Comments for ‘Soli Deo Gloria’

Mar 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Please comment on “Soli Deo Gloria: A Catholic Perspective” under this post. Thank you!

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  1. re part I: sola gratia. Very well argued, Tim. Calvin severely misreads the parable, he imposing his theology on the text — hardly a sola scriptura method!!!

  2. Dear Sid,

    But the Calvinist can reply: his theology is based on other Scripture, so [even to whatever extent we can all agree that this reading of the parable has any deficiencies] one misreading or even unusual reading of Scripture does not violate sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura requires interpreting Scripture with Scripture.

    But I think you’re touching on something. If we can consider what interpretive predispositions Calvin possessed when formulating his theology, what were they? I do not know of anyone who argues that Calvin approached Scripture with a philosophical tabula rasa. So a question in my mind is whether philosophical predispositions inherently hamper a human’s ability to abide by sola Scriptura. Put another way, is [only] interpreting Scripture with Scripture even possible, once we agree that no one approaches Scripture with a tabula rasa. If it’s impossible but sola Scriptura is still valid, then we need to add a layer to sola Scriptura: that some philosophical approach is ideal, or at least superior to others (then how do we know which that is, or why?).

    Calvin grew up in a particular philosophical and theological era, with its particular emphases and biases. So did I, and even though I was raised as a Calvinist, (ironically) my particular philosophical and theological emphases and biases were not those faced by Calvin. So, e.g., if I were left alone to interpret this parable, I might not be inclined to reach the same conclusions. Had Calvin been raised in a different community, or 100 years earlier or later, his conclusions would have been at least somewhat different. But to the extent that the confessional Reformed retain a respect (or even obedience) to the received Calvinist teaching, their ability to interpret Scripture only with Scripture (i.e., without outside influences or biases) is hampered. Thus, confessional Reformed tradition inherently gives pride of place to the philosophical paradigm of Calvin’s day and environment. It should have to demonstrate why this is preferable for Christian doctrine — why was Calvin’s underlying philosophy superior?

    Peace in Christ,

  3. Which of Augustine’s works deal with the nature of gratia cooperativa?

  4. David,

    I meant to include that footnote. The quote from Augustine is from CCC 2001 which quotes Augustine, De natura et gratia, 31:PL 44,264.

  5. A good article, Tim. It is refreshing to read a Catholic perspective that does not set out from the outset to blast the Protestant position, but to begin with areas of commonality. I, as a Protestant who desires to see some means of reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic, am often frustrated by the tone (of both Cath. and Prot….and often particularly of Prot.) of such discussions, which typically aim primarily to show why the other position is dead wrong. While I understand and highly recommend holding fast to one’s convictions, the means of reconciliation in Scripture is never about one or the other side proving it is right… the focus is always Christward and Godward… even Job the righteous professes that all of his assertions of his innocence and righteousness (which even God did not condemn) were spoken in folly. The fact is, no matter how right we are, we are never fully right. Perhaps this is another good reason to be begin with Soli Deo Gloria… only insofar as we seek to exalt God’s name do we have any hope (even in our most righteous acts and professions) of properly communing with one another. Thanks again for the article.

  6. Dear Caleb,

    It is good to have your contribution to the discussion, thank you!

    You said, “the means of reconciliation in Scripture is never about one or the other side proving it is right… the focus is always Christward and Godward…” I fully agree with your assertion about the focus; that is crucial to keep in mind. In a way, though, we do want to prove we are right when we are in fact right (for the sake of aiding those who are wrong). The trick, I suppose, and the danger it seems you sense, is to keep away from replacing the desire for proving truth with the desire for proving our individual selves to have the winning position. When we are oriented toward winning — toward scoring points — we lose the focus on that ‘focus’ or end you so well articulated.

    The fact is, no matter how right we are, we are never fully right.

    If I pressed this comment, I wonder what it would say about our ability to know truth? I think you simply mean that we never fully appreciate the truth we are given, or we can never fully plumb the depths of that which has been revealed to us (this side of Heaven). That must be true, it seems to me.

    But do you mean that we can never *really* have truth, only something that approaches truth? That says something about revealed truth that makes me pause. I wonder if you could clarify.

    Peace in Christ,

  7. Thanks Caleb. I wonder if you’re the Protestant Caleb I know.. and if so, it’s good to hear from you old friend. Otherwise… good to hear from you new friend.

    I would be interested in clarification on the statement Tom asked about. I think truth is knowable and that that which is divinely revealed is fully true. I’m sure you agree. The breakdown comes when a fallible mind seeks to apprehend infallible truth. I assume that’s what you mean.

  8. Thank you for drawing my attention to the article, Tim. Just out of idle curiosity, do you know any of the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs on the subject? I don’t know any myself, but in recent weeks I’ve been studying about one particular point of contact between medieval Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire (that is, the Varangian regiment), and the notion of the east-west confessional divide is on my mind at the moment.

  9. Tim,

    Sometimes people who want to follow Scripture alone, because they are (understandably) leary of human wisdom, unwittingly import a philosophical claim into their hermeneutics, and this philosophical claim is doing all kinds of work in their theology. Usually they don’t recognize that they are incorporating this philosophy into their theology, or they don’t see it as a philosophical claim. They see it simply as a ‘rule of thumb’ or some basic guideline that they have picked up in their tradition. The tradition is so natural to them, that in their mind the philosophical principle or rule of thumb does not even need any philosophical defense. They feel entirely comfortable just stipulating it, because they are not even aware that it is controverted. Everyone they interact with, i.e. everyone in their tradition, uses this principle, and no one (they know) challenges it. It is one of those givens that is taken for granted by everyone in their tradition.

    One example of an assumed philosophical claim is the notion that we cannot cooperate in grace, i.e. that if we are doing something, then grace is not operative. This is the assumption behind monergism. I came across the following example recently. Win Corduan writes [see Google’s webcache of the page, and an alternative site here], “A good rule of thumb might be this: if God does it, it is grace; if we do it, it is not grace; calling something that we do God’s grace is not God’s grace.” This is not a difference in interpretation of Scripture. This is fundamentally a philosophical difference concerning whether or not God is able to work through us, with us (as primary cause and secondary cause, in concurrence). It leads to occasionalism on the one hand (God does everything), or deism on the other hand (God winds up the clock, checks out, and we do the rest). Both are errors. God’s providential governance of all things does not detract from the actual causality of created beings such as ourselves. And that is no less true in God’s work of redemption and grace than it is in God’s providential governing of all things.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. John, thanks for taking the time to read it. I am not an expert in Eastern theology nor in the later patristics which are typically associated with Eastern thought. But I would say understanding Eastern doctrine on this topic requires understanding Divinization. St. Irenaeus said that God became man that man might become God (cf. Against Heresies 3.10.2) and Eastern thought has followed closely along this line of thinking. (This is not to say that Western soteriology disagrees, only that it is more central in the East).

    It seems to me, given the centrality of divinization in their soteriology, that the Eastern theologians would only be comfortable with “Soli Deo Gloria” as I have qualified here (perhaps nuanced another way). They certainly would not be comfortable with a strict Puritan rendering that would exclude any sharing of God’s glory.

    In his commentary on Rom 8:17, which I quoted in the article, St. John Chrysostom affirms the eschatological aspect of sharing in God’s glory “he has shown in the words, “If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.”‘ But it is important to remember that for Eastern theology, divinization starts on earth (Orientale Lumen ch6) so we cannot limit this participation in God’s glory to the future. As I alluded to in the article, participation in God’s glory (on earth) means participation in the suffering of Christ. Hence, this suffering is understood as having a cooperative, salvific efficacy by both East & West.

    Of course, at his death bed, Chrysostom is famous for having said “glory to God for all things” but he doesn’t say that to the exclusion of God sharing that glory nor of men participating in salvation. The idea of men not participating in the gift of salvation would be utterly foreign to Chrysostom I believe.

    Sorry I couldn’t offer more help. Eastern patristics is not one of my strong points.

  11. Tim, I am the Caleb you know. And for everyone’s clarification, I do not mean in any way to imply that truth cannot be known, only that our own understanding of it is limited by sinful inclination and our own finitude. We can know truth. God has revealed Truth to us in His written and living Word. But our own understanding is not infallible, and we are particularly susceptible to error when we become chiefly concerned with our own rightness, rather than humbly submitting to the bounds of God’s revealed truth (I say bounds because human error tends to be either a removing or adding to God’s word… something about jots and titels)

    I hope that helps.

    By the way, I think Bryan’s point is good. I believe we encounter real trouble when we try to take the mysteries of Scripture and over-analyze, divide, partition and catagorize them to death.

  12. This was a great article. I really appreciate the highlighting of the similarities between the Reformed tradition and Catholicism. I learned so much from the Reformers, although I think Aquinas nudges them out (I’m looking forward to the continuing discussion on that topic!).

    I wonder if I might ask a simplified question. Most of my Calvinist friends who ask me about my Catholicism are asking basic level questions, and so I’m always trying to distill things in a simple way, but without crossing over into some heresy (I’ll never forget a youth director using the “water, ice cube, and steam” example to explain the Trinity – yikes!).

    Is it fair to say, that we are first dead in our sin, but that God’s gift of grace makes us alive? Since we are now alive, we can choose (we can act) to obey, follow, take up our cross, etc. But that even that “acting” is both a result of God’s initial grace, which gave me the ability to act, and a result of his continual grace, aiding my continual fight against sin and towards Christlikeness. (I really like the rehab metaphor)

    Most of my Calvinist friends argue that not only is initial grace unmerited, but that any sanctification is part and parcel of this same grace and therefore equally unmerited on the same level and in the same way.

  13. Jackie, I don’t think your question is a simple one, this is tough stuff! There are underlying philosophical assumptions that keep us from arriving at the same conclusions (Reformed & Catholics). I alluded to this difference a couple times; they believe in Monergism and we believe in Synergism. We will have some in depth articles on this very issue in the future (and by someone more capable than me).

    But in short, I think you’re understanding it rightly as long as we understand that God’s grace is involved throughout the whole process and not only at the beginning. Now grace doesn’t destroy nature, it perfects it. This is fundamental. Free will is a natural agent of mankind (as given by his Creator) and so from our previous statement we know that grace does not destroy free will – it perfects it. Grace does not force us to choose good (else it destroys free will). Rather, grace enables man to use his free will to choose good and thus participate in the gift of salvation by the merit of his faith and works. Since grace operates in this manner, God is truly the author of our salvation and we are true cooperators (not passive recipients).

    I hope this helps for now. Stay tuned for a fuller explanation and interaction with this critical issue.

  14. Dear Jackie,

    Thanks for contributing. I will give my understanding here but, like you, I realize that it can be easy to unintentionally lapse into error on such topics. I stand ready to be corrected by my more theologically and philosophically astute co-laborers.

    Is it fair to say, that we are first dead in our sin, but that God’s gift of grace makes us alive? Since we are now alive, we can choose (we can act) to obey, follow, take up our cross, etc. But that even that “acting” is both a result of God’s initial grace, which gave me the ability to act, and a result of his continual grace, aiding my continual fight against sin and towards Christlikeness.

    This seems fair to say to me. Initial grace is entirely unmerited, and this should be a point of agreement for Reformed Christians and Catholics. Further, that it is not merited includes foreseen merits. It is God’s grace that gives us the ability to act well.

    I think when we talk about causes or results, though, we may see the Reformed/Catholic disagreement in greater clarity. The Reformed would agree with your statement that our obedience, taking up our crosses (etc.) are a “result” of God’s grace (initial and continual). There is no other part to the equation. God’s grace equals (results in) our obedience. I think that the Catholic would say that our obedience, taking up our crosses (etc.) are a “result” of God’s grace in a “but for” sense (i.e., but for God’s grace, we would not be saved, we would not obey), but that allowing for our free obedience in the equation does not destroy the necessity or causality of grace. So I think your statement is correct, so long as “result” is properly qualified.

    I would enjoy hearing from you or others about whether I have this right. I realize that I very well may not!

    Peace in Christ,

  15. Jackie (and Tim and Tom … aw, heck, Everybody):

    Here’s what I’m thinking. Catholics and Reformed folks both agree that initial grace isn’t merited. Notice, however, that since Reformed folks believe that God continues to impart grace to us as we gradually become more sanctified, what this means is that Reformed theology cannot say that divine grace always operates monergistically. For remember, according to Reformed thought sanctification is a matter of our freely and actively cooperating with God’s grace, so as to be built up in personal holiness and “work out our salvation … for it is God who works” in us. So the Reformed do have a category for synergism, and can’t think that our cooperating with God is necessarily incompatible with God’s grace working in us.

    This Catholics also think, so it’s an important point of overlap, and one we need to think hard about when it comes to the question whether we must be “passive” in justification or whether we are “active” (i.e. have an active faith infused with hope and love) in justification. For the time being, though, this also needs some consideration: Reformed Christians are understandably nervous about terms like “merit,” even though (speaking from my own experience) “merit” doesn’t mean anything like “earning or deserving on the basis of my own efforts.” So suppose we just shelve the term ‘merit’ for a moment. Could Calvinists then agree with the basic idea that, as we try to obey the Father out of love (freely given to us!) and as we try with the help of His grace to conform our lives to His will — could they agree that as we do these things, we are in facted aided by the Lord, carryed along further than we would otherwise had been, if we had not been trying out of love to obey Him?

    I think so. Behind the talk of ‘merit’, behind the legal or juridical language, there is always something deeper, more “natural,” that the legal language is trying to get at. And in this case, it’s fairly plain: vice engenders vice, virtue engenders virtue; we can sear our consciences or become more sensitive to the prodding of the Spirit. All this depends not just on the grace God offers us, but how we respond to it daily. In this sense, we certainly can undermine what the Lord wants for us and “resist the Holy Spirit;” we do that whenever we sin, in fact. And those sins have consequences in our lives, working to make us less sensitive to God and more eager to sin again. But it also works the other way: grace follows upon grace, because each step of our growth toward holiness is precisely of grace. And so when we refrain from sin and strive to “covert” or become holy with the help of His grace, this does, in a strict and clear sense, “increase grace” for us.

    I don’t see that this kind of recognition would be at all incompatible with Reformed thought. So if we can achieve agreement there, we’re better prepared to move on and figure out what is (and isn’t!) meant by “merit.”

    That was … er … longwinded. Hope it helps, though.


  16. Thanks Tom and Tim!

    I realize the question itself is not simple, boy do I ever!, but I need a “simple” way of explaining it. As soon as I introduce the very word “synergism” into the conversation (with the specific folks I have in mind) I will get that glazed eye look, that says, “I have now totally tuned you out, and will ask you the exact same question after you finish talking.” It’s not that these friends are dumb, just that they have no interest in theology or philosophy, per say. But they are very keen to talk me out of being Catholic! Don’t think that’s gonna happen, by the way, but I want to enter the conversation with them.

    It’ s hard to discuss these issues without also discussing the underlying philosophy, as you pointed out, but I keep trying to find a way! Or at least figuring out a way to explain the philosophy behind their assumptions (and my own) without getting the aforementioned glazed eye.

    I’m looking forward to the next installment! It’s been a long time since I looked at monergism vs synergism, and back then I was looking at it from the other side, as a Calvinist/monergist!


  17. Neal (we must have been typing at the same time),

    Great thoughts. I continually wish for someone to create a pocket sized book of translations – from Catholic to Protestant. Where you could quickly look up “merit”, for instance, and it would show the proper translation, from Protestant speak to Catholic speak, and that everyone had to memorize it, just like I had to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a kid. It seems like I am forever defining the words I use. The conversation always has to contain the phrase, “okay, I know that when you hear the word ‘merit’, ‘grace’, ‘salvation’, ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’, etc, etc, etc, you think it means this…., but as a Catholic the word has more of this connotation…” It’s frustrating.

  18. Neal, thanks for the clarification. I was oversimplifying it a bit I suppose. But there is still substantial difference in that Sanctification is part of the salvation process for us, it seems, and a natural result of the finished justification process for the Reformed. (This may be another over simplification but in my experience, this is what it really means when the rubber hits the road).

  19. Tim,

    I don’t think you were oversimplifying, but these things are tricky.

    I was just having a very edifying conversation with Chris Donato (an editor for Tabletalk) about this very subject, and he voiced his (Reformed) agreement with the facts that (a) sanctification is part of salvation, that (b) sanctification (and thus salvation) is a process that includes but extends beyond justification, and (most importantly) that (c) salvation is sola gratia, even though salvation requires active cooperation (because it requires sanctification)! This, I think, is an extremely important overlap, and it’s the one I wanted to press above.


    This website isn’t exactly pocketsized, but translation is one of the things we’re aiming to do (as well as laying bare the real agreeements and disagreements).

    I don’t know your friends, but I might suggest this if they aren’t philosophically or theologically inclined: I would stay away from terms like ‘synergism’ and ‘merit’ and try instead to put across the content of Catholic teaching in categories they’re used to thinking in, or even in ways that connect with their own experience as Christians. They might not think about philosophy, but they know that when they’re in a funk, when their prayer life is in the can, when they aren’t really trying to live in loving obedience, they know that it becomes harder and harder to break out of that cycle; on the other hand, they know that when they are seeking daily to be disciplined in these things, when they’re really trying to love the Lord with heart and mind and strength, it gets increasingly easier and more joyous to do so. This, I wager, is a universal feature of Christian experience. This is where I’d start if I wanted to explain to someone what the Church means when she says that we can “merit an increase of grace.”



  20. Neal Judisch,

    “I was just having a very edifying conversation with Chris Donato (an editor for Tabletalk) about this very subject, and he voiced his (Reformed) agreement with the facts that (a) sanctification is part of salvation, that (b) sanctification (and thus salvation) is a process that includes but extends beyond justification, and (most importantly) that (c) salvation is sola gratia, even though salvation requires active cooperation (because it requires sanctification)! This, I think, is an extremely important overlap, and it’s the one I wanted to press above.”

    Is this truly what reformed theology actually teaches?

    It’s not one I’m entirely familiar with, although I can hardly describe the Protestant church I was once a part of as having been, in any sense of the word, reformed in the traditional sense.

    Although, we have had guest ministers during bible studies and special speaking events from the reformed tradition who have always accentuated the very point that basically (and ultimately) boiled down to the (contestable) fact that good works are unnecessary and, in fact, are not required for salvation.

    If you are saying otherwise, I would be very much surprised.

  21. I think Neal is trying to represent the best of Reformed theology. Clearly the average pew-sitter wouldn’t think in those categories (and much of the same could be said for Catholic pew-sitters and their representation of authentic Catholic doctrine), but I’d even go so far as to say that few PCA clergy would be able to phrase it like Neal did.

    In my experience, the best of Reformed theology looks awfully Catholic, and likewise, the best representation of Catholic doctrine doesn’t merely dismiss Reformed doctrine as absurd.

  22. I don’t mean to limit the discussion to PCA only, that’s just where I came from.

  23. Tim,

    I would appreciate those comments more if it were just pew-sitters who were actually saying this.

    In actuality, these were well-respected ministers with pretty strong credentials. In fact, our church would not have invited them so (and, coincidentally, paid them handsomely for speaking at our church on such topics on Salvation) if they were your ordinary Protestant Joe.

    I am curious if whether what Neal is saying in his comments is genuinely of the reformed, as in how the reformers themselves thought & taught, or that perhaps it may be more so a consequence of this whole ecumenical effort at large.

    It just doesn’t seem to me to be the case of the former.

    In fact, I thought it was Wesley and his whole holiness movement that kind of raised the entire discussion concerning the connection between salvation and works into the Protestant arena centuries later, which protestantism itself had formerly dismissed at the time of the Reformation.

  24. To be honest, I’ve never heard anyone in the Reformed community, past or present, speak of salvation in the manner Neal described so you and I are on the same page. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t ones who do, it just makes me wonder if they understand it as such – why are they still Reformed?

  25. Tim,

    Thanks for that.

    At any rate, there is a Protestant online who nicely (though perhaps, in some instances, inadequately) outlined the various views concerning Salvation as it relates to Protestants & Catholics at the following site:

    Can Salvation be Lost?

    Now, #5 is perhaps the one I have been more familiar with as concerning the reformed view I have known in the past (while, for disclosure sake, the particular church I was in isn’t so far from it as it was more aligned with #4 in that breakdown).

    View #5) Salvation is gained by decree of God, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost.

    Faith in Jesus is an inevitable result of God’s eternal decrees. It does not come from anything in the believer. Those whom Jesus died for will certainly be saved. This view is often called “monergism” and is popular among Calvinists.

    Problems with this view: First, it has the same weaknesses of view #4 (discounts the warning passages, gives a license to sin). Secondly it denies assurance. Those whom God decrees will certainly be saved, but no one knows what God has decreed. This view can cause us to doubt the good character of God, and can easily lead to a fatalistic attitude.

  26. Roma,

    Thanks for these questions and sorry for the delayed response; haven’t been checking this combox lately.

    So, I’ve got no real problem with you or Tim noting that typical Protestants in the pew may not say these things, but I don’t think I’m saying anything contentious as regards confessional Protestantism. (I think the comparison above is apt: I probably wouldn’t want people judging Catholicism on the basis of its loosest and most popularized expressions, or on the basis of what the typical Catholic in the pew says.) But I think it’s really pretty straightforward: Reformed Christians do not equate salvation with justification; they include sanctification within the concept of salvation, and usually want to understand the whole business in terms of union with Christ. (Here I’m speaking specifically of the Calvinists, not making blanket statements about all the magisterial reformers who differed with each other quite a bit.)

    So of course, they believe that a person’s salvation includes not just being declared “not guilty,” but also the process whereby they are loosed of sin’s dominion and made pure and upright. (Actually, they tend to get annoyed when you suggest they don’t think this, and they understandably complain that the Reformed position is being caricaturized.) Sancification and justification are bound up with one another, in the sense that the latter doesn’t occur without the former occurring. It’s just that they refuse to say that sanctification, or the process of being made pure by the help of God’s grace, is a ground of or reason for our justification before the divine tribunal. But that is not to say that it is not necessary for our salvation — recognizing here that salvation is a broader category than justification. The WCF (13, e.g.) makes this fairly clear:

    1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

    2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

    3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

    And Calvin himself spent a lot more time on sanctification than he spent on justification in the Institutes. Indeed, the sanctification discussions come prior to the shorter discussion of justification in that work.

    It is definitely true that people are sometimes loose with the language, and make it sound as though justification and salvation are equivalent. (Thus people say “I got saved,” as if the whole thing were already over and done with.) But reflective Reformed people do not think like this, and if you press even the ‘non-reflective’ ones on exactly what they mean I think they would also assign a singificant role to sanctification. Just accuse one of them of antinomianism and see what happens: they will absolutely insist on the necessity of “works” in the soteriological scheme, even if they are careful to maintain that such “works” don’t enter into our “not guilty” verdicts and don’t form part of the grounds for our justification, since justification is simply alien and imputed.

    Tim of course is right that classical Reformed thought is closer to Catholicism than run of the mill evangelicalism is, and that the classical Reformed construals are more careful about their treatments of these things. But that doesn’t mean that there are no classical Reformed thinkers around or that we should not try to make contact with that robust theological heritage. That’s the level I think we’re aiming for here, because we aren’t really interested in setting up strawmen to knock over easily.



  27. Neal,

    Perhaps this might help my understanding concerning, more specifically, the Calvinist view of Salvation.

    Would you kindly explain exactly the controversy as regards Calvin and Arminian?

    I would think that even the latter made the substantial claim (which led ultimately to their later persecution by the Calvinists & others of like mind) that salvation is dependent on man cooperating with God’s grace.

  28. Dear Roma,

    This is a great question. As you know, the historical Arminius is perhaps closer to Calvin than some self-confessed Arminians are, but putting that to the side, I think the main and most celebrated difference between these two camps is that Calvinists, but not Arminians, maintain that God’s election of particular individuals to salvation is not a mere function of divine foreknowledge of who will freely respond to the prevenient grace that God offers to all equally, but it is rather a matter of God’s predestining some to salvation (and not others) and then efficaciously bringing those elect individuals to saving faith by His grace. The grace by which He accomplishes this is not offered equally to all, but is given to the elect only; and, importantly, this grace is “irresistable,” in the sense that it invariably brings about the individual’s (justifying) faith. It is not, in other words, provided to everyone, leaving us to respond appropriately or resist, as the case may be; it is sufficient and efficacious, infallibly bringing about faith and salvation to whomever God grants it.

    Why this disagreement? Calvinists typically maintain that Arminians do not have an appropriately strong view of original sin and its effects. From the Calvinist perspective, they appear to deny that man is dead in sin, and instead think that man is only weakened (in some sense) through sin. Thus when the Arminian contends that God offers the same grace to all, and then leaves it up to us to cooperate with that grace (or resist that grace) according to our free choice, the Calvinist will say that, in our naturally depraved (post-fall) state, no one of us would cooperate with God’s grace “freely.” This is because we are hostile in heart and mind to God and the things of God, until God sovereignly moves us by His grace. That’s where the ‘monergism’ comes in, at least on one level. We are dead in sin, and God sovereignly, unilaterally, and monergistically (by Himself) elects to save some, and then sees to it that the elect are brought to justifying faith, and that they persevere in holiness thereafter. That is why all the glory goes to God, according to Calvinists, rather than some glory going to God, and some going to me (e.g) for making the right choice and accepting Christ.

    However, as indicated above, we must be careful to distinguish the scenario in which a person, dead in sin, comes to faith in Christ by the regenerating power of God’s sovereign grace, and the scenario in which already regenerate persons cooperate with God’s sanctifying grace. For Calvinists do wish to allow that Christians, alive in the Holy Spirit, can and do cooperate with God’s grace in sanctification: this is how Calvinists understand St Paul when he says that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, for God is the one who is at work in us. Thus the Calvinist does have a category for “cooperation” with God, once we have been made alive (monergistically) in Christ

    Does that help a bit?


  29. Neal,

    Do you agree with the following basic presentation concerning the difference between the two, which was taken from The Five Points of CALVINISM – Defined, Defended, Documented?

    According to Arminianism: Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) – man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.

    According to Calvinism: Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

    If so, how has your originally Calvinist view since changed now that you’ve become Catholic?

  30. Dear Roma,

    I agree and disagree with this description (I think — I don’t have the surrounding context before me, and I’m not sure how to disambiguate a couple of things). More precisely, it is accurate to say, from the Calvinist perspective, that the “decisive” factor in Arminianism is the human decision, and that the decisive factor in Calvinism is God’s decision. I think that is a fair representation of how Calvinists view the matter, at least, though you can understand why an Arminian might think that the aspect of grace within their scheme is being unduly downplayed.

    However, I will say that the author of this passage is not being as explicit as we might have hoped. This paragraph:

    According to Calvinism: Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

    is ambiguous, and can be read in several ways. (Indeed, with the possible exception of the final sentence — and maybe also the clause about God “causing” our “willing obedience,” depending upon how that’s understood — just about everybody could accept what the author says here.) The source of ambiguity lies in a couple spots, but here I just want to focus on this one: “…the entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone.”

    Now, the author may be including within ‘regeneration’ the notion of sanctification, but it does not exactly sound that way. It sounds as if this author is primarily focusing attention on the initial circumstances, or on how people become regenerate, and not thinking too much about the change of life (etc.) that ensues gradually — what is sometimes called “progressive sanctification,” as opposed to “initial sanctification”/regeneration. And it sounds this way because of the implicated parallelism running throughout (God does this by Himself, this by Himself, and this by Himself). This is unfortunate, because it means that the author is either being sloppy with the term ‘salvation’, which certainly can and should incorporate sanctification from the confessional Protestant perspective, or the author is purposefully excluding sanctification from his description of “salvation.” If the latter, then this author is using the term ‘salvation’ in too restrictive a sense and conflicting with much of what his tradition has to say on the point. If the former, well, this is another instance of someone using ‘salvation’ somewhat loosely, which is (as I mentioned) something that happens quite a bit, especially in popular literature and discourse. But here again, the WCF and other documents are more circumspect; consider for example this paragraph in the exposition of XIII, from which I previously quoted:

    Antinomians maintain, that believers are sanctified only by the holiness of Christ being imputed to them, and that there is no inherent holiness infused into them, nor required of them. This is a great and dangerous error; and, in opposition to it, our Confession asserts, that believers are really and personally sanctified. Their sanctification includes “the mortification of sin in their members.” It includes also “the fruits of the Spirit, as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”–Gal. v. 22. These are personal things; they are wrought in the hearts of believers, and produced in their tempers and lives. It is absurd to say they are in Christ, and imputed to believers; they are the effects of the Holy Spirit imparted to us, whose operations are compared, by Christ himself, to “a well of water within us, springing up unto everlasting life.”

    And again:

    Holiness, though it cannot give us a title to heaven, is indispensably necessary. It is necessary by a divine and unalterable constitution; for “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”–Heb. xii. 14. God has enacted it as an immutable law, that nothing which defileth shall enter into the heavenly city.–Rev. xxi. 27. It is necessary, also, as a preparative for heaven. It is the evidence of our title, and constitutes our meetness for enjoying the pleasures and engaging in the work of the heavenly world. “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”–Matt. v. 8.

    If we include in our “salvation” everything that’s needed to “get to heaven,” then it’s clear that whereas our “title” for heaven comes from Christ’s imputed righteousness, our “meetness” for heaven (our being able to stand in the Lord’s presence) requires us to be fully sanctified. This is just one example, but the Reformed have always been eager to distinguish themselves from an antinomian view that says good works just don’t matter, even as they want to ensure that justification and sanctification are not “confused,” as they believe has happened in Catholicism.

    So I’m thinking this author is just using “salvation” too restrictively, and in a way that doesn’t capture all the nuances of Reformed theology. (Indeed, it leaves Reformed Christians open to the charge they’re really sick of hearing: that they are antinomians, that they just think in legal categories and don’t think interior rennovation matters, etc.) I note however that the author may be including sanctification in this description (it could fit in, perhaps, as a subcategory of ‘regeneration’), but failing to indicate which steps in the ordo salutis are the work of God only, and which steps involve human agency as well. Re-read our ambiguous sentence above: “”…the entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone.” Calvinists understand that progressive sanctification is a cooperative venture, wherein regenerate individuals respond to God’s grace and actively grow in holiness over time. “Perseverence of the Saints” doesn’t just mean “once saved always saved” for Calvinists, it also means that justified individuals will invariably grow in grace and holiness throughout their lives. Now from the Calvinist perspective, we do contribute to our sanctification, and we can say (consistently with this) that our sanctification is the “work of God.” It just isn’t a work of God only. And the author doesn’t say up there that all those things are works of God only, just that they’re “works of God” (which everybody can agree with).

    But, again, I’m thinking that the context militates against this interpretation. For Calvinists, all of these things — election, redemption, and our being made regenerate — are things that God alone does on our behalf, with no ‘cooperation’ or activity on our part. So my verdict is: the author is somewhat imprecise, but given the main distinctions this author is trying to make, it is understandable that he’s focusing on the points of contention between Arminian and Calvinist Protestants, and not attending to the questions you are presently asking.

    Your other question about my own views would unfortunately take even longer to answer than my already long reply. If you are wondering about how “close” a Catholic can be to a Calvinist outlook, and on which points exactly the Catholic must disagree with the Calvinist, I would recommend looking at Jimmy Akin’s brief paper called “A Tiptoe Through TULIP.” There he examines the five points of Calvinism, shows where the Catholic can and can’t agree, and offers a Thomistic version of TULIP. You can find that paper by going to our homepage, clicking the “Library” tab, selecting “Resources by Topic,” and then clicking on “TULIP.”



  31. Neal, I’ve been lurking here for a little bit now. Just wanted to thank you for representing my comments, and, more importantly, the (best of the) Reformed tradition itself (on the relationship between justification and sanctification) fairly and accurately.

  32. Neal,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my inquiries (and with appreciably elaborate replies that ever endeavoured to answer with only accurate information as to the actual facts rather than simply senseless polemics) concerning the Calvinist point-of-view.

    Given what you’ve presented here, it seems more so the case that the purportedly reformed ministers who had visited the protestant church I had formally attended then may have indeed been playing fast-and-loose in their presentations of salvation that was supposed to afford the reformed perspective, but which was more likely catering to the popularized protestant views of not only our congregation then but also the generally sensationalist evangelical view concerning salvation.

  33. Thank you, Chris. Good to hear from you.


  34. Roma,

    Without knowing the individuals I of course couldn’t say, but it certainly is a possibility that these folks were tweaking things a tad. It can be tough duty trying to get subtle ideas across to an audience consisting of different people with differing levels of understanding, too, so it may be that things were simplified (and perhaps distorted) a little bit, but not in an underhanded way or from questionable motives. But I am glad you’ve found my responses somewhat helpful, and I appreciate the remarks.



  35. Neal, that’s exactly right. You guys have to appreciate how many caveats I’d have to give if I was teaching on the role of works in salvation within the Reformed tradition. So much to undo; so much potential for misunderstanding. It’s almost easier to just let it slide…

  36. Chris,

    I hear you; I get little guilty feelings in the classroom sometimes, when I’m oversimplifying a position or an argument in a lower-level class just for the sake of comprehension. And that’s just philosophy. Hard to strike the right balance in all this. This is one of the reasons I think it is just too onerous and unreasonable to expect every single Christian to go through the Bible and “get it right” about the “essentials,” being sure to avoid apostasy and misunderstanding at every turn, and being sure to choose the right denomination(s) and not lead their family astray, etc. I think the Lord knows that not every member of His Body comes equally equipped in that area (in fact, He knows that even persons who do come thus equipped can and will get it wrong), and He doesn’t any less want them to be one Body for all that. Some as apostles, some as teachers, till we all attain to the unity of the Faith; that sort of thing.


  37. Neal,

    But does not the problem that you’ve alluded to here in our discussion concerning the difficulties in getting across the various genuine aspects of reformed theology to such an audience also apply as regards the very tenets of Catholicism as well?

    Catholicism is not only so vast in its ancient theology as well as an overwhelmingly rich history, it can become utterly difficult in getting across what our Faith is truly all about to an audience not so sophisticated, that even these end up with but only a caricature of the Catholic Church herself rather than a genuine understanding of it as that very Church Our Lord Himself had established dating all the way back to the Apostles themselves.

    The very Canon of Scripture & Apostolic Tradition passed down from age to age through Her, along with various customs inherited from generation to generation, is not a patrimony that can be so easily understood by the average Protestant detractor, whose knowledge of the ancient Church may be nothing more than merely a Jack Chic cartoon, at the very least.

  38. Oh, yes, I completely agree with this, Roma. Theology is very hard, no question. We’re making a modest effort here to do some of the translation work and to reach out to various levels, among other things. But these issues are difficult, and every one of us is still learning. So, to reiterate what I said to Chris, I think these facts, together with the Scriptural injunctions to unity and orthodoxy/catholicity of doctrine, should turn our collective attention to the importance of sacred Tradition and (sacramental) magisterial authority. It isn’t as though there’s a short and sweet entailment, mind you; but I think that recognizing the sheer immensity of the task of figuring Christianity out, and the inherent dangerousness of Christian theology, are important preconditions that help to motivate a Catholic outlook on the authority issues.



  39. I know this is Reformed meets Rome, but the idea of prevenient grace and cooperation with it in our salvation is taught by John Wesley. He was an Anglican who started “methodism”, later the Methodist Church. He arrived at his conlusions through reading the Eastern Church Fathers. I took a class in Wesleyan Theology from Don Thorsen many years ago, and this is what I recall. He was, of course an Arminian, and proudly so, when it wasn’t very cool.

  40. Hello, Ron.

    We haven’t spoken before. Nice to meet you.

    You’re right about Wesley, of course, as to how he differs from Calvinists on some very important points. I think, though, that the previous discussion shows how Calvinists can make room for ‘prevenient’ (or, if you like, ‘common’) grace, and also how Calvinists not only can but must make room for cooperation with God’s grace in the overall soteriological scheme. This is because confessional Calvinists include Spririt-wrought-sanctification within the ordo salutis, and they do not restrict ‘salvation’ to ‘justification’ only. (Please see here comments 20 through 36, and especially the material quoted from the WCF).

    You probably already know this, but if you don’t, it may surprise you to learn that Catholics (following e.g. Augustine and Aquinas, under some interpretations of Aquinas) may legitimately believe that God elects certain individuals to grace and to glory in an “unconditional” (not based upon foreseen responses to divine grace) way. Such Catholics do not believe that this rules out the individual’s “free” (non-coerced) response to God’s intrinsically efficacious grace, and (along with the Reformed) they do not think this means that Christians cannot freely cooperate with God as they grow in progressive sanctification.

    I may be wrong, but it sounds to me as though you might be assimilating Wesley’s thought with “Catholic” thought. If you’re thinking in this way, it would be a mistake. Catholic theology is pretty diverse; it allows for a plurality of theological perspectives within limits, and it cannot be identified with what John Wesley thought about things, even on these very specific matters.

    When we consider the possibility of freely cooperating with God’s grace in salvation, we need to be sensitive to the fact that salvation is a process that includes but goes beyond justification (from a Reformed perspective as well), and we also need to be aware that different people mean different things by “freely.” This is because different theologians have different views on what free will amounts to, and also on how divine and human action work together. The important thing to note here, I think, is that we can’t understand these questions in terms of a simple “Calvinist-or-Arminian” approach, since there are more questions, and more subtle questions, to be asked, and since people were thinking about these things for a pretty long time before Calvin and Wesley showed up on the scene.

    Thanks for weighing in here; re-reading my comments, I’m a little worried that they come off too didactic or “lecture”-style. I hope you don’t take them that way, and I hope they help to spur our thought onward.



  41. Neal,
    1) I am not surprised at all about the diversity of RCC thought, nor the closeness of much of the Reformed views with Catholic views- Luther and Calvin were “Augustinian”.
    2) My point with Wesley is that he is an example of a Protestant who sees the necessity of free-will and love in the order of salvation. Man must co-operate with the Holy Spirit for Salvation.
    3) Wesley’s interaction was not through the Latin Fathers, but the Greek Fathers.
    4) I don’t leave long posts- my wrists hurt when I type, so please excuse my brief posts.

  42. Ron,

    I hear you. For my part, it’s usually my head that hurts when I type. So we’re bedfellows of a sort.

    But let me respond to your bulletpoints in bulletpoint fashion:

    (1) It speaks well of you that you know that Catholicism allows for a plurality of conflicting theological opinions. That’s cool.

    About Luther and Calvin being Augustinian. Well, sort of. If you have things like election or predestination in mind, then we can say that Luther and Calvin were “Thomists” as well as we can say that they were “Augustinians.” In some ways Luther is closer to Augustine and Aquinas, and in other ways Calvin is closer to Augustine and Aquinas. But neither one of them (Luther or Calvin) were able to accept a fullblown Augustinianism any more than they were able to accept a fullblown Thomism. This may seem pedantic or piddling, but I really don’t think it is. If you call Luther and Calvin “Augustinian” just because they held to a robust doctrine of divine sovereignty and predestination and so forth, then that is fine, but it should be noted that (a) Catholics can accept those things too, and (b) Reformed folks can’t in the least accept most of what Augustine said if they want to keep being Reformed. You might have heard that the Reformers upheld Augustine’s view of grace while throwing away his doctrine of the Church. This is inaccurate. The Reformers may not have liked Augustine’s ecclesiology, but neither could they abide his soteriology, and the issue of predestination is a red herring since Catholics can hold to what Augustine says about that as well.

    (2) As to free will and love. Again, “free will” is a term of art, and different philosophers and theologians have different theories about what “free will” is. Jonathan Edwards believed in “free will,” and Wesley believed in “free will,” but they had different ideas about what constituted free will. But putting that aside: do you really want to affirm, as a representative of Reformed theology, that “love” for God and for neighbor doesn’t have anything to do with an individual’s salvation? That loving God doesn’t have anything to do with whether a person is a follower of Jesus? I don’t think you want to say this. The Westminster divines, and Calvin, and others, would disagree with this. They disagree because they hold that “salvation” involves more than just being declared “not guilty” on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness, applied to the individual strictly on the basis of faith (wrought within them sovereignly by the Spirit when they hear the preaching of the Word). And again, because the Reformed confess that salvation involves more than justification by faith, and that a person must make his calling and election sure by working out his salvation with fear and trembling, they hold, as well, that “salvation” includes the cooperation of the regenerate individual with God’s sanctifying grace, as he perseveres in grace-wrought obedience. (I urge you again to look carefully through the Westminster Confession 13, and in the relevant spots of the Institutes.)

    I understand that you are wanting to safeguard justification by faith alone through grace alone by ensuring that it is not tainted by any “works” or any “synergism.” But the way that you are doing it here is not the way that Calvin or the Westminster divines did it.

    (3) Okay, maybe so. It’s not clear to me that Wesley was not exposed to the western tradition, and it isn’t clear to me why we should discount the Greek Fathers. Maybe you’re thinking like this: if someone is influenced by Eastern Christianity about X, then they are wrong about X. I see no reason to accept this claim, and in fact I think that we western Christians have a lot still to learn from the East.



  43. Neal said

    You probably already know this, but if you don’t, it may surprise you to learn that Catholics (following e.g. Augustine and Aquinas, under some interpretations of Aquinas) may legitimately believe that God elects certain individuals to grace and to glory in an “unconditional” (not based upon foreseen responses to divine grace) way.

    I did not realize this, can you explain this further and is this similar to Calvinist’s predestination?

    To continue Ron’s Wesley discussion, predestination is a concept Wesley strongly disliked which can be shown by his concept of grace being “Free for all, Free in all” . Of course he allowed for free will to accept Christ as well as free will allows us to fall from grace. Wesley also thought this grace was just the doorstep and we must actively cross through the door and accept it and act upon it, and that our faith transformed us. His concept was bringing together of Calvinist view of divine initiative and Catholic human response. Wesley’s concept was that God acts first in prevenient grace and we are to respond.

    I remember an author describing Wesley’s thoughts on predestination.
    – makes preaching useless, since the purpose of preaching is to save souls and but the elect do not need it because they are saved without it, the nonelect cannot be saved with it.
    – same holds true for the gospel and christian revelation.
    – it lessens the need for good works, since we can not help the nonelect.
    – it dishonors God’s underlying truth, justice and love. It makes God unjust and cruel, because it condemns people who may want and desire salvation.

    I thought i would add my two cents worth on Wesley, that was my upbringing prior to conversion. it also brings to mind one of my favorite passages which was written above one the doors to the church i went to growing up.

    “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”


  44. Neal said:

    (3) Okay, maybe so. It’s not clear to me that Wesley was not exposed to the western tradition, and it isn’t clear to me why we should discount the Greek Fathers. Maybe you’re thinking like this: if someone is influenced by Eastern Christianity about X, then they are wrong about X. I see no reason to accept this claim, and in fact I think that we western Christians have a lot still to learn from the East.

    I think Ron is correct that Wesley was familar with the Eastern Church. Wesley’s concept of prevenient grace is very similar to John Chrysostom’s view as the physical bodies are evil but the soul is good.

    One “leg” of Wesley’s Quadrilateral is about tradition, and as one author describes tradition, is that Wesley revered the ancient church, he valued Christian writings through out history, as shown by his view of St Frances de Sales’s “Introduction to the Devout Life” and other writers. Also he placed a great value on the early church fathers. In fact , one of the study groups at a Methodist church in town where I live, is studying the writings of various people like Augustine and Aquinas along with others, they feel they can learn from all of the Christian writers be it Catholic or Protestant.

    I use the keyboard all day, I use ice and ibuprofen for a sort wrist and head.

    Thanks again

  45. Dear Norm,

    Thanks for weighing in. I’ve got lots on my plate today, so I’m going to be brief and maybe return to this a bit later.

    Just a couple quick points, then. First, about Wesley’s having been influenced by the Eastern or Greek Fathers. I didn’t mean to deny that he had been, I just meant to say that even if he had been it does not follow that the influence negatively impacted his theology. Good things can and do come from the East. As to Chrysostom, I’d be hesitant to attribute to him a manichean or gnostic view according to which physical bodies are bad and spiritual entities are good; but however that may be, I think that the concept of prevenient grace and a Wesleyan/Arminian position on freedom and predestination does not necessarily link up with that sort of philosophical picture. But perhaps I’m not seeing the connection.

    As to your first questions concerning predestination. Yes, Catholics can hold that God unconditionally elects those predestined for grace and glory, and that this election is unconditional because it is an “absoute” decree rather than a hypothetical decree (such as, e.g., decreeing that whoever is foreseen to respond to God’s grace will infallibly be saved, etc.). There are differences between Catholics who are close to Calvin on other points. For example, we cannot hold that God actively works evil in individuals in the same sense that He actively works good in individuals. (Maybe this is closer to what Luther thought than what Calvin thought, but Calvin was very suspicious of distinctions between God’s active and passive or permissive wills, so it isn’t clear.) So our doctrine of reprobation has to be understood in “negative” terms, that God does not elect some to eternal life. He gives grace to all, but, according to some Catholics, He bestows upon the elect an intrinsically efficacious grace which enables the elect to cooperate with him and persevere to the end and so be saved. Some others, He “passes over,” not by refraining from giving them any grace at all, but by not supplying whatever further graces are sufficient to bring about “infallibly” the individual’s salvation.

    Another difference is that we do not assume that if God efficaciously brings about faith, good works, and so on, in a person, that this means that the person must be entirely “passive” or “non-cooperative” throughout the entire process. This is because of a philosophical difference. We believe that causes (divine and human) can concur so as to bring about the same effect; we see God as enabling acts of will, rather than overriding or circumventing our wills and doing everything by Himself, as though we were inanimate objects. This too might be closer to a Lutheran line of thought, but many Calvinists take pains to put everything in very passive terms, so that it is clear that “salvation” is a “monergistic” process through and through. You seem to do this above, when you indicate that the idea of “human response” to God’s grace is a “Catholic” idea, and that the necessity of “actively accepting” and “acting upon” grace and being “transformed by” faith is a Wesleyan/Catholic idea, which Reformed people cannot agree with. I know some Reformed people who would want to qualify these remarks of yours heavily. I also think of the WCF, wherein the divines specify that “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Certainly Calvin could and did hold to a concurrentist picture overall, a theory on which primary causes (God’s willings) and secondary causes (natural events, human actions) work together as opposed to being in competition with one another. Whether that analysis is consistently extended to the soteriological sphere is not obvious to me, because Calvinists say different and conflicting things about it. I wrote a post dealing with some of this a while ago, called “Calvinian Thomism.” You can find it in the backpages of the blog section.

    One brief article you might find helpful, if you want to know how “close” a Catholic can get to Calvinism, for example, is James Akin’s paper “A Tiptoe through TULIP.” You can find a copy of it here: Also, the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Predestination is worth reading. However, it is written by someone who is clearly more sympathetic to a Molinist (sort of close to Arminian) view, and it also uses technical terms and expressions that Protestants might not be as accustomed to. The Akin paper does not do this; it is written using theological expressions that Protestants are more familiar with, so you don’t have to do much translating.

    Okay, got to get back to work now!


    PS: Here is one of my favorite passages from Cardinal Newman. (Catholics are allowed to talk like this):

    What thanks ought we to render to Almighty God my dear brethren, that He has made us what we are! It is a matter of grace. There are, to be sure, many cogent arguments to lead one to join the Catholic Church, but they do not force the will. We may know them, and not be moved by them to act upon them. We may be convinced without being persuaded. The two things are quite distinct from each other, seeing you ought to believe, and believing; reason, if left to itself, will bring you to the conclusion that you have sufficient grounds for believing, but belief is a gift of grace. You are then what you are, not from any excellence or merit of your own, but by the grace of God who has chosen you to believe. You might have been as the barbarians of Africa, or the freethinker of Europe, with grace sufficient to condemn you, because it had not furthered your salvation. You might have had strong inspirations of grace and have resisted them, and then additional grace might not have been given to overcome your resistance. God gives not the same measure of grace to all. Has He not visited you with over-abundant grace? And was it not necessary for your hard hearts to receive more than other people? Praise and bless Him continually for the benefit; do not forget, as time goes on, that it is of grace; do not pride yourselves upon it; pray ever not to lose it; and do your best to make others partakers of it.

    And you brethren, also, if such be present, who are not as yet Catholics, but who by your coming hither seem to show your interest in our teaching, and you wish to know more about it, you too remember, that though you may not yet have faith in the Church, still God has brought you into the way of obtaining it. You are under the influence of His grace; He has brought you a step on your journey; He wishes to bring you further. He wishes to bestow on you the fullness of His blessings, and to make you Catholics … Yet now the first suggestions of grace are working in your souls, and are issuing in pardon for the past and sanctity for the future. God is moving you to acts of faith, hope, love, hatred of sin, repentance; do not disappoint Him, do not thwart Him, concur with Him, obey Him. You look up, and you see, as it were, a great mountain to be scaled; you say, “How can I possibly find a path over these giant obstacles, which I find in the way of my becoming Catholic? I do not comprehend this doctrine, and I am pained at that; a third seems impossible; I never can be familiar with one practice, I am afraid of another; it is one maze and discomfort to me, and I am led to sink down in despair.” Say not so, my dear brethren, look up in hope, trust in Him who calls you forward. “Who art thou, O great mountain, before Zorobabel? but a plain.” He will lead you forward step by step, as He has led forward many a one before you.

  46. A few things.
    1) Luther was an Augustinian monk, but he denied (as did Calvin) infusioned/imparted righteousness. Righteousness for them was only imputed.
    2) I think Luther was at odds with Aquinas. Luther’s reform was in large part a reaction against Aristotle.
    3) Yes, Wesley was very much influenced by the Greek fathers, but I in no way meant that as a negative!
    4) Yes, there are distinctions in regard to free will, but if this or any thread gets going on it, I will not come back. :-)
    5) I have enjoyed this site so far.

  47. Hey, Ron.

    Thanks for the response. So let’s see:

    (1) Yes, Luther was an Augustinian monk, and there’s no question that Augustine helped to shape some of Luther’s theology. You are also right when you say that Luther and Calvin held that Christ’s righteousness was imputed only, and not also imparted. Luther’s lecture on “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” which I think was written in 1522, might suggest a more nuanced position; and of course, Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ brings his thought that much closer to Catholic theology. But we can ignore these things here: what I was saying was that, to the extent Luther and Calvin are “Augustinian,” simply because they hold to a strong doctrine of predestination and so forth, they could equally well be called “Thomistic,” since Thomists may likewise espouse a strong view of predestination. You seem to want to call Luther and Calvin “Augustinian,” but you do not want to call them “Thomistic.” But I’m saying there is no reason at all to do this. Where Luther and Calvin agree with Augustine about predestination, they also agree with Aquinas. Where Luther and Calvin disagree with Augustine about justification, they also disagree with Aquinas. So, there is no evident reason why you should call Luther and Calvin “Augustinians” but refrain from calling them “Thomists.” Augustine is just as “Catholic” as Aquinas. Which brings us to:

    (2) Sure, Luther didn’t like Aristotle. “Reason is the devil’s whore,” and so forth. He didn’t like the idea of the virtues as Aristotle laid them out, or as St Thomas took them up in his discussion of supernatural virtues. That is fine. But the reason that Luther did not like these things is the same reason that he did not like Augustine’s view of justification-by-faith-formed-by-love. Aquinas agrees with Augustine about this and they both disagree with Luther about it. So whereas Aquinas is popularly placed alongside Aristotle and Augustine is not (Augustine is populary placed alongside Plato, though both of these characterizations are pretty distracting and unhelpful), this does not explain why Luther’s “Anti-Aristotelian” protest should be seen as a protest against Aquinas (on justification) but not also a protest against Augustine (on justification). Again: as regards justification, Luther and the other Reformers had to deny what Augustine said just as much as they had to deny what Aquinas said. But when it comes to predestination, there is no reason to say that Luther and Calvin were “Augustinian” but not “Thomistic.” Augustine and Aquinas can agree all the way through, but Luther and Calvin have to disagree with both of them at the same points, even if they may agree with them on some other points.

    So, Aristotle doesn’t have anything to do with this particular question we are talking about, I think. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I am I’d ask you to explain to me exactly how “Aristotle” is relevant to any of the points of theological dispute.

    (3) Cool beans! I didn’t think you did.

    (4) I think I understand you here, but maybe I don’t. After I had been a Calvinist for a while, I never wanted to get into discussions about “predestination” with “Arminians.” It was tiring, and it seemed like they just didn’t “get it.” But when I say that different theologians/philosophers have developed different theoretical accounts of free will, I’m not merely saying that Arminians don’t find Calvinist prooftexts convincing and that Calvinists don’t find Arminian prooftexts convincing. Of course they don’t. That’s the problem with prooftexts. What I’m pointing out is something different: namely, that there are different metaphysical accounts of what “the freedom of the will” is, and there are also different theoretical accounts about how divine and human agency work together.

    But the thing is, none of these differences can be understood in a simplistic “Calvinist vs. Arminian” way, as so much popular Reformed literature leads people to think. And so I don’t think that any Christian, Reformed or otherwise, can responsibly talk about “free will” and “predestination,” or “synergism” and “monergism” and so forth, unless they are willing to put in the time and effort to go beyond the very superficial “Calvinist vs. Arminian” framework and commit themselves to doing the very hard theological, philosophical, and historical research that would allow them to form a respectable, considered opinion on these matters. I don’t want to sound harsh or overbearing, but I do want to say that the whole idea that everything about “free will” and “human responsibility” and “predestination” and “divine sovereignty” can simply be reduced to a “Calvinist vs. Arminian,” or a “5 points or fewer” question, is just hopelessly theologically and historically naive.

    So: while I’ll respect your wishes to not discuss these things in any detail, I hope you can understand why I would think that, if you aren’t prepared and willing to talk and think about them in detail, then you might just be accepting the philosophical and theological traditions handed down to you, and I’d ask you to consider whether the philosophical and theological opinions that have been handed down to you might possibly be wrong.

    (5) I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site so far; I hope you keep returning and keep contributing.

    All the best,


  48. Neal/Ron
    I hope i did not offend with the earler comments.

    That was not my intention.

  49. Dear Norm,

    I just read back through your comments, and I don’t see anything at all that could be considered offensive in any way. I hope *I* didn’t make you think you said something offensive! And though I don’t want to speak for Ron, I can’t imagine how you might have offended him.

    Sorry if I made you think you were being offensive somehow! We’s cool, dog.


    PS: As I was going through the above discussion and looking for potentially offensive things, I noticed that some of the things I said to Ron in 47 might have been offensive. (!) Specifically, I said that reducing questions about freedom and predestination to an “Arminian vs. Calvinist” dispute would be theologically and historically naive. Norm’s remark gives me the opportunity to clear the air: I did *not* mean that *Ron* (or anyone else here) was being “naive.” Ron has not said that he thinks the entire dispute can be understood in an Arminian-vs-Calvinist way, and so I don’t mean to attribute that idea to him personally. I was just registering my conviction that it can’t be adequately understood in that way. So, like Norm, I hope I did not offend anyone here with my earlier comments!

  50. Hello:

    As a person of new Reformed leanings, I have never denied the common ground that can and should exist between the theologies of any denomination when persons are rightly understanding the truth.

    So, I remind listeners on any occasion where appropriate of the affinities that I share with catholicism.

    What I object to and always will are the departures that the Roman Catholic church has engaged in and which will always prohibit my official affiliation with them.

  51. Please provide three examples in which the Catholic Church has “departed” from the truth.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,

  52. Taylor,
    How about coming to Jesus through Mary?
    Couldn’t resist.


  53. Like Ron, I can’t resist chiming in, either!

    I grew up entirely Protestant. And I’ve been Catholic for 3 years. So I think I can understand where people are coming from in suggesting/asserting that “coming to Jesus through Mary” represents a “departure from the truth.” However, I’ve come to see that we ALL receive Christ through Mary very obviously in AT LEAST one sense: in the maternal sense of her having “delivered” Christ to us very literally. We do indeed approach Jesus through Mary when it comes to His flesh and blood. If this is a clear, incarnational truth, why can it not also be understood as representative of some deep, mysterious, spiritual truth, as well? I come to Jesus through the Church. I come to Jesus through the Scriptures. I came to Jesus through the role my parents played in raising me with a love for Christ. I come to Jesus in a whole host of ways and through a whole host of people, circumstances, things, and experiences.

    And as a Catholic, Mary is one of them. As an adult “convert” to the Catholic faith, arriving at this place certainly required a serious paradigm adjustment. However, I don’t see it at all as some sort of “departure from the truth.”

    The Peace of Christ to all of you!

  54. Ron
    I am very new at listening to the words that are played out on CtoC and I am very sorry if this comes out sounding like it’s a bit insulting but it isn’t at all meant to be that way. I think that the Mother of God is a very serious subject.

    I think you should reconsider your choice of teachings where the Church has gone wrong. Of course we come to Jesus through Mary, it has always been so since The Angel of the Lord declared She would be the Mother of God. Unless you consider her something of a “shopping bag” where Jesus steps from Heaven to Earth. ( Mary was only the receptacle that carried him and that’s all). I would be careful of calling anyone’s mother simply a receptacle especially our Lord’s Mother.
    The body that He shares with us is the body of Mary, His blood is her blood. God the Son comes to us only through Mary , He himself declared it so. We are part of His Family. His mother is our mother, His Father is our Father. He is truly our brother and we are of the Family of God both Spiritually of physically.
    I know the remark was done flippantly but I’m not so sure it was a good example of bad teaching on the part of the Catholic Church. Maybe you should find another.

    In the body of Christ.


  55. Re Mary.

    C2C noted the efforts of Dr Feingold in his lectures. One of his series was on Mary, and he greatly added to my knowledge of the Mother of God. Perhaps one of the editors here will renew that website and you can have the joy of listening to the good doctor.

    Of particular import, she is the fulfillment of Israel, whose purpose was to bring forth the Messiah not only of the Jews but of the entire world. The Messiah for us all came through her womb. Of her the angel said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (which is a literal fact). Motivated by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth said, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

    She is also the first Christian saint of the New Covenant, bringing the movement from Israel to the Church.

    Unlike the Anabaptists who said that any woman would do, I was always under the impression that any woman would not due. Rather a very unique and special woman would fulfill the role described in scripture, and Mary is certainly all of that and more than I am capable of apprehending.

    Among my favorite titles given to Mary is “the Ark of the Covenant.” Even as the Old Testament ark bore the tablets of the law and Moses’ staff, very holy things, Mary bore Someone much holier, the Second Person of God, marking her as the Ark of the New Covenant.

    I had no problem with Mary when I was becoming Catholic. I heard Jesus’ say, “Son, behold your mother.”



  56. Maybe I missed something but I thought Jesus was the fulfillment of Israel. All the symbolism early in the Gospels are pretty clear on this: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus being sent to Egypt and then called out, Jesus being baptized (crossing the Red Sea), His 40 days in the wilderness (Israel’s 40 year wandering). Are you simply saying that Mary is the fulfillment of Israel in the sense that she brought forth the Messiah?

  57. You are correct. My fault. The purpose of Israel was to bring forth the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world. Mary fulfilled that role personally. Mary represented Israel and all of us when she said yes to the archangel, and in doing so, she fulfilled the purpose of Israel to bring forth the Messiah.



  58. Aaron G

    I don’t think you have missed anything. Jesus is the true fulfilment of all Israel. But so as Eve has brought forth the bad fruit of sin unto all the world. Mary the new Eve has brought forth the salvation of the world through her fruit, her son Jesus, the Living God. Mary is not the salvation but brings it forth. She is a contributor to that salvation even as the fall of man was not by the first Eve but by Adam with the first Eve as contributor. Sorry if we got off topic here.

    In the Body of Christ


  59. donald todd, (re: #55)

    Here’s the link to the lecture series on Mary by Larry Feingold.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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