A Reply from a Romery Person

Oct 27th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Last week as I was preparing to go out of town for a conference, I received an interview request from Michael Spencer (aka IMonk) regarding the recent announcement by the Vatican concerning the establishment of Personal Ordinariates. These Personal Ordinariates will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining distinctive elements of Anglican “spiritual and liturgical patrimony.”1 Among other things, Michael mentioned that he wanted to ask me some questions pertaining to a post titled “All the Romery People” authored by someone named JDK on a blog titled Mockingbird. I hadn’t yet received the interview questions from Michael, so on the flight back to St. Louis, I wrote the following comments in response to JDK’s “All the Romery People.”

Mimus polyglottos (Northern Mockingbird)

In the beginning of the post, JDK talks about his earlier misunderstandings of Catholicism, and how those misunderstandings were corrected. Then he writes the following:

I was on my way to either swallowing the whole loaf and going Roman, or at least coming as close as possible by joining the more-socially-acceptable but consigned to limbo Anglo-Catholic fold. Then, one glorious and life-changing day, I heard the doctrine of Justification explained in historic law/gospel form, my heart was strangely warmed and well, now I know why I can never be the Catholic I almost was. This understanding–that the very heart of the Gospel is protected by a clear articulation of the doctrine of Justification by Grace alone through Faith alone … remains, IMNSHO, the only reason to not go to Rome.

In order to compare the Catholic doctrine of justification with the doctrine JDK presents, it is essential to understand the different theological and anthropological contexts in which these doctrines are situated. Otherwise the two doctrines are not fairly or accurately compared. In many cases, in my experience, people in both traditions misunderstand the other position, and end up caricaturizing it. In addition, in my opinion the Catholic doctrine is objectively more nuanced and complex than is the Protestant position, and so the Catholic doctrine is easier to misunderstand. Many Protestants, I think, understandably assume that the Catholic doctrine is as easy to understand as the Protestant position. As a result they tend to dismiss it without fully understanding it. From an ecumenical point of view, we don’t want that to happen. To avoid that, we should be asking questions of each other to make sure we truly understand each other. That is because these are systematic differences, that is, paradigmatic differences, not just differences about particular doctrines but within the same theological paradigm. The Catholic doctrine of justification cannot fairly be understood or evaluated from within the Protestant paradigm, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean that we must take some neutral point of view, a view-from-nowhere, in order to compare the two positions. But we must at least be able to see things accurately from both points of view, in order to compare the paradigms to each other.

What JDK refers to as the “historic law/gospel” doctrine of justification is found most explicitly in the Lutheran tradition. It sees the theological data through these two categories of law and gospel. Any sort of obligation on our part is placed in the category of law. And anything that Christ has done for us is placed in the category of gospel. Then the general rule relating the two categories is that the law convicts us, and leads us to trust in the gospel, specifically, to trust in Christ by trusting in what Christ has done for us. Everything regarding what we ought to do produces guilt, as we see ourselves always having fallen short of God’s standard for how we are to live. That is the purpose of all prescriptions regarding what we ought to do, namely, to convict us of sin, and show us our need for Christ. If we had only the law, and not the gospel along with it, this would lead us to utter despair. But the message of Christianity is the message of what Christ has done for us, as understood against that background of seeing ourselves as always and utterly having fallen short of God’s perfect law, and entirely unable to satisfy its demands. So in this Lutheran paradigm living the gospel involves continually responding to our law-provoked-guilt by turning for comfort and assurance to the gospel, to what Christ has done for us, and with child-like faith trusting that what He has done for us is sufficient for our salvation. The law/gospel dialectic is designed to point us to trust continually in what Christ has done for us, and never to trust in anything we have done or are doing for our salvation. In this way, our assurance is entirely in Christ, and not in ourselves.

That’s the Lutheran paradigm in a nutshell. The Catholic paradigm is quite different. The fundamental problem in man, in Catholic soteriology, is the absence of sanctifying grace. Here at this point is a crucial distinction between Catholic and Protestant soteriology. In Protestant theology grace is primarily understood as divine favor, that is, an attitude or stance by God toward us. In Catholic soteriology, by contrast, grace is not merely divine favor, but is also and primarily the gift of “participation in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) by which we have the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and agape.2 Those three are called the three theological virtues, and the most important of those three is agape. Agape is not a natural virtue. It is not natural love, say of husband and wife, or parent and child, or friend to friend. Agape is a supernatural love, and therefore cannot be acquired by our own natural power. For example, we can train a child to be generous, that is, we can inculcate in a child the virtue (i.e. habit) of generosity. Generosity is a natural virtue, because by the power of our own nature we can acquire that virtue. But faith, hope, and agape are virtues that cannot be acquired merely by habituation or education. We cannot acquire them by the power of our own nature. They are above the capacity of our own nature to acquire, and that is why they are called supernatural virtues. For that reason, they are necessarily divine gifts.

In Catholic theology, if we do not have agape, then we do not have friendship with God. And if we die outside of friendship with God, then we cannot enter into heaven, which is eternal friendship with God. So in the Catholic paradigm, having agape is absolutely essential for salvation. Someone who believes in God, but does not have agape, is not a friend of God, and hence does not have salvation. So faith is necessary in order to have agape, but faith without agape is not sufficient for salvation. As I have argued elsewhere, the Bible does not definitively teach that we are justified by faith-without-agape; Catholics understand justification by faith to refer to justification by faith-informed-by-agape.

In the Lutheran paradigm, what is essential for justification and by itself sufficient for justification is faith. In the Catholic paradigm, what is essential for justification is agape, but in this present life one cannot have agape without having faith and hope.3 Therefore, in the Catholic paradigm, only those persons are justified who have all three supernatural virtues: faith, hope and agape. And this is why from the Catholic point of view, the Lutheran position fails to recognize the necessity of agape for justification. This is precisely why Pope Benedict said in November of last year:

“For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love.”4

This difference (between justification by faith alone, and justification by faith-informed-by-agape) has significant implications.5 In the Lutheran paradigm, our sins were imputed to Christ, such that on the cross He bore God’s wrath for our sins, and at the moment we believe the gospel, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (i.e. ‘transferred to our account’). The problem is that our account is in the negative; without imputation we owe a debt of punishment and have no righteousness in our account. In the Catholic paradigm, the accounting issue is the secondary problem, deriving from the primary problem, which is the absence of sanctifying grace and agape. So long as we lack sanctifying grace and agape, we continually contribute to the debt of eternal punishment. So only by acquiring sanctifying grace and agape can we come into a state of no longer requiring eternal punishment.

In Catholic theology, on the cross Christ in His human nature bore the curse of death, and by His obedience in His human nature, He offered Himself to the Father as a sacrificial gift of love. In this way He gave to the Father something far more pleasing than all our sins were displeasing to the Father. In this way He in His human nature merited from the Father the gift of grace for all men. This is how our debt was paid, not by Christ bearing the wrath of the Father, but by offering Himself up in love to His Father and so meriting for us the gift of grace. We need grace to enter heaven because heaven is a supernatural end. We cannot attain a supernatural end by our own nature because a thing can act only in proportion to its own nature. But through His Passion Christ merited for all men the gift of grace, i.e. the gift of participation in the divine nature. And Christ established means by which we receive this grace; these means are the sacraments. Through baptism we are reborn, that is, we receive sanctifying grace, i.e. the life of God, participation in the divine nature. And through the Eucharist we grow in sanctifying grace, and in agape.

That’s a rough sketch of the differences between the law-gospel position on justification presented by JDK, and the Catholic position on justification. JDK then refers to Canon 12 of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, a canon which, (apparently) in his mind anathematized the gospel. Canon 12 reads:

Canon 12: “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified … let him be anathema.”

Given what I have just said above, it should be clear why in this canon the Council of Trent condemned the notion that justifying faith “is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake.” The reason is that confidence does not necessarily include agape, and nobody can be justified without having agape, i.e. without becoming a friend of God. Therefore, it follows that confidence, even if directed toward God’s mercy, is not sufficient for salvation.

JDK similarly cites Canon 4:

Canon 4: “If anyone says that man’s free will moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God’s call and action, in no way cooperates toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification. . . let him be anathema.”

The Catholic understanding is that to be “dead in sins” is to be without the life of God, i.e without sanctifying grace. That is what it means to be unregenerate. Since the fall of Adam, all human beings are born into the world without the life of God, i.e. without sanctifying grace and without agape. We call this privation of the life of God, “original sin.” Without sanctifying grace we still have a functioning intellect and a will. But we cannot love God with supernatural love (i.e. agape) because agape is present in us only if we have sanctifying grace, i.e. a participation in the divine life. So, without sanctifying grace we can know God as Creator simply by the things He has made, and we can have natural virtues. But we cannot know God as Father, and have faith, hope, and agape. Without agape, we cannot have friendship with God as Father. So without sanctifying grace, we cannot enter into heaven. According to Catholic doctrine, the unregenerate man cannot do things ordered to a supernatural end (i.e. heaven) because he is not a participant in the divine nature. Since he only has human nature, which is natural, he can only achieve a natural end. But heaven is a supernatural end. Hence, without sanctifying grace he cannot attain to a supernatural end.

According to the Catholic position, for those in the unregenerate condition, God must act first without us, in giving us grace, before we can freely move toward Him. (Otherwise we’d be semi-Pelagian, if we believed that we, without His grace, acted first toward Him as our supernatural end.) But our privation of the life of God does not require that we must be “regenerated” before we freely move toward Him. Catholic doctrine makes a distinction here between two forms of grace. One form, called ‘actual grace,’ is the grace by which God moves our hearts and minds. The other form, called ‘sanctifying grace,’ is that participation in the divine nature by which we are sanctified in our very soul and made sons of God. In Catholic theology regeneration means receiving sanctifying grace. A person who is moved by actual grace, but has not yet received sanctifying grace, is not yet regenerated. And in Catholic theology sanctifying grace comes through the sacrament of baptism, though it can (while still coming through the sacrament of baptism) precede the reception of that sacrament. But, in Catholic theology actual grace comes to us before regeneration, and actual grace first acts as operative grace (in which God moves us without us), and then by our participation actual grace acts as cooperative grace (God moving us with us), leading us to faith and baptism by which we receive sanctifying grace, and are thereby justified.

Lutheran and Reformed theology generally do not make the distinction between actual grace and sanctifying grace. They tend to maintain that a person cannot do anything until he is alive. And therefore regeneration is required in order for a person to cooperate. Hence, what Catholic theology refers to as ‘actual grace’ drops out of Reformed and Lutheran theology as something that precedes regeneration. Since Catholic theology understands ‘dead in sins’ as meaning the absence of divine life, but not the loss of intellect and will, therefore, Catholic theology does not need to maintain that regeneration must precede cooperation, because a person without sanctifying grace (i.e. without the life of God) may still by his intellect and will cooperate with actual grace.

JDK then quotes Canon 5:

Canon 5: “If anyone says that after the sin of Adam man’s free will was lost and destroyed. . . let him be anathema.”

This canon has to do with what happened to man at the Fall. In Lutheran theology man’s very nature was damaged, and his intellect and will were radically corrupted. In Catholic theology, at the Fall man lost sanctifying grace, lost agape, lost the four preternatural gifts, and suffered the four wounds of nature. Among those wounds of nature were ignorance in the intellect, and malice in the will. Each of man’s powers was wounded, though not destroyed, but man’s nature was not destroyed. We were human before the Fall, and we remain human after the Fall. (I have discussed this in more detail here.) But this canon need not separate Catholics and Protestants. Both Protestants and Catholics can agree that man after the Fall is incapable of turning to God, unless God first acts in us without us. We all agree that semi-Pelagianism is a heresy, so the objection to semi-Pelagianism need not be a point of contention between us.

JDK then refers to Article XI of the Thirty-Nine Articles:

Article XI: Of the Justification of Man

“We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort.”

Regarding this article, the Anglican position presents us with an either/or: Either we are “accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” or we are accounted righteous only “for our own works or deservings.” But the Catholic position sees this as a false dichotomy. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were in friendship with God. They walked with God in the cool of the day. And their friendship with God shows that they had agape, and thus that they had sanctifying grace. Had they obeyed God faithfully, then because they were participants in the divine nature, their acts of obedience to God would have merited on the supernatural level, and hence merited a supernatural end. That is how they would have merited heaven. In the Catholic position, Christ by His Passion has merited sanctifying grace for us, so that by receiving that grace through the sacraments He established, we are, in this respect, restored to the state of Adam and Eve. Unlike Adam and Eve, however, we lack what is called the gift of integrity, and so our lower appetites suffer from inordinate dispositions. We also lack the prenatural gift of immortality, and so our bodies are not perfectly subject to our souls; this is why we now suffer physical death. But by the merits of Christ we have received sanctifying grace through the sacraments (and thus been made participants in the divine nature). Hence now, like Adam and Eve, our acts motivated by agape are meritorious toward a supernatural end, because by our participation in the divine nature, our acts are proportionate to the supernatural end which is heaven.

Does this mean we must work our way to heaven? Not exactly. For example, baptized babies who die in infancy do no work, but yet through their baptism they are made partakers of the divine nature, and possess the infused supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and agape. Because they have agape, they die in a state of friendship with God, and hence enter into heaven. The problematic word in the phrase “must we work our way to heaven?” is ‘must.’ In the Catholic paradigm, the opportunity to participate in our salvation is a gracious gift of God. By this gift we have the opportunity in this life to give ourselves in sacrificial love to Christ in actions that have eternal consequences. Because of this gift, we have the unfathomable privilege of participating in Christ’s work of bringing salvation to all the world, and participating in our own salvation. (Philippians 2:12) God could have created us all already in the beatified state in heaven. But He did not do that, because He gives us a greater dignity by letting us participate in His divine work of salvation, both in the lives of others and in our own life. By giving us this additional gift of allowing us to participate in a divine activity, He is more greatly glorified.

JDK then quotes the last paragraph of the Homily on Justification:

“Hitherto have we heard what we are of our selves: very sinful, wretched, and damnable. Again, wee have heard how that of our selves, and by our selves, wee are not able either to think a good thought, or work a good deed, so that wee can find in our selves no hope of salvation, but rather whatsoever maketh unto our destruction. Again, we have heard the tender kindness and great mercy of GOD the Father towards us, and how beneficial he is to us for Christ’s sake, without our merits or deserts, even of his own sheer mercy & tender goodness.”

Regarding the paragraph from the homily on justification, what needs to be distinguished are good deeds done in agape, and good deeds done without agape. Can a pagan be generous to his children? Sure. Is that a good deed? Yes, but if it is not done in agape, i.e. out of supernatural love for God, then it is of no benefit to him with respect to getting to heaven. So the pagan’s act of generosity is good in one respect (i.e. in the natural order), but it is not ordered to a supernatural end (i.e. heaven). If the good that we are unable to do, referred to in the paragraph from the “Homily on Justification,” is good done out of agape, then the statement is in agreement with Catholic doctrine. But if it means that even on the natural order a pagan can do no good deed, then this statement would not be in keeping with Catholic doctrine.

Lastly, JDK writes:

“The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”

A Catholic can agree with this, so long as we distinguish between actual grace (i.e. the grace whereby God moves us), and sanctifying grace (the grace that inheres in our soul, and heals our human nature wounded by sin by giving us a share in the divine life of the Trinity.) Without actual grace, we cannot turn and prepare ourselves, to faith and calling upon God. To claim that we could do so without actual grace would be at least semi-Pelagianism. But, with actual grace we can prepare ourselves for sanctifying grace, the grace we receive through the sacrament of regeneration, which is baptism. When we receive sanctifying grace we also receive agape, and when we receive agape we are made right with God, and hence justified.

  1. See “Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans entering the Catholic Church,” October 20, 2009 []
  2. I use the term ‘agape‘ here instead of the term ‘love,’ because I want be very clear that I am not speaking here of natural love, but of supernatural love, i.e. the love that is divine, because it is the love by which God loves Himself. []
  3. In heaven the saints retain agape, but no longer have faith and hope, because faith and hope are possible only when their object is not yet fully revealed. In heaven, however, we will see Him face to face. []
  4. Pope Benedict’s General Audience, Wednesday, November 19, 2008 []
  5. See my post titled “Justification: Divided Over Charity” from January of 2009. []
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  1. Thank you for this interesting and detailed discussion.

    It is certainly true that we Protestants have historically had rather an impoverished view of salvation. This is at least in part because the Reformed and Lutheran traditions typically use the term ‘salvation’ very narrowly to mean ‘justification’, whereas the NT at least sometimes uses soteria to mean something much broader. Furthermore, ‘justification’ is part of the judicial metaphor, and this metaphor captures only part of the picture. I agree entirely that there is a need for us to view ‘salvation’ more broadly as including sanctification, ontological regeneration, and theosis/deification/participation in the divine nature.

    That said, I think you have somewhat misrepresented the Protestant view of justification. The best Protestant theologians do maintain that faith is inseparable from agape and in that way are closer to the RCC position than your post suggests. However, an important difference remains. It seems to me that you (and the Council of Trent) are claiming that agape is a constituent of faith. The Protestant position that I have in mind takes agape rather to be a necessary consequence of faith. From a Protestant perspective, this difference is crucial. To see why, consider the following argument:

    (1) God requires faith prior to (or simultaneous with) justification
    (2) God does not require any meritorious acts prior to (or simultaneous with) justification
    (3) Agape involves meritorious acts
    (4) If agape were a constituent of faith, it would have to occur at the same time as faith

    Therefore,
    (5) Agape is not a constituent of faith

    By holding that agape is not a constituent of faith but is a necessary consequence of faith, Protestants can preserve both the inseparability of faith and agape and the strong anti-Pelagian thesis that no meritorious acts on our part in any way lead to our justification. On the Protestant picture, then, agape can come only after justification.

  2. Kenny,

    Thanks for your comment. In the comments of an earlier post “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide,” I discussed this in more detail. I completely agree that Protestants believe that agape necessarily follows genuine faith; perhaps I should have made that clearer in the body of my post. Catholic theology does not hold agape to be a constituent of faith; but it does hold agape to be that which makes faith to be living faith, and only living faith justifies. Hence in that respect Catholic theology holds agape to be constitutive of justification. St. Augustine said, “Without love [agape] faith can indeed exist, but can be of no avail.” (De Trin. XV 18, 32) Protestant theology, on the other hand, makes justification depend on faith alone, even though that faith (if it is genuine) will necessarily be followed by agape.

    Regarding your five-line argument, first, Catholic theology does not treat these things in a voluntaristic way, as though it is based on whatever God happens to require or stipulate. Rather, there is an intrinsic relation between justification and agape. For example, in premise (2), it is not that God does not “require” meritorious acts prior to justification, but rather, without agape, it is impossible to merit anything at the supernatural order, because without agape one’s actions are ordered only toward a natural end.

    The ambiguity in your argument lies in the word “involves” in premise (3). Agape is an infused virtue; from a will having this infused virtue, acts of agape flow. But virtues are not acts; virtues are dispositions. This is how it is possible for infants, at their baptism, to receive agape, without any act on their part. The virtue of agape is supernaturally infused. Once a person has agape, it is possible for that person to merit rewards at a supernatural level. So in that sense agape does ‘involve’ meritorious acts. But it is possible, without agape, with the aid of actual grace (first operative grace and then cooperative grace) to prepare oneself to receive sanctifying grace and agape. These preparations are not meritorious, because one does not yet have sanctifying grace (and a participation in the divine nature), and hence one’s actions are not ordered to a supernatural end. So our preparation for justification is not meritorious. At our baptism, we are justified by God, who infuses agape into our souls, and thereby makes us worthy of eternal life. So Catholic theology does not claim that any meritorious acts lead to our justification. That would be impossible, because it is impossible to merit anything at the supernatural level without already being justified (i.e. having sanctifying grace and agape), and so being ordered to a supernatural end.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. I wish JDK had been more explicit in his post about what exactly he finds unacceptable in the Catholic doctrine on justification; I assume you have presented both sides accurately.

    I’ve learned quite a bit reading your response. As for the “‘must’ we work our way to heaven,” I find Eph. 2:10 (which follows the oft-quoted Eph. 2:8-9) as very helpful: we were created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in then. We were created to do good works, which are God’s will for us. Not all those who cry “Lord, Lord” enter the Kingdom, but only those who do the will of the Father, and His will for us is to carry out the good works He has prepared for us. That is how “works” pertain to our salvation, insofar as they are God’s will for us.

    (I hope that makes sense and is not heretical!)

  4. Bryan,

    Almost without exception, when I have heard or read Protestant pastors and theologians trying to make sense of James, they claim that what James calls ‘living faith’ is just the same as what Paul refers to simply as ‘faith’. To that extent, the dispute is terminological: you seem to admit that agape is a constituent of ‘living faith’.

    I do not mean to imply that God’s requirements are arbitrary; in fact, I insist that they are not (though I don’t take that insistence to be a tenet of Protestantism in particular).

    I worded premise (3) very carefully, for just the reasons you point out. Many people, I think, have the idea that having a disposition toward performing meritorious actions is itself meritorious. Assuming this is correct, it will follow that if such a disposition is a prerequisite of justification, then personal merit is a prerequisite of justification, which Protestants will regard as a creeping semi-Pelagianism. Of course, many Calvinists think that faith is meritorious and that’s one of the reasons sometimes given for insisting on irresistable grace, but I think this line of thought is mistaken.

    You don’t seem to be claiming that agape is a prerequisite for justification, though. At first when I read your statement that “Catholic theology holds agape to be constitutive of justification,” I thought it was a typo and you meant ‘living faith’ rather than ‘justification.’ However, on the basis of your third paragraph, it looks like this was not a mistake after all: you seem to claim that what justification is is the having of this disposition. And, of course, it is God who justifies, so God implants this disposition. On this view it would seem that (not-yet-living) faith precedes justification, agape (as disposition) is simultaneous with (because constitutive of) justification, and particular acts of merit follow justification.

    If this is what you mean, then there is a broader base of agreement here than I initially thought. Have I understood you correctly?

    I take it that your claims about actual grace are meant to preempt objections regarding regenerative baptism, etc. Although you say that Protestants ignore actual grace, I think the fact is that they just don’t use the term: the most common Protestant term for what I think must be very nearly the same thing is ‘prevenient grace.’

  5. Jeff, (re: #3)

    God has prepared good works for us, and when we do these works in agape, they are truly efficacious for eternity. That is, they truly contribute to what will be for the rest of eternity. God has given us the gift of letting us participate in His divine activity. Everything we do in agape, even giving a cup of cold water to the least of these, in His Name, will not go unrewarded. I’ve written more about that in a post titled “The Gospel and the Meaning of Life.” Our actions done in agape change us, by meriting further grace. If we are faithful with little, we are given more. He who has, more will be given to him. Also, our actions done in agape contribute to our eternal reward. This reward is not something extrinsic; it is our degree of participation in God Himself, our greater union with God Himself. There is no greater reward than God Himself.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Dear Bryan,
    I’m flattered and touched by your thoughtful and irenic response to my post over at http://www.mockingbirdnyc.blogspot.com. As you can imagine, it was not without some trepidation and caution that I posted on the recent Papal decision, because I know full well how these “blogversations” can often do little more than perpetuate stereotypes and misunderstanding on all sides. However, I think that your treatment of the different theological and anthropological contexts is a brilliant distillation of the two positions in a very helpful and articulate way, and I commend this post to anyone who is looking for a helpful clarification of the Roman Catholic position on agape .

    As I’m sure you know, the intricacies of this issue do not lend themselves very well to blog discussions, but I’m in the middle of working on a PhD over in Germany on the specifics of the Law/Gospel distinction in regards to Justification that I can only hope brings some of the same clarity–if not consensus–to the Protestant side of this discussion that your post has done here for the Roman Catholic position. I look forward to continuing to follow your blog and am thankful for an experience of Christian charity despite disagreement here in the blogosphere—maybe there is something to this agape after all! ;-)

    Fondly,

    Jady Koch

  7. Kenny, (re: #4)

    I agree that what St. James is referring to as living faith, St. Paul typically refers to as faith. In some places St. Paul does distinguish faith and agape, such as in 1 Cor 13, and in Gal 5:6, where he is (I believe) describing what living faith is, namely, “faith working through love.”

    Regarding ‘merit’, in Catholic theology, having a disposition to do something meritorious is not meritorious, because merit is through actions, not dispositions.

    On this view it would seem that (not-yet-living) faith precedes justification, agape (as disposition) is simultaneous with (because constitutive of) justification, and particular acts of merit follow justification.

    Exactly.

    I take it that your claims about actual grace are meant to preempt objections regarding regenerative baptism, etc.

    I don’t think I had any objections in mind when I was talking about actual grace. I was trying to show that if we distinguish between actual grace and sanctifying grace, then we avoid both semi-Pelaginianism and monergism. We avoid semi-Pelagianism, because actual grace works in us first, without us. St. Augustine and St. Thomas refer to this as operative grace. And we avoid monergism because we can (after having been moved by operative grace, and with the help of cooperative grace — both of those here being actual grace) prepare ourselves (without any merit) to receive sanctifying grace (and hence receive agape and be justified) through the sacrament of baptism.

    Although you say that Protestants ignore actual grace, I think the fact is that they just don’t use the term: the most common Protestant term for what I think must be very nearly the same thing is ‘prevenient grace.’

    I don’t think I said that “Protestants” do so; I think I specifically referred to the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, because the Lutheran and Reformed traditions tend not to make the distinction between actual grace and sanctifying grace. Ariminians and Wesleyans have prevenient grace, but Reformed and Lutherans generally don’t.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Jady,

    Thanks for very much for your comments. I didn’t expect you to show up, but I’m very glad you did. And I’m pleased to hear that you think I presented a fair treatment of your post from a Catholic perspective. My intention is ultimately ecumenical, but my preliminary intention in writing this was simply to help both sides understand the fundamental disagreement. Thanks also for your graciousness. When agape is the principle of our ecumenical endeavors, then I believe they will in time lead to unity, because this is the nature of agape, that it seeks union with the beloved, and with all those loved by the beloved. I wish you well in your studies in Germany, and I hope we’re able to continue our discussion in the future. I hope you comment here regularly, so that we can work through this fundamental disagreement that has divided us now for almost five hundred years.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Bryan,

    When agape is the principle of our ecumenical endeavors, then I believe they will in time lead to unity…

    Just what kind of ‘unity’ are you referring to here that your friend Mark, for one reason or another, felt compelled to declare ‘odd’?

    As I’d rather hear things from the horse’s mouth (less one falls for mere hearsay), I would like to know this “odd sense of ‘unity’ and ‘ecumenism'” he described you as having.

    By the way, great article!

  10. Although the Reformed and Lutherans don’t have the same concept of prevenient grace as, e.g., Wesleyans, they do hold that faith is itself a gift of grace, so that there must be some kind of grace operating prior to justification. I’m sure there must be a Reformed term for this (they have a technical term for everything), but I’m not sure what it is.

  11. Roma (re: #9),

    I don’t know what ‘Mark’ you are referring to, or where someone described the unity that is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors as ‘odd.’ So I can’t answer your question.

    I’m glad you appreciated the post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Bryan:

    I don’t typically visit various Catholic websites (in particular, those especially engaged in apologetics as those, like several protestant ones I know, seem endlessly engaged in outright polemics than anything else); however, there is some website I came across while attempting to obtain the scoop on you (since I was very much impressed by many of your entries here at CTC) by a Dave Armstrong which homepage featured the following quote from somebody (purportedly Catholic) named Mark:

    “8 years. Wow! I can’t even imagine putting up with the apologists for that long. Now, I pity you. :-) Even as a Catholic, I’ve gotten into it with Bryan Cross and Dave Armstrong, both of which are completely frustrating to have a dialog with. Just going at it with the two of them made we want to stay away forever. Bryan, at least I can say is a good guy and truly does mean well; [edited to remove ad hominem] – and he has an odd sense of “unity” and “ecumenism”. Armstrong on the other hand…. I’m still speechless.” — Mark (Catholic)

    Simply for clarification, I just wanted to know the kind of ‘unity’ you are in fact seeking, that this fellow felt compelled to describe as ‘odd’ (assuming that the quote itself is genuine, of course).

  13. […] is that some people do it so much better than I do. Bryan Cross is one such person. Here is a reply he gave to a protestant on the topic. He is very gracious. Maybe too much so. I think it would be […]

  14. […] A Reply from a Romery Person – Called to Communion. […]

  15. Roma, (re: #12)

    The unity we seek for all Christians is profession of one faith, sharing all the same sacraments, and sharing unity of government under the successor of St. Peter through the sacrament of Holy Orders. These three bonds of unity encompass Christ’s role as prophet, priest, and king. (see CCC #815)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Although the Reformed and Lutherans don’t have the same concept of prevenient grace as, e.g., Wesleyans, they do hold that faith is itself a gift of grace, so that there must be some kind of grace operating prior to justification. I’m sure there must be a Reformed term for this (they have a technical term for everything), but I’m not sure what it is.

    COMMON GRACE
    (though this doesn’t necessarily lead to justification, as does IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. ;)! )
    -reformed guy

  17. Mark – I’m familiar with the term common grace, but I don’t think this is what I’m getting at. My understanding is that common grace is supposed to be the kind of idea found in Matt. 5:45 – “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” I was under the impression that common grace was not really related to salvation.

    I didn’t think the grace that leads to salvation was CALLED ‘irresistible grace.’ If it is, then this is an unfortunate terminology, because the claim that this grace is irresistible is a substantive and controversial one, so non-question-begging terminol0gy would be nice.

  18. Bryan:

    Thanks for the response.

    By the way, would you kindly provide a more extensive presentation of the Reformed position?

    That is, I can see the apparently human appeal in Luther’s own theological theory concerning Justification from which such protestantism was borne; however, what is there in Calvin’s?

    Given the latter’s own take regarding predestination (what can rightly be considered a far more severe interpretation of Augustine’s own theory concerning same); whereas folks may gladly convert to Lutheranism in order to be ‘saved’ regardless of sin, it would appear as though folks on the other bend become Calvinist — for what? In order to be condemned?

  19. roma victor,

    A post on Francis Turretin’s (a major “Calvinist” theologian) concept of assurance of salvation is currently in the works.

    Luther’s fundamental position on justification is taken up by the Reformed and used along some of the same lines; e.g., we find peace with God, assurance of eternal life, and so forth.

    I was drawn to a Calvinistic community (OPC) because the Lutheran emphasis on grace and assurance was combined with an emphasis on growth in godliness through the ministry of word and sacrament.

    As a side note: Please refrain from useless and offensive suggestions such as the one at the end of your last comment.

  20. Andrew Preslar:

    “As a side note: Please refrain from useless and offensive suggestions such as the one at the end of your last comment.”

    It wasn’t intended in the uncharitable manner you appear to have received it; in fact, it was merely an allusion to what G.K. Chesterton wrote concerning same in his work, Orthodoxy (i.e., “He was damned by Calvin”).

    This is principally why I desired further elaboration on the topic from the Calvinist viewpoint as opposed to merely succumbing to some popular notion regarding it.

    I just don’t see how one can hope to be saved within the Calvinistic framework when, according to his theology on predestination, no matter what, there are those who are nonetheless damned regardless of what they do and even if they happen to believe, since God has already specifically selected those whom he will save while the rest are purportedly condemned to eternal damnation.

    Ironically, if anything, my request was borne out of a sense of respect for those of the Calvinist persuasion as opposed to simply dismissing it altogether rather sarcastically (as some are wont to do)
    — else, what would’ve been the point of my inquiring into the matter in the first place? To waste time and devote serious consideration into something I could care less for?

  21. Calvin’s work is appealing in that he follows his logic to the bitter end. He believes in extremes. That makes sense when talking about God. If works can’t matter when we are justified why can they matter before or after we are justified? Sure some of it seems offensive but isn’t hell always offensive?

    I converted from Calvinism to Catholicism but justification was not one of the main reasons. Most of the arguments made against Calvin’s justification doctrine were off base. They focused on limited atonement. That is not really unbiblical. What is unbiblical is perseverance of the saints. But that is the piece other Christians love. They often illogically reject the first 4 letters of TULIP and just accept the last one. Catholics are the only ones who point out the surest sign that Calvin’s thinking has gone off the rails is his perseverance doctrine. Scripture and tradition are so clear that not everyone will persevere.

  22. Bryan,

    Thanks so much for this post. It is real clear, precise, and simple. I like that because it makes it easier for people with a simpler understanding of theology to understand the major differences between Protestantism and Catholicism on Justification–I mean, I think a person with vertually no theological knowledge can easily gain a lot from this. I have benifited from it as well; it’s good to be refreshed with simplicity.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  23. roma victor,

    I don’t see any way in which the question of whether people become Calvinist in order to be condemned is either charitable or respectful. But I do of course take your word with respect to your intentions. I apologize for my own harsh response.

    I just don’t see how one can hope to be saved within the Calvinistic framework when, according to his theology on predestination, no matter what, there are those who are nonetheless damned regardless of what they do and even if they happen to believe, since God has already specifically selected those whom he will save while the rest are purportedly condemned to eternal damnation.

    As I said, a post on assurance of salvation (i.e., “how one can hope to be saved”) from a Calvinist perspective is in the works. I hope that this post will answer some of your questions. In the meantime, I recommend poking around the Internet a bit in order to find some Calvinist answers to this question.

  24. […] lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.” As my friend, Bryan Cross, points out at Called to Communion: [The Catholic Church] distinguish[es] between actual grace (i.e. the grace whereby God moves us), […]

  25. Oh wow, this is interesting, never saw such a great exposition of the Catholic position on Justification before! It clears up so many things!

    What I am more concerned about though is the Catholic position on Sanctification and Regeneration. From what little I know about Catholic theology, I’m guessing Sanctification holds much bigger importance in Catholicism than it does in Lutheranism, no?

  26. Very interesting post, Bryan. I am a regular reader of internetmonk, too, and am reading you there as well.

    One question about baptism and infants though. I am a Catholic and it appears that the Catholic teachings would STILL indicate that unbaptized babies would not “go to heaven.” Your statement above, “For example, baptized babies who die in infancy do no work, but yet through their baptism they are made partakers of the divine nature,” seems to indicate that as well. I have corresponded with an Orthodox priest who explains that within his tradition, infants WOULD go to heaven. I even saw something on the internet written either by current Pope Benedict XVI or John Paul II that said something to the effect of, “We can hope that God will manage to take these infants to Himself.” Do you have any comments about this? Thank you.

  27. Huol,

    Thanks for your comment. I think that Catholic theology does give greater importance to sanctification than does Lutheran theology.

    Joanie,

    We know that sanctifying grace is necessary to enter heaven. We also know that babies are born into this world in a state of original sin (i.e. deprived of sanctifying grace). Nevertheless, the Catholic Church does not teach that unbaptized infants who die before reaching the age of reason go to heaven, nor does it teach that they go to hell. It calls us to entrust them to the mercy of God.

    As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism. (CCC, 1261)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this posting as well. Have you published anything contrasting the Roman and Orthodox emphases regarding salvation? We would go more with union with the Incarnate Christ and would consider the emphasis of a St. Anselm to be present but subsidiary to Christos Victor. In this sense, the writings from C.S. Lewis (in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) point to that “Deeper Magic” that underlies the substitutionary theme of the Cross and make the substitutionary theme the “mousetrap” used to begin the defeat of Diabolos. Also, we see original sin as being inherited damage not inherited guilt. Thus, the baby will not be punished for someone else’s guilt. But, because of the damage, the child will inevitably sin.

  29. Bryan: just one simple question. Do you have agape?

  30. Fr. Ernesto – Over on my blog, I have attempted to compare Reformed and Eastern views of original sin and salvation. However, I fear my understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology may be deficient, and would be happy to be corrected. Based on my limited understanding, I find the Reformed and Eastern views to be more internally coherent than Roman or Wesleyan views because they more effectively maintain the parallel between Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 5).

  31. Hey Kenny,

    In another post on this site, you said: “(3) I deny that the post-Schism Roman councils speak for the Church.” Not to get off topic, but if you could email me to tell me whether you mean by this “you accept pre-Schism councils as speaking for the Church,” that would be great. My email: KBDh02@yahoo.com

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  32. Brigitte,

    Welcome to Called to Communion. Before I answer your question, perhaps you could tell me why you are asking me this question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. Greetings to you , as well! :) And pax domini!

    I also care about unity. And I attended Catholic convent school in Bavaria and Hesse states of Germany.

    However, the question I asked forces itself upon me, based on you what you wrote about agape’s necessity. Asking a return question strikes me as sophistry.

    Thanks, Brigitte.

  34. […] Here’s an example. In the Catholic paradigm, apostolic succession is a crucial component, because it is the basis for ecclesial authority, and thus for determining how other questions should be answered. Protestants do not accept apostolic succession, primarily because they do not find it in Scripture. So when Protestants find apostolic succession in the early Church Fathers, Protestants tend to view that as an accretion of some sort, not as an essential part of the deposit of faith. But from the Catholic point of view, the very stance of the Protestant who requires that something be clearly taught in Scripture in order to believe it, is already a departure from what has been the Church’s belief and practice since the beginning, that is, the practice of understanding Scripture as informed by those shepherds having apostolic succession. For this reason we can see that each side appears, from the point of view of the other side, to be begging the question, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question. In that sort of situation, cannot simply throw verses at each other; we have to step back and compare paradigms. I recently did something similar to that regarding the subject of justification, in my reply to “All the Romery People.” […]

  35. Thanks for your answer to me, Bryan, about infant baptism.

    I remain Catholic for a number of reasons: it’s my family history; I love my local Catholic church (even though I can’t attend often due to family situation); I love the liturgy, the Eucharist, the examples of the saints who have gone on before us; I love the great intellectualism and love shown by our present Pope and Pope John Paul II. But, from reading things written by Father Ernesto (hello, Father Ernesto!) and from other readings I have done within the Orthodox tradition, I find myself more in agreement with them in regard to what Jesus did on the cross (emphasis on Christus Victor), the understanding about original sin being “inherited damage not inherited guilt” and I love their emphasis on contemplative prayer, though Catholicism has much of that too. It helps me some to know that notable people like Father Cantalamessa write sermons like this one about the cross: http://www.cantalamessa.org/en/predicheView.php?id=303 He preaches to the Pope himself so I think we Catholics can rest knowing that we can trust what has to say! I have to read more of his online sermons. Good stuff!

    Also, if we as Catholics put so much emphasis in the actual act of being baptised yet we make adult Catholics-to-be go through a long educational period before they are baptized, then it sounds like we are saying that we are willing to let their soul be damned if they were so unfortunate as to get killed before they get baptized! Sometimes I think we teach what we teach because we have done it for so long, but that we don’t REALLY believe it.

    I don’t know if I am asking you to respond to all this. You are welcome to, but don’t feel obliged to.

    Take care!

  36. […] I’ve been reading a bit of Luther, and plenty of well written articles about conversations between Catholics and Protestants. Yea, it is quite a […]

  37. Brigette, (re: #33)

    However, the question I asked forces itself upon me, based on you what you wrote about agape’s necessity. Asking a return question strikes me as sophistry.

    I teach the difference between philosophy and sophistry, and I’m quite familiar with the difference between them. So I’m puzzled why you would think that my asking you to explain why you are asking the question is sophistry. If a reply to a question with a question is ipso facto sophistry, then Jesus was a sophist. (Matt 21:23-25) But Jesus was not a sophist. Therefore, replying to a question with a question is not ipso facto sophistry. So perhaps a more charitable interpretation of my question is simply that I wish to understand the context for your question, where you are going with it, why you feel you need to ask it, why its answer is in doubt for you, etc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  38. Joanie, (re: #35)

    I understand and appreciate the other reasons you mention for being Catholic. But I hope the fundamental, primary and entirely sufficient reason you are Catholic is that you are convinced that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. If the Catholic Church were not the Church Christ founded, then none of the other reasons would matter.

    As for “inherited damage not inherited guilt”, we can’t evaluate that until we define the terms, especially the term ‘guilt.’ But that discussion is for a different thread.

    Also, if we as Catholics put so much emphasis in the actual act of being baptised yet we make adult Catholics-to-be go through a long educational period before they are baptized, then it sounds like we are saying that we are willing to let their soul be damned if they were so unfortunate as to get killed before they get baptized! Sometimes I think we teach what we teach because we have done it for so long, but that we don’t REALLY believe it.

    Careful. The Church has never believed that Catechumens who die prior to baptism are therefore lost. The reason for that is that the grace [and faith and hope and agape] that comes to us through the sacrament of baptism can come to us even prior to our reception of the sacrament of baptism. Think of the story of Cornelius and his family. They received the Spirit even before Peter could get water to them to be baptized.

    A good rule of thumb is this: Before we assume that the practice of the Church indicates she doesn’t believe her doctrine, we should first assume that we don’t sufficiently understand her doctrine and/or practice.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  39. The question simply deals with what you yourself wrote and proceeds logically from it. You still have not answered it.

  40. Thanks, Bryan, for replying to my second post. I did know the story about Cornelius and his family receiving the Spirit even before they could get baptized with water, but I did not know what you said in regard to the Catholic Church teaching that the “sacrament of baptism can come to us even prior to our reception of the sacrament of baptism.” I am happy to hear that as I have always believed that myself (partly based on the story about Cornelius) and you are right that I should “first assume that we don’t sufficiently understand her [the Church’s] doctrine and/or practice.”

    So, to take this one step further…if the Church teaches that the “sacrament of baptism can come to us even prior to our reception of the sacrament of baptism” and since the Church allows parents to decide to baptize an infant, would it then follow that the Church would teach that if parents wanted to baptize an infant but didn’t have a chance to, then we could consider that the child was baptized “by intention” or something similar? The thing is, how are WE to know who has really been baptized by the Holy Spirit? We are told that the Holy Spirit will go where it wills. I believe that people all over the world who truly seek to know God and His will can be baptized by the Holy Spirit.

    I will not continue taking up time and space here with more questions after this one. Thanks for your time!

  41. Joanie,

    In addition to what Bryan said, you might also be interested in this article on Original vs Ancestral sin. A distinction really without a difference, it’s been exagerrated by the hyperpolemics of some Eastern Orthodox theologians

    http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2006/12/ancestral-vs-original-sin-false.html

  42. Joanie,

    Just to be clear, I did not say that, “the sacrament of baptism can come to us even prior to our reception of the sacrament of baptism.” We cannot receive the sacrament of baptism before receiving the sacrament of baptism. Here’s what I said:

    the grace [and faith and hope and agape] that comes to us through the sacrament of baptism can come to us even prior to our reception of the sacrament of baptism.

    Notice the difference. We can receive the grace the comes through the sacrament, prior to receiving the sacrament itself.

    Then you asked:

    would it then follow that the Church would teach that if parents wanted to baptize an infant but didn’t have a chance to, then we could consider that the child was baptized “by intention” or something similar?

    No, that conclusion would not follow. The teaching of the Church regarding children who die without baptism is the one found in the paragraph from the Catechism, which I quoted in comment #27 above. Our faith needs to rest at that point, in what the Church has given us. There is no basis to say anything further on this subject at this point (in time); it would be mere speculation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Oops, sorry, Bryan. I didn’t copy and paste back far enough into your comment that I quoted from. I am just full of mistakes today! I better quit now.

  44. Bryan,

    Thank you for this excellent article!

    If I may ask, could you please flesh out something you wrote.

    Here at this point is a crucial distinction between Catholic and Protestant soteriology. In Protestant theology grace is primarily understood as divine favor, that is, an attitude or stance by God toward us. In Catholic soteriology, by contrast, grace is not merely divine favor, but is also and primarily the gift of “participation in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) by which we have the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and agape.

    My area of concern is where I’ve added the emphasis to your quote; namely that Protestants see Grace as an attitude or stance by God toward us. I think you are aiming at the concept of Forensic Justification, and as a Catholic I do not subscribe to that concept. But I would be afraid that I were creating a strawman by putting it this way. My understanding of Protestant theology is that they are somewhat more nuanced in this regard. I understand them to see Grace as much more than a change in attitude on God’s part. Rather, it is a declaration by God, with the understanding that this declaration has the same force as the creation declarations spoken by God in Genesis.

    This would make Grace a creative force which, by God’s declaration, creates the “new man” in Christ. Then from this new creation by the power of Grace, Protestants believe we receive the gift of faith. They would then claim that from faith flows hope and agape. I think this was the point that Kenny was trying to make in his questions. (However, I should not speak for him!)

    At any rate, did you really mean that the Protestant concept of Grace is that simple, or did I misread you?

    Again, excellent article!

  45. Jamie – Just for clarification, I was saying that Protestants should believe these things, in addition to accepting their forensic conception of justification. (Many Protestants, especially the Reformed, take the legal language to be the literal account and everything else to be a metaphor for that. However, I am not the only Protestant who objects to this.) In my experience (being a Protestant myself, and having been in Protestant churches all my life), Protestants virtually never talk about more metaphysical aspects of grace/salvation, but will usually agree with them if asked. (In fact, I am leading a small group from my (PCA) church in a study of Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” right now, and I think the more metaphysical account of the Fall and salvation has been everyone’s favorite part.) As far as I am aware of/can remember, the major Protestant confessions are similarly silent. I do think that at least some Protestant theologians have a more full-blooded conception of grace than is suggested here but I (again, being a Protestant myself) don’t think that Bryan’s characterization is unfair.

  46. Jamie,

    I think that what Kenny said (in #45) is quite right. Protestants tend not to go into the metaphysics of grace. So among Protestants grace is most commonly treated as divine favor. Reformed theologians will note that the term ‘grace’ also refers to blessings of God, and to the working (i.e. operations) of the Holy Spirit within us, or to the Holy Spirit Himself. I have never seen a Reformed theologian describe grace as participation in the divine nature. Berkhof (p. 429) quotes Smeaton as saying:

    The term grace, which in Augustine’s acceptation intimated the inward exercise of love, awakened by the operations of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), and which in the scholastic theology had come to denote a quality of the soul, or the inner endowments, and infused habits of faith, love, and hope, was now taken in the more scriptural and wider sense for the free, the efficacious favour which is in the divine mind.

    I should point out that Catholics do not reject forensic justification. In Catholic soteriology, God declares because He effects it. It is not a legal fiction, but a legal truth, because our hearts have been given agape at that very instant. The Protestant position (if I can speak of it as one position), is simul iustus et peccator, without a distinction between mortal and venial sin, i.e. without a distinction between those sins that destroy/remove agape from the soul, and those that do not.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Bryan,

    Thank you so very much for this post, it was incredibly enlightening. I think you give a very fair, dare I even say full, summary of the different approaches Catholic and Protestant thinking brings to bear on the text. I had one question:

    “Without actual grace, we cannot turn and prepare ourselves, to faith and calling upon God. To claim that we could do so without actual grace would be at least semi-Pelagianism.”

    Do I understand you to be saying that without actual grace we cannot come to obtain sanctifying grace? And that the Catholic understanding of semi-Pelagianism is to state that one can obtain sanctifying grace without God’s intervention (either through actual grace or sanctifying grace). Therefore, does semi-Pelagianism destroy the distinction altogether?

    Thanks again.

    -JohnO

  48. Kenny and Bryan,

    Thanks for your comments. Guess I’ve just talked to with some Protestants who have thought more about the process. (Or it’s equally likely that I misunderstood them as well!)

    As far as the Forensic Justification topic goes, I note a particular distinction. If I’m reading you correctly, the Catholic thought process is that the declaration and gift of Grace in the forms of faith, hope, and agape – the metaphysical change of the person’s soul – occur simultaneously. But my understanding of the majority of Protestantism is that the declaration – the divine favor in your terms – precedes and causes the justification. When I speak of Forensic Justification, I am thinking of the latter, not the former.

    Of course, my understanding of Protestants on this point could be mistaken. But I am trying to understand them.

    I am surprised that you repeated the topic of Grace as participation in the divine nature. Like you, I’ve never seen Protestants talk this way. I didn’t think that my previous question even came close to implying that they did.

    Again, thank you.

  49. JohnO,

    Do I understand you to be saying that without actual grace we cannot come to obtain sanctifying grace?

    Correct.

    And that the Catholic understanding of semi-Pelagianism is to state that one can obtain sanctifying grace without God’s intervention (either through actual grace or sanctifying grace). Therefore, does semi-Pelagianism destroy the distinction altogether?

    Semi-Pelagianism claims that we (without grace) make the first move, then God gives grace in response. Pelagianism denies that God needs to give grace at all, in order for us to be saved. Pelagianism denies the necessity of grace for salvation. Semi-Pelagianism denies the necessary of prevenient grace (i.e. operative actual grace, where God acts upon us, without us), but does not deny the need for grace for salvation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  50. I think the distinction between actual grace and sanctifying grace is making more sense to me. This is a very helpful post and comments.

    Having said that, I have a couple questions for Bryan or someone here.

    Given the Catechism:

    “2000 Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.
    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 ”

    So is sanctifying grace the same thing as “habitual grace”, or is one a category of the other?

    Also, is it correct to say that sanctifying grace is something that can only be in us as a result our cooperation? (But of course we are not the source of it, I get that)
    But if actual grace is an intervention, (which to my understanding equates with an efficient amout of intervening/actual grace for our will to be moved), then is a growth in sanctifying grace dependent on our will apart from that same intervening grace? Or does actual grace always precede each growth in sanctifying grace?
    I hope that makes sense.

    David M.

  51. David, (re: #50)

    Yes, sanctifying grace is the same thing as “habitual grace.” For those who have attained the age of reason, sanctifying grace can be in us only as a result of our cooperation; but babies receive sanctifying grace in baptism. Yes, actual grace always precedes each growth in sanctification. But actual grace is resistible; see comment #12 in the “Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  52. […] official and very respectful (though slightly headache-inducing) response to which was published here – check out this piece over at Christianity Today about the recent goings-on at the […]

  53. Hi Bryan,

    I have a question concerning the statement made in the article:

    As I have argued elsewhere, the Bible does not definitively teach that we are justified by faith-without-agape; Catholics understand justification by faith to refer to justification by faith-informed-by-agape.

    end of quote.

    Therefore the faith that justifies has to be a living faith or a faith-informed by agape. You also state:

    But, in Catholic theology actual grace comes to us before regeneration, and actual grace first acts as operative grace (in which God moves us without us), and then by our participation actual grace acts as cooperative grace (God moving us with us), leading us to faith and baptism by which we receive sanctifying grace, and are thereby justified.

    Here is my question. At baptism one receives the theological virtues of faith, love , and hope. Therefore at baptism one is given a living faith or a faith informed by agape. Is , then, the faith that comes before one is baptized and before one is regenerated (usually) a dead faith ? In other words, when operative and cooperative grace “lead us to faith and baptism” is this initial faith before we are baptized a dead faith? Is it a dead faith because we do not yet have the theological virtue of love until we receive baptism?

    Secondly, if justification and living faith both come at baptism, and there is not a sequence of living faith followed by initial justification how can we say that faith justifies? How can we say that initial justification comes by faith informed by agape if they both occur at the same moment in baptism?

    Thanks, for any help on this, Kimd

    Thanks, Kimd

  54. Kim (re: #53),

    Great questions there! I’d like to take a stab at answering some of them in an orthodox manner, and then I’ll let Bryan pick up the pieces =)

    In other words, when operative and cooperative grace “lead us to faith and baptism” is this initial faith before we are baptized a dead faith? Is it a dead faith because we do not yet have the theological virtue of love until we receive baptism?

    In session 6, chapter 4 the Council of Trent stated that “This translation [i.e. from a original sin in Adam to the state of grace] cannot, since the promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration [i.e. baptism] or its desire…”

    In the case of someone who has experienced conversion and desires baptism, he or she may attain the state of grace prior to the physical performance of the sacrament. So, the short answer to your question is *not necessarily*. It’s possible that the person is living a life of faith-conjoined-to-agape, but it’s also possible that the person does not possess faith-conjoined-to-agape. Now, in the physical sacrament of baptism comes the assurance of sanctifying grace and the infusion of the supernatural virtues faith, hope, and charity. St. Paul’s statements of “justified by faith” can be understood as “justified by faith-conjoined-to-agape”. Whether those justified persons have living faith prior to baptism or only afterward, we simply cannot always tell.

    Secondly, if justification and living faith both come at baptism, and there is not a sequence of living faith followed by initial justification how can we say that faith justifies?

    We say “faith justifies” in the sense that “faith-conjoined-to-agape justifies” which is a truth taught by the Church. Your question assumes that God cannot grant faith-conjoined-by-agape prior to baptism, which contradicts the quote above from the Council of Trent. A person has faith-conjoined-to-agape if and only if he is in a state of grace, and if he is in that state prior to physical baptism, and dies in that state, he is indeed justified (e.g. the good thief on the cross).

    Hope this helps,
    John D.

  55. John D (54),

    Yes, this helps—I did forget about the “desire” part in the Council of Trent. This is helpful.

    I also realize that when an adult comes for baptism as it states in the CCC in 168:

    In the Rituale Romanum, the minister of Baptism asks the catechumen: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” And the answer is: “Faith.” “What does faith offer you?” “Eternal life.”

    and I now remember this!:

    1249 Catechumens “are already joined to the Church, they are already of the household of Christ, and are quite frequently already living a life of faith, hope, and charity.”48 “With love and solicitude mother Church already embraces them as her own.”

    All of which makes sense in the light of what you (John) have stated. Furthermore , I am guessing, that if a person receives faith informed by love at Baptism this instantaneously produces justification . In other words, it follows so closely at Baptism . I think I was getting caught up in the order of things.

    All in all, you have made it a bit clearer in my mind, thanks, Kim.

  56. John, Bryan, or someone ;-),

    I think part of my confusion stems from Trent session 6 chapter 7:

    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.

    Here is seems to put justification before the receiving of charity when it says ,”the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified ” (past tense). It looks like love and or the virtue of love comes to those already justified. This is also part of what is confusing me. Perhaps they do not mean it in the way I am understanding it—perhaps it is not a sequential listing?

    I find it is confusing as to which comes first– the justification or the faith informed by love ? Here in Trent it looks like the justified receive the love when it should be the faith informed by love that then is followed by justification. I think I am getting tangled! Can some one get me untangled here?

    Thank you, Kimd

  57. Kimd (re: #56)

    The quotation reads:

    the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them

    You are reading that as:

    the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are [already] justified and inheres in them

    But it should be understood as:

    the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are [thereby] justified and inheres in them

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  58. John D ,

    In answering the question I asked in 53 , I now realize I had asked a similar question one other time and someone referred me to the answer #77 at Faith and Reason in the Context of Conversion. Therefore, all of that along with your answer nicely sums up the question I had about faith. Now I just need an answer to the question I have in 56 (if it is posted ) about Trent’s statement about justification and the sequence.

    Thanks, Kimd

  59. Bryan (57),

    Thanks I think our comments crossed–I just asked for clarification about Trent and you have answered. Thank you, Kimd

  60. Kim and Bryan (re: #55-59),

    Thanks for shedding further light on the issue. I found the CCC 1249 paragraph particularly helpful, because I had heard that said before about Catechumans, I just wasn’t sure where to go for a source.

    Peace,
    John D.

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