.

  58. Bryan,

    Thanks for this helpful exposition. I am trying to understand better the implications for what we must affirm of man’s (merely) natural constitution and how to respond to the Protestant objection that natural man (sans preternatural and supernatural gifts) is on the Catholic view defective. Here’s my understanding so far; please feel free to confirm or correct as appropriate:

    The first good (principles of nature) is unaffected by sin: we remain the same species. The second good (natural inclination to virtue) is damanged by sin but never destroyed. This is consequent on personal sin, however. So Adam’s sin made Adam less inclined to virtue, but his sin taken as the original sin we all inherit does not make you or I any more or less inclined to virtue than if man had been created in a merely natural state: we would inherent concupiscence in equal measure, as it is natural to man.

    It seems to follow from this that man’s natural inclination to virtue is impeded by the very principles of his nature. A similar tension occurs with regard to death: it is not natural to man in view of his incorruptible form — the principle of his actuality — but it follows naturally (in one sense) from his corruptible matter. By creating man not merely in a natural state but in a natural-cum-preternatural-cum-supernatural state, God has “supplied the defect of nature” and cannot be blamed for not giving man enough aid to reach his end. But this acknowledges a defect of the nature in some sense. Which makes me wonder: What if God had created man at the level of pure nature and left it at that? For all those born after Adam, is there any appreciable difference in having been born to race fallen from grace than if we had been born to unelevated nature? Would we not be just as in need of salvation, even to reach our natural end, and nearly all of us bound for Hell? If this is the case then the defect seems pretty serious, and I’m guessing this is where the Protestant objection is coming from.

    In response to this, do we simply own that man is a metaphyiscal oddity? That as a composition of the spiritual and the material, his nature is unstable and at odds with itself in a way that all other creatures (either purely material or purely spiritual) are not, and in especial need to God’s grace to sustain it?

  59. A side question, though related to the above (if it belongs elsewhere please feel free to direct me thither):

    I see that in his analysis of original justice Aquinas invokes the four powers of the soul that can be subject to virtue: the three appetites — concupiscible, irascible, rational (will) — and the intellect. Does he anywhere (or does anyone in the tradition) identify these powers with the “heart, soul, strength, and mind” of the Greatest Commandment? Similarly, when we come across the familiar triptych of “body, soul, and spirit,” what distinction (in principles or powers) is being drawn between soul and spirit, in Thomistic terms?

  60. CCK (#58)
    This is not an attempt to give an answer to your question, but rather to echo a “me too!’ with it. I am a convert. It seems to me that in fact man without grace is defective – that man was never intended to be perfect living purely as a natural being. But I would like to hear from someone knowledgeable whether this is, in fact, a good Catholic understanding.


  61. CCK (and John),

    Regarding the ‘defective’ objection, I’ve addressed that in “Protestant Objections to the Catholic Doctrine of Original Justice and Original Sin” and in “Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life”.”

    Regarding your first question in #59, no, not that I know of. The four powers don’t correspond to those four terms, but to the four cardinal virtues. Regarding your second question, the spirit is the rational activity of the soul, by which the soul persists after separation from the body, and which is not the activity of an organ of the body.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  62. Thanks, Bryan; very helpful and germane to my questions.

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