Imputation and Infusion: A Reply to R.C. Sproul Jr.May 11th, 2011 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
In “Imputation, Infusion and Eternal Consequence: A Parable,” R.C. Sproul Jr. recently claimed that the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (St. Luke 18: 9-14) not only supports the Reformed notion of imputation over the Catholic doctrine of infusion, but also shows that those holding the Reformed doctrine of imputation are justified, while those holding the Catholic doctrine of infusion “will spend eternity weeping and gnashing teeth.”
Sproul appeals to the Pharisee’s use of “Lord, I thank you” as evidence that the Pharisee knows that he needs the grace of God, that the power to make him righteous came from God, and that God deserves all the glory for his obedience to God. The Publican too, notes Sproul, knows that he needs grace from God. Thus, according to Sproul, the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican does not lie in their awareness of the divine origin of grace and righteousness. They both know that grace and righteousness come from God.1
According to Sproul, the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican is this: the Pharisee believes that God’s grace has “made him whole” while the Publican knows that he is an unrighteous sinner. Because of this difference, claims Sproul, the Publican will spend eternity walking with God, while the Pharisee will spend eternity weeping and gnashing his teeth. But here’s the kicker. According to Sproul, the Publican’s belief that he is an unrighteous sinner corresponds to the Reformed view of the extra nos imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, while the Pharisee’s belief that he has been made righteous by the grace of God corresponds to the Catholic doctrine of the infusion of Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, according to Sproul, this parable shows that holding either the Reformed view of imputation or the Catholic doctrine of infusion has eternal consequences. Because Reformed Christians, like the Publican, believe that they are unrighteous sinners having the righteousness of Christ only imputed to them, not infused in them, they will spend eternity walking with God in paradise. But because orthodox Catholics, like the Pharisee, believe that Christ’s righteousness has been infused into them, they will spend eternity in hell, weeping and gnashing their teeth.
Before replying to Sproul’s argument, let’s consider some excerpts from the Church Fathers and teachers, concerning this parable:
I. General Excerpts from the Church Fathers on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican
II. Collation from the Catena Aurea on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican
III. Reply to Sproul
Then, in the case of the publican, who excelled the Pharisee in prayer, [we find] that it was not because he worshipped another Father that he received testimony from the Lord that he was justified rather [than the other]; but because with great humility, apart from all boasting and pride, he made confession to the same God. (Against Heresies, Bk IV, chapter 36)
And yet, when He introduces to our view the Creator’s temple, and describes two men worshipping therein with diverse feelings— the Pharisee in pride, the publican in humility— and shows us how they accordingly went down to their homes, one rejected, the other justified, Luke 18:10-14 He surely, by thus teaching us the proper discipline of prayer, has determined that that God must be prayed to from whom men were to receive this discipline of prayer— whether condemnatory of pride, or justifying in humility. (Against Marcion, Bk IV)
But we more commend our prayers to God when we pray with modesty and humility, with not even our hands too loftily elevated, but elevated temperately and becomingly; and not even our countenance over-boldly uplifted. For that publican who prayed with humility and dejection not merely in his supplication, but in his countenance too, went his way more justified than the shameless Pharisee. (On Prayer)
But since he says, in addition to this, What is this preference of sinners over others? and makes other remarks of a similar nature, we have to reply that absolutely a sinner is not preferred before one who is not a sinner; but that sometimes a sinner, who has become conscious of his own sin, and for that reason comes to repentance, being humbled on account of his sins, is preferred before one who is accounted a lesser sinner, but who does not consider himself one, but exalts himself on the ground of certain good qualities which he thinks he possesses, and is greatly elated on their account. And this is manifest to those who are willing to peruse the Gospels in a spirit of fairness, by the parable of the publican, who said, Be merciful to me a sinner, and of the Pharisee who boasted with a certain wicked self-conceit in the words, I thank You that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. For Jesus subjoins to his narrative of them both the words: This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted. We utter no blasphemy, then, against God, neither are we guilty of falsehood, when we teach that every man, whoever he may be, is conscious of human infirmity in comparison with the greatness of God, and that we must ever ask from Him, who alone is able to supply our deficiencies, what is wanting to our (mortal) nature. (Contra Celsus, Bk III)
And let not the worshipper, beloved brethren, be ignorant in what manner the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple. Not with eyes lifted up boldly to heaven, nor with hands proudly raised; but beating his breast, and testifying to the sins shut up within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. And while the Pharisee was pleased with himself, this man who thus asked, the rather deserved to be sanctified, since he placed the hope of salvation not in the confidence of his innocence, because there is none who is innocent; but confessing his sinfulness he humbly prayed, and He who pardons the humble heard the petitioner. (Treatise 4)
And, to mention nothing else, there are many who exalt themselves above their neighbours, thereby causing great mischief. For the boast of fasting did no good to the Pharisee, although he fasted twice in the week Luke 18:12, only because he exalted himself against the publican. (Letter 1)
What say I, brethren? Not that I am a sinless person; not that my life is not full of numberless faults. I know myself; and indeed I cease not my tears for my sins, if by any means I may be able to appease my God, and to escape the punishment threatened against them. But this I say: let him who judges me, hunt for motes in my eye, if he can say that his own is clear. I own, brethren, that I need the care of the sound and healthy, and need much of it. If he cannot say that it is clear, and the clearer it is the less will he say so— (for it is the part of the perfect not to exalt themselves; if they do they will certainly come under the charge of the pride of the Pharisee, who, while justifying himself, condemned the publican) let him come with me to the physician; let him not judge before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. (Letter 204)
In our very prayers, too, modesty is most pleasing, and gains us much grace from our God. Was it not this that exalted the publican, and commended him, when he dared not raise even his eyes to heaven? Luke 18:13-14 So he was justified by the judgment of the Lord rather than the Pharisee, whom overweening pride made so hideous. Therefore let us pray in the incorruptibility of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, 1 Peter 3:4 as St. Peter says. A noble thing, then, is modesty, which, though giving up its rights, seizing on nothing for itself, laying claim to nothing, and in some ways somewhat retiring within the sphere of its own powers, yet is rich in the sight of God, in Whose sight no man is rich. Rich is modesty, for it is the portion of God. Paul also bids that prayer be offered up with modesty and sobriety. 1 Timothy 2:9 He desires that this should be first, and, as it were, lead the way of prayers to come, so that the sinner’s prayer may not be boastful, but veiled, as it were, with the blush of shame, may merit a far greater degree of grace, in giving way to modesty at the remembrance of its fault. (On the Duties of the Clergy)
I know, he says, how to be abased. Philippians 4:12 An untaught humility has no claim to praise, but only that which possesses modesty and a knowledge of self. For there is a humility that rests on fear, one, too, that rests on want of skill and ignorance. Therefore the Scripture says: He will save the humble in spirit. Gloriously, therefore, does he say: I know how to be abased; that is to say, where, in what moderation, to what end, in what duty, in which office. The Pharisee knew not how to be abased, therefore he was cast down. The publican knew, and therefore he was justified. (On the Duties of the Clergy, Bk II)
St. John Chrysostom
When lately we made mention of the Pharisee and the publican, and hypothetically yoked two chariots out of virtue and vice; we pointed out each truth, how great is the gain of humbleness of mind, and how great the damage of pride. For this, even when conjoined with righteousness and fastings and tithes, fell behind; while that, even when yoked with sin, out-stripped the Pharisee’s pair, even although the charioteer it had was a poor one. For what was worse than the publican? But all the same since he made his soul contrite, and called himself a sinner; which indeed he was; he surpassed the Pharisee, who had both fastings to tell of and tithes; and was removed from any vice. On account of what, and through what? Because even if he was removed from greed of gain and robbery, he had rooted over his soul the mother of all evils— vain-glory and pride. … Whereas he publicly came forward as an accuser of the whole world; and said that he himself was better than all living men. And yet even if he had set himself before ten only, or if five, or if two, or if one, not even was this endurable; but as it was, he not only set himself before the whole world, but also accused all men. On this account he fell behind in the running. And just as a ship, after having run through innumerable surges, and having escaped many storms, then in the very mouth of the harbour having been dashed against some rock, loses the whole treasure which is stowed away in her— so truly did this Pharisee, after having undergone the labours of the fasting, and of all the rest of his virtue, since he did not master his tongue, in the very harbour underwent shipwreck of his cargo. For the going home from prayer, whence he ought to have derived gain, having rather been so greatly damaged, is nothing else than undergoing shipwreck in harbour.
Knowing therefore these things, beloved even if we should have mounted to the very pinnacle of virtue, let us consider ourselves last of all; having learned that pride is able to cast down even from the heavens themselves him who takes not heed, and humbleness of mind to bear up on high from the very abyss of sins him who knows how to be sober. For this it was that placed the publican before the Pharisee; whereas that, pride I mean and an overweening spirit, surpassed even an incorporeal power, that of the devil; while humbleness of mind and the acknowledgment of his own sins committed brought the robber into Paradise before the Apostles. Now if the confidence which they who confess their own sins effect for themselves is so great, they who are conscious to themselves of many good qualities, yet humble their own souls, how great crowns will they not win. For when sinfulness be put together with humbleness of mind it runs with such ease as to pass and out-strip righteousness combined with pride. If therefore thou have put it to with righteousness, whither will it not reach? Through how many heavens will it not pass? By the throne of God itself surely it will stay its course; in the midst of the angels, with much confidence. On the other hand if pride, having been yoked with righteousness, by the excess and weight of its own wickedness had strength enough to drag down its confidence; if it be put together with sinfulness, into how deep a hell will it not be able to precipitate him who has it? These things I say, not in order that we should be careless of righteousness, but that we should avoid pride; not that we should sin, but that we should be sober-minded. For humbleness of mind is the foundation of the love of wisdom which pertains to us. Even if you should have built a superstructure of things innumerable; even if almsgiving, even if prayers, even if fastings, even if all virtue; unless this have first been laid as a foundation, all will be built upon it to no purpose and in vain; and it will fall down easily, like that building which had been placed on the sand. For there is no one, no one of our good deeds, which does not need this; there is no one which separate from this will be able to stand. But even if you should mention temperance, even if virginity, even if despising of money, even if anything whatever, all are unclean and accursed and loathsome, humbleness of mind being absent. Everywhere therefore let us take her with us, in words, in deeds, in thoughts, and with this let us build these (graces). (Concerning Lowliness of Mind)
The publican was accepted only from his humility, the Pharisee perished by his boastfulness. (Homily 17 on 1 Timothy)
For I would not that our virtue should be rendered vain by accusing others. What was worse than the Publican? For it is true that he was a publican, and guilty of many offenses, yet because the Pharisee only said, I am not as this publican, he destroyed all his merit. (Homily 2 on 2 Timothy)
[Jesus] roots out in what remains the most tyrannical passion of all, the rage and madness with respect to vainglory, which springs up in them that do right. … It behooved therefore first to implant virtue, and then to remove the passion [i.e. vainglory] which mars its fruit. And see with what He begins, with fasting, and prayer, and almsgiving: for in these good deeds most especially it [i.e. vainglory] is wont to make its haunt. The Pharisee, for instance, was hereby puffed up, who says, I fast twice a week, I give tithes of my substance. (Luke 18:12) And he was vainglorious too in his very prayer, making it for display. For since there was no one else present, he pointed himself out to the publican, saying, I am not as the rest of men, nor even as this publican. (Luke 18:11) (Homily 19 on Matthew)
Many are elated on account of their humility; but let not us be so affected. Have you done any act of humility? Be not proud of it, otherwise all the merit of it is lost. Such was the Pharisee, he was puffed up because he gave his tithes to the poor, and he lost all the merit of it. (Luke 18:12) But not so the publican. Hear Paul again saying, I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified. (1 Cor. 4:4) Do you see that he does not exalt himself, but by every means abases and humbles himself, and that too when he had arrived at the very summit. (Homily 2 on Philemon)
For, Judge not, says He, that you be not judged: Matthew 7:1 since he too who spoke evil of the publican was condemned, although it was true which he laid to his neighbor’s charge. (Homily 44 on 1 Corinthians)
Pride is opposed to humility, and through it Satan lost his eminence as an archangel. The Jewish people perished in their pride, for while they claimed the chief seats and salutations in the market place, Matthew 23:6-7 they were superseded by the Gentiles, who had before been counted as a drop of a bucket. Isaiah 40:15 Two poor fishermen, Peter and James, were sent to confute the sophists and the wise men of the world. As the Scripture says: God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5 Think, brother, what a sin it must be which has God for its opponent. In the Gospel the Pharisee is rejected because of his pride, and the publican is accepted because of his humility. (Letter 12)
Yet for all that the publican with his humble confession of his faults went back justified far more than the Pharisee with his arrogant boasting of his virtues. (Letter 77)
The publican in the Gospel who smote upon his breast as though it were a magazine of the worst thoughts, and, conscious of his offenses, dared not lift up his eyes, is justified rather than the proud Pharisee. And Thamar in the guise of a harlot deceived Judah, and in the estimation of this man himself who was deceived, was worthy of the words, Genesis 38:26 Thamar is more righteous than I. All this goes to prove that not only in comparison with Divine majesty are men far from perfection, but also when compared with angels, and other men who have climbed the heights of virtue. You may be superior to some one whom you have shown to be imperfect, and yet be outstripped by another; and consequently may not have true perfection, which, if it be perfect, is absolute. (Against the Pelagians, Bk. I)
But inasmuch as faith belongs not to the proud, but to the humble, [Jesus] spoke this parable unto certain who seemed to themselves to be righteous, and despised others. … The Pharisee in the Gospel did indeed call himself just, but yet he gave thanks to God for it. He called himself just, but yet he gave God thanks. I thank You, O God, that I am not as the rest of men. I thank You, O God. He gives God thanks, that he is not as the rest of men: and yet he is blamed as being proud and puffed up; not in that he gave God thanks, but in that he desired as it were no more to be added unto him. I thank you that I am not as the rest of men, unjust. So then you are just; so then you ask for nothing; so then you are full already; so then the life of man is not a trial upon earth; so then you are full already; so then you abound already, so then you have no ground for saying, Forgive us our debts! What must his case be then who impiously impugns grace, if he is blamed who give thanks proudly? (Sermon 65 on the New Testament)
Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up to the temple? The one boasted of his sound estate, the other showed his wounds to the Physician. For the Pharisee said, I thank You, O God, that I am not as this publican. He gloried over the other. So then if that publican had been whole, the Pharisee would have grudged it him; for that he would not have had any one over whom to extol himself. In what state then had he come, who had this envious spirit? Surely he was not whole; and whereas he called himself whole, he went not down cured. But the other casting his eyes down to the ground, and not daring to lift them up unto heaven, smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Sermon 87 on the New Testament)
How shall we, says our author, escape sharing the condemnation of the Pharisee, if we fast twice in the week? Luke 18:11-12 As if the Pharisee had been condemned for fasting twice in the week, and not for proudly vaunting himself above the publican. He might as well say that those also are condemned with that Pharisee, who give a tenth of all their possessions to the poor, for he boasted of this among his other works; whereas I would that it were done by many Christians, instead of a very small number, as we find. Or let him say, that whosoever is not an unjust man, or adulterer, or extortioner, must be condemned with that Pharisee, because he boasted that he was none of these; but the man who could think thus is, beyond question, beside himself. Moreover, if these things which the Pharisee mentioned as found in him, being admitted by all to be good in themselves, are not to be retained with the haughty boastfulness which was manifest in him, but are to be retained with the lowly piety which was not in him; by the same rule, to fast twice in the week is in a man such as the Pharisee unprofitable, but is in one who has humility and faith a religious service. (Letter 36)
Hence also those two are set forth praying in the Temple, the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican, for the sake of those who seem to themselves just and despise the rest of men, and the confession of sins is set before the reckoning up of merits. And assuredly the Pharisee was rendering thanks unto God by reason of those things wherein he was greatly self-satisfied. I render thanks to You, says he, that I am not even as the rest of men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers, even as also this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all things whatsoever I possess. But the Publican was standing afar off, not daring to lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beating his breast, saying, God be merciful unto me a sinner. But there follows the divine judgment, Verily I say unto you, the Publican went down from the Temple justified more than that Pharisee. Then the cause is shown, why this is just; Forasmuch as he who exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoso humbles himself shall be exalted. Therefore it may come to pass, that each one both shun real evils, and reflect on real goods in himself, and render thanks for these unto the Father of lights, from Whom comes down every best gift, and every perfect gift, and yet be rejected by reason of the sin of haughtiness, if through pride, even in his thought alone, which is before God, he insult other sinners, and specially when confessing their sins in prayer, unto whom is due not upbraiding with arrogance, but pity without despair. … [L]et not man, now that he knows that by the grace of God he is what he is, fall into another snare of pride, so as by lifting up himself for the very grace of God to despise the rest. By which fault that other Pharisee both gave thanks unto God for the goods which he had, and yet vaunted himself above the Publican confessing his sins. (On Holy Virginity)
Forgive us our debts, we say, and we may well say so; for we say the truth. For who is he that lives here in the flesh, and has no debts? What man is there that lives so, that this prayer is not necessary for him? He may puff himself up, justify himself he cannot. It were well for him to imitate the Publican, and not swell as the Pharisee, who went up into the temple, and boasted of his deserts, and covered up his wounds. Whereas he who said, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner, knew wherefore he went up. (Sermon 8 on the New Testament)
He is far from the proud: He is near to the humble. For though the Lord is high, yet has He respect unto the lowly. But let not those that are proud think themselves to be unobserved: for the things that are high, He beholds afar off. He beheld afar off the Pharisee, who boasted himself; He was near at hand to succour the Publican, who made confession. Luke 18:9-14 The one extolled his own merits, and concealed his wounds; the other boasted not of his merits, but laid bare his wounds. (Exposition on Psalm 40)
Let us then drive away from our ears and minds those who say that we ought to accept the determination of our own free will and not pray God to help us not to sin. By such darkness as this even the Pharisee was not blinded; for although he erred in thinking that he needed no addition to his righteousness, and supposed himself to be saturated with abundance of it, he nevertheless gave thanks to God that he was not like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers, or even as the publican; for he fasted twice in the week, he gave tithes of all that he possessed. Luke 18:11-12 He wished, indeed, for no addition to his own righteousness; but yet, by giving thanks to God, he confessed that all he had he had received from Him. Notwithstanding, he was not approved, both because he asked for no further food of righteousness, as if he were already filled, and because he arrogantly preferred himself to the publican, who was hungering and thirsting after righteousness. (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants, Bk II)
For that publican, who would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner, Luke 18:13 was a sinner; but since he was not proud, and since God will render a recompense to the proud; the pit is being dug not for him, but for them that are such, until He render a recompense to the proud. (Exposition on Psalm 94)
Pride also beyond all other passions disturbs the mind of man. And hence the very frequent warnings against it. It is moreover a contempt of God; for when a man ascribes the good he does to himself and not to God, what else is this but to deny God? For the sake then of those that so trust in themselves, that they will not ascribe the whole to God, and therefore despise others, He puts forth a parable, to show that righteousness, although it may bring man up to God, yet if he is clothed with pride, casts him down to hell. … It is said “standing,” to denote his haughty temper. For his very posture betokens his extreme pride. … Observe the order of the Pharisee’s prayer. He first speaks of that which he had not, and then of that which he had. As it follows, That I am not as other men are. … It becomes us not only to shun evil, but also to do good; and so after having said, I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, he adds something by way of contrast, I fast twice in a week. They called the week the Sabbath, from the last day of rest. The Pharisees fasted upon the second and fifth day. He therefore set fasting against the passion of adultery, for lust is born of luxury; but to the extortioners and usurists he opposed the payment of tithes; as it follows, I give tithes of all I possess; as if he says, So far am I from indulging in extortion or injuring, that I even give up what is my own. … Although reported to have stood, the Publican yet differed from the Pharisee, both in his manner and his words, as well as in his having a contrite heart. For he feared to lift up his eyes to heaven, thinking unworthy of the heavenly vision those which had loved to gaze upon and wander after earthly things. He also smote his breast, striking it as it were because of the evil thoughts, and moreover rousing it as if asleep. And thus he sought only that God would be reconciled to him, as it follows, saying, God, be merciful. … But should any one perchance marvel that the Pharisee for uttering a few words in his own praise is condemned, while Job, though he poured forth many, is crowned, I answer, that the Pharisee spoke these at the same time that he groundlessly accused others; but Job was compelled by an urgent necessity to enumerate his own virtues for the glory of God, that men might not fall away from the path of virtue.
Since faith is not a gift of the proud but of the humble, our Lord proceeds to add a parable concerning humility and against pride. … His fault was not that he gave God thanks, but that he asked for nothing further. Because you are full and abounds, you have no need to say, Forgive us our debts. What then must be his guilt who impiously fights against grace, when he is condemned who proudly gives thanks? Let those hear who say, “God has made me man, I made myself righteous. O worse and more hateful than the Pharisee, who proudly called himself righteous, yet gave thanks to God that he was so. … He might at least have said, “as many men;” for what does he mean by “other men,” but all besides himself? “I am righteous, he says, the rest are sinners.” … See how he; derives from the Publican near him a fresh occasion for pride. It follows, Or even as this Publican; as if he says, “I stand alone, he is one of the others.” … If you look into his words, you will find that he asked nothing of God. He goes up indeed to pray, but instead of asking God, praises himself; and even insults him that asked. The Publican, on the other hand, driven by his stricken conscience afar off, is by his piety brought near. … Why then marvel you, whether God pardons, since He himself acknowledges it. The Publican stood afar off, yet drew near to God. And the Lord was nigh to him, and heard him, For the Lord is on high, yet has he regard to the lowly. He lifted not so much as his eyes to heaven; that he might be looked upon, he looked not himself. Conscience weighed him down, hope raised him up, he smote his own breast, he exacted judgment upon himself. Therefore did the Lord spare the penitent. You have heard the accusation of the proud, you have heard the humble confession of the accused Hear now the sentence of the Judge; Verily I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
“He prayed with himself,” that is, not with God, his sin of pride sent him back into himself. It follows, God, I thank you. … The difference between the proud man and the scorner is in the outward form alone. The one is engaged in reviling others, the other in presumptuously extolling: himself. … In like manner it is possible to be honorably elated when your thoughts indeed are not lowly, but your mind by greatness of soul is lifted up towards virtue. This loftiness of mind is seen in a cheerfulness amidst sorrow; or a kind of noble dauntlessness in trouble i a contempt of earthly things, and a conversation in heaven. And this loftiness of mind seems to differ from that elevation which is engendered of pride, just as the stoutness of a well-regulated body differs from the swelling of the flesh which proceeds from dropsy.
There are different shapes in which the pride of self-confident men presents itself; when they imagine that either the good in them is of themselves; or when believing it is given them from above, that they have received it for their own merits; or at any rate when they boast that they have that which they have not. Or lastly, when despising others they aim at appearing singular in the possession of that which they have. And in this respect the Pharisee awards to himself especially the merit of good works. … So it was pride that laid bare to his wily enemies the citadel of his heart, which prayer and fasting had in vain kept closed. Of no use are all the other fortifications, as long as there is one place which the enemy has left defenseless.
To despise the whole race of man was not enough for him; he must yet attack the Publican. He would have sinned, yet far less if he had spared the Publican, but now in one word he both assails the absent, and inflicts a wound on him who was present. To give thanks is not to heap reproaches on others. When you returns thanks to God, let Him be all in all to you. Turn not your thoughts to men, nor condemn your neighbor. … He who rails at others does much harm both to himself and others. First, those who hear him are rendered worse, for if sinners they are made glad in finding one as guilty as themselves, if righteous, they are exalted, being led by the sins of others to think more highly of themselves. Secondly, the body of the Church suffers; for those who hear him are not all content to blame the guilty only, but to fasten the reproach also on the Christian religion. Thirdly, the glory of God is evil spoken of for as our well-doing makes the name of God to be glorified, so our sins cause it to be blasphemed. Fourthly, the object of reproach is confounded and becomes more reckless and immovable. Fifthly, the ruler is himself made liable to punishment for uttering things which are not seemly. … He heard the words, that I am not as the Publican. He was not angry, but pricked to the heart. The one uncovered the wound, the other seeks for its remedy. Let no one then ever put forth so cold an excuse as, I dare not, I am ashamed, I cannot open my mouth. The devils have that kind of fear. The devil would fain close against you every door of access to God. … This parable represents to us two chariots on the race course, each with two charioteers in it. In one of the chariots it places righteousness with pride, in the other sin and humility. You see the chariot of sin outstrip that of righteousness, not by its own strength but by the excellence of humility combined with it, but the other is defeated not by righteousness, but by the weight and swelling of pride. For as humility by its own elasticity rises above the weight of pride, and leaping up reaches to God, so pride by its great weight easily depresses righteousness. Although therefore you are earnest and constant in well doing, yet think you may boast yourself, you are altogether devoid of the fruits of prayer. But you that bears a thousand loads of guilt on your conscience, and only think this thing of yourself that you are the lowest of all men, shall gain much confidence before God. And He then goes on to assign the reason of His sentence. For every one who exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted. The word humility has various meanings. There is the humility of virtue, as, A humble and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. There is also a humility arising from sorrows, as, He has humbled my life upon the earth. There is a humility derived from sin, and the pride and insatiability of riches. For can any thing be more low and debased than those who grovel in riches and power, and count them great things? … This inflation of pride can cast down even from heaven the man that takes not warning, but humility can raise a man up from the lowest depth of guilt. The one saved the Publican before the Pharisee, and brought the thief into Paradise before the Apostles; the other entered even into the spiritual powers. But if humility though added to sin has made such rapid advances, as to pass by pride united to righteousness, how much swifter will be its course when you add to it righteousness? It will stand by the judgment-seat of God in the midst of the angels with great boldness. Moreover if pride joined to righteousness had power to depress it, to what a hell will it thrust men when added to sin? This I say not that we should neglect righteousness, but that we should avoid pride.
Typically, the Pharisee is the Jewish people, who boast of their ornaments because of the righteousness of the law, but the Publican is the Gentiles, who being at a distance from God confess their sins. Of whom the one for His pride returned humbled, the other for his contrition was thought worthy to draw near and be exalted.
Sproul claims that the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican is a difference in belief. According to Sproul, the Pharisee believes that God’s grace has made him whole, while the Publican believes that he is an unrighteous sinner. Sproul then uses this difference in belief (between the Pharisee and the Publican) to argue that believing the Reformed conception of imputation grants justification and eternal life in heaven with God, while believing the Catholic doctrine of infusion leads to eternal weeping in gnashing of teeth in hell.
However, it needs to be pointed out that from the Pharisee’s “God, I thank You …,” we are not warranted in concluding that the Pharisee knows that he needed the grace of God, that God had to work in him, or that God is due all the glory for his obedience. His expression “God, I thank You …” may have been the use of religious language as a pretense of piety, not sincere gratitude for what he recognized to be a gift from God. Even a Pelagian could thank God for the power he has by nature to accomplish good works. So thanking God for his state, even if the gratitude was sincere, does not show that the Pharisee recognized that he had received grace from God. It surely does not show that he thought of himself as having received by infusion the righteousness of Christ. So Sproul’s insinuation that the Pharisee’s position corresponds to that of the Catholic is already an unwarranted claim.
But, setting that problem aside, what we see throughout the Church Fathers’ comments on this passage of Scripture is that the reason why the Publican goes down to his house justified and the Pharisee does not, is not fundamentally because of an intellectual error on the part of the Pharisee concerning his own condition. Strictly speaking, the Pharisee uttered no false statement in his prayer, so far as we know. Rather, according to the Church Fathers the Pharisee went away not justified, because he was full of pride, while the Publican possessed true humility. Though pride distorts our conception of ourselves, nevertheless, pride and humility reside first and fundamentally in the will, not the intellect. Hence the relevant soteriological difference between the Pharisee and the Publican was not an intellectual or doctrinal difference, but that the former was full of pride, while the latter had true humility.
The Pharisee’s pride condemned him, not his awareness of his external obedience in other areas. And for this reason the case of the Pharisee does not justify the conclusion that those who believe that through baptism they have received by infusion the righteousness of Christ are ipso facto unjustified or condemned. The infusion of Christ’s righteousness does not entail the presence of (or need for) pride any more than does the extra nos imputation of Christ’s righteousness. When St. Paul wrote, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11), he was not giving the Corinthian believers a ground for pride or vainglory, by reminding them that they had truly been sanctified. The sin of pride does not necessarily accompany the infusion of righteousness merited for us by Christ; it if did, we could never become internally righteous, not even in heaven. This is why what caused the Pharisee to go away unjustified does not necessarily accompany believing the Catholic doctrine concerning infusion. But Sproul’s argument assumes that believing the Catholic doctrine regarding infusion entails the error of the Pharisee in the parable. Of course a Catholic could, like the Pharisee, fall into the sin of pride. So could a Christian of any tradition, including those in the Reformed tradition. But because the sin of pride is not entailed by the Catholic doctrine of infusion, therefore the conclusion of Sproul’s argument does not follow.
The person who has received righteousness by infusion knows that he still possesses concupiscence (see the section “V. Errors Regarding the Removal of Sin Through Baptism” in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 7.”), that in comparison to the saints and angels (and God Himself) he is an unrighteous, unworthy sinner, and that he has a long, long way to go in growing in sanctification. He knows that he sins venially at least seven times a day. In the lives of the saints we find that the greater the saint, the more clearly he sees his remaining sinfulness. That’s the paradox. And yet, that does not entail the Lutheran or Reformed notion of simul iustus et peccator, precisely because of the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin (see comment #58 in the “St. Augustine on Faith without Love” thread for an explanation and defense of that distinction).
In the Reformed picture, all sin (both mortal and venial) is compatible with having received extra nos imputation. Hence a person can be simultaneously justified and in [mortal] sin. But the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin explains why mortal sin is incompatible with being in a state of grace and righteousness, while venial sin is compatible with being in a state of grace and righteousness. And so the person who has received Christ’s righteousness by infusion is, at the same time, truly righteous (because he has agape in his soul — see Romans 5:5), and yet still in continual need of conversion and repentance in turning away from venial sin, and asking daily for the forgiveness of such sins. (See “Reformed Imputation and the Lord’s Prayer.”) He has no ground for the pride exhibited by the Pharisee; he has every reason like the Publican to beat his chest in contrition and humility, asking the Lord to have mercy on him.
The difficulty, from the Reformed point of view, is understanding how a person can be truly righteous internally, while still having concupiscence and venial sin. In baptism, the sanctifying grace and agape merited for us by Christ on the cross are infused into our souls; we have the spirit of the law in our hearts, even while concupiscence remains in our lower passions and appetites, and even when we commit venial sins. Agape is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8, 10, Gal. 5:14, James 2:8), because agape is the standard of the law. And agape is in the will.2 Therefore righteousness in its essence is in the will, while concupiscence is not in the will, but in the lower appetites. Just because a person has disorder in his lower appetites, it does not follow that he is not righteous before God, because as long as he has agape in the will (i.e. he loves God with the supernatural love by which God loves Himself), he is truly a friend of God, even if he has disordered lower appetites which he resists with his will, because of his love for God. That is why if we have agape in our soul, we are truly righteous, even though we still have concupiscence. We grow in agape not by moving from some percentage of agape (and hence from unrighteousness or enmity with God) to a higher percentage of agape, but by growing in our participation in agape, from a state of friendship with God, to a state of deeper friendship with God.3
So, in short, the mistake in Sproul’s argument is assuming that the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican is that the Pharisee believes that God’s grace has “made him whole” while the Publican knows that he is an unrighteous sinner. According to the Church Fathers, the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican is not fundamentally a doctrinal or intellectual difference, but that the former had the sin of pride, while the latter possessed the virtue of humility. And for that reason, Sproul’s conclusion that believing the Catholic doctrine of infusion grants one an eternal destiny of weeping and gnashing of teeth along with the Pharisee, does not follow. However, Catholics can agree with Sproul that we all should put on the humility Christ reveals in the parable, beating our breasts and crying out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”