Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?

Aug 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

There are certain charges which are worthy of a defense only on account of their frequent repetition.  If someone refers to a Calvinist as a hopeless determinist, the well rounded Calvinist might decline to defend such an uneducated attack after hearing it once or twice, but there is a point at which the accused party, for the benefit of onlookers who might be swept away by the table pounding, is well justified in offering a defense.  He might dare to hope that the false accuser will correct his error but he does not expect it.  His defense is for the benefit of those undecided.

Such is the case with the “semi-Pelagianism” accusation against the Catholic Church.  Under the dim light of even a poor education, this attack is exposed as shallow and undeserving of a real rebuttal.  Yet because of widespread misunderstanding, this baseless claim is repeated often enough to justify a short refutation for the sake of onlookers who might not be sure of the truth.

One recent commenter at CTC remarked that the Catholic Church was “syngergistic” and “semi-Pelagian” as if the two were causally connected.  We will, as promised, deal with synergism at length, but we are not yet ready for that discussion.  Suffice it to say here that one may believe in true cooperation of man with God’s providence without being too near the heresy of Pelagianism.  We will proceed to ask two questions: 1. Is the Catholic Church guilty of Pelagianism? 2. Is the Catholic Church guilty of semi-Pelagianism?

Let us briefly review the heresy of Pelagianism to determine if the Catholic Church is guilty of that same heresy she condemned.  Pelagianism, inadequately summarized, teaches, contra the doctrine of original sin, that man does not stand in need of God’s grace to achieve salvation.  Aside from explicitly condemning this false belief at the council of Carthage in 418 AD and again at the ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431 AD, the Catholic Church perpetuates the condemnation repeatedly in the Catechism.  The interested reader should see especially: CCC 1996 – 2005.  The first question is settled then.  The Catholic Church is not guilty of Pelagianism.

The second question is a little trickier because the term “semi-Pelagianism” is vague.  Generally on the lips of the accuser, what this term means is reducible to “anything which imparts to man a role in salvation greater than what John Calvin does.”  If this is the definition, then we end the discussion here, “guilty” as charged.  But what else might it mean?  If Pelagianism means that salvation does not require grace, then semi-Pelagianism must mean we stand in semi-need of God’s grace, or rather, that grace accomplishes x% of salvation and man accomplishes the rest.  But this is a false division of cooperative powers.

If this is true, that whatever is done must be divided absolutely among its causal powers such that all involved agents must, through their own power, effect only a finite percentage of the whole, then all effects without exception would fall under this rule such that every action would be caused either wholly by God, wholly by man, or a cooperation of the two.  The monergist insists that with respect to any salvific action, the causal power must be God alone. Thus he feels justified in accusing the Catholic of synergism and subsequently, semi-Pelagianism.

This error rests on the denial of the distinction between primary and secondary causes.  If we say that a thing is only truly caused by its primary agent, then all actions are reducible to acts of God since God is the Prime Mover and everything that moves at all is moved as a result of His being.  Therefore if we deny secondary causes, we cannot, with any intellectual respectability, deny absolute determinism.  But if the universe is not absolutely determined, then secondary causes must be in play since, as we have said, all things, without exception, are results of God’s initial act as the Prime Mover.

Since we have admitted the existence of at least some secondary causes, e.g. human free will, in at least some actions, do we have any reason whatsoever to suppose that the secondary causal powers of man are strictly limited to actions which do not move us closer to God?  We do not find support for this belief either in Scripture or in Church Tradition so it must be dismissed.  If someone disagrees, they need only produce evidence of its existence in either of the two and my point will be refuted.

But what if the accuser agrees with secondary causal powers of man even in case of actions, such as faith,1 which lead us to salvation, but insists that grace is necessary for all of these actions and not just some of them?  Then he agrees with the Catholic Church2 and should end his schism.

We have seen that it is erroneous A) to accuse the Catholic Church of Pelagianism by virtue of her clear and authoritative condemnations thereof, B) to deny the distinction of primary and secondary causes even in the case of salvific action, and C) to insist, contra the clear and authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, that she denies the necessity of grace for salvific actions.  Thus, the charge of semi-Pelagianism is utterly baseless.

  1. James 2:24 []
  2. See  the catechism as quoted above and the subsequent section on Merit. []
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  1. I think you nailed it when you said: “This error rests on the denial of the distinction between primary and secondary causes.” Synergism affirms a complementarity between God and man, which echoes naturally in husbands and wives, and leaders and followers.

    This Spousal dimension to the relationship between God and man, so often voiced in the Sacred Scriptures and especially in the event of the Incarnation, seems to have be totally excised from the Protestant response to divine revelation.

  2. 1st let me say that I returned to the Catholic Church after 20 + years of being an Episcopalian, the main reason I returned is because TEC has become apostate. I still essentially agree with the Reformed views on Grace and Justification by Faith Alone (CF The Westminster Confession and the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion along with the Book Of Homilies). Essentially I am a “Monergist” and I strongly believe that St. Augustine, The Council of Orange in 529 A.D., and even St. Thomas Aquinas were also “Monergists”. I do not deny but affirm that the Primary Cause of Grace, Faith, and Justification is God. Man’s will, moved by Grace is the “Secondary Cause”. BUT, that being said Man’s will is made willing by that Primary Grace from God which moves our Will and makes the Human Will willing. I disagree with Trent on many issues about Justification, Faith etc. I do feel that Trent IS Semi-Pelagian in some respects. For example it declares that the Prevenient Grace of God is necessary in order for someone to have Faith and be “Justified” , where Trent is wrong is when it sates that Man’s Will, even when moved by God’s Grace can refuse or accept that Grace. This, to me, shows the Semi-Pelagian aspect of Trent. Even St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that God’s Grace is always Efficacious, that it always accomplishes its purpose . By its very nature of being Grace from God, who is Sovereign and All-Powerful it cannot help but accomplish and bring about its purpose. God says “My Word shall not return to me void”. As I write this I am reading and am about halfway through reading John Calvin’s response to the Council of Trent “Acts of the Council of Trent With the Antidote”, and I agree with it 100% so far, Ive also read James Whites’s book “The God Who Justifies” and I agree with him completely on “Justification” and R.C. Sproul’s “Faith Alone”, again I am in substantial agreement there as well. If you want to call me a “Heretic” then so be it, I also consider myself a faithful Catholic who is upholding the views of a Church Council and two Doctors of the Church on Grace. I think Trent was a Polemical over reaction to the Reformers and seriously misunderstood what the Reformers were really saying about Grace and Justification. Trent needs to be reapparised in the light of honest exigesis of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and Galatians. “Athanasius Contra Mundum”.

  3. Dear John,

    I have some sympathies with what you’re saying. I wonder about this: “where Trent is wrong is when it sates that Man’s Will, even when moved by God’s Grace can refuse or accept that Grace.” This is logically compatible with the claim that when a person does not resist but rather accepts, their willing acceptance is itself a matter of (divine) effectual grace. That is to say, it seems to me to leave underspecified (intentionally) the necessary causal conditions for acceptance, though Trent (like Augustine and Aquinas) doesn’t perceive a conflict between primary and secondary causation in such a case. There is a fairly subtle discussion of this point in Bouyer’s The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, which I found to be helpful (you may already have read it). Overall, it may be that I am being too charitable with Trent and allowing interpretations as permissible which they may not have wanted to allow as permissible. At the same time, given the preponderance of Augustinians and Thomists at that Council, and given the fact that the polemics were running against various forms of Protestantism without attempting to resolve internecine conflicts between Catholic schools of thought, I am inclined to believe that an Augustinian/Thomist approach is compatible with Trent for more or less the reasons Bouyer gives.

    Best,

    Neal

  4. Tim,

    Therefore if we deny secondary causes, we cannot, with any intellectual respectability, deny absolute determinism. But if the universe is not absolutely determined, then secondary causes must be in play …

    I think, though, that the existence of secondary causes is consistent with theological determinism; that is, even if everything that happens in the universe is absolutely determined by God’s (prior) decrees, this itself doesn’t entail the nonexistence of secondary causes. Depending, then, on one’s views of human freedom, it may be the case that we are in the possession of secondary causal powers (depite determinism) but do not act with free will (because of determinism), since it is likely that there are further conditions required (whatever exactly they are) for the exercise of free agency in particular.

    Best,

    Neal

  5. John, I agree that the Episcopal Church is apostate but I’m not convinced that you’ve left it. A Catholic is not free to disagree with Trent or any other ecumenical council. When we are confirmed we confess that we believe all that the Church teaches to be divinely revealed. Your statements here are rejecting that creed. If by believing in sola fide, you mean a living faith as per James 2, then that is fine. That is, if sola fide doesn’t mean what it says then we can believe it. But a Catholic may no sooner believe in sola fide than in Arianism.

    Neal, regarding determinism, I wasn’t being careful with my terminology. I agree that secondary causes are compatible with determinism. What I’m trying to get at is that if there are no secondary causes, then there is neither merit nor real culpability on the part of man. Man can no sooner sin on his own than he can do good. If we deny secondary causes, we reduce man to a machine.

  6. To add to this, it’s common to hear that the Catholic Church contradicts the Council of Orange (which condemned semi-P), yet those who say this don’t seem to have read the council itself.
    Here are two example quotes from the council:

    [Catholic “gracious merit” affirmed]
    CANON 18. That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.

    [A very “Catholic” conclusion}
    Conclusion: … According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.

    Also, regarding Pelagianism, the fact is it is Calvinism which is founded upon Pelagianism – as shocking as that might sound. Shortly after Trent, a Catholic named Michael Du Bay (aka Baius) was condemned by St Pius V (decree is in Denzinger) because Baius embraced Calvinistic tenets. Look at how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes Baius:
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02209c.htm

    QUOTE: “A mere glance at the above sketch cannot fail to reveal a strange mixture of Pelagianism, Calvinism, and even Socinianism. Baius is a Pelagian in his concept of the primitive state of man. He is a Calvinist in his presentation of the downfall. He is more than a Lutheran and little short of the Socinian in his theory of Redemption.”

    NOTE how it said Baius was a Pelagian in regards to PREFALLEN Adam. That’s because Pelagianism was not so much founded upon a denial of grace, as it was a conflating of grace and nature (such that a sound nature is all man is composed of) – rather than grace building on nature, which is the true Catholic (Augustinian, Tridentine, etc) view. THUS, in Pelagius’ view, when Adam ‘fell’, he had nothing to “fall from,” and thus rejected the notion that grace was necessary because man’s nature remained as it was (sound). This foundation was the same foundation as the Reformers, yet instead of having nothing to fall from, the Reformers taught nature itself became bad (like a rotten apple), and that’s why they equated concupiscience to sin itself (contra James 1:13-15). That’s why it is technically correct to say Calvinism is Pelagianistic, despite the fact they strongly emphasize God’s grace.
    Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches that since grace was added to nature, at the “fall” grace became stripped of nature (leaving only the latter), removing the divine gifts of Sanctifying Grace as well as removal of Preturnatural Gifts.

  7. Tim, interesting and true: “That is, if sola fide doesn’t mean what it says then we can believe it. But a Catholic may no sooner believe in sola fide than in Arianism.” Why can’t Evangelicals and Catholics Together state it that simply?

    Also, please see my comments/questions on your Magic in Elfland post. Thanks!

  8. John W., why do you have your horse linked to the Roman communion? The unity of the church is not institutional, it’s spiritual in its Head, Christ. Why would a guy who holds to so much Reformation doctrine go to / stay in the Roman church?

  9. (Protestant) Tim:

    Good question; I think the ECT documents (as well as the Joint Declaration) are intended to specify what common ground there may be; I think you’re dead on, though, that it doesn’t capitulate to sola fide as (e.g.) Luther understood it, pace Colson and others. I think there is grounds for alarm here if some people are presenting ECT as or understand ECT to be a document that does not paper over historically and theologically important distinctives and also constitutes an agreement of the sort that would resolve the historical disputes. Perhaps it has been billed that way by some, but, if so, I agree with your implicit assessment that such a presentation of ECT would be either done in bad faith or would be dependent upon a certain amount of historical-theological naivety.

    Still lots of work to be done on that score, unfortunately.

    Neal

  10. (Catholic) Tim,

    Yes, I think you’re right about the necessity of secondary causes, whatever we ultimately say about the thesis of global determinism and its compatibility with responsibility-conferring human freedom. This is something I think compatibilists and incompatibilists/libertarians are in agreement about, despite the apparent inconsistencies into which some of them (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) have fallen in their written work. Here, I think we need to turn to the doctrine of original sin and do our thinking about predestination, responsibility, and so forth, in clear view of the commitments generated by that point of doctrine. Michael Rea over at Notre Dame has a nice overview of this issue in an article he wrote for Persons Human and Divine, ed. Peter van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman; it can also be found on his website (article #10) here: http://www.nd.edu/~mrea/papers.html. I like Rea; it would be good to have a discussion about his paper on this site in the future.

    Best,

    Neal

  11. (Catholic Tim)

    It all depends on how you define “Sola Fide”. Clasically Catholic theology has defined “Faith” as “Intellectual Assent moved by the Will”. So when the fathers at Trent heard the Reformers saying that one is “Justified by Faith Alone” they looked at it as the Reformers saying “one is Justified by Intellectual Assent Alone”. Ironically the Magisterial Reformers IE Calvin, the Anglicans etc also. condemned that one is Justified by a Faith that was only “Intellectual Assent”. To them “Faith” was not only Intellectual Assent but also took in and included Hope, Love and total trust of the whole person in Jesus and what He did for them. The Anglicans defined this as “a true and lively Faith” in which one put their whole trust and confidence in Christ as their Saviour this then would result in a life of Charity and love of God and neighbor.

    Those who are engaged in this whole subject of Grace, Free Will, and Justification in discussion with Evangelical Protestants must admit that the main issue and stumbling block is Trent and it ‘s Canons and decrees on Justification.

    If what I believe about Grace, Free Will, and Justification (which I believe is what the Bible reveals) makes me a better Catholic in that I faithfully attend Mass, receive the Sacraments, love God and neighbor have an active devotional life of Prayer and joy in Christ what difference does it make if don’t accept the polemical Canons and Decrees of Trent which I feel seriously misunderstood what the Reformers were saying. I do not wish to be a Baptist, or Presbyterian or whatever because there are far more things I disagree with them on (IE “Protestants” ) than I disagree with what the Catholic Church teaches.

  12. John W,

    Augustine and Aquinas were not monergists. Here’s Augustine:

    He, therefore, who wishes to do God’s commandment, but is unable, already possesses a good will, but as yet a small and weak one; he will, however, become able when he shall have acquired a great and robust will. When the martyrs did the great commandments which they obeyed, they acted by a great will,— that is, with great love. Of this love the Lord Himself thus speaks: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) In accordance with this, the apostle also says, He that loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18) Love works no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10) This love the Apostle Peter did not yet possess, when he for fear thrice denied the Lord. (Matthew 26:69-75) There is no fear in love, says the Evangelist John in his first Epistle, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18) But yet, however small and imperfect his love was, it was not wholly wanting when he said to the Lord, I will lay down my life for Your sake; (John 13:37) for he supposed himself able to effect what he felt himself willing to do. And who was it that had begun to give him his love, however small, but He who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He initiates by His operation? Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will. Now, concerning His working that we may will, it is said: It is God which works in you, even to will. (Philippians 2:13) While of His co-working with us, when we will and act by willing, the apostle says, We know that in all things there is co-working for good to them that love God. What does this phrase, all things, mean, but the terrible and cruel sufferings which affect our condition? That burden, indeed, of Christ, which is heavy for our infirmity, becomes light to love. For to such did the Lord say that His burden was light, (Matthew 11:30) as Peter was when he suffered for Christ, not as he was when he denied Him. (On Grace and Free Will, 33 [XVII], emphases mine)

    Aquinas does not deviate from Augustine on this point. Aquinas is very clear that when God moves a thing, He moves it according to its nature. And this is why, for Aquinas, God moves a free creature in a way that upholds the creature’s freedom, and does not necessitate the movement of the creature’s will. Aquinas denies that the will is moved by God in such a way that the will is moved by necessity [quod voluntas a Deo ex necessitate moveatur]. (ST I-II Q. 10 a.4 ad 3)

    Aquinas writes:

    As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) “it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things.” Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently [ex causis autem contingentibus sequuntur effectus contingenter]. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.

    The Divine will extends not only to the doing of something by the thing which He moves, but also to its being done in a way which is fitting to the nature of that thing. And therefore it would be more repugnant to the Divine motion, for the will to be moved of necessity, which is not fitting to its nature; than for it to be moved freely, which is becoming to its nature. (ST I-II Q.10 a.4)

    And elsewhere Aquinas says something quite similar:

    The justification of the ungodly is brought about by God moving man to justice. For He it is “that justifieth the ungodly” according to Romans 4:5. Now God moves everything in its own manner, just as we see that in natural things, what is heavy and what is light are moved differently, on account of their diverse natures. Hence He moves man to justice according to the condition of his human nature. But it is man’s proper nature to have free-will. Hence in him who has the use of reason, God’s motion to justice does not take place without a movement of the free-will; but He so infuses the gift of justifying grace that at the same time He moves the free-will to accept the gift of grace, in such as are capable of being moved thus. (ST I-II Q.113 a.3)

    God moves a thing according to its nature or condition. Grace perfects nature; grace does not destroy nature. Since man is by nature a rational (and hence freely willing) creature, and the will is not determined to one action but is open to many actions, and since grace always perfects nature, therefore grace does not take away our freedom, but enhances and perfects it. So when Aquinas comments on co-operating grace, he says:

    As stated above (Question 110, Article 2) grace may be taken in two ways; first, as a Divine help, whereby God moves us to will and to act; secondly, as a habitual gift divinely bestowed on us.

    Now in both these ways grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating. For the operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of “operating grace.” But in that effect in which our mind both moves and is moved, the operation is not only attributed to God, but also to the soul; and it is with reference to this that we speak of “cooperating grace.” Now there is a double act in us. First, there is the interior act of the will, and with regard to this act the will is a thing moved, and God is the mover; and especially when the will, which hitherto willed evil, begins to will good. And hence, inasmuch as God moves the human mind to this act, we speak of operating grace. But there is another, exterior act; and since it is commanded by the will, as was shown above (Question 17, Article 9) the operation of this act is attributed to the will. And because God assists us in this act, both by strengthening our will interiorly so as to attain to the act, and by granting outwardly the capability of operating, it is with respect to this that we speak of cooperating grace. Hence after the aforesaid words Augustine subjoins: “He operates that we may will; and when we will, He cooperates that we may perfect.” And thus if grace is taken for God’s gratuitous motion whereby He moves us to meritorious good, it is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating grace.

    But if grace is taken for the habitual gift, then again there is a double effect of grace, even as of every other form; the first of which is “being,” and the second, “operation”; thus the work of heat is to make its subject hot, and to give heat outwardly. And thus habitual grace, inasmuch as it heals and justifies the soul, or makes it pleasing to God, is called operating grace; but inasmuch as it is the principle of meritorious works, which spring from the free-will, it is called cooperating grace. (ST I-II Q. 111 a.2, my emphases)

    You wrote that you think Trent is semi-Pelagian, because

    it declares that the Prevenient Grace of God is necessary in order for someone to have Faith and be “Justified”,

    That’s not semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism is not the claim that we, once moved by God’s prevenient grace, freely choose. Semi-Pelagianism is the notion that we don’t need prevenient grace; we make the first move toward God, and then God responds and helps us. That’s semi-Pelagianism, and that was rejected both at Orange (canon 4) and at Trent (cf. Session 6, chapter 5, and canons 1-3).

    where Trent is wrong is when it states that Man’s Will, even when moved by God’s Grace can refuse or accept that Grace. This, to me, shows the Semi-Pelagian aspect of Trent.

    Claiming that grace is resistable is not semi-Pelagian. We cannot do something good at the supernatural level, without grace. Denying that is the fundamental error of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. But the claim that we do not need grace to do something evil (i.e. resist grace) is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian. It is an entirely different question, i.e. whether efficacious grace is so because of something in itself, or because of a grace-enabled response in us, (or both)? The Church has not given a definitive answer to that question, and thus leaves *that* question open.

    Even St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that God’s Grace is always Efficacious, that it always accomplishes its purpose.

    Where exactly do you think Aquinas says this? God’s purpose in giving grace is manifold, not simple. He seeks not only the salvation of the individual, but also that the individual’s love for Him be truly free and unforced (because otherwise this whole present earthly life is for no reason; if our choice didn’t matter, He could have created us already in the beatified state). Efficacy is always relative to a purpose. And since God’s purpose in giving grace is manifold, the accomplishing of God’s manifold purpose in giving grace does not entail that no person to whom it is given resists. Stephen says that his hearers are “always resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51).

    By its very nature of being Grace from God, who is Sovereign and All-Powerful it cannot help but accomplish and bring about its purpose. God says “My Word shall not return to me void”.

    That’s Jansenism, i.e. denying that sufficient grace is given to the lost.

    I also consider myself a faithful Catholic … [W]here Trent is wrong is when it sates that Man’s Will, even when moved by God’s Grace can refuse or accept that Grace.

    Those two statements are not compatible. A person cannot be a faithful Catholic while denying any definitive teaching of an ecumenical council on faith or morals. I show why, from Aquinas, here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Ironically, there is a sense in which Calvinism is Semi-Pelagian. As I write in Return to Rome:

    My study of the Fathers led me to re-examine the Canons of the Council of Orange (AD 529), which, with papal sanction, rejected as heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Having its origin in the Catholic monk Pelagius (ca. 354–ca. 420/440), the first heresy affirms that human beings do not inherit Adam’s sin (and thus denies the doctrine of original sin) and by their free will may achieve salvation without God’s grace. On the other hand, semi-Pelagianism maintains that a human being, though weakened by original sin, may make the initial act of will toward achieving salvation prior to receiving the necessary assistance of God’s grace. The Council of Orange, in contrast, argued that Adam’s original sin is inherited by his progeny and can only be removed by the sacrament of Baptism. By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Even though Protestant thinkers sometimes portray the Council of Orange’s canons as a sort of paleo-Reformed document, it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.

  14. Tim – The unity of the Church is sacramental. Please see our article on the Visible Church.

    John – “Intellectual assent moved by the will” is what faith means. If faith alone includes things other than faith, then why call it faith alone? Who cares if faith is “alone” if the definition has been reworked to include things other than faith? The bible, as you know, only mentions “faith alone” once in James 2:24 cited above where it condemns the belief. Was James also confused on the definition? We are justified by faith and works according to the Scriptures. If Martin Luther believed that, then he shouldn’t have apostatized from the Church. The brand of sola fide that Trent condemned was exactly the brand that James condemned in chapter 2.

    You’re right Trent is a stumbling block. But it is a stumbling block to non-believers. The cross is also a stumbling block to those who don’t believe. But we can’t remove the cross from Christianity, and we can’t remove Trent from Catholicism.

    Also, Trent never said “this is what Luther believes,” it said “this is false” and did so infallibly. If what Trent condemned was not what Luther believed, then Lutherans should have returned to the true Church. But Trent remains a stumbling block precisely because it condemns many heresies that Protestants do believe.

    If someone says “I am a faithful follower of Christ, but I think He made some mistakes in the sermon on the mount,” he doesn’t seem like too faithful of a follower to me. Likewise, I’m not sure what you mean by “faithful Catholic” if you openly dissent from teachings you once vowed to receive as “divinely revealed. “

  15. John W.

    I wonder if you’re ignoring Aquinas’ division of grace into prevenient and subsequent grace when you said:

    “…where Trent is wrong is when it states that Man’s Will, even when moved by God’s Grace can refuse or accept that Grace. This, to me, shows the Semi-Pelagian aspect of Trent. Even St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that God’s Grace is always Efficacious, that it always accomplishes its purpose.”

    Of Course the Catholic Church believes Gods grace is always efficacious, but the question is what is each particular grace intended to effect? According to Aquinas prevenient (actual, sufficient) grace gives man the ability to conform his will to God’s will and thus be saved. It is through this grace that some can live in a state of justification, but then fall away and lose it. Subsequent grace (habitual, efficacious, or sanctifying) grace is that which is given after prevenient grace which effects and preserves salvation. All men who receive efficacious grace will attain salvation.

    It’s in this way that man is saved by grace alone because in both graces God is the primary cause. It is the grace that causes merit that earns salvation, or the rejection of grace, which is solely our own fault, that results in damnation. Semipelagianism says that man earns grace by his own efforts. Prevenient grace precludes semipelagianism.

    Augustine is in complete agreement with this. This can be seen in many places in his treatise On Nature And Grace. Following is but one example. When talking about the graces God gives Augustine then says:

    “Now we do not, when we make mention of these things, take away freedom of will, but we preach the grace of God. For to whom are those gracious gifts of use, but to the man who uses, but humbly uses, his own will, and makes no boast of the power and energy thereof, as if it alone were sufficient for perfecting him in righteousness?” (On Nature And Grace chapter 36)

    This shows how Augustine thought of man’s will, being completely free (against Luther and Calvin), cooperates with God’s grace for righteousness. Calvin was no Augustinian. That is a myth. Augustine was not monergistic, but synergistic, although everything that is good is from God.

  16. Good point, Frank. Understanding grace as unmerited favor, and justification as consisting essentially of a nontransformative forensic decree, makes it more difficult to see how grace operates causally so as to achieve its effects within the human recipient. (NB: I’m not unaware that there are responses to be made here, but it seems to me that a Catholic view of the nature of grace makes avoiding the [semi-]pelagian spectre easier and more straightforward.) Rob Koons makes a similar point about the appearance that Lutheranism paradoxically looks to be committed to a form of pelagianism in his essay on justification, linked on our resources page.

    Best,

    Neal

  17. Nick, thanks for the remarks. Sorry for the delayed approval.

  18. To Frank and Neal:

    I don’t see how you can accuse the Reformed position as being Semi-Pelagian. Reformed Soteriology is much more than being Justified by Faith and as a result being imputed with Christ’s Righteousness. The Righteousness that Justifies is not a persons own “Merited” Righteousness but comes from Christ. The Grace that Justifies not is seen in Justification only but also in “Regeneration” which precedes Faith and “Sanctification” which follows Justification. So Reformed Soteriology looks like this:

    Grace>Regeneration>Faith>Justification>Sanctification.

    So Grace is in some sense “infused” otherwise there could be no “Regeneration” which works inside of a person. In order to be “Regenerate” and then have Faith this grace must work inside of a person to move their heart, mind, and will.

    Frank you wrote:

    “This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.”

    I think this is a part of the issue. Catholic Theology includes “Sanctification” in “Justification”. One is not “Justified” until one is “Sanctified”. I strongly believe that the Reformers followed the Pauline model and distinguished “Justification” from “Sanctification” . I agree , given the contextual and Biblical usage of “Justify” means to DECLARE, not MAKE righteous. I have read quite a bit on this and agree that the Magisterial Reformed position is the correct one based on good Biblical exigesis.

    That being said unfortunately Catholic Apologists end there and say “See Protestants see salvation/Justification as only and merely being “imputed” with Righteous while remaining unchanged inside, its merely a ‘legal fiction’.

    In the heat of Polemics they ignore the fact that in order to have Faith in order to be Justified by “imputation” an internal change is necessary in order to have “Regeneration” and be changed already in order to have the Faith that Justifies to begin with. Another thing that gets left out is the fact that once one is “Justified” God the Holy Spirit begins to actually make the person internally Righteous by Sanctification.

    Justification and Sanctification are distinct but inseparable, one cannot have authentic Justification without the Sanctification which follows it.

  19. John, I’ll leave a proper response to your comment to the doctors but calling the separation of justification and sanctification “Pauline” begs the question.

  20. John:

    There is a sense, then, in which “sanctification” is a necessary condition for “justification” for anyone who survives his initial justification for at least several days.

    If Bob is J, then he is S. Thus, if ~S, then ~J.

    But suppose one argues that sanctification begins immediately after justification. How does that differ from Trent in any significant way? Now suppose one argues that sanctification may not begin if one dies seconds after being justified. In that sense, infused grace is not necessary for justification.

    If regeneration is necessary, then why not embrace Trent? If it’s not, then one is semi-Pelagian (in the sense that infused grace is unnecessary for justification). But why even entertain this conundrum? There is a way out: Catholic soteriology. It accounts for all this in an elegant and intellectually satisfying way. But it is, to be sure, difficult. It requires “picking up a cross” and following Him. “Faith alone” is faith without a cross. I’m with Jesus on this one.

  21. Hey, John.

    Thanks for your response. First, I completely agree that Reformed soteriology isn’t exhausted by imputed righteousness subjectively appropriated by faith alone; WCF chapter 13 by itself makes that abundantly clear. What interests me is the ordo salutis you just presented, since (as you know) not every Reformed thinker is entirely happy with the claim that regeneration “precedes” faith — those, for example, who look to union with Christ as the fundamental soteric reality and who wish to avoid the appearance that God declares a person in the right only “after” something morally significant has taken place within them may want to qualify your remarks — and certainly (as you again know) Luther would not be happy with the description.

    Thus when you write, “So Grace is in some sense “infused” otherwise there could be no “Regeneration” which works inside of a person,” you seem to be passing over what, from at least a Lutheran perspective, is crucial to a proper understanding of sola fide, namely, that the faith by which we’re justified is passive (not “active,” not infused with any supernatural virtues of the sort that are bound up with regeneration or the infusion of grace by the Spirit). Luther of course also has a place for sanctification and regenration and good works and so forth, but making regeneration and infused graced a logically or causally necessary condition of the faith that justifies is (for Luther) a major step “backward” toward the Augustinian soteriology he was at pains to reject.

    The line to be walked, then, is this: on the one hand, it’s going to be important to preserve the thesis that the “ground” of our justification isn’t within us or dependent upon anything virtuous about us, but is extra nos; on the other hand, your intuitions are right that if we’re to avoid semi-pelagianism we’re going to have to assign a role to “regeneration” — and all that this entails — prior to the acquisition/exercise of saving faith and the declaration of justice or righteousness.

    (An important note: so far as I can see, you can hold that saving faith must be brought about by infused grace and must be “active” in the Augustinian sense, while at the same time insisting that the righteousness by which we’re justified remains “outside of us,” always imputed and not infused; I think there is no logical contradiction in this, even if it is a somewhat peculiar view from an Augustinian perspective. The question is whether the antecedent “regeneration,” involving “infusion” of grace and the impartation of faith, hope and love, comes too close for comfort to the “justification-by-works-righteousness” account that Luther et al. were anxious to avoid. This is a question about the subjective appropriation of justification, not its “ground.” I think the worry is that once you start plodding down this road, you end up making your “just” status dependent upon something about you, irrespective of the fact that that “something” is grace-wrought. Luther, at least, backed away from this far enough that he made himself vulnerable to the charge of semi-pelagianism, as noted. But remember that Reformed theology, too, is committed to a denial of the claim that justifying faith is active (formed by the supernatural virtues brought about by infused grace); that is why there is a fine line to be walked from the Reformed perspective as well.

    Some walk it better than others, perhaps; but Reformed theology is not altogether monolithic on this point, I don’t think.

    Best.

    Neal

  22. John,

    I can accept the following:

    Grace> Regeneration> Faith> Justification> Good Works/Sanctification>Final Salvation/Eschatological Justification.

    This is the same as the Reformed position which you advocate, with the addition of final salvation, which the Reformed also believe in and which obviously follows the rest.

    Two questions for advocates of Reformed (or quasi-Reformed) theology:

    Does the declaration “justified” in any way refer to the grace of regeneration by which one is made righteous? And if not then how do you avoid Frank’s assessment of the latent semi-Pelagianism of Reformed soteriology?

    As to the sense of “justification” language in the Greek New Testament:

    No informed person doubts that the (Greek) “justification” language used by St. Paul has, in the lexicon, a strong and primary forensic sense. The data is proof-positive of this fact. And I do not doubt that Paul is employing the term in this sense. The question is, does St. Paul’s use of this forensic terminology logically exclude a realist dimension to God’s speech-act, declaring a person just? No, it does not. So the force of lexicographical considerations need to be supplemented by further exegetical, philosophical and theological work before it is possible to rest assured that St. Paul and the other NT writers employee “justification” language in an exclusively forensic sense throughout the NT or in any single instance. The biblical/historical dimension of justification, as presented in the OT/LXX, must certainly be carefully considered. Not to so would be to commit the lexical-fallacy of ignoring context (i.e. use) in the quest for meaning.

  23. I should clarify my second question:

    If not, how do you avoid the charge of latent Pelagianism in the Reformed doctrine of justification, since this doctrine, by definition, excludes all reference to the grace that makes us righteous, i.e., regeneration?

  24. To Frank:

    Frank as you well know there are things that may be “intellectually satisfying” but ultimately are either futile or not true, IE one can build a logically sound and consistent system that is intellectually satisfying yet be wrong in the end. For example many people found Marxism or Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy logical and “intellectually satisfying” but we all know as Christians that they were flawed ultimately because they were based on atheistic materialism.

    What I find objectionable about Trent is not so much the infused Grace which Sanctifies an individual but the fact that because of this infused Grace we must “merit” (earn) final Justification/Salvation by our good works and keeping the commandments. To me this is the same thing that St. Paul condemned the false teachers in Galatia of doing. The false teachers agreed that Faith was necessary, they had no problems with the fact that Grace was needed for Justification initially, but then they added that in order to be ultimately saved one must “keep the Law”.

    If one takes Trent seriously one can never be certain that they will ultimately be Justified/Saved or even if they are in a “State of Grace” at any given moment , to me this leads to a life of fear, uncertainty, doubt and having no joy as a Christian or general well being that God loves us. I know when I read the New Testament I find that one can have trust and confidence that God was in Christ reconciling the World to Himself, that because of my Faith, Hope and Trust in Jesus by Grace I can have confident assurance that I am Justified/Saved, that I can know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will lose none of those whom the Father has given Him that He is able to keep them because He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.

    To Neal:

    I really haven’t much of Luther or Lutheran theology, I come from an Episcopal/Anglican perspective with some Reformed theology. Like I said at some point I attended a Reformed Baptist Church for about 2 years after I left the Catholic Church in my early 20s. The Pastor taught that by Grace Regeneration precedes the Faith that brings Justification. To me this fits the Biblical data nicely. If we start with what Scripture says that the “Natural Man”(Man in his fallen reprobate state) has a Heart of Stone that rejects God then we must conclude that in order to have the Faith that Justifies God must by Grace replace that hard Heart of Stone with a Heart of Flesh that is able to Believe and have the Faith that Justifies. The only way this can happen is to say that Grace is actually placed into Man’s very being so he can then have his will made willing by God who moves the Will. Once this happens (Regeneration) a man uses the Faith given by Grace as an instrument to appropriate and receive Justification. So yes Man is passive to some extent because Grace is given freely without Merit but once the Will is made willing then Man is active by using that Grace given Faith and be Justified. Once Justified, Man by Grace working in him becomes Sanctified by doing those works which God has prepared beforehand to walk (dwell) in them.

  25. Hi Tim,

    Back in March 2008, I posted a couple of threads on the issue of the charge of “semi-Pelagianism—I believe/hope that they may offer some further insights:

    Semi-semi-Pelagianism

    Why Terminology Is Important

    Grace and peace,

    David

  26. … but the fact that because of this infused Grace we must “merit” (earn) final Justification/Salvation by our good works and keeping the commandments.

    No, it’s the fact that it is because of this infused Grace God grants us that we obtain final Justification/Salvation and the ability to manifest good works and keep the commandments, if only we so choose out of our own volition to do thus. In the end, it is due to God’s gift, not us alone, that is responsible; however, we stubbornly choose to deny His Gift such that we do not participate in the Grace He so freely gives unto us, then we condemn ourselves to everlasting fire.

    If you don’t subscribe similarly to such a traditional Christian notion as this, then kindly tell us then what you personally make out of such passages as Matthew 25:31:46 and even Mt:7:21, which states quite explicitly:

    21 Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

  27. John,

    because of this infused Grace we must “merit” (earn) final Justification/Salvation by our good works and keeping the commandments.

    That is not the Catholic paradigm. Babies who die after baptism, still have final Justification/Salvation, without good works and keeping the commandments. The very odd thing about your statement, is the word ‘must’. For a Catholic, the proper words would instead be ‘get to’. By the *gift* of Christ’s grace, and by the *gift* of this earthly life, we get to participate in our salvation, and retain the privilege, had by Adam and Eve in the Garden, of contributing to our eternal state. See my comment above, where Augustine (and Aquinas) speak of God as the co-operator with man, not man as the co-operator with God. They speak this way precisely because of their affirmation of our genuine causal agency, and the principle that grace perfects nature, and does not destroy or replace or nullify nature. Self-determination is better understood as a great gift, not as an obligation. We recognize that out of God’s love for us, He has given us an opportunity in this life to demonstrate our love for Him, both through obedience and suffering, and even the obedience learned through suffering.

    To me this is the same thing that St. Paul condemned the false teachers in Galatia of doing. The false teachers agreed that Faith was necessary, they had no problems with the fact that Grace was needed for Justification initially, but then they added that in order to be ultimately saved one must “keep the Law”.

    You are conflating different senses of the word ‘law’. The law the Galatian Judaizers were requiring was the Jewish ceremonial law, which belonged uniquely to the old covenant. (see Gal 4:10, 5:2-3, 6:12-13) That is an altogether different question from whether Christians are required to keep the moral law (Gal 5:19-21, 6:2).

    If one takes Trent seriously one can never be certain that they will ultimately be Justified/Saved or even if they are in a “State of Grace” at any given moment , to me this leads to a life of fear, uncertainty, doubt and having no joy as a Christian or general well being that God loves us.

    Re-read what you wrote to Frank about the difference between “intellectual satisfying” and true. We don’t get to order up Christianity (or any doctrine within it, including the doctrine of assurance) as we like it. (See here.) But, in what you said about whether we can be certain we are in a state of grace, you’re overlooking the distinction between absolute certainty and moral certainty. Moreover, the Reformed position gives you no more certainty, because you cannot know with absolute certainty that you are elect-to-glory. So there is no more comfort in this life (even if truth weren’t more important than comfort) from the Reformed doctrine of assurance than there is from the Catholic doctrine of assurance.

    I know when I read the New Testament I find that one can have trust and confidence that God was in Christ reconciling the World to Himself, that because of my Faith, Hope and Trust in Jesus by Grace I can have confident assurance that I am Justified/Saved, that I can know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will lose none of those whom the Father has given Him that He is able to keep them because He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.

    A Catholic can and should affirm all those things as well, with the addition that by the objective power of the sacraments, we can be assured (with moral certainty) of our standing before God.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. Andrew, you asked, “[H]ow do you avoid the charge of latent Pelagianism in the Reformed doctrine of justification, since this doctrine, by definition, excludes all reference to the grace that makes us righteous, i.e., regeneration?”

    The Reformed doctrine of justification does not at all “exclude all reference to the grace that makes us righteous, i.e., regeneration,” it excludes certain references. In that regeneration precedes faith (the alone instrument of justification) justification occurs within the context of overall sanctification (beginning with regeneration and ending with glorification). Sola-fide justification is not an island set off around the bend from the rest of the ordo salutis, but is organically united to all the other parts of salvation. The major distinction made regarding justification is that the divine verdict is rendered on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone and received through faith alone. Justification occurs within the context of the grace that makes us righteous, i.e., regeneration and sanctification, but the divine pronouncement is not rendered on account of that context. No Pelagianism to be found.

  29. John,

    Thanks again for your replies.

    It sounds like we have a similar background: I too was at a Reformed baptist church when I was converted, and my pastor also taught emphatically that regeneration precedes faith, in an effort to avoid pelagianism and semi-pelagianism. (I also was in the Anglican Communion for a brief time — we must be cut from the same cloth!)

    What I notice is that confessionally Reformed Christians (as opposed to baptists who may accept TULIP, etc.) have a slightly different way of presenting their position, and this is directly relevant to some of your newest remarks to me. For instance, you say that “Man is passive to some extent because Grace is given freely without Merit but once the Will is made willing then Man is active by using that Grace given Faith and be [to be?] Justified.” It’s important to note that we can agree on all of this: the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that the grace by which we’re initially justified is in any sense “merited,” for one thing. So this doctrine does not by itself mean that we are “passive” with respect to the acquisition of faith. A person receives grace not because of any merit of their own, but the grace received is such as to quicken them, making their wills alive (to God) in love, whereas prior to this and “on its own” it doesn’t and can’t do this. (This is, I take it, part and parcel of “regeneration” from your perspective, and I’ve got no problem affirming this either.) Thus “man’s will is made willing by God who moves his will,” removing the heart of stone and replacing it (by “infused grace”) with a heart of flesh. He doesn’t deserve this or earn it or what have you, but, as you say, it enables him thereafter to exercise charity toward God and neighbor in co-operation with divine grace. All of this is perfectly acceptable, perfectly good Catholic teaching, and I agree that it fits the Biblical data nicely.

    Your remarks to Frank are interesting, too, and though I don’t want to respond for him I’d like to say something about them if you don’t mind. Earlier I referenced WCF chapter 13, a chapter concerning sanctification and its place in the soteriological scheme. The Westminster divines are very careful there to reject the view that our sanctification is simply a matter of Christ’s imputed righteousness (this they understood to be the antinomian position), and they argued for the necessity of a real change of heart, sanctification, personal holiness (inherent, not just imputed). Necessary for what? According to them, without such holiness no one will see the Lord. In other words, our “final salvation” is understood to essentially include our being able to stand before God in heaven, in perfect communion with Him, something which cannot happen until we have consummated the sanctification process in co-operation with divine grace.

    This is why Reformed folks rightly get upset when they’re accused of antinomianism, or are accused of reducing salvation to justification (understood as a one time “not guilty” decree). And that’s very good. But notice the consequence: taking the whole of “salvation” in view, since (final) salvation essentially includes “sanctification” — whereby we work out our salvation as God works within us — and “sanctification” must be understood in terms of progressive, personal holiness as distinct from a forensic decree, it follows that “our final justification/salvation is dependent upon our good works and obedience…,” just as you said follows from the Catholic position.

    (Perhaps you object to the idea that a person can “merit” further grace (as an aid to sanctification), even if they cannot “merit” their initial justification or the grace that brings them to faith? But if so I think it’s got to be only because you (understandably) are suspicious of the term “merit,” and not because you reject the idea God bestows grace in abundance upon Christians who are seeking to please Him. (I’m guessing you wouldn’t have a problem with that; maybe you do?)

    So, although I think that you and I probably disagree on the referent of “works of the Law” in Gal and Rom, I do not see how you can say that the Catholic view, but not the Reformed view, makes our “ultimate salvation” — our ability to stand before a Holy God in heaven — contingent upon our own, personal, inherent growth in holiness (“progressive sanctification”), since the WCF affirms precisely the same thing and for the same reason: Reformed theology rejects antinomianism.

    Your other remarks, concerning perseverance, also deserve attention. Instead of writing a bunch more here, though, may I direct you toward my post, “Persevering Most Assuredly: one reason to prefer Luther over Calvin,” or perhaps to J. Akin’s article “A Tiptoe Through TULIP,” which you can find under our resources page?

    Thanks again,

    Neal

  30. John:

    Why do you think Christianity is just about getting into heaven and being certain about it? It seems to me that Christianity is as much about getting heaven into us and putting one’s total trust in God.

    And why do you suppose that when used I the term “intellectually satisfying” I meant “something that I find agreeable to me”? That’s not what I meant. I meant that which elegantly accounts for both the teaching of Scripture as well as the liturgical practices of Christ’s early followers. It seems to me that any view of justification that excludes the Council of Nicea, the Council of Orange, and St. Augustine–which is indeed what Calvin’s view does–cannot be correct. If it is, then the gates of hell did indeed prevail and the restorationists are spot on.

    Theology by word-study is about all that is left once one abandons history and church practice.

  31. Dr. Beckwith insightfully remarked:

    It seems to me that Christianity is as much about getting heaven into us and putting one’s total trust in God.

    Indeed, as the Writer of Hebrews himself mentions:

    “But you have approached Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, and the assembly and church of the firstborn who have been enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and spirits of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood which speaks better than that of Abel” — Heb. 12:22-24).

    Also, take heed of what James had said then:

    22 Seest thou that faith did cooperate with his works and by works faith was made perfect? — Jms 2:22

  32. To Bryan:

    I must disagree that when St. Paul refers to “works of the Law”, “works”, and “the Law”, he is only referring to the Jewish Ceremonial Law. He singles out “Circumcision” as representative of trying to be Justified by the whole Law including the “moral Law”. Look at Romans 7. No mention of the “Ceremonial Law”, what St. Paul is discussing is the “Moral Law”, specifically Covetousness, which is a part of the “Moral Law”.

    As to the distinction between “Absolute Certainty” and “Moral Certainty” I really can’t get my head wrapped around what this means. I know that because I have placed my whole Faith, Trust and Confidence in Christ and what He has done for me and His promise that all who come to Him will in no wise be cast out and that whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will lose none of those whom the Father has given Him and I am fully convinced that He is able to do what He promised I can and do have absolute certainty and confidence that I will be Saved based on His promises and that He will give me all the necessary Grace to persevere.

  33. To Frank:

    I agree with you that Salvation is more than just “Fire Insurance” to avoid Hell. But also if one cannot have firm confidence and assurance that they are and will be saved then where is the joyful confidence and hope of being “in Christ”? I agree also that “Salvation” is also about “getting Heaven into us”, that we are not just saved from eternal punishment in the hereafter but saved from the power of sin in the here and now, that we are no longer slaves of sin which dehumanises us.

    Reformed theologians do affirm and point to the Councils of Nicea and Orange. I’m am certain that you have read John Calvin to some extent so you know that he quoted St. Augustine quite a bit. Calvin and the Reformed studied and do study Patristics quite a bit as did the Anglican Divines (Anglicans, at least the orthodox ones, are quite conversant in Patristics)

  34. John,

    As to absolute and moral certainty, I think it would be good to consult what Calvin says about a corresponding distinction (at least if McGrath’s understanding of Calvin is correct). In discussing the issue of assurance, Calvin seems to distinguish between dogmatic certainty/certainty of faith, which deals with items of dogma that have been divinely revealed, and the psychological certainty(/”moral certainty”) that believers may have concerning their own status as justified or elect — items of personal belief that obviously are not among the revealed dogmas, but that the Christian may nevertheless try to support either by way of an interior inspection of the strength or quality of their own faith (as you appear to do), or, as Calvin also suggests, by way of noticing their own progress in “sanctification,” their own “good works,” which Calvin does not understand to be the grounds of our justification/elect status, but which he nevertheless suggests might provide evidence of our elect status.

    All this to say: the distinction’s there in Calvin too, so I think it’s worth Reformed Christians at least trying to wrap their heads around.

    Best,

    Neal

  35. John — one brief postscript.

    A fellow articulate Reformed Christian who’s been commenting on this site (Tim P.) recently made this remark: “I think many Protestants like “faith” in part because it’s intangible and nebulous, uncontrollable by human powers, and quite subjective.” Of course, he had other things to say besides this. But I wonder, if Tim’s analysis is right, how you might feel about placing your assurance of justification/final salvation/elect status in something as “nebulous” and “subjective” as your own confidence concerning the strength and genuineness of your faith. This is something that started to bug at least some Protestants, especially the Puritans, and especially after the Bezan doctrine of limited atonement was formulated. For this doctrine made it clear that a person could be quite confident in the stength and genuineness of their own personal faith, and that, introspectively, their own faith might appear to be at every point indistinguishable from the true, saving faith of the elect, even if they weren’t really among the elect and even though their faith was “temporary” rather than “saving.”

    If I may ask: how is it, exactly, that you can tell, from the inside, that you’ve got the right stuff? Or, following Calvin, are you looking to your own progress in sanctification as evidence of your elect status? In that case, how can you tell that your works have all the right stuff, as distinct (e.g.) from the good works of others, whose works aren’t properly tethered to saving faith? Etc. These are the questions I think you’ll have to confront, if you want to justify the claim that you, personally, have more assurance of your elect status than the rest of us, despite the fact that we can point to our robust faith and absolute confidence in the trustworthiness of God quite (I”m guessing) as well as you can. Just something to mull over — I don’t mean this to be a personal attack or a suggestion that you’re “not really saved” or what have you.

    Best,

    Neal

  36. John,

    I must disagree that when St. Paul refers to “works of the Law”, “works”, and “the Law”, he is only referring to the Jewish Ceremonial Law. He singles out “Circumcision” as representative of trying to be Justified by the whole Law including the “moral Law”. Look at Romans 7. No mention of the “Ceremonial Law”, what St. Paul is discussing is the “Moral Law”, specifically Covetousness, which is a part of the “Moral Law”.

    You claimed above that Trent was committing the same error St. Paul condemned in Galatians. I pointed to St. Paul’s distinction in Galatians between the ceremonial law and the moral law. In response, you appeal to Romans 7, as though what St. Paul says in Romans 7 about coveting tells us the referent of the word ‘law’ in Galatians. In Romans 7 St. Paul *is* talking about the law in a broader sense, including the moral law. The Roman Christians are no longer under the power of the law, having died to it through baptism (7:4; 6:4). But, he says, the requirement of the law is fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) But I still do not see why you think that Romans 7 or Galatians is incompatible with what Scripture (and Trent 6.16) say about merit. It seems to me that what St. Paul says in Romans 7 (and Galatians) is fully compatible with Chapter 16 of Trent 6, which is almost entirely composed of Scripture verses:

    Council of Trent
    CHAPTER XVI
    THE FRUITS OF JUSTIFICATION, THAT IS, THE MERIT OF GOOD WORKS, AND THE NATURE OF THAT MERIT

    Therefore, to men justified in this manner, whether they have preserved uninterruptedly the grace received or recovered it when lost, are to be pointed out the words of the Apostle: Abound in every good work, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.[I Cor. 15:58]

    For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name;[Heb. 6:10] and, Do not lose your confidence, which hath a great reward.[Heb. 10:35]

    Hence, to those who work well unto the end[Matt. 10:22] and trust in God, eternal life is to be offered, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus, and as a reward promised by God himself, to be faithfully given to their good works and merits.[Rom. 6:22]

    For this is the crown of justice which after his fight and course the Apostle declared was laid up for him, to be rendered to him by the just judge, and not only to him, but also to all that love his coming.[II Tim. 4:8]

    For since Christ Jesus Himself, as the head into the members and the vine into the branches,[John 15:1f.] continually infuses strength into those justified, which strength always precedes, accompanies and follows their good works, and without which they could not in any manner be pleasing and meritorious before God, we must believe that nothing further is wanting to those justified to prevent them from being considered to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained in its [due] time, provided they depart [this life] in grace,[Apoc. 14:13] since Christ our Savior says:

    If anyone shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst forever; but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting.[John 4:13f]

    Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own from ourselves,[Rom. 10:3; II Cor. 3:5] nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated, for that justice which is called ours, because we are justified by its inherence in us, that same is [the justice] of God, because it is infused into us by God through the merit of Christ.

    Nor must this be omitted, that although in the sacred writings so much is attributed to good works, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, Christ promises, shall not lose his reward;[Matt. 10:42; Mark 9:40] and the Apostle testifies that, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory;[II Cor. 4:17] nevertheless, far be it that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself and not in the Lord,[I Cor. 1:31; II Cor. 10:17] whose bounty toward all men is so great that He wishes the things that are His gifts to be their merits.

    And since in many things we all offend,[James 3:2] each one ought to have before his eyes not only the mercy and goodness but also the severity and judgment [of God]; neither ought anyone to judge himself, even though he be not conscious to himself of anything;[I Cor. 4:3f] because the whole life of man is to be examined and judged not by the judgment of man but of God, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then shall every man have praise from God,[I Cor. 4:5] who, as it is written, will render to every man according to his works.[Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; Apoc. 22:12.]

    What exactly does Paul say, in Galatians or Romans or anywhere, that is incompatible with any statement here in Trent 6.16?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  37. To Neal:

    I like what you posted in response to how I view the priority of Regeneration in the “order of Salvation” . I don’t hold to any particular Reformed OR Catholic view but rather try to be faithful to the Biblical witness using sound Exigesis and Biblical theology. BTW we do indeed seem to share similar backgrounds so I see how we can both come to similar conclusions in many ways. I never much of the Puritans so I can’t really comment on what you mention though I have read what you wrote elsewhere about this aspect of Puritan thought about the “anxious apprehension” about if one posses “true Faith”. Let me quote how one Reformed writer views the Catholic perspective:

    “Rome has always tried to get as much mileage as possible out of the spiritual terrorism afforded by graphic visions and thoughts of Final Judgment. One need only think of the visual horrors of Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel. The second section of the traditional Roman Catholic “Requiem” (a mass for the dead), the Dies irae (“day of wrath”), is another portrait of the fearful realities of judgment facing the sinner. It begins,

    The day of wrath, that day shall
    dissolve the world in ash, as
    David prophesied with the Sibyl.

    What trembling shall there be
    when the judge shall come
    Who shall thresh out all thoroughly…

    Death and Nature shall be astounded
    when creation rises again
    to answer to the Judge…

    And therefore when the Judge shall sit,
    whatsoever is hidden shall be manifest;
    and naught shall remain unavenged…

    Soon follows the desperate cry of the guilty sinner,

    And what shall I say in my misery?
    Whom shall I ask to be my advocate,
    when scarcely the just may be without fear?

    The horror of divine judgment is almost palpable (especially when conveyed, for example, by Berlioz’ or Verdi’s musical language!). Such fear, according to traditional Roman Catholicism, may move the sinner to the beginnings of faith. For that reason fear ought to be, and is, cultivated. But then the Catholic apologist for justification by faith and works enters to declare to this terrified sinner facing the reality of the eternal wrath of the holy God that the pardon and forgiveness which they seek is “only an external application of Christ’s justice,” it is “just simply a legal exchange.” The quaking sinner looking for a sure resting-place for his faith is told to look away from the pardon of God, and the sacrifice of Christ which satisfied divine justice. They are only legal; they are insufficient. The sinner is told to look elsewhere — he is told to look to himself!!

    Is this “gospel?” Is this “good news” to the sinner’s ear”

    Again when I study the Traditional Catholic view as exemplified by Trent I see the same apprehension and anxiety about assurance and certainty that you claim the Reformed and Puritans had. IE have I “accumulated” enough “Merits” by my good works to “Merit” final Perseverance and final Justification, have I done enough Spiritual “Navel Gazing” in examining my Conscience to be certain that I have confessed every sin in the Sacrament of Penance. etc. So you see the proverbial knife cuts both ways.

    I know I have Faith, I know with certainty that the Gospels and Epistles are true and faithful witnesess to the Person and work of Jesus Christ and I simply believe that, I know whom I have believed and I look to Him who is the Author and finisher of my Faith that He is able to accomplish what He promised. I don’t engage in spiritual Navel Gazing. I simply believe and put all my confidence and trust in Jesus.

  38. John – the “spiritual terrorism” accusation is weak. All the same things could be said of Christ’s words in Scriptures. Is He too guilty of “spiritual terrorism”?

    Do you speak of your earthly mother this way? I’ve yet to hear you say a positive thing about your mother, the Catholic Church. If I were to meet someone who only said negative things about their mother and only spoke of her “dirty laundry,” I’d rightly suspect something is wrong in that relationship. In the earthly one, it might be the mother. But in the relationship between Church and sinner, guess which one is in the wrong…

    Furthermore, every single time final judgment is mentioned in Scriptures, men are judged based on their works; faith isn’t even mentioned. This doesn’t imply that faith is not intrinsically a part of justification, but it gives any honest person something to wrestle with. Men can systematically dismiss any verse, like the ones Roma pointed to above, which are clearly problematic for the sola fide novelty, and they often do, but this demonstrates a loyalty to Reformed idealism at the expense of truth.

    Bryan is absolutely correct above about Paul referring to works of the Jewish law. We cannot entertain the absurd idea that Paul was contrasting faith with charity or obedience to the gospel.

    Tim – Speaking of sola fide as a given is unproductive in this conversation.

  39. John,

    The quaking sinner looking for a sure resting-place for his faith is told to look away from the pardon of God, and the sacrifice of Christ which satisfied divine justice. … The sinner is told to look elsewhere — he is told to look to himself!

    Christ’s death cannot ground our assurance of our salvation, unless universalism is true (Christ’s death guarantees that everyone goes to heaven). But there is good reason to believe that universalism is not true, or at least not to believe that it is true. So that shows that assurance requires internal examination. Since faith without love is nothing (1 Cor 13:2), then discovering loveless faith within isn’t ground for assurance. When we examine our conscience, we should see faith working through charity (Gal 5:6). The Catholic position does not ground assurance solely in internal examination, but (because salvation is relational) also in the objective application of grace through the sacraments, merited by Christ, to the individual. If we want assurance, we are to make proper use of the sacraments. And that involves examination of conscience, but goes beyond it to something objective, and outside of us, i.e. the certainty of grace given to us in the sacraments.

    Is this “gospel?” Is this “good news” to the sinner’s ear”

    Last year, I wrote the following here:

    Not too long ago someone criticized the Catholic teaching concerning the gospel by saying that it detracted from the goodness of the good news, both by requiring that we do good works, and by failing to provide absolute assurance of our elect-to-glory status. Upon hearing this objection I was reminded of the ‘pastry-baker’ in Plato’s Gorgias accusing the physician before the children: “His message detracts from the goodness of the good news that I’m giving you; you don’t need to exercise regularly or avoid pastries, sugar and fat.” What is it but sophistry that measures the truth of any version of the gospel by how ‘good’ it appears to us? That’s simply another form of ecclesial consumerism. According to this maxim, the more ‘freeing’ and antinomian one’s version of the gospel, the more it must be true, since then it is ‘better’ news, and the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον] is “good news”. This kind of thinking is what makes so many people susceptible to the Heath and Wealth ‘gospel’ offered by well-known figures such as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. The better the offer, the more it must be the gospel, because ‘gospel’ means good news.

    But that way of thinking is deeply flawed, precisely because what seems good to us is not necessarily what is actually good for us, just as what seems good to the jury of children in Plato’s Gorgias is not in fact what is good for them. The goodness of the good news depends upon its truth. If the ‘good news’ is false, then it is not good news, no matter how good it sounds or seems. Therefore we should not compare versions of the gospel by how good they seem to us, but rather by which is true, even if it seems less attractive and more arduous than the other versions of the gospel.

    I know I have Faith …. I don’t engage in spiritual Navel Gazing.

    Unless you look within, you don’t know you have faith. If you know you have faith, then you are looking within. Something has to give here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. Hi, John.

    Thanks for your honest reponse. I’m not sure which Reformed thinker you’ve quoted at length here. I guess my response is just to say, “Wha? Seriously?” Mozart amounts to spiritual terrorism, and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” just amounts to straightup, good ol’ evangelistic preaching? “The sinner’s told to look to himself, since Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf is merely legal and insufficient?” Again: “Wha? Seriously?” Perhaps, instead of quoting this nameless and evidently very excitable Reformed author, you could look at what, say, St. Augustine has had to say concerning the Gospel, and then try to move forward to a calmer, more circumspect and more nuanced assessment from there?

    No sarcasm; I’m seriously making this request of you: I take pains to make sure that I am appropriately, fairly, and charitably representing Reformed theology when I speak with Reformed people, and I’m open to correction if people think I’ve misrepresented their position. I’d much appreciate it if you’d return the favor in your discussions with me — though, I warn you before hand, it may involve a bit more studying, and a bit less quoting of disastrously misinformed Reformed persons who are, shall we say, in the grip of a theory.

    For instance, you speak of accumulating enough “Merits” by your “good works” to “merit” the grace of final perseverance. This understanding of the grace of final perseverance is just as misinformed and inaccurate as your previous claim that, according to Catholicism, a person must “merit” by their own good works the grace of initial justification. And I actually don’t see that the knife cuts both ways on the issue of assurance. Actually, I think that the reformed are sort of worse off than Catholics and Lutherans (e.g.) on this issue, for reasons similar to those Bryan indicates above. You say you believe that Jesus is able to save folks, and that none who are elected to salvation will be lost. Okay. I know all that stuff too. How does your certainty of faith about the sufficiency of Christ’s work on behalf of the elect entail that you yourself are a member of the elect? It doesn’t. So, you look to your own faith, and you assert, after inspecting it, that your own faith is true, genuine, firm, unwavering, and that you aren’t beset by the doubts that have plagued many reflective Reformed persons — doubts which, Calvin seems to indicate, will be a normal and expected part of the reflective believer’s life. Okay, that’s fine; but I don’t see how saying “I just know that I’m among the elect” really engages with either the legitimate concerns of Reformed thinkers, or especially how it engages with all of the very thoughtful and sophisticated writing on these topics produced by folks like Augustine and Aquinas. (If anyone gets to “just know,” shouldn’t they get to “just know?” And remember: we’re not talking about moral certainty here, but the kind of absolute epistemic certainty or certainty of faith that you believe yourself to possess, and by means of which you attempt to distinguish your status from all nonReformed people, including many Protestants. In deference to them, don’t you think it would be wise to think through the issues a little more, perhaps reading some of their material, rather than cutting it off at the pass by proclaiming that you “just know?”)

    Overall, John, this has been a very enjoyable and (I think) sincere exchange. But let me again encourage you to push a little further here: don’t let nameless reformed authors tell you that Catholicism’s all about spiritual terrorism and take them at their word; don’t turn aside serious questions by talking about navel gazing and saying you somehow “just know” things that Augustine (e.g.) wasn’t quite smart enough to “just know;” and please stop bandying about this very silly business about “meriting” the grace of “final perseverance” and “initial justification” and so forth. If you’re going to protest against the Church, I think it’s really morally incumbent upon you to figure out what exactly you’re protesting against first. (I know that sounds preachy, and I’m sorry for that: but I mean it in all earnestness and sincerety.)

    ******

    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.

    — John Cardinal Newman

  41. Tim:

    Please don’t misunderstand, that long passage-quote is not how I personally feel, I was responding to Neal about his post about the Puritans struggling with the concepts of “Assurance of Salvation” and whether or not one could distinguish between genuine saving Faith and a false Assurance and an apparent “false Faith”, that long quote was how someone from a Reformed perspective can or may perceive the Catholic position.

    I am not committed to Reformed theology per se though I think that Reformed theology contains many valid and important Biblical and theological points. Like I stated earlier when I left the Catholic Church in my early 20s I attended a Reformed Church for 2 years before moving on to the Episcopal Church and later an “orthodox” conservative Anglican Church (Reformed Episcopal Church, now a part of the Anglican Church In North America) for the next 22 years. I recently returned to the Catholic Church, so at this point I am trying to understand the Catholic view on many things, especially Soteriology. If I wished I could have remained in the ACNA, but I returned to the Catholic Church instead.

  42. Bryan:

    I certainly don’t accept Universalism, so we can dismiss that idea immediately. Yes ideally the Catholic position entails a healthy self-examination and the objective assurance that God gives us His Grace through the Sacraments. I agree with what you say here completely and some of what you say is sorely lacking in many Protestant groups. IE The Sacramental dimension to the point of being anti-Sacramental and being IMHO “Neo-Gnostics”.

    But I am personally hard on myself and my Parish Priest has cautioned me on this and has concern about me drifting into “Scrupulosity”. So thats why I am cautious about too much “Spiritual Navel Gazing” and introspection.

  43. Tim P.,

    re #28,

    Actually I claim that the Reformed doctrine of justification by definition (emphasis original) excludes reference to the grace of regeneration. The Protestant Reformers did not define justification in a way that includes reference to inward, transformative righteousness (e.g., justification = regeneration and imputation). If you take the whole package, then, yes, you get regeneration and sanctification. But (classical) Reformed justification is significantly distinct from these. Therefore, like Pelagian justification, it is not, by definition, a matter of transformative grace. Look, I do not want to push that comparison too far; for one thing, it will quickly break down. In fact, the Reformed position is significantly similar to the Catholic position, e.g., on both views, anyone who lives some span past the age of accountability must be sanctified (which includes doing good works) before going to heaven; so that, on both views, you will not go to heaven unless you do good works. If the necessity of good works undermines the “good news” of the Gospel, then this is a problem for both Catholics and Reformed Protestants.

  44. John,

    I know at least one (probably two) persons who struggle with scrupulosity, so I understand what you are saying. I appreciate you mentioning this, because it helps us understand where you are coming from, and it explains some of your language in this thread. And you are right that the scrupulous person has to be wary about too much ‘navel gazing’. He has to trust his spiritual director. I pray that you will be guided well through this, into peace with orthodoxy, and love for Christ and His Church. I hope you continue to study and comment here on CTC as you develop your understanding of the Church’s soteriology.

    By the way, welcome home.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. Neal:

    Sorry sometimes I can get a tad over the top, but I posted that quote as an example of an over the top Reformed response to your statement about the Puritans, that quote is not how I feel or believe but all those things in that last post of mine in response to you are how many in the Reformed community view the Catholic position, they are not my own views. Actually a good many Reformed people are very close to the Catholic position, especially conservative “orthodox” Anglicans from the evangelical side of the Anglican Way ( which is where I came from) I think much disagreement is Semantic and perhaps how we phrase things. I am on your side, I did choose to return to the Catholic Church when I could have remained in the Anglican Church in North America. I am just trying to understand my Catholic Faith a little better and it needs to be translated from Scholastic Catholicese into Scholastic Anglicanese so I can become acclimated and make the proper adjustments, I do plan on reading St. Augustine some more along with Thomas Aquinas.

    BTW that quote comes from an article in “Antithesis” an online Reformed publication dated Sept/Oct 1991 in the article “New Confusions for Old: Rome and Justification” by Roger Wagner at “reformed DOT org”

  46. Andrew (#43) – thanks for the dialogue. According to my reading of the Reformers (mostly Calvin), you’ve misrep’d their doctrine of justification. You’ve turned simple distinctions into deeper divisions. In any event, I’m in no position to open my books to refute the charge that seems outlandish to me to begin with. The one thing that pops into my mind before I turn it off (my mind, that is) is that Calvin’s chapter on Sanctification precedes his chapter on Justification in the Institutes. That ought to be enough to indicate that justification, for Calvin, was solidly rooted in the whole of redemptive/transformative grace.

  47. Tim, Andrew’s claim that the Reformed believe in justification by imptued righteousness as distinct from any intrinsic transformative righteousness sounds outlandish to you? I must be missing something because I have a hard time believing that. Calvin says:

    a man is justified freely by faith alone, and yet that holiness of life, real holiness, as it is called, is inseparable from the free imputation of righteousness. – Institutes 3.3.1

    Which, I assume, is the sort of Calvinist teaching you’re thinking of, but for Calvin, righteousness is inseperable not because justification is inclusive of it, but because it necessarily follows:

    That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy

  48. John,

    Hey, man. Thanks for the response (again). Like I said, it’s been fun talking, and I appreciate your letting me (us) know where you are coming from. Sorry again for sounding preachy.

    Best,

    Neal

  49. Neil raises a good point. In theory, one could be a Calvinist and not part of the elect. As a friend of mine once asked me, Why is that I have never met a Calvinist who believed in double predestination and thought that he was dealt a bad hand at the cosmic poker game?

    I don’t understand the obsession with certainty. Think about it this way. If I asked a mental patient who believed he was St. Peter that if he died right now would he be confident that he would be in heaven, and he answered, “Yes, after all, I’m St. Peter,” what precisely does that prove? I find the anthropocentricity of such questions to be diabolically manipulative, on the level of faith healers promising that the magic dirt from the Holy Land they are trying to sell you will cure all your ills.

    If God is sovereign, relax.

  50. Dr. Beckwith:

    I don’t understand the obsession with certainty. Think about it this way. If I asked a mental patient who believed he was St. Peter…

    I’d invite you to read a prominent work done by the illustrious G.K. Chesterton, which goes by the title of Orthodoxy.

  51. The outlandish part, Tim, is the charge of Pelagianism. Certainly, repentance and all actual growth in righteousness flow from faith. However, the gift of faith is rooted in regeneration – the spiritual remaking of the man. The charge of Pelagianism in justification (on the Reformed view) is shown to be false because regeneration is necessary for belief and that faith itself if a divine gift. This is clear enough from Paul “golden chain” of predestination, calling, justification, and glorification (Rom 8:30).

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m responding this comment from Andrew: “[H]ow do you avoid the charge of latent Pelagianism in the Reformed doctrine of justification, since this doctrine, by definition, excludes all reference to the grace that makes us righteous, i.e., regeneration?” I’ve tried to show that the “excludes all reference” is an overstatement, and thus his charge is avoided. Justification considered in itself is distinct from the grace that makes us righteous (this is what Andrew’s after, I think), but justification considered organically in its place among all the parts of salvation certainly doesn’t exclude all reference, but it rooted in the grace that makes us righteous. That’s what I was up to in #28.

    The Reformed have always *distinguished* justification from the other parts of salvation, but have never divided it from them. For Andrew’s charge to stick, there’d have actually to be division. The Westminster Large Catechism asks, “How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?” The answer: “Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness” (WCF # 73, italics mine). Those other graces, sanctifying graces, “do always accompany it.” No division, only distinction. Therefore, no Pelagianism.

    Again, maybe I’m missing something. Sorry if I’m being obtuse… I’m not trying to be.

  52. Tim P.,

    I do not think that you are being obtuse. I do think that you are understating the significance of the distinction which I have highlighted, and which you recognize. Reformed theology, following Luther, maintains that justification is not predicated upon transformative grace, as does Pelagian theology. You seem to assume that the differences between the Reformed and the Pelagians cancel out this similarity. But there it is. We, of course, also see the differences, but are talking about the similarity. As I said before, the Pelagian analogy cannot be stretched too far, and is valuable only as a unique way of illustrating an old point. That point (the per se distinction between regeneration and justification vis-a-vis definition), which is unprecedented in 1,500 years of Church teaching, was supposed to be large enough to constitute the difference between a true and a false Gospel and, therefore, to justify the Protestant Reformation. Additionally, this distinction absolutely dictates the manner in which Reformed theology construes all of the “non-divided” aspects of salvation. And the ramifications of a soteriology so construed are far-reaching, and far from salutary.

  53. Dr. Beckwith, I agree. My assurance is really not admissable evidence on judgment day. We won’t debate with God. So we should be less concerned with convincing ourselves that we have absolute certainty of something and more concerned with trying to obey the gospel.

    Tim P – Ok I see where you’re coming from and I can appreciate that. I misread your objection. I think, in all fairness, it’s not a helpful road to go down (to try and show the link between Reformed theology and Pelagianism) at least not in this context. Catholics and Nazis are similar in that they both have organization and hierarchy and a world wide vision of a perfect group of people…but its not really helpful to call Catholics Nazis. I meant to mention something of that nature in the body of the post – that the Pelagianism charge is something like the charge of theological fascism. What the two have in common is that everyone thinks they’re wrong and so often parties compare other parties to Nazis or Pelagians in order to weaken their credibility. But it doesnt seem helpful. Neither of us believe we are saved apart from grace. No Pelagians here as far as I can tell. Nuff said.

    But on the other matter, if justification is man moving from enmity to friendship with God, then something has changed. The change is not in God, as He is immutable, nor in how He sees man because He always sees things as they truly are. He does not “see” at all to be sure, He has no need of seeing. Seeing is only helpful when you don’t know what is there. But God, through His perfect self knowledge knows all things as they truly are. The change in justification is an intrinsic change – not an extrinsic one nor does it change the problem of a mere extrinsic change to say, as Calvin does, that an intrinsic change necessarily follows. The issue at hand is the change of justification itself. If the change is extrinsic, then the change in relationship with God might be a change in an extrinsic value such as man’s location. But if the change is intrinsic, then the change must be something intrinsically changed in man since, as we have said, God cannot change. This is why justification is rightly understood, despite the real possibility of a forensic application, as the entire salvation process. One does not move from enmity to friendship with God without being intrinsically changed. We became enemies by an intrinsic thing (sin) therefore we can only be restored by an intrinsic change (infusion).

  54. Tim T. and Dr. Beckwith,

    So we should be less concerned with convincing ourselves that we have absolute certainty of something and more concerned with trying to obey the gospel.

    Tim, are you suggesting a dichotomy here such that for whatever finite percentage of concern we spend upon the former there will be a corresponding finite decrease of concern for the latter? (I don’t use emoticons, so you will have to simply imagine my friendly smile.) I note the qualification of “absolute”, but am not sure what you mean by that.

    Why do you think Christianity is just about getting into heaven and being certain about it? It seems to me that Christianity is as much about getting heaven into us and putting one’s total trust in God.

    It is important to note that such strictures on assurance vis-a-vis faith and salvation cannot be pressed too far, for at least three reasons:

    (1) Assurance of salvation is a biblical concept and part of the Catholic tradition (see my post on St. Thomas and assurance).

    (2) You both seem to have in mind “reflexive” models of assurance (see Neal Judisch’s post on assurance in Luther and Calvin), but that is not the only kind of assurance on the market.

    (3) Non-Catholics often assume that Catholics must live in a kind of fear bordering on despair. Given that assumption, they rightly wonder whether we have ever heard, or really believe, the promises of the Gospel. A right emphasis on a proper certainty of eternal happiness does much to counter-act this wrong assumption about our faith. (Protestants are not, by the way, the only ones thus misinformed.)

  55. Andrew (#52) – I see your point regarding justification. I think it’s quite strained, as it only takes some aspects of the doctrine of justification into account, not all. It also seems like a guilt by very, very loose association tactic, but as Catholic Tim asserted: Nuff said – at least on that score. Your latter point that forensic justification is “unprecedented in 1,500 years of Church teaching” is more pertinent. I’m not so sure it’s not overstated a good deal, but at this point I’ll have to demure and possibly pick that up later. See, being an ecclesial deist, I don’t gotta worry about 1500 years of nuthin!

  56. Catholic Tim – or, T.A.T., if you prefer :)

    I’m tickled to handle the theological objection you raise. It’d be nice to go point by point and not shotgun style.

    1) Let’s start with the definition of justification: Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sin and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. I read that somewhere. The movement from enmity to friendship flows from justification, but is not itself justification. Notice Paul’s flow: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Rom 5:1. I suppose you’ve no issue here. In any event, I’m just pushing the same question back from the enmity/friend level to the condemned/justified level in order to keep our sleeves out of the soup.

    2) There is no change in God – Mal 3:6 & James 1:17 – thus, whatever justification entails, it doesn’t include divine change. That, however, doesn’t preclude anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language, of which the Scripture is full, including divine change (Gen 18:22-33). So, we’ll necessarily distinguish between God and the way we speak of him. I’m sure this will need to be ironed out further, as we continue.

    3) When you assert that justification cannot be “in how He sees man because He always sees things as they truly are,” you frame the issue decidedly in your favor. Things “are” in different ways – you believe in magic, so this concept should come easy. For example, according to Paul, believers have been raised up with Christ, but have been seated with him (Eph 2:6 – Aorist, active, indic.). According to the Bible, this is as “real” as is the fact that I’m seated at my desk… real in different respects. So, while I agree with your comment, I think the way in which you bring it up is leaning toward question begging.

    If we can handle these three things, then we can move on to more substantive discussion about the theology involved.

    Happily, Tim

  57. Tim P –

    1. I read that somewhere. Where did you read it? If it’s authoritative, I’ll accept it.
    2. I agree.
    3. If the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded charged with the mission of delivering the truth to humanity, then every true statement I make frames things towards the Catholic Position. This might sound a little pretensious, but there is something here. It wasn’t the errors of Protestantism that lead me to the Catholic Church, it was the Protestant truth. The Presbyterians taught me to love Christ, I found that to love His Church was the fullest expression of my love for Him. They taught me to love the Scriptures. I found that the best way to love the Scriptures were as delivered from His holy Church instead of in the hands of those to whom it was not entrusted.

    As for extended discussion on sola fide, I think Bryan’s new post is a better place to continue that.

  58. Andrew:

    Tim, are you suggesting a dichotomy here such that for whatever finite percentage of concern we spend upon the former there will be a corresponding finite decrease of concern for the latter?

    Cut me some slack I’m on jet lag time! :-) I agree – no dichotomy.

    I’m not arguing against assurance of salvation as you and Neal have argued for. But even your construal would be condemned by most evangelicals. What I meant to say is that arguing for, or trying to pretend that we have, an absolute certainty of salvation, especially as if this supposed certainty was itself a requirement for salvation, is a an error.

  59. Tim, we can continue this on the other post, no prob. I have not read his article. I’m still working through Ecclesial Deism… one thing at a time, you know. I’ll write later on today, once things get under control. As a passing note, your comments on #3 didn’t really have to do much with #3.

    With joy,
    Tim

  60. Tim P, sorry I didn’t finish the thought on #3. I agree that a thing can be true in one sense and false in another sense. e.g. We are priests in one sense via baptism, and not priests in another sense. The problem here is that the anthropmorphic langauge and distinction of senses cannot account for imputation because it involves only an extrinsic change and justification is necessarily intrinsic as shown above. Whatever anthropomorphic language we use to describe what’s going on, we know that since a true change is necessary for justification and that God cannot change, whatever is said that sounds like God is changing is true only in the anthropomorphic/analogical sense and not in the literal/absolute sense. But a literal/absolute change is necessary. An extrinsic change such as imputation cannot account for this. Therefore the change must be intrinsic and on the part of man. i.e. ‘infusion’ as St. Augustine said.

  61. Tim T., I moved the conversation over to the “Does the Bible Teach Sola-Fide” string. I thought that’s what you wanted to do.

  62. Tim (or anyone with an answer),

    I hope you can help me get a better grasp of these things. I’d rather turn for help to someone who’s not trying to prove that Catholics have a reason for boasting. If somewhere in the 60+ comments here, this has already been answered, let me know.

    When you say: “do we have any reason whatsoever to suppose that the secondary causal powers of man are strictly limited to actions which do not move us closer to God?” From my understanding we do have reason to believe that from the Council of Orange:

    “Concerning the succor of God. It is a mark of divine favor when we are of a right purpose and keep our feet from hypocrisy and unrighteousness; for as often as we do good, God is at work in us and with us, in order that we may do so.”” [Canon 9]

    “If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).” [Canon 14]

    “That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” [Canon 20]

    “Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.” [Canon 23]

    Also Fr. Hardon says that there are three non-negotiable points: “It is a dogma of the Catholic faith that there exists a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace, and also that there exists a truly efficacious grace which, however, is not necessitating.” AND there is freedom of human will under grace. [Grace Considered Intensively]

    As well as Augustine quoted in the Catechism: “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it”

    From these things, because God’s grace is sufficient, it is all that is needed, and truly moves our will in the first place (not indifferently), yet we maintain the freedom to resist, I understand that we cannot of our own freedom do anything but turn away from God, or in cooperating we may only not obstruct His will. Because God is the source of all Goodness, even when we do good, it is God that wills and does the good and not us. Only by God’s grace do we even will to do good at all, and not just as a primary and indifferent mover. It makes sense when we figure that faith is really surrendering our will to the will of the Father. So when we have faith and do good, however willingly we do, it is not our will that is done but by God’s will. So the only thing we can do of our own power and will is to turn from God. Then it would seem that our cooperation is really limited to a non-obstructive capacity, since the only thing our will can do without God first moving our will, is to turn from Him.

    Does this make sense? Do I have a handle on these things?

  63. Stacey,

    Great stuff – I think you’re on the right track. (Not sure if I’m the Tim you wanted to hear from or not but…)

    Let me offer an explanation of secondary causal power that may help illustrate where I’m coming from on this. First, Bryan Cross has some excellent material on his blog re: monocausalism that will help clear up a lot of this.

    On one end of the philosophical spectrum, we have deism where God created the world and the agents act completely independent from God, who is detached from the universe. On the other end, we have Occasionalism which states that God is the only acting agent in existence. That is, agents appear to be acting out of their own will but in fact, only God is really acting. This, or a weak version of this, is what causes some misinterpretation of the Council of Orange and has led to other errors. Concurrentism is the belief that, yes God does act as the primary cause of motions, but humans also act as secondary causes. The secondary causes act in a way that does not detract at all from the primary cause. So if I do something, I don’t do 10% of it and God does 90%, I do 100% and God also does 100%. We are acting on different causal levels and therefore our causal powers are not competing for causal real estate as it were. I found Dr. Freddoso’s comment on van Inwagen’s view on chance to be particularly helpful in understanding Concurrentism.

    So God is the Prime Mover, and He moves all things, but He moves things according to their nature. This principle of Catholic thought cannot be overstressed – grace does not destroy nature, it perfects it. So this needs to be qualified:

    I understand that we cannot of our own freedom do anything but turn away from God

    But to turn towards God is the perfection of our freedom. It is precisely because it is a free turn towards God that it is of any value. If Occasionalism were true and we don’t actually turn towards God when His grace moves us thusly, then what value is it? It is not love unless it is a true and free action. God wants love from us and robots do not have love to offer. He wants a bride, not a puppet. But if by “our own freedom” you mean a will and causal power which exists outside of God, then the statement is true. But a will and causal power outside of God cannot sin either because such a thing does not and exist. The ability to turn away from God is a result of the corruption of our freedom and of our rational powers.

    even when we do good, it is God that wills and does the good and not us.

    This is true except for the last three words. That God does something does not entail that we do not do it. We cannot do anything apart from God whatsoever. I type as I respond, but God also types. He is the primary cause, I am secondary. We can admit that I am truly typing. But why is it the case that if I were to love my neighbor, or to do a good, then we could not say that I am truly doing that? What reason do we have to say that good things must be done only by God and not by a cooperation? If it turns out that this typing is good, would it follow that I wasn’t really typing at all? How can God command us to do good if we don’t even have the ability to do good except that He alone does them through us? This philosophy turns Christian theology on its head.

    So when we have faith and do good, however willingly we do, it is not our will that is done but by God’s will.

    Our will is not necessarily contrary to God’s will. In fact, when our will is perfected, it will be aligned to God’s will. The powers of our soul have been corrupted by the fall and as a result, we do not act according to our nature (i.e. we sin). But insofar as our powers are ordered correctly, and insofar as we act according to our nature, our will is not opposed to God and therefore we act according to our will, moved by God’s grace, and genuinely do God’s will – i.e. good. The miracle of grace is that it causes us to truly do good. If all grace did was force us against our true will to do good then it would be a counterfeit good – a cheap trick.

    Then it would seem that our cooperation is really limited to a non-obstructive capacity

    This is true in some sense as the catechism points out but we can’t take it to mean that we have no part in the good works that God works through us. Our cooperation in the initial grace of justification is strictly limited to the ability to reject it, I think, but as we progress in the salvation process we are gifted, by God’s grace, with a true cooperation in our salvation.

  64. Tim A. Troutman: “But if the universe is not absolutely determined, then secondary causes must be in play since, as we have said, all things, without exception, are results of God’s initial act as the Prime Mover.”

    “all things, without exception, are results of God’s initial act as the Prime Mover”

    All things? Even evil?

  65. Mateo: evil is not a thing, it is the corruption of a thing. That is why it is possible to say that God is responsible for all things and to say, at the same time, that He is not responsible for evil. Otherwise, we are left with Manicheanism.

  66. Tim A. Troutman, thank you for your clarification.

    I am glad to have stumbled upon Principium Unitatas – I love this site! FYI, I am a Catholic, and I am trying to understand what the differences are between the beliefs of “Calvinists” and the faith professed by the Catholic Church. I am quite surprised to see you write this: “If someone refers to a Calvinist as a hopeless determinist, the well rounded Calvinist might decline to defend such an uneducated attack …”

    Most of what I know about Calvinism is what I have been told by people who identify themselves as Calvinists. In my experience, Calvinists are indeed hopeless determinists, because the Calvinists that I know claim that they have no free will! If Calvinists don’t believe that they have free will, I don’t see how they can be accused of either Pelagianism of semi-Pelagianism.

    Could you pleas explain to me why do you say that a “well rounded Calvinist” would not be a hopeless determinist? Don’t Calvinists believe in “irresistible grace?

    Also, could you point me to the guidelines for posting to threads in Pricipium Unitas? If my questions are not appropriate for this thread, I apologize in advance.

  67. Mateo, glad to have you hear and your questions are always welcome as long as they’re on topic and this one certainly is. (They can be a little off topic here and there that’s fine too – but if they get too off topic, the best place to ask is via the contact page)

    One clarification: this site is “Called to Communion.” Principium Unitatis is the personal blog of one of our Academic Editors, Bryan Cross. It is an excellent resource and I’d highly recommend it.

    As for the free will question, Calvinists believe in free will because it is essential to Christianity. Some might lean towards what has been uncharitably called “hyper-Calvinism” and those may have a more deterministic bent, but there is no reasonable way to get completely around free will. If your Calvinist friends are telling you that they don’t believe in free will at all, i.e. that we’re robots, I don’t think they are fairly representing Calvinism.

    Now Calvin admits free will in Adam but that after the fall, the will has been corrupted to where it is no longer free in regard to acting towards the beatific end; i.e. that we cannot choose God; hence, Total Depravity. Catholics, I think, would agree that the will is not perfectly free now because the perfection of the will is perfect alignment with God’s will and since we do not have that, our freedom is not perfect. That is, perfect freedom is the ability to always choose the right thing which we do not have because of the Fall. Nevertheless, we must maintain that our freedom is complete enough to participate or reject God’s grace. The Calvinist would not admit that, per Irresistible Grace as you mentioned, and that’s probably where the big difference lies.

    Hope this is helpful.

  68. Tim A. Troutman: One clarification: this site is “Called to Communion.” Principium Unitatis is the personal blog of one of our Academic Editors, Bryan Cross. It is an excellent resource and I’d highly recommend it.

    Thanks again for the clarification. Are there guidelines for posting to CTC that I should know about?

    Tim A. Troutman: As for the free will question, Calvinists believe in free will because it is essential to Christianity. Some might lean towards what has been uncharitably called “hyper-Calvinism” and those may have a more deterministic bent, but there is no reasonable way to get completely around free will.

    I agree that there is “no reasonable way to get completely around free will” if sin is to have any reasonable meaning! If Jesus died for my sins, but I am not in anyway responsible for the sins that I commit, what are we really arguing about?

    Tim A. Troutman: If your Calvinist friends are telling you that they don’t believe in free will at all, i.e. that we’re robots, I don’t think they are fairly representing Calvinism.

    The Calvinists that I know claim they have no free will, but they won’t accept the logical conclusion of that belief – i.e. that we are nothing but robots. Nicola Tesla professed to be a deterministic materialist, and he said that human beings were nothing but “meat automata”. Tesla was at willing at least to follow his reasoning to its logical conclusion.

    Tim A. Troutman: Now Calvin admits free will in Adam but that after the fall, the will has been corrupted to where it is no longer free in regard to acting towards the beatific end; i.e. that we cannot choose God; hence, Total Depravity.

    If I remember what I read in the Institutes, Calvin believed that Adam was created in a state of grace, and that Adam fell from grace by a free act of his will – i.e. Adam freely chose to be disobedient to the expressed will of God which prohibited Adam from eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Therefore,Calvin admits that at least one man in a state of grace could resist God’s grace and fall from a state of grace by an act of disobedience.

    Tim A. Troutman: Catholics, I think, would agree that the will is not perfectly free now because the perfection of the will is perfect alignment with God’s will and since we do not have that, our freedom is not perfect. That is, perfect freedom is the ability to always choose the right thing which we do not have because of the Fall. Nevertheless, we must maintain that our freedom is complete enough to participate or reject God’s grace.

    Agreed.

    The state of the fallen man: “ For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22-23)

    The nature of fallen man is wounded, not totally corrupted: CCC 405 … original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. …

    Fallen man cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight: “When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight. (Council of Trent (1547): DS 1525.) cf. CCC 1993

    Tim A. Troutman: The Calvinist would not admit that, per Irresistible Grace as you mentioned, and that’s probably where the big difference lies.

    What does a Calvin mean when he claims that grace is irresistible? If Calvin admits that Adam was created in a state of grace, and that Adam fell from grace by his act of disobedience, how can Calvin then claim that a man that has been restored to a state of grace is incapable of falling from grace?

    Have I completely misunderstood Calvin?

  69. I found and read the CTC “posting guidlines”.

  70. Mateo – interesting conversation and very pertinent passages from Scripture and the Catechism! Just FYI you can use the tag:

    {blockquote} Put quoted text here {/blockquote} ( replace { with less than sign and } with greater than sign )

    To make block quotes and make it easier to read.

    I think you have understood Calvin rightly in his pre-fall belief that Adam had free will and turned from God. But unlike the Catholic Church, Calvin teaches that we are now in a state of corrupted nature rather than one merely wounded.

    If Calvin admits that Adam was created in a state of grace, and that Adam fell from grace by his act of disobedience, how can Calvin then claim that a man that has been restored to a state of grace is incapable of falling from grace?

    That’s a good question. Calvin doesn’t see the ‘elect’ as being in a state of grace, at least not in the way Catholics do, and this can be proved primarily from his non-distinction between mortal and venial sin. Calvin’s equivalent, being in a state of ‘saving grace’ would, by definition, entail final perseverance such that it was not possible to fall away. So I don’t think that Calvin would call Adam in a “state of grace” in the same way that he would call an elect Christian in a state of grace where as we mean the same thing by both terms (although other differences between us and Adam exist).

    So Calvin thinks that all who receive God’s saving grace will persevere until the end, thus be elect, thus cannot lose salvation, thus His grace is irresistible etc.. Now there is a certain sense in which Catholics could agree and the issue is not dogmatically defined in that there is room for debate within the scope of Catholic Orthodoxy. But of course Catholics must believe that grace A) is resistible, B) is available to all (meaning that grace is not just given to some and refused to others… else how could they be culpable?)

    But some of the gray matter lies in what differentiates those who ultimately end up in Hell vs. those who ultimately end up in Heaven given that grace is available to all. This isn’t neatly defined and of course, it will remain, to some degree, a mystery.

    You might find James Akin on the Tulip a helpful discussion of these (and other) points – I did anyhow. Its from our “Resources by Topic” under the Library above.

  71. Tim A. Troutman:

    Calvin doesn’t see the ‘elect’ as being in a state of grace, at least not in the way Catholics do, and this can be proved primarily from his non-distinction between mortal and venial sin.

    I have encountered Calvinists that won’t acknowledge that Adam was in a state of grace before the Fall, or that the justified are dwelling in a state of grace.

    I have also never met a Calvinist that could explain why Paul insists that the Judaizers of Galacia have fallen from grace: I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Gal 5:3-4

    What is the Calvinist understanding of Gal 5:4, i.e. “you have fallen away from grace”?

    So Calvin thinks that all who receive God’s saving grace will persevere until the end, thus be elect, thus cannot lose salvation, thus His grace is irresistible etc.. You might find James Akin on the Tulip a helpful discussion of these (and other) points – I did anyhow.

    I just finished reading Akin’s article Tiptoe through TULIP before I read your last post. :-) Interestingly, Akin says this when he discusses the “P” in TULIP:

    Calvinists teach that if a person enters a state of grace he never will leave it but will persevere to the end of life. This doctrine is normally called the perseverance of the saints. [33] All those who are at any time saints (in a state of sanctifying grace, to use Catholic terminology) will remain so forever. No matter what trials they face, they will always persevere, so their salvation is eternally secure. [34]

    Neal (post #16) makes this point: “Understanding grace as unmerited favor, and justification as consisting essentially of a nontransformative forensic decree, makes it more difficult to see how grace operates causally so as to achieve its effects within the human recipient.”

    What does a Calvinist mean when he says that grace is “unmerited favor”?

    Do Calvinists make the distinctions that Catholics make between actual grace and sanctifying grace?

    Is the concept that sanctifying grace is a participation in the Divine life of the Trinity alien to Reformed theology? If it isn’t, how can Calvin deny the reality of mortal sin if he believes the elect have free will? What makes is impossible for a Christian to commit the sin of apostasy?

  72. Tim A. Troutman:

    But some of the gray matter lies in what differentiates those who ultimately end up in Hell vs. those who ultimately end up in Heaven given that grace is available to all. This isn’t neatly defined and of course, it will remain, to some degree, a mystery.

    What would you see as the essence of the “mystery”?

    CCC 1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.

    As to who ultimately ends up in hell, the CCC seems pretty straightforward. Those who are condemned to hell are those who are found culpable by God for the sin of willfully turning away from Him and persisting in an unrepentant state of sin “until the end.”

    Do Calvinists believe that the elect cannot sin? Or do the Calvinists believe that the elect can indeed commit sin, but that the elect are incapable of remaining unrepentant for the sins that they commit? Why would a man with freewill be incapable of committing the sin of choosing to be unrepentant for the sins that he freely chooses to commit?

    Given what I understand about the Calvinist concept of “election”, I don’t understand why Calvinists don’t espouse Universalism. Scripture explicitly teaches that God desires all men to be saved – God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4) If God desires all men to be saved, why then do Calvinist believe that all men will not be saved? How can God desire to save all men, and then NOT give to all men the irresistible grace that they need to be saved?

    This is may seem to be taking us pretty far from the topic of this thread – “Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?” I believe that the answer to that question is “no”, but my answer is tied up in a Catholic understanding of the relationship between freewill and grace. And, of course, all the answers to the questions that I have been asking about Calvinism are also bound to the Calvinist understanding of the relationship between freewill and grace. So if you could indulge me in my questions about Calvinism, perhaps I can understand how a Calvinist could possibly think that the Catholic Church is Semi-Pelagian.

  73. I made the statement that I believe that the Catholic Church is not semi-Pelagian without giving any reason for why I believe that. First, I need to clarify what I mean by semi-Pelagian. In this thread we have two definitions of Semi-Pelagianism –

    Tim A. Troutman defines semi-Pelagianism:

    … the term “semi-Pelagianism” is vague. Generally on the lips of the accuser, what this term means is reducible to “anything which imparts to man a role in salvation greater than what John Calvin does.” If this is the definition, then we end the discussion here, “guilty” as charged. But what else might it mean? If Pelagianism means that salvation does not require grace, then semi-Pelagianism must mean we stand in semi-need of God’s grace, or rather, that grace accomplishes x% of salvation and man accomplishes the rest. But this is a false division of cooperative powers.

    Bryan Cross defines semi-Pelagianism:

    Semi-Pelagianism is not the claim that we, once moved by God’s prevenient grace, freely choose. Semi-Pelagianism is the notion that we don’t need prevenient grace; we make the first move toward God, and then God responds and helps us. That’s semi-Pelagianism, and that was rejected both at Orange (canon 4) and at Trent (cf. Session 6, chapter 5, and canons 1-3).

    Bryan Cross’s definition is what I have always understood to be the meaning of semi-Pelagianism. Does the Catholic Church teach that fallen man can exercise his free will apart from grace in his initial movement toward God?

    The CCC teaches this: 2001 The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:” [50]

    Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing. [51]

    Footnotes

    50 St. Augustine, De gratia et libero arbitrio, 17:PL 44,901.
    51 St. Augustine, De natura et gratia, 31:PL 44,264.

    Bryan Cross uses the term “prevenient grace” to describe the actual grace that must be received by man before he is able to receive the sanctifying grace that makes him a partaker in the Divine life of the Trinity. I don’t ever remember my CCD teachers ever talking about “prevenient” grace in primary school, but they did teach that one must receive “healing graces” before one could receive sanctifying grace. CCC 2001 quotes St. Augustine: “[God’s mercy] has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life.”

    One doesn’t hear too much talk about healing graces in CCD much more. The Catholic Encyclopedia published in 1908 mentions healing grace in this article on Actual Grace (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06689x.htm) :

    As pure nature is in itself completely incapable of performing salutary acts through its own strength, actual grace must come to the rescue of its incapacity and supply the deficient powers, without which no supernatural activity is possible. Actual grace thus becomes a special causal principle which communicates to impotent nature moral, and especially physical, powers. Grace, as a moral cause, presupposes the existence of obstacles which render the work of salvation so difficult that their removal is morally impossible without special Divine help. Grace must be brought into operation as healing grace (gratia sanans, medicinalis); free will, bent towards the earth and weakened by concupiscence, is yet filled with love of good and horror of evil.

    The same article in the Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about prevenient grace and Semipelagianim:

    In the refutation of Semipelagianism, in so far as the necessity of actual grace is concerned, it will not be amiss to follow an adult through all the stage on the way to salvation, from the state of unbelief and mortal sin to the state of grace and a happy death. With regard, first, to the period of unbelief, the Second Synod of Orange (can. v) decreed that prevenient grace is absolutely necessary to the infidel not only for faith itself, but also for the very beginning of faith. By the “beginning of faith”, it intended to designate all the good aspirations and motions to believe which precede faith properly so called, as early dawn precedes sunrise. Consequently, the whole preparation for the faith is made under the influence of grace, e.g. the instruction of persons to be converted. The accuracy of this view is confirmed by the Bible. According to the assurance of the Saviour, external preaching is useless if the invisible influence of grace (the being drawn by the Father) does not set in to effect the gradual “coming” to Christ (John 6:44). Were faith rooted in mere nature, were it based on mere natural inclination to believe or on natural merit, nature could legitimately glory in its own achievement of the work of salvation in its entirety, from faith to justification–nay, to beatific vision itself. And still Paul (1 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 2:8 sq.) abominates nothing so much as the “glorying” of nature.

    Seems pretty clear to me that the Catholic Church does not teach semi-Pelagianism!

  74. Mateo –

    Sorry for the delayed response. Yesterday was full.

    On Gal 5:4 I think the Reformed response would come in one of two ways or maybe both. First, that the context is Paul chastising the Judaizers and “fallen from grace” is a reference to the fact that they never understood the true gospel. “Grace”, per se, is not always a reference to what we Catholics would refer to as a state of grace. There are multiple ways to use it, so as far as the text goes (this text only), this interpretation is plausible. Secondly, I think they would also make a distinction of types of grace. What is known as “saving grace” is the only grace that necessitates perseverance according to Calvinism. There may be some other grace offered to the non-elect, and they certainly may fall from it, but it is not saving and therefore does not guarantee their perseverance.

    What does a Calvinist mean when he says that grace is “unmerited favor”?

    Calvinists tend to look on grace as a favorable disposition towards the recipient, (like Catholics, unearned, unmerited) but tend to deny, except in lip service, the participation in the Divine Nature. There’s actually a great discussion going on between Dan & Bryan in this post on that very topic. I am really enjoying watching it and I think you will too.

    As to who ultimately ends up in hell, the CCC seems pretty straightforward. Those who are condemned to hell are those who are found culpable by God for the sin of willfully turning away from Him and persisting in an unrepentant state of sin “until the end.”

    I agree that it is straightforward about who ends up in Hell and why (categorically speaking). The mystery is the deep philosophical question of what really differentiates between the elect and non elect. I don’t want to go too far into that because it’s extremely complex, and I’m pressed for time (and it’s well above my comprehension!!)

    I’ll get back to you on the question of universalism shortly.

  75. Mateo, on Calvinism and Universalism given Predestination, we Catholics have the same issue to deal with. I recommend reading Aquinas on Providence and then Predestination. But in brief, here is the problem:

    1. What God wills, necessarily happens
    2. God wills all men to be saved
    3. But all men are not saved

    There is a break down in the syllogism but it is because of equivocation. God is said to will something in two ways 1. Absolutely and 2. Contingently. Aquinas uses this example: a good judge desires all men to live, but he wills so contingently for he may condemn a murderer to death. In like manner, God wills all men to salvation but contingently, not absolutely. If God willed it absolutely, then Universalism would be true. Salvation is contingent upon the acceptance, by faith, of His grace. He does not will absolutely that men who reject His grace should be saved.

    Calvin is not far from Aquinas on Predestination actually. The error in Calvin’s predestination is not that God Predestines men to heaven, because He does and that’s the only way we get there, but that God Predestines men to hell which is a heresy. This error is referred to as “Double Predestination.”

    On why Calvinists think that the Church is semi-Pelagian, it is because they are strict Monergists. They believe that if a man has any true participation in justification, then it steals glory from God. Catholics do not believe that we earn our salvation, but we do believe that works are real and meritorious. A Calvinist would not assign any merit at all to a human work because in their mind, merit is like a pie that needs to be divided such that if two agents both merit a certain thing (salvation in this case, God and man the agents), then the merit must be divided finitely between them. God must merit X% then, and man merit 100 – X% which is impossible. Thereby they deny merit. This is just bad philosophy. God merits 100% of our salvation. We also merit salvation by His grace. This is not a contradiction because we operate at different causal levels. We’ll get into this in more detail when we discuss Monergism and Syngerism.

    Does the Catholic Church teach that fallen man can exercise his free will apart from grace in his initial movement toward God?

    No:

    CCC 2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.

    Seems pretty clear to me that the Catholic Church does not teach semi-Pelagianism!

    Exactly. But some non-Catholics refuse to let the voice of the Church interfere with their personal beliefs about what she teaches.

  76. Tim A. Troutman:

    Sorry for the delayed response. Yesterday was full.

    No problem. I understand that the CTC authors have commitments apart from this website. I am grateful to be able to ask my questions to the crew at CTC. FYI, I prefer the format that CTC has developed – the format of moderated posting. IMO, this format works pretty well for keeping the dialog civil and on topic. I am also glad to have discovered CTC while it is still relatively new. I think CTC is going to be a huge success, and that you will have deal with the problem of being overwhelmed with comments when the readership increases by an order of magnitude.

    I agree that it is straightforward about who ends up in Hell and why (categorically speaking). The mystery is the deep philosophical question of what really differentiates between the elect and non elect. I don’t want to go too far into that because it’s extremely complex, and I’m pressed for time (and it’s well above my comprehension!!)

    If you have the time, could you frame a question concerning the status of elect and non-elect that brings to light the philosophical issues that you have in mind? I am in the dark here.

    … given Predestination, we Catholics have the same issue to deal with … in brief, here is the problem:
    1. What God wills, necessarily happens
    2. God wills all men to be saved
    3. But all men are not saved

    There is a break down in the syllogism but it is because of equivocation. God is said to will something in two ways 1. Absolutely and 2. Contingently. Aquinas uses this example: a good judge desires all men to live, but he wills so contingently for he may condemn a murderer to death. In like manner, God wills all men to salvation but contingently, not absolutely. If God willed it absolutely, then Universalism would be true. Salvation is contingent upon the acceptance, by faith, of His grace. He does not will absolutely that men who reject His grace should be saved.

    I am not that familiar with the distinction between God’s absolute will and His contingent will, but I have read Catholic theologians that make the distinction between God’s perfect will, and God’s permissive will – e.g. God’s perfect will was for Adam to be obedient to his command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God’s permissive will was to allow Adam to make the choice to either be obedient or be disobedient.

    The problem you have stated above can be phrased this way:

    God’s perfect will is for all men to be saved.
    God offers all men the grace necessary for their salvation.
    Not all men will be saved, because some men will exercise their free will to reject the grace offered to them.
    God’s permissive will allows men to make the free choice to reject the grace necessary for salvation.

    My formulation presumes that men have free will, so it doesn’t really avoid the questions concerning free will and the efficacy of grace, and the controversies involving grace that the Molinists and the Thomists became embroiled in. (See Catholic Encyclopedia Article Controversies on Grace (http://oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=Controversies_on_Grace) [I don’t want to imply that I fully understand this article – I have read this several times, and the more I read it, the less I understand it! ]

    The error in Calvin’s predestination is not that God Predestines men to heaven, because He does and that’s the only way we get there, but that God Predestines men to hell which is a heresy. This error is referred to as “Double Predestination.”

    It seems to me that if one posits the existence of “irresistible” grace, that predestination to damnation logically follows.

    That is why you surprised me when you said that Calvinists are not hopeless determinists. How does the “well rounded Calvinist” that believes in both free and “irresistible grace” avoid divine determinism? That is a rhetorical question – I don’t expect you to answer me in this thread.

    I would like to make a suggestion for CTC to consider. In the list of the topics that CTC is proposing to address there is no listing for articles on “grace”, “free will” or “predestination”. Would CTC consider adding these topics to their list?

    The CTC note to readers says “We are committed to having a thorough discussion on matters of fundamental importance to Catholic and Reformed Christians.” It seems to me, that articles specific to grace, free will and predestination would be appropriate for achieving your goal!

    Calvinists tend to look on grace as a favorable disposition towards the recipient, (like Catholics, unearned, unmerited) but tend to deny, except in lip service, the participation in the Divine Nature. There’s actually a great discussion going on between Dan & Bryan in this post on that very topic. I am really enjoying watching it and I think you will too.

    Bryan is amazing! The responses that he is giving in the combox could be the basis of exactly the kind of article on grace that I would like to see from CTC.

    I recommend reading Aquinas on Providence and then Predestination.

    Thanks for the links, I have already glanced at them and see that I already have some questions. I don’t think that this thread is the place to answer my questions though. That is why I am hoping to see an article on Predestination added to your list of topics to be addressed.

    Have you ever read this article by Father William G. Most : PREDESTINATION (http://www.ewtn.com/library/SCRIPTUR/PREDESTI.TXT)

    This is the best thing that I have ever read on the topic of Predestination. After reading this, I even feel that I understand somewhat the issues between the Molinists and the Thomists, and how those issues can be resolved.

    I notice that many articles at CTC are written as commentary to an article or a podcast. I would truly love to see someone at CTC write an article commenting on Father William G. Most’s PREDESTINATION.

    May God bless all the authors at CTC for the work that they are doing here!

  77. Mateo,

    I think the way you described God’s perfect will in relation to His permissive will is not too far from absolute vs. contingent.

    I read Fr. Most’s article and I think the final solution is good but I think all the things contained in what Fr. Most asserts as the “new” solution can be found in Aquinas already.

    Thanks for the article suggestions. I’ll pass them around. You’re right – we should definitely have an article on predestination. I guess that there is so much common ground between Reformed and Catholics on this point that there isn’t too much to disagree over and that’s part of why it’s not in the line up so far. Of course, the list we have up there is only a year or two of material. We plan to exist in perpetuity so we’ll have lots of time, God willing, to write that article.

  78. […] the Bible is still 100% God’s Word, then one must be abandon the idea that Catholicism is semi-Pelagian because its view of justification requires human […]

  79. Hi Tim,

    I enjoyed reading this post a while back. I was reading Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics today and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him make this concession to the Catholic Church.

    Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism are also condemned by official Roman Catholic teaching and by the great Roman theologians such as Aquinas and Bonaventure (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. III, p. 486)

    He goes on to argue that many practicing Catholics believe something similar to Semi-Pelagianism, but nonetheless I appreciate his fairness to the official teaching of the Church. It’s interesting that this giant of Reformed Systematic Theology was willing to concede that the Catholic Church does not teach Semi-Pelagianism, but contemporary Reformed theologians have concluded that it does. The Catholic Chuch has not changed its teaching, Reformed folk have just changed in their understanding of it.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  80. Since we have admitted the existence of at least some secondary causes, e.g. human free will, in at least some actions, do we have any reason whatsoever to suppose that the secondary causal powers of man are strictly limited to actions which do not move us closer to God?

    Yes we can. Human free will was lost in the garden. The very faith we have is an act of God towards those who were predestined before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)
    8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
    9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

  81. T.L. are you claiming that we do not have free will at all?

  82. No sir I am not saying that. What I am saying is if God according to Ephesians 1:3-5 has chosen us as children before the foundations of the world, then there is no room for free will in that. Where was free will when God chose Jacob over Esau in the womb before they were even born? Though I do believe that free will is restored to the believer only after he has been regenerated. Only then does he even have the ability to choose. And Gods grace is so efficacious that we chose Him 100% of the time. But only after our eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit.

  83. T.L. you might find that we agree on a number of things in this regard. I agree that man cannot choose God (in the sense that man cannot, on his own power, decide to turn towards God and love God.) However, I reject the idea that it is because he no longer has free-will. Man’s choices are still free, even though he will not choose God on his own. If his choices were not free, then it would be impossible for man to sin, since free-will is a prerequisite of any sin. No one accuses a man of a crime that he was forced to commit. The reason man cannot choose God is not because he is a robot; it is because to choose God is a supernatural act requiring supernatural grace.

    Likewise, I agree that Jacob did not have a free choice in whether or not he was preferred over Esau. But that does not prove that Jacob does not have free will. It only shows that Jacob was not the agent making that particular choice. Did you have a choice as to whether or not I would write this reply to you? Where was your free-will when I was writing it? Of course you do not have free choice as to whether I will write it because I am the agent making the choice. Likewise, of course we do not have free choice in the issue of predestination. But that is not because we are robots or because we no longer have free-will after the fall; it is because we are not the one making the choice.

  84. @.T.L. Nelson:

    What I am saying is if God according to Ephesians 1:3-5 has chosen us as children before the foundations of the world, then there is no room for free will in that.

    I wonder if I have missed something here. How does the fact that God chose someone for salvation – you, for example – mean that you have not the power to reject that salvation?

    If I walk up to lovely young Miss Jones and say, “I choose you to be my wife,” lovely young Miss Jones may well say – and as I am 68 years old and married, is quite likely to say :-) – “Oh, yeah? Well, thanks, I don’t choose you to be my husband. Get lost, creep!”

    I think there is a hidden assumption in your statement that if God chooses X, then there is nothing that can oppose God’s choice. But this is – is it not? – the very question: has God so made man that He, God, gives to man the power of rejecting God’s choice for man – for each individual man?

    It seems to me there is a logical problem, too, in what you appear to believe – or, if not a problem, then at least an implication. If God’s choice means that no action of the will of man can negate it, then I assume you must also believe that God had not chosen Adam and Eve, whether from before the foundation of the world, or in any other way. Otherwise, they could not have sinned.

    jj

  85. Well said. My opinion about free will is that we have the freedom to move about within the state we find ourselves in. I believe that their is a chasm fixed between the believer and the unbeliever to the point where the unbeliever is not capable of crossing until God opens his eyes to give him that ability to cross over. I would conclude that only Adam had free will because he chose evil with his eyes wide open. I believe free will was a prerequisite of original sin only. Good discussion though brother. I actually stumbled on this website attempting to find out whether Catholics believe in original sin. This site is very informative.

  86. T. L. – glad you are finding the site helpful. Catholics and Reformed Protestants believe something very similar regarding original sin. Bryan Cross has an excellent series on Aquinas and Trent that does a good job of explaining the Catholic doctrine on this subject and a few others.

  87. Hello T.L.,

    In addition to what Tim and John said, I recommend the lecture at “Lawrence Feingold on Freedom of the Will.”

    For answering this question, it is absolutely essential to distinguish between nature and grace. Otherwise, by confusing nature and grace, we’ll jumble up the question concerning free will.

    We have free will because of our nature as rational animals. In other words, free will is something every human has, because of the nature we have as humans, made in the image of God. (Listen to the lecture by Prof. Feingold.)

    But, we cannot attain to a supernatural end without supernatural grace, as I explained in “Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life”,” and Barrett explained in “Pelagian Westminster?.”

    Yet grace does not destroy nature. So grace does not nullify or thwart our free will. Thus the movement from being in a state of original sin (and hence being without sanctifying grace) to being in a state of grace (i.e. having sanctifying grace) is one that both requires supernatural divine movement (i.e. actual grace), but also, for those who have reached the age of reason, involves the free use of their will.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  88. Responding to Mr. Jensen.First of all, I believe that Gods choosing power is more powerful than my rejecting power. I believe his choosing of us is effectual. I also believe in a literal interpretation of Phil. 1:6

    6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

    Jesus also promised us that “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” John 6:37

    Ephesians 1 lets us know that the Father made the choice of each individual that He has given to the Son before the foundation of the world. There are many scriptures that tell us that this particular calling unto Christ is irrevocable, irresistible.

    “I think there is a hidden assumption in your statement that if God chooses X, then there is nothing that can oppose God’s choice.”

    In Romans 9:17 could Pharaoh resist Gods choice to raise him up according to the purpose of God?
    Paul actually answers that question in verse 19 when he says
    You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

  89. Hello Mr. Cross

    Interesting. I’d have to explore this issue of nature and grace and get back with you.I think I have an answer for it but I don’t want to say something that I’m not so sure about.

  90. @ T.L. Nelson #82

    Given that Romans 2:13-16 states that the Gentiles, who are not part of the covenantal people and are not redeemed, have the Law written upon their hearts and that they can and some do follow the Law, Ephesians cannot be used to say that only the elect and regenerated have free will. To further state that “grace is so efficacious that we chose Him 100% of the time” is to undercut Paul’s many and myriad exhortations to his readers to “hold fast”, “be vigilant unless”, “complete the race” etc. that were written to those Christians who were struggling, backsliding, and had in fact chosen against God many times. Paul doesn’t believe that those “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10) always choose God 100% of the time.

    One of the important things to catch in the Catholic understanding of free will is that it does not mean “the ability to choose between choice A and B”. Free will is the ability to choose according to the hierarchy of the good. The Catholic concept is thus not that fallen man cannot choose between good and evil but rather that fallen man is inclined to choose lesser good B over the greater good A. Free will also doesn’t mean that the choice of the elect is forced. Grace does not force the human will to choose choice A anymore than the lack of grace necessitates choice B.

    Tim does a good job of stating why those who are not part of covenantal community still have free will — if they did not then their evil actions could not be called sin. The reverse is also true, that our good actions cannot be called good if they are only God’s grace and not our will. “So while he made you without you, he doesn’t justify you without you”. St Augustine, Sermo 169, 13 http://books.google.com/books?id=jY2VQH-w1gIC&lpg=PA1&pg=PA230#v=onepage&q&f=false One who is elected to salvation cannot in fact be saved if they do not freely choose to be saved. Grace neither forces the will to choose A nor is grace the result of the will choosing A. Rather it is a synergism, grace and free will united together bring about choice A.

    St. Augustine’s ON GRACE AND FREE WILL http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm is helpful to understand this rather complex topic of how grace and free will interact.

  91. @ John Thayer Jensen #84

    Very good example. That we are is not our choice — even those in Hell cannot escape by choosing not to be. How we are is both God’s choice and our choice. Your choice for your beloved to be your wife did not necessitate that she become your wife anymore than her choice for you necessitated that you become her husband. Because scripture throughout so clearly links human marriage to how God and man find union — culminating of course in the wonderful NT bridal motif between the Lamb and the Church — we likewise need to see that God’s choice to wed Israel is dependent on Israel’s yes, just as Israel’s choice for God is dependent upon God’s sovereign election.

  92. I do understand that Gods sovereignty does not negate mans responsibility. I believe that there is a fine line between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man and no one knows where that line begins or ends. We only know what has been revealed to us through scripture. And I believe that scripture tells us that when it comes to salvation, God makes the initial choice. Without that initial choice man does not have the ability to chose him. Yes we do have choices in life. But we are free to roam within the state that we are currently in.

    I will checkout some of the articles that have been suggested. Though I think that it has become obvious that I am not Catholic. Well at least not Roman Catholic anyway. I hope that no one feels that my objection to what most of you believe is not done in a mean spirit. I’m actually learning as I read from your response. And for that I say thank you.

  93. @T.L.:

    I believe that there is a fine line between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man and no one knows where that line begins or ends.

    In my opinion, this thinking of the whole business as being a ‘line between’ is the fundamental problem.

    I remember pondering this when I was a Calvinist. I think C. S. Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy” helped me most, here – of course, my Calvinist friends said I shouldn’t be reading C. S. Lewis if I wanted to remain a Calvinist, and they were right :-)

    Lewis says somewhere there, about his own conversion, that it seemed to him that between “whoever will may come” and “chosen from all eternity” he could no longer detect any distinction.

    I think that when we try to understand matters of infinity – even things like mathematical infinities – we must try to avoid these ‘lines.’ God’s sovereignty is absolute, unchangeable, unchallengeable. And man’s responsibility is, in man’s own world, absolute, unchangeable, unchallengeable. Unlike God, my own freedom is created freedom, and operates within the realm of my world. I am, for example, free to choose to stay in bed all day today – but I do not wish to, and do not. I absolutely agree with you that the time will come when, absolutely free to reject God, I will not wish to and that that not-wishing will be absolute itself. The Catholic Church teaches this. When I have died, if I die in friendship with God, even if I am in Purgatory, I will be non posse peccare – not able to sin – not because I will not be free to do so, but because I will be so absolutely taken with God that I will never exercise that freedom.

    It seems to me that you think that state of unalterable love for God occurs for the one who is converted but still in this life. There, it seems to me, lies a danger. I remember, when I was a Protestant, discussing this with my minister – who held similar views. He believed in ‘once-saved-always-saved.’ I accepted the Protestant teaching that, if you were truly converted, you could not be lost – but the stinger in there is the ‘truly.’ What we did, when we saw a person apparently converted but then evidently fallen away, was to say he had never been ‘truly’ converted.

    But that seems to me to be question-begging. The truly converted cannot, and will not, fall away – and who are the truly converted? – why, those who never fall away. My response to OSAS was to quote Jeremiah: the heart is desperately wicked, who can know it? I believed I had true faith – but I knew (and know :-)) that I am capable of enormous self-deception.

    My understanding of the Catholic teaching is that God can, and sometimes does, grant the gift of final perseverance in this life – but that is rare – and no one can count on it. That is why we pray asking Our Lady to pray for us now, and in the hour of our death. It is that last hour that counts above all.

    jj

  94. My understanding of the Catholic teaching is that God can, and sometimes does, grant the gift of final perseverance in this life – but that is rare – and no one can count on it. That is why we pray asking Our Lady to pray for us now, and in the hour of our death. It is that last hour that counts above all.

    2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)
    17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

    Are we a new creature or creation in this life or the next? I would say this life.

  95. @T.L.:

    Are we a new creature or creation in this life or the next? I would say this life.

    Absolutely – amen and Hallelujah!

    What is being addressed in my comment above is two things:
    1) How do I know that I am a new creature? My question to my pastor was based on the assumption that, if I really was a new creature, then I could never lose that ‘newness’ – but could I be certain that I was a new creature? Hence the reference to Jeremiah.

    2) But the fundamental underlying assumption that, if genuinely new, I could never reject God, I now think is false. That is the point of death. It is given to man once to die, and then comes the judgement. Death seals that choice. Until death, it is revocable. The more we put the old man to death, the more that new life lives in us, the more certain I am that I will not choose to reject God – but I could.

    My ‘life verse’ – chosen about the time of that questioning of my pastor (about 1984) is Philippians 2:12-13: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God Who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

    Both/and, not either/or. Sovereignty of God and free will of man. Law and Gospel. Faith and works. It is, indeed, the God-ward side of these seeming antinomies that establishes the man-ward side.

    jj

  96. Relevant to some of the recent discussion here, are Pope Benedict’s words yesterday as he reflected on the Gospel reading for yesterday’s liturgy, namely, the Parable of the Sower:

    “Ultimately, the true ‘Parable’ of God is Jesus himself, his Person who, through the sign of humanity at the same time conceals and reveals the divinity. In this way God does not force us to believe in him, but he draws us to himself with the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son: love, in fact, always respects freedom.”

  97. @ T.L. Nelson #92

    And I believe that scripture tells us that when it comes to salvation, God makes the initial choice. Without that initial choice man does not have the ability to chose him.

    Yes God must always act first as all creation is dependent on Him for its existence and ability to be. The question though is where does God make the initial choice? The initial choice is manifest in the creation of the individual in his mother’s womb. God did not create any individual so that He could send them to Hell. God’s initial choice is that it is good for you to exist so that you might known Him in this life and in the next. Once we properly locate God’s initial choice in the creation of the individual (rather than locating it at the moment of regeneration or the moment of imputed justification or the moment of man’s choice for God) we can more properly understand how free will binds us to seek after God and choose Him, as well as how sin is all the more hideous since it is at its core a rejection of God’s choice to create us, rather than sin simply being the state that we find ourselves created in. If all the unregenerated can do is sin, that is not a big thing even if they are “responsible” for it. In order for sin to actually have teeth it must involve a real rejection of the good. If not, then sin is really meaningless. Further more we can thus understand all those myriad scripture passages that describe God as the one who is seeking and calling after us — the yearning and seeking God who seeks to gather all His lost sheep back to Him. Why does God seek after us? It is not because someday He will choose to regenerate us but rather because God has already initially chosen us in our very creation.

    The mystery of it all is that Hell is your choice that God consents to and Heaven is God’s choice that you consent to.

    Personally I found it very very radical when I was becoming Catholic to find that Catholicism preached about a God who was radically on the side of humanity — He is our advocate not simply a judge decreeing from before all creation who to create to send to hell and who to create to send to heaven.

  98. I have a question in regard to the comment made in comment 16 (I am not sure if anyone will answer this since I am asking it a few years after most of the comments were made here!):

    Regeneration>Faith>Justification>Sanctification.

    So Grace is in some sense “infused” otherwise there could be no “Regeneration” which works inside of a person. In order to be “Regenerate” and then have Faith this grace must work inside of a person to move their heart, mind, and will.>

    I have had someone talk about this same concept and this is what she wrote:

    So she feels a person is regenerated prior to faith because of one being dead in your transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1) .

    What would be the proper way of answering this?

  99. Sorry—it missed my quote on what this other person wrote. Here it is (I would like to know how to respond to this in regards to my previous comment:

    . An unregenerate mind cannot receive the things of God. An unregenerate mind, heart, cannot even see the Kingdom. An unregenerate mind is spiritually dead (neckros=corpse) and the gospel is foolishness to it.
    What is essential here is what the Lord Jesus Himself taught:

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    He starts with major emphasis “Truly, truly”.
    He says “unless” (= ean: if, referring to a condition extending to its “spin-off” possibilities – i.e. that happen if the condition is actualized or is valid.)

    one is “born again” ::
    born again = “anothen” =
    (a) from above, from heaven,
    (b) from the beginning, from their origin (source)

    “he cannot” = dunamai
    This word speaks to ability – and in the Greek the “not” is in the emphatic position – it comes first and as it reads in the Greek:
    “NOT he is able to see “….

    This question gets down to whether or not a person is regenerated prior to faith or the person (who according to Paul is DEAD) by “movement of his own will” (which according to Paul cannot (again the dumamai word of power or ability) receive the things of God 1 Corinthians 2:14.
    There is no middle between death and life; one is either dead in their sins or alive to Christ. There is no spooful of grace for a sick person to choose to take or reject.

    Do we have a responsibility to respond once Father reveals Christ Jesus to us? Certainly and once we can “see” the Kingdom and Christ – without hesitaiton we run to Him willingly, longingly, lovingly.

  100. Kim (#98 and #99)

    I think the problem here with your interlocutor is the assumption that the only sort of grace God gives is the grace of regeneration. So-called ‘actual graces’ – the grace of God to act in this particular matter at this moment in a way that my un-graced nature could not act, being ‘dead in sins and trespasses’ – such graces are certainly necessary even to desire God. That is true. Every time some unregenerate person thinks that maybe he should consider the claims of the Gospel, he is acting from such actual graces. They are not, however, regenerative.

    Regeneration is sacramental grace. This does, indeed, cause us to be ‘born again.’

    The point is that for actual grace to do us any good, we must respond – we must c0-operate. Thus God puts into my heart the desire for the Gospel – which I absolutely would not have without His grace – but the soil of my heart is like that stony ground. I think, “hmm… ” – but then the world gives me something attractive and I forget it.

    Very dangerous thing to do, by the way! God’s movements in my heart, precisely because they are gracious, are not something I can count on or expect again.

    But then I do respond. Eventually I am baptised. I receive the sacramental grace of regeneration. I really do become a habitually different person. To be sure, I can kill this sacramental grace. I can commit mortal sin. I can persist in it. But even to want sacramental grace I need God’s grace in the first place – actual grace.

    Your interlocutor seems to me, whether consciously or not, to be treating the grace of God as something that I cannot resist, and do not need to cooperate with. This is classic Calvinism – the ‘I’ or TULIP. It is not the way the Bible talks nor is it the way the Church talks nor does it match our experience. I can testify to you that I can and do resist the actual graces of God – alas! I have – so far! – not killed His sacramental grace in me, or, at least if I have at any time gone in that direction, He has given me the (equally sacramental) grace of absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

    jj

  101. John (number 100), Yes, I believe she is a Calvinist. I am guessing she believes that when one is dead in sin then one can not respond in faith until one is first regenerated. So first is regeneration (God making one alive) and then comes faith and justification. The Catholic does not believe that being dead in sin equates to an inability to respond to grace, correct? Wouldn’t we say that God gives operating (prevenient) grace and that even though we are dead in sin we can respond? How do we explain the ability to respond? Would this be additional grace? I once sat under a Protestant preacher who said if we are dead we are like a corpse and can not even lift a finger. We can do nothing until he makes us alive. So how do we , as Catholics, explain that when God initiates by giving operating grace that I can respond?

  102. Would it be that I am given the ability to respond when God gives cooperating grace?

  103. Kim (#101,102)

    …one can not respond in faith until one is first regenerated.

    I wish someone who was more theologically trained than I am would respond here. I think that, strictly speaking, the response of the unregenerate, although moved by grace, is not the supernatural habit of faith.

    For example, in the pretend example of myself, my initial response isn’t faith, is it? It is a genuine longing for the things of God. But faith is a firm commitment of the will that God has spoken.

    So there is a kind of ambiguity in using the word ‘faith’ here.

    Would it be that I am given the ability to respond when God gives cooperating grace?

    Yes – but whether the response is ‘faith’ or not I would not be sure about. I don’t think that would be the right word. But I am very much an amateur when it comes to this sort of language. I think your Protestant friend who said we are dead like a corpse is quite right – except that God energises the corpse – rather like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. But faith – faith is something that is different. It becomes part of our nature, by regeneration. I do not think that these movements of the unregenerate toward God are faith – yet.

    This topic is discussed in more depth here.

    jj

  104. John, you said (oh by the way I am trying to blockquote, but I don’t think it will work since I am lame)

    But faith – faith is something that is different. It becomes part of our nature, by regeneration.

    As adults if we come to be baptized we have faith before baptism. So does not the faith start before this regeneration at baptism? Or do we say it isn’t the fullness of faith? or what? I am confused. Someone asked me today how we come to faith. I told her it was by previenant (sp?)grace and cooperating grace. That these two enable us to come to faith. So is this wrong? I know we get sanctifying grace when we are baptized.

    Feingold said that God works in us without us to will salvation then works with us to take the steps to obtain it (operating and cooperating grace). These work in us the power to will salvation and once we will it he cooperates with us. (that is basically a quote from a lecture). So if we will it –is this not faith?

  105. Kim, (re: #104)

    You wrote:

    As adults if we come to be baptized we have faith before baptism. So does not the faith start before this regeneration at baptism? Or do we say it isn’t the fullness of faith? or what?

    We distinguish between an act of faith, and the supernatural virtue of faith. When someone hears the gospel, and believes, that is an act of faith. What is received at baptism, by divine infusion, is the supernatural virtue of faith.

    The Sixth Session of the Council of Trent is referring to the act of faith in chapter six, where it is talking about preparing for justification. There it says:

    Now, they [the adults] are disposed to that justice when, aroused and aided by divine grace, receiving faith by hearing (Session Six, chapter 6)

    That act of faith is still preceded by, and is a cooperation with, actual grace.

    Then, in chapter seven, in speaking of justification itself, the Sixth Session of Trent speaks of receiving all three virtues (faith, hope, and charity) at the same time, i.e. at one’s baptism. What is received here is not the act of faith, but the supernatural virtue of faith. Here’s what it says:

    For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity.

    For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.

    For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity.

    This faith, conformably to Apostolic tradition, catechumens ask of the Church before the sacrament of baptism, when they ask for the faith that gives eternal life, which without hope and charity faith cannot give. (Session Six, chapter 7, my emphasis)

    I hope that helps.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  106. Hi Kim,

    You asked:

    So does not the faith start before this regeneration at baptism? Or do we say it isn’t the fullness of faith? or what?”

    In addition to Bryan’s response –
    Michael Liccione and also Ray Stamper provided answers in this thread:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/07/faith-reason-context-conversion/#comment-10542

    In addition to the possibility that an “act of faith” can occur prior to baptism, it is also possible that, by grace, through extraordinary means, the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love can be infused into a person before that person receives _formal_ baptism. This is equivalent to what the catechism speaks of when it speaks of “baptism of desire”.

    However, it is important to understand that if these virtues have been extraordinarily infused before the moment of formal baptism, then what also must exist in such a case is a desire (explicit or implicit) for baptism.

    Why? Because it is impossible to have the supernatural virtue of charity while at the same time rejecting the Church and God’s plan for incorporation into the Church through baptism. In other words, having supernatural faith and love for God implies both a love for His Church, and a hope to be visibly incorporated into that same Church according to God’s plan.

  107. Thanks Bryan and Jonathan that helps! (Man, it can get complicated when one is a new Catholic!!). I will also check out the link that Jonathan has given.

  108. Kim, I agree with John Thayer Jensen when he writes:

    I think the problem here with your interlocutor is the assumption that the only sort of grace God gives is the grace of regeneration.

    I would ask your interlocutor if she believes that Abraham manifested supernatural faith. And then I would ask her if she believes that Abraham was regenerated prior to Christ’s death on the cross.

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