Protestant Objections to the Catholic Doctrines of Original Justice and Original Sin

Oct 16th, 2011 | By | 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.”

Outline:
Martin Luther
John Calvin
Francis Turretin
Charles Hodge
Gordon Clark
Peter Leithart

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 Leihart.


Lawrence Feingold

Lecture:
 
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′)

Here we find the opposite error with respect to original sin, namely, an exaggeration of original sin.

Martin Luther

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.

Therefore

(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.


Martin Luther

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.)


John Calvin

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′)

Q&A:
 

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.

Additional Reformed Objections to the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin

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.)


Francis Turretin

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.

Therefore

(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.

Therefore,

(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.

Therefore,

(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.

Therefore

(3) The whole image itself was natural. [from (1) and (2)
(4) Original righteousness was part of the image.

Therefore,

(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.

Therefore,

(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.

Therefore,

(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.

Therefore,

(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)


Charles Hodge

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) )


Gordon Clark

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.”)


Peter Leithart

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.

Leithart continues:

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.

Conclusion

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

  1. See “Nature, Grace and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.” []
  2. “The Infinity of God” in The Catholic Encyclopedia article on “Infinity.” []
  3. See Summa Theologica I Q.64 a.2. “Whether the will of the demons is obstinate in evil.” []
  4. I have discussed the four wounds of sin in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 3.” []
  5. Eph. 4:8. See “The Harrowing of Hell.” []
  6. See Humani Generis, 36. []
  7. 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. []
  8. 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. []

  9. See Question 4 in the Q&A at “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin.” []
  10. 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.” []
  11. 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. []
  12. I am grateful to Tom Brown and Andrew Preslar for helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this post. []
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  1. Bryan,

    Thank you so much for this work. I have printed up multiple copies and plan to hand them out to friends both Catholic and Protestant so that way they can see for themselves the fundamental differences between the Catholic and Protestant positions, especially the Protestant position as it was during the Reformation. I remember some time ago you making the point that we need to define terms, for example, grace, because the Catholic and Protestant do not necessarily mean the same thing when they use certain words. A couple of weeks ago at RCIA I used a quote from Father Hardon’s book on Grace, which has the Luther quote in it. Some in attendance could not believe Luther said such a thing. My prayer is that those who read this will be moved to recognize the depth and beauty of the Church’s teaching.

  2. Fascinating. I would love to learn more about what caused Luther and Calvin to line up in this way in their opinions on nature & grace. Who were their influences? I’ve heard things like “decadent scholasticism”, Occam, and Biel, but I’d love it if someone in the know could fill me in with something more specific so I can focus my dabbling. Bryan?

    I would also love to read Luther and Calvin on the Incarnation. Would they think that the human nature of Christ was a pre-Fall human nature, different and superior own human nature? Or, would it be a corrupted and totally concupiscient nature like our own, completely and utterly depraved? Seems like quite a dilemma for anyone who believes that human *nature* underwent a change at the Fall.

    Thanks for this. These past few blogs have been spot on.

  3. Thank you, Mr. Cross! I am also making copies!

  4. Mr. Cross, could you explain a bit more on how concupiscence factors into all this? I mean, if all we lost in the Fall was supernatural grace and the gift of integrity (right?), leaving our natures intact, then where did concupiscence come from? Is it something internal working in us, or something external to us? Did it always exist, and it was just the gift of integrity that kept pre-Fall Adam and Eve from subjecting themselves to disordered good? Or did it enter into the world with Sin?

    I can kinda understand the Protestant theologians quoting Bellarmine, b/c he seems to be saying that man, in his original created nature, still would have been subject to concupiscence; and it was only b/c of the extra gifts from God of supernatural grace and integrity that he didn’t fall prey to disorder. But then, that would bring into question how man could be called good if his original nature was prone to the disorder or even natural good.

    Perhaps I’m missing something obvious here…I’m still having trouble squaring this away, tho.

  5. Natalia,

    I would like to offer some thoughts regarding your question. Concupiscence is morally neutral. It is a tendency, rather than sin or moral evil proper. It arises from our materiality, that is, our bodily sensate desires being drawn toward immediate and finite goods proper to our bodily constitution. Sensate desires are to be managed or directed by reason in accord with man’s highest Good, which is union with God. However, in our natural state, devoid of supernatural grace, the body often gives rise to sensate desires in quick and powerful ways which make the effort to direct our bodily desires according to right reason very difficult (but never impossible). Hence, that difficulty or tendency is not evil or sin per se. Rather, concupiscence makes the work of intellect and will more difficult. Sin follows only upon the actual choice to pursue some lower good at the expense of a higher good. As a result, the presence of concupiscence, arising from the material dimension of human nature, is perfectly compatible with human nature being declared “good” by God. I have explained this in much greater detail here; most especially in the final three paragraphs.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  6. Natalia, (re: #4)

    Ray’s reply (in #5) summarizes well how I would reply. In the fall, Adam and Eve lost sanctifying grace (and all the supernatural and infused virtues), as well as all the preternatural gifts (i.e. integrity, immortality, impassibility, and infused knowledge). Those gifts accompanied the supreme gift of original righteousness, which was a supernatural righteousness, not a mere natural righteousness. I recommend listening to the lecture at “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin.” That post and the “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End” post are prerequisites for this one. (I wrote this post for readers who had already read those two, and listened to the accompanying lectures; this one builds on those two.) Those two lectures together, but especially the “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin” lecture and the accompanying Q&A, directly answer your question.

    Concupiscence is the result of the loss of the preternatural gift of integrity. So concupiscence is a natural condition of man in a state of pure (i.e. mere) nature, just as mortality and passibility are the natural condition of man in a state of pure nature. Man is not by nature incapable of suffering, or incapable of dying. And man by his nature alone does not have the integrity by which concupiscence is absent. I explained why this is, in the body of the post above; see the section in which I respond to Charles Hodge’s arguments.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Natalia writes: … if all we lost in the Fall was supernatural grace and the gift of integrity (right?), leaving our natures intact, then where did concupiscence come from?

    Natalia, that is a really good question. Bryan Cross gave an answer to that question in his personal blog Principium Unitatis that really helped me:

    Why Did Adam Originally Need Grace?

    Aquinas … explains that man was made by God in such a way that man’s reason was subject to God, his lower powers were perfectly subject to his reason, and his body also was perfectly subject to his soul. But the first subjection was the cause of the latter two subjections … Aquinas says,

    “Now it is clear that such a subjection of the body to the soul and of the lower powers to reason, was not from nature; otherwise it would have remained after sin. … Hence it is clear that also the primitive subjection by virtue of which reason was subject to God, was not a merely natural gift, but a supernatural endowment of grace; for it is not possible that the effect should be of greater efficiency than the cause. …”

    Here is Aquinas’s argument. The subjection of Adam’s body to his soul and of the lower powers to his reason was an effect of the subjection of his reason to God. But it is not possible that the effect should exceed the cause. And since the subjection of the body to the soul and of the lower powers to reason was not from nature [for otherwise these two subjections would have remained after Adam’s sin], it follows that the subjection of Adam’s reason to God was also not a merely natural gift but was a supernatural endowment of grace. … Aquinas concludes that if the loss of grace dissolved the obedience of the flesh to the soul, the inferior powers must have been subject to the soul through grace existing in them.

    Ref: http://principiumunitatis.blogspot.com/2008/11/why-did-adam-orginally-need-grace.html

    Bryan writes “the subjection of the body to the soul and of the lower powers to reason was not from nature” – that is, without supernatural grace, man’s sensual appetites are not subject to man’s natural reason. To be free from concupiscence, it would follow from the above that man needs supernatural grace. Which is true, but it is not that simple because the man or woman that is baptized receives supernatural grace, and yet he or she is not set free from their struggle with concupiscence:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    2515 Etymologically, “concupiscence” can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the “flesh” against the “spirit.” Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins.

    2516 Because man is a composite being, spirit and body, there already exists a certain tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between “spirit” and “flesh” develops. But in fact this struggle belongs to the heritage of sin. It is a consequence of sin and at the same time a confirmation of it.

    2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God’s grace he will prevail …

    1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

    1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence

    Adam’s personal sin has temporal consequences for his progeny. Because of Adam’s personal sin, his descendents are not born into a state of original justice, instead, we have been born into a fallen state of being where we have inherited the temporal consequences of Adam’s personal sin – “suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence”, the loss of perfect holy innocence, the loss of the preternatural gifts, and above all, the loss of sanctifying grace.

    So why doesn’t the supernatural grace received by the Sacrament of Baptism free us from concupiscence? It does not do that because the grace of Baptism brings us to a state of initial justification, which is a different state of being than that which Adam enjoyed in the state of original justice. To be brought back to a state of holy innocence where one is free from concupiscence, the baptized man or woman needs an increase in sanctifying grace to bring about the final fruits of the first and second conversion:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    THE CONVERSION OF THE BAPTIZED

    1427 Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” In the Church’s preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.

    1428 Christ’s call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, “clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a “contrite heart,” drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.

  8. Interesting. Thank you for the explanations. Of course, Aquinas’s explanation and reasoning assumes the Catholic paradigm where the Fall resulted in a loss of supernatural grace and preternatural gifts, rather than in a damaged human nature. I’m sure, tho, that Aquinas defends the Catholic paradigm of the Fall elsewhere. Likewise, Mr. Cross has put up several defenses. Hehe, my head kind of spins after reading it, but this is worth a couple readings.

    Thanks!

  9. Excellent article. I learn a lot from these, and these specific articles (I believe) will totally revolutionize Catholic apologetics. For too long these subjects were left to only to the realm of university/seminary, where as now they are being made more mainstream for a wider audience to learn. Really, when people think the choice between Protestantism and Catholicism is a coin flip between two worthy ‘competitors’ will easily see there is no match at all. Not only these articles, but even the Catholic Encyclopaedia says the Protestant view of the Fall is a form of Manichaeanism, not the Catholic side.

    I think the slam-dunk proof that has been frequently brought up for the Catholic view of nature and grace is the fact Adam was created immortal – but we know only God is immortal by nature. Since Adam was a creature, he should have aged and his body decayed at least a little every day, eventually leading to death (even if he lived to 900 years! Oh wait, he did). The only way Adam, a creature, could halt bodily decay and death is a special grace added to his nature. Another proof is the fact Adam needed divine gifts like faith to be able to believe and be in communion with God, otherwise there couldtn’t have been an initial intimate communion with God. Yet another proof is the fact Paul calls us “Temples of the Holy Spirit,” meaning the Holy Spirit is SUPPOSED to dwell in man, and thus had to have originally indwelt in Adam, else Christians have a human capacity that Adam lacked.

  10. Thanks Nick. Just one point — angels are contingent beings, but they are immortal by nature, because they are spirits, not material beings. Otherwise immortality would be a supernatural gift, and not a preternatural gift.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Thank you very much for this article and all the work you do for this site, Bryan. I have some questions for anyone here. Was Jesus conceived with the preternatural gifts? If so, how in particular are we to understand how he was passible during his suffering on the cross? If not, why not?

  12. Scott,

    Thanks for your comment. Of the four preternatural gifts (i.e. integrity, immortality, impassibility, and infused knowledge), Christ received integrity (i.e. absence of concupiscence) and infused knowledge. He did not receive the other two, because it was His mission to suffer and die for our redemption.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Thank you for the response, Bryan. Do you think it fitting to hold that Christ did in fact receive immortality and impassibility but chose to lay them down for the sake of His mission? I’m thinking of John 10:18 where Jesus says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” I do not know of a parallel for the explicit laying down of impassibility although verses such as Hebrews 2:18 clearly indicate Christ’s passibility, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Is there any reason to hold that preternatural gifts could not be given up by Christ? If not, then the supposition that they were given up may provide partial explanation of the nature of Christ’s kenosis as written of in Philippians 2.

  14. “In almost all theological controversies, much space has been occupied by the discussion of extracts from books and documents adduced as authorities in support of the opinions maintained; and there is certainly no department of theological literature in which so much ability and learning, so much time and strength, have been uselessly wasted, or in which so much of controversial unfairness has been exhibited.
    Controversialists in general have shown an intense and irresistible desire to prove that their peculiar opinions were supported by the fathers, or by the Reformers, or by the great divines of their own church; and have often exhibited a great want both of wisdom and of candor in the efforts they have made to effect this object . . There is no man who has written much upon important and difficult subjects, and has not fallen occasionally into error, confusion, obscurity, and inconsistency; and there is certainly no body of men that have ever been appealed to as authorities, in whose writings a larger measure of these qualities is to be found than in those of the Fathers of the Christian church….”

    W. Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Banner of Truth, 1979), pp. 400ff

  15. Nigel,

    Welcome to “Called to Communion.” Thank you for the excerpt from Cunningham’s book. I wonder, though, if Cunningham, as a Reformed Protestant, realizes the irony of his last sentence here:

    There is no man who has written much upon important and difficult subjects, and has not fallen occasionally into error, confusion, obscurity, and inconsistency; and there is certainly no body of men that have ever been appealed to as authorities, in whose writings a larger measure of these qualities is to be found than in those of the Fathers of the Christian church….

    As a former Calvinist Protestant, I am aware that the original Reformers, especially Calvin, often appealed to the early Church Fathers as being supposedly in support (proto-support, one might say) of theologically Reformed doctrines. However, where the Church Fathers sounded quite “Catholic,” in many areas, they were judged by the Reformers to have been in error.

    Here we have Cunningham stating that there is more “error, confusion, obscurity, and inconsistency” in the Church Fathers than in any other body of men who have ever been appealed to as authorities. If the Fathers were so wrong so much of the time, one wonders, why did Calvin and other Reformers even go through the trouble of quoting them so much in support of Reformed thinking…?

    Moreover, by what authority did the Reformers even judge the Fathers to be wrong when they sounded Catholic– other than the “authority” of Reformed exegesis of the Bible, which largely disagree(d) with the patristic exegesis of the previous 1,000-plus years?

  16. I am sorry to learn that you are a former Calvinist? protestant? However if you are truly united to Christ by faith then on the basis of scripture I see this to be of little importance to your eternal future albeit that sanctification and spiritual growth is likely to be slowed whenever there is reluctance to come under the true preaching of God’s word and to participate in the right administration of the sacraments.

    You are right to point out that that the Reformers often appealed to the early Church Fathers in support of theologically Reformed doctrines and to reject others which you refer to as “Catholic”. – I see no irony here, simply the outworking of the principal of Sola Scriptura which is to say that “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture”. We see this in the words of Jesus in Matthew 22 : 29 where “ Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” . And again at the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 we read that the dispute was resolved by finally appealing to scripture where the decision was said to be “in agreement with the words of the prophets” .

    One reformed commentator had this to say :

    “Neither Pope, nor councils, possess the properties requisite to constitute a supreme judge in controversies of religion; for they are fallible, and have often erred, and contradicted one another. Although the Church or her ministers are the official guardians of the Scriptures, and although it belongs to them to explain and enforce the doctrines and laws contained in the Word of God, yet their authority is only ministerial, and their interpretations and decisions are binding on the conscience only in so far as they accord with the mind of the Spirit in the Scriptures. By this test, the decisions of councils, the opinions of ancient writers, and the doctrines of men at the present time, are to be tried, and by this rule all controversies in religion must be determined. Isa. viii. 20; Matt. xxii. 29.”

    In others words appeal can be made to the teachings of the church fathers and anyone else including Calvin or Luther et al, only in so far as they accord with scripture which is the supreme and final authority. This is the basis on which the reformers are able to quote the early church fathers so much in support of Reformed thinking. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of much of later Roman Catholic teaching.

  17. Nigel –

    In others words appeal can be made to the teachings of the church fathers and anyone else including Calvin or Luther et al, only in so far as they accord with scripture which is the supreme and final authority.

    I’m sorry, but i don’t see how this is practical at all. In this scenario you are subjecting the fathers and the reformers and everyone else to your own personal interpretation of scripture. The Pharisees and the Scribes ultimately rejected Jesus because his teachings didn’t reflect their personal interpretation of the law. People who operate under Sola Scriptura risk doing the same. The Church Fathers actually help us interpret the Bible because their writings reveal how the early Church interpreted the Bible.

    This is the basis on which the reformers are able to quote the early church fathers so much in support of Reformed thinking. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of much of later Roman Catholic teaching.

    Which Roman Catholic teachings are you talking about? Please be specific.

  18. Brian, the Pharisees and the Scribes ultimately rejected Jesus because they did not know the scriptures or the Spirit of God – their foolish hearts were darkened.

    As for which Roman Catholic teachings do ot square with scripture I do not think it necessary or profitable to repeat them here. You are an ntelligent man awith access to the same information as I have and you have the spirit of truth, and access to God by prayer do you not

    God Bless

  19. At Christmas, we rightfully reflect on Christ’s incarnation. Recently I noticed on the Protestant site “The Gospel Coalition” a discussion/debate concerning the following question: “Did Jesus Assume a Fallen Human Nature?” In order to answer this question, one must first specify what exactly one means by the term “fallen human nature,” in part because Protestants and Catholics do not mean the same thing by the term.

    As explained in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark” and “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin,” according to a Catholic anthropology, human nature is distinguished from the four preternatural gifts (i.e. integrity, infused knowledge, impassibility, and immortality), and from the supernatural gifts of faith, hope, agape and sanctifying grace. When Adam sinned, he retained human nature intact, but he lost all four preternatural gifts, and he lost all the supernatural gifts. Because he lost the supernatural gifts, he was without the life of God, and dead in sin, living for himself in the curved-inwardness of Godless narcissism. Because he lost the preternatural gift of integrity, he acquired the disorder of concupiscence. Because he lost the preternatural gift of infused knowledge, he acquired the condition of ignorance. Because he lost the preternatural gift of impassibility, he became subject to suffering. And because he lost the preternatural gift of immortality he became subject to death. All his offspring likewise were born in this condition, i.e. with human nature intact, but without these preternatural and supernatural gifts. To be conceived and born without the supernatural gifts is to be conceived and born in what is called “original sin.”

    Protestant anthropology does not distinguish between human nature, preternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. Protestant anthropology distinguishes only between original human nature (which is righteous), and fallen human nature which is disposed to sin. According to Protestant anthropology, Adam and Eve were created with original human nature, but when they freely sinned, their nature fell. So all their children are born with fallen human nature, which is intrinsically subject to disordered desires, to ignorance, suffering and death. Because Adam and Eve lost their created nature, they were a different kind of creature before their fall, than they were after their fall. When they sinned, they changed species, not necessarily by a change in their DNA, but because of the change in their nature, i.e. the kind of being they were. What we call ‘human’ is what Adam and Eve became only after the fall; before the fall they were a higher kind of being, because they had a higher nature than the nature we now have.

    Given Protestant anthropology, and given the patristic principle that what is not assumed is not redeemed, it is not difficult to see the motivation for claiming that Jesus must have assumed a fallen human nature, for if He assumed only an original human nature, he would have not have assumed our fallen nature, but only that of the original pre-fall couple who, while they had that pristine nature did not [according to Protestant theology] need saving. (See “Pelagian Westminster?“) Moreover, if one does not distinguish between human nature and the preternatural gifts, then since we see clearly in Scripture that Jesus suffered and died, then it will seem that Jesus must have possessed a fallen human nature. At His resurrection He changed species, back to the original human nature of Adam. Salvation for us also will, at our glorification/resurrection, involve a species change, back to Adam’s original nature. If Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and suffered the curse from Genesis 3, and our only two options to choose from are Adam’s “original human nature” or Adam’s “fallen human nature,” then Jesus must have had Adam’s “fallen human nature.” And if Jesus received His humanity from Mary, then it is difficult to see how He could have received “original human nature” from Mary, unless she was immaculately conceived and never sinned (at least did not sin until after Jesus was conceived); that’s not really an option for Protestants. Either she was immaculately conceived or at the moment of Jesus’s conception, God took Mary’s [fallen] human nature and transformed it to a different nature, namely, Adam’s original human nature. But then Jesus’s human nature would have been a different created species than was Mary’s. And that runs against the meaning of Theotokos, which is not that Jesus merely used the womb of the Virgin, but that He took His flesh from her, and was truly her Son, bone of her bones, and flesh of her flesh, homousious with her according to His humanity, and homousious with God the Father according to His divinity. (See the Athanasian Creed, which says that as man He was born of the substance of His mother (et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus.)

    In the Catholic understanding there is no ‘fallen human nature.’ God did not make two species of human. There is either human nature accompanied by preternatural and/or supernatural gifts, and human nature unaccompanied by preternatural and/or supernatural gifts. Every human being who has ever lived has had the same human nature possessed by Adam before Adam’s fall. Otherwise we wouldn’t all be human, because either the pre-fall Adam wouldn’t be human, or the post-fall Adam wouldn’t be human. Jesus was conceived having two of the preternatural gifts (i.e. integrity and infused knowledge), but He purposefully gave up the other two preternatural gifts (i.e. impassibility and immortality), because He came into the world to suffer and die, as I explained in comment #12 above. This is the meaning of the verse teaching that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh. By forgoing the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality, He made Himself subject to the suffering and death that was the result of the curse of Genesis 3, yet without sinning or being subject to the concupiscence resulting from original sin. He was conceived with the supernatural gifts (excepting faith and hope, because already He possessed the beatific vision), and thus without original sin. So the Catholic answer to the question “Did Jesus Assume a Fallen Human Nature?” is “It depends on what one means by “fallen human nature.” If one means a lower nature than that possessed by the pre-fall Adam, then no, because there is no such thing. And if one means “a human nature having concupiscence,” then no. Jesus did not have concupiscence, because he never had original sin. But if one means “a human nature subject to suffering and death,” then yes, not because He received a different human nature than that had by the pre-fall Adam and Eve, but because He chose not to receive the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality, so that He could fulfill the mission for which He came into the world, to suffer and die for our salvation.

    This position does not suffer from the problems I described above. Everything we are in our human nature, Christ assumed. For example, He did not have to forgo the preternatural gift of integrity in order to become fully human. Adam prior to his fall was not less human than Adam after his fall. Moreover, on this anthropology, Christ’s passibility and mortality do not entail that He also possessed concupiscence, since these are each conditions due to the absence of preternatural gifts, not essential properties of a singular fallen human nature. Nor do His passibility and mortality indicate that He was internally at enmity with God, since the latter is the result of the absence of the supernatural gift of agape, not something intrinsic to a particular kind of human nature that Christ would have had to assume in order to redeem us. And given Catholic anthropology, Jesus could receive from Mary the same human nature she had received from Adam, since there is only one human nature. What is known as “the sinful nature” is not a second human nature, but rather concupiscience, i.e. the absence of the preternatural gift of integrity. This “sin nature” is not redeemed and retained in the saints in heaven; it is removed, by the restoration of the preternatural gift of integrity. Salvation does not involve becoming a different species of human, but becoming a partaker of the divine nature, through the infusion of the supernatural gifts of sanctifying grace and agape, and at Christ’s return, the restoration of all the preternatural gifts.

  20. Thank you for this summary, Bryan. Do you know of good article length published resources that discuss these issues in more detail that would be suitable for undergraduates?

  21. What Is Sin?

    What did Jesus come to do?

    “And thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

    (A) _____ Jesus came to be a good teacher.
    (B) _____ Jesus came to save lost mankind.

    It is sin which has caused us to be lost, and the gospel is the good news of how God saves us from sin.

    Now most of us have assumed that we know what sin is, but as is typically true for most things that we assume without examining them carefully, our assumptions may simply be unproved suppositions that need careful rethinking.

    Right at this point, we are a little like a patient who makes an appointment with a physician. The most important thing the doctor can do for that patient is to give him or her a correct diagnosis of what is wrong. If the diagnosis is wrong the prescribed remedy will not work, and may even make things worse. But if the diagnosis is correct, then the remedy has a good chance of succeeding.

    It is exactly the same in our study of salvation. If the diagnosis of sin is correct, then the gospel remedy for sin will solve the problem, and we can have full assurance of salvation. On the other hand, if our definition of sin is unbiblical and based on misinformation, then our gospel is likely to be just as unbiblical and based on centuries of Christian tradition instead of the Word of God.

    The crucial question is, What is the nature of sin for which man is considered guilty, so guilty that he must die in the fires of hell unless he is rescued by the grace of God? We must be precise in defining the nature of this sin, so that we will know just what it is that the gospel rescues us from. Of what must we be forgiven? What must be healed for us to escape eternal death?

    What is our most serious problem?

    “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

    (A) _____ Our problem is poverty.
    (B) _____ Our problem is lack of education.
    (C) _____ Our problem is sin.

    But the real question is, How did we all sin? What caused us to come short of the glory of God? The answer we give to this question will affect every other decision we make about the way of salvation.

    We know that Adam chose sin voluntarily. We know that he became guilty because of his choice. But what about us? Are we guilty because of Adam’s sin; because we were born as descendants of Adam? Are we guilty because we have inherited a fallen nature from him? Or are we guilty because we choose to repeat Adam’s sin?

    To this question, two basic answers have been given in Christian history. These will be classified as Definition A and Definition B.

    Definition A — Our condemnation before God is the result of something called “original sin.” Now original sin does not mean Adam’s choice to sin. It means the state in which we are born because of Adam’s sin. Because of Adam’s sin, we are born sinners. Some say that we are guilty or condemned because we have inherited sin from Adam. Some say we are guilty or condemned because we are born as sons and daughters of Adam, who was the head of the race. Some say that we are guilty or condemned because we are born into a separated state. We are born apart from God, and that separation is our guilt. Some say that we are not even guilty for any of these things, but that we are born condemned as part of a fallen race.

    But the common denominator in all of these views is that we are guilty or condemned because we are born into the human family. Our condemnation is based on our birth into a fallen world with a fallen nature. We are born lost because of our inheritance of a fallen nature. Even though we may choose to do many wrongs things in our lives, we are lost sinners primarily because of our birth, before any choices take place. Sin exists in us before choice or even before knowledge. Sin exists in us before we can understand anything about right and wrong. Sin resides within us because of our birth into a fallen race.

    Thought question: What is the accepted solution for this problem?

    This definition of sin is the reason that some Christians believe in the necessity of infant baptism. If we are lost because of our fallen nature, at birth, it is extremely important that we be baptized immediately to wash our sin away.

    Definition B — This definition says everything the previous definition says except for one thing. It says that when Adam sinned, something changed in Adam’s nature, which changed his nature from a perfect, obedient nature to a distorted, self-oriented nature. We all inherit this fallen nature from Adam, which means that it is more natural to do wrong than right. The one difference in this definition from the previous definition of sin is that we do not inherit guilt or condemnation. We inherit everything that Adam could pass on to his children, but we are not born condemned sinners. We become sinners before God, lost and condemned, when we personally choose to rebel against God’s revealed will.

    Thought question: Is infant baptism necessary in this definition?

    These are the two classic definitions of sin in Christianity. Depending upon which definition we choose to believe, the issues of righteousness by faith will be colored differently. What we believe about justification, sanctification, and perfection will be different, depending upon the decision we make about the nature of sin.

    Definition A comes to us with impressive credentials. It was developed very early in Christian history. From the fourth century this definition has been the accepted, orthodox belief of most Christians. This was even the accepted belief during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Inevitably this belief has become the dominant view of most churches today. But as is true with all accepted beliefs, we must ask the question, Is this belief based on Scripture or on tradition? Many teachings which have become accepted in modern Christianity are not based on Scripture but on ancient traditions. Our question must always be, What does God say?

    As strange as it may seem, two different gospels are built upon these two different definitions of sin. One gospel tries to solve the problem of being born a lost sinner and living constantly in a state of sin, while another gospel deals with the problem of a rebellious will and negative choices. One gospel is concerned with the nature we inherit, while another gospel focuses on the character which God wants to develop in us.

    If we want to be sure that we are believing and living the true, Biblical gospel, then we must be very careful to learn from the Bible what sin really is, and on what basis we stand as condemned sinners in the sight of God.

    See: http://everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com/2010/03/what-is-real-gospel.html

  22. #19

    Bryan,

    Unless I am mistaken, I think that some, perhaps neo-orthodox theologians, believe they find support in Aquinas for the idea that Jesus had a “fallen human nature.” Is there any appearance of support for this in Aquinas that you are aware of? As far as you know, is there any appearance (that can be exploited by liberals) in his writings that he ever deviated from his doctrine that Jesus was free of concupiscence?

    Regards,
    Keith

  23. Keith, (re: #22)

    St. Thomas writes, “For He [Christ] received human nature without sin, in the purity which it had in the state of innocence.” (ST III Q.14 a.3) And everywhere St. Thomas is consistent with this. However, he also acknowledges that Christ purposely chose not to receive the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality, so that He could achieve His mission, which was to suffer and die for our sins. (See comment #12 above.) But not receiving those two preternatural gifts is not the same as receiving a sinful human nature, i.e. one born with original sin or concupiscence. St. Thomas explicitly denies that Christ had the “fomes” of sin (i.e. the inclination to sin); see Summa Theologica III Q.15 a.2.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. (re: #23)

    Thank you, Bryan.

    Regards,
    Keith

  25. I need some clarification. The article states:

    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.

    Later in the article it is stated:

    That is why sinless Adam’s body was mortal.

    How do these two quotes fit?

    Thanks, Kim D.

  26. Kim, (re: #25)

    The Canon is speaking of Adam as endowed with the preternatural gift of immortality; the second statement is referring to his body.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. Bryan,

    I have another question about physical death. Why is there still physical death for believers in Christ, according the Catholic belief and also according to Protestant belief. Do their answers differ? In other words if physical death came because of the fall, why is it not reversed when the sinner is forgiven of all original sin according to the Catholic . I am guessing that for the Catholic it has something to do with the
    preternatural gift of immortality–when Adam sinned this gift was lost. However why is it not returned when the sinner is forgiven. Secondly why for the Protestant , who does not believe in the preternatural gift of immortality, is the result of physical death that is connected with original sin not reversed when all of the guilt of sin is forgiven because of imputation?

    Thanks for your help, Kim D

  28. Kim, (re: #27)

    You wrote:

    Why is there still physical death for believers in Christ, according the Catholic belief and also according to Protestant belief. Do their answers differ?

    I have briefly mentioned the Catholic belief in “The Gospel and the Meaning of Life,” and in some more detail in “A Catholic Reflection on the Meaning of Suffering.”

    You wrote:

    Secondly why for the Protestant , who does not believe in the preternatural gift of immortality, is the result of physical death that is connected with original sin not reversed when all of the guilt of sin is forgiven because of imputation?

    The Catholic answer I provide just above is not available to Reformed Protestantism (as such), because Reformed Protestantism generally does not have a theology of participation in the work of Christ, as I explained in comments #182 and #184 of the “The Church Fathers on Transubstantiation” article. And the stronger monergistic Reformed position in which active participation in our salvation, through offering up our suffering and/or death, is viewed as encroaching upon if not denying outright the sufficiency of Christ’s perfect work of atonement, leads to the difficulty of explaining why God allows the regenerate to endure suffering and death, and even why He leaves us here to wait for death, as I explained in “Monocausalism and Temporal Nihilism.” One way of resolving this difficulty is by putting the blame on us, e.g. the health & wealth gospel, in which the only reason we do not presently enjoy perfect health and wealth is because we lack faith. That alternative is adopted not by Reformed persons, but by persons who hold a similar notion of the sufficiency and fully completed nature of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. Another way of dealing with this difficulty is by adopting a divine voluntarism in which God does not need any reason for allowing us to suffer and die unnecessarily: He does what He pleases, and our obligation is simply to glorify Him both in living and dying, health and sickness. This position attempts to get around the problem by denying that there is a problem, by denying that God needs to avoid allowing His saints to suffer and die unnecessarily.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  29. Peter, to collapse the nature/grace distinction is to collapse the Creator/creature distinction, as explained above.

  30. I addressed the Sproul video below in a previous post, but in watching it again recently, it was clear that just about everything Sproul says in the video below in criticism of Catholic doctrine indicates either an unawareness of, or a question-begging presupposition against, the Catholic understanding of the difference between nature and grace. He presupposes a Reformed conception of nature/grace, and then uses that conception as the basis for his criticisms, not realizing (apparently) the paradigmatic nature of the difference between the Reformed and Catholic theological positions. So, for example, in the 8th minute of the video he completely misses the distinction between actual grace and sanctifying grace, thereby confusing what Trent is saying about actual grace as though it is talking about justifying grace. (On this distinction see “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace.” See also my “A Reply from a Romery Person.”) He treats as an ‘ambiguity’ what is clear in light of the Tradition, that the “grace 0f justification” is the grace received at the moment of baptism.

    By presupposing the Reformed conception of nature/grace, Sproul simply begs the question (i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question) regarding the possibility of assenting and cooperating with actual grace. The nature/grace paradigm difference is what underlies the monergism/synergism question. Sproul, however, treats the monergism question as settled by what it means to be “dead in sins,” not realizing (apparently) that what it means to be “dead in sins” depends precisely on the nature/grace question. For this reason his criticisms presuppose precisely what is in question, because he fails to see that his premises presuppose the truth of the Reformed paradigm.

    The same is true of his criticisms of the Church’s condemnations of the errors of Michael du Bay, and Cornelius Jansen toward the end of the video. In each case, Sproul presupposes the Reformed conceptions of nature and grace, and thus begs the question. He treats the infallibility of God’s election as entailing the irresistibility of divine grace, an inference St. Augustine did not make. He claims that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself on this question (by ruling out at one time or other every available option), but then never actually lays out the alleged contradiction, and so conveniently leaves his accusation as a mere unsubstantiated assertion.

    At the end of his lecture, he criticizes the Catholic Catechism’s teaching on free will:

    Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude. As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. (CCC 1731-32)

    Sproul claims (24′) that because the Catholic Church teaches that man, after the fall, still retains the power to choose between good and evil, therefore the Catholic Church’s position is Pelagian. But the relevant question in the Pelagian dispute was not whether post-fall man could choose between good and evil, but whether man could, without grace, never sin, and so merit heaven. Neither Pelagius nor St. Augustine claimed that fallen man could not choose between good and evil. St. Augustine was not unaware that even unregenerate fathers provide for their children, and their mothers care for them, even to the point of death, and that the civil authority could justifiably enjoin its citizens to keep the law, and justifiably punish those who disobeyed it, because they could have chosen otherwise. All of that is at the level of nature, not grace. (See “Did the Council of Trent Contradict the Second Council of Orange?“) These good acts are not sins, but neither are they meritorious, because they are not done from grace and divinely infused agape. Sproul’s claim that Catholic teaching on free will is “Pelagian” is thus not only false, but presupposes the Reformed conception of nature/grace, and thus presupposes precisely what is in question. In this way it fails to recognize the paradigmatic nature of the dispute.

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