Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and ClarkSep 26th, 2011 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
On September 21, Professor Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology and author of The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and his Interpreters gave a lecture titled “The Natural Desire to See God and Man’s Supernatural End” to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. The audio recordings of the lecture and of the following Q&A are available below.
The mp3s can be downloaded here.
This lecture helps further the ecumenical dialogue in the following way. Essential to reuniting Protestants and Catholics is finding the disagreements behind the disagreements, because these are the fundamental causes of the division’s persistence, and yet they tend to remain hidden and relatively undiscussed though implicitly presupposed. One such fundamental disagreement concerns the essence and relation of nature and grace, because this disagreement underlies the Protestant-Catholic disagreement concerning the relations of law and gospel, faith and works, and justification and sanctification. And not uncommonly the two sides talk past each other (or critique a straw man) when they use their own concepts for nature and grace when criticizing the other’s position.1 The difference between their respective theologies of nature and grace is especially manifested in their doctrines concerning the pre-fall condition of Adam and Eve. St. Thomas, drawing from Aristotle’s On the Heavens, writes, “parvus error in principio magnus est in fine,” meaning “a small error in the beginning is a large error in the end.” And that is equally true here, where a small error concerning man’s initial state can lead to much larger errors in Christology and soteriology.
One Reformed position on this subject is that of Meredith Kline, who taught for many years at Westminster Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Westminster Seminary California, and whose theology concerning nature and grace is still the predominant position at that latter institution. For Kline, when God made man He made a “Covenant of Works” with man, and His making this covenant was necessitated by His nature, given His choice to create man. In other words, having freely chosen to make man, God was bound by His own justice to make the “Covenant of Works” with man. This is why for Kline the Covenant of Works is not rightly said to involve grace, because there was nothing gratuitous in the Covenant of Works, beyond the very decision to create man. For Kline, the reward for obedience under the Covenant of Works was heaven, the same reward we are offered through Christ under the Covenant of Grace.
A principle of works – do this and live – governed the attainment of the consummation-kingdom proferred in the blessing sanction of the creational covenant. Heaven must be earned. According to the terms stipulated by the Creator it would be on the ground of man’s faithful completion of the work of probation that he would be entitled to enter the Sabbath rest. If Adam obediently performed the assignment signified by the probation tree, he would receive, as a matter of pure and simple justice, the reward symbolized by the tree of life.2
The problem with the notion that man without grace can merit heaven is that this is the heresy of Pelagianism, as Barrett Turner showed in his article “Pelagian Westminster?.” But Kline essentially locks himself into that notion by his definition of ‘grace.’ He defines grace as follows:
Properly defined, grace is not merely the bestowal of unmerited blessings but God’s blessing of man in spite of his demerits, in spite of his forfeiture of divine blessings. Clearly, we ought not apply this term grace to the pre-fall situation, for neither the bestowal of blessings on Adam in the very process of creation nor the proposal to grant him additional blessings contemplated him as in a guilty state of demerit.3
Because he defines ‘grace’ as “God’s blessing in spite of [man's] demerits,” there is by definition no room for or possibility of grace in the pre-fall condition. And in this way Kline defines himself into a Pelagian corner.
The error underlying Pelagianism is a denial of the Creator-creature distinction, because Pelagianism treats heaven (i.e. seeing God face to face, as He sees Himself) as man’s natural end, proportionate to man, and thus attainable by man without grace, but simply through man’s own nature. Feingold’s lecture (above) explains why necessarily heaven is natural only to God, and therefore why for any creature heaven is a supernatural end. Therefore no creature, not even any angel, can enter heaven without grace elevating that creature to its supernatural end. (See my post titled “St. Thomas on Angels and Grace.”)
So by denying that God had given grace to Adam and Eve prior to their sin, while at the same time claiming that heaven was their reward for obedience, Kline’s position is Pelagian.
Kline has responded to the objection that “The disproportion between Adam’s work and the promised blessing forbids us to speak of simple justice.” He writes:
Another form of the attack on the Covenant of Works doctrine (and thus on the classic law-gospel contrast) asserts that even if it is allowed that Adam’s obedience would have earned something, the disproportion between the value of that act of service and the value of the proferred blessing forbids us to speak here of simple equity or justice. The contention is that Adam’s ontological status limited the value or weight of his acts. More specifically his act of obedience would not have eternal value or significance; it could not earn a reward of eternal, confirmed life. In the offer of eternal life, so we are told, we must therefore recognize an element of “grace” in the preredemptive covenant. But belying this assessment of the situation is the fact that if it were true that Adam’s act of obedience could not have eternal significance then neither could or did his actual act of disobedience have eternal significance. It did not deserve the punishment of everlasting death. Consistency would compel us to judge God guilty of imposing punishment beyond the demands of justice, pure and simple. God would have to be charged with injustice in inflicting the punishment of Hell, particularly when he exacted that punishment from his Son as the substitute for sinners. The Cross would be the ultimate act of divine injustice. That is the theologically disastrous outcome of blurring the works-grace contrast by appealing to a supposed disproportionality between work and reward.4
Kline’s argument goes like this. “If it were true that Adam’s act of obedience could not have eternal significance then neither could or did his actual act of disobedience have eternal significance.” But Adam’s act of disobedience did have eternal significance, in that it deserved the punishment of everlasting death. Therefore, Adam’s act of obedience could and must have eternal significance.
The problem with this argument is that it is a red herring. Its conclusion is fully compatible with the truth of the objection. Just because Adam’s act of obedience would have had eternal significance, it does not follow either that (a) heaven is proportionate to grace-less obedience or (b) pre-fall Adam was without grace. It seems that Kline is unaware of the distinction discussed in Feingold’s lecture, namely, the distinction between man’s natural and supernatural ends.
Kline continues his response to this objection:
On the approach that mistakenly contends that the presence of God’s paternal love involves grace and so negates the possibility of meritorious works and simple justice, divine justice ceases to be foundational to all divine government. A negative, punitive justice may be recognized, as in the retribution against the wicked in hell, to which paternal love does not reach. But there is no place in that view for positive justice; those who advocate it must deny that the rewarding of doers of the law with life forms the reverse side of the negative justice which punishes the breakers of the law with death. They cannot consistently confess that justice is the foundation of God’s throne (Pss 89:14(15); 97:2).5
Here Kline responds to those who claim that since the Covenant of Works involves grace therefore it cannot involve meritorious works. He rightly points out that such a position excludes divine justice, or arbitrarily recognizes only the negative aspect of justice while denying its positive aspect. The position he is criticizing in this paragraph is obviously not the Catholic position, according to which Adam and Eve could have merited heaven prior to the fall, precisely because God had infused into them sanctifying grace and agape.
The disproportionality view’s failure with respect to the doctrine of divine justice can be traced to its approach to the definition of justice. A proper approach will hold that God is just and his justice is expressed in all his acts; in particular, it is expressed in the covenant he institutes. The terms of the covenant – the stipulated reward for the stipulated service – are a revelation of that justice. As a revelation of God’s justice the terms of the covenant define justice. According to this definition, Adam’s obedience would have merited the reward of eternal life and not a gram of grace would have been involved.6
Here Kline’s argument goes like this. The terms of the Covenant of Works are a revelation of God’s justice. According to the terms of the Covenant of Works Adam’s obedience would have merited the reward of eternal life. Therefore, by justice alone without a gram of grace, Adam’s obedience would have merited the reward of eternal life.
The problem with that argument is that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The truth of the two premises is fully compatible with eternal life being the merited reward of graced-obedience.
In the last paragraph of his response to this objection Kline writes:
Refusing to accept God’s covenant word as the definer of justice, the disproportionality view exalts above God’s word a standard of justice of its own making. Assigning ontological values to Adam’s obedience and God’s reward it finds that weighed on its judicial scales they are drastically out of balance. In effect that conclusion imputes an imperfection in justice to the Lord of the covenant. The attempt to hide this affront against the majesty of the Judge of all the earth by condescending to assess the relation of Adam’s act to God’s reward as one of congruent merit is no more successful than Adam’s attempt to manufacture a covering to conceal his nakedness. It succeeds only in exposing the roots of this opposition to Reformed theology in the theology of Rome.7
Here Kline claims that the objection regarding disproportionality does not allow the Biblical account regarding God’s promise of reward and punishment for Adam to define the standard of justice. He means that the objection does not allow the Biblical account to define the standard of justice of what is due as reward to man for obedience carried out by human nature alone, without grace. But Kline’s rejoinder begs the question, by presupposing that the reward in the Biblical account is justly due for obedience carried out by human nature alone, and not carried out by man-infused-with-grace. If God had already given sanctifying grace to Adam when God laid before him the conditions for obedience and disobedience, then those conditions reveal the just reward and punishment for man-infused-with-grace, not for man-without-grace. So Kline’s response presupposes precisely what is in question between those holding his view of the Covenant of Works, and the Catholic Church. In short, none of Kline’s rejoinders to the disproportionality objection refute the Catholic disproportionality objection (as exemplified in the Feingold lecture).
Westminster Professor R. Scott Clark likewise denies the possibility of pre-fall grace, writing: “Thus, the First Adam needed no grace before the fall. Grace is for sinners, not for the sinless.”8 And elsewhere Clark writes, “Grace, as we mostly use it, is reserved to describe God’s favor toward sinners not the sinless and not Adam ante lapsum.”9 Clark and Kline make this claim for two reasons in conjunction. First, they are presupposing a biblicist theological methodology according to which if we do not see in Scripture any explicit claim that Adam and Eve possessed grace prior to the fall, and no such claim follows by logical necessity from any explicit claims in Scripture, then we are right to conclude that Adam and Eve did not possess grace prior to the fall.10 Second, this method presupposes an ecclesial deism (as I’ll show below) according to which the thousand years of theology that preceded the 16th century cannot be trusted, and therefore all the theologians from St. Augustine onward who referred to Adam and Eve having grace prior to the fall can be summarily dismissed.11
Clark’s position differs from Kline’s in that for Clark, but not for Kline, God could have withheld the Covenant of Works from man. Yet Clark, like Kline, maintains that there was no grace in the Covenant of Works. He holds that God entered only into a legal relation with Adam and Eve: “[I]t was a legal, and not a gracious relation. Adam was to earn his entry into glory.”12 For this reason, Clark’s position is Pelagian in the same way as Kline’s. In response to the argument that denying pre-fall grace while affirming the possibility of meriting heaven entails Pelagianism, Clark writes:
Humanity (as Augustine taught us and as Boston repeated) has existed in four states. The prelapsarian state and the post-lapsarian states are distinct. Hence Paul called the natural state post lapsum “dead.” (Eph 2;1-4). Prior to the fall we were “alive.” Our abilities, then, suffered a mortal blow, literally, after the fall. Thus whatever we cannot do (anything meritorious) after the fall is no indicator of human ability before the fall.13
Clark’s argument goes like this. Prior to the fall Adam’s nature was greater than it was after the fall. In other words, human nature became corrupted through Adam’s sin. But Pelagianism is the error of claiming that corrupted human nature without grace can merit heaven. Therefore claiming that pre-fall Adam without grace could merit heaven is not Pelagianism.
But what makes Pelagianism false is not merely that Adam had lost some natural, finite power. What makes Pelagianism false is that no creature is by nature proportionate to the supernatural end which is the Beatific Vision. As the Feingold lecture above explains, the supernatural end which is God’s own inner life is natural and therefore proportionate only to God Himself. Hence no creature, not even the highest angel, could, without grace, merit God’s own inner life. So Clark’s reply that the pre-fall Adam had a greater nature (though without grace) does not obviate the Pelagian error. It treats man as naturally proportionate to God, and in this way denies the Creator-creature distinction.
We know that in order for the heavenly reward for Adam’s obedience to be just, his obedience must have been graced-obedience, i.e. obedience done out of the supernatural virtue of agape flowing from a heart infused with sanctifying grace. Only if his obedience was done through a participation in the divine nature could it be directed to that supernatural end which is heaven. So the Covenant of Works had to have included infused grace, because otherwise one faces either the Scylla of Pelagianism or the Charybdis that the reward Adam could have merited (and which the second Adam did merit) was something infinitely less than heaven.
Both Clark and Michael Horton reject the doctrine of grace as participation in the divine nature. They construe union with Christ as entirely extrinsic and stipulative. Clark writes, “Our union with Christ is both legal and vital, but never ontic. We are “in Christ” by virtue of God’s decree.”14 By ‘vital union’ Clark is referring to a personal relationship between Christ and the believer, effected by the Spirit through the gift of faith. Of course for Clark regeneration precedes faith, because unregenerate man is dead, and therefore unable to believe. For Clark, regeneration is not vital union with Christ; regeneration is a benefit of legal union with Christ. And therefore for Clark neither regeneration nor ‘vital union’ with Christ are an ontological union by way of an infusion of grace or participation in the divine nature. Positing a ‘vital union’ with Christ, construed as fellowship with Christ, while denying a participation in the divine nature, undermines the Creator-creature distinction, because it either treats man as being by his very created nature capable of giving to God the Agape God is by nature, or it reduces divine Agape to the natural love in human-human friendships.
If ‘vital union’ is to be more than extrinsic union, it must be a participation in the divine Life, and thus ontological. But Clark denies ontological union, and denies participation in the divine nature. That makes ‘vital union’ a mere extrinsic union. One problem with a merely covenantal notion of union with Christ is that it reduces heaven to the equivalent of Abraham’s bosom. (Luke 16:22) A merely covenantal union with Christ is what we have now in this present life, and what the saints in Abraham’s bosom had as well. It is not the Beatific Vision. Hence if Clark holds that in the eschatological consummation our union with Christ is only covenantal, and not ontological, then his position denies the possibility of attaining heaven, and offers to men in its place something infinitely lower. But if he admits that in the consummation our union with Christ is ontological, then he has no principled reason for claiming that grace cannot be a participation in the divine nature in addition to divine favor.15
But, again, part of the problem here is semantic. Clark claims that the Covenant of Works was a free act by God, but not gracious. He writes:
Now, that “earning” was within a covenant freely made by God by, as the WCF says, “voluntary condescension,” …. They [the authors of the WCF] turned not to grace to explain God’s free act in covenanting with Adam, instead they turned to the divine free will. Hence “voluntary condescension.” … The Creator/creature relations are such that man did not have any claim on God without God having freely willed to enter into a legal relation. That done, it was a legal, and not a gracious relation. Adam was to earn his entry into glory.16
Because of his definition of ‘grace,’ Clark cannot describe Adam’s pre-fall ability to merit heaven as made possible by infused grace. So he must attribute it to human nature, and thus run into the Pelagian problem. But if he were not hamstrung by this stipulated definition of ‘grace,’ he could simply grant that in offering to Adam the supernatural end which is heaven, and in making this supernatural end attainable in justice by the merit of Adam’s obedience, God had to infuse Adam with a participation in the divine nature (i.e. with grace) to make his actions proportionate to that supernatural end.
Another objection to the Catholic doctrine is the claim that it implies that human nature in itself (even prior to the fall) is defective or fallen. Clark attributes this notion to St. Thomas, writing, “For Thomas, nature is inherently defective and requires grace, as a result of creation, to perfect it.”17 Clark construes the Catholic position in this way. He writes, “We were not created corrupt (Augustine and Thomas) or fallen.”18 Here Clark is claiming that for St. Augustine and St. Thomas, God created man corrupt. But that is untrue and inaccurate. Listen to the second question in the Q&A of the lecture above, in which this very question is addressed; it begins at 5 minutes and 10 seconds into the audio. Human nature is good, because everything God made is good. But our lower appetites (such as our desire for food and our sexual appetite) are not intrinsically ordered to our overall good; they are not in themselves ordered to the good, but to particular types of good. They contribute to our overall good when governed by reason: sometimes prodded forward by reason and other times restrained by reason. Hence they need to be governed by reason, which by its very nature is ordered toward the good, not merely toward that which is good in a certain respect. But since lower appetites are not by their nature docile to reason, therefore without the preternatural gift of integrity, they would often be at odds with reason. So God provided Adam and Eve with the preternatural gift of integrity, which they forfeited when they sinned. The lack of this integrity is not a defect in human nature; something is “defective” only if it falls short of its nature. But human nature does not contain or require this integrity; otherwise we would not now be human, since we do not now possess this integrity. Therefore, the lack of this integrity is not a defect in human nature.19 Likewise, mortality is natural to man, not because man was created defective but because man is a material being. A body is not by its nature as body subject to the soul. This is why corporeal creatures are naturally mortal. Hence the immortality possessed by Adam and Eve was a preternatural gift, and this gift too was lost by their sin. If immortality belonged to human nature proper, then we mortal creatures would not be human; we would be another kind of creature altogether.
A bit further down Clark writes:
The notion that the fall was a fall from grace stems, as I’ve said before, from an unbiblical and pagan view of divine-human relations. We do not exist on one end of a continuum with God. We are and only shall be analogues to God. Full stop.
To say that grace was necessary before the fall is to say that, in effect, divinity is a pre-requisite for obedience, that humanity as such is incapable of obedience. That scheme almost always (and certainly did in Thomas and certainly does in contemporary evangelicalism) lead to a doctrine of theosis — divinization as salvation. See M. Karkainen’s (Fuller Sem) new book where teaches this explicitly.
This, of course, destroys not only the Creator/creature relations by turning the creature into the Creator it also makes our problem ontological rather than moral. Scripture never does this. The Protestants didn’t do this. Augustine and Thomas did. Augustine and Thomas were wrong! Luther, Calvin and our theologians and symbols were more biblical.
This approach also destroys the incarnation. We have a God-Man Savior. His humanity is not deified and his deity is not confused with his humanity. We have a Savior with two distinct natures united in one person.
Why did God the Son have to become, having willed to be our Mediator and representative, a true man? Why not just come without the incarnation? To fulfill the covenant of works broken by Adam. If the “fall” was a “fall from grace” then why all the fuss about the law? About Jesus “righteousness” and “obedience”? Why the brutal 40 day temptation in the wilderness? Why not just “poof” and make it all go away? Why sweat, as it were, great drops of blood? Why “learn obedience” by the things he suffered? Why die outside the camp? Why be circumcised for us on the cross? Because, he was the Second Adam? He had to go back into the garden and do battle with the evil one, as a true man, and he did that his whole life. That is why he said “It is finished!”
None of that makes any sense on an alternate scheme. The truth is that western theology was schizoid for most of 1000 years and God bless that fat little Saxon monk for finalizing the divorce from Plotinus and Dionysius and the rest of the theologians of glory!20
The notion that the fall was a fall from grace does not come from paganism; it follows from two truths that are part of the gospel: (1) man cannot merit a supernatural end without grace, (2) the heaven offered to Adam and Eve upon obedience was the supernatural end of seeing God as He is.21 The Catholic doctrine that Adam and Eve possessed grace prior to their fall does not imply or entail a denial of the Creator-creature distinction. Ironically, however, Clark’s own view that Adam and Eve could attain to heaven without grace does imply a denial of the Creator-creator distinction, because as I explained above, it treats as natural to man (i.e. as intrinsic to his primary nature) what is natural only to God.22
To say that grace was necessary before the fall does not in any way entail that “divinity is a pre-requisite for obedience, that humanity as such is incapable of obedience.” Even if man had never been given grace, he could (in principle) have obeyed and thus attained to his natural end. Clark’s objection here is based on an implicit denial of the distinction between man’s natural and supernatural ends. The necessity of grace is not “for obedience” simpliciter, but for graced-obedience, i.e. obedience coming from a heart of agape, and ordered to man’s supernatural end, rather than to a merely natural end. For obedience ordered to a supernatural end grace is necessary, and for perseverance in that grace, grace upon grace is necessary.
The Creator-creature distinction is an ontological one, and denying that distinction is what underlies the Pelagian error, as explained above. Clark claims that we need grace only because of a moral problem, and not because of an ontological problem. In making this claim, Clark commits himself both to nominalism and to voluntarism, by disconnecting morality from ontology.23 Pope Benedict addressed this notion five years ago in his famous Regensburg Address, in which he said:
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which – as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated – unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul – “λογικη λατρεία”, worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).
Pope Benedict explains that the voluntaristic theology of certain late medieval thinkers gave rise to positions that “clearly approach” that form of Islamic theology according to which God is not Logos, but will, and thus brute capricious power. Among other consequences, this conception of God makes violence in the name of God justifiable, and leads to the fideism which underlies certain fundamentalist forms of religion.
Catholic theology does not make our problem “ontological rather than moral,” as Clark claims. Catholic theology recognizes that morality and ontology are related, and that we need not only forgiveness of our sins and the grace to obey God’s laws, but a participation in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) in order to attain to our supernatural end. Theosis just is that participation about which St. Peter writes. To reject theosis is to reject our supernatural end of seeing God as He is. And to reject our supernatural end is to reject the gospel.
According to Clark, the theology of St. Augustine and St. Thomas concerning theosis “destroys the incarnation.” Clark seems to think that the doctrine of theosis must result in an ontological confusion of Christ’s two natures. He describes theosis as “overcoming our humanity.”24 For Clark, the Catholic doctrine of participation in the divine nature “vitiates” the Creator-creature distinction.25
But the doctrine of theosis has no such implication, and to construe it that way is to critique a straw man. Theosis is not a confusion of natures, but a participation in the divine nature, as St. Peter says. Participation by its very nature is in something other, because a thing does not participate in itself. Hence creatures’ participation in the divine nature entails a distinction between the Creator and the creature. Therefore the sort of union entailed by participation is not a fusion that confuses the natures or makes one nature out of two; that would eliminate participation. And for this reason grace as participation in the divine nature does not deny the Creator/creature distinction. Grace does not destroy nature but perfects and elevates it. Construing grace as elevating nature such that nature is obliterated is contrary to that dictum. Union with God does not eliminate human nature; human nature remains, but is elevated by its participation in the divine nature. This is revealed in Christ’s glorification, in which His human nature is divinized and glorified, but not destroyed; He remains human, and yet He can go through walls, and His face radiates light like the Sun.
In addition, Clark claims that for St. Thomas and the Catholic Church, grace is a substance. He writes:
The medieval notion was that grace is a substance which can be imparted or dispensed through human agency to sinners. The Protestant view is that grace is a divine disposition toward sinners.26
St. Thomas, however, explicitly denies that grace is a substance.27 What is given to us through the sacraments Christ established in the New Covenant is a participation in the divine nature. Sanctifying grace is the participation of the soul in the life of God. If we did not have sanctifying grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us would be mere presence (like omnipresence), not union. That’s why there cannot be theosis without sanctifying grace as something distinct from the Holy Spirit. And without union with God in which we participate in the divine nature, we could not enter into the inner life of the Blessed Trinity; we would be cut off from the Beatific Vision, and heaven would be reduced to something equivalent to Abraham’s bosom, with Christ visible to us only in His human nature.
But the second reason Clark thinks that the notion of pre-fall grace destroys the incarnation is that he thinks that pre-fall grace would make the incarnation unnecessary. For Clark grace is conceived as something intrinsically incompatible with law. Therefore, if Adam and Eve fell from grace (as opposed to falling while under law), there would be no reason for Jesus to come and fulfill the law. For Clark, if man had been always under grace, then God could just go ‘poof’ and make all our sin vanish by fiat; there would be no need for atonement or merit or satisfaction. Grace is pure favor, and so for those always under pure favor, there is never any need for law-keeping, not even by someone on their behalf. There’s just no law in grace proper.
Underlying Clark’s entire argument here is his Reformed (Lutheran) presupposition that grace and law cannot go together.28 But if God had already given Adam and Eve sanctifying grace before He commanded them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then Clark’s presupposition is false. When Clark says “None of that makes sense on an alternative scheme” he’s right that none of that makes sense when one presupposes that law and grace are incompatible. But to use that presupposition is to beg the question. If law and grace can go together (as St. Augustine explains that they do — see “St. Augustine on Law and Grace“) then all these thing make perfect sense. So Clark’s whole argument here is an exercise in question-begging, i.e. using a Reformed presupposition to argue against Catholic doctrine.
But there is an irony here in Clark’s claim that the Catholic teaching that Adam and Eve possessed grace prior to their fall “destroys the incarnation.” The irony is that it is Clark’s own position that makes the incarnation unnecessary. The Church’s tradition handed down to us from the early Church Fathers maintains that Christ took on human nature so that we might become partakers of His divine nature through union with Him. As St. Athanasius said:
For He was made man that we might be made God.” (On the Incarnation, 54.3)
I am from earth, being by nature mortal, but afterwards I have become the Word’s flesh, and He carried my affections, though He is without them; and so I became free from them, being no more abandoned to their service because of the Lord who has made me free from them. For if you object to my being rid of that corruption which is by nature, see that you object not to God’s Word having taken my form of servitude; for as the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh, and henceforward inherit life everlasting. (Discourse III Against the Arians, 34)
If mere covenantal (and not ontological) union were our eschatological end, such that we are not made partakers of the divine nature, then Christ did not need to take on human flesh. If we were not called to partake of the divine nature, Christ would not have needed to partake of our human nature. Given the Reformed notion of imputation, all that is needed for salvation is a double imputation. For example, instead of sending Christ, God could have created another group of humans equal in number to the elect, made no promise of reward to them (since for Clark God didn’t have to make such a covenant of works with men) monergistically ensured their just obedience to God, and then imputed their obedience to the elect, and imputed the sins of the elect to them. From the divine point of view, it would just be another form of supralapsarianism, except without the incarnation. Of course the notion is far-fetched, but the point is that if man is not ordered to a supernatural end, then Christ did not need to become incarnate.29
For Clark, “western theology was schizoid for most of 1000 years.” That’s the ecclesial deism I mentioned earlier. The alternative is that the Church developed the Apostolic faith organically and faithfully, and that early Protestants influenced by later medieval nominalism and voluntarism had to posit a one thousand year breakdown in orthodoxy in order to justify their theological novelties and their rejection of the Tradition as passed down from the Church Fathers through this thousand year period.
To bring about reconciliation between Protestants I contend that what needs to be examined are not points of disagreement that depend on more substantive assumptions, but those substantive assumptions themselves. Here, it seems to me, the meaning of nature and grace, and their relation, are theologically fundamental, because they play a role in arguments used to reject the other’s position. Prof. Feingold’s lecture above lays out a critical distinction between our natural and supernatural ends, and this distinction significantly illuminates the Catholic understanding of the distinction and relation of nature and grace.
- See, for example, “Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life”.” [↩]
- Kingdom Prologue, as quoted in “Answering Objections to the Covenant of Works.” (my emphasis) [↩]
- “Covenant Theology Under Attack.” [↩]
- “Answering Objections to the Covenant of Works.” [↩]
- “Answering Objections to the Covenant of Works.” [↩]
- “Answering Objections to the Covenant of Works.” [↩]
- “Answering Objections to the Covenant of Works.” [↩]
- “Concupiscence: Sin and the Mother of Sin.” [↩]
- “Natural Man Before the fall: Ability and Grace.” [↩]
- I have briefly discussed what is wrong with this presupposition both in the “Scripture and Tradition” section of my discussion with Michael Horton, and in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.” [↩]
- On St. Augustine’s teaching that Adam and Eve had grace prior to the fall, see the first five footnotes in “Pelagian Westminster?” [↩]
- “Natural Man Before the Fall: Ability and Grace.” [↩]
- Natural Man Before the Fall: Ability and Grace.” [↩]
- “Natural Man before the Fall: Ability and Grace: P. 2.” For Horton’s view of union with Christ see chapter 18 of his recent book The Christian Faith, in which he defines union with Christ as covenantal, and rejects an ontological union (which he describes as ‘fusion’). [↩]
- Cf. Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.1. [↩]
- “Natural Man Before the Fall: Ability and Grace.” [↩]
- In Clark’s “A Brief Glossary of the Medieval and Reformation Church,” under “Aquinas, Thomas.” [↩]
- “Natural Man Before the Fall: Ability and Grace.” [↩]
- I addressed this same question in about the fourth paragraph of “Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life”.” [↩]
- “Natural Man Before the Fall: Ability and Grace.” [↩]
- Clark maintains that the same end offered to pre-fall Adam on condition of merit is the same end attained by the elect through Christ’s merit. He writes, “The Reformed expressed this affirmation of the goodness of Adam (before the fall) as created (contra Thomas and Augustine) by teaching the covenant of works in which Adam was said to have been, before the fall, able to keep the law and to earn (yes, I said “earn”) a state of consummate blessedness. … This is the background for our view of Jesus’ sinlessness (impeccability) and active obedience for us and imputed to us. Our standards and theologians all have it that Jesus “earned” or “obtained” our justification and eventual consummate blessedness.” [↩]
- If two things have the same primary nature, they are the same in kind. Hence, if man and God have the same primary nature, then man is God. [↩]
- See “William of Ockham.” [↩]
- He writes, “We don’t confess apotheosis. We’re categorically opposed to it. We don’t have to be divinized to be glorified. Consummation does not mean overcoming our humanity. In Pauline terms, in 1 Cor 15, it is conformity to the will and presence of the Holy Spirit …” [↩]
- “One of the great, if often unspoken, breakthroughs of the Reformation was the restoration of the Creator/creature distinction. Thomas’ doctrine (and he’s not alone in this at all) of participation in the divine nature vitiates this.” On Clark’s now defunct Heidelblog. [↩]
- Clark’s “A Brief Glossary of the Medieval and Reformation Church,” under the entry “Grace.” [↩]
- See Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.2 ad 2. [↩]
- See my “A Response to Darrin Patrick on the Indicates and the Imperatives.” [↩]
- For a brief comparison of the Catholic and Reformed conceptions of the atonement, see “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.” [↩]