Dionysius the Areopagite on the topic of Total Depravity

May 14th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Dionysius the Areopagite, who had once been assumed to be St. Paul’s Athenian convert, composed at least four monumental works sometime around the end of the fifth century. In his treatise In On the Divine Names, Dionysius directly asks whether there can be such a thing as “total depravity”. He answers that there cannot be total depravity because that which is totally deprived of all goodness would also be deprived of all existence since anything created is also ontologically good–as confirmed by the refrain of Genesis chapter 1 “and God saw that it was good”.

Here is what Dionysius says:

“Nor is the common saying true that deprivation fights by its natural power against the Good. Total deprivation is utterly impotent; and that which is partial has its power, not in so far as it is a deprivation, but in so far as it is not a total deprivation. For when the lack of the Good is not total, evil is not as yet; and when it becomes perfect, evil itself utterly vanishes” (On the Divine Names 4, 29 729c1-6).

Again, if something is totally deprived of the Good (i.e. God Himself) then that thing or persons would cease to exist.

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  1. Interesting. I wonder if Dionysius could also apply this trend of logic toward Satan and the demons? Since by his reasoning, if anything is totally deprived of all goodness then it ceases to be. Well, Satan and the demons still exist, does that mean that somewhere in them there exists goodness? If there is goodness in them, could God redeem them?

    Following that line of logic you could come out somewhere near Origen’s universalism.

  2. Jason Lee,

    Great point! In fact, this section of Divine Names is actually about the problem of evil as it regards the devils since they possess great intelligence and yet fell all the same.

    D’s argument (which is similar to that of St. Augustine) is that there is not such thing as raw, subsisting evil. Evil is only a deprivation of goodness. Evil is a parasite. It can only be found in that which is good. There can be nothing “purely evil” because the perfectly evil one would be a perfect opposite of God – thus enters the Manichean error.

    Satan has deprived himself of a great deal of his original virtues, but he is not a perfect opposite of God since evil cannot achieve such a status.

    Here’s an outline I made of this section of D’s Divine Names so that you can see how D’s argument falls out:

    IV. Chapter 4: Concerning Good, Light, Beauty, Love, Ecstasy, Jealousy, and that the Evil is neither existent, nor from existent, nor in things being.

    18. Origin of Demons
    19. Origin of Evil
    i. False argument in favor of evil is a being (716D8-717B5)
    20. Refutation of this argument by Dionysius
    i. Sin is lack of being
    21. Evil doesn’t inhere in beings
    22. Evil doesn’t inhere in angels
    23. The devils are not evil by nature
    24. Souls are not evil
    25. Irrational animals are not evil
    26. Evil is not a part of a whole
    27. Evil is not in our bodies
    28. Evil doesn’t inhere in matter qua matter
    29. Against “total depravity”
    30. Summary: Good comes from God and evil derives from partial deficiencies
    31. The cause of all good things in one, i.e. God Himself
    32. Evil exists as an accident and not as a substance
    33. Providence and evil
    34. Evil as regards devils
    35. Evil as regards men who sin knowingly

  3. If following the logic of the argument, that evil is a deprivation of goodness not a substance of itself, then how does that figure into judgment?

    If a person who commits evil and dies in that evilness and goes into judgment after death where does he “go”. That is to say, if evil is a parasite on a good being, would it be wrong to punish the entire creature for the part that was corrupted? I guess that would be the grist of the how can a loving God send people to Hell question?

    What I am getting at is that from Dionysus it seems to end up in Origen’s apocatastasis. What is your opinion on the matter?

  4. Here are some (dis-jointed) thoughts….

    Well, Satan and the demons still exist, does that mean that somewhere in them there exists goodness? If there is goodness in them, could God redeem them?

    In answer to a question about Satan and demons being redeemable you usually hear the answer that Satan, being an angelic being, has made his choice once and for all. I’m not sure where this teaching came from (St. Thomas?), but it seems odd. I’m guessing there are some philosophic arguments that get you there. At any rate, it makes me think that Satan (and his minions), at one point, were either 1) all good, but then having made a choice became all bad, 2) good and bad (sinner and saint) like us, but then having made a choice became all bad, 3) all good, but then having made a choice became good and bad (sinner and saint) like us, or 4) good and bad (sinner and saint) like us, and then having made a choice remained good and bad (sinner and saint) like us…. #4 sounds just like us!

    #2 and #4 seem to be the only plausible choices since the fallen angels had to start off with free will in order to make the choice for evil – thus they are fallen angels. If they were all good to begin with, I don’t see how they could make a choice for evil. It also seems problematic to say any beings besides God (angels in the case) are incapable of evil. #2 is apparently the view of those that say the fallen angels (and non-fallen angels) made their choice once and for all. But the problem with #2 is (if you hold the view that evil is non-being), that fallen angels have to be non-being. The other plausible option, #4, leaves open the possibility of the fallen angels being redeemed. It seems you have to either take #2 and reject the notion that evil is non-being, or take #4 and allow that the fallen angels could be redeemed. However, #4 is problematic because that makes angels no different than us. It would imply that there are no fully good or fully evil angels, and there never were. This goes against the Biblical notion of angels that “sit in the presence of God”. This leaves me with #2 and a rejection that evil is non-being. The only other option is to take #2 with an ontology that allows for fully fallen angels that are real, yet non-being.

    This is starting to sound like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” :)

  5. Mark,

    Perhaps what is causing a bit of confusion here is that there are different respects in which a thing can be good. A thing is good in its act of existence, in its essence, and insofar as it has actualized its potency. But moral evil is not a privation of the first two, only of the last. Satan has existence, and he has his angelic essence, both of which are good, for God made them. But in one definitive act of the will, Satan chose to serve himself rather than serve God, in so doing, he made himself to be at everlasting enmity with God, and so forever deprived of the actualization of the potency he had by grace, namely, to enter into the beatific vision. So Satan is now and forever good in one respect, but evil in another respect.

    It is a De fide dogma of the Church that the punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity. (Cf. Denzinger 40, 835, 840) This is not due to any limitation on the part of God’s omnipotence. Rather, it is about the nature of what is fitting for the self-determination of free creatures. The same reason why fallen angels are not redeemable is the same reason why men who die in mortal sin are not redeemable. The will is confirmed in its choice. Cf. Summa Theologica I Q.64 a.2 co.

    Jason,

    If a person who commits evil and dies in that evilness and goes into judgment after death where does he “go”.

    Hell. God is not absent from hell in every respect. It has its being from Him, so He is present by power. But hell is incapable of receiving God’s love as love, on account of the wills of those present being confirmed in enmity against God.

    That is to say, if evil is a parasite on a good being, would it be wrong to punish the entire creature for the part that was corrupted?

    Respects and parts are not the same thing. The whole creature is corrupted, but not wholly corrupted in all respects. The essence of a thing is not a part of that thing; it is a principle underlying the whole thing, and no part of the thing is separable from the essence, without ceasing to be what it is.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Mark,

    I think that if we add the notion of time to your argument it solves the problem. The reason that Satan is not redeemable is because he has made an eternal choice much the way one who commits the unforgivable sin is irredeemable because he has committed “an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29) So the angels being outside of time have chosen their eternal state “already” (I place this in quotes because it assumes time’s dominion…) It is very difficult to talk about these things because we only have abstract points of reference by which to talk about a world outside of time. Nevertheless, I think that’s your answer.

    The angels, per St. Thomas, were created in a state of grace much like Adam and Eve (different circumstances obviously). But this is not the same thing as having received the Beatific Vision (which I hashed out in a recent discussion elsewhere on this blog). So that they had complete free will to choose good (by God’s grace) or evil (by rejecting God’s grace). It was never proper to their nature to choose the ultimate good or rather to attain the Beatific Vision except through cooperating with God’s grace so that they had the full ability to reject it by their free will (which is what some of them did). “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18)

    The angels who did not reject God’s grace merited for themselves, by cooperation with God’s grace, the Beatific Vision, which according to St. Thomas, cannot be lost. They will never turn evil. Likewise, the fallen angels have made their choice by eternally turning away from God and this is an indelible sin. They will never repent.

  7. Jason LeeNo:

    If following the logic of the argument, that evil is a deprivation of goodness not a substance of itself, then how does that figure into judgment?

    The reason why they are evil, ie. why parts of them are evil, is because they have chosen that. God judges us because of our choises, our deeds, not our natures.

    And they have used that which is good in themselves for evil means. I believe C.S. Lewis says it best:

    To be bad, he [that is, the Devil] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things—resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work. (Mere Christianity, p. 45)

    That also shows us that since Christianity isn’t really dualistic in nature, God can punish the Devil. In Christianity it doesn’t make sense to say that God is unfair if he would “punish the entire creature for the part that was corrupted.” Because the Devil, like all other creatures, is a whole. The reason God punishes the Devil, is because the Devil chose to do evil. It has nothing whatsoever to do with his nature… (Which is why Taylor’s point is so good. Man doesn’t have an “evil nature.” When one sins, one chooses to sin.)

  8. Bryan, Tim,

    Thank you very much for your comments. They help clarify my confusion. So, the answer remains #2, but with a proper understanding of what is meant by good/evil (to Bryan’s point) and with a view of the eternal state of angels in mind (to Tim’s point). Stating #2 as the fallen angels started out good and bad (sinner and saint) like us, but then having made a choice became all bad needs to be re-worded such that the fallen angels started out in a state of grace much like us; but having free will like us they could make a choice between moral good and moral evil. However, since the angels exist in an eternal state, their choice, once made, is irrevocable. This does seem to solve the “problem”.

    But what is meant by evil as non-being? If evil is a parasite, deforming what is good, how then can we say evil is non-being? Or is this what it means, that evil is literally non-being and only a parasite? This must be true since saying evil is a parasite implies that it has no real existence of itself; it can only deform what is. Is really what Dionysius was saying? If so, and this makes since, then the notion of total depravity, if taken in regard to existence, becomes non-sense. I think this was Taylor’s point all along. I’m just now catching up. The light bulb is finally going off….

    Then total depravity cannot mean that we are totally depraved with respect to existence (else it would not exist), or that we are totally depraved with respected to actualized potency (else sanctification is rendered impossible). The only option left is that total depravity is in relation to our essence. This would mean that original sin has rendered our human essence as totally depraved. If this is the case, then can we even speak of doing what is good? If we are totally depraved in essence, would we even have the potential to do good? How could sanctification be rendered possible in this case?

  9. Mark,

    Then total depravity cannot mean that we are totally depraved with respect to existence (else it would not exist), or that we are totally depraved with respected to actualized potency (else sanctification is rendered impossible). The only option left is that total depravity is in relation to our essence.

    Our essence per se is not corrupted by sin, or else Adam and Eve would have changed species at the moment they sinned. See Aquinas and Trent 3.

    The mistake is to think that in the fallen condition, apart from sanctifying grace and prior to death and the confirming of the will in its enmity against God, man is totally depraved with respect to actualized potency. So long as any man remains alive, there remains in his will the flexibility [Aquinas uses the term flexibile] to cooperate with grace. After death that flexibility is gone.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. Bryan,

    Thanks for your help. It looks like I need to go through and read your Aquinas and Trent series, as it seems to deal with many of these questions.

    The mistake is to think that in the fallen condition, apart from sanctifying grace and prior to death and the confirming of the will in its enmity against God, man is totally depraved with respect to actualized potency.

    Is this the Calvinist position? If so, how is sanctification accounted for in this system? I know (Reformed) Protestants, contra Trent, differentiate between justification and sanctification, such that one who is totally depraved can be justified (i.e. saved) wholly by the work and merits of Christ. However, they still account for sanctification (i.e growth in holiness), but how if we are totally depraved? Once one is justified does sanctification become possible? Does this mean sanctification is impossible for the un-elect? My guess is that sanctification just becomes meaningless for the un-elect, since sanctification loses any real meaning apart from justification. If you are not justified, then sanctification has no value in the end.

  11. Here’s the troubling line from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

    IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

    V. This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.(ch. 6, 4-5)

    We have the phrase “opposite to all good” which is highly problematic. Here we also find talk of “corruption of nature” so that even after regeneration, “itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”

    In Catholic soteriology, the regenerated Christian still has concupiscence (disordered desire), but it is not itself sinful nor does it count as sin. The regenerated is cleansed of original sin. There is nothing sinful left after baptism. This is why Catholics balk at the idea that people can have a “sin nature”.

  12. Mark,

    Your question seems to be this: If in Calvinism fallen man is said to be totally depraved, and yet fallen man is capable of being saved, while those in hell are not capable of being saved, how then is fallen man prior to death capable of being saved? If fallen man (in this life) were *totally* depraved, wouldn’t he be as evil as the damned in hell, and thus not be redeemable? But the term ‘totally’ shouldn’t be taken to mean “as evil as he could be”, but rather “corrupted throughout”.

    The troubling line, that Taylor points out in his latest comment, is deeply troubling, because what is claimed there is metaphysically impossible. It is metaphysically impossible for any being to be “made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil”. Not even those in hell are “wholly inclined to all evil”. That’s precisely why they are miserable in hell, because there is a contradiction within themselves between what they have chosen, and their primary orientation by their created nature toward God. Only in a Manichean ontology could any being be “wholly inclined to all evil”. But Manicheanism is necessarily false. Teleology in a creature is necessarily oriented toward its ultimate source and ultimate perfection. But there is only one Creator, not two. That is why the teleology of all creatures is necessarily and unalterably oriented toward God. That’s why God cannot create a creature with a teleology oriented toward some other end; it is impossible. Nor can any creature ever become “wholly inclined to all evil”, because that would mean that its intrinsic teleology is directed toward some other end. But because the creature has created being, which came from God, and because the perfection of its nature is found only in God, every creature always and necessarily remains fundamentally oriented in its teleology toward God. Otherwise there would not be heaven and hell, there would be two heavens, one for those who love God, and one for those who love evil. So that’s why Taylor is saying that this line is “troubling”. The claim that some creature (whether in an unfallen state or in a fallen state) is “wholly inclined to all evil”, is (without some qualification) a form of the heresy of Manicheanism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Bryan,

    Your question seems to be this: If in Calvinism fallen man is said to be totally depraved, and yet fallen man is capable of being saved, while those in hell are not capable of being saved, how then is fallen man prior to death capable of being saved?

    This is not my question, but it may be another way to state the same concern. I am trying to understand Reformed thought on this matter, and as such I am trying to reason through their theology. From what I understand, Reformed theology distinguishes between justification and sanctification (contra Trent). Here, I should clarify my terms. By “justified” I mean the same as “redeemed” or “saved”, so that one who is “justified” is one who is “saved”. By “sanctification”, I mean the process by which one is made holy. With this distinction in mind, and thinking along Reformed lines, I understand how one is justified wholly by the work and merit of Christ. This means one can be “totally depraved” and still be justified since the cause of this justification is wholly on the side of Christ. However, what I do not understand, is how one is sanctified if we are “totally depraved”.

    Total depravity cannot be in regard to existence, as we have seen above, since existence as such is good. This means total depravity is in relation to either our essence or our actualization of potency. Our essence cannot be totally depraved since, as you said, this means we would have “changed species” with the first sin of Adam. This leaves us with total depravity in relation to our actualization of the potency that was received by grace. To clarify terms again, by “actualization of our potency” I mean the act of choosing the moral good over the moral evil. (Let me know if I use the term improperly). If we are totally depraved in regard to choosing the moral good over the moral evil (actualization of our potency), how then is sanctification possible? To put it slightly another way, if we cannot choose the good, because we are totally depraved in this regard, how can we be sanctified? Choosing the good is a moral action, meaning it is something we do as subject. This is how I understand sanctification. Through the working of the Holy Spirit in us, we are given the grace to choose the good. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit, wholly by grace, that we can continue to choose the good (and thereby be sanctified slowly but surely), but because it involves a moral choice (free will) it requires cooperation on our part. If sanctification requires cooperation on our part, but we are totally depraved, how can we play any part at all? This is my question, but I am having a difficult time articulating it adequately.

    Given the above, it makes me wonder if in Reformed thought sanctification is wholly on the side of Christ too (like justification)? This would take out the totally depraved subject – us. But then what does this do for free will and moral acts? Do moral acts mean anything if there is no moral subject in the equation? I know Reformed theologians have thought this through. I’m just trying to understand it.

  14. Or maybe someone familiar with Reformed theology can just tell me in what way Calvin says we are totally depraved. What do Reformed theologians mean by “total depravity”?

  15. From what I’ve always heard, “Total Depravity” refers to the complete inability for any of Adam’s ancestors, due to the sin passed on to them, to begin the regeneration process on their own. Depraved to the point of this inability, the unregenerate must wholly rely on the work of the Spirit to justify them before the Father, and even then, only through the finished work of Christ on the Cross. It’s not as much that humankind cannot do good things, but that they cannot begin the regneration process out of a dead state. Again, I’m quoting. I’m a seeker as well.

  16. Mel,

    For many of the reformers, especially Luther, all of man’s works, before or after salvation are viewed as inherently tainted by man’s “sin nature.” That is, even after salvation, anything we might do is not acceptable to God as a “good work” because the secret motivations and thoughts of our heart, often hidden even from us, are corrupted by our sinful nature.

    The goal of this teaching seemed to be the extreme desire of the reformers to remove any work of man from salvation entirely. So, they would argue, while we strive to do good works and increase in sanctification, this is never the basis upon which God accepts us. The eschatological “Well done, good and faithful servant” is based on the work of Christ, not on anything we’ve done.

    Catholics would agree that prevenient grace is necessary for man to come to God. Men are dead in their sins and trespasses and without the prompting of the Spirit, we will never choose God. But where the Catholic Church differs from the reformers is in teaching that God graciously lets our works, meager though they are, enter into our salvation for His glory.

    He is pleased to transform us into creatures who can actually please Him, not just please Him because when He looks at us, He sees Christ, as the reformers would argue.

    All that is to say, the reformed doctrine of total depravity goes a little deeper than just claiming that man is unable to choose God apart from an initiatory act on God’s part.

  17. And this is why I read these posts and comments. This makes so much sense. Thank you very much.

  18. Well, since it has been asked what the Reformed mean by total depravity, how about a quote from the Synod of Dordt, the Dutch Calvinist synod of 1619. The Synod was reacting against the 5 points of the Remonstrance, the theological heirs of Jacobus Arminius (from whom “Arminianism”). They produced a documents of 5 points (sorta) that in English has been summarized by TULIP, “T” standing for “total depravity” (actually the third point in the Synod). Here’s the Synod’s own words:

    III/IV, art. 1:
    Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all his emotions.

    III/IV, art. 3:
    Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.

    III/IV, art. 4:
    …this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him–so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

    What is interesting to note is that the Synod considered every faculty of man that was created by God (“will and heart”, “emotions”, etc.) was corrupted by man’s rebellion against God. Using Bryan’s taxonomy of the good above, man clearly retained existence, and possibly essence (though I’m not sure, since the Synod doesn’t use these terms); but the actualization of human nature was frustrated permanently by this corruption. As the fourth article suggests, the Synod held that mankind could barely–if even–attain natural ends (“…man does not use [the light of nature] rightly even in matters of nature and society.”) However, the emphasis of the Synod is on the spiritual or “supernatural” end. Because of this corruption, “all people are […] neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.”

    I think I would like to hear more about what Matt was writing, namely that Catholics agree with the Reformed (contra semi-Pelagianism) that people need God’s grace before they can return to God. Does that prevenient grace make them able or willing or both? Does God gives prevenient grace to all people? If so, why? These are questions on which I think Reformed and Catholic would have to disagree, especially the latter one. There are also disagreements on the “light of nature” question, probably.

  19. Barrett,

    The pertinent Catechism sections explain that grace is free and undeserved (1996) depends entirely on God’s initiative (1998) it demands man’s free response (2002) contra certain renderings of “Irresistible Grace”.

    On its availability to everyone, Aquinas says that His blood wasn’t merely sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the whole world. (ST III:48:2. ) It is clear from reason that Christ’s death was meant to offer salvation to mankind (not to offer it to an arbitrary few). 2 Peter 3:9 seems to indicate that God’s plan of salvation includes the possibility of everyone being saved although clearly not everyone will be.

    From the Catechism:
    “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace:”(600)

    So to understand the Catholic mind here and its contrast with the Calvinist position will require a discussion on primary and secondary causes.

  20. Barrett,

    Interestingly enough, a Catholic can affirm each of those four selections from Dordt. They are not worded in a rigorous manner, so they remain open to various ways of qualification. So for example, in saying “that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society”, they do not specify whether they mean always or sometimes. If they mean sometimes, this is compatible with Catholic doctrine. But if they mean always, then it is not compatible with Catholic doctrine.

    Catholics and Protestants are agreed regarding the heretical nature of both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Pelagianism, (so we’re all on the same page) amounts to the claim that man can be saved (enter the beatific vision) without grace. Semi-Pelagianism is the notion that without grace fallen man can make the first move to God, who then responds by giving us grace. The first canon of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent condemned Pelagianism:

    If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.

    The third canon of the same session condemned semi-Pelagianism:

    If anyone says that without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without His help, man can believe, hope, love or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him, let him be anathema.

    Regarding your question: Does that prevenient grace make them able or willing or both?

    In Catholic doctrine, antecedent grace at least makes them able. Antecedent grace is sufficient grace. No one could say truthfully to God, “You didn’t give me enough grace to be saved.” God gives sufficient grace to all unbelievers that they may turn to Him and seek for Him and so attain the beatific vision. This grace does not detract from the freedom of the will; no one is forced or compelled, against their will, to believe. Rather, grace builds on nature; grace perfects nature; grace does not destroy nature. That’s why the fourth canon of the Sixth Session of Trent reads:

    If anyone says that man’s free will moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God’s call and action, in no way cooperates toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive, let him be anathema.

    That’s why grace can be resisted, because grace never destroys nature, and thus does not cancel or nullify man’s free will. Sufficient grace does not guarantee that the person will convert. But if we ask the question, Why do some with sufficient grace convert, and others with sufficient grace resist — is this difference due to men or God, the Church has not answered that question; the Church has left that question open. That was the debate in the 17th century, and the Pope decided to leave the question open. That doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church will always leave the question open. But for now, in Catholic doctrine that question remains open.

    Why does God give antecedent (also called ‘prevenient’) grace to all? Because He desires all men to be saved. We can see this in the Old Testament, when God says :

    I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! (Ezekiel 33:11)

    And we can see this same heart of God in the Gospel:

    Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)

    And the early Church Fathers understood John 1:9 as referring to an illumination of all men:

    There was the true light which coming into the world enlightens every man.

    This is also how we understand Romans 5:18, not as efficaciously making all men just, but as providing the grace for all men to be made righteous. St. Paul says later that Christ “died for all” [ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀπέθανεν](2 Cor 5:15). And this fits with what he says in 2 Tim 2:4-6, where he writes:

    God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony at the proper time.

    And we see this again in 2 Peter:

    The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

    And this is why He died for all:

    and He Himself [Jesus Christ the righteous] is the propitiation [ἱλασμός] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world [οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου]. (1 John 2:2)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. Tim,

    2 Peter is a great letter; and one that has been hard for me to appropriate. Consequently, it is one that has pushed me to even be interested in a site like this.

    Bryan,

    I suppose you’re right about the light of nature. Given some of the political theorists coming out of Dutch Calvinism, whether by natural law or common grace, the Reformed (and the Lutherans, from what I know) held that fallen man could still have a civic righteousness. So Dordt probably isn’t too pessimistic on that point, only with regard to knowing and loving God.

    Thanks for the clarification on what prevenient grace does. Catholics and Reformed seem to mean different things when they affirm Augustine’s little mnemonic device of

    posse non peccare (the Garden)
    non posse non peccare (east of Eden)
    posse non peccare (in redemption)
    non posse peccare (in heaven/consummation)

    It seems to me that the Reformed affirm posse non peccare after justification, but in such a way that justification is never destroyed by serious sin. In contradistinction, Catholics would say that we’re back to the Garden both with regard to grace and with regard to freely being able to rebel with disastrous results (with the important caveats of concupiscence, the Perfect Adam [i.e., better head], etc.). Would you say that is accurate? And hence why God wants human free will to be active in redemption like in the Garden? Hence “grace perfects nature”?

    (Interesting question for anyone: Did Adam and Eve have the Holy Spirit in the Garden? [Gen 2:7 seems to be rather animation since he becomes a “nephesh” like the animals at that point.])

    A further question for Catholics–how do the saints no longer sin in heaven? Alternatively, how would Adam and Eve no longer sin if confirmed in holiness/righteousness?

  22. Barrett,

    It seems to me that the Reformed affirm posse non peccare after justification, but in such a way that justification is never destroyed by serious sin. In contradistinction, Catholics would say that we’re back to the Garden both with regard to grace and with regard to freely being able to rebel with disastrous results (with the important caveats of concupiscence, the Perfect Adam [i.e., better head], etc.). Would you say that is accurate? And hence why God wants human free will to be active in redemption like in the Garden? Hence “grace perfects nature”?

    Exactly. Catholic doctrine is in that respect quite different from the “Covenant of works” vs. “Covenant of grace” theology found in the Reformed tradition. Here’s an example from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church website.

    [God] then [in the Covenant of grace] demanded that man meet one and only one requirement before he could receive these promised blessings; namely, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. … The one requirement that God in this covenant made of man was faith. Faith is simply receiving something as true and trusting in it.

    In that theology, the Covenant of grace is almost a complete replacement of the original “covenant of works”. God essentially says, “You failed, so I’ll do it for you; all you have to do is believe.” In the Catholic doctrine, Christ does not do everything for us; by His satisfaction He merits grace for us, that we might have a renewed heart, with supernatural love for God. The first Adam took from us the opportunity to participate in our salvation and merit eternal life. But the salvific work of the Second Adam does not deprive us of the opportunity to participate in our salvation and merit eternal life; He gives back what the first Adam lost. This is an example of grace building on nature, and perfecting nature, not destroying or replacing nature.

    Yes Adam and Eve had the Holy Spirit in the Garden, because they had sanctifying grace and the theological virtues. God indwells those who love Him. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

    The saints in heaven can no longer sin for the same reason that Adam and Eve, had they been confirmed in holiness, would no longer have been able to sin. They have the beatific vision, and therefore no lesser good can tempt them. Aquinas explains:

    Secondly, it is again evident if we consider the specific nature of Happiness. For it has been shown above (Question 3, Article 8) that man’s perfect Happiness consists in the vision of the Divine Essence. Now it is impossible for anyone seeing the Divine Essence, to wish not to see It. Because every good that one possesses and yet wishes to be without, is either insufficient, something more sufficing being desired in its stead; or else has some inconvenience attached to it, by reason of which it becomes wearisome. But the vision of the Divine Essence fills the soul with all good things, since it unites it to the source of all goodness; hence it is written (Psalm 16:15): “I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear”; and (Wisdom 7:11): “All good things came to me together with her,” i.e. with the contemplation of wisdom. In like manner neither has it any inconvenience attached to it; because it is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:16): “Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness.” It is thus evident that the happy man cannot forsake Happiness of his own accord. Moreover, neither can he lose Happiness, through God taking it away from him. Because, since the withdrawal of Happiness is a punishment, it cannot be enforced by God, the just Judge, except for some fault; and he that sees God cannot fall into a fault, since rectitude of the will, of necessity, results from that vision as was shown above (Question 4, Article 4). Nor again can it be withdrawn by any other agent. Because the mind that is united to God is raised above all other things: and consequently no other agent can sever the mind from that union. Therefore it seems unreasonable that as time goes on, man should pass from happiness to misery, and vice versa; because such like vicissitudes of time can only be for such things as are subject to time and movement. (Summa Theologica I-II Q.5 a.4 co.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. Mark,

    With this distinction in mind, and thinking along Reformed lines, I understand how one is justified wholly by the work and merit of Christ. This means one can be “totally depraved” and still be justified since the cause of this justification is wholly on the side of Christ. However, what I do not understand, is how one is sanctified if we are “totally depraved”.

    Yes, simply given the Reformed conception of justification as forensic, it would be possible in principle to be justified and totally depraved at the same time. But Reformed theology maintains that regeneration takes place at the very same moment of justification. And so according to Reformed theology the regenerate person is no longer “totally depraved”, precisely because of regeneration. An initial sanctification occurs at the moment of regeneration, and continues to progress and grow (perhaps with some ups and downs) for the rest of the believer’s life. And the Holy Spirit comes into the believer and makes him His temple. My point is that the Reformed position does not grant that the regenerate person is “totally depraved”. The term ‘totally depraved’ is used only to describe the unregenerate person.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. Great post! That evil is no-thing cannot be said enough. You guys might also dig the refutation of imputed righteousness at EnergeticProcession that Perry, Ballow and I, have been writing about:

    http://energeticprocession.com/2009/05/18/reformed-doctrine-of-imputed-righteousness-refuted/

    -Jay

  25. Someone might have already mentioned this but it has been said that Satan is metaphysically good but morally evil. Good insofar as he has existence which proceeds from God.

  26. Bryan,

    In response to your post to Mark;

    Long before seriously considering Catholicism it seemed to me that Reformed theology often denies the reality that the regenerate person is a new creation. Although you accurately described the Reformed position in your response to Mark concerning initial sanctification upon conversion, I’ve found that the teaching in most reformed circles over emphasizes Luther’s axiom, simul justus et peccator. I found this discouraging in my Christian walk. I was taught to believe that although I was accepted by God as righteous, nothing had actually changed in me.

    Something else I wanted to mention. A few months ago we were blogging about whether or not Luther thought he was further developing Augustinian theology or making a break from Augustine altogether. It has been very interesting as I’ve been going through Reformation Church History at RTS with Professor Frank James to see his perspective on this question. Dr. James teaches that Luther self consciously made a break from Augustine that he knew Augustine would not have agreed with! This was shocking to me because I always thought the Reformation was justified by the idea of returning to a purer Catholicism.

    Last night I was reading Newman’s introduction to An Essay on the Development on Christian Doctrine, and he made a very profound point. Newman pointed out that, in truth, Protestants dislike the entire pre-reformation Catholic Church just as much as they dislike the post- reformation Catholic Church. This makes perfect sense. The first seminary class I ever took was Ancient Church History with Dr. Richard Gamble. He stressed over and over that the Apostolic Fathers made a “major” departure from the Apostles themselves on crucial doctrines of Scripture. Its becoming clear that they were not the ones who made the departure. Sorry for rambling.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy Tate

  27. Jeremy,

    I agree that simul justus is the emphasis. This is partly due to the lack of a distinction between mortal and venial sin, and between sin and concupiscence. Without those distinctions, we (who have faith) remain, essentially, simultaneously regenerate and totally depraved. In other words, without those distinctions, nothing has changed in me, because if I can be simultaneously regenerate and totally depraved, then ‘regenerate’ is emptied of any real meaning.

    As for Luther breaking with Augustine, Neal described that well here, referring there to an article written by Matt Heckel, who graduated from Covenant with me.

    I wrote a post last year titled “So much for sola over solo” in which I point out the problem you mention here. As Reformed, we try to hold a middle position between Catholicism and biblicism. On the one hand, we say we hold to the tradition, and that we’re the continuation of the Church, and that we don’t support solo scriptura. But ecclesial deism takes us down to biblicism in principle, and then we just pick and choose from the fathers whatever fits with what we already believe. That’s why there is no real middle position (between solo and sola). The proposed middle position is a pseudo-middle position — biblicism presenting itself as ‘catholicism’ or as “Reformed Catholicism”.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. Preface: I frequently lurk this blog, but this is my first post. I am Reformed. I know a couple of the owners of this site.

    Some comments and questions:

    1. I am certain that most of you are aware that this thread title and topic are a little misleading to the Reformed hearer since the definition offered for Total Depravity (namely: because that which is totally deprived of all goodness) is absolutely NOT what the Reformed Theologian means by this category of Total Depravity.

    2. Do Catholics generally adhere to Augustine’s proposed “Fourfold State of Man”? It would seem to me that this would answer many of the questions arising in these comments about “justification and the sinful nature” of the Christian.

    3. And of course, most of you will also know that the answer that the Reformed theologian will offer to many of the questions happening here is the so-called Pauline “now and not yet” theology. Dislike it if you wish, but just thought I would mention it, since it has not yet been mentioned.

    Regards,
    Matt

  29. Mr. Tringali,

    I believe if you read the comments and discussion above, you’ll gladly discover that your points have been covered, including Augustine’s fourfold state of man.

  30. David Mendez wrote:

    “Someone might have already mentioned this but it has been said that Satan is metaphysically good but morally evil. Good insofar as he has existence which proceeds from God.”

    Yes, this is precisely correct. It also captures my intent for writing this post. The concept of “total depravity” fails in both the strict sense and the broad sense used by Reformed Christian. According to the Reformed, we are “totally depraved”. The Reformed teach that this depravity is not a description of depravity by degree, but depravity by extent. Yet depravity cannot extend to the whole person, because then it would also extend to his essence (which is good) and his existence (which is also good).

    I will say that the Synod of Dordt has a very moderate description that might be reconciled with Catholicism – and notice that the Synod does not (to my knowledge) use the term “total depravity”.

  31. Wouldn’t sinful thoughts prove the total depravity of the Christian. If say, a person had sort of a Tourette’s syndrome( not the real medical condition) of obtrusive images or thoughts would they be sinning? BTW, I had a question on another thread that I aked last Friday and I think it may have been missed.

  32. Alicia,

    Great question! Sinful thoughts do not prove “total depravity” in the sense Taylor was gleaning from Denys, which does not seem to me exactly what Calvinists mean by total depravity. The reason is that acts follow upon the existence of capacities. Now inappropriate thoughts are acts of the cognitive powers. In order to have an inappropriate image come into the mind, one needs, for example, an imagination to mentally behold (and manipulate) that image. So to have such thoughts shows that a person still has some natural powers. Evil can’t exist without something good existing, which good is then used badly.

    Sinful thoughts do prove something sort of like “total depravity” you might mean in the sense that the human person is disordered after the first parents’ fall from grace removed the original harmony of the human soul as God created it. All humans “contract,” as it were, this resultant disharmony by being born in original sin and apart from God in the world. As a consequence, our appetites and passions are not perfectly ordered by reason and grace to God. They act on their own initiative, so to speak, going after what they want without a prior command of reason. Hence inappropriate thoughts just come into our heads. We all have this corruption from the fall, so in a sense we all have Tourette’s syndrome (in the sense you mean). Theologians call this disorder concupiscence, whereby the passions run us around without us even asking for it. Concupiscence is the material element of original sin, which persists even in those who are baptized. Baptism restores friendship with God and makes one a son of God through Jesus Christ, but this cleansing does not destroy concupiscence. Growing in grace and virtue mitigates the effects of this, since virtue brings our lower powers into subjugation to God through reason. Only by a miracle is one completely freed of concupiscence in this life.

    The reason why the movements of concupiscence are not sin until one consents and inflames them is because sin is “in” the will. But the movements of concupiscence are prior to any movement of our will. Therefore they do not have the true character of personal sin. But concupiscence can lead to sin very easily, which is why it is important to form well one’s imagination and appetites by God’s help and to redirect our attention when such thoughts arise. Confession and Eucharist, prayer and sacrifice–these are some of the most important means God gives us to grow in holiness.

    Of course, such thoughts can follow the command of reason (i.e., they are not spontaneous but are deliberately called up, approved and dwelt upon for the sake of having pleasure in them, etc.). Those have the character of personal sin.

    Hope that helps! The Catechism touches more on this at paragraphs 402-412. I unfortunately don’t have much time to look at your other comment. Maybe someone else can take it up.

    God bless,
    Barrett

  33. Alicia – which thread is your other comment on?

  34. Barrett, you have relieved me of a very painful and heavy guilt, I’m very grateful. Mr. Troutman, I see that you found my question on the other thread and answered it already. Thank you, too.

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