What Catholics and Protestants Have Wrong About Justification

Jun 9th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Just kidding, the Catholics don’t have anything wrong about justification; I was just getting your attention. :-) Now to be serious.

The primary way we both [Catholics and Protestants] talk about justification and about any of God’s operations is based on the way that the Scriptures speak of God. Let me say at the outset that we are not at fault for so doing. But if we use Scriptural language as evidence of philosophical truths, where such language is not intended to do so, we inevitably end up in error. The same thing happens when we use the Scripture to defend scientific propositions, when the Scripture itself is not advocating such propositions. (e.g. Josh 10:13) Some Scriptures do make scientific and philosophical propositions (Gen 1:1), but not all of them do. Deuteronomy 9:8 says “At Horeb you aroused the LORD’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you.” But this is not a denial of God’s immutability because it is not meant to be understood in philosophical terms. Likewise, many errors and miscommunications about justification arise because of subconscious renderings of certain passages as if they were making philosophical claims that are actually false. God does not actually get angry, not in the way that we do. So if we took Deut 9:8 as evidence that God gets angry and is therefore mutable, we would be seriously mistaken.

Now the Scriptures often speak of God’s judgment. (e.g. Ex 6:6; Rom 2:2) But what is involved in judgment (as we mean it)? Judgment starts with an ignorance on the part of the judge and proceeds to knowledge in the same judge based on some quality in the thing judged. e.g. A man does not know whether a fruit is suitable for nutrition; then he examines it and judges it based on some quality in the fruit. That is what we mean by ‘judgment.’ But this is not what is meant by God’s ‘judgment’ because such a process involves ignorance and change, both of which are impossible for God. Judgment, as we mean it, necessarily involves a reaction, but there is no reaction whatsoever in God to anything. God does not react; He acts.

Likewise, the Scriptures often speak of God “seeing.” (e.g. Gen 16:13) But God does not “see” as if He had eyes or as if He didn’t already know what was there. “Seeing” is an analogical way to speak about God’s knowledge. We often say “I see” when we mean that “I understand” or “Do you see?” when we want to know whether someone understands something. This is because sight is an analogy for understanding. God never looks at anything because one only looks at something when he lacks knowledge about the thing and God lacks nothing.

Much of the Protestant-Catholic debate and misunderstanding regarding justification is rooted in understanding Scriptural passages in a philosophical sense when they were never intended to make such propositions. The problem is not with using such analogical language but in basing doctrines on philosophical propositions that seem to be supported by Scriptural language when in fact those propositions are false. That is, it is not wrong to speak of God as if He “sees” something or as if He “judges” us because that is how the Scriptures speak. But if we understand these terms as denoting philosophical claims and then build doctrines on that understanding, then we err.

Let us examine justification by dialogue:

Jack: Justification is by faith alone.

Billy Bob: Faith formed by love right?

Jack: No. True faith is formed by love of course but only the faith part is judged in the process of justification.

Billy Bob: So God looks at us and sees that we have faith and love, but He only considers the faith part (and does not consider the love part) in justification?

Jack: Yes, that is correct.

Billy Bob: But your belief presupposes that God sees, judges, and reacts. If we understand these terms analogically, then nothing you just said makes sense. Your doctrine depends on God’s mutability – on His ability to react.

Jack: No it doesn’t, I too affirm immutability.

Billy Bob: But if God doesn’t actually react, then He reacts neither to faith, nor to love, nor to faith and love, nor to faith alone, nor to faith formed by love. Is that correct?

Jack: Yes.

Billy Bob: Then what prohibits us from agreeing with St. Augustine that “Faith without love profits nothing”? ‘Justification’ seems to fall into the category of “something” so how can faith without love profit justification?  There seems to be no Scriptural case for salvation by faith alone.

Jack: The Scriptural case is that salvation is by faith apart from works. Even if we consider faith as an act of fidelity rather than a passivity, then we include works and attribute something of ourselves to salvation which is impossible. Salvation is by grace alone – nothing originates in us to make us worthy of salvation. Only the free gift of faith justifies.

Billy Bob: I agree. But suppose God’s grace entailed faith, hope, and love.

Jack: It does.

Billy Bob: Then on what basis do we exclude hope and love from justification? God does not judge based on any of them because He does not judge in the way we judge (that His judgment should be a reaction), rather His grace is not distinct from His judgment. To receive God’s grace is to be judged as righteous. To lack God’s grace is its own judgment.

The Reformed position is that God gives us faith and then judges us based on that faith alone. If taken as an absolute description of what actually happens, this is as unintelligible as saying that God gets angry or reacts. The way we Catholics speak of God’s judgment is often unintelligible (taken in that sense) as well. But if we understand this language as analogical rather than absolute then this manner of speaking does not necessarily lead to errors.

Describing God’s judgment is emphatically not like describing what happens at our local courthouse. We err when we start understanding God’s judgment as a reaction to something He learns by seeing us (or even seeing His gift in us).  That understanding leads us to think that we have to concoct a doctrine that protects the doctrine of sola gratia. This is what the Protestants have done. If salvation is a gift, then it can’t be a reaction to anything in us (so the Reformed reason). They are right so far. But they err when they deny that there’s anything in us. The sentence is correct: “It’s not a reaction to anything in us” not because there’s nothing in us – but because it’s not a reaction!

It seems to me that the Reformed conception of salvation de fide depends on a reactionary conception of God’s judgment. It looks at an isolated aspect inhering in the salvation process and claims that “this is the basis” on which God judges us. That argument falls apart if it turns out that God doesn’t actually judge in a reactionary sense. According to the Reformed doctrine, it’s as if God gives us a gift and then looks at us to see if we have that gift He gave us and then reacts accordingly. Well that won’t work.

On the contrary, charity is the sine qua non of justification exactly because God is love and justification is nothing but participation in the life of the Trinity. God’s judgment is identical with infused charity which is the gift that leads to participation in the Divine Life.  God is not a reactionary in any sense. He does not even react to His own act – He does not re-act; He simply acts.

Ultimately, when we talk about God’s grace, we’re not referring to something different than His judgment. His grace is His judgment. The (perceived) difference is in us – in our state; not in Him.   As Billy Bob said above, God’s grace includes faith, hope, and love (shall we say His grace is faith without love?) and so if to receive God’s grace is to be judged righteous, then we cannot say that salvation is by faith apart from love.  Salvation is the reception of God’s grace, and God’s grace infuses the gift of faith formed by love into the believer.

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  1. Your article reminded me of a passage (actually, several passages) from Fr Herbert McCabe’s book *God, Christ and Us* on divine forgiveness and contrition:

    “The initiative is always literally with God. When God forgives our sin, he is not changing his mind about us; he is changing our mind about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love. The forgiveness of sin is God’s creative and re-creative love making the desert bloom again, bringing us back from dry sterility to the rich luxuriant life bursting out all over the place. When Gkod changes your mind in this way, when he pours out on you his Spirit of new life, it is exhilarating, but it is also fairly painful. The exhilaration and the pain that belong to being reborn is what we call contrition, and this is the forgiveness of sin. Contrition is not anxious guilt about sin; it is the continual recognition in hope that the Spirit has come to me as healing my sin. So it is not literally true that because we are sorry God decides to forgive us. That is a perfectly good story, but it is only a story. The literal truth is that we are sorry because God forgives us. Our sorrow for sin just is the forgiveness of God working within us. Contrition and forgiveness are just two names for the same thing, they are the gift of the Holy Spirit; the re-creative transforming act of God in us. God does not forgive us because of anything he finds in us; he forgives us out of his sheer delight, his exuberant joy in making the desert bloom again.” (pp. 16-17)

    “The literal truth is that when God forgives us he doesn’t change his mind about us. Out of his unconditional, unchanging, eternal love for us he changes our minds about him. It is God’s loving gift that we begin to think of repenting for our sin and of asking for his mercy. And that repentance does not earn his forgiveness. It is his forgiveness under another name. The gift, the grace, of contrition just is God’s forgiveness.” (p. 61)

    “The coming into us of God’s own life of love shows itself in two aspects: our repentance, and our being forgiven, our death to our sins, and our new life of love. It is not at all that God waits for us to be repentant before he will condescend to forgive us, like someone saying: ‘I’ll forgive him provided he apologizes.’ We do not express our contrition in order to persuade God to grant us his forgiveness. Our contrition is God granting us forgiveness.” (pp. 122-123)

    I believe that Fr McCabe would therefore agree, Tim, with your statement that God’s grace is his judgment. It’s all so very hard to think rightly about this, because we cannot see things from God’s point of view, and we certainly cannot see how our free personal acts can only be God’s act within us. Yet is it not at this point that we see the possibility of significant agreement between Catholic and Reformed?

  2. Yes, I think it is exactly on that point that we should have significant agreement with the Reformed. And it is on this ground that we can build a foundation towards a mutual understanding of justification that does not violate sola gratia or attribute anything to man as its source. Everything that pertains to justification is a free gift from God – owing to His grace. I would love to hear some Reformed input on this.

  3. I need to correct the next to last sentence: “… and we certainly cannot see how our free personal acts can only be God’s act within us” should read “… and we certainly cannot see how our free personal acts can also be God’s act within us.”

    In any case, McCabe is striving, I think, to eliminate the “re-activity” of divine forgiveness and judgment. What I have a hard time holding together is the sola gratia and grace-enabled synergism. The best I can do is to see the later as comprehended within the former.

  4. Tim,

    Thanks for the article. Your conclusion raises a question for me.
    1 Tim 2:4 tells us that God desires all men to be saved.
    I see Calvinism as being inconsistent with that as double predestination can only mean that God does not desire salvation for those whom he creates for hell.

    But as for the Catholic view, if God desires all men to be saved, and his grace and judgment are the same thing, why are not all men saved? I suppose this also raises the issue “irresistible grace.”

  5. Jason,

    Good question. When I say His grace and judgment are the same, I mean that in the sense of God’s gratuitous gift of salvation (His act of love) being identical with His essence as His judgment is identical with His essence. So all of that depends on the divine simplicity. Created grace as such cannot be called identical with God’s essence because His essence is uncreated. Just wanted to clarify that.

    On God’s desire that all men should be saved – this is a mystery so what I’m about to say isn’t the only possible Catholic explanation but it is one from very weighty authority.

    God wills a thing either contingently or absolutely. I think contingency in God’s will is the key to unlocking this mystery, or rather to make some partial sense of it. Here’s a comment of mine from another thread a while back:

    [Responding to someone’s argument that I re-formatted as follows]

    1. God’s will cannot fail.
    2. Salvation is not attained by everyone.
    3. Therefore it is not God’s will that everyone be saved.

    It makes sense and the original premise is correct. But we have it on divine authority (and reason) that it is God’s will for all to be saved. So how can this syllogism be false if the premise is correct?

    The answer is, or at least begins, in the phrase: “Was He trying to save everybody worldwide?”

    The important word is “try”; trying indicates the possibility of failure. If I try something I might fail for a variety of reasons – all related to various powers outside of me. But there is no power outside of God; therefore if God’s will is ever to “fail” it must fail on account of God’s own power which is nonsensical.

    How can God will everyone to be saved and this not actually be the case then? The answer is far from obvious. It has been an intellectual snare even for great theologians like Origen. Aquinas gives the following three ways in which we can make sense of this problem:

    First, by a restricted application, in which case they would mean, as Augustine says (De praed. sanct. i, 8: Enchiridion 103), “God wills all men to be saved that are saved, not because there is no man whom He does not wish saved, but because there is no man saved whose salvation He does not will.”

    Secondly, they can be understood as applying to every class of individuals, not to every individual of each class; in which case they mean that God wills some men of every class and condition to be saved, males and females, Jews and Gentiles, great and small, but not all of every condition.

    Thirdly, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 29), they are understood of the antecedent will of God; not of the consequent will. This distinction must not be taken as applying to the divine will itself, in which there is nothing antecedent nor consequent, but to the things willed.

    On the relation to my claim that God’s (act of) grace is identical with His judgment, that’s a tough one. But I would start by showing that it’s no tougher than other things which we know to exist, His simplicity and infinite perfection notwithstanding. For example, God’s power is infinite and without any defect or limitation. So from this it *seems* to be expected that God’s creation would have no evil present whatsoever because we know that God does not desire evil. I attempted to provide a speculative answer that question here. But there *is* evil present.

    I find the question of why evil exists at all to be no more difficult, and maybe not very different from, the question of why some men go to hell when the Scriptures clearly indicate that God wills all men to go to heaven.

    In creation, God does not merely create a simple mirror of Himself (creation is not simple) or else we’d have no natural way to know Him. We know Him through His complex universe. This (consequently necessary) gradation of finitude and being (good) is what gives rise to the existence of evil. The world had to be made complex and in graded levels of goodness for us to know Him naturally, and this kind of world necessarily gives rise to the possibility of preferring some of that good to God (therefore to evil). That will make sense ( I think ) if you read the link I gave. But anyway, I’m saying that this is the sort of contingency in God’s will that can help make sense both of the existence of evil and the fact that not all men go to heaven. It is compatible with divine simplicity and therefore compatible, I think, with my claim that God’s grace is the same as His judgment.

  6. Tim,

    As you know, Reformed folk like to use the phrase, “the finished work of Christ.” Francis Schaeffer wrote a book under that title. If Jack were to ask Billy Bob if the finished work of Christ is sufficient for salvation, how would Billy Bob respond? Does the Protestant understanding of the “finished work of Christ” destroy the necessity of the Church for salvation?

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  7. I was struck by the CCC (I think that’s where I saw it) when it describes the grace of God “going before us” to lead us into love/good works. (I don’t have the passage handy so don’t quote me) This struck me as fitting nicely with what I have learned in my time as a Reformed believer. This type of conception of “God’s grace is the same as His judgment” should ring true to those like me that find it hard to understand the way Catholics speak of “cooperation”. To Reformed ears that is kind of a bad word (cooperation) that insinuates something we are adding to the ground of our salvation, and to which God reacts favorably. but what you describe here Tim about God never “reacting” is a concept that really helps foster understanding I think.

    Thanks,

    David M.

  8. Also Flannery O’Conner would love the concept of God’s grace being the same as His judgment. The two concepts ussually come together in messy ways in her stories!

  9. Jeremy,

    After apostolic succession, our next lead article will focus on the “finished work of Christ.” In short, I think Billy Bob would say that Christ’s sacrifice is indeed sufficient for salvation and that the Church’s mediation in no way lessens its necessity but rather applies its benefits to the believer.

    Christ did not finish His work on Calvary, just as the high priest did not finish the atonement sacrifice by offering it in the presence of the people. After offering it, he ascended into the Holy of Holies to present the sacrifice to God. Likewise, Jesus Christ, the true High Priest of mankind, having offered His perfect sacrifice on Calvary, ascended into Heaven, and in the presence of God the Father, which is the true Holy of Holies, eternally presents that same sacrifice to the the Father on behalf of man. This sacrifice is mediated through the ministry of His body, the Church. At mass, the people of God are elevated to participation in this same sacrifice. It is exactly the application of this sacrifice, the only sacrifice that is acceptable to the Father, that suffices for our salvation. At least that’s what I think Billy Bob would say. :-)

    We see so many different and complex effects – we tend to think it is because God does many different things in sequence. For when we see a house, we naturally and rightly think that because of its complexity, it was constructed by a long series of differing acts. Each board was put into place as a separate act. The builder laid the foundation, then he built the frame, then he put on the roof, etc. So when we see this complex world and the staggering complexities of the salvation process and of the sequential and varying aspects of divine revelation – we have a natural tendency to bring God down to our level so that we imagine that He does this, then He does this, and He ties it all together by such and such. He lays the foundation by creating the world, then He established the Old Covenant, then He sent His Son, then He sent the Spirit, then He brings us into the divine life by means of the sacraments through the Church. It must be a great number of sequential operations. I think Billy Bob would say no – that’s not right. Actually God’s single act, which is identical with His supremely unified and simple essence, accomplishes every end of creation. There is no chronological sequence in God because there is no time in God. Time is beneath God; even sequence is beneath Him. What proceeds sequentially proceeds in logical sequence and as a result from His act – and the result is effected by His supreme self -consistency.

    So is the sacrifice of Christ sufficient for salvation? Nothing less. And this sacrifice is not isolated from covenant history, as the Reformed are well aware, rather it is the climax of all salvation. We see God’s plan of salvation unfold throughout history because we are under the confines of time. But this exact moment now, as you read this, is no less miraculous than the moment of creation – no less distant from ex nihilo creation than was Eden. For God, all of creation and hence all of salvation and our participation in it, is a single truth. We can’t comprehend it (even) in sequence, far less can we in totality. That’s the sort of thing I think Billy Bob is getting at. All of our constructs to comprehend divine revelation are filtered through conventional language that depends on complexity and on time. That doesn’t mean we don’t have accurate knowledge of divine revelation – but that when our doctrines are built on such constructs that can be shown (philosophically) to be conventional rather than absolute (such as mutable language about God or justification), we end up quibbling about things that we don’t understand.

    The Church, by divine right, does understand these things. That is why we submit to her in humility. When the individual, not the Church, draws a line in the sand, he only draws a line around himself. Rather than keep others who err out of his circle, he traps himself inside his own circle of error.

  10. David,

    CCC 2001 quotes St. Augustine saying, “Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us.” In my earlier article on Soli Deo Gloria, I followed that quotation with this:

    At this fateful point where Reformed theology and Catholic doctrine collide with uncompromising force, the Catholic Church unambiguously preserves the ancient and precisely Augustinian doctrine, and this should not be lightly dismissed by anyone who claims that the Bishop of Hippo was a forebearer of Reformed soteriology.

  11. Jason,

    I see Calvinism as being inconsistent with that as double predestination can only mean that God does not desire salvation for those whom he creates for hell.

    The way the Reformed answer questions like this is by distinguishing between God’s moral will and his decretive will.

    The decretive will of God includes everything that comes to pass, since the Bible is very clear that nothing happens outside the will of our heavenly Father. The moral will of God is contained in Scripture (the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount, for example), and does not always come to pass because of human sin.

    So my guess is that if I were to ask a Catholic, “Does God in some sense ordain all that comes to pass?”, the answer would be (a qualified) “yes.” Then if I asked, “Is it God’s will that 9/11 happened?”, the answer would be “no.” If so, then we all have the same difficulty, and we’re all in the same boat.

    Now, why God would see fit to ordain events that do not conform to his moral will is a mystery that Calvinists simply aren’t willing to try to penetrate and solve.

  12. Jason (JJS) – I agree that we’re both in the same boat there although we use different language to describe the different ways in which God wills something. I gave answers above from the two greatest theologians of Christian history and even they come a long way from making this issue easy.

    But anyway, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the overall thrust of the article.

  13. Jeremy,

    As you know, Reformed folk like to use the phrase, “the finished work of Christ.” Francis Schaeffer wrote a book under that title. If Jack were to ask Billy Bob if the finished work of Christ is sufficient for salvation, how would Billy Bob respond? Does the Protestant understanding of the “finished work of Christ” destroy the necessity of the Church for salvation?

    No Reformed person who knows his tradition would ever use “the finished work of Christ” in such a way as to minimize the need for holiness, the church, or anything else. Anyone who does doesn’t know Reformed theology, and anyone who accuses the Reformed of doing so either doesn’t know Reformed theology, or has been interacting with someone who doesn’t.

    The simple distinction (that I’ve heard Catholics also make) between redemption accomplished and applied will clear this right up. The work of Christ falls into the former category: redemption accomplished. When we speak of what Jesus did for us in his life, death, and resurrection, we’re talking about the accomplishment of all that is meritorious for our salvation. But of course, these things still need to be applied by the Holy Spirit through baptism, the new birth, and faith. If there were no third Person, the work of the Second would be for nothing.

    Hope that helps.

  14. Hey Tim and JJS,

    Thanks. That’s helpful, especially the distinction between redemption accomplished and redemption applied. I look forward to the lead article on the finished work of Christ.

    I had a debate a couple nights ago with some Protestant friends about the decline in Church membership among people who consider themselves Evangelical. I argued that the trend should be expected because there is no real need for the Church inherent in Protestant theology. Would it be fair to say, that for the Reformed, saving faith in Christ’s finished work, is the sole application of redemption?

    Tim, Good Title for your article. It certainly got my attention!

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  15. Jason, (re: #11)

    So my guess is that if I were to ask a Catholic, “Does God in some sense ordain all that comes to pass?”, the answer would be (a qualified) “yes.” Then if I asked, “Is it God’s will that 9/11 happened?”, the answer would be “no.” If so, then we all have the same difficulty, and we’re all in the same boat. Now, why God would see fit to ordain events that do not conform to his moral will is a mystery that Calvinists simply aren’t willing to try to penetrate and solve.

    If I may, let me respectfully take issue here. We’re not in the same boat because the Reformed distinction between decretive will and moral will is not the same as the Catholic distinction between antecedent will and consequent will. And that can be shown by the fact that for Reformed folks it is an utterly baffling mystery why God did not “see fit to ordain events that do not conform to his moral will.” It is as though God were schizophrenic at best, or at worst, lying or hypocritical about his moral will. But in Catholic theology, the reason why God’s consequent will does not conform to his antecedent will is implicit right in the terms themselves: God’s consequent will takes into account the free choices of free creatures, while God’s antecedent will is God’s will abstracted from the free choices of creatures. God’s antecedent will is that all men would be saved. But God’s consequent will, taking into account the free choices of His free creatures, is that those who freely and finally reject Him will be separated from Him eternally. Calvin taught double-predestination. (“Those, therefore, whom God passes by He reprobates, and that for no other cause but because He is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which He predestines to his children.”) But that position is outside the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy, because the Catholic Church teaches that God gives sufficient grace to all, that grace is resistible, and that the reprobate are so on account of their foreseen sin. Calvinism rejects all three of those Catholic doctrines. So, different boats. :-)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Dear JJS,

    You said:

    The decretive will of God includes everything that comes to pass, since the Bible is very clear that nothing happens outside the will of our heavenly Father. The moral will of God is contained in Scripture (the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount, for example), and does not always come to pass because of human sin.

    It sounds like I could use “desire” for “moral will” and “decree” for “decretive will,” and still be in line with the theology you described. But if I’m not off-track so far, I don’t see how it’s consistently Reformed to say that God gets what He decrees, but does not decree all that He desires. I grew up learning that not a hair could fall from my head without the will of our Father in Heaven. I don’t think this sentiment is even implicitly related to an idea that God might want to keep that hair in, but just refrains from decreeing what He desires.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  17. If God never reacts, what is the role of prayer in Roman Catholic Theology?

  18. Scott,

    Good question. Let’s look at an example to set up the explanation. God could have parted the Red Sea without Moses doing a thing. But instead, He desired Moses to participate in this miracle so He told Moses to “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it.”

    Likewise, anything that is accomplished by prayer could be accomplished without our petition, but God desires our participation and so commands us to pray. The purpose and role of prayer is not to manipulate the will of God. Rather, it is to teach us that we constantly rely on God’s grace. The purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind – but to change ours.

    Does this mean that prayer is commanded but it is ultimately superfluous? That it really doesn’t accomplish its intention, it only instructs us? On the contrary, prayer is the most powerful recourse we have to accomplish anything. God inspires prayer in us to accomplish the ends of prayer – that is why Jesus could say that whatever we ask for in His name we will receive. God enacts a thing via prayer as He enacts the oak tree via the acorn.

    God is going to grant saving grace to St. Augustine, but how? He starts by inspiring the prayers of St. Monica, his mother. Her prayers, a response to God’s grace in her heart, were truly answered. God had it in mind to grant this grace to St. Augustine before he was even born. St. Monica didn’t change God’s mind; rather, God changed her mind.

  19. So was Moses a free agent able to decide whether he would pray or not? If so, and Moses chose not to pray, would God still have parted the Red Sea?

  20. Scott,

    What Tim said. Any Christian who believes God knows the future has to answer this same question. C.S. Lewis (an Anglican), wrote the following:

    In every action, just as in every prayer, you are trying to bring about a certain result; and this result must be good or bad. Why, then, do we not argue as the opponents of prayer argue, and say that if the intended result is good God will bring it to pass without your interference, and that if it is bad He will prevent it happening whatever you do? Why wash your hands? If God intends them to be clean, they’ll come clean without your washing them. If He doesn’t, they’ll remain dirty (as Lady Macbeth found) however much soap you use. Why ask for the salt? Why put on your boots? Why do anything?

    We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who belives in God must therefore admit (quite apart from the question of prayer) that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with His own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method. (“Work and Prayer” in God in the Dock)

    And St. Thomas said:

    oratio nostra non ordinatur ad immutationem divinae dispositionis, sed ut obtineatur nostris precibus quod Deus disposuit (“our prayer is not ordered to changing the Divine disposition, but so that, by our prayers, we may obtain what God has appointed.” (Summa Theologica II-II Q.83 ad 2)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. Scott,

    Yes, Moses was a free agent. God commanded him to raise his staff but did not force him to do so against his will. I don’t know how we can speculate on what would have happened if Moses had refused God’s command. If we really wanted to, though I don’t think it would be profitable, I would point to the example of Jonah.

  22. Tom,

    I don’t see how it’s consistently Reformed to say that God gets what He decrees, but does not decree all that He desires.

    It’s perfectly Reformed to say that, on the one hand, God decrees all things, but that on the other, sin still happens:

    God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. WCF iii.1

    Now you may reject it as untrue and/or unbiblical, but you can’t reject it as un-Reformed.

  23. Tim,

    I appreciate your willingness to engage with me on this issue. This is my first discussion on this topic with a Roman Catholic.

    I am intrigued that you brought up the story of Jonah. That story seems to point most emphatically to a God who reacts to human actions. The narrative makes it rather clear that Jonah’s experience in the boat and the subsequent interaction with the great fish were divine responses to Jonah’s disobedience. Is it your contention that God’s eternal intention in this story was to cause Jonah to be swallowed regardless of his response to God’s command?

  24. Dear JJS,

    Humbly if I may: I was taught about secondary causes and this portion of the WCF by my pastor, but did not learn that the principle that [God is not the author of sin although He did ordain whatsoever comes to pass] equates to what I think you have said, that [God does not decree all that He desires]. Those two propositions are different. If you would point to the “secondary causes” language, the trouble is that God always remains the primary cause — so that won’t support the claim that it is Reformed to say that God does not decree all that He desires.

    I’m not sure I mean to be contending that the two-wills position is somehow deeply un-Reformed, or that no good Reformed person can make the claim. The suspicion I do have is that it’s a later gloss on Reformed thinking to help deal with a few trouble spots.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  25. So was Moses a free agent able to decide whether he would pray or not? If so, and Moses chose not to pray, would God still have parted the Red Sea?

    In this scenario I find the sufficient grace/efficient grace distinction helps me understand this. Moses was given efficientgrace to raise his staff and pray. Outside of time (notice God is not reacting) efficient grace is poured forth so that Moses can complete the work prepared for him to do from all eternity. Could Moses possibly resist that grace and walk back to Egypt? That possibility exists, but because God is acting outside time, He knows how much grace Moses needs to acomplish the task. I am probably wrong here and please correct me, but this is how I keep from insanity on this question now that I must reject the “I” in TULIP.

  26. Scott,

    Welcome to Called to Communion – and glad to have you here. Our whole purpose is to engage with Protestants over these vital issues.

    Not only with the story of Jonah but in probably a hundred other stories, we find language in the Scriptures that shows God reacting, becoming angry, changing His mind, etc. As I said in the article, it’s proper to speak of God this way because that’s how the Scriptures speak of Him. The problem comes in when we start thinking that these are philosophical descriptions of God and not analogical. We speak of God’s wrath because we have no other way to describe the retribution on the sinner. But God’s wrath is not like our wrath – our wrath is a poetic image of His wrath, which is something altogether different.

    The principle that we need to maintain in spite of this language is the principle of immutability – that God does not change. I’m not sure what denomination you belong to but this doctrine was held universally by the martyrs and saints all throughout Christian history. The first Protestants also believed it. Only in the last century or so, has it come to be questioned by some liberal scholars (unfortunately that includes some Catholic scholars).

    To affirm God’s mutability is to reject classical theism. God becomes a powerful (even infinitely powerful) version of us in the sky. But this isn’t right; YHWH is not simply another name for Zeus. We can show God’s immutability in at least three ways (from Aquinas):

    1. Since there must be a Prime Mover – a first being that precedes all other being. Everything we know is moved, but there must be one *unmoved* mover. This is a complex argument that would take some time to unpack. But already we can see, He is unmoved therefore He is unchangeable. He does the moving, He is not moved. In this necessary being (God), there is no potency, only act. God is pure act without any potentiality. You and I have potentiality (as do all other beings except God). This means that we have potential to attain to a state that we are not presently in. I am a man typing at a computer right now, but I have the potential to become a man driving a car. I was once a child, I had the potential (at that time) to become a man. I now have the potential to become an old man, and though my hair is brown it has the potency to become gray. I also have the potency to become a dead man and that will eventually be realized in act. In the physical world, we see that potency always precedes act. Nothing actually exists which was not previously potential. For example, we see a wooden statue and we know that before that wooden statue existed, it was a block of wood that was not a wooden statue but only potentially a wooden statue. So in our world, potency precedes act. But ultimately, act precedes potency. How do we know this? Because nothing could possibly exist or could be in potentiality to exist unless something already existed. There could not be the potential for man (or anything else) unless God already existed. So God is pure act without any potency. We can unpack this more if we need to, its not real easy stuff. But this is the first way.

    2. God is altogether simple. He is not composed in anyway. You and I, and all physical things, are composed of various parts – (soul, body – and even our body has many parts) but God is not composed in such a way. Anything that changes passes away in part and remains in part. Something persists through every change and something is lost in every change. When hot water changes to cold water, the water remains but heat is lost (and coldness gained). This is impossible for God because He is simple, and not composed. Nothing in God can pass away. If God had attributes that did not belong to His essence, He would have received them from somewhere else (just as water receives heat from some other source) but there is nothing outside Him from which God could receive any other form or attribute. Therefore God is simple and therefore He does not change.

    3. God is infinite. Now whatever changes acquires something new by its change. But if God is infinite, then He cannot acquire anything new. A calm man acquires anger by becoming angry. A man who reacts gains knowledge and the will to act from learning the thing he will react to. Since God is infinite, He cannot acquire these things. Reaction requires that the reactor *gains* the will to act based on something he has *learned*. Now it is impossible for God to learn anything because He is infinitely knowledgeable and it is impossible for Him to react because He cannot gain the will to do anything. He already has a perfect will that precludes any possibility of it being changed.

    This is the historic Christian doctrine on the matter. God cannot change, therefore God cannot react. The Scriptures, as I mentioned, often do speak of God reacting, changing, asking questions, etc., but these passages cannot be taken to undermine what we know to be necessarily true of God.

    I hope this is helpful but I understand that if you’re not used to this kind of language it can be confusing. Just let me know if something I said wasn’t clear.

  27. Scott –

    Oops I didn’t respond directly to your question. “Is it your contention that God’s eternal intention in this story was to cause Jonah to be swallowed regardless of his response to God’s command?”

    Well I’m not really making that contention because its the sort of thing that’s impossible to know. Looking back on the event, we can’t know what would have happened if the characters had chosen some other route. But the problematic point in that question, I think, is this “regardless of his response.” This phrase seems to presuppose ignorance on the part of God – as if He didn’t know what Jonah would choose. God can’t know anything other than what He knows. Of course, He knows all infinite possibilities even of things that didn’t happen. But He couldn’t *not* know what Jonah was going to do when He said “go to Nineveh.” Therefore, when God said so, He was already anticipating Jonah’s response.

    Most definitely, God would have known how to form Jonah (not against Jonah’s nature) from childhood to the point where Jonah would have accepted. Let’s just make it overly simple and say God could have introduced Jonah to a Ninevite named Mack (a name I’m sure was common in Assyria) at childhood. So young Mack and Jonah become great childhood friends but tragically, Mack is killed at 15.

    So in this alternate universe, God comes to Jonah and says “Go to Nineveh” now Jonah recalls his childhood friend Mack – and says “Yes I’ll do that to honor Mack.” This is just one possible way that God could have Jonah go straight to Nineveh – if that’s what He really wanted. But see that it doesn’t actually cause Jonah to do anything contrary to his own will. He is still a free agent. This is the sort of way that God moves our will. He does not move it contrary to our nature – but He does move it. Maybe the story with Mack wouldn’t actually work – that’s beside the point. Whatever it would take to get Jonah to go enthusiastically to Nineveh, God could have made that happen. God knows how to do it. All of this belongs to God’s providence.

  28. Scott (re. #19, #23),

    Your question is essentially about how one can simultaneously and consistently hold the following two propositions:

    (1) Humans have libertarian free will (if you’re not familiar with that term, ‘libertarian free will’ essentially means the ‘ability to do otherwise’ than one does in that situation]

    (2) God never changes in any way

    Before going on to explain (1) and (2), I should note that Calvinists typically reject (1), and sometimes reject (2). Classical theists (like Augustine, Anslem, and Aquinas) all affirm both. Calvinists typically argue that humans have free will, but not libertarian free will. Instead, Calvinists tend to be compatibilists, which means that their choices can be free and still be determined by forces outside themselves (i.e. free will is compatible with determinism). So in you #23, a Calvinist would probably not say that God “reacted” or “responded” to what Jonah did. Instead, he’d probably say that God didn’t react at all, because God literally caused all of Jonah’s decisions, and yet, those decisions were still free (in the compatibilist sense). I think there are strong biblical and philosophical reasons to reject the compatibilist account of freedom (which we can discuss if you’re interested).

    Turning to (2), there are two questions one needs to address. First, what does it mean to say that God doesn’t change in any way? Second, why should we believe (2) is true? As for the meaning question, as Tim explained, to say that God doesn’t change means that he has never changed from eternity past and will never change for eternity future. Thus, God doesn’t learn new things as time passes, His existence isn’t separated into a past, present, and future (as ours are), He doesn’t go from being happy one moment to be sad the next, etc. Many of these attributes are consequences of God being “outside” or time. If a being is “inside” time, then that being changes in some way.

    I’ll add one additional point, which is a little technical. (You may be quite familiar with these terms, I don’t know. But I’ll explain them for those who aren’t.) There are a huge number of ways our world could have been. For example, I could have one less hair on my head at the moment than I actually do. Or I could be two inches shorter. Or I might not exist at all. Philosophers describe the different ways things could have been as “possible worlds.” A possible world is a way things could have been, it’s a total way things could have been. As a Christian we have to believe

    (3) God exists in every possible world (otherwise there would be nothing at all)
    (4) God could have created something different than he actually did.

    (3) seems uncontroversial (to Christians anyway). (4) also seems uncontroversial to most Christians. The reason I bring out (3) and (4), though, is to show an additional facet of what (2) means. If God had created a different possible world than the one he actually created, then God would have been different because he would have had different knowledge. For example, God has always known that I’d write this comment. But if God created a world in which I never existed, then God’s knowledge would have been different; namely, God would not believe that I would write this comment. So God could be different across possible worlds. But because God only created one world, God is always the same. God doesn’t change across time. (We can elaborate more on what (2) means or entails if you like.)

    Now to the second question: Why should we believe (2) is true? Tim (in # 26) gave three good reasons. If you reject (2), I’m curious how you’d respond to Tim’s arguments in #26.

    One final point, if you reject (2), then you’re also committed to rejecting Tim’s second argument about God being absolutely simple (i.e. not composed of parts of any kind). We’re all composed of lots of parts: physical parts (eyes, brain, etc.); temporal parts (i.e I was born many years ago, I’m writing this today, I’ll eat lunch tomorrow); and metaphysical parts (i.e. I’m created by God; I have an essence and an act of existence). God isn’t composed in any of these ways. If you deny (2), and therefore deny God is absolutely simple, then you’re committed to saying that God is composed in at least some ways. If that’s true, then God’s component parts had to exist before he did, otherwise there’d be nothing for God to be composed of.

  29. Bryan,

    Based on what you say in comment #15, can you explain how God’s consequent will is not reactionary. I mean, although he forsees our free actions, he surely by no means bases election on them in a reactionary way as if he is some kind of spectator to future events and makes reactive decisions based on what he sees, right? If he is reactionary in this way, then how is he not mutable because of that?

  30. Scott (continuing my #28)

    Scripture and tradition both seem to indicate (1) and (2) are true. So the Christian has good grounds to believe both propositions on those authorities alone. In the Christian is challenged by an objector: “Claims (1) and (2) are mutually inconsistent. So you can’t believe both at the same time.” The Christian can simply ask, “Why not? What precisely is the problem?” Or the Christian can simply give a model for how they are mutually are consistent. Some models include Molinism (and the different sub-versions of it), the Thomistic view of God’s causal relation to our free actions, the Calvinism.

    Very briefly stated,

    -the Molinist thinks that God has “middle knowledge.” That is to say, God knows what every free agent would do in any possible circumstance that agent was placed in. And God creates a certain world knowing precisely what each free agent throughout all of history would do (because of his middle knowledge). So God’s foreknowledge flows from God’s middle knowledge. In that way (1) and (2) can be compatible.

    -The Thomist agrees with the Molinist that there are true propositions about what free agents would do in the future, but disagrees with the Molinist about what *makes* those propositions about the future true. The Thomist thinks that God causes the propositions to be true in some way, for example by providing sufficient grace to a person (or not) that would enable that person to act in a certain way.

    -The Calvinist also believes there are true future propositions that God knows. He just believes that the reason God knows those future propositions is because God *causes* those future actions to be true (in the compatibilist sense mentioned above). I wish I could say more about how the Calvinist position differs from the Thomist’s position on this issue, but I’m still studying the relationship between the three.

    So, to sum up, in the absence of some reason to think that (1) and (2) can’t be true, the Christian is warranted in believing them to be true. If the face of some objection, the Christian need only provide a model that shows how both good be true. I’ve sketched three such models.

  31. Jared (re: #29)

    God’s knowledge of our free acts is not ‘reactionary.’ In Him we live and move and have our being. He knows all things by knowing Himself. The two mistakes to avoid are to assume (1) that God knows in the way we know, i.e. by observing outside of ourselves, and (2) that if God knows something about a creature not by observing the creature but by knowing Himself, then the creature cannot be truly free to choose otherwise. What God knows about the free choices of free creatures (by knowing Himself) He knows precisely as the free choices of free creatures. And that is why, as St. Augustine explained, God’s knowledge of our free choices does not entail that we cannot do otherwise. But to go into this subject more deeply would take this thread off-topic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  32. Can one still be a Christian and not believe in either the Immutability, or Impassibility of God?

    For instance, if Jesus, the Son of God, 2nd person of the Trinity, did not always have a body, but became incarnate, and then died, and resurrected with a glorified body, that is change. There was a time when the Son was not flesh, and now He lives forever with a body.

    How is that immutability??

    Same thing goes for impassibility. He suffered, and learned obedience through the things He suffered.

    How do those doctrines not deny the Trinity and incarnation?

  33. ” He knows all things by knowing Himself.”

    Thanks, Bryan. I’m not sure what this means but it sounds right.

    Perhaps this is one reason why I’m not totally comfortable with the traditional answer that God predestines via his foreknowledge. I have no idea what foreknowledge means to the eternal Deity. How do you understand it?

  34. Mark,

    Some Christians deny the doctrine of immutability as I said above (#26) and I am in no place to judge their status as “true” Christians but I do not understand how it can be compatible with Christianity. It is certainly incompatible with classical theism (i.e. the Christian tradition of the first 1900 years of Christianity) and it contradicts the belief held by so many martyrs and doctors of the Church. In my opinion, such novelty crumbles under the weight of authority (and reason).

    Regarding Christ, that is a good question. But remember that at Chalcedon, the Church pronounced that Christ had two natures: divine and human. It was the human nature of Christ that was mutable, not His divine nature. His divine nature never changed. Also, there is a time when the Son was not flesh from our perspective, but the divine nature is not subject to time even when His power or presence is recognizable to us within time. While Jesus was lying in the manger, His divine nature was still above time without mutability. As the Church fathers teach us, as He laid in that manger, He held the universe in His hand.

    This ain’t easy stuff ya know! :-) We don’t call the Incarnation a mystery for nothing.

  35. Thanks Tim. I find great comfort in the fact that God never changes. Yet I also find great comfort in the fact that Christ took on flesh, and suffered, and died, and brings me out of death through baptism as well.

    I re-read #26 slowly. Aquinas is difficult for me, but I think I understand what he is saying.

    From our vantage point, it can be said that God changed, or relented, or repented, as in Genesis. But from God’s perspective He always will’s perfectly with no shadow of turning. It is just hard to understand how every moment is in this very moment to God. There is no discursive reasoning, He simply “knows”.

  36. Mark, (re: #32)

    I wrote this before I saw Tim’s reply, but here it is anyway.

    Can one still be a Christian and not believe in either the Immutability, or Impassibility of God?

    Sure. There are many Christian heresies. But the problem with denying divine immutability is that it reduces God to a creature, for the reasons Tim explained above in #26.

    For instance, if Jesus, the Son of God, 2nd person of the Trinity, did not always have a body, but became incarnate, and then died, and resurrected with a glorified body, that is change. There was a time when the Son was not flesh, and now He lives forever with a body.

    We need to be careful not to confuse what is true of Christ by way of His divine nature with what is true of Christ by way of His human nature. In eternity, there is no time. So in the eternity of His divine nature, there was no time when He did not have a body, because without time there is no before and after. But, in time, the ovum in the womb of the Virgin Mary became the Logos at the annunciation, when she gave her fiat, i.e. “let it be done unto me according to your word.” The change was in the matter Mary gave to God, in her womb. That’s where there was a change, not in the divine nature, but in that ovum. Of course in His human nature Christ changed. He ate, drink, grew, learned, etc. All those took place in His human nature, not His divine nature. His death and resurrection and ascension were changes of at the level of His human nature. Throughout His earthly life, He did not change in His divine nature.

    Same thing goes for impassibility. He suffered, and learned obedience through the things He suffered.

    All in His human nature, not in His divine nature.

    From philosophy we learn that any being that can change must have potency. But any being that has potency must have a cause, because whatever is composite has a cause, and whatever has potency is a composite of act and potency. But God cannot have a cause, for then He wouldn’t be God. Therefore, any being that can change is not God. Likewise, any being that has potency is not perfect, because there is some good it lacks, that it acquires when it actualizes its potency. But God does not lack any perfection. Therefore, any being that can change is not God. Hence, any ‘theology’ in which the highest being is mutable, is not theism, but a kind of atheism, in the way in which any idolatry is atheism.

    That is how we can know God’s immutability from philosophy. We can also know God’s immutability from sacred theology. The Church has infallibly taught (at the Fourth Lateran Council and at Vatican I) that God is immutable. That God is immutable is de fide. So, the matter is definitively settled. If you want to read some good books on this subject, I recommend Thomas Weinandy’s Does God Change? and his Does God Suffer?.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  37. Mark,

    Aquinas isn’t easy at first. He understands philosophy like I understand the rules of tic tac toe. Consequently, the summa is very condensed and you have to pay close attention or you can miss a whole lot in just one or two sentences. He uses a lot language that is sort of familiar, but has lost its technicality such that we often don’t mean the same thing that he does.. I didn’t get most of it at first, but I just had to keep on trucking. Once I got used to the language he used, it became much easier. Also, my explanation above in 26 really isn’t a very good stand alone explanation. It depends on some other things like simplicity and pure act that I didn’t want to try and prove in the combox.

  38. Bryan, thanks for pointing out that mutability has been officially condemned. I just pulled out my Denzinger’s and now see that it was also condemned at the Lateran Council of 649 and by several other authoritative sources. I didn’t realize the language was so clear on the issue.

  39. Hey, Tom.

    I just noticed your comment directed toward Jason Stellman, and while I don’t want to speak for him or disrupt your interaction I hope it’s okay if I respond to some of your concerns. You say:

    I was taught about secondary causes and this portion of the WCF by my pastor, but did not learn that the principle that [God is not the author of sin although He did ordain whatsoever comes to pass] equates to what I think you have said, that [God does not decree all that He desires]. Those two propositions are different.

    Well, let’s see. There are two claims here:

    (1) God ordains all that comes to pass but God is not the author of sin.

    and

    (2) God does not decree all that He desires.

    I think you are right that these propositions are different, but I don’t think that they can’t be held together in a coherent way, and I don’t think Reformed theology necessarily entails that they’re either equivalent or that they’re mutually incompatible.

    Maybe we could understand (1) like this. To say that God ‘ordains’ all events is consistent (given standard use) with saying one of three things: (1*) God is an ultimate sufficient cause of everything that happens (this entails theological determinism); (1**) God creates the initial conditions of the universe while knowing everything that will happen if He creates those initial conditions (this does not entail theological determinism, but it does entail that God possesses comprehensive foreknowledge of all actual events); or (1***) God creates the initial conditions of the universe while knowing everything that will happen if He creates those initial conditions and also possessing middle knowledge concerning what would happen were any possible future contingent eventually realized (this does not entail theological determinism, but it does entail that God possesses foreknowledge of all actual future events and that He possesses middle/counterfactual knowledge of everything that would occur were the actual history of the world to progress differently than the way it will).

    God’s ordination of every event doesn’t by itself (I hold) entail that God is the author of sin, in a way that would undermine His essential moral perfection, since any view on which God possesses comprehensive foreknowledge of all that will occur should He create the/a world entails that God does, in some sense or other, ‘ordain’ everything that occurs thereafter. At least, it’s perfectly plausible to hold that this is so, and the traditional theories of divine foreknowledge and providence are all meant to allow us to affirm that God does indeed ordain everything that comes to pass.

    It’s a good and important question why this does not make God ‘the author of sin’, in any way that would compromise His essential moral perfection. But there’d better be some good sense in which God can ordain instances of sin and evil without being morally blameworthy for so doing. Otherwise, the only theological views on which God is not blameworthy for sin and evil would be theories that restrict His foreknowledge (such as open theism or process theism, e.g.). Catholics aren’t allowed to embrace those views, and Reformed people are at any rate constitutionally allergic to them. (And good for them for being so.) So it follows that Catholics and Reformed Christians are both going to affirm (1), the claim that God can ordain everything (including each instance of evil) without being the author of evil, in any sense of ‘authorship’ that would vitiate divine goodness.

    Proposition (2), I believe, should be subject to similar distinctions. If by ‘desiring’ something or ‘willing’ something we mean to connote the idea that it is valued or made to happen for its own sake, then certainly it’s not the case that God ‘desires’ everything He ordains. He may, for instance, ordain that some event e occur, but only because He intends to bring about some state of affairs that either results from e or is an inelimanable part of e or provides the grounds or preconditions which render e’s occurrence possible in the first place. (“Possible, but not necessary?” you ask. Well, yes. But remember, God’s comprehensive foreknowledge entails that He knows whatever will actually happen. So even if God were to ordain something perfectly general — “Let humans have free will;” “Let the world run according to regular, law-like patterns,” etc. — then this general ordination might result, as a matter of fact, in something bad or sinful (like e) happening. It doesn’t follow, however, that God’s reasons for ‘ordaining’ e are just that He wanted e to happen, since it may be the case that He wanted to secure the general good of freedom or regularity, and e’s occurrence was a foreseen consequence of this but not something that God ‘desired’ or ‘willed’ for its own sake.)

    Naturally, everything I’ve just said is subject to fierce debate, and I myself don’t think any of these remarks are anywhere near sufficient to provide a satisfactory ‘Christian understanding’ as to why God has allowed or ordained evil things — including the non-salvation of various individuals — to occur. My point is, rather, that we’re all stuck with this mystery (so far as I can tell). It isn’t a problem that Reformed people alone have to face. Similarly:

    If you would point to the “secondary causes” language, the trouble is that God always remains the primary cause — so that won’t support the claim that it is Reformed to say that God does not decree all that He desires.

    Well, here too, we all must accept de fide that God is indeed the primary cause of every event. It does not, however, follow (so far as I can see) that (a) secondary causes are inoperative or (b) some freedom-undermining version of determinism is true.

    Everything I’ve said is of course not directly relevant to your main concern with (2), since I’ve been talking about whether God may ordain some things that He does not (in some sense) desire, whereas you’re asking about whether God can be said to desire some things and yet not ordain them. (“God doesn’t decree all He desires” just means there are some things He desires in some sense but doesn’t ordain.)

    I think you are correct that this raises an interesting and difficult question for Reformed thinkers, but (as I tried to make plausible above) I do not think that this is a problem for Reformed thinkers in specific, but rather for traditional Christians (including us) generally. To the extent that God possesses comprehensive foreknowledge of what will occur should He create this world, and to the extent that God does will to create this world, it follows that — in some sense — everything that happens is something He wills (even ‘ordains’) to occur. I believe, again, that we can distinguish as between God’s ordaining an event (in this sense) and God’s wanting it to take place for its own sake. At least, I very much hope we can do so; for what are the alternatives? Thus I believe we can and must distinguish between things God wills for their own sakes in one sense, but which He nevertheless fails to ordain or otherwise ensure.

    This is a great mystery indeed, but I think the Reformed simply aren’t alone in trying to come to terms with it. I think we’ve got the same mystery on our hands (provided ‘ordination’ and providence are understood disjunctively, as I suggested above).

    Sorry to go on so long.

    Neal

  40. Fr. Kimel (re: #33)

    Given that we’re closing out the Year for Priests, I want to thank you for serving Christ and His people as a priest. When I was reflecting on that Chrysostom quotation, I was struck by how we too often take for granted the dignity of the gift you have been given, and the magnitude of the privileges we receive through your gift. Recently Fr. Z posted an anecdote from a reader about someone kissing the hand of priest. The quotation from St. Chrysostom explains why that practice is so appropriate, given the magnitude of the gift of the priesthood. Thank you so much for your faithful priestly service.

    As for divine foreknowledge, the term is a bit misleading, because the fore in ‘foreknowledge’ is relative to us time-bound beings. Yet because God is not in time, therefore strictly speaking, God does not have ‘foreknowledge.’ From our temporal perspective, His knowledge about what is future-to-us is foreknowledge. But for Him, what is future-to-us is present-to-Him. All time is present to Him, and that is why even though He knows what [from our time-bound perspective of June, 2010] will happen in 2012, His knowledge of what will happen in 2012 is not foreknowledge to Him. But to us (in June, 2010) knowing what will take place in 2012 must appear to be foreknowledge. As for the role of divine foreknowledge in predestination, perhaps we can save that question for its own thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  41. Thank you both for the insight.

    One more clarification:

    If Jesus is God and Man, and has both a divine and human nature in one person, then how can the human nature not be forever “in time” with us, and the divine nature be eternal?

    If I pray, how does he not “react” as mentioned above to us within time as “us” and for “us”.

    Part of the hope of Christianity for me, is that the fullness (pleroma) of the Godhead dwells in him bodily. He knows and can feel what I do as a human. When I suffer I join in his sufferings because he first joined and took on all of our suffering. Isaiah 53.

  42. I’m sorry for my delay in commenting in the thread here. Since there have been so many comments that deserve discussion I am going to try and respond to them in order.

    I am very grateful for your willingness to discuss these issues with me. At the moment I have not been convinced of any theological position regarding God’s foreknowledge/will. I have written several papers on the subject at my seminary and am continuing to seek answers.

    #26 Tim

    1. Although you point out that particular words are limited in describing the nature of God (e.g. wrath, anger, etc.) I assume that you would agree that language is at least to some extent sufficient at describing God’s nature. Surely the early creeds of the church rest on an assumption of the sufficiency of language. So, while the words in a particular story should not be overly pressed to be accurate descriptions of God’s nature, surely the theme of the narrative must have some weight as a whole beyond the separate words; otherwise there would be no way of knowing anything about God from scripture. Therefore, when a narrative has a constant thread of God reacting to the actions of a person, such as the story of Jonah (great fish, tree for shade), it seems reasonable to consider this as much an accurate description of God’s nature as is done with other portions of scripture.

    It is also interesting to note that many theologians argue for an analogical interpretation of only when the words in question seemed to refute accepted notions of God. When the words in question are supportive of preconceived ideas then the words are taken at face value (e.g God is love, merciful, gracious, etc.). This is not meant to be an insult to you in anyway and I since I am new to this site I do not know if you are would even fall into this category of theologians.

    2. “To affirm God’s mutability is to reject classical theism. God becomes a powerful (even infinitely powerful) version of us in the sky.”

    I believe that those who reject classical theism would flip your contention around. They would argue that we have been made in the image of God and that he has made us infinitely less powerful versions of him on earth.

    I have studied these arguments of Aquinas on this subject and still have a few reservations.

    1. Prime Mover
    2. Divine Simplicity
    3. Divine Infinitude

    All three of these arguments make basically the same assertion: if God were to be “angry” or hold any other responsive attitude/action it would require a change in his nature as Prime Mover, Simplicity, and Infinitude. However, these arguments are not truly about the nature of God but about the nature of action and attitude.

    God’s ability to express love and anger is not a matter of any change in him whatsoever but a choice to respond in a manner which he determines appropriate. Such a response does not mean that God has gained nor lost anything but simply that he has chosen to present different aspects of his nature.

    Further, while any reaction does seem to be at odds with the idea of the argument of the Prime Mover, this is not necessarily so. If the nature of the Prime Mover is unchangeable regardless of such reactions it can be argued that while the Prime Mover’s responses may have changed, the nature of the Prime Mover has not. Further evidence for this might be understood in how God has related to humanity in the Old and New Testaments.

    I am not necessarily convinced by these arguments but I also do not believe that Aquinas’ work on this topic is as rock-solid as many contend.

  43. Mark, (re: #41)

    If Jesus is God and Man, and has both a divine and human nature in one person, then how can the human nature not be forever “in time” with us, and the divine nature be eternal?

    Grace does not destroy nature; grace perfects and elevates nature. The incarnation did not destroy our human nature, but elevated it. We see that even in Christ’s resurrection and ascension. After Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space, Nikita Khrushchev said, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any God there.” Perhaps it is an understandable mistake on Khrushchev’s part; he was not even a theist, let alone a theologian. But Christ’s human nature is not in outer space, or on another planet. He did not ascend from the Mt. of Olives into “space;” but into heaven. We have some glimpses of Christ’s glory at the Transfiguration, and in His ability to disappear from the disciples at the table after the journey to Emmaus, and to enter the locked upper room and appear to the Apostles. In short, Christ’s human nature was elevated, deified. It now shares in the eternal Life of God, which is not the same as everlasting [temporal] existence, but is God’s very ever-present Life.

    Part of the hope of Christianity for me, is that the fullness (pleroma) of the Godhead dwells in him bodily. He knows and can feel what I do as a human. When I suffer I join in his sufferings because he first joined and took on all of our suffering. Isaiah 53.

    Of course. All that is true. But the hope of heaven is infinitely greater than Christ perpetually empathizing with our weaknesses and sufferings. The hope of heaven is that we too enter into the eternity of divine life. Christ’s resurrection and ascension is an example of our supernatural end. (See here.) It is our temporal existence that is limited, not God’s eternity. Strictly speaking, in the divination of His body, His human nature did not lose anything; it gained everything. He is not now less able to know what we feel as humans, even though He can never again suffer and die. If He could suffer and die again, there would be no hope of heaven.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  44. Dear Neal,

    Thank you for the reply, and for the interesting observations about my two claims. I think I agree with what you are saying. I agree that #2 (God does not decree all that He desires) does not need to be inconsistent with #1 (God ordains all that comes to pass but God is not the author of sin). But I do not think that #2 follows from #1 *if* #2 encompasses something more than #1. I think Jason put forward #2 as the Reformed position, but used #1 as his evidence.

    And, see, I am trying to pin down what is the traditional Reformed view and what is a more modern development to accommodate other theological or philosophical problems. I’m fine with modern developments in Reformed thought, but since some will argue for an “originalist” Reformed position, and others for one that’s more dynamic, I was only hoping to peg down what it was the Jason was putting forward. (And also to better understand the Reformed position myself, if this is a nuance I am not familiar with.) I was not trying to argue against either position at this time. I agree that Catholicism has had to wrestle with the interplay between God’s sovereignty and the existence of sin.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  45. Tom,

    Cool, dogg.

    And despite my tendency to butt in to others’ conversations, I’ll just have to let you get back to JJS with that one! Sorry to insert myself…. I just happened to have been thinking about topics in the neighborhood the day you posted that.

    Best,

    Neal

  46. Scott,

    I assume that you would agree that language is at least to some extent sufficient at describing God’s nature.

    In the sense of analogy yes. I don’t think any language we know of is sufficient to describe God absolutely, and even if there were such language, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. We can only speak of God analogously. (This does not connote something false – only something symbolic.)

    Therefore, when a narrative has a constant thread of God reacting to the actions of a person, such as the story of Jonah (great fish, tree for shade), it seems reasonable to consider this as much an accurate description of God’s nature as is done with other portions of scripture.

    We can’t learn something from a narrative in the Scriptures that we already know to be impossible of God. We know God is not mutable (and therefore does not react) by philosophical reasons. You cannot prove that God reacts from this passage anymore than you can prove that God did not know where Adam was when He asked, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)

    It is also interesting to note that many theologians argue for an analogical interpretation of only when the words in question seemed to refute accepted notions of God. When the words in question are supportive of preconceived ideas then the words are taken at face value (e.g God is love, merciful, gracious, etc.).

    Well even these words are taken as analogies. God’s love is not like ours (rather ours is like His). His love is the true love, our love is an image of that love. We see a good and are moved by it to love it. But God is not moved. His love is different than ours. Likewise, His mercy and grace – all different. Everything about God is different than us – there is no direct comparison, only analogies.

    To quote Sertillanges,

    God is a boundless plenitude, “an infinite and undetermined sea of substance,” devoid of any sort of landmark to serve as the basis of our distinctions or divisions. We can name and qualify Him only by means of creation, which reflects its Creator, as a tree witnesses to the existence of the hidden roots whence it draws its life.

    So far removed are God’s attributes from us, that we cannot simply say, e.g. that God is wise and man is wise. How can we use the same word to describe both? Not absolutely – only analogically. God’s wisdom is infinite and is thus identical with His nature. God’s wisdom is not distinct from His love – they are both, per simplicity, the same as His nature. Our wisdom is not only infinitely less than God’s wisdom – but also infinitely removed. Our wisdom is not our love and not identical with our nature.

    St. Chrysostom says,

    “It is impossible to say what God is in Himself, and it is more exact to speak of Him by excluding everything. Indeed He is is nothing of that which is. Not in the sense that He is not, but in the sense that He is above all that is, and above being itself.

    That is why we define God by saying what He is not rather than what He is (absolutely speaking). We have no words to describe what God absolutely is. But we do know what He is not: He is not changeable. He is not reactionary. He is not composite, etc.

    You said:

    However, these arguments are not truly about the nature of God but about the nature of action and attitude.

    Aquinas is claiming that the arguments *are* about the nature of God and he shows that philosophically. You’re making a counter-assertion (to the conclusions of his argument) without interacting with his argument or making your own argument. The rest of your statements depend on this counter-assertion. Aquinas doesn’t merely make assertions, he makes very specific philosophical arguments. If you want to deny his conclusions, then you can’t just assert the opposite. You would need to show why he has made a philosophical error and that the conclusions don’t follow from the premises.

    So with that in mind, can you explain which of the arguments on divine simplicity that you think are false and why?

  47. Although you point out that particular words are limited in describing the nature of God (e.g. wrath, anger, etc.) I assume that you would agree that language is at least to some extent sufficient at describing God’s nature. Surely the early creeds of the church rest on an assumption of the sufficiency of language. So, while the words in a particular story should not be overly pressed to be accurate descriptions of God’s nature, surely the theme of the narrative must have some weight as a whole beyond the separate words; otherwise there would be no way of knowing anything about God from scripture. Therefore, when a narrative has a constant thread of God reacting to the actions of a person, such as the story of Jonah (great fish, tree for shade), it seems reasonable to consider this as much an accurate description of God’s nature as is done with other portions of scripture.

    I suppose we need to ask what “sufficient” means in this context. The apophatic tradition runs deep in the Christian tradition. The Eastern Fathers are particularly insistent that the ousia of God transcends all human definition. God is incomprehensible, ineffable, unknowable, inexpressible. St Thomas Aquinas continues this tradition, with qualifications. Herbert McCabe states that Aquinas may well be the “most agnostic theologian in the Western tradition–not agnostic in the sense of doubting whether God exists, but agnostic in the sense of being quite clear and certain that God is a mystery beyond any understanding we can now have.” Only God understands, can understand, what he is.

    In what sense, therefore, is our language sufficient to describe God’s nature? I agree wholeheartedly that the story of Jesus in Israel is the story of God. I agree wholeheartedly that Christ is the self-revelation of God. But having said this, I don’t think this necessarily resolves the problem of untangling the truth of God from the anthropomorphism that is inevitable in any narrative rendering of God. The early Fathers, I think, recognized the problem and dealt with it in various ways.

  48. Bryan re:#43

    Thank you again. I will read the post regarding the ascension.

    Strictly speaking, in the divination of His body, His human nature did not lose anything; it gained everything. He is not now less able to know what we feel as humans, even though He can never again suffer and die. If He could suffer and die again, there would be no hope of heaven.

    I understand Christ not dying again, but suffering? Does not Christ suffer with His Church?

    Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
    (Colossians 1:24 ESV)

  49. My thoughts on justification: http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2010/06/love-and-debt.html

  50. Picking up on Fr Kimel’s #47, I taught I’d add a few points about Aquinas’s agnosticism. I remember when I first encountered some of Aquinas’s natural theology in my first philosophy of religion class. I was really surprised that one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) theologian and philosopher ever had such “flimsy” views (or so I thought at the time) about what we could know about God. I was taught that Aquinas believed we could never really know anything about God, we can only know what God is not.

    Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about Aquinas. And I now realize that what I was originally taught about Aquinas’s views is a little misleading; it’s not totally false, just not quite accurate. Aquinas holds the following propositions:

    1. Man’s knowledge of God is limited by man’s nature.
    2. God is not a member of a kind, and therefore cannot be strictly defined.
    3. Negative knowledge of God is real knowledge.

    The first point simply means that everything we know, we know through the standard means of knowing available to humans. To Scholastics (like Aquinas), that means that when it comes to immaterial things (like God and angels) we have a particularly hard time grasping them. That’s because Scholastic epistemology (which I think is largely correct) holds that all our knowledge *originates* in our senses. And a sense image, by definition, is something that is material. But when we think of things that are totally immaterial, it is nearly impossible to think about them without having some kind of image in mind. If we don’t recognize that, or if we fail to remember it, then we’re bound to distort the concept of what God is. And many Christian philosophers today do distort the (classical) concept of God. They make God into a kind of super-powerful extra terrestrial, or “a mind without a body.” (One prominent analytic Thomist today calls proponents of the latter ‘theistic personalists’ as opposed to ‘classical theists.’) If you bring the latter view to Aquinas, then Aquinas often seems incoherent.

    The second point—that God is not a member of a kind—is also (though not usually explicitly) denied by theistic personalists. A strict definition of a thing requires one to give the genus (or natural kind) the thing falls under and the specific attribute that distinguishes that thing from all others in that genus. For example, man falls under the genus (or natural kind) ‘animal.’ The specific attribute separating man from all other animals is the attribute of ‘rationality.’ Thus, man is defined as ‘a rational animal.’ But God isn’t a member of a kind that consists of other things. So we can’t, strictly speaking, define what God is. This is, principally, what Aquinas means when he says we can’t know what God is.

    The third point—that negative knowledge is real knowledge—is important too. Aquinas thinks that we can have (i) negative, univocal knowledge of God and (ii) positive, analogical knowledge of God. Negative knowledge just means that we can know that for anything ‘x’, and any attribute F, we can know ‘x is not F.’ So, for example, we can know, ‘God is not material.’ That’s negative knowledge. And it has real content. It really informs us about God, even though it doesn’t tell us the essence of what God is. This negative knowledge is ‘univocal.’ So we’re using material in the same sense when applied to God as when applied to chairs or people; namely, ‘composed of matter’, or ‘taking of space’, or ‘has a size’, or ‘has a shape’. But we can also know positive things about God too, just in an analogical sense. So when we say ‘God is loving,’ we’re not using ‘loving’ in the same exact sense when applied to dogs or people. Nevertheless, we’re using it in a similar sense. And, if (1) and (2) are true, then our positive knowledge of God just has to be univocal because (1) entails we perceive of immaterial things in a material-ish way [and thereby fail to fully and accurately understand them] and (2) keeps us from fully knowing what God is, because we can’t define Him.

  51. Mark, (re: #48)

    Christ no longer suffers, because He is in heaven, where there is no suffering. If Christ still suffered in heaven, then the Church would presently have no hope, because heaven would be no greater than this present life. Hell would reach up and destroy even the bliss of heaven. Our present sufferings do not make Christ suffer more now; our present sufferings, embraced in love for Him, consoled Him in the garden of Gethsemane. And our present sins added to the sufferings He endured in His Passion.

    As for Colossians 1:24, St. Paul is not teaching that Christ is presently suffering in heaven, but that Christ’s sufferings in His Passion and Death on the cross did not include the sufferings that must now be endured by the saints for the sake of His Body, the Church. In His sufferings, Christ ‘left room,’ as it were, for the sufferings of the saints, as a gift to us, because this is our way of participating in Christ’s sufferings, giving to Him in love and uniting with Him in loving sacrifice.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  52. Ryan (#50):

    That was a very nice, crisp summary of what I take to be the correct philosophical approach to God-talk. Or I should say it’s correct as far as it goes. It’s not really theology in the strict sense of the term, for it doesn’t take account of christology at all, as we must if we are to speak of God as we ought. Our savior is, after all, a man who is a divine person. This means that God has irrevocably joined himself to humanity in such a way that we can speak about God in relation to us in a way much closer to the literal than our talk of God in se.

    Best,
    Mike

  53. Thank you Bryan. This statement is beautiful:

    In His sufferings, Christ ‘left room,’ as it were, for the sufferings of the saints, as a gift to us, because this is our way of participating in Christ’s sufferings, giving to Him in love and uniting with Him in loving sacrifice.

    Lord Jesus let me always remember this.

  54. Ryan,

    -re #50

    Thank you for the summary – a summary I accept as esentially accurate. However, I am a little confused as to your meaning with regard to the last few sentences.

    You said (bold emphasis mine):

    “So when we say ‘God is loving,’ we’re not using ‘loving’ in the same exact sense when applied to dogs or people. Nevertheless, we’re using it in a similar sense“.

    This explanation highlights what is meant by “analogical” statements (as opposed to either univocal or equivocal).

    You then say (again bold emphasis mine)

    “And, if (1) and (2) are true, then our positive knowledge of God just has to be univocal because (1) entails we perceive of immaterial things in a material-ish way [and thereby fail to fully and accurately understand them] and (2) keeps us from fully knowing what God is, because we can’t define Him.”

    I am confused on two fronts.

    First. Can you clarify what you mean by applying the term “univocal” to “knowledge of God” as opposed to “statements about God”? I am not saying this makes no sense at all – and I think I understand what you are getting at; it is just that “uni-vocal, “equi-vocal“, etc. seem fitted as descriptives of statements per se. I am unclear about the meaning of a term such as “uni-vocal” when applied to “kowledge”?

    Secondly, assuming that it makes sense (in some sense :>) to speak of “knowledge” as “univocal”; then I can understand what you mean when you assert that 1 (negative, apophatic) knowledge of God is univocal – since we are indeed using terms univocally to assert a negation – i.e. “that which God is not”. I also agree that such “negative” knowledge is of real epistemic value. However, I fail to see (perhaps due to my confusion mentioned above) how it is that 2 (properly analogical statements about God) can be described as “univocal” knowledge. Analogy, as I understand it, is what it is, exactly by occupying linguistic ground between the univocal and the equivocal. I grant that “2) keeps us from fully knowing what God is, because we can’t define Him.”; but how does the true assertion “analogical statements about God keep us from fully knowing what God is“, translate into the conclusion that analogical statements about God result in “univocal” knowledge (again assuming that knowledge can be spoken of as “univocal”)?

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  55. Ray (re. #54),

    Thanks for your engagement. You caught a typo. In your second block quote you accurately quote what I wrote: “And, if (1) and (2) are true, then our positive knowledge of God just has to be univocal because…” But I should have said: “…just has to be analogical because….” I think that clears up most of your questions. Sorry about that.

    One other point you mentioned bears elaboration. You wrote:

    Can you clarify what you mean by applying the term “univocal” to “knowledge of God” as opposed to “statements about God”? …. it is just that “uni-vocal, “equi-vocal“, etc. seem fitted as descriptives of statements per se. I am unclear about the meaning of a term such as “uni-vocal” when applied to “knowledge”?

    I don’t mean any hard-and-fast division here. If our statements about God (whether negative or analogical) are true, then we can be said to have ‘knowledge of God’ or ‘knowledge about God.’ It’s just that the knowledge we have of/about God is colored by the type of predication we’re using. So, for example, if our statement is a negative statement, and it’s true, then our knowledge of God is a kind of negative knowledge. But it still has real content. Likewise, if our statement is analogical, and it’s true, then our knowledge of/about God is analogical knowledge. When we say we have knowledge of ‘x’, the object that we’re referring to is generally a real existent. It’s something in the real wordl. So we have ‘knowledge’ of or about *God*. But the mode of our knowledge, the way in which we have knowledge, the way in which we affirm or deny something of another, is (usually) propositional. So we have to use statements or propositiosn. (NB: I say “usually” beacuse we can have a kind of intuitive knowledge of or about God that is not propositional. But when we try to clearly state our knowledge we have to reduce that knowledge to propositions.) Does that answer your question?

  56. Ryan,

    You said, “if our statement is analogical, and it’s true, then our knowledge of/about God is analogical knowledge.”

    Right on. That’s exactly what I’m getting at in this article – our error on justification (and other doctrines) is when we start treating our analogical knowledge as if it were absolute or direct. Thus when our doctrine of justification depends on God “reacting” to something in us (whether partly of us or wholly of His gift) then we’re gonna get it wrong.

  57. Ryan,

    Yep – I wondered, given your preceeding comments, if that (analogical knowledge) was not what you meant to say – and yes, since our propositions are expressions of our thought, I quite agree that the way in which we use the terms (univocally, anologically, equivocally) within our propositions reflects the mode of knowing. Peace!

    Tim,

    Excellent article by the way, I am increasingly struck by the fact that very much of what divides we Catholics from our Protestant brothers and sisters is rooted in substantial differences as regards our underlying philosophical (or lack thereof) outlook. Justification is one of the most glaring examples of this problem because it involves, not only differences/confusion with regard to “God-Talk”; but also a philosophical nominalism vs ontologism bound up in the respective understanding of Justification as either “imputation” or “infusion/participation”.

    Your pipe smoking pal,

    -Ray

  58. Ray (re. #57),

    You wrote:

    I am increasingly struck by the fact that very much of what divides we Catholics from our Protestant brothers and sisters is rooted in substantial differences as regards our underlying philosophical (or lack thereof) outlook.

    I think this is exactly right, and it’s certainly my personal experience. As a lifelong (and still) Protestant, I earned philosophy and theology degrees in undergrad (at a Protestant school). It was only years later, while continuing my education, that I began to see a kind of shallowness in much of contemporary analytic metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. I think analytic philosophy has developed perhaps the most rigorous form of argumentation ever, but much of its content is so unsatisfying.

    That led me to St. Thomas and the Scholastics. And I soon noticed that much of Catholic thought incorporates Scholastic insights. That, in turn, led me to begin givening RC a hearing, which in turn, led me to this site. All those turns have led to me being the waffling Protestant I am today. There are still a few (intellectual) hurdles to overcome before converting is inescapable. And then, if those hurdles are overcome, God help me with the relational hurdles that will come.

  59. Ryan,

    Woah! Spooky similarities. I was a hyper-skeptical agnostic for several years via the continental Euorpean tradition (via Descarte, Hume, Kant and others) rather than the anglo-American analytic tradition. I too found St. Thomas (the philosopher) and recovered a working and sane “realism”, though I failed at the time to dig deep into Thomas due to his reputation as a famous theologian – having no firm commitment as a theist (Christian or otherwise). Via the influence of CS Lewis and others, I eventually returned to the protestantism of my youth. I moved from non-denominational fundamentalism (briefly) to Reformed (several years) to Eastern Orthodoxy (about a year) and finally, against every natural impulse, I and my family entered the Catholic Church in 1999 (and my love for her has only deepened since then). The issues were primarily epistemic and historical – but I am sure you are working through the same sort of things. And yes, the relational hurdles were – shall we say – ugly. However, I can hold out an olive branch. In my case, those initial relational conflicts have largely healed with time. Therefore, if you do overcome those hurdles and cross the Tiber, know that such a crossing does not always entail permenant relational damage. I will try and remember you in my prayers.

    Pax et Bonum!

    -Ray

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