Protestant Objections to the Catholic Doctrines of Original Justice and Original SinOct 16th, 2011 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
What objections have various Protestant theologians raised to the Catholic doctrines of original justice and original sin, and what is the Catholic reply to these objections? Here I present some Protestant arguments against the Catholic doctrines of original justice and original sin, from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Charles Hodge, Gordon Clark, and Peter Leithart, along with a Catholic reply to each.
What I say below in reply to the Protestant objections presupposes that the reader has already read the previous two posts related to original justice and original sin, and listened to the lectures embedded in each: “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark” and “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin.”
On October 5, 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 and the three volume series The Mystery of Israel and the Church gave a lecture titled “Original Sin and Its Consequences” to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. The audio recordings of the lecture and of the following Q&A, along with outlines of each, are available below. In the lecture, Professor Feingold provided a critique of both Luther and Calvin’s objections to the Catholic doctrine concerning original justice and original sin. Below I will present those objections in the context of his lecture, and then present additional Reformed objections to the Catholic doctrine from Turretin, Hodge, Clark, and Leithart.
1. Summary of original justice and original sin (1′)
What Adam and Eve lost (7′)
The Biblical witness to original sin (10′)
The Council of Trent on original sin (19′)
2. Errors Concerning Grace and Original Sin (21′ 30″)
Fundamentally, there are two opposite errors regarding original sin. One is an error of deficiency, in which original sin is treated as less damaging to human nature than it actually is. That is the error of Pelagius. The other is the error of exaggeration, in which original sin is treated as more damaging to human nature than it actually is. That is the error of Luther, Calvin and the Protestants who followed them. Nevertheless, both errors are based on a failure to distinguish grace from nature. When grace and nature are conflated, then attempting to explain man’s capacity to do what man can do only by grace results in an exaggeration of the power of human nature, and thus Pelagianism. Likewise, when grace and nature are conflated, then attempting to explain the effect of the loss of grace results in an undervaluation and pessimism concerning nature, namely, the notion that nature itself has been corrupted.
The Error of Pelagius: Minimization of Original Sin (22′ 40″)
The charges against Pelagius in AD 411 were that he taught the following:
1. Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
2. Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
3. Children just born are in the same state as Adam before the fall.
4. The whole human race neither dies through Adam’s sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
5. The [Mosaic] Law is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
6. Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.
Pelagius’s errors were condemned in the Council of Carthage (AD 418) which was approved by Pope Zosimus:
Can. 1. All the bishops established in the sacred synod of the Carthaginian Church have decided that whoever says that Adam, the first man, was made mortal, so that, whether he sinned or whether he did not sin, he would die in body, that is he would go out of the body not because of the merit of sin but by reason of the necessity of nature, let him be anathema.
Can. 2. Likewise it has been decided that whoever says that infants fresh from their mothers’ wombs ought not to be baptized, or says that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin from Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration, whence it follows that in regard to them the form of baptism “unto the remission of sins” is understood as not true, but as false, let him be anathema. Since what the Apostle says: “Through one man sin entered into the world (and through sin death), and so passed into all men, in whom all have sinned” [cf. Rom. 5:12], must not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration. (Denzinger 101-102)
The Council of Trent also condemned the Pelagian heresy; see paragraphs 3 and 4 in Session Five of the Council of Trent. I have discussed Session Five in greater detail in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 7.”
3. Protestant Errors on Original Sin (34′)
Luther’s two principal errors with respect to original sin are as follows:
(1) Treating original sin as the complete corruption of human nature, rather than as the loss of the preternatural and supernatural gifts.
(2) Treating concupiscence (i.e. the involuntary disorder in the lower appetites) as original sin.
In the lecture Prof. Feingold evaluates two quotations from Martin Luther regarding the Catholic doctrine of original justice and original sin. In the 39th minute of his lecture, he cites the following quotation from Luther:
The scholastic statement that “the natural powers are unimpaired” is a horrible blasphemy, though it is even more horrible when they say the same about demons. If the natural powers are unimpaired, what need is there of Christ? If by nature man has good will; if he has true understanding to which, as they say, the will can naturally conform itself; what is it, then, that was lost in Paradise through sin and that had to be restored through the Son of God alone? Yet in our day, men who seem to be masters of theology defend the statement that the natural powers are unimpaired, that is, that the will is good. Even though through malice it occasionally wills and thinks something besides what is right and good, they attribute this to the malice of men, not to the will as it is in itself. (Luther’s commentary on Psalm 51, in Luther’s Works, vol. 12, 308.)
Luther’s argument here is this:
(1) If the natural powers of man are unimpaired, then there would be no need of Christ to restore what was lost in Paradise.
(2) But of course there is need for Christ to restore what was lost in Paradise.
(3) The natural powers of man must be impaired.
This argument is not sound, because the first premise is false. The greatest gift Adam and Eve lost through their sin was the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace, which is restored to us through Christ. The need for Christ is due to the need for the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace in order to attain the supernatural end to which God has called us; not for any healing of human nature per se.1
A few minutes later in the lecture (43′), Prof. Feingold examines another quotation from Luther, who wrote:
The scholastics argue that original righteousness was not a part of man’s nature but, like some adornment, was added to man as a gift, as when someone places a wreath on a pretty girl. The wreath is certainly not a part of the virgin’s nature; it is something apart from her nature. It came from outside and can be removed again without any injury to her nature. Therefore they maintain about man and about demons that although they have lost their original righteousness, their natural endowments have nevertheless remained pure, just as they were created in the beginning. But this idea must be shunned like poison, for it minimizes original sin.
Let us rather maintain that righteousness was not a gift which came from without, separate from man’s nature, but that it was truly part of his nature, so that it was Adam’s nature to love God, to believe God, to know God, etc. These things were just as natural for Adam as it is natural for the eyes to receive light. But because you may correctly say that nature has been damaged if you render an eye defective by inflicting a wound, so, after man has fallen from righteousness into sin, it is correct and truthful to say that our natural endowments are not perfect but are corrupted by sin. For just as it is the nature of the eye to see, so it was the nature of reason and will in Adam to know God, to trust God, and to fear God. Since it is a fact that this has now been lost, who is so foolish as to say that our natural endowments are still perfect? And yet nothing was more common and received more general acceptance in the schools than this thesis. But how much more foolish it is to make this assertion about the demons, about whom Christ says that they did not stand in the truth (John 8:44) and whom we know to be the bitterest enemies of Christ and of the church!
Therefore the perfect natural endowments in man were the knowledge of God, faith, fear, etc. These Satan has corrupted through sin; just as leprosy poisons the flesh, so the will and reason have become depraved through sin, and man not only does not love God any longer but flees from Him, hates Him, and desires to be and live without Him. (LW 1:164-165)
The only reason Luther gives here for rejecting the Church’s teaching concerning original righteousness is that “it minimizes original sin.” But to a person who is exaggerating original sin, the truth concerning original sin appears as a minimization. Sacred theology is based on divinely revealed truths; sacred theology is not a philosophical construct to be determined by how evil we think original sin is, or how good we think the gospel must be. Sacred theology is not rightly constructed according to our own opinions about how evil or good something is, but only according to what Christ has revealed through His Apostles. What is necessary in order to determine what is an exaggeration, what is orthodox, and what is a minimization, is an objective standard. And that standard is not Luther’s interpretation of Scripture; it is the Apostolic teaching as mediated to us through the authoritative determinations of the Church’s Magisterium.
Second, the loss of sanctifying grace is an infinite loss, because it is the loss of participation in the divine nature, which is infinite in intellect and will and every perfection.2 By contrast, a corruption of human nature is a finite loss, because what is lost is only finite. So, even according to the philosophical criterion Luther provides, original sin according to the Catholic doctrine is far more evil than original sin according to Luther’s theology. Luther’s theory therefore minimizes original sin far more than does the Catholic doctrine concerning original sin.
Luther urges his reader to believe that it was Adam’s nature to love God, believe God, to know God, just as natural for Adam as it is natural for the eyes to receive light. Luther reasons from the fact that Adam knew and loved God prior to the fall, to the conclusion that doing so was “truly part of his nature.” The problem with this claim, as was pointed out in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark,” is that it makes man by his very nature into God, and thus denies the Creator-creature distinction. God cannot create another God, because God by His very nature is uncreated. So any created being cannot in its primary nature be God; it can at most participate in the divine nature through a condecension by God to grant the creature the gift of participating in the divine nature. But if man by his very nature saw God, knew God, and loved God, this would entail that the Beatific Vision is intrinsic to man by his very nature. But the Beatific Vision can be intrinsic only to God, because the Beatific Vision is God’s vision of Himself. Hence Luther’s theology is fatally flawed here, by positing that God can make a creature that has as its primary nature something that can be had intrinsically only by God.
Luther argues that since the demons are the bitterest enemies of Christ and His Church, that therefore their natural endowments must no longer be perfect. And therefore the nature of fallen man must likewise have been corrupted through sin. But again, Luther’s conclusion does not follow. The confirmation of the demons in opposition to God as a result of their free choice, as well as the confirmation of the righteous angels in obedience to God as a result of their free choice, is due to the irreversibility of angelic choice, because they do not reason discursively as do we. Hence the inflexibility of the demons’ will against God does not entail any loss of their natural endowments or corruption of their very nature.3 Luther mistakenly treats the loss of the supernatural and preternatural gifts, as a corruption of man’s nature.
Professor Feingold then briefly discusses Luther’s second error: identifying original sin with concupiscence. (49′ 50″) I have discussed this error in more detail in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 7.”
John Calvin (51′ 20″)
John Calvin wrote the following:
Original sin, then, may be defined as a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh. . . . Hence, those who have defined original sin as the want of the original righteousness which we ought to have had, though they substantially comprehend the whole case, do not sufficiently enough express its power and energy. For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added . . . that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence. (Institutes, II. 1.8.)
Calvin claims that the Catholic teaching does “not sufficiently express” the power and energy of our fallen condition. For Calvin, “the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence.” Calvin reaches this conclusion in part by his experience of concupiscence within himself. Calvin’s mistake is the opposite conclusion drawn from the same false premise we saw in Pelagianism, namely, the implicit assumption that there is no distinction between what is natural and supernatural. Without sanctifying grace, everything man does is not ordered to his supernatural end. Without sanctifying grace, man does nothing for the sake of loving God as Father. In that respect, Calvin is right about fallen man (apart from sanctifying grace) continually falling short of agape, because fallen men apart from sanctifying grace have no agape. But Calvin concludes from that that human nature is entirely corrupted. That conclusion would only follow if loving God as Father were natural to man, and were not a supernatural gift given in addition to man’s nature as rational animal. In actuality fallen man can do many good thing with the natural virtues, ordered to man’s natural end. Ignoring the natural/supernatural distinction sets up the false dilemma that if man is not loving God as Father, then human nature is entirely corrupted. But recognizing the natural/supernatural distinction shows that dilemma to be a false dilemma, because in that case while man no longer loves God as Father, he nevertheless retains his natural goodness as man made in the image of God, and capable of the natural virtues described by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics. The capacity for natural virtues is not merely the result of “common grace” added to a completely corrupted human nature; the capacity for natural virtues is intrinsic to human nature, which in itself remains uncorrupted after the fall.
4. Concupiscence and the Four Wounds of Sin (53′ 30″)4
The Patristic interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan (62′ 50″)
The Teaching of the Council of Trent (67′ 12″)
5. Modern Pelagianism: De-mythologizing Genesis (68′ 25″)
6. Modern Jewish thought on Original Sin (80′)
7. Why did God permit Original Sin? (83′)
1. Why did God give Adam and Eve such power to cause all the rest of us to lose their gifts, that we had nothing to say about it? Why didn’t everybody get a chance? (1′)
2. Luther thinks that the condition of fallen men is to hate God and to desire to be without Him. If the Catholic alternative is only the condition of concupiscence, then why don’t most people want to know God and worship God? How do we explain the universal running away from God unless God gives grace? (4′ 50″)
3. What is wrong precisely with Calvin’s claim that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence? (9′ 29″)
4. Please explain natural vs. supernatural goodness. (11′ 45″)
5. Please explain the difference between paradise and heaven. (14′ 57″)
6. In the state prior to original sin (i.e. in original justice) was there no arena for spiritual combat? (17′ 44″)
7. The Catholic Church does seem to show more glory and good coming from God’s “Plan B.” (20′ 14″)
8. The instinctive Protestant reaction to what you taught tonight is that the Catholic Church has downplayed the effects of the fall. Apart from the errors, is it likely that the Church has understated the wounds of sin in practice? (20′ 56″)
9. In psychology there is a term ‘projection’ which means you see in others what you do yourself. Could Luther’s seeing of total depravity and concupiscence in man have possibly been projection? (22′ 55″)
The mp3s can be downloaded here.
Francis Turretin (1623–1687)
In the first volume of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, the seventeenth century Reformed theologian Francis Turretin has a rather in-depth discussion on these questions. His Ninth Question reads: “Was man created in puris naturalibus, or could he have been so created? We deny against the Pelagians and the Scholastics.” In his answer he writes,
Where two things immediately opposed belong to any subject, one or other of the two must necessarily be in it. Now righteousness and sin are predicated of man as their fit subject and are directly opposed to each other. Therefore one or the other must necessarily be in him; nor can there be a man who is not either righteous or a sinner. (Fifth Topic, Q.9, para. 6.)
Turretin’s argument is that man cannot be neutral; he must be either righteous or sinful. Therefore, God could not possibly create man in a state of puris naturalibus, neither sinful nor righteousness. Turretin’s conclusion would follow only if there were no difference between the natural and the supernatural, and hence between natural righteousness and supernatural righteousness. But there is a difference between natural righteousness and supernatural righteousness. (See question #4 in the Q&A here.) Therefore it was possible for God to make Adam in a state of natural righteousness but without supernatural righteousness (i.e. without sanctifying grace and agape).
A few paragraphs later Turretin writes:
Since the very want of original righteousness is sin, man cannot be conceived as destitute of it without being conceived to be a sinner (especially since that defect would not be a mere negation, but a privation of the rectitude that ought to be i him. (Fifth Topic, Q.9, para. 10.)
His argument is very simple. The premise is: The very lack of original righteousness is sin. The conclusion is: Man cannot be conceived as destitute of original righteousness without being conceived as a sinner. This is not a sound argument, because the premise is false. Turretin makes this claim (i.e. the first premise) because he fails to distinguish between natural righteousness and supernatural righteousness. He therefore assumes that to be without original righteousness is necessarily to be a sinner. But in actuality, a person could be without supernatural righteousness, while having natural righteousness and therefore not a sinner. So Turretin’s argument presupposes that there is no distinction between natural righteousness and supernatural righteousness. And that presupposition not only conflates nature and grace, it also begs the question (i.e. assumes precisely what he is trying to show).
In Question 10, he writes:
First, this image (negatively, kat’ arsin) does not consist in a participation of the divine essence (as if the nature of man was a shadow [aposkiasmation] of the divine and a certain particle of the divine breath, as the Gentiles hold). For in this way the Son of God only is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) — the essential and natural, and no mortal can attain to it because the finite cannot be a partaker of the infinite. And if we are said by grace to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), this is not to be understood of an essential, formal and intrinsic participation, but an analogical, accidental and extrinsic participation (by reason of the effects analogous to the divine perfections which are produced in us by the Spirit after the image of God). (Fifth Topic, Q.10. para. 4.)
Here Turretin denies that man can participate intrinsically in the divine nature. For Turretin, man participates in the divine nature only in the sense that the effects of sanctification in us are analogous to the divine perfections. For example, patience within the sanctified man is like the patience in God; mercy in the sanctified man is like the mercy in God. Love in the sanctified man is like the love in God. And so on. The problem with this notion is that it reduces heaven to Abraham’s bosom (Lk. 16:22-23). The happiness, patience, mercy, and love within men in Abraham’s bosom is like that of the happiness, patience, mercy, and love in God. And yet Abraham’s bosom is not heaven; Christ descended to the dead, and when He ascended He led a host of captives.5 For that matter, any happiness, patience, mercy, and love had presently among pagans is by analogy like that of God. So they too participate in the divine nature, in Turretin’s sense. In this way, Turretin’s interpretation of 2 Peter 1:4 evacuates the gospel of the supernatural happiness which is the Beatific Vision, and of the sanctification unique to those having sanctifying grace, agape, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Turretin’s eleventh question is “Was original righteousness natural or supernatural?” His answer: “The former we affirm, the latter we deny against the Romanists.” He gives six reasons in his defense of his answer. I will examine them each in turn.
The reasons are: (1) Because goodness and rectitude are natural to man in a state of innocence, then original righteousness was also (which is made up of these). As was the relation of goodness to the remaining creatures, so also was the relation to man. Now goodness was natural to the remaining creatures (Gen. 1:31); therefore, also to man. The same is true with regard to rectitude, since it is ascribed to man from his creation as opposed to what is adventitious (Ecc. 7:29). Therefore it must have been natural. (Fifth Topic, Q.11. para. 7.)
His argument here that original righteousness was natural, and not supernatural, is as follows:
(1) Goodness was natural to the remaining creatures.
(2) Whatever was natural to the remaining creatures is natural to man.
(3) Goodness was natural to man. [from (1) and (2)]
(4) Rectitude is described in Scripture (Eccl. 7:29) as something ascribed to man from his creation, not as something added from the outside.
(5) Rectitude must have been natural to man. [from (4)]
(6) Goodness and rectitude are natural to man in a state of innocence. [from (3) and (5)]
(7) Original righteousness is made up of goodness and rectitude.
(8) Original righteousness is natural to man in a state of innocence. [from (6) and (7)]
Regarding the first premise, the goodness natural to the other creatures is natural goodness. But the presence of natural goodness in man does not preclude the simultaneous presence of supernatural goodness. Likewise, if the rectitude referred to in Eccl. 7:29 is natural rectitude, this does not preclude the simultaneous presence of supernatural righteousness. Moreover, the verse does not require that the rectitude it refers to is not supernatural. The verse is equally compatible with the righteousness referred to being supernatural righteousness. But even if we grant that the rectitude referred to in Eccl. 7:29 is natural rectitude, the argument at most only shows the presence of natural goodness and natural rectitude in the pre-Fall condition. It does not show the absence of supernatural righteousness. Second, the argument begs the question (i.e. presupposes what it is attempting to demonstrate) in premise (7), when it defines original righteousness as the [natural] goodness and [natural] rectitude that are natural to man in the state of innocence. And every other premise of the argument is fully compatible with the truth that original righteousness is supernatural. So the argument does not show that original righteousness was natural, and not supernatural.
Turretin’s second reason for believing that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural, is:
(2) Whatever is transmitted to posterity must be natural; righteousness was to have been propagated to posterity if man had remained innocent (since indeed he would beget a like to himself. (Fifth Topic, Q.11. para. 8.)
The problem with that argument is that the first premise begs the question (i.e., presupposes precisely what it is trying to show). If original righteousness is supernatural, and would have been transmitted to posterity through procreation, then it is false that “whatever is transmitted to posterity must be natural.” In his first premise Turretin simply asserts a claim that would be true only if the Catholic doctrine were false. And that provides no reason to believe that the Catholic doctrine is false; it merely presupposes it. So this reason too does not show that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural.
His third reason is:
(3) Original sin, which is derived from parents to their children, is natural. Hence they are called “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Therefore the original righteousness opposed to it must also be natural. (Fifth Topic, Q.11. para. 8.)
Here Turretin claims that since Scripture says that we were “by nature children of wrath” therefore original sin is natural. And therefore original righteousness, which is opposed to original sin, must also be natural. But he has merely assumed that “by nature children of wrath” is referring to human nature as such, rather than to human nature in the state of having rejected God and His grace. He has merely assumed that original sin is natural in the sense of what the human person (after Adam’s sin) is, rather than is natural in the sense of what the human person (after Adam’s sin) ordinarily does not receive through procreation, namely, sanctifying grace. If “by nature children of wrath” refers to human nature in the state of having rejected God and His grace, then it does not follow that original sin is natural in the sense of being now intrinsic to human nature. And therefore it does not follow that original righteousness must have been natural.
Moreover, even if natural righteousness did belong to Adam and Eve in the pre-fall state, it does not follow that Adam and Eve had no supernatural righteousness. So even if the argument showed that Adam and Eve had natural righteousness, then the conclusion that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural is a non sequitur.
Turretin’s fourth reason is:
(4) The remains of the divine image are called natural because they are the work of the law (which the Gentiles do by nature, Rom. 2:14); therefore the whole image itself. (Fifth Topic, Q.11. para. 8.)
This argument goes as follows:
(1) The remains of the divine image are called natural because they are the work of the law (which the Gentiles do by nature).
(2) If the remains of something are natural to it, then the whole was natural.
(3) The whole image itself was natural. [from (1) and (2)
(4) Original righteousness was part of the image.
(5) Original righteousness was natural. [from (3) and (4)]
The problem with this argument is that premise (3) begs the question (i.e., presupposes precisely what is in question). In Catholic theology, man has not lost the image of God; man lost the supernatural and preternatural gifts, but these were not natural to man. Man bears the image of God by nature. So every fallen man still bears the image of God as a rational creature by nature. So this argument too does not show that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural.
His fifth reason is a bit longer:
(5) If original righteousness were supernatural, then there would have been natural to Adam the privation of righteousness and all that must necessarily be present in a capacious subject, from which righteousness is absent (viz., ignorance, propensity to vice, concupiscence of the flesh, rebellion of the inferior against the superior part and other things of like kind — called by Bellarmine “diseases and languors of nature”). And yet this cannot be said without ascribing the same to the author of nature who consequently must be considered the author of sin. For as to Bellarmine’s reply that the concupiscence (which is now the punishment of sin) was then only a weakness and disease of nature (which was not from God, but from the condition of the material, as an ironmonger is not the author of the rust which the sword made by him contracts), it does not solve the difficulty. For (a) it is taken for granted that there was a weakness and disease in the sound nature; (b) it was assumed that this disease was not sin (which it is certain that concupiscence and headlong propensity to vice contended against the law of God, was the cause of many sins and so must be itself sin). (c) The comparison of the iron worker does not apply here because rust follows the material of iron (which the workman does not make, but finds). However God made the very matter of man and indeed (according to Bellarmine) such as this disorder and rebellion would necessarily follow. Hence, as he was the author of the material, he must be called the author of that defect which necessarily follows it. Thus there will be cast upon the most wise Creator either unskillfullness or impotency because he either did not foresee the taint of concupiscence necessarily arising from the condition of the material, and the whole disorder of the flesh against the spirit or could not remove it without injuring a most noble work. Both of these are equally impious and blasphemous. (Fifth Topic, Q.11. para. 9.)
His argument here goes like this:
(1) If original righteousness were supernatural, then ignorance, propensity to vice, concupiscence, and absence of [supernatural] righteousness, would have been natural to Adam.
(2) But ignorance, propensity to vice, concupiscence, and absence of [supernatural] righteousness could be due only either to the condition of the material, or to God Himself.
(3) Any negative or limitation due to the material would imply that God is either unskilled or impotent.
(4) But God is neither unskilled nor impotent.
(5) To say that ignorance, propensity to vice, concupiscence, and absence of [supernatural] righteousness were natural to Adam makes God the author of sin.
This argument is unsound because premise (3) is false. The limitations intrinsic to finite natures as such do not imply that God is unskilled or impotent; they are intrinsic to the finite natures as such, just as two cannot be greater than three. This is a limitation that follows upon the nature of two, and three, respectively. Likewise, matter is not spirit, and cannot be spirit. Matter cannot in itself be ordered to the good, as is spirit. This is a limitation that follows upon the nature of matter as such, and spirit as such, respectively. So this fifth reason does not show that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural.
Turretin’s sixth reason is this:
(6) The natural end of man ought to suppose natural means for obtaining it. Happiness was the natural end of man, therefore it ought to have natural means (which could be no other than original righteousness). (Fifth Topic, Q.11. para. 10.)
The argument runs like this:
(1) The natural end of man ought to suppose natural means for obtaining it.
(2) Happiness was the natural end of man.
(3) Happiness ought to have a natural means. [from (1) and (2)]
(4) But the means of happiness could be nothing other than original righteousness.
(5) Original righteousness must have been a natural means. [from (3) and (4)]
The problem with this argument is that it begs the question (i.e. assumes precisely what is in question, and what it is trying to show) in premise (2), by presupposing that the happiness to which man was called was only a natural happiness, rather than the supernatural happiness which is the Beatific Vision. (I have explained above why the Beatific Vision cannot be natural to man.) If the happiness to which man was called was the supernatural happiness of the Beatific Vision, then (2) would be false, and (3) would not follow from (1) and (2), and then (5) would likewise not follow. So this argument too is no reason to believe that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural. In short, each of the six of Turretin’s reasons is not only not a good reason, but is no reason to believe that original righteousness was natural and not supernatural.
Charles Hodge (1797-1878)
Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge wrote the following concerning the Catholic doctrine of original righteousness:
The obvious objections to the Romish doctrine that original righteousness was a supernatural gift, are, (1.) That it supposes a degrading view of the original constitution of our nature. According to this doctrine the seeds of evil were implanted in the nature of man as it came from the hands of God. It was disordered or diseased, there was about it what Bellarmin calls a morbus or languor, which needed a remedy. But this is derogatory to the justice and goodness of God, and to the express declarations of Scripture, that man, humanity, human nature, was good. (2.) This doctrine is evidently founded on the Manichean principle of the inherent evil of matter. It is because man has a material body, that this conflict between the flesh and spirit, between good and evil, is said to be unavoidable. But this is opposed to the word of God and the faith of the Church. Matter is not evil. And there is no necessary tendency to evil from the union of the soul and body which requires to be supernaturally corrected. (3.) This doctrine as to original righteousness arose out of the Semi-Pelagianism of the Church of Rome, and was designed to sustain it. The two doctrines are so related that they stand or fall together. According to the theory in question, original sin is the simple loss of original righteousness. Humanity since the fall is precisely what it was before the fall, and before the addition of the supernatural gift of righteousness. Bellarmin says: “Non magis differt status homins post lapsum Adae a statu ejusdem in puris naturalibus, quam differat spoliatus a nudo, neque deterior est humana natura, si culpam originalem detrahas, neque magis ignorantia et infirmitate laborat, quam esset et laboraret in puris naturalibus condita. Proinde corruptio naturae non ex alicujus doni naturalis carentia, neque ex alicujus malae qualitatis accessu, sed cx sola doni supernaturalis ob Adae peccatum amissione profluxit.” [The state of man after the fall of Adam differs no more from the state of the same in pure nature, than the difference of having been stripped naked, nor is human nature corrupted, if the original guilt is taken away, nor does it suffer more ignorance and weakness than he [would] in the condition of pure nature. Accordingly, the corruption of nature is not from any natural gift lacking, nor from being infected by any evil quality, but only from the supernatural gift which on account of Adam’s sin was lost.] The conflict between the flesh and spirit is normal and original, and therefore not sinful. Concupiscence, the theological term for this rebellion of the lower against the higher elements of our nature, is not of the nature of sin. Andradius (the Romish theologian against whom Chemnitz directed his Examen of the Council of Trent) lays down the principle, “quod nihil habeat rationem peccati, nisi fiat a volente et sciente,” [that nothing has the nature of sin except what is done with willing and knowing] which of course excludes concupiscence, whether in the renewed or unrenewed, from the category of sin. Hence, Bellarmin says; “Reatus est omnino inseparabilis ab eo, quod natura sua est dignum aeterna damnatione, qualem esse volunt concupiscentiam adversarii.” This concupiscence remains after baptism, or regeneration, which Romanists say, removes all sin; and therefore, not being evil in its own nature, does not detract from the merit of good works, nor render perfect obedience, and even works of supererogation on the part of the faithful, impossible. This doctrine of the supernatural character of original righteousness as held by Romanists, is therefore intimately connected with their whole theological system; and is incompatible with the Scriptural doctrines not only of the original state of man, but also of sin and redemption. It will, however, appear in the sequel, that neither the standards of the Church of Rome nor the Romish theologians are consistent in their views of original sin and its relation to the loss of original righteousness. (Systematic Theology, Volume 2, chapter 5)
Hodge offers three objections to the Catholic doctrine of original sin. His first objection is that “it supposes a degrading view of the original constitution of our nature.” He claims that the Catholic doctrine is “derogatory to the justice and goodness of God,” because it implies that human nature is not good. But Hodge is mistaken here. The Catholic doctrine does not entail that human nature is not good. In fact it affirms that human nature is good. Hodge’s mistake is his implicit assumption that if man does not have by his nature the perfections had by the angels according to their natures, then human nature is not good. But that’s a false assumption. Not having a perfection had by a greater nature does not entail that one’s own nature is defective or not good. A eagle does not have a rational nature as does a human, but that does not make eagles not good, nor is denying that they have the perfection of rationality a degrading view of their nature. Otherwise, no creatures lower than humans could exist, since their not having the human perfection of rationality would make them defective and not good. Likewise, just because humans do not by nature have the gifts that belong to angels by nature, it does not follow that human nature is not good, or that denying that those gifts are intrinsic to human nature is supposing a degrading view of human nature.
A degrading view of a nature is a view that conceives that nature as something less than it is. So the Catholic doctrine of original righteousness and original sin would be degrading to human nature only if it conceived human nature as something less than human nature actually is. But Hodge has not shown that Catholic doctrine conceives human nature as something less than it actually is. His claim that the Catholic doctrine degrades human nature presupposes that the preternatural gifts are part of human nature, and that is precisely the point in question. Therefore Hodge’s first objection is question-begging, i.e. it presupposes precisely what is in question between the Protestant and Catholic conceptions of human nature. And therefore this first objection is no objection at all.
Hodge’s second objection is that the Catholic doctrine is founded on the Manichean principle of the inherent evil of matter. For Hodge, the Catholic teaching that there is naturally a conflict between flesh and spirit is based on the Manichean notion that matter is evil. But Hodge’s claim is false. The basis for the Catholic teaching is not a Manichean notion of matter, but rather the very distinction between matter and spirit. Matter is limited in a way that spirit is not. The limitation of matter in relation to spirit is the basis for the natural conflict between matter and spirit. This very limitation on the part of matter is the reason why the human soul cannot evolve from matter, but must be created ex nihilo at the moment of conception. If matter could do everything spirit could do, the human soul could evolve out of matter.6
Matter in itself cannot be ordered to the universal good, but only to particular goods. All non-rational animals are not directed to the overall good by their nature, but by the governance of divine providence. They are ordered to the good, but not as such. They are ordered to the good by way of imitation, and by divine providence. Plants and [non-human] animals, for example, are not capable of directing their own actions toward the good, because they lack reason. But by their nature they are directed to particular goods (i.e. surviving, growing, flourishing, reproducing) and in this way they imitate God in certain respects, because those are imitations of His perfect being and goodness. Being ordered to the good by way of imitation is not sufficient to prevent concupiscence, because every disordered appetite is still aimed at a good, and in that respect still imitates God who is Goodness.
In His providential government of the world, God gives these creatures a place in the order of things such that their actions lead toward the good (cf. Summa Theologica I Q. 103 a.2) through increasing the good of other things (e.g. a man eating an orange) and the common good. But in this respect these creatures are not intrinsically ordered to the good as such; rather, they are ordered to the good by the order of things into which they are placed and providentially governed. The preternatural gift of integrity was part of that divinely established order by which the lower appetites were ordered to the good. Without that gift, those lower appetites are not naturally ordered to the good, but must be mastered and trained so that virtues develop in them.
Of all the material creatures, only the rational animal (i.e. the human) is directed to the overall good by his nature, because his soul has a spiritual operation independent of matter. And this is why humans, but not any other animals, are subject to the moral law — not because humans are more intelligent, because we have a spiritual faculty. This teleological difference between spirit and matter entails that without an additional gift by which the material element is directed to be subordinate to spirit, there will be disagreement between the bodily passions and reason.7
If matter were no less limited than spirit, nothing would differentiate matter from spirit. For that reason, the claim that matter is no less limited than is spirit is a denial of matter. It reduces to the position that matter is an illusion, and that all is spirit. And that is one form of the gnostic error. The Catholic doctrine preserves not only the goodness of matter, but also its reality.
Hodge’s third objection is that the Catholic doctrine concerning original righteousness “arose out of the Semi-Pelagianism of the Church of Rome, and was designed to sustain it.” According to Hodge, the Catholic doctrine stands or falls with Semi-Pelagianism; he writes, “The two doctrines are so related that they stand or fall together.” Responding to this objection requires briefly reviewing Semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism is the notion that we do not need prevenient grace; we make the first move toward God, and then God responds and helps us. Semi-Pelagianism was rejected both at the second Council of Orange (cf. canon 4) and at Session Six of the Council of Trent (cf. canons 1-3).
There is no contradiction or conflict between the Catholic teaching that original righteousness was a supernatural gift, and the Catholic condemnation of the notion that without grace fallen man cannot move himself toward God as his supernatural end. In fact, Hodge has it exactly backward. The Catholic doctrine that original righteousness was a supernatural gift entails that Semi-Pelagianism is false. If original righteousness was supernatural, and was therefore directing Adam and Eve to their supernatural end, then after the fall and the loss of that supernatural gift, man cannot move himself toward that supernatural end, precisely because what is ordered only toward a natural end cannot move itself toward a supernatural end. The very reason why Adam and Eve needed the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace prior to the fall (namely, so that they could attain to the supernatural end to which God had graciously called them – see “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.” ) is the very reason why after the fall and the loss of that supernatural gift, no man can move toward that supernatural end unless God first moves them by actual grace.8
Gordon Clark (1902–1985)
Gordon Clark was a twentieth century Calvinist philosopher and theologian. Concerning the Catholic doctrine of original righteousness he wrote the following:
In support of the distinction [between image and likeness], Thomas [Aquinas] had already (Q. 93, Art. 1) argued that where an image exists, there must be likeness; but a likeness does not necessarily mean an image. Now, the Roman church developed this, which so far is innocuous, into something that contradicts important parts of the Biblical message. Their present view is that the image itself is rationality, created because, when, and as man was created. But after man was created, God gave him an extra gift, a donum superadditum, the likeness, defined as original righteousness. Man therefore was not strictly created righteous. Adam was at first morally neutral. Perhaps he was not even neutral. Bellarmin speaks of the original Adam, composed of body and soul, as disordered and diseased, afflicted with a morbus or languor that needed a remedy. Yet Bellarmin does not quite say that this morbus is sin; it is rather something unfortunate and less than ideal. To remedy this defect God gave the additional gift of righteousness. Adam’s fall then resulted in the loss of original righteousness, but he fell only to the neutral moral level on which he was created. In this state, because of his free will, he is able-at least in some low degree-to please God.
Obviously this view has soteriological implications. Even though the neutral state was soon defaced by voluntary sins, man without saving grace could still obey God’s commands upon occasion. After regeneration, a man could do even more than God requires. This then becomes the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the treasury of the saints. If a particular man does not himself earn a sufficient number of merits, the Pope can transfer from the saints’ accounts as many more merits as are necessary for his entrance into Heaven. One horrendous implication of all this is that although Christ’s death remains necessary to salvation, it is not sufficient. Human merit is indispensable.
However logically implicated this soteriology is, the present study should not stray too far from the image itself. Above, it was said that an assertion of a distinction between image and likeness, by itself, is not fatal. But it is not Biblical either. Scripture makes no distinction between image and likeness. Not only does the New Testament make nothing of such a distinction, even in Genesis the two words are used interchangeably. Genesis 1:27 uses the word image alone, and Genesis 5:1 uses likeness alone, though in each case the whole is intended. The likeness therefore is not an extra gadget attached to man after his creation, not a donum superadditum, like a suit of clothes that he could take off. It is rather the unitary person. (“The Biblical Doctrine of Man,” (pp. 12-14) )
Clark claims that if original righteousness was a donum superadditum, then it follows that man was not strictly created righteousness, but created morally neutral. Thus after the fall man was able “at least in some low degree” to please God, and “still obey God’s commands upon occasion.” But then after regeneration, man could do even more than God requires. And this, claims Clark, sets up the Catholic notion of the treasury of the saints, and makes Christ’s death insufficient.
Clark’s reasoning is unsound, because he does not take into consideration the difference between natural righteousness and supernatural righteousness. That original righteousness was supernatural does not entail that human nature in itself was created morally neutral. Adam and Eve had both natural righteousness and supernatural righteousness.9 Since Clark apparently did not understand the Catholic distinction between man’s natural and man’s supernatural end, he attempts to explain the Catholic account of fallen man’s condition in terms of degree; that is why he says that according to the Catholic teaching fallen man obeys “at least in some low degree” and “upon occasion.” This is the only way Clark knows how to express something less than original righteousness but greater than corruption of human nature. He is trying to make sense of a Catholic doctrine through a Protestant paradigm that lacks the natural-supernatural distinction. And that is why Clark’s translation of the Catholic doctrine fails, because the Catholic doctrine simply cannot be translated into a paradigm that lacks the natural-supernatural distinction.
The problem with fallen man is not a matter of frequency of obedience. The problem with fallen man is that he is not a partaker of the divine nature, and so all his righteousness, no matter how frequent, falls short of the supernatural end to which God has graciously called us. Fallen man can do good works that are ordered to man’s natural good. This is why pagans can do virtuous deeds. If however, those persons are not in a state of grace, those deeds are not ordered to man’s supernatural end. Those works are still rewarded at the Judgment, but the reward is not man’s supernatural end; the hierarchy of hell is determined not only by punishments deserved but also by rewards on the order of nature, rewards infinitely inferior to the Beatific Vision.
Man by grace can do more than God requires, because agape includes but goes beyond the moral law. God does not require anyone to forego marriage for the sake of the Kingdom. But God offers us the opportunity to do so out of supernatural love for Him. God does not require anyone to sell all his possessions, and live a life of poverty for the sake of the Kingdom. But He offers us the opportunity to do so out of supernatural love for Him. The evangelical counsels are not the only way to go beyond the moral law. Every day the saints on earth, by their prayers, sacrifices and good deeds done in a state of supernatural grace, merit not merely a reward on the order of nature, but also a supernatural reward. And because of the communion of the saints in the Mystical Body of Christ, these merits contribute to the treasury of the saints, as I have explained in “Indulgences, the Treasury of Merit and the Communion of Saints.”
I should add that none of this entails that Christ’s death is insufficient to merit the grace by which we are saved. Whenever there is a question of sufficiency or insufficiency, we must ask “sufficiency with respect to what?” By His Passion, Christ merited a superabundant treasury of grace. The fact that the saints are able to contribute to this treasury in no way entails that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient to merit the grace by which we are saved. Christ’s work was sufficient for all the grace that is given to every person. But because God graciously chose to make use of His saints as means by which this grace He merited would be given to others in His Body, Christ’s sacrifice is ‘insufficient’ in the sense that the actions of the saints are not superfluous. St. Paul teaches this when he writes that for the sake of the Church, he fills up in his own body what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions, (Col. 1:24), just as Christ’s death was ‘insufficient’ to make our cooperation in santification unnecessary. Clark does not distinguish between the two senses in which Christ’s work is ‘sufficient,’ and so he does not have theoretical room for the truth of St. Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:24. When Christ out of love granted His saints a participatory role in His redemptive work, as real means by which the grace He superabundantly merited is brought to the whole world, He purposely made His sacrifice insufficient in this secondary sense.
Peter Leithart (1959 – ) :
Contemporary Presbyterian theologian Peter Leithart, recently exonerated from charges of heresy by the PCA, has also written about the Catholic doctrine of original righteousness and original sin. Leithart writes:
[Catholic theologian] Matthias Scheeben makes explicit the troubling underpinnings of the nature/supernatural distinction. When we are refashioned by grace “on the model of the higher, divine nature,” we enter into a “new, special relationship with God, who now draws near to man in His own essence, and not only as Creator of a nature foreign to Him.”
Two things: First, isn’t man created on the “model” of a divine nature? What else does the image of God mean? Second, whyever should we think of created humanity as “foreign” to God?
You only need the apparatus of two orders of knowledge and being if you begin with Scheeben’s assumption that man as created is “foreign” to God. If he’s not, you can accomplish all that the natural/supernatural wants to accomplish without the difficulties, both of terminology and substance.
Though Scheeben roots his whole scheme in an account of Trinitarian self-communication, his assumption seems sub-Trinitarian. It might be rooted in the residual Hellenism that assumes that the Absolute is inherently unrelated. But the Triune God is Absolute and Related, and so He’s not doing anything “foreign” when He enters relation with an Other. (“Foreign nature.”)
Leithart’s first objection is that the natural/supernatural distinction leaves no place for man’s being made in the image of God. The idea is that if man is made in the image (or ‘model’) of God, then this seems to break down the natural/supernatural distinction, since the natural is a model of the supernatural. That objection is understandable, but the conclusion does not follow. To be made in the image of God is to be rational, capable of knowing and loving. But that does not entail that man by nature is ordered to the Beatific Vision, which is God’s own vision of Himself. Otherwise, God could never create any rational creature. To be rational would simply mean to be God. But God has created rational creatures, and these creatures are not Himself. They are ordered by nature to a natural end, but ordered by God’s gracious condescension and infinitely generous invitation to the supernatural end of the Beatific Vision, i.e. sharing in God’s own internal Eternal Life.10
Leithart’s second objection is that we have no reason to think that human nature is “foreign” to God. So if the natural/supernatural distinction entails that human nature is “foreign” to God, then we have no reason to accept the natural/supernatural distinction. By ‘foreign’ Scheeben only means that human nature is not the divine nature. ‘Foreign’ is not some additional step of removal from God, besides being a creature rather than the Creator. Scheeben is simply affirming the Creator-creature distinction. And we have good reason to affirm the Creator-creature distinction. So Leithart’s notion that we do not need the natural/supernatural distinction, so long as we can keep “man as created” and deny that man is “foreign” does not follow. If man is a created being, then there is a natural/supernatural distinction.11
Leithart speculates that Scheeben’s “whole scheme” might be rooted in the “residual Hellenism that assumes that the Absolute is inherently unrelated.” But the Catholic doctrine Scheeben is describing is not based on Hellenism, or on some notion that God is inherently unrelated. The Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit eternally proceeds; God is eternally internally relational. But God is not essentially externally related to anything, since He could have not created anything at all. God’s internal relations between the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are necessary, essential, and eternal. But God’s redemptive relation to humans is a contingent, gratuitous, infinite condescension, in which God freely invites rational creatures to enter into His Trinitarian Life. Hence there is tremendous difference between God’s own internal relations, and His gracious supernatural union with His rational creatures. When God enters into this gracious union with a rational creature He is doing something that involves an infinite condescension, and that is the sense in which it is ‘foreign’ to God, in comparison to His own intrinsic internal relations.
Scheeben says that what is natural to one being may be supernatural for another. Immortality is natural to angels, “a pure spirit, whose entire essence is on a higher plane, because no opposition between matter and the principle of life has place in him.” For men, immortality is supernatural, since “one component part of his essence, the material body, is continually on the march toward dissolution.”
Which raises several questions: Is “matter” inherently “opposed” to the “principle of life”? Why? Would sinless Adam’s material body been opposed to the principle of life? What about the resurrection body? Is it material? If not, what is it? If so, is it on the march toward dissolution? And, don’t angels have to be sustained in their existence by the continual power of God just as human beings do? How is their “immortality” more inherent or natural than man’s?
Scheeben’s argument seems to justify the common Reformed complaint (Berkhof, e.g.) against the theory of the donum superadditum, namely, that it assumes an inherent conflictedness between matter and spirit. (“Matter and Spirit.” )
Leithart here does not raise an objection to the Catholic doctrine, but instead asks a number of questions. First he asks whether matter is inherently opposed to the “principle of life.” Corporeal living beings are naturally mortal because they are composite beings, and the unity that is given to them by the soul is not intrinsic to their matter. They naturally tend toward dissolution, unless they are continually directed toward unity by the soul. So in that sense matter is inherently ‘opposed’ to the principle of life. That is, matter is not by nature alive, and does not by its very nature perpetuate the unity of living corporeal creatures. That is why sinless Adam’s body was mortal.
Next Leithart asks whether, according to Catholic doctrine, the resurrection body is material. Yes it is a material body, but the resurrected bodies of the saints will be transformed in various ways, such that not only will the preternatural gifts be restored permanently and inseparably, but the resurrected bodies will also be further spiritualized, as we see in 1 Cor. 15:42-44, and John 20:19, 26. The resurrected bodies of the saints will be glorified, through their greater participation in the divine nature, which is purely spiritual. The radiance of the resurrected bodies of the saints will be like that of Christ’s body at the Transfiguration. (St. Matthew 17:2.) Jesus Himself tells us, “The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43.) And the prophet Daniel wrote, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3.) The addition of these gifts as permanent in the resurrected saints excludes the possibility of physical death in heaven.
As for the angels, yes, their being has to be sustained by God. But they are not embodied beings. They are pure spirits, not souls informing matter. So there is no intrinsic tendency in them toward dissolution. The essence-existence composition is not the same as the body-soul composition. Angels (and all creatures) have the former, but do not have the latter. Humans, however, have both compositions.
The Reformed ‘complaint’ that the Catholic doctrine depends on an inherent conflictedness of matter and spirit is just that, a mere complaint. A complaint is not a reason to believe or disbelieve anything. But as I have explained above, there is a real difference between matter and spirit, and this difference has implications for the natural condition of any creature composed of matter and spirit. And that is precisely what man is, the amphibian Lewis speaks of, a creature composed both of spirit and matter.
My hope in examining each of these Reformed objections to the Catholic doctrines of original justice and original righteousness is that in doing so, I might clarify for my Reformed brothers and sisters both the basis for the Catholic doctrine as well as the reasons why the Reformed objections to the Catholic doctrine do not in any way refute it. In this way, I hope with the help of God to remove some remaining obstacles to the full visible reunion of Protestants and the Catholic Church.12
- See “Nature, Grace and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.” [↩]
- “The Infinity of God” in The Catholic Encyclopedia article on “Infinity.” [↩]
- See Summa Theologica I Q.64 a.2. “Whether the will of the demons is obstinate in evil.” [↩]
- I have discussed the four wounds of sin in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 3.” [↩]
- Eph. 4:8. See “The Harrowing of Hell.” [↩]
- See Humani Generis, 36. [↩]
- See minute 51′ in the lecture at “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin,” as well as questions 2 – 9 in the Q&A there. [↩]
- Another Reformed theologian who wrote in the generation following Charles Hodge was Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). He was a Dutch Reformed theologian whose work significantly influenced American Presbyterianism, especially Westminster Theological Seminary and Cornelius Van Til. Kuyper wrote the following regarding the Catholic doctrine of original righteousness and original sin:
However tracing the next step in the course of sin we meet a serious difference between the Church of Rome and our own. The former teaches that Adam came forth perfect from the hand of his Maker even before he was endowed with original righteousness. This implies that the human nature is finished without original righteousness, which is put on him like a robe or ornament. As our present nature is complete without dress or ornament, which are needed only to appear respectable in the world, so was the human nature, according to Rome, complete and perfect in itself without righteousness, which serves only as dress and jewel. But the Reformed churches have always opposed this view, maintaining that original righteousness is an essential part of the human nature; hence that the human nature in Adam was not complete without it; that it was not merely added to Adam’s nature but that Adam was created in the possession of it as the direct manifestation of his life
If Adam’s nature was perfect before he possessed original righteousness, it follows that it remains perfect after the loss of it in which case we describe sin simply as carentia justitiae originalis, i.e. the want of original righteousness. This used to be expressed thus: Is original righteousness a natural or supernatural good? If natural then its loss caused the human nature to be wholly corrupt; if supernatural then its loss might take away the glory and honor of that nature, but as a human nature it retained nearly all of its original power. (The Work of the Holy Spirit, by Abraham Kuyper, pp. 88-89.)
Kuyper contrasts the Catholic doctrine concerning original righteousness with the Reformed doctrine concerning original righteousness, and points to their different implications. But he gives no reason to believe the Reformed position over the Catholic doctrine, or to believe that the Catholic doctrine is false. [↩]
- See Question 4 in the Q&A at “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin.” [↩]
- To understand why no creature can be ordered by its very nature to the supernatural end which is the Beatific Vision see “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.” [↩]
- The question should not be expressed in terms of need, but in terms of truth — not, do we need the natural/supernatural distinction, but rather, is there a natural/supernatural distinction. [↩]
- I am grateful to Tom Brown and Andrew Preslar for helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this post. [↩]