Doug Wilson Weighs in on the Eternal Fate of Faithful Catholics

May 12th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In an article titled “Doug Wilson says faithful Catholics will go to hell,” David Meyer recently posted a video in which Doug Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho responded to the question, “Will faithful Roman Catholics be in Heaven?”

Will Faithful Roman Catholics go to heaven from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

His simple answer is, “Of course, and of course not.” He explains, “If someone is a faithful Roman Catholic in the sense that they have memorized the Council of Trent and they do everything, they follow, they understand the teaching of the Roman Church, and they follow it, and they trust in that teaching—I don’t believe that such a person can be saved.”

On the other hand he also believes that there are many Roman Catholics who are “saved people” who nonetheless have inconsistencies in their belief. He explains this by saying that such Catholics rationalize or don’t really hold deep down to the Catholic teachings which Pastor Wilson believes would send them to Hell if they truly believed them the way the Catholic Church teaches them, such as the Church’s teaching on the veneration of Holy Images, which he holds to be idolatry.

I asked Pastor Wilson about such inconsistencies and what he would think about a specific intelligent faithful Catholic he knows who certainly believes and understands the teachings of the Catholic Church. As an example I used the influential orthodox Catholic thinker Robert George, who spoke at New St. Andrews’ College in Moscow’s commencement last year. He said he respected and enjoyed meeting Robert George, but gave this example to explain where he sees a person in George’s position:

For example, a man is told that it is okay to approach God through images, and he does so. Through various internal workarounds and rationalizations and inconsistencies (that I don’t understand), he manages to maintain a true faith in Jesus despite this. But without those rationalizations he would fall into idolatry simpliciter, be more consistent, and would be lost.

But this leaves us with an apparent contradiction. In the video, Wilson says the faithful Catholic who believes the Church’s teaching cannot be saved. Now he says that a faithful Catholic like Robert George can be saved as long as he has these internal workarounds.

Presumably the iconodule and the Catholic who believes the Council of Trent and the rest of Catholic dogmatic teaching both have “simple faith in Christ,” since having such a simple faith in Christ is a fundamental part of Catholic teaching, that is, if he doesn’t have simple faith in Christ, he doesn’t believe Trent. The only discernible difference seems to lie with the Council of Trent itself, notable for its formulation of justification which does not exclude works from the process of salvation in the same way the Reformation solas do.

The Protestant Must Protest

The Protestant, to remain Protestant, must hold that the issues that still divide Rome and Geneva are issues where salvation is at stake. If they are not, they are issues that do not justify continued schism within the body of Christ and they can and should have been worked out in the first place at the Reformation within the context and authority of the Catholic Church.

But Wilson knows there are Catholics who believe every last jot and tittle of Catholic teaching, but clearly have faith in Christ. If salvation is by faith alone, as the Reformed hold, workarounds must be provided for those Catholics who clearly have faith in Christ, but only so big as to allow for the admission of the iconodule, not the one who holds to the Tridentine formula on justification. Otherwise the Protestant protest necessarily dissolves.

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus

The issue really boils down to what is meant by the ancient teaching that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Recognizing its importance, the Reformed try to hold to this teaching as well, as the Westminster Confession says:

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.—Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV, II

But this gets tricky when you don’t believe that Jesus founded a visible, institutional Church. The lines get more and more blurry, since you dare not exclude your fellow Protestants from the fold despite the fact that, from the Reformed view, they have their own confusions on justification just as serious as the Catholic’s. But keeping the lines clear and distinct is all the more crucial for the Reformed Christian since he believes that his confessions are, in fact, the purest expression of the Christian faith.

Catholicism—More to Lose, More to Give

The irony is that the Catholic Church has much more on the line and yet considers outsiders in a much more gracious way than the Reformed. This is in part because of the great confidence the Catholic Church has in who and what she is. Since the fullness of the Church subsists in the Church in union with the Bishop of Rome, she has nothing to fear from other claimants to the title of “Truest Expression of the Christian Faith.”

And, given that the Catholic Church puts no boundaries on the reach of the grace of God, it is no stretch and no threat for the Church to proclaim that there are those outside the Catholic Church who could be saved, but any and all that are saved will be saved through the Catholic Church.

For the Church to proclaim that some outside her visible bounds may be saved, but that they will be saved by some form of communion with her doesn’t bring up the same inconsistencies that Pastor Wilson faces in holding that salvation is by faith in Christ alone but that there are those who have faith in Christ who cannot be saved.

The Catholic understanding of salvation is, in the end, a relational understanding, not a forensic one. So it does not trouble the Catholic Church to say that the Reformed person who holds to the Westminster Confession with all his heart but knows, loves and serves Jesus Christ will be accepted into eternal life. He is certainly at a serious disadvantage in the pursuit of holiness without all seven sacraments Christ gave the Church for that purpose, but the fundamental question is that of man’s will in relation to His God.

Certainly, invincible ignorance is a precondition for one who holds to heretical doctrines to be saved, but that ignorance is not contingent on the beliefs one holds. Invincible ignorance is ignorance of true doctrine that cannot be dispelled by moral diligence, which is intimately tied to the will. Simply believing and trusting the Westminster confession is not, on its own, a damnable offense, unlike Wilson’s example of the Catholic who holds to Trent and the rest of the Church’s teaching who cannot, in his estimation, be saved.

So, while maintaining absolute rigidity on the truths handed down from Christ to the Apostles, the Catholic Church is simultaneously untroubled by letting the streams of grace run where they will. There is no one who, in Pastor Wilson’s language, “could not be saved” on the basis of doctrinal opinion. And thanks be to God for that.

73 comments
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  1. I wonder whether he thinks of the early church fathers. How many of them are in hell? Many of them wrote on the issue of icons. Can we assume the ones that did are all damned?

    But Wilson knows there are Catholics who believe every last jot and tittle of Catholic teaching, but clearly have faith in Christ. If salvation is by faith alone, as the Reformed hold, workarounds must be provided for those Catholics who clearly have faith in Christ, but only so big as to allow for the admission of the iconodule, not the one who holds to the Tridentine formula on justification. Otherwise the Protestant protest necessarily dissolves.

    I don’t think he solves this issue. The Catholics he wants to include don’t have inconsistent positions. Many of them have had their theology scrutinized over and over in debate with protestants. It is not that they believe a contradiction. It is that they believe Catholicism.

  2. I have been discussing Wilson’s video with David Meyer and Charlie Long over at “Doug Wilson says faithful Catholics will go to hell.” There I wrote:

    It makes no sense to think that what makes a person damnable is his believing that God infuses righteousness into him on account of Christ, and doesn’t merely count him righteous while he remains actually unrighteous. Even if Doug thinks that is a theological error, it is hard to see why he thinks believing that ‘error’ damns a person. It is like being damned eternally for getting a math problem wrong.

  3. [...] A recent Called to Communion post caught my eye. In it, Matt Yonke addresses the following claim by Doug Wilson: [...]

  4. I am an ecumenical catholic from Turin, Italy. Please, edit mistakes: my native tongue is not English.
    I think that the Lutherans are right on the idea of evangelical perfection. We can be perfect before Jesus according the exhortation of the Gospel (Matthew, 5, 48) and we are sinner at the same time as it is acknowledged by the publican at the temple (Luke, 18, 13).
    I think that, because of the Orginal Sin, only through God’s grace (John, 15, 5) we can do the works without which faith itself is dead (James, 2, 17; James, 2, 26; Mark, 8, 33)
    I think salvation depends on Christ’s Judgment whether our faith is or is not authentic. As there are also false prophets (Matthew, 7, 16).
    I think that since God is omnipotent, He can predestinate, but this predestination is not as meant by John Calvin, it is simply an election that does not make the elected man infallible. Only Jesus Christ, sharing the very divine nature within the Trinity, had an infallible predestination or election.
    I think that grace cannot be resisted but – at the same time – that it can be lost because of mortal sins.
    I have summarized in an extreme way my point of view which can be read only in Italian in a more extensive way.

  5. I watched Wilson’s video interview a week ago or more, so perhaps my memory is fuzzy–but I understood him to simply be saying that Catholics who depend upon Christ for their salvation will be saved. He even said he thinks there will be “lots of Catholics” in heaven. Conversely, he said that Catholics who rely on memorizing the Council of Trent or other “works” (instead of relying on Christ) will not be saved. I don’t expect my Catholic friends to fully embrace his comments, but I thought it was a pretty non-controversial opinion for a Protestant pastor (though maybe not to those Protestants who think there will be NO Catholics in heaven). The headline “Doug Wilson says faithful Catholics will go to hell” is misleading at best.

  6. @Bryan

    In your blog post you wrote “The Reformed believe in ecclesial deism, and hold to a “conservative” religion that is merely another century’s liberalism.” which I think is a deliciously startling statement.

    I would ask which century? The Reformed and Protestant churches of today don’t all hold to the doctrines of their predecessors, of Luther, Calvin or the Carolinian Divines (yes I am an Anglican). So the liberalism is in a sense more recent. I suspect that the Carolinians if faced with the Rome of today (outside the process of history and Catholic counter-reformation) would be heading back towards communion rather than away. Even Calvin may find himself closer to Rome than the current progeny of Geneva.

    @Matt

    From what Doug says I suspect the question could be asked of the Orthodox, the Orientals, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the Methodists and others who willing use icons and images in worship. Over Doug’s shoulder is a book called ‘Saved by Grace’, but it is your post that demonstrates a true ‘liberalism’, the liberality of God’s grace. Thank you.

  7. Hello Eddie, (re: #6)

    “New Christendom” is not my blog; it is David Meyer’s blog. Those words you quoted, i.e. “The Reformed believe in ecclesial deism …” are David’s words, not mine. But I think he’s reading this thread, so he might pipe in with a reply to your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  8. It seems to me that Mr. Wilson’s attitude can be chalked up to blowback from him himself being accused of being “catholic” from certain sectors of the Reformed. Let us not forget that his own ties to the Federal Vision controversy has made his own salvation suspect. http://classic-web.archive.org/web/20070928130145/http://rpcus.com/content/Resolutions.pdf Thus I find Mr. Wilson’s attitude towards Catholics to on one hand be informed by his own personal studies of scripture and wrestling with its truths and on the other hand his attempts to re-establish his Reformed street credentials.

    I also find his argument to be quite Pelagian. If cognitive affirmation of position X is what damns a person but cognitive affirmation of position Y is what saves a person, that is simply pulling oneself up by one’s own boot straps — even if we couch position Y in terms of “you can only say position Y because God makes you say position Y” that is simply an unverifiable opinion. I also find his position not to be consistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is quite clear in its section on justification that Faith/belief is not what justifies, rather it is by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. Thus cognitive affirmations of position X cannot be said to damn a person nor can affirmation Y be said to be that which saves. There is no foundation to rest those opinions on because, being only cognitive affirmations, they remain forever disassociated from the world outside the intellect.

    Mr. Wilson, by his own words, does not understand the theology of icons. This I find surprising both because of his degrees in philosophy and as a leader in the “classical christian” educational movement within the Reformed world. While an individual might not agree with the theology of icons, if they have some background in neo-platonism they will understand the arguments just fine. Furthermore if an individual can understand the philosophical and metaphysical questions surrounding the Christological controversies of the seven ecumenical councils, one will clearly see that the iconoclast position is inconsistent from within that philosophical framework. This is why a denial of icons is ultimately a Christological issue and indicates a problem in the individuals understanding of the hypostatic union.

  9. Charlton.

    What I think was implied by his statement is that if a Catholic actually believes the doctrines laid out on the Council of Trent than that Catholic cannot be saved.

    I don’t know that he was literally saying that only Catholics who had every word of Trent memorized were in that boat. (who does?)

    It sounds to me like he is saying that many Catholics will be in heaven but inspite of the doctrines the Catholic Church teaches – but only if they ‘internally’ don’t actually believe those doctrines.

  10. I just watched it again, and my memory was correct. He says “many Catholics will be saved”, but only those who trust in Christ for their salvation, and not those who trust in Church teachings (“instead of Christ”, I think, is reasonably implied). I don’t think he’s commenting on the substance of Trent at all, though I’m pretty sure he’s not a fan. He is certainly not saying that Catholics are damned because of what they believe. Rather, he explicitly states the opposite: even though (in his opinion) Catholics hold some erroneous beliefs, salvation is by grace, and many Catholics (the ones who trust in Christ for salvation) will be saved in spite of those erroneous beliefs.

    I can’t believe this is really news. “Reformed Protestant Pastor believes in salvation by grace alone”–not all that shocking.

  11. The irony is that the Catholic Church has much more on the line and yet considers outsiders in a much more gracious way than the Reformed. This is in part because of the great confidence the Catholic Church has in who and what she is. Since the fullness of the Church subsists in the Church in union with the Bishop of Rome, she has nothing to fear from other claimants to the title of “Truest Expression of the Christian Faith.”

    Matt,

    I think you are absolutely correct that the Reformed limit the extent of those who are saved much more narrowly than do Catholics. This is especially true after Vatican II where it is explicitly stated that even those who do not profess Christ or have a twisted understanding of Christ (as in Islam) can be saved (through the RCC of course). But is this really an example of the Reformed being less gracious? Matthew says that “….narrow is the gate….and few are they who who find it.” So how narrow is the gate? And if I define the gate more narrowly than you, are you necessarily being more gracious than I am?

    My understanding is that if someone is baptized into the Catholic Church and does not commit any type of sin which would imperil their soul that you would assume such a person is saved. Is that correct?

  12. Charlton — Thanks for the comments. I think the problem is that Pastor Wilson fails to distinguish between the Catholic who believes the teachings of the Church and the Catholic with the workarounds. If Robert George can be considered a Catholic with workarounds, I don’t think there could be any such thing as a Catholic who actually believes the Church’s teachings.

    Also, in some of the discussion surrounding this video here and elsewhere, an explanation has been introduced that Pastor Wilson was only condemning Catholics who “trust in Catholicism” for their salvation. Some have even ventured that Protestants who “trust in Protestantism” would be equally damned. I’m not quite sure what is meant by this. Pastor Wilson specifically called out Catholics who believe and trust in the teachings of the Roman Church. Well we all do. That’s why we’re Catholics. We wouldn’t be Catholics if we didn’t.

    It seems like the distinction exists, as I theorized in my post, to maintain the justification of the continued schism — so they can still people, “No, you still stand a good chance of going to Hell if you’re a Catholic.” But with all these workarounds and so many Catholics in Heaven, it just doesn’t seem like it’s as big a threat as he’s making it out to be.

  13. Andrew — Thanks for the comments. I think the passage you brought up gets at a different aspect of the discussion. When we preach the gospel, sure, we emphasize the holiness of God, the seriousness of sin and the reality of Hell. But this is more an internal question about who God is and how he treats people.

    I think a lot of the differences in our perspectives comes down to different views of the human will. In the Catholic understanding, God does not violate human will and will is one of the largest components in determining what is and isn’t serious sin.

    Which ties into your last question. Yes, if someone was baptized (Catholic or not, at least in the Triune name with the intent to do what the Church does) and avoided mortal sin till his death, yes, such a person would be saved.

    Now, other than folks who didn’t reach the age of reason, I don’t know too many people who have never committed a mortal sin (defined as a sin having serious matter, full consent of the will and full knowledge of what you’re doing and that it’s wrong). So other than children who die in the faith, I wouldn’t think too many people would find themselves in that position. But that’s why sacramental confession is so very very awesome! But that’s another topic for another time.

  14. @ Andrew McCallum #11

    No that wouldn’t be correct. The Catholic would hope that such a person shall be saved. That an individual would appear to us to have not committed any type of sin that would imperil their soul would increase our confidence that the person shall be saved. The rubrics for a funeral Mass for a very bad Catholic is exactly the same as the Mass of the most pious Catholic — the focus is on mercy and hope. Even a “sinless” individual is not owed salvation. This is because heaven is not our end according to the natural order but it is our end according to grace. Thus even a sinless individual (such as Mary) is in need of grace to see heaven.

    In my experience, Reformed are much more limiting in the extent of those who are saved when it comes to external things than Catholics. For Reformed, it often boils down to specific intellectual ascent to the particular understandings of what justification is according to one’s local pastor. Even in Calvin, you have this idea that unless one is apart of his specific community, one is not saved. Catholicism has always stated that being part of the visible Church is not necessary for salvation. Catholicism, on the other hand, is a bit more limiting than Reformed when it comes to internal things. For example a non-Catholic is saved only in so far as that which the individual does is in union with Christ. This goes for the Catholic as well. The Reformed, on the other hand are much more liberal when it comes to internal things because what a person does and who the person is morally does not affect one’s salvation in the least.

    This I find to be the irony of the imputed vs. infused debate. The imputed person views salvation as adherence to narrow externals (these and that cognitive affirmations and worshiping at that community on Sunday) but very broad internals where as the infused person has very broad externals but very narrow internals (saved only in so far as the individual is in synergistic union with God). The infused position is the position that gives the greater glory to God because scripture is quite clear that what is important to God is not externals (like the Pharisee) but rather internals (like the Plebian) because we can only truly glorify God if we are internally righteous — external righteousness counts for nothing if we are not internally righteous.

  15. Nathan said: The Catholic would hope that such a person shall be saved. That an individual would appear to us to have not committed any type of sin that would imperil their soul would increase our confidence that the person shall be saved.

    OK, so I will qualify my previous statement to say that if someone is baptized into the Catholic Church and does not commit any type of sin which would imperil their soul that you would have no reason to doubt their salvation and you have reason to hope that such a person is saved. Now would agree with that?

    In my experience, Reformed are much more limiting in the extent of those who are saved when it comes to external things than Catholics. For Reformed, it often boils down to specific intellectual ascent to the particular understandings of what justification is according to one’s local pastor.

    No, it does not boil down to intellectual assent, although assent is certainly involved. You could not, for instance, assent to Pelagian understanding of Christ’s work and be saved. What it does boil down to for us is whether a person has has lived for Christ which (and here I think we may be getting into what Wilson is saying) may or may not be present in the the “good” Catholic. This is why I ask you the question. It seems to us that being a good Catholic is many cases a formality that has to do with rites and sacraments. The Catholic who receives much sacramental grace may be someone who is striving for Christ or may be someone who seems to have very little interest in the internal matters of the heart. But Catholicism seems to make no distinction in terms of the ultimate state of these individuals.

    Concerning infusion, we don’t deny infusion of God’s grace as necessary, we just don’t understand the works which are part of this infusion to be part of that which God uses to justify us.

  16. I think a lot of the differences in our perspectives comes down to different views of the human will. In the Catholic understanding, God does not violate human will and will is one of the largest components in determining what is and isn’t serious sin.

    Matt,

    Yes, I think the relationship between grace and free will is a difference between us although historically it has also been a point of intramural debate within the RCC. I’m thinking here of the Thomist/Molinist debate. We Reformed would say that God does not violate the will but then neither is the will free apart from God’s grace. The Reformed see the emphasis on the primacy of the will in the Catholicism as problematic although we recognize that this is the position of only some Catholic theologians.

  17. @Andrew McCallum #15

    I may have confidence that an individual might be in heaven, and I certainly hope so and pray so, and that confidence might be quite great especially if I know with reasonable certainty that the individual lived a good and holy life, but being that I am not God nor do I have the capacity to speak for the Church, I do not have certitude that that individual is in heaven. The Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, alone, as she does only that which Her head wills her to do, can give me certitude that an individual is in heaven. A saint is someone that, through the grace of God, it has been revealed to the Church that, through deeds and words, the individual is in heaven.

    It is important to avoid both the sins of despair and presumption, and instead rest in Christian hope when it comes to those that have died. We are not permitted to despair and say that so and so is in hell nor are we permitted to be presumptious and, on our own independently of Christ’s Mystical Body, say that so and so is in heaven. We must instead practice the theological virtue of hope, which gives us often great confidence (but not certitude) that an individual was counted amongst the elect and shall see heaven.

    Practically speaking your system does boil down to intellectual assent. I say this because what is “living for Christ”? Is this not more properly understood as sanctification? Being that in the Reformed system sanctification does not save/justify then this “living for Christ” shouldn’t be part of the discussion as to whether or not an individual is in heaven. Mr. Wilson though on this point is not exactly Reformed. There is a sense in which he views sanctification as part of salvation, which is exactly why he got into trouble http://classic-web.archive.org/web/20070928130145/http://rpcus.com/content/Resolutions.pdf . We can see this view of his regarding sanctification informing his view that some Catholics are saved (because they are “living for Christ”) but also, as I suggested above, that he is trying to get back his Reformed street creed by saying that Catholics, if they hold to an intellectual ascent to Trent on justification cannot be saved.

    Anyway if we look at justification in the traditional Reformed sense, the intellectual affirmation of “imputed justification” is the fruit of having been so justified. Given that you cannot demonstrate imputed justification (because it is instantaneous and also an “unwritten” juridical declaration of the Father) all one has to indicate that one has been so justified is the intellectual affirmation. This is why, as you said, one cannot intellectually assent to Pelagian understanding and be saved — the Pelagian lacks the only verifiable “fruit” while the Reformed has the verifiable “fruit” of justification. I say it boils down to intellectual ascent because imputed justification is wholly unverifiable (the formula does not appear in scripture — it is an a priori presupposition). God declares me to be just and I know that this is true because I ascent to that statement is a circular argument. All one has to go on as to whether or not a person is justified is the intellectual affirmation. (all that do not affirm are not saved and (at best) some who affirm are saved (this last though runs afoul of irrestable grace)).

    For Catholics, the rites and the sacraments are ones participation in the life of Christ. If one is not participating in the sacraments, the prayers, the liturgical worship, and the teaching of the Apostles, there is a lack of communion going on between the individual and Christ. The sacraments are both external and internal things — the outwardly signify the inner transformation of the individual in Christ. Thus for Catholics there exists verifiably that an individual is being saved — it is not enough to intellectually ascent to a belief, one must actually live that belief out and participate in the life of Christ, which finds its fullness in the common life of the Church — which is obvious since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ — if one does not do that which the body does, one is not progressing in justification.

    You wrote But Catholicism seems to make no distinction in terms of the ultimate state of these individuals. Actually it does. The Beatific Vision is not equal for everyone in heaven. (nor are the pains of hell equal for everyone in hell). One’s eternal reward is dependent upon the degree of their conformity to Christ. Everyone in heaven is in full synergistic union with God (essentially a reverse hypostatic union) but the depth of this union is unique to the individual according to the individual’s capacity. Putting it another way, and more biblically, the crown of the martyr is greater than the crown of the last minute penitent. Both though are in heaven.

    Personally I don’t know how Reformed can believe in “infused grace” as grace, according to Reformed is simply “divine approval, full stop”. You cannot infuse an attitude. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/pelagian-westminister/#comment-9572

    You wrote Concerning infusion, we don’t deny infusion of God’s grace as necessary, we just don’t understand the works which are part of this infusion to be part of that which God uses to justify us. Its pretty easy. For Catholic’s, you need to trace the concept of justification back to the Hebrew and not use the pagan concept of justification. In Hebrew tzedak is justice/justification and tzekahah is charity. They are related concepts. Justification properly is the application of charity so that an individual who is lacking/out of communion/missing the mark/sinning is brought back into communion. Charity is the loving self giving of the one who has to the one who has not so that the one who has not might be in communion with the one that has. The problem with sinful man is that he doesn’t have life in him — he has killed his life because he has sinned and has placed himself outside of communion with God. God, who is love/charity, resolves this problem by giving his own very life to man who has no life. God allows man to have a participation in His own life and nature — this is synergism. Thus one who has God’s life in him is saved and one who does not have God’s life in him is not saved. Why works are involved in salvation and not just faith is because life is activity — it is being and having fecundity. What is the internal life of the Trinity? It is the mutual self exchange of love — the Father pours himself out into the Son and the Son receives and pours himself back in love to the Father — this eternal mutual self exchange of persons is so profound that it spirates the Holy Spirit. This is the eternal work of the Trinity (the internal eternal economy of the Trinity) Why are works important? Because charity is a work — one is not justified or being justified if one does not love God back. This love is not an emotion or an affect — we are not talking about that type of love here. It is the self gift of the self for the sake of the beloved. God gives Himself to us so that we might give what is received and ourselves back to Him. Only in this completed loop do we say that an individual is justified/being justified. Without works, faith is dead because an individual cannot be saved if he doesn’t love God back – he cannot be saved if he does not participate in God’s very own life. Participation of course is an action. Luther changed the understanding of faith to fiducial faith, or trust. Is trusting in God to do X justification? No. One cannot simply trust God to do X because salvation is co-operation and participation in the divine life which work. God doesn’t do everything for us, rather He gives to us life so that we might be able to live, and the life that we life and work out is His own very life. If we do not work, that is live life in communion with His life, we do not have salvation. God doesn’t life for us, rather we must live with Him. It is in this mutual co-operative life that one finds salvation.

  18. If memory serves me, I think the great Anglican divine Richard Hooker said that we are justified by faith alone not by our belief in justification by faith alone.

  19. Andrew,

    This is why I ask you the question. It seems to us that being a good Catholic is many cases a formality that has to do with rites and sacraments. The Catholic who receives much sacramental grace may be someone who is striving for Christ or may be someone who seems to have very little interest in the internal matters of the heart.

    It would depend, I guess, on how much one admits ex opere operato is in play. Further, and to the point, when I approach the sacraments I approach them as a means of encountering Christ. They are intimate and sanctifying moments of experiencing our Risen Lord. I, by faith, believe that Christ condescends to meet me–a pure act of grace in the ordinary way He established dispensing those encounters. My disposition is correlative to what I receive but not correlative to what I am given.

    See CCC 1128

    But Catholicism seems to make no distinction in terms of the ultimate state of these individuals.

    I think the CC goes to great pains to not qualify the damned, but goes to excessive pains to qualify the redeemed. (wide vs. narrow)

    In Christ,

    Brent

  20. Andrew M. (re #15)-

    You said:

    What it does boil down to for us is whether a person has lived for Christ…

    You used the phrase “boil(s) down to”… So what I’m wondering is this: Are you saying that whether or not someone is justified is dependent upon whether or not he lived his life for Christ?

    I know that’s a simple yes or no question. But since you said things “boil down” to that, I hope it’s fair of me to pose the question that way.

    Thank you!

  21. I may have confidence that an individual might be in heaven, and I certainly hope so and pray so, and that confidence might be quite great especially if I know with reasonable certainty that the individual lived a good and holy life, but being that I am not God nor do I have the capacity to speak for the Church, I do not have certitude that that individual is in heaven.

    OK, so I was at a Catholic funeral some years ago where everyone who knew the man in question had no interest in spiritual matters and was entirely antagonistic to religion in general and Christianity in particular. At the funeral we were told by the priest that we had every hope to think that this man had inherited eternal life. Now I suppose you could dismiss the priest in this case as a liberal, but I think that the more obvious answer was that the priest was just acting on what he knew. He knew that this man had been baptized into the RCC and had never distanced himself from the RCC by any overt act, so the conclusion was that he was saved. So what do you think is the mistake in the priest’s conclusion, if any?

    From the Reformed side, if this same person had professed faith in Christ alone but then had proceeded to live the unfortunate life of rejection of Christ that this man did, we would have with great certitude concluded that this man did not know Christ and had no part in eternal life. The external profession was not what the matter boils down to but rather whether someone lives for Christ or not.. This is not presumption, it is just affirming what Christ and His Apostles said about the Christian life. It’s not about intellectual assent or participation in certain rituals which saves or dams, but rather about being regenerated by God’s grace and living for Him. The process of course begins with justification, but does not end with justification.

    Practically speaking your system does boil down to intellectual assent. I say this because what is “living for Christ”? Is this not more properly understood as sanctification? Being that in the Reformed system sanctification does not save/justify then this “living for Christ” shouldn’t be part of the discussion as to whether or not an individual is in heaven.

    I understand where you are going here Nathan, but keep in mind that we don’t know who is justified. Anyone can say that they believe that they trust in the grace of God and Christ’s death alone to save them. Words are cheap. But this hardly gives evidence (in the sense that James speaks of evidence) that someone is saved. This is the kind of thing that I think Doug Wilson is getting at – can we say whether or not there is evidence in someone’s life that they are a Christian? When someone comes into a Reformed congregation and applies for membership of course we will ask them what the basis is for their belief that they are saved. But this is just the starting point. If someone says they are saved but has no evidence that they are saved then we will conclude that they do not (or at least may not) know Christ. Our issue with Catholicism at this point is that membership into an RCC congregation is often just a formality. It’s just mental assent to the authority of the RCC and a willingness to be baptized. This is further evidenced in the differing philosophies between Reformed and Catholic concerning discipline of its members. To take one example, how many Catholics do you suppose are disciplined for fornication in a typical Catholic congregation? The reason why Reformed do discipline in this manner is precisely because the Christian life and our relationship to God do not boil down to just mental assent to the Reformed doctrine of justification.

    Note also the relationship between regeneration and justification in the Reformed system. People are not justified in God’s site without being regenerated.

    I say it boils down to intellectual ascent because imputed justification is wholly unverifiable (the formula does not appear in scripture — it is an a priori presupposition). God declares me to be just and I know that this is true because I ascent to that statement is a circular argument. All one has to go on as to whether or not a person is justified is the intellectual affirmation. (all that do not affirm are not saved and (at best) some who affirm are saved (this last though runs afoul of irrestable grace)).

    This is just completely incorrect, Nathan, and a complete understanding of the Reformed system. What we have to go on begins with the intellectual affirmation but we also (and more to the point in the context of this thread) look to the evidence of whether there is any justification in someone’s life.

    For Catholics, the rites and the sacraments are ones participation in the life of Christ. If one is not participating in the sacraments, the prayers, the liturgical worship, and the teaching of the Apostles, there is a lack of communion going on between the individual and Christ. The sacraments are both external and internal things — the outwardly signify the inner transformation of the individual in Christ. Thus for Catholics there exists verifiably that an individual is being saved — it is not enough to intellectually ascent to a belief, ….

    And here you hit on just the problem in the Catholic system. We all know of folks who assiduously follow the rites and practices of Catholicism but have little understanding of basic Christian morality. What of such a person in your view, Nathan? Again there seems to be little to no differentiation in the Catholic system between two people who consistently practice the rites of Catholicism, one who consistently demonstrates that they are following Christ by their actions and the other who does not.

    Personally I don’t know how Reformed can believe in “infused grace” as grace, according to Reformed is simply “divine approval, full stop”.

    Well it’s not full stop, and you saying so just means you have not understood Reformed thought. The difference between Catholic and Reformed is not over whether God infused grace into us, but whether the works associated with this infusion provide in any sense a basis for our justification before God. We say that we are not saved by works, but we are saved unto them. It does not stop with justification because justification and sanctification are vitally linked, as are justification and regeneration. Please understand the vital link between regeneration and justification in Reformed theology. Reformed soteriology will make so much more sense if you do.

    I hope I have also addressed the other questions in my post to Nathan here, but let me know if not.

    Cheers for now…..

  22. One other thought, Nathan. We don’t generally use the term “infusion” in Reformed soteriology, but this is not because we don’t believe that God makes us truly holy in brining us to Him. We affirm with no reservation the fact that God really and truly changes a person when they are united to Christ. We don’t use the term “infusion” to describe this because of the baggage that the term brings with it.

  23. Andrew (re: #21),

    Nathan wrote: Personally I don’t know how Reformed can believe in “infused grace” as grace, according to Reformed is simply “divine approval, full stop”.

    You replied: “Well it’s not full stop, ”

    According to Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, it is full stop. He wrote:

    We Protestants don’t have “created grace” we have “favor” with God. It’s not a “thing.” It’s not some “stuff.” It’s God’s attitude toward us. Full stop.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  24. @ Andrew McCallum #22

    I am not sure that it is just because of the baggage — besides I find in that statement of yours an underlying notion that words only have meaning in so far as we assign meaning to those words — a bit of nominalism perhaps? ;-p If a word is true, then it should be used. If you believe in that which infusion means then one should use that word else one will be forever accused of denying the concept which the word represents. Granted in ecumenical discussions it is perhaps best to write out in full the concept which the word represents but in in-house discussions between Reformed “infusion” should be used if that is in fact what is believed.

    The reason why I say “I am not sure” is this: For Catholics and Orthodox, salvation in its full sense is eschatological union with God (if this is not what Reformed believe, then Reformed and Catholics do not have the same concepts of savlation/heaven/etc.). If what is being infused are natural attributes/qualities/essences, then we are not really talking about salvation but rather simply a change in man’s nature to a higher, but still natural, state. If what is being infused is God’s own divine life, His nature, we can only speak of this in terms of synergism and view that reality as directly mirroring the hypostatic union. If so, then the Reformed view of monergistic forensic imputed justification is not actually justification because in such a state the individual is not at a state of eschatological union with God, and it is only in the synergism of infused grace the “living in Christ”, that one actually finds oneself justified. So that is why I am not sure…and to pull this back to Mr. Wilson is why he got into trouble because as soon as one starts stressing “living in Christ” and infusion, it creates a problem with forensic only justification. (as a note, Trent doesn’t condemn forensic justification — it condemns forensic only justification).

    A question for you: If you say that we become united to Christ, does that not also mean (as St. Paul says) that we are also united to the Cross? Now if on the Cross, as Reformed teach, Christ experienced the fullness of the wrath of the Father, and we are so united to Christ and the Cross, does that not mean that the individual so united to Christ experiences the fullness of the wrath of the Father as well? If so, how is that salvation when that is precisely the thing (the wrath of the Father that He has been storing up from the foundation of the world) that the Cross and imputed justification is supposed to deliver us from.

  25. @Andrew McCallum #21

    OK, so I was at a Catholic funeral some years ago where everyone who knew the man in question had no interest in spiritual matters and was entirely antagonistic to religion in general and Christianity in particular. At the funeral we were told by the priest that we had every hope to think that this man had inherited eternal life. Now I suppose you could dismiss the priest in this case as a liberal, but I think that the more obvious answer was that the priest was just acting on what he knew. He knew that this man had been baptized into the RCC and had never distanced himself from the RCC by any overt act, so the conclusion was that he was saved. So what do you think is the mistake in the priest’s conclusion, if any?

    Well first of all we only act on that which we know — that is all that we can do. The priest in question acts based on what he has been taught, what he has studied, and what he has chosen to accept. Because I was not at the funeral, let me assume that the funeral Mass was by the book and not some nonsense. The mistake though I find to be perhaps in your conclusion. There is a world of difference between concluding that an individual has been saved and hoping that an individual was saved. Just because someone hopes that someone is saved doesn’t mean that they think that the individual is saved. If the priest said we have all the reason in the world to hope that so and so is saved, that is fine (if a bit rash given the circumstances of the individual’s life). If he said that we have reason to know that so and so is saved, he is transgressing the Faith because that is not something that is given to him to know. You are not clear on saying whether or not the priest said that the individual was in fact in heaven.

    When it comes to the virtue of hope, and this is important, hope means that we must hope for the salvation of even the worst of us. We are obliged to hope and pray even for the worst. Thus our prayers for the dead are the same for all — we hope and pray that that individual might be gathered to the Lord and that they might find mercy and not the fires of hell.

    The problem today is that most people across the Christian spectrum sin grievously against the Holy Spirit by either presuming that people are saved or despairing that they were not saved. Christians are called to hope because we know that God is on the side of the sinner, even the worst of us.

    Factoid: While only Catholics can have a Catholic burial, a Mass for the Dead can be said for any person regardless of their religion. This is because, as Catholics, we hope for the salvation of all not just the salvation of Catholics. We hope for mercy but we also know that the way people lived their lives have consequences and those that lived their lives distant from God might find that to also be the case in the next — yet we hope and pray, always.

    From the Reformed side, if this same person had professed faith in Christ alone but then had proceeded to live the unfortunate life of rejection of Christ that this man did, we would have with great certitude concluded that this man did not know Christ and had no part in eternal life.

    Ah but see this is not what Luther or WCF teach. Luther taught that it was faith that saved (specifically the faith at baptism which was the moment of initial justification — he differs here from Reformed) and that a fortunate or unfortunate life afterward has no impact on the salvation of the individual. The WCF (XVII-XVIII) teaches that if a person has been justified the person will be saved regardless of the presence or absence of subsequent fruit. The fruit only indicate, thus can only give confidence but not certitude. The situation exists that the only assurance that can be given for an individual that they had been “imputed” and thus justified is if they have the presence of the affirmation of imputed justification, which is viewed as the primary fruit of having been justified. If this fruit doesn’t exist, and especially if that concept is explicitly denied, Reformed theology considers there to be great certitude that the individual is not saved. However, if this affirmation did exist, then there exists great assurance that the individual is justified. This assurance exists regardless of the amount of subsequent fruit. This is why Reformed are “once saved always saved”. You know you are “saved” because you have the fruit of affirmation. Let me acknowledge here that there is a bunch of infighting amongst proponents of imputed justification as to exactly how the presence or absence of fruits helps to indicate and assure that they were justified. You have the two extremes — belief systems that preach that one doesn’t have to be moral just believe in a very basic christianity (evangelical (liberal) Protestantism) or belief systems that preach that one needs to conform to all these external signs/fruits of having been justified (Puritism for example). Everything really is about confidence (not certitude) when it comes to the presents of post imputed justification fruit. That is the breakdown between lots of different denominations of Protestantism — it is all about which specific fruits give assurance of salvation. But the only thing that really counts and indicates that a person has been justified is the affirmation of imputed justification. I have yet to meet a Reformed individual who does not assume that an individual is justified if they affirm imputed justification nor have I met a Reformed individual who does not assume that an individual is damned if they expressly deny imputed justification. For example, Mr. Wilson who is the subject of this post.

    The process of course begins with justification, but does not end with justification.

    But that is the point. If “the process of salvation” begins with but does not end with justification, then you are Catholic in your soterology. If it beings and ends with justification, then you are Reformed.

    This is the kind of thing that I think Doug Wilson is getting at – can we say whether or not there is evidence in someone’s life that they are a Christian?

    Which is why Mr. Wilson was labeled a heretic by the Covenant Presbytery and was called to repent or to be removed from their office and communion.

    To take one example, how many Catholics do you suppose are disciplined for fornication in a typical Catholic congregation?

    Well Catholics are not interested in punishing people for their sins, but rather offering means for repentance for their sins. So how many people repent of the sin of fornication in a typical Catholic congregation? I don’t know because knowing that that would violate the seal of the confessional. However Catholic theology is stronger than Reformed theology when it comes to admonishing individuals for sexual sins — after all contraception is preached as a particularly egregious sexual sin and more serious at a moral level than sex outside of marriage (it is one thing to attempt to form a covenant (sex outside of marriage) and completely another to desecrate it (contraception)).

    What we have to go on begins with the intellectual affirmation but we also (and more to the point in the context of this thread) look to the evidence of whether there is any justification in someone’s life.

    But see that is the key. The intellectual affirmation is all that matters. If you don’t have the intellectual affirmation, then you don’t look at the rest of the individual’s life because with out the affirmation they are not justified. The additional fruits of the individual’s life however only apply to sanctification. If an individual has additional fruits that is an indication that they are being sanctified and strengthens the assurance that they have in their justification (which is indicated by the intellectual affirmation). However the lack of the presence of indicators of sanctification does not mean that the individual has not been justified. The only indicator of justification is the intellectual affirmation — which is why it all boils down to that. In what you are writing you are conflating the indicator of justification with the indicators of sanctification — which is what Mr. Wilson did and why he got labeled a heretic.

    And here you hit on just the problem in the Catholic system. We all know of folks who assiduously follow the rites and practices of Catholicism but have little understanding of basic Christian morality. What of such a person in your view, Nathan? Again there seems to be little to no differentiation in the Catholic system between two people who consistently practice the rites of Catholicism, one who consistently demonstrates that they are following Christ by their actions and the other who does not.

    Christianity isn’t about understanding morality. The question is not does this person understand but rather is this person progressing in the moral life. One of the things that you are missing here is that an individual who is consistently practicing the rites of Catholicism is demonstrating that they are following Christ. If you are practicing, then you are progressing, even if slowly and badly. A bad Catholic is still a Catholic and is in need of salvation just as much as the good Catholic. If one progresses slowly in the life of Christ, it is sill progression and we have hope that they will finish the race as Paul says. A man who takes 20 hours to complete a marathon still finishes.

    It is obvious that you want to separate people out into sheep and goats, to separate the wheat from the tares. Yet scripture forbids doing this. We are to treat people with grace and love, even if they are very bad Christians. We hope for the worst of us because if we cannot, then why should there be any hope for our own selves?

    But if you think there is no distinction, look deeper, for here is the distinction

    Is it not true that Christ draws near with love to those who turn away from him? That he struggles with them, begs them not to scorn his love, and if they show only aversion and remain deaf to his appeals, becomes himself their advocate? Dionysius the Areopagite Letter 8, To Demophilus.

    Well it’s not full stop, and you saying so just means you have not understood Reformed thought. The difference between Catholic and Reformed is not over whether God infused grace into us, but whether the works associated with this infusion provide in any sense a basis for our justification before God. We say that we are not saved by works, but we are saved unto them. It does not stop with justification because justification and sanctification are vitally linked, as are justification and regeneration. Please understand the vital link between regeneration and justification in Reformed theology. Reformed soteriology will make so much more sense if you do.

    I know plenty of Reformed individuals that would disagree with you here. It took me a long time to fully grasp that they really do mean that grace is only approval, full stop. The problem with infused grace is that if you infuse grace that necessarily must be an increase in justification (if we are justified by grace and grace is infused in us in an ongoing process then imputed justification is not the fullness of justification and the whole Reformed system collapses.)

    I agree with you that there is a difference between Catholic and Reformed as to whether works associated with the justified individual are meritorious. The problem is that if you infuse grace, then the action that results from that is necessarily both the work of God and the work of man and is thus is meritorious. The problem with saying that there is grace but man does not merit in the work done under grace is that it is essentially the position of the Cathars/Bulgarians/Quietists who put forth who taught that the soul is and must be passive before the work of the Holy Spirit so that the work done can only said to be that of the Spirit. Essentially grace is seen as an external not an internal because grace and human nature cannot interact due to the gnostic dualism in the systems. This whole attitude actually makes its way into the WCF in Chapter XVI on Good Works where it states that the work done by the regenerate man is good (meritorious) only in so far as it is done by the Holy Spirit and the work done is defiled and mixed with with so much weakness and imperfection that they can not endure the severity of God’s judgment (wrath) in so far as the work is done by man. There is an obvious gnostic dualism going on here and it makes talking about infusion of grace impossible because if grace is infused, then it belongs to both God and to man (that is what it means to infuse) and any action stemming from that grace is a joint synergistic action that is meritorious. (This is basic Augustinianism here and can be found in his works On Grace and Free Will and On Nature and Grace).

    Anywho good discussion so far, thanks.

  26. I am not sure that it is just because of the baggage — besides I find in that statement of yours an underlying notion that words only have meaning in so far as we assign meaning to those words — a bit of nominalism perhaps? ;-p If a word is true, then it should be used.

    Nathan,

    We have no issues with using the term “infused” if we are not misunderstood, but the problem is that there are no many misunderstandings concerning Reformed soteriology (as your and my interchange demonstrates), and so we try so hard to be understood correctly that we do not use terms which might be misconstrued. The wonderful thing about the English language is that there are so many semantic variations that we have a number of etymological options to convey the same message. So we don’t use “infusion” generally because of the very close association the term has with Roman Catholic soteriology. We are bound to be misunderstood by someone, so we opt for something equally precise, but different. I would not be concerned about using the term “infusion” with you if I felt that you had a firm grasp on the relationship between Regeneration and Justification in Reformed soteriology as well as the relationship between Justification and Sanctification. But from what you say in your responses it seems that you do not. But I will the term “infusion” if you like and we can see where it goes….

    The reason why I say “I am not sure” is this: For Catholics and Orthodox, salvation in its full sense is eschatological union with God (if this is not what Reformed believe, then Reformed and Catholics do not have the same concepts of savlation/heaven/etc.). If what is being infused are natural attributes/qualities/essences, then we are not really talking about salvation but rather simply a change in man’s nature to a higher, but still natural, state. If what is being infused is God’s own divine life, His nature, we can only speak of this in terms of synergism and view that reality as directly mirroring the hypostatic union.

    Many verses say something similar, but take II Peter 1:4 as a for instance. There we hear that the promises are given to us to that we “might be partakers of the divine nature.” That’s reasonably clear, don’t you think? Calvin’s comments on this verse are right on. He says, “Let us then mark, that the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us.” I’m not sure how much more clear you can get either from the Scriptures themselves or the Reformed commentaries on the pertinent Scriptures that in an eschatological sense, out final goal is to become conformed to and unified with God. So where have you gotten the idea that it is otherwise? Look again what Calvin says concerning the END of the gospel.

    …. that is why I am not sure…and to pull this back to Mr. Wilson is why he got into trouble because as soon as one starts stressing “living in Christ” and infusion, it creates a problem with forensic only justification.

    I’m sure where you have gotten this from Nathan. Take a look again at what I’ve written above. Forensic justification and infusion of God’s grace are not necessarily at odds and only become at odds when we state that the works associated with this infusion of God’s grace becomes, to some degree, the basis for our justification. But if, as Ephesians says, we are not saved BY good works (by infusion or otherwise), but we are saved UNTO good works then we can affirm both forensic justification and an infusion of God’s grace in our sanctification.

    In #25 you say, But that is the point. If “the process of salvation” begins with but does not end with justification, then you are Catholic in your soterology. If it beings and ends with justification, then you are Reformed.

    As domonstrated above, this is entirely incorrect, and you have only to read and understand the WCF or any of the Reformed confessions to see that this is not true. There is a vital link between Justification and Regeneration and a vital link between Justification and Sanctification for starters. If someone’s soteriology beings and ends with justification then they are not Reformed.

    A question for you: If you say that we become united to Christ, does that not also mean (as St. Paul says) that we are also united to the Cross? Now if on the Cross, as Reformed teach, Christ experienced the fullness of the wrath of the Father, and we are so united to Christ and the Cross, does that not mean that the individual so united to Christ experiences the fullness of the wrath of the Father as well?

    Not sure why you are asking this but no, the fact that we are united with Christ does not mean that we experience every single thing that Christ did. Christ descended in to hell for three days, but we don’t, for instance. There are some aspects of Christ’s life and death that we do not have to experience precisely because we are united to Him.

    Most of what you write in #25 is on the applications of Reformed and RCC soteriology, but I will leave aside my point about Catholics who seem to deny the Christian faith until we agree what the differences in our respective systematic are. The applications won’t make much sense if we are on different understandings of how Reformed and RCC soteriologies operate.

    I would add that I think it would be good for you to refer to recognized Reformed theologians to bolster your points rather than just referring to Reformed people you know. I don’t know who you know, and I cannot respond to what these folks think or believe. Also, you have referred to Wilson, who of course sparked this thread, but as you have alluded to, there are quite a few questions as to how closely Wilson adheres to Reformed soteriology. Maybe you could find someone else to speak for Reformed theology who had not had the same kinds of run-ins with the various Reformed communions. Try R.C. Sproul for instance. I’m sure you know of him, and he has never had his soteriology questioned by any Reformed body.

  27. Bryan (re: 23),

    The links to the Clark’s original posts are gone now, so I cannot get the context of what he was saying, but it sounds like he conceded to you that you were right and that he was arguing against the earlier Reformed theologians you mentioned.

    But let’s see what one Reformed standard say on the matter. The WCF, after discussion of effectual calling and justification takes on sanctification. It says, “They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection,[1] by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them….”

    OK, so those who have been called, regenerated, and justified will be given a new heart and God will create a new spirit within them. So salvation does NOT stop with justification in Reformed soteriology, right?

  28. “Certainly, invincible ignorance is a precondition for one who holds to heretical doctrines to be saved, but that ignorance is not contingent on the beliefs one holds.”

    “There is no one who, in Pastor Wilson’s language, “could not be saved” on the basis of doctrinal opinion.”

    First, give me a quotation from the Magisterium that supports your view that “one who holds to heretical doctrines” can be saved – if I am accurate in reading the first quote as indicating you hold that view.

    Second, it’s one thing to say “invincible ignorance” wipes out the fault or sin (moral culpability) of lacking something necessary (such as the Catholic faith), but it’s another thing to say that it relieves one of the necessity of having that necessary thing. But let us assume that it does. It would seem to me, however – even if you assume that it does – that it’s an entirely different matter to posit such ignorance as providing cover for a denial (the assertion of the contrary) of the necessary thing. It’s one thing to say, “he would have followed the law had he know about it,” and another to say, “he is not responsible for his denial of the law.”

    This is a problem I have with the concept of “invincible ignorance” being used as a remedy for the lack of what is necessary. It’s a viable excuse for the fault of lacking it, but it doesn’t provide for what is lacked, and that is highlighted when you use ignorance to cover not only the lack of something (because the need for it is not known) but also the denial of the very thing needed.

    Let’s take the example of a Muslim who denies the divinity of Christ. He’s not ignorant of the dogma, he is aware of it and says “no” to it. Now the “invincibly ignorant” person is one who does all that God has revealed to Him, and acts in accordance with God’s revelation – it’s just that God hasn’t revealed certain truths to him, and it is assumed he would have embraced those truths on the basis of his acceptance of what God has revealed. With the Muslim who says “no” to the divinity of Christ, it’s different. He is emphatically denying a truth of God’s revelation which he is aware of. How can you then assume this man would believe everything necessary had it been revealed to him when he explicitly denies a truth of revelation that is known to him? The basis for application of implied assent is gone; the truth is before him, and he denies it. Now you can argue x and y as to the culpability of the denial, but you can’t argue that the denial is in fact an assent, since the basis for doing so as to the genuinely invincibly ignorant person is that he has assented to the minima of truths that have been revealed, and therefore his assent to the rest of those truths can be implied and assumed. You can’t make that assumption with the Muslim who denies: you have a living example (a denial of revealed truth) that destroys the assumption – the bridge to salvation, if you will, has been blown up.

    Sorry for the long windedness.

  29. It would be very helpful for Catholics entering into this discussion to familiarize themselves with the Church’s binding teaching on this matter. The pertinent definitions are quoted here:

    http://catholicism.org/category/outside-the-church-there-is-no-salvation

    That the Westminster Confession of Faith would hold that there is no salvation outside the Church is a reflection that the authors of that document took something else with them — besides the Bible — when they exited the Catholic Church. The idea that there is an actual visible institution identified with that Church outside of which there is no salvation is something that presents a dilemma to Protestants, whose rebellion spawned one division after another. Hence, the slightly ambiguous language.

    But the Church that infallibly taught this dogma is the very same one that is the visible “city seated on a mountain” (Mt. 5:14) instituted by Jesus Christ upon the rock of St. Peter. Her definitions don’t hedge.

  30. Brother Andre,

    Since the subject of the post has to do with Protestant views of the eternal fate of Catholics, I’m unclear as to what relevance there is in a web page that seems to have to do with certain folks’ views of the eternal fate of non-Catholics.

    For the sake of clarification, do you affirm what Vatican II said?—namely, that “…it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” [Unitatis Redintegratio 3]

    Thanks in advance for helping to clear up the uncertainty.

  31. Fred,

    While your response was addressed to Brother Andre, I was, as it were, an unindicted co-conspirator (one of the “certain folks” whose comments made you feel “unclear”), and as such I’ll offer my comment.

    The last section of the article made various statements about the Catholic Church’s view of salvation, and my comments, and Brother Andre’s, addressed some of the statements made therein or the issues raised. I hardly think our comments were gratuitous and not on point.

    The quote from Vat II is ambiguous and unclear to the extent you want to read it as having any doctrinal content whatever. Martin Luther was “justified by faith in Baptism,” as was Friedrich Nietzche and Joseph Stalin (I could be more trenchantly illustrative had I time), and to that extent they as well come within the parameters of the Vat II quote as being among “all” who have been baptized – and, therefore, since they meet the “definition,” may be called “Christian” and regarded and “correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” Indeed, most who come within the abundant anathemas proclaimed by the Church over time (I’m thinking primarily of those of Trent at the moment) would meet the definition.

    Might I ask, now that we have seen the range of the group brought within the scope of the Vatican II quote, what help or relevance the quote brings to bear on the question of the salvation of anyone?

  32. Andrew McCallum (26)

    Yes, if infusion is actually part of your theological vocabulary, then I think it should be used instead of not used so people don’t misunderstand. The definition of what infusion means according to western theology was set long before Rome and Luther had their spat.

    I would like to define “infused justification”, as in the concept, using the entomology of the Hebrew world tzedak (STRONG’s H6663) as informed by the Hebrew word tzedakah. Are you amenable to that?

    The problem, as I have always read it in Reformed texts, is that Reformed want to reject the usage of “make just” or the latin iustificare which literally means “to make righteous”. Thus Reformed authors want to reject out and out the latin iustificare “make just” which was the only understanding in the Western and Latin Church — no its not that Reformed have no issues with it, you have all the issues in the world and what Reformed author’s want to do is to redefine the term using pagan greek entomology. For an example I want to use R.C. Sproul here http://www.monergism.com/declaredrighteous.html (I am only referencing his quote and bringing nothing else on the page into the discussion). The problem here that Sproul’s understanding of things is very very sloppy. What he is doing is using pagan greek entomology to define the greek term dikaiosune which appears in the greek writings of Paul. He should instead be using Greek Christian theological entomology and Biblical Hebrew etymology. The Reformer’s did this too and it stems from misapplied principles of humanism (the ignoring of everything in scholasticism and reestablishing everything based on pagan greek). There are two easy proofs to show that this is just bad research. 1.) Sproul and the reformers are not considering the Hebrew etymology of the Old Testament which must be the context from within which we understand scripture. Yes Paul is writing in Greek but he is not writing in Greek according to pagan concepts, he is writing in greek according to Jewish concepts. Thus the definition of tzedak needs to be dominant in the understanding of the Greek dikaiosune and not the pagan etymology. 2.) If we are remotely interested in understanding Greek concepts in scripture then we need to look to what Greek theology says. Sproul is going to criticize what Latin theology says as a misunderstanding of the Greek? Well what does Greek theology actually say? Eastern Theology has no concept of legal or juridical justification. What is understood by it is the process or state of being righteous. So Sproul’s point of “making just” being only bad Latin (Catholic) theology is without merit since the Latin iustificare “to make just” is only the literal representation of the Greek Christian concept.

    Calvin’s comments on this verse are right on. He says, “Let us then mark, that the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us.” I’m not sure how much more clear you can get either from the Scriptures themselves or the Reformed commentaries on the pertinent Scriptures that in an eschatological sense, out final goal is to become conformed to and unified with God. So where have you gotten the idea that it is otherwise? Look again what Calvin says concerning the END of the gospel.

    As far as I understand Reformed eschatology, there is a flux as to whether or not sanctification (and thus eschatology) is monergistic or synergistic. In regards to Calvin, what does it mean to be “conformable to God”? Without looking it up, I would think he means “be obedient to God’s will”. Anyway where I get “it from” , that is if I get you you are referring to by “it”, is that for Reformed sanctification does not justify an individual. As such man’s eschatalogical justice can only be talked about in terms of what exists in “imputed justification”. Thus whatever sanctification is cannot be understood in terms of man having a position in justice that is greater than that which was given in imputed justification, which is the only thing which makes a person just and it does not and cannot increase. What I wrote was more of a question as to what exactly is being infused in sanctification according to the Reformed concept. It seems to me that if Reformed are going to talk about sanctification as synergistic then we have to talk about an increase in justification, unless it is not the divine life that is being infused but only natural created attributes. I don’t know how Calvin or anyone can say that if the eschatological state is ontological union with God but justification is only and strictly the external imputed alien righteousness of Christ’s obedience and satisfaction, that there is not an increase in justification in the process of sanctification. After all the external imputed union with Christ’s obedience and satisfaction is magnitudes lesser of a thing that internal ontological union with the totality of the divine essence. Thus I am inclined to include that for Reformed, eschatological union, is not actually union of man with God’s own nature or Reformed theology has a severe logical problem in it. If those two things square would you be so kind as to explain it to me?

    Where am I getting “as soon as one starts stressing “living in Christ” and infusion, it creates a problem with forensic only justification” from? I am getting this from reading various Reformed condemnations of Mr. Wilson, Federal Vision, New Perspectives on Paul etc. Read the PCA condemnation of Mr. Wilson that I linked to above. Also this is informative http://www.creedcodecult.com/2009/06/complexities-of-confessionalism.html

    But if, as Ephesians says, we are not saved BY good works (by infusion or otherwise), but we are saved UNTO good works then we can affirm both forensic justification and an infusion of God’s grace in our sanctification.

    That doesn’t allow you to affirm that. Ephesians 2:8-10 says that we are saved by grace (v 8) not saved by our good works (v 9) but our salvation is for us doing good works (v. 10). Those verses don’t indicate forensic justification. Actually v 5 is decidedly against forensic justification. v. 5 says we were made alive. Forensic justification states that man’s sin nature remains after imputed justification and as such the individual cannot be said to have been “made alive” via alien rightiousness. They are counted, reckoned, imputed as but not made.

    As demonstrated above, this is entirely incorrect, and you have only to read and understand the WCF or any of the Reformed confessions to see that this is not true. There is a vital link between Justification and Regeneration and a vital link between Justification and Sanctification for starters. If someone’s soteriology beings and ends with justification then they are not Reformed.

    I get and agree with what you wrote there in the last part but please note that I didn’t say if someone’s soteriology begins and ends with justification. I said if “the process of salvation” begins with and ends with justification”. I put quotes around “the process of salvation” because Reformed don’t believe that the process of salvation involves an increase in righteousness or justification. In addition, wouldn’t it be more proper for Reformed to talk about the Order of Salvation rather than view salvation as a process? Again, it seems to me that viewing salvation as a process (as in adding anything to imputed righteousness) is what gets Doug Wilson and Federal Vision etc. into trouble.

    Not sure why you are asking this but no, the fact that we are united with Christ does not mean that we experience every single thing that Christ did. Christ descended in to hell for three days, but we don’t, for instance. There are some aspects of Christ’s life and death that we do not have to experience precisely because we are united to Him.

    Paul in several places says that man is united with Jesus and the cross. For example Romans 6:6 “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin”. Ergo we as Christians have a share and a participation in the crucifixion according to Paul. If the crucifixion results in the wrath of the Father being applied to Christ, then because we are participating in the crucifixion, the wrath of the Father is also applied to us. This is a major problem for Reformed theology because you either have to reject Paul or reject imputed justification. That is why I asked.

    Btw check Romans 6 which shows that the Christian has a participation in Christ’s descent into hades. The Greek for death there is thanatos. Strongs G2288. Check the etymology. You will see that man via baptism has a participation in that descent (there is actually really cool imagery here in the Early Fathers of man descending in baptism below the primordial waters below the earth to wrestle the leviathan of the abyss with Christ).

    I am referring to Wilson of course due to this being a thread about him. I like refering to Reformed people who are getting into trouble because some of them are far from “liberal” and are actually truer to the principles of the Reformation than those who are locked into viewing things through specific creeds and confessions. Being a former Lutheran/Methodist, I have a tendancy to view Reformed as “having gone off the rails”. I find that there is more genuinly interesting theology comming out of those that have gone a bit off the Reformed rails.

    It is hard to know who to refer to. Reformed theology is horribly clickish. In the years that I have known Reformed people, its been as such….Horton is so cool….We don’t talk about Horton anymore. Wilson is so cool….. We dont talk about Wilson anymore. etc.

    R.C. Sproul not being in trouble? Depends on where you are in the Reformed world. Btw do you mean Sproul Sr. or Jr. just to be clear.

    Anyway good discussion. Thanks.

  33. The Protestant, to remain Protestant, must hold that the issues that still divide Rome and Geneva are issues where salvation is at stake. If they are not, they are issues that do not justify continued schism within the body of Christ [i.e., the Roman Catholic Church]. . .

    I’m not so sure about this. There are other obstacles that have cropped up since the Reformation (dogmatizing papal infallibility; increased emphasis on the theotokos being co-redemptrix; scandals covered from the top down). But isn’t this beside the point since Vatican II anyway? Aren’t Prots “separated brethren” now?

  34. Chris,

    First, can we be fair to the whole “covering up scandal” bit? I get tired of it. A little bit of research into the same kind of issues in every kind of organization during the early and mid 1900′s portends very similar if not more troubling findings (start with public service sector institutions). The fact is that because it is the Church–for good and bad reasons–these kinds of scandals are more awful. Nevertheless, let’s don’t pretend that this stuff wasn’t and hasn’t been happening in protestant churches and covered up the same way; especially when professional psychology was a dumb-mute on the issue in the 60′s. The lack of universal coverage in the media of these particular cases only evidences the non-universality of those churches/institutions and the secular hatred of the Church.

    That aside and back to the point, I guess it boils down to how satisfying the title “separated brethren” is? If I were (and when I was) Protestant I would not take consolation in the phrase. Even more, the Church still does not hold that in virtue of your denomination you are a brother but rather in virtue of the Sacraments and genuine work of the Spirit you can/are redeemed; so much as that they are a participation of the graces given to the Catholic Church–Christ’s Body and Bride. In addition, you still have, according to the CC, no valid orders and all that is sacramentally implied. That, I think, is what Brother Andre is getting at. It’s fine, maybe, for the pious protestant to not have ALL of the Sacraments Christ gave His church, but what about the rest of us poor, confused, lazy, sin-loving types?

    We should bear in mind that Vatican II didn’t sweep the “reformation” under the carpet.

    In Christ through the Virgin’s Womb…

    From your separated brother,

    Brent

  35. Fred,

    Good questions. In reply to your first, let me say that I believe my comment was relevant to the article since it covers a certain Protestant version of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” Indeed, the author even mentions the Catholic dogma that the Westminster Confession somewhat paralleled — to quote from Mr. Yonke’s article: “The issue really boils down to what is meant by the ancient teaching that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church.” It seemed to me helpful to provide for the readers the Catholic Church’s authentic and infallible teaching on the subject.

    The passage you cite from Unitatis Redintegratio is certainly something I accept. I would not give it any interpretation that would water down the defined dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, nor without remaining subject to the Supreme Pontiff. Those “who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body” indeed. Heresy and schism, of course, sever one from that body, with is precisely coterminous with the Catholic Church. Hence the importance of the Florentine definition:

    http://catholicism.org/cantate-domino.html

  36. Chris D.,

    A separated brother is objectively in a state of schism from the Church, even while possessing an imperfect communion with her through baptism. The good of that [imperfect] communion and of the elements of sanctification possessed by the Protestant, do not nullify the divine imperative of leaving any schism, and being reconciled to the Church in full communion. That is precisely why those who know that the Catholic Church was founded by God through Christ as necessary for salvation, but refuse to enter her or remain in her, cannot be saved. (CCC 846) In other word, schism (i.e. whether remaining in a schism or forming a schism) is objectively a grave sin, and those who, with full knowledge and complete consent, commit this sin, are in a state of mortal sin, without the life of God and without salvation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  37. So, insofar as I fail to believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the exclusive institution through which one can be saved, I’m okay? Then won’t I always have the Redemptor Hominis trump card up my sleeve? What motivation is that for change?

  38. Chris,

    It depends on why a person “fails to believe” that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. If this failure is due to invincible ignorance, he can still be saved. If his failure is due to vincible ignorance, then his culpability depends on the nature of the vincible ignorance, as Jimmy explains in the linked article:

    Failure to embrace the Christian faith (infidelity), total repudiation of the Christian faith (apostasy), and the post-baptismal obstinate denial or willful doubt of particular teachings of the Catholic faith (heresy) are objectively grave sins against the virtue of faith. Like any other grave sins, if they are committed with adequate knowledge and deliberate consent, they become mortal sins and will deprive one of salvation.

    Also like any other grave sins, their imputability can be removed, diminished, unaffected, or increased by the varying types of ignorance. Invincible ignorance removes culpability for the sins against faith, merely vincible ignorance diminishes culpability (sometimes to the point of being venial), crass or supine ignorance will affect culpability for them little or not at all, and hard hearted, affected ignorance will increase culpability for them.

    For those who have had their culpability for sins against faith removed or diminished to the point of veniality, they are not moral sins and thus will not of themselves deprive one of heaven. A person who is ignorant of the gospel of Christ and his Church through no fault of his own (or, by extension, through his merely venial fault) can be saved-if he otherwise does what is required for salvation, according to the level of opportunity, enlightenment, and grace God gives him (CCC 847, 1260).

    The investigation of the history and claims of the Church is a lengthy process, and those persons at the beginning of that process are not obligated to join the Church while they are, through no hardening of their heart or suppression of truth they already know, not yet aware that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. But insofar as they see through the various motives of credibility that Christ established one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and that this Church is the Catholic Church, and yet refuse to enter her, their degree of culpability for not entering her increases, to the point of mortal sin. The same is likewise true with baptism. The more that a person knows that Christ commanded baptism, and yet refuses to be baptized, the more he is thereby condemned by his rejection of Christ’s command, to the point that this rejection is a mortal sin and the consequence is eternal separation from God.

    The motivation for change arises from the love for God, love for the truth, an awareness of our responsibility to find out the truth about God and His Church and the way of salvation, an awareness of the many different available theological positions and groups holding various incompatible positions, and an awareness that this manifest disunity among self-described followers of Christ is not what Christ wants — as shown in John 17. All these provide the motivation for investigating the underlying causes of the disunity among Christians, for searching out the means Christ has provided for preserving unity in His Church, and for searching out the very identity of Christ’s Church. It provides the motivation for tracing the history of the Church from the first century to the Catholic Church of the present day, looking for the principled way by which to distinguish between ‘branches within‘ the Church and ‘schisms from‘ the Church, and the role of the Chair of St. Peter in this distinction. The proximate motivation for change arises from reaching the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, of which He speaks in Matthew chapters 16 and 18.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  39. @ Chris #36
    I believe your approach to the issue is off target.

    People can’t actively choose to be invincibly ignorant. However, they can choose to remain ignorant. We are responsible for any truth that God offers us wherever it may lead even if we preemptively decided for ourselves what is and is not true.

  40. Mark (#31),

    Might I ask, now that we have seen the range of the group brought within the scope of the Vatican II quote, what help or relevance the quote brings to bear on the question of the salvation of anyone?

    The reductio ad absurdum that you propose (suggesting that Luther and Stalin would be included in the scope of those referred to by UR) does not apply: Luther was a formal heretic born in the Catholic Church, and Stalin was an apostate.

    But UR explicitly says:

    The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation…

    [emphasis added]

    If this is true (and it is), then they cannot be assumed to be guilty of the sins of schism or apostasy nor even formal heresy. So the comparison of them to Luther or Stalin suggested by your reductio is inapt.

    My point is that those who are born into Protestant churches today cannot ipso facto be presumed to be guilty of the same mortal sin that the Reformers of the 16th century were, and that the presumption must be granted that they are our brothers in Christ notwithstanding the fact that they are separated, just as UR says. So: to answer your question, the relevance of the quote is that we may not rightly presume that those who have been baptized but aren’t Catholic are not going to be saved just because they are not Catholic. I was uncertain whether Brother Andre agreed, which is why I asked the question.

  41. Fred, Mark, Br. Andre Marie,

    I would like to quote from THE MEANING OF THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD by Ratzinger, which I find to be helpful in moving the discussion forward

    The dogmatic position is that the objective presentation of the vicarious saving act of Jeus Christ can be preformed by the one Church only, that is (according to Catholic belief), the Catholic Church which is gathered around the successor of Peter……………If we move now from the level of dogma to that of concrete human relationships, we can see from what we have said that the immediate brotherly community is made up of the communicants. Hence all those who are separated from the communion, in this case Protestants, do not belong to it. They have their own brotherhood, their own community. This is the nature of the divisions in the Church; some are no longer in communion with others, and thus sharing in the brotherhood of the Church (which was to be only one, according to the will of the Lord) is made impossible. And so, if the immediate narrow fraternal community is made up only of the believers of the one Church, we can ask at least that the two communities — Catholic and Protestant — regard each other as “sisters in the Lord”. This is an idea which goes beyond Scripture and the Fathers ( here, as we have seen there is only the sisterliness of the Catholic communities), but which seems justified by the new situation of separated Christians. Both communities, as bearers of faith in and unbelieving world, can and should regard themselves as sisters, and individual Christians on bother sides are “brothers” to each other in a far more fundamental sense than are non-Christians. Admittedly, this brotherhood between Catholics and Protestants includes the fact that both belong to a different fraternal community — includes, too, the separation, and the pain of this separation, and thus presents a constant challenge to overcome it. Indeed, it is important not to ignore the element of separation which is inevitably part of this brotherhood and gives to it its particular quality: to ignore it is ultimately to become reconciled to it, and that is just what we must not do. “Separated brethren”, which as become such a glib phrase, can thus acquire an exact and valuable meaning. It expresses the unity that remains as well as the tragedy of division. The phrase should be a comfort, and also a spur — a spur that does not let us rest until there is “one flock, one shepherd”. (John 10:16)

    **Note: The use of the term “sisters in the Lord” is due to the Church being female — thus when speaking of relationships between communities, feminine terms are used. The phrase should not be understood as something different than “brothers in the Lord” which is used to refer to the relationship between individuals, where masculine terms are used.

  42. Well, then, I hope St. Peter isn’t a Feeneyite.

    Seriously, though, thanks for the link and the thoughtful reply, Bryan.

  43. Fred,

    If my proposition was a reductio ad absurdum its absurdity was bred in the fog of your Vatican II quote. It’s the same thing as if you had quoted a Vat II quote asserting that “cardinals are red things” and then accused me of a reduction ad absurdum for saying this means fire engines are cardinals. The fault, dear Fred, is not in my reasoning, and the absurdity is not in my deduction.

    Of course, cardinals are red things, but they are more than that, and redness doesn’t define their essence. All the saved may indeed be brothers in Christ, but not all brothers in Christ are saved if you (as Vat II did) define brothers in Christ as the baptized. As you rightly point out, some of the baptized apostasize or become heretics. The fact that someone who reaches maturity has been baptized tells me nothing about their eternal fate – and of course that was my point.

    The Vat II quote that those born into Protestant churches “cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation” also does not tell us much about the salvation of the same. Those who are saved “cannot be accused of the sin of separation,” but not all who cannot be accused of the sin of separation are saved. Again we have a sweet nothing being whispered under the moonlight that cannot withstand the scrutiny of morning.

    In no way do I agree with you that one who “cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation” cannot be accused of the sin of heresy. Actually, you say one cannot “assume” such – which I don’t, and I don’t understand your talk here of assumption. Anyway, of course they could not separate from what they were never joined to; however, that does not indicate that they cannot be responsible for denying a Catholic dogma that they may be aware of (i.e, be guilty of formal heresy). This simply doesn’t follow.

    You say that the relevance of the quote for you was to indicate “that we may not rightly presume that those who have been baptized but aren’t Catholic are not going to be saved just because they are not Catholic.” My criticism of the first and the second Vat II quote is precisely to challenge the flip side that lies in the shadow of your presumption: saying that someone is “a brother in Christ” by baptism and that they are not guilty of the sin of separation is not saying that they are saved merely by baptism and the lack of the sin of schism, and therefore (of necessity) cannot support the assertion that one does not have to be Catholic to be saved.

    There have been too many centuries of infallible pronouncements about there being no salvation outside the Catholic Church, etc., for me to accept statements that do not say (or necessitate by inference) the contrary as indicating the contrary. And the logical absurdity of joining those to the Catholic Church who hold opinions that deny one or more of the dogmas of the Catholic Church (in the face of too many centuries of abundant anathemas and statements of the necessity of holding the Catholic faith and not departing from it on a single point) prevents me from adopting unnecessary extrapolations to that effect from ambiguous Vat II and post-Vat II statements.

    This discussion highlights for me the problems with the ambiguities in Vatican II, and the presumptions that spring from it. You are turning nice, sweet nothings ecumenically whispered into Protestant ears into marriage vows with the Bride of Salvation.

  44. Regarding Scott Clark’s statement quoted by Bryan Cross in #23:

    We Protestants don’t have “created grace” we have “favor” with God. It’s not a “thing.” It’s not some “stuff.” It’s God’s attitude toward us. Full stop.

    I’d like to make the observation that sanctifying grace, the created grace we RCs believe in, is definitely not a “thing” or some “stuff”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2000 states it very succinctly:

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

    But IMHO the best explanation of grace is that from Fr. John Hardon SJ. Quoting from his page on sanctifying grace:

    “Sanctifying grace is, first of all, not a substance but an accident. … It is a quality, since it makes the soul qualitatively different than it was or would be without such modification. … Most important, sanctifying grace is a habit. This means a permanent and not transient quality, by which the soul is disposed for a supernatural life.”

  45. Eddie Green (#6),
    Sorry I never answered this. I have been on and off sick with a wicked lung issue. So I hope you subscribed to the post Eddie. You asked:

    In your blog post you wrote “The Reformed believe in ecclesial deism, and hold to a “conservative” religion that is merely another century’s liberalism.” which I think is a deliciously startling statement.
    I would ask which century?

    I don’t have much history training and don’t really have many specifics in mind. My main train of thought was this: At the time of the reformation, the movement was self described as a kind of “re-awakening” of a dead old church that had forgotten the gospel (thus sola Fide), and gotten in the way of the Holy Spirit’s direct access to the individual believer through the scripture (thus sola Scriptura). In my experience the myth still lasts to this day in Protestantism of the humble, simple, idealist, God-loving men like Luther who were the “reluctant hero”. It reminds me of any other liberal rebels in history (take your pick) who start out as the humble freedom fighters for liberalism, Truth and equality, who are standing up for the little guy against the establishment, but a century later they not only become what they set out to destroy, but become worse. (French Revolution applies here perhaps?) So today when I talk with “conservative” evangelical relatives who are solid sola scriptura believers, I can’t help but notice how their views of what scripture is saying are so very much their own views, opposed to Tradition, opposed to the views of vast swaths of other Protestants, and certainly opposed to ANY kind of self examination. Yet they claim all the authority of the Apostles to proclaim their view. They have become the same magisterium the Reformers flouted. Except their new magisterium is a joke of pompousness, personal opinion and novel ideas all couched in the bold language of being apostolic teaching straight out of the 1st century. What was once a fresh and vibrant fight for *The Truth* against the big bad Catholic Church has become a dusty old heresy of bickering, disagreement, and the “Magisterium of me” where the Magisterium is all powerful.
    In contradiction to this I have found the Church. She is at the same time the oldest and the youngest. Being enlivened by the Holy Spirit gives her the freshness of a cool spring breeze, while giving her the antiquity and anchoring of timeless Truth. She is truly our mother. In stark contrast, Protestantism is a pickled fetus: never mature yet ever aging. And quite dead.

  46. @ David Meyer,

    Thank you for getting back to me. As a non-catholic (Anglican) the issue I have with aspects of the Reformation project is a rejection of the supernatural, especially in terms of the Spirit’s work in and through the Church (Tradition) and in the Sacraments. Thus it is a Liberalism in the sense of a rejection of the Supernatural.

    I have not been impressed with attempts to reconcile Reformed theology with the Apostolic Fathers, whereas Anglican, Wesleyanism, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy provide a more compelling engagement. I find myself naturally drawn to the rather romantic ideal of a Western Rite Orthodoxy although I recognise this is something of an impossibility.

  47. Ok…wow. Has he even READ the Council of Trent? *heavy sigh* What I am so thankful for (as a 43-year old recent convert to the Church) is that I no longer have the need to formulate such elaborate evasions and ‘patches’ to my theology. It’s such freedom!! Thank you, Lord.

  48. You quoted the Westminster Confession: “…there is no ordinary possibility of salvation [outside the Church]“.

    You go on the problematize the way the reformed view makes for blurriness along the boundary of those in and out of the church. But can’t the term ‘ordinary’ be used by a reformed person in a way that makes them equally as gracious towards those considered outside at the time? Can’t the reformed person say just what you said about themselves and their church (I modified it in brackets): “it is no stretch and no threat for the Church to proclaim that there are those outside the Catholic Church who could be saved [not ordinary], but any and all that are saved will be saved through the [true invisible] Church”?

  49. John Armstrong writes about his encounter with someone making a claim similar to Doug Wilson’s.

    What follows from granting that Catholics who believe Catholic doctrine, can be saved? According to Trueman, the answer seems to be this: the obligation to return. At that point, any reforming that one believes still needs to be done, can be done from within the Church. Schism from the Church can no longer be justified as necessary for salvation. Hence Matt’s statement in this post:

    The Protestant, to remain Protestant, must hold that the issues that still divide Rome and Geneva are issues where salvation is at stake. If they are not, they are issues that do not justify continued schism …

    Chris, you wrote in comment #33, in response to that statement by Matt:

    I’m not so sure about this. There are other obstacles that have cropped up since the Reformation (dogmatizing papal infallibility; increased emphasis on the theotokos being co-redemptrix; scandals covered from the top down).

    I agree that these would be obstacles, i.e. matters that make it more difficult, all other things being equal, for Protestants to return to full communion with the Church from which they separated in the sixteenth century. But it seems to me that that is fully compatible with Matt’s statement. If a present-day Protestant comes to recognize that perhaps he was wrong about the Council of Trent being wrong, that it didn’t “anathematize the gospel,” that one can believe what the Church teaches and be saved, and that therefore Protestants were not right to leave the Catholic Church, he realizes that had Protestants remained in the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century as faithful Catholics, it would have been incumbent on them as Catholics to “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” — not only what the Church taught definitively at the Council of Trent but also, three centuries later, what she taught in 1854 about Mary’s Immaculate Conception, what she taught about the Papal office at the First Vatican Council, and what she has taught since the sixteenth century regarding Mary’s role in our salvation. He would understand that to be a Catholic is to exercise faith in Christ by receiving in faith and humility what Christ’s Church teaches, as St. Thomas explains. And he would understand that the Church has in fact continued to teach and define dogmas, over the nearly five hundred years since Protestants separated from her. Therefore, he wouldn’t necessarily view the subsequent Catholic teachings as things to be retracted by the Church in order for him to return to full communion with her, but instead, as matters for him to believe by faith, in order to ‘catch up’ to be rejoined to her.

    He would recognize that had Protestants remained in the Church as faithful Catholics, they would have known that even when individual bishops cause scandal by their sins, the worst possible thing to do in response is to leave the Church and form a schism, as the Donatists did. The disciples were not justified in running away from Jesus in the Garden, just because Judas betrayed Him. If Protestants had remained faithful Catholics, they would have known that the right thing to do, in such cases, is to remain within the Church, pray for her, and make reparations for the sins of others. And so he would see it as his responsibility to do the same. That’s why, I think, John Gerstner was able to say, “[I]f we’re wrong on sola fide, I’d be on my knees outside the Vatican in Rome tomorrow morning doing penance.” There is an inconsistency, in such a statement, because to recognize the Church’s authority regarding these other doctrines is inconsistent with denying her authority with regard to Trent 6. But, I think he was trying to get at the idea that if the Catholic Church was right at Trent, then the rest follows, in the way I just described. And then he should be “doing penance.”

    And what penance we [who were Protestant] must do. Like Saul who became Paul, we fought against the Church in many ways, for so many years, and led others to do the same by our example of remaining separate from her and by our words against her and her doctrine. Now we must serve her all the more.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  50. Are Roman Catholics Members of the New Covenant?
    A debate between James White and Douglas Wilson.

    In this debate James White and Douglas Wilson tackle the divisive question, “Should we consider Roman Catholics our brothers and sisters in Christ?” Taking the side of historic Reformed theology, Wilson argues that Roman Catholic baptism should be received because it is Trinitarian. James White, on the other hand, contends that Protestant should not receive Roman Catholics because of their denial of Justification.

  51. If I were FV, and I had just read James Jordan’s most recent claim that God (in His divine nature) matures, and increases in glory, and yet does not change, the Southwest “want to get away?” jingle would be going through my head. Process theology and/or a denial of the law of non-contradiction; either way, the Catholic Church would be looking much more attractive.

    How does Jordan reach the conclusion that God (in His divine nature) is becoming more mature? His syllogism is located in the following excerpt:

    Now, there is nothing in the creation that is not some kind of reflection of something in God. It cannot be otherwise. God cannot create something that is outside of His own infinite imagination and “experience.” Hence, this process of maturation is a copy of something in God. …

    Continuing to be careful, we ask how it is possible to think about God’s maturing or growing. God is eternally mature, but also eternally becoming mature. We cannot imagine how this can be, but we must confess it is true, or else we have no Divine foundation for maturation in created time.

    The reasoning goes like this: There is nothing in creation that is not a reflection of something in God. There is a maturation process in created nature. Therefore, there must be some kind of maturation process in God (in His divine nature).

    Of course we could replace the term ‘maturation’ with terms like “evil,” “contingency,” “ignorance,” “suffering,” etc., and the syllogism would imply that God (in His divine nature) is all those as well. The problem here is twofold. First, Jordan is not recognizing the doctrine of analogy by which what is present in creatures need not be present in the Creator in the mode in which it is present in the creature. Second, Jordan is not recognizing that becoming does not depend fundamentally on becoming, but on being; to deny that, is ipso facto to embrace process theology, because such a denial makes becoming fundamental. Becoming is a limited participation in being, but that doesn’t mean that being must be becoming, or that God must be limited.

    Any being who is becoming “more mature” is gaining a perfection that he doesn’t already have (in that nature). And since Jordan’s claim is that God (in His divine nature) is becoming more mature, this entails that He is acquiring this perfection from another being who does have this perfection, since no perfection can come from nothing. In other words, this being who is becoming more mature, must therefore be a created being, dependent on another being as the source of its perfections. And to call a creature God, or to worship a creature, are grave errors.

    I’m noticing David’s comment #50, in which White and Wilson debate the validity of Catholic baptisms. But if Jordan’s position represents (or comes to represent) the FV position regarding God, this could jeopardize the validity of FV baptisms, in the same way that Mormon baptisms are invalid because the trinity into which they baptize is not the Creator, but a creature. I’ve responded to Jordan previously, and I’ve appreciated some of his writings, but in my opinion this is his most serious theological error yet. I hope that he reconsiders, and retracts it.

  52. I grew in my understanding of the Trinity and scripture from Jordan’s writings when I was Reformed. His book “Through new eyes” was profound to me at that time. He has a way of helping one see the whole world as reflecting the Trinity that is powerful. But this new direction of his is strange. I literally got a shiver when I read the quote of him implying a “process of maturation” in God. Yuck. How could Jordan go so far off the rails? Even if he does retract this, it seriously damages his reputation.

    I hope I am right when I think of it like this: God, being outside of time, is infinitely mature and glorious, and therefore His creatures who are in His beatific vision will eternally continue to grow in maturity and appreciation of His glory, while He, however remains eternally unchanged. The nice thing about infinity is that we will always have more to appreciate. However, for God to “grow” in any way, ANY way at all, would imply 2 states of being in God where something was “previously” lacking, but now is there. God cannot be described as “becoming eternally mature” and still be God.

    This is what happens without the divinely protected magisterium at the helm. Brilliant men bravely chase the white whale, but end in disaster.

    Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.
    -G.K.Chesterton in Ch. 9 of Orthodoxy

    I think Jordan has fallen over the cliff.

  53. James Jordan replied to my comment, on his site.

    He wrote:

    Here again, the Son is the Son of the Father. He is “eternally begotten from the Father.” All I’m doing is exploring that fact. Mr. Cross might just as well insist that for the Son to be begotten is heretical. Certainly, we as creatures cannot imagine or visualize “eternally begotten-ness.” And by the same token we cannot imagine or visualize how the Son may be eternally maturing and also fully mature.

    Christ’s being eternally begotten of the Father refers to the procession of the Son from the Father. That is, the Logos eternally proceeds from the Father. Jordan assumes (falsely) that eternally begotten means or implies that, even entirely apart from the incarnation and His human nature, the Person of the Logos eternally matures. But this is at least Arianism. Here’s why. If God the Father is not becoming more mature, because He [i.e. the Father] is as perfect as He can be, and contains all perfections in Himself, but the eternally begotten Logos is eternally becoming mature, then this entails that the Logos does not have all the perfections of the Father. In that case, the Logos is not the perfect image of the Father. In that case the Logos is only an imperfect image of the Father. But the Scripture teaches that the Logos is the perfect image of the Father (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; Heb 1:3), one in being with the Father. The only difference between the Logos and the Father is the relation between them, i.e. that the Logos is begotten, but the Father is not begotten. The Logos could lack perfections of the Father only if the Logos did not share the same divine nature of the Father. The Logos could not be divine if by his very nature he did not possess all the Father’s perfections. His nature would be a different nature from that of the Father, similiar (homoiousious) perhaps, but not the same nature as the Father’s. Hence, given that the Father is not eternally maturing, Jordan’s claim that the Logos (apart from His human nature) is eternally maturing, entails Arianism.

    Jordan’s mistake here is to infer from the eternality of the begetting relation between the Father and the Son to the conclusion that there is an everlasting process in the Son (i.e. that the Son always continues to grow, forever and ever). But that conclusion simply does not follow. It is a non sequitur, and it entails Arianism.

    Now, Jordan might deny this by claiming that his position is not that the Father is not becoming more mature, while the Logos is becoming more mature. Rather, Jordan might claim, his position is that the Father and the Logos are both eternally becoming more mature. And if that is Jordan’s position, then the referent of these terms (i.e. ‘Father’ and ‘Logos’) as used by Jordan is not the Creator, but is (at best) a creature, for the reasons I explained in my previous comment. Nothing can give to itself what it does not have. So if the Father and the Logos are eternally maturing, then they are eternally acquiring perfections they do not already have. But these perfections cannot come from nothing, because something cannot come from nothing. Therefore, these perfections must be coming from another being who already has these perfections. And in that case, the beings Jordan is calling “Father” and “Logos” and who are eternally growing in perfections are not the source of all things, and hence are not the Creator, but are instead creatures.

    So, for these reasons, either Jordan’s position is a form of Arianism, or the deities he is worshipping are mere creatures. And both of those horns of the dilemma are problematic, for obvious reasons.

    I had written, “Any being who is becoming “more mature” is gaining a perfection that he doesn’t already have (in that nature). And since Jordan’s claim is that God (in His divine nature) is becoming more mature, this entails that He is acquiring this perfection from another being who does have this perfection, since no perfection can come from nothing. In other words, this being who is becoming more mature, must therefore be a created being, dependent on another being as the source of its perfections. And to call a creature God, or to worship a creature, are grave errors.”

    Jordan replied:

    Mr. Cross is not thinking along the lines of the Athanasius Creed. The three persons of God as they glorify one another are not deriving glory from outside themselves but from one another. As Christians we have to be careful when talking about “God this” and “God that,” because we must never forget that God is triune. It is never simply a matter of “God.” We must never slip into deistic thinking.

    How can God, who is all-glorious, be glorified by His creation? We don’t know, but we know that it is so. This, by the way, is called the “full bucket difficulty.” How can a bucket that is already full be filled? If someone thinks that this denies the “law of non-contradiction,” he may do so, but he is out of step with the historic Christian religion.

    The Church has always lived with the seeming contradictions of “eternal begetting” and the glorification of God. There’s nothing in my essay that goes beyond these two thing; or at least I do not intend to. I only intend to explore what they mean for the nature of created history.

    The Athanasian Creed does not say that the three Persons of the Trinity glorify each other, or derive glory from one another. What I said is fully in keeping with the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. If we read between the lines in Jordan’s reply, his response to my argument that God cannot increase in perfections (in His divine nature) is to make two claims: (1) God increases in glory when the members of the Trinity glorify each other, and (2) God increases in glory when He is glorified in His creatures.

    In order to explain why those two claims do not support Jordan’s notion that God is eternally maturing, I need to lay some groundwork regarding glory.

    Glory is said in two ways. In one sense, glory refers to something intrinsic to a thing, namely, the greatness of its nature. Hence, St. Paul speaks about the glory of different things, writing, “There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” (1 Cor. 15:40-41) There he is speaking of glory in this first sense. And it is this sense of glory that Jesus is referring to when He says, “I do not receive glory from men,” (John 5:41) for no creature can make God’s nature greater, or give Him some perfection He lacks (since He lacks no perfection).

    Second, glory refers to the greatness of a thing as known by others. This is the sense in which we are to glorify God. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) God’s greatness is more clearly manifested to the world through our good works, such that men grasp and acknowledge the greatness of God. To glorify God in that sense is to acknowledge and make known His greatness.

    These two senses of glory are used throughout the Bible. Christ’s human nature is glorified at His resurrection; that is glory in the first sense, because His human nature comes to participate more deeply in the divine nature, being now incapable of death and suffering, and capable of entering into the heavenly places. This is the sense of glory Jesus refers to when He says, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5) He is speaking of His being glorified in His human nature. This is the traditional doctrine of theosis, participating in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). In the second sense of glory, Jesus glorifies the Father, and the Father glorifies the Son. The Son makes know the greatness of the Father. And the Father makes known the greatness of the Son. This is what Jesus means when He prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” (John 17:1) And the Spirit also glorifies the Father and the Son in this way, by taking what is of the Son (and thus of the Father, because all the Son has comes from the Father, since the Son is eternally begotten of the Father), and disclosing it to the world. Jesus explained, “He [the Spirit] will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:14)

    I went into this excursus on the two senses of glory, in order to explain the problem with Jordan’s claim that God eternally increases in maturity, on the basis of Jordan’s two claims that (1) God increases in glory when the members of the Trinity glorify each other, and (2) God increases in glory when He is glorified in His creatures.

    Regarding Jordan’s claim that God increases in glory when the members of the Trinity glorify each other, that is not true in the first sense of the term ‘glory.’ The Son cannot say or do anything that makes the Father’s nature greater. Why? Because God’s nature contains all perfections already, and because the three Persons all share the same divine nature. So if the Son were to give a perfection to the Father, this would require that the Son already have that perfection. And since they [i.e. the Father and the Son] share the same divine nature, this would entail that the Father would also already have that perfection. Hence no Person of the Trinity can give glory to any other Person of the Trinity in that sense of the term ‘glory.’

    But, because of the incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity can be glorified in that first sense of the term ‘grace,’ in His human nature. The Father can increase the greatness of the Son’s human nature, by giving it a greater share in the divine nature, as explained above. The Spirit cannot be glorified in this sense. Nor can the Father. Only the Son, and only on account of the incarnation. There is no ‘room’ for improvement in the divine nature, because there is no place from which improvement can come, that did not itself come from God. “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:3) For this reason, if Christ had not become incarnate, then no Person of the Trinity could be glorified by any other Person of the Trinity, in this sense of the term ‘glorify.’ Nothing in Scripture teaches that the divine nature is made greater by anyone, or by any Person of the Trinity. So regarding Jordan’s first piece of evidence that God increases in maturity, namely, the notion that the Persons of the Trinity glorify each other, as I have just shown, the Persons of the Trinity cannot glorify each other in the sense of increasing the greatness of the divine nature; they can only glorify the Son in that sense of glorify, and only in His human nature. So that piece of evidence does not support Jordan’s claim that God eternally increases in maturity, in His divine nature.

    What about Jordan’s second piece of evidence, namely, that God increases in glory when He is glorified in His creatures? When creatures give glory to God, this refers to glory in the second sense, i.e. making the greatness of God more widely manifest among creatures. It does not refer to God increasing in greatness or perfection. Hence, this too is not evidence that God, in His divine nature, is eternally increasing in maturity or acquiring any perfection. So both of Jordan’s reasons fall short of supporting his claim that God (in His divine nature) is eternally maturing.

    As for denying the law of non-contradiction, that involves Jordan claiming that God in His divine nature, both does not change and is eternally maturing. Maturing entails change. So to claim that God in His divine nature both does not change, and is changing, is a basic violation of logic. And when contradictions are allowed into theology, there is no way to distinguish good theology from bad theology. If it were in fact bad theology full of incoherent contradictions, it wouldn’t look any different.

    Jordan claims that “The Church has always lived with the seeming contradictions of “eternal begetting” and the glorification of God.” On the contrary, the Church has never perceived a contradiction between Christ being “eternally begotten” and the glorification of God. To the best of my knowledge not a single council or Church Father claimed that there was a seeming contradiction between Christ being eternally begotten of Father, and the glorification of God.

    So in sum, nothing in Jordan’s reply gives any reason to believe that God in His divine nature is eternally maturing. For the reasons I have explained above, this claim that God (in His divine nature) is eternally maturing, is either one of two errors. It is either Arianism (if Jordan is claiming that the Logos eternally does not have the perfections of the Father), or it is idolatry (if Jordan is urging us to worship three persons who are growing in perfection), since in that case they are creatures.

  54. Bryan,

    Could it be, that instead of positing a development of doctrine, whereby the Church matures in Her understanding of the deposit of faith; a church stunted in her ability to grow in her understanding of the deposit of faith–because it has neither a development of dogma nor ecclesial leadership guided to lead it into “all truth”, must posit that it is in fact God who matures? In other words, the only way to make sense of (1) an embryonic, catatonic church and (2) the fact that things grow is to put forward the notion that God “matures”.

    Also, a recent dialogue with Prof Michael Bauman at Frank Beckwith’s blog brought to bear the anti-philosophical bent of many Reformed theologians and what that might portend (metaphysically) in their theology. Of course, I mean nothing of this with regards to Prof Bauman as evidenced in that particular combox, but it seems that denying the principle of non-contradiction may not be a problem for some who see “Greek” metaphysics as profoundly incompatible with Christianity as “democratic capitalism and communism.”

  55. This comment is really just so I can get on the e-mail list for comments on this post!

    jj

  56. What is the reference point for the “maturing” of God? Here is what I mean- If I mature into a better husband, the reference point is the true Husband, God, and negatively the reference is the worse husband I was. But even the negative reference can only be known in reference to God. What is the reference for God when he is said to mature? If it is not Himself, then He is not God. If the reference point is Himself, then He is not maturing.
    ISTM that maturing is all about gradation. But begetting is all about existence, but not a gradation of existence. It is binary: no existence/existence… no gradation there. So when we say the Son is eternally begotten we are in no way implying that there is a gradation to His existence, only that His existence eternally has its “origin” in the Father. But that does not and cannot imply a gradation where He ever existed “less”. Maturing on the other hand inherently implies a graduation from less to more. Jordan mentioned perhaps needing a better way of explaining it. I would suggest letting an ecumenical council explain it. Perhaps someday he can become a Catholic bishop and suggest calling a council to discuss it!
    Honestly I find myself strangely intruiged by his theory. This is the kind of thing I always loved about James Jordan, his ideas are really fresh and make you think. But even if Jordan’s “eternal maturation” theory works, and his comparison with “eternal begetting” is valid and not heretical, I think it is apparent that his conjecture is on the edge of Chesterton’s cliff in the sea (comment #52). I am not saying Jordan cannot be right, but only that there is no teaching authority above him to tell him if he is wrong. If he becomes fully convinced of the theory, and it turns out that in reality it is heresy, how will he (or those that follow him) know? Even Jordan himself admits to needing to be very careful when discussing his idea- he knows it is on the edge. If he topples of the cliff, who would he listen to from within his conception of what constitutes the church if they told him he was wrong?
    If there was a Vatican III and they declared Jordan’s theory to be true, and compared God’s eternal maturing to His eternally begetting, I would believe it 100% based on the authority of Christ’s Church. Jordan is cavalier about teaching something he himself thinks must be carefully dealt with. Right or wrong, that is a dangerous situation without the magisterium as a guide.

  57. David, (re: #56)

    The problem with the notion that God changes is that fundamentally it is not theism. Any being that can change must have potency. But any being that has potency [in its 'divine' nature, not in a human nature it has assumed] must have a cause other than itself. But God cannot have a cause. 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. And this acquired perfection would have to be acquired from another being already having this perfection, and so the alleged ‘deity’ would therefore be dependent on this other being for the perfections it acquires. But God cannot be dependent in His divine nature on another being for His perfections, for in that case the dependent being would be a creature, and this other being would be God. Therefore, any being that can change is not God [again, we're not talking here about an assumed created nature, as in the incarnation]. Hence, any ‘theology’ in which the highest being is mutable in its ‘divine’ nature, is not theism, because the highest being it recognizes is a creature dependent on a being higher than itself.

    That’s 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 settled. No Vatican III could overturn that dogma, or “declare Jordan’s theory to be true.” If you want to read a good book on this subject, I recommend Thomas Weinandy’s Does God Change?.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  58. In his latest reply Jordan writes:

    The Son is fully mature, and also maturing. I have to leave it at that. At no point does he lack the perfections of God and/or of the Father.

    To claim that the Son, in His divine nature, “is fully mature, and also maturing” is to contradict onself, by claiming that in the same divine nature, the Son is both fully mature and not fully mature. When contradictions are embraced, rather than recognized as indications that at least one of the two claims is false, all claims become meaningless, because, for example, the claim that God is fully mature is then fully compatible with the claim that God is not fully mature. And so the claim becomes gibberish, since the truth of its affirmation is indistinguishable from the truth of its negation. (This is what happens when one attempts to violate the law of non-contradiction.) Avicenna wrote, “Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.”

    Jordan continues:

    Maturation is not addition. A five year old child is a perfect human being in the image of God, for a five year old. When he is ten he is more mature, but not more perfect.

    Maturation is the gaining of maturity, which is a perfection. If Christ (in His divine nature) is gaining maturity, then He does not already have all maturity, because if He already had all maturity, He could not gain maturity. So again, for the reasons I explained in comment #53, this claim that Christ (in His divine nature) is gaining maturity, entails either Arianism or the worship of mere creatures.

  59. “TurretinFan” claims that what I said above [in comment #53] is incompatible with the teaching of the Council of Florence. I had said “Christ’s being eternally begotten of the Father refers to the procession of the Son from the Father. That is, the Logos eternally proceeds from the Father.”

    TF then quotes from the Council of Florence:

    The Son is from the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son; not made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. And in this Trinity nothing is before or after, nothing is greater or less; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as has been said above, the unity in Trinity and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. Whoever, therefore, wishes to be saved, let him think thus of the Trinity. … The Father alone from his substance begot the Son; the Son alone is begotten of the Father alone; the holy Spirit alone proceeds at once from the Father and the Son.

    The only problem is that TF forgets to show where and how what I said is incompatible with the Council of Florence. It seems that TF thinks that because I said that the Son “proceeds” from the Father, and because the Council says that the Son is “begotten” from the Father, and that the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son, that therefore what I said is incompatible with Florence. TF apparently does not realize that begetting is one kind of procession. (See Summa Theologica I Q. 27 a.2)

  60. Re: #59

    Bryan,

    I think my comments were excessively harsh. I hope you will forgive me for them. I have posted a softening retraction to my original blog post (to which you’ve already linked).

    -TurretinFan

  61. TF,

    You claim:

    “So, perhaps I am being unduly harsh on Bryan in insisting that he maintain the distinctions set forth in Florence when even the second most recent pope doesn’t keep them straight.”

    In Catholic theology all along, including at Florence, generation has been understood as a form of procession, one of the two processions in God (i.e. generation and spiration). St. Thomas wasn’t being novel, and Florence was in no way negating that tradition. Nor was Pope John Paul II mixing anything up, or failing to keep anything straight. You’re reading into Florence what isn’t there. When Florence says that the Son is eternally begotten, it is not denying that this is a procession. Generation is a procession, but not all procession is begetting. So the Spirit proceeds, but is not begotten. Once you understand that generation is a procession, then you’ll see that Pope John Paul II isn’t mixing anything up, but is in perfect agreement with Florence.

    At least, shall we say, JP2 and Cross do not maintain the exclusive use of “procession” with reference to spiration that Florence did.

    You’re reading Florence as if there is no theological tradition behind it, by which we are to understand it rightly. (This is the same mistake that leads to misinterpreting the Bible.) Florence’s exclusive use of the term “procession” for spiration does not mean that the Council thought generation was not a procession. These bishops knew that there are two processions, and that spiration is a different sort of procession from that of generation. They used ‘begetting’ in order to distinguish that kind of procession from the kind of procession by which the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

    To wrap up, I think my words “demonstrated his lack of familiarity” may be unduly harsh and unjustified, so I retract them in favor “demonstrated a departure from the dogmatically defined distinctions employed by the Council of Florence.”

    There is no departure at all. You see a departure only because you are reading Florence apart from the theological tradition in which it was written, and as a result you are misinterpreting it.

    After all, perhaps Bryan is more familiar with Aquinas’ usage than with the subsequent dogmatic definition of Bryan’s church, or perhaps Bryan is influenced by John Paul II’s usage.

    The correct explanation is that you are misreading Florence as though it teaches that begetting is not a procession, and are therefore not grasping that what Pope John Paul II and St. Thomas and I said is perfectly in keeping with what Florence said.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  62. Bryan,

    I respectfully disagree with your assessment regarding who is misreading Florence and what tradition was being adopted in it, but I appreciate your kind reply. I do want to reiterate that I hope you will forgive my unduly harsh words in the original post.

    Sincerely,

    - TurretinFan

  63. TF,

    I appreciate that offer. But I never saw any harsh words from you, so from my perspective there is nothing to forgive. So, please be at peace about it; I have nothing against you.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  64. Doug Wilson recently explained what he would say if he had 5 minutes with the Pope:

    5 min with the pope_1.mp4 from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

    H/T Brandon Vogt

  65. Bryan (re: #57),

    Any being that can change must have potency. But any being that has potency [in its 'divine' nature, not in a human nature it has assumed] must have a cause other than itself.

    This makes sense. I know it’s not the main topic of the post, but recently, K. Scott Oliphint has argued that God, prior to the incarnation, assumed various contingent (non-essential) properties to relate to his creation. Could God Exodus 33:1-17 and other passages (such as God relenting of punishment He said he would carry out), be interpreted as God assuming the ability to “change His mind” in how He relates to His creatures?

    That is, God is still Spirit, Eternal, and Unchangeable according to His essence, but He can take on contingent properties that allow Him to relate to His creatures in a way which makes it look like He is physical, temporal, mutable, etc.

    Oliphint sums up the basic idea when he says: “the fact of God relenting no more requires that we give up on His aseity, than does the fact of Christ getting hungry requires that we give up on His deity.”

    Oliphint explains more in a lecture responding to atheist Michael Martin and his minions. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiABrzSr2B0&list=PLBD5CB21478B46657&quot; Here is the link to part 6 of the lecture which sums up the main points. He does not seem to say anything out of line with Christian orthodoxy, though he does seem to say things in a different way.

    If you had a chance, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Peace,
    John D.

  66. JohnD (re: #65)

    Could God Exodus 33:1-17 and other passages (such as God relenting of punishment He said he would carry out), be interpreted as God assuming the ability to “change His mind” in how He relates to His creatures?

    Passages can be interpreted in all kinds of ways, so yes. But that doesn’t mean that all these possible interpretations are true.

    That is, God is still Spirit, Eternal, and Unchangeable according to His essence, but He can take on contingent properties that allow Him to relate to His creatures in a way which makes it look like He is physical, temporal, mutable, etc.

    There cannot be two parts of the divine nature: a part that does not gain or lose properties, and a part that takes on and then loses properties. Here are a few reasons. First, properties that are gained do not come out of nothing, because nothing can come from nothing. Hence, they are created. But the divine nature is in no way created; whatever is created is not the divine nature. Therefore the divine nature cannot gain properties. Second, there is no actual distinction between God and “His properties.” God is not a bundle of properties, nor does God “have” properties. Our minds distinguish conceptually between God’s love and His wisdom, for example, but these refer not to two distinct ontological entities possessed inherently by God or existing within God, but rather to God Himself. The distinction between God’s love and God’s wisdom is at the level of the human mind, not at the level of God Himself. The concepts in our minds are distinct, but what they refer to is the same: God Himself. Third, there is no potentiality in the divine nature, because otherwise the divine nature would need a cause outside itself. But potentiality would be needed in order for the divine nature to gain or lose properties. Hence the divine nature cannot gain or lose properties. Fourth, in order to give Himself properties, God would already have to have them, because one cannot give what one does not have, and by definition there is no one ‘higher’ from which to get them than God Himself. Fifth, nothing would make these two parts parts of one being. They would be two beings, each with its own nature. If they each had the very same nature, nothing would differentiate them into two. But if they were non-identical, then in order to make them parts of one being, there would need to be a unifying principle giving them unity. This source of unity would be God, and thus the parts themselves wouldn’t be God, because the ‘parts’ would be dependent on this principle for their unity, but the divine nature isn’t dependent on anything. Sixth, if this part that gained and lost properties was not identical to the other part, then God would be contingent, because nothing would eliminate the possibility that this part could be separated from the other part. But God is not contingent. Therefore this ‘part’ would have to be identical to the other part, in which case it could not gain or lose properties. Seventh, because God’s essence is His existence, there cannot be two parts to His essence for the same reason that there cannot be two Gods. Nothing would differentiate them. If one of them was not existence itself, its essence would be different from the divine essence, and hence wouldn’t be God. That’s because a nature that can gain or lose properties is not existence itself, on account of its potentiality. Hence that ‘part’ that could gain or lose properties would not be the divine nature, but would be a created entity.

    As for the video, Oliphant’s first statement contains a non sequitur. Just because we can “ascribe the properties of both the divine and the human” to Christ, it does not follow that the divine nature can have both essential and contingent inherent properties. Oliphant wrongly assumes that if Christ can have two natures, then the divine nature can have both essential and contingent inherent properties. That’s a mistake for the reasons I have just laid out in the previous paragraph.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  67. Bryan (re: #66),

    Thanks for the thorough reply. I do have a few follow-up questions, since I’m not sure if you are addressing Oliphint’s main points.

    There cannot be two parts of the divine nature: a part that does not gain or lose properties, and a part that takes on and then loses properties.

    This sounds completely orthodox and sensible, as do the rest of the reasons you lay out for this assertion. But, I am not convinced that Oliphint’s position entails that the divine nature has parts. In fact, he explained in a lecture I heard once (though don’t think I have the link) that he defends God’s simplicity, which (if I’m not mistaken) is what you describe when you say, “God is not a bundle of properties, nor does God “have” properties. Our minds distinguish conceptually between God’s love and His wisdom, for example, but these refer not to two distinct ontological entities possessed inherently by God or existing within God, but rather to God Himself. The distinction between God’s love and God’s wisdom is at the level of the human mind, not at the level of God Himself. The concepts in our minds are distinct, but what they refer to is the same: God Himself…God’s essence is His existence”.

    Thus, I think Oliphint does not mean that the divine nature can have parts. So, what does he mean? Let me reply to your last paragraph with my interpretation of his position.

    As for the video, Oliphant’s first statement contains a non sequitur. Just because we can “ascribe the properties of both the divine and the human” to Christ, it does not follow that the divine nature can have both essential and contingent inherent properties. Oliphant wrongly assumes that if Christ can have two natures, then the divine nature can have both essential and contingent inherent properties. That’s a mistake for the reasons I have just laid out in the previous paragraph.

    First, I don’t see why you included the word “inherent” since that seems to be close in meaning to essential, and isn’t it obvious that God (or creatures for that matter) do not have “essential, contingent” properties? Even if it doesn’t follow from the case of Christ that “the divine nature can have both essential and contingent inherent properties”, I believe it does follow that the divine persons can assume (take on) contingent properties. So, Oliphint is arguing that if divine persons (viz. the Son of God becoming incarnate) can take on contingent properties to relate to creatures in the New Testament, then divine persons could do that prior to the New Testament.

    For example, when God speaks to Moses in the burning bush, He takes on various contingent properties (e.g. “speech”, “appearing in a flame”, etc.) to relate to Moses in a special way. Once the general idea of God taking on contingent properties to relate to creation is admitted (covenantal condescension as Oliphint calls it), many OT passages can be interpreted, and seem to make a lot of sense, in light of that paradigm.

    It doesn’t seem like he is saying anything heretical or against Christian orthodoxy, but I admit he is saying things in a different way than they are normally said. Thus, I am anxious to hear your thoughts on what I just said. And, if you think this breaks with Catholic dogma at any point, I would like to know that as well (you probably can guess why).

    Peace,
    John D.

  68. JohnD (re: #67)

    Thus, I think Oliphint does not mean that the divine nature can have parts.

    I agree with you that he does not “mean” that the divine nature has parts, but I’m arguing that what he does say entails that the divine nature is not simple, but has some part that necessarily remains the same, and some part that is able to gain and lose inherent properties.

    First, I don’t see why you included the word “inherent” since that seems to be close in meaning to essential, and isn’t it obvious that God (or creatures for that matter) do not have “essential, contingent” properties?

    No, ‘inherent’ is not the same as ‘essential.” An essential property cannot be lost, while an inherent property can be lost. Inherent here means intrinsic, and the alternative is an extrinsic property. There can be contingent, inherent (or intrinsic) properties.

    Oliphint is arguing that if divine persons (viz. the Son of God becoming incarnate) can take on contingent properties to relate to creatures in the New Testament, then divine persons could do that prior to the New Testament.

    Christ took on a human nature not through any change in His Person or any change in the divine nature, as I explained briefly in comment #36 in the “What Catholics and Protestants have wrong …” thread. The change was in the matter, not in God. (The union of the human nature and the Logos is something created, and therefore is not the divine nature or the Logos.) And the same is true of the OT theophanies; in those cases too, God didn’t change, the matter did, in its heightened capacity to manifest (in these unique ways) the power and presence of God. So, in short, appealing to the incarnation to argue that God (in the divine Persons per se, or in His divine nature) can change is building on a misunderstanding of the incarnation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  69. Bryan (re: #67),

    I’m arguing that what he does say entails that the divine nature is not simple, but has some part that necessarily remains the same, and some part that is able to gain and lose inherent properties.

    Ok. I’m still not seeing how his position entails that.

    No, ‘inherent’ is not the same as ‘essential.” An essential property cannot be lost, while an inherent property can be lost. Inherent here means intrinsic, and the alternative is an extrinsic property. There can be contingent, inherent (or intrinsic) properties.

    Thanks for the clarification. I think this is actually the key point then. If the contingent properties assumed by Divine persons are not intrinsic, then it is not necessary that the divine nature has parts in order for what Oliphint is describing to obtain. For example, the Son of God assuming a body/human nature is an example of a divine person taking on contingent, extrinsic properties.

    Christ took on a human nature not through any change in His Person or any change in the divine nature…

    Makes sense. The change is in the created things, not in God, who is immutable.

    And the same is true of the OT theophanies; in those cases too, God didn’t change, the matter did, in its heightened capacity to manifest (in these unique ways) the power and presence of God. So, in short, appealing to the incarnation to argue that God (in the divine Persons per se, or in His divine nature) can change is building on a misunderstanding of the incarnation.

    What is the precise misunderstanding of the incarnation you are referring to? Unless you interpret “take on contingent properties” as equivalent to “change”, I don’t see how anything I said is incompatible with a correct understanding of the incarnation. Moreover, I don’t think Oliphint is saying God can change. He is saying what is said of the incarnation and applying that principle to God, pre-incarnation. That is, the pre-incarnate God could take on created, contingent (and extrinsic only?) properties to relate to His creation.

    You say, ”God didn’t change, the matter did”. I feel like this would translate into Oliphint’s paradigm nicely; he might say, ”God didn’t change, the created, contingent properties did.

    Thoughts?

    Peace,
    John D.

  70. JohnD (re: #69)

    If the contingent properties assumed by Divine persons are not intrinsic, then it is not necessary that the divine nature has parts in order for what Oliphint is describing to obtain.

    What assuming only extrinsic properties means, in the case of God, is that only non-God things change (excepting Christ’s human nature), in which case we’re right back to what I said in #57.

    You say, ”God didn’t change, the matter did”. I feel like this would translate into Oliphint’s paradigm nicely; he might say, ”God didn’t change, the created, contingent properties did.

    Properties don’t change. Property bearers change when they gain or lose properties. But that’s not necessarily the case when the change is only in extrinsic properties, because such a case is compatible with only other things changing. But if you’re going for conformity with the “plain” sense of these OT passages in which God seems to change, then this answer isn’t going to satisfy you, because interpreting these as “only other things changing” is not the plain sense.

    But at this point, as I hope you notice, we’re way off the topic of Doug Wilson, or even FV.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  71. Bryan (re: #70),

    But at this point, as I hope you notice, we’re way off the topic of Doug Wilson, or even FV.

    Correct. This will be my last post about this if you patiently permit it =)

    What assuming only extrinsic properties means, in the case of God, is that only non-God things change (excepting Christ’s human nature), in which case we’re right back to what I said in #57.

    It makes sense that only non-God things change, but I don’t understand why Christ’s human nature is the exception. Why can’t it be the pinnacle of the model for how God relates to creation?

    But if you’re going for conformity with the “plain” sense of these OT passages in which God seems to change, then this answer isn’t going to satisfy you, because interpreting these as “only other things changing” is not the plain sense.

    I would like to understand the Catholic way of making sense of those type of OT passages. However, Oliphint’s paradigm is not merely used to explain those controversial passages of God relenting, changing His mind, etc. His paradigm can be used answer questions like: what does it mean for God to “speak to Moses” from the burning bush? It means that God assumed specific contingent properties (“speech”, “fire”, etc.) to interact with Moses in a particular way. Would this less controversial be compatible with the Catholic doctrine of God?

    Thanks for your patience and interaction. I will wait for a more appropriate location to bring these thoughts up again.

    Peace,
    John D.

  72. JohnD (re: #71)

    but I don’t understand why Christ’s human nature is the exception. Why can’t it be the pinnacle of the model for how God relates to creation?

    Because Christ didn’t become a frog, a bat, a bee, a tree, etc. He took on only human nature. The reason why the exception to “God cannot change” is only Christ’s human nature is that Christ has no third nature, and the Father and the Spirit have no second nature.

    Would this less controversial be compatible with the Catholic doctrine of God?

    I don’t understand the question, but if you are asking whether God, in His divine nature, has the potentiality to take on inherent contingent or temporary properties, the answer, for reasons I explained above, is no. God cannot take on any inherent properties, because He has no potential.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  73. There is real irony and contradiction here. Wilson contends that if you grasp the “rationalizations” behind praying before images, then you won’t go to hell (i.e. right thinking about it makes it okay). But if one does so without such “rationalizations” (i.e. an uninformed view from the Catholic perspective) then one is in idolatry, and is going to hell (i.e. ignorance about it makes it bad). [The latter he sees as more consistent. But if the concept behind the thing makes it what it is, then each is consistent in its own framework and undergirding.]

    Let us now apply that rule to Protestants and soteriology.

    If a Protestant has a good knowledge of the soteriological backing for their (forensic) justification, then he or she is saved. But if one has a simplistic view / concept of their (forensic) justification (i.e. an uninformed view from the Protestant perspective), is that person therefore not saved? It would seem to follow from Wilson’s argument that such ignorance will put one outside of salvific faith. …In which case, the gospel suddenly becomes not so simple after all.

    That said, I think it beneficial to remind ourselves of that the early fathers seem to have rejected the use of images in worship. Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Origen [not technically a church father because of his later heresy], Lactantius, and Arnobius all witness derission towards images as a pagan practice (still recognizing that to pagans, they are mere referencial, not believed to be the gods or people themselves), and not done by Christians. “False” images of Christ are referred to, and no image of divinity is had. In fact, when the church of Nicomedia set upon by the prefect and chief commanders, it is pointed out that they found no “image of the Divinity,” though they searched everywhere. Obviously, as pagans who used images, that is not what they were expecting. Instead, they satiated their outrage with burning the scriptures, and looting everything else. [see Lactantyius, 7.305]

    It might also be pointed out that some of the earliest images related to Christ are symbolic in nature (as a typical shepherd, with a lamb on his shoulders in the catacombs). Dura Europos does have a portrayal of the healing of the paralytic. In these, the figure of Jesus has short hair and is beardless, reflecting the culture of the artists. Irenaeus and Hippolytus would refer to them as counterfeits, since they seem to know of no image of Christ left to the Church. Arnobius, responding to pagan complaints that Christians do not have or honor statues and temples of the gods, retorts that they should feel honored, since we Christians do not honor “the Head and Lord of the universe…with shrines and by building temples” (6.507).

    Clearly, Church leadership’s broad acceptance of using images of the Lord in worship, prayer, etc, did not occur in earliest Christianity. It does not appear to be of Apostolic origin, and seems a practice accepted to plakate the masses of converted gentiles who were used to it. Even to this day in Orthodoxy, portrayals of God the Father are unacceptable (with the possible exception of the theophany of the “hospitality of Abraham”). So, particularly with portrayals of the Father, the Western Church is on its own…and is out of step with the theology of iconography in the Second Council of Nicaea.

    So, one could see why Wilson may have a point, particularly considering the Church’s teaching regarding dying when one has not repented of a mortal sin (if one regards such use of icons as a mortal sin).

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