A Reply To R.C. Sproul Regarding the Catholic Doctrines of Original Sin and Free Will

Jul 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Ligonier recently posted a lecture by R.C. Sproul titled “A Divided Will?” in which Sproul sets out to present and criticize the Catholic doctrine of original sin and free will.

At the beginning of the video Sproul claims that there is a certain ambiguity built into the Catholic system of understanding the relationship of the will of man to original sin. To show that ambiguity, he looks back into Church history, and reviews the Catholic Church’s condemnation of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism in the fifth and sixth centuries, and then considers briefly what the Church taught at the Council of Trent.

He claims that the Council of Trent appears to repudiate Augustinianism, and that the Catholic Church does so clearly in the Jansenist controversy. So Sproul claims (around 3:30) that all the options of understanding the relationship of the will of man to original sin have been condemned by the Catholic Church. He also claims (around 3:50) that most Protestants view modern Catholicism as having reverted back to a form of semi-Pelagianism, and therefore being inconsistent with its prior rejection of semi-Pelagianism.

So first (around 5:00) he focuses on Canon 4 of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, which reads:

If anyone says that man’s free will moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God’s call and action, in no way cooperates toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive, let him be anathema.

He claims (around 8′ – 9′) that for the Catholic Church, the person must cooperate with infused grace. Then (around 9:40) he explains the nature of the ambiguity he mentioned earlier. The ambiguity, according to Sproul, is this: “They talk about the grace of justification. Are they talking about the grace of regeneration, which is necessary to awaken somebody from spiritual death, or are they talking about a cooperation that takes place after regeneration?” According to Sproul, for both Augustine and the Reformers, regeneration is monergistic, by irresistible grace, and the will is utterly passive in regeneration.

Then around 19′, he discusses the Church’s condemnations of the theses of Michael Baius. The Catholic Church condemned a number of theses put forward by Baius, among which were the following two: That the will without grace can only sin, and that the sinner is moved and animated by God alone. Sproul claims that in these theses, Baius was relying directly on Augustine, that apart from regenerating grace, the sinner is free only to sin.

Around 20:30, Sproul discusses the Jansenist controversy, and claims that the Jansenists were trying to maintain an Augustinian position. The Church condemned five Jansenist theses, of which Sproul mentions the following three:

1. Some of God’s precepts are impossible to the just, who wish and strive to keep them, according to the present powers which they have; the grace, by which they are made possible, is also wanting.

2. In the state of fallen nature one never resists interior grace.

3. In order to merit or demerit in the state of fallen nature, freedom from necessity is not required in man, but freedom from external compulsion is sufficient.

Then in 22’45” Sproul discusses a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He quotes the following two paragraph from the Catechism:

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 1731-1732)

Sproul then says:

“Here’s the critical point: that according to the Catechism, man still has the power of choosing evil or good. The power to choose between those two remains intact after the Fall. That declaration is 180 degrees opposed to the teaching of Augustine, and to the Protestant reformers who said that man still has the freedom to choose what he wants, but that freedom is only in one direction, the freedom to choose between alternate evils, but does not have the equal power to choose between good or bad. In fact this statement [from the Catechism] sounds not only semi-Pelagian, but actually Pelagian, giving rise to some theologians saying that Rome really never ever got beyond Pelagianism.”

A Catholic Response

Regarding Sproul’s claim that there is an ambiguity in Catholic doctrine, particularly in Canon 4 of the sixth session of the Council of Trent, there is no ambiguity. Sproul asks:

“They talk about the grace of justification. Are they talking about the grace of regeneration, which is necessary to awaken somebody from spiritual death, or are they talking about a cooperation that takes place after regeneration?”

In Catholic theology there is a distinction between actual grace and sanctifying grace (see “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace“). Canon 4 of Session Six is referring to both types of grace. When it says “moved and aroused by God,” it is talking about actual grace. When it says “the grace of justification,” it is talking about sanctifying grace. So, yes, the grace of justification is the grace of regeneration, but that in no way eliminates or negates the operation of actual grace preceding justification, and our ability and obligation to cooperate with actual grace, in order to obtain the grace of justification in baptism. That actual grace is itself two-fold, consisting in both operating grace (in which God alone acts initially), and co-operating grace (in which we cooperate with God, in response to His operating grace). This is what St. Augustine taught:

And who was it that had begun to give him his love, however small, but He who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He initiates by His operation? Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. (On Grace and Free Will, 17)

The monergistic grace to which St. Augustine refers is not the grace of regeneration, but actual grace (i.e. operating grace), which precedes regeneration, and with which we freely cooperate to prepare ourselves for justification. For St. Augustine the will is passive when God acts with operating grace, but the will is not passive in justification, except in the case of infants, for whom their parents will in their stead.

Regarding the condemnations of two theses made by Baius, Sproul seems to imply here that in these condemnations, the Church was backing itself into a Pelagian position. But that’s because Sproul is overlooking the distinction between nature and grace. The notion that “the will without grace can only sin” is false because some actions performed by unregenerate people are good at the level of nature (e.g. courageous, sacrificial, generous, etc.), but because they are performed without the supernatural virtue of agape they are not directed to our supernatural end, and therefore are not meritorious toward heaven. (See “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”)

Similarly, Sproul implies that the Church’s condemnation of Baius’s claim that “the sinner is moved and animated by God alone” is a concession to Pelagianism. But actually the Church is defending the Augustinian teaching that justification is not monergistic, but depends on our cooperation with actual grace. Again, Sproul’s mistake here is based on his conflation of actual grace and sanctifying grace.

Sproul does not specify how or in what way he thinks the Church’s condemnation of the three Jansenist principles he mentions was a concession to Pelagianism. He seems to think that the condemnation of the claim that “In the state of fallen nature one never resists interior grace” is a concession to semi-Pelagiansim. But if so, that is again because he is not distinguishing between actual grace and sanctifying grace, and therefore presuming that the only grace given is the grace of regeneration; therefore if we cooperate by our own fallen nature, with the grace of regeneration, that obviously would be a kind of Pelagianism. But if by operative actual grace we are first moved from our fallen condition, to a condition in which we can freely cooperate with actual grace, then acknowledging our cooperation with actual grace is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian. In that case likewise acknowledging our resistance to actual grace is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian.

The condemnation of the third Jansensist principle does not entail Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism because the merit referred to there is not that of heaven (i.e. the supernatural end of man), but the good of the natural end of man.


R.C. Sproul

Finally, regarding the quotation from the Catechism regarding man’s free will, Sproul’s claim that the Catechism’s statement amounts to Pelagianism is based on Sproul’s not grasping the Catechism’s distinction of nature and grace. The will of fallen man retains the ability to choose between good and evil, but it does not, on its own, have the power to choose man’s supernatural good.1 Neither actual nor sanctifying grace are necessary to choose between courage and cowardice, between generosity and stinginess, between responsible parenting and neglect of one’s children. We see non-Christians freely choose between these, sometimes rightly sometimes wrongly, on a daily basis. Grace is necessary for choosing and attaining man’s supernatural end. That’s what Pelagianism denies. St. Augustine never denied that pagans have free will to choose between good and evil. Nor did he hold that every action by an unregenerate person was a sin. Rather, he held that persons without actual grace could not choose our supernatural end, and that persons without sanctifying grace could not merit our supernatural end, namely, heaven. Failing to distinguish between nature and grace, and between our natural end and our supernatural end, leads to concluding falsely that affirming fallen man’s ability to choose freely between good and evil is some sort of Pelagianism.

Sproul claims in this video, but in no place shows here, that the Catholic Church has reverted back to a form of semi-Pelagianism. He also claims, but does not show, that all the options regarding the relation of free will and original sin have been condemned by the Catholic Church. But in no place does he actually show that the Church has ever condemned what she has ever taught or presently teaches concerning the relation of original sin and free will.

  1. For a Catholic evaluation of Luther and Calvin’s notion of free will, see “Lawrence Feingold on Freedom of the Will.” []
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  1. I need clarification on something. The article says we cooperate with actual grace. I take it that we do not cooperate with sanctifying grace. Is this correct? I am confused. We receive grace from the sacraments –is this considered a growth in grace and if so what kind of grace. When we choose to go to mass or confession etc are we cooperating with grace and if so what kind of grace—actual or sanctifying?

    There was this statement I found on Catholic Answers:

    “The Church teaches that there is a difference between actual grace and sanctifying grace. An easy way to understand actual grace is to remember that it enables us to act. It is the strength that God gives us to act according to his will. Sanctifying grace is a state in which God allows us to share in his life and love. When we speak of being in the state of grace, we mean the state of sanctifying grace. There is no mortal sin in us. This grace comes to us first in baptism and then in the other sacraments.”

    If the sanctifying grace comes to us through the other sacraments are we not participating in its growth by participating in the sacraments? Therefore if this is true is not our participation considered a cooperating with the sanctifying grace? I am just trying to understand this. Thanks.

  2. Kim,

    We can cooperate with actual grace, and with sanctifying grace. In the sacraments we receive both actual grace and sanctifying grace. Typically the term ‘growth in grace’ refers to sanctifying grace, because of its habitual character in the soul, whereas we speak of receiving many actual graces. When we choose to go to mass or confession, we are cooperating with actual grace, and if we are in a state of grace (i.e. have sanctifying grace), we are cooperating with the sanctifying grace within us, by which we are participants in the divine nature. So, yes, when we receive the sacraments we are participating in our growth in holiness, i.e. our growth in sanctifying grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Before too many people comment on what’s in the article, I thought I would just mention what is not – viz, much mention of what grace is *for*.

    The killer blow comes right at the end of this article: “Grace is necessary for choosing and attaining man’s supernatural end…”.

    You gotta put this in the context of, you know, the Gospel(s): grace is necessary for believing and following Christ, who is the Way (to heaven), the Truth (of how to go that Way) AND the Life (all the way to heaven is heaven!). And only those whom the Father has put on that Way can follow it; that’s not to say we are not free: just read the whole Gospels and see where Christ doesn’t challenge peoples’ freedom (John 6 is a good place to start).

    Sadly both Catholics and Evangelicals easily lose sight of the fact that, if Christ is not still HERE and NOW, there is no point having these “fascinating” but largely academic debates.

  4. Bryan, Thanks so much. I listened to Feingold’s talk on sanctifying grace and hope to listen to his one on actual grace today. Here is another question (well, more questions ;-) ). Do you guys have some kind of chart on this blog that goes through the picture of how salvation looks which includes the concepts of what happens when and how? Do you have something that explains how Catholics view the gospel—and how it is different from how the Reformed believers would view the gospel? Do you have something that explains what union in Christ means and how this relates to the new life we have at baptism?

  5. Kim,

    I have not made a chart of the sort you are describing. Doing so might be a good idea. As for the Catholic conception of the gospel, I have written about that in “The Gospel and the Meaning of Life.” See also “A Catholic Reflection on the Meaning of Suffering,” and on the Beatific Vision, see “Seeing Him Just as He Is: The Beatific Vision.”

    As for something comparing the two different conceptions of the gospel, I haven’t written anything doing that directly and thoroughly, although “A Reply from a Romery Person” is a more focused comparison on justification, and “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” also compares the two positions, there focusing only on the different conceptions of the atonement. The contrast comes out again in the different conceptions of faith and justification, discussed in “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” and the comments following that post (see the video at comment #115 there, and contrast that with something I wrote in 2007 titled “Catholicism is Frightening“). I also discussed the contrast in “On Imitations and the Gospel.”

    On union with Christ, I wrote a brief reply to Michael Horton titled “Horton on being made “One Flesh with Christ”” that is related to that subject. I also discussed it again in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.” There I contrast briefly the Reformed denial of ontological union (which is construed as fusion) with the Catholic understanding of union by participation-without-fusion. But that question (contrasting the two conceptions of union with Christ) deserves its own post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. This discussion of grace is something that has puzzled me through my years in evangelicalism. The word ‘grace’ seems to be used in different ways, by different people, without qualifying what is meant. You have the distinction that the Church teaches between actual grace and sanctifying grace. Ok, that is helpful in a sense. I intend to listen to Feingold’s talks this weekend, to see if helps me get a handle on the ideas.

    Then there is the evangelical definition of grace as God’s unmerited favor. I take that to mean God’s attitude, the way He acts. I am saved by grace, saved because He chooses to do so, despite my non-deserving. Then sometimes grace is explained with an acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That sounds nice, but what does it mean? Is grace something I receive, or is it God’s attitude?

    This evangelical understanding is obviously not in a sacramental context, as the Catholic understanding is, yet the same word is used. That is why I was puzzled. Sanctifying grace sounds like a spiritual commodity, which can be measured out to me as I participate in the sacraments. I bring this up because it seems to be an area where Catholics and evangelicals talk past each other.

    Sanctifying grace sounds like what the Eastern Church describes as the uncreated energies of God, that is, receiving or experiencing a measure of God Himself. Is that a correct identification? This is terminology that I do not hear evangelicals being at home with, but it would be helpful to me in wrapping my mind around what is being talked about. Is grace a thing separate from God, or is it an experience of God Himself?

  7. George, (re: #6)

    You’re right that Protestants and Catholics can and do talk past each other, because we are using different senses of the term ‘grace.’ In Catholic doctrine, grace is not only divine favor, but also the divine gift given to us from that divine favor. See comment #3 in the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread. (Clark’s statement represents the typical contemporary Protestant position regarding grace as only unmerited divine favor.) This is why if grace is mere favor, it does not make sense to speak of sacraments as means of grace, or to speak of growing in grace. Those claims reduce to growing in our knowledge of God’s favor toward us, as I explained in the conversation between RefProt and myself starting in comment #34 of “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments,” and continuing through comment #87.

    In Catholic doctrine what is sometimes called “uncreated grace” is the Holy Spirit, because the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is one of God’s gracious gifts. Only God is uncreated. So uncreated grace can only be God Himself. But actual grace and sanctifying grace are “created graces.” They are not eternal. As explained in “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace,” actual grace is the supernatural movement from God through which, with our free cooperation, we perform acts ordered to a supernatural end. This divine movement of the creature is not eternal, because the creature is not eternal; therefore this movement is created, and therefore actual graces are created. Likewise, sanctifying grace is a participation by the rational creature in the divine nature, and because the creature is created and not eternal, therefore the creature’s participation in the divine nature must also be created, and not eternal, as I explained in comment #45 of the “Imputation and Infusion: A Reply to RC Sproul Jr” thread. I hope that helps.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Bryan,
    I am replying to comment number 5–Thanks for all the info. I now have my work cut out for me! Ps. I would love to have a chart at some future time! lol! Thanks for all of your work; I appreciate it.

  9. Bryan,

    Thank you for this careful and charitable critique of R.C. Sproul’s arguments.

    I think an underlying problem in Sproul’s theology is his belief in total depravity. It’s the reason why he thinks that unregenerate people can only do evil. It’s also the reason why he looks at the grace of regeneration as monergistic. If, according to Sproul, people are “dead in sin”, that is, totally unable to cooperate with any grace, then they must be totally passive when God regenerates them.

    Have you ever written or come across a good article, which explains the difference between the Catholic view of how original sin affected humanity and the Calvinistic view?

    God bless,

    David

  10. David, (re: #9)

    Thank you. I agree that there is a difference between the way Catholics and Protestants conceive of what it means to be “dead in sin.” Protestants (at least those in Sproul’s tradition) conceive of it just as you described, as being unable not to sin, or rather, as being able only to sin. And that is due to their notion of what happened at the Fall, namely, that human nature itself was corrupted, such that the power of the will to choose between good and evil was lost. By contrast, the Catholic conception of original sin is that human nature itself remained intact, but that sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts were lost when Adam sinned. And therefore for the Catholic, “dead in sin” does not mean “being able only to sin,” or not having the ability to choose between good and evil. Rather, it means that man is without sanctifying grace, i.e. without the life of God. And contra Pelagianism, man cannot reacquire that grace that Adam lost, unless God gives it, which He has done for us through Christ.

    I have written a couple articles on this, drawing from lectures given by Prof. Lawrence Feingold. The first is titled “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin.” The second is titled “Protestant Objections to the Catholic Doctrines of Original Justice and Original Sin.” I hope those are helpful to you.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Bryan:

    I’ve accumulated (mostly prior to becoming Catholic) some notions about grace which I fear may be in error. They seem partly addressed here in this thread, but I think I need some clarification. Will you help me? (Or, redirect me elsewhere if needed?)

    1. I have a notion that existence is not something that God merely granted us at a previous point in time, but is also something He sustains in us continually. My impression is that if God did not do this, we’d all abruptly and catastrophically fail to exist — perhaps even fail to have ever existed? — inasmuch as our existence is derivative of God’s essence/existence, not just originally but in an ongoing way.

    Is this correct, and if so then isn’t our existence itself a kind of continual outpouring grace from God?

    (I can’t think what the proper label would be for that kind of grace. Actual? Sanctifying? Prevenient? Some other category?)

    2. I have a related notion that free will is something that God granted us as part of unfallen human nature, but that the fall so weakened that part of our nature that our free will, while still able to choose natural goods, was no longer strong enough to desire or choose supernatural good because the influence and temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil were too strong and inevitably overwhelmed our weakened free will’s ability to desire God.

    But the Holy Spirit can work in us to strengthen our free will sufficiently to counteract the otherwise overwhelming world/flesh/devil influence. The analogy I draw is that of a motorboat with a very weak motor, being pushed helplessly towards reefs and rocks by high winds and strong currents: It has no choice of course, but goes where the winds and currents take it. But the Holy Spirit grants our motor a power-boost, giving us just enough water-flow over the rudder to make the rudder functional again. So now we can steer a proper course…if we choose. But we still have the choice to steer towards the rocks, if we choose that.

    The activity of the Holy Spirit in us does not, therefore, overwhelm our free will in the sense of forcing us to choose God. He enables our free will, and without that enabling we’d have effectively been helpless to choose. He assists and strengthens us “both to will and to do,” giving us back enough strength to resist temptations that our free will is restored to effectiveness: We now, because of the Holy Spirit’s assistance, enough resources to choose God, or not. If we choose Him, we have cooperated with grace. If not, we have resisted or scorned the grace He gave.

    Does that all sound correct to you? Or have I drifted into some heresy that I don’t know enough to recognize?

  12. Thank you, Bryan. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

  13. R.C. (re: #11)

    [In case any readers are wondering, this is not R.C. Sproul. :-) ]

    You wrote:

    I have a notion that existence is not something that God merely granted us at a previous point in time, but is also something He sustains in us continually. My impression is that if God did not do this, we’d all abruptly and catastrophically fail to exist — perhaps even fail to have ever existed? — inasmuch as our existence is derivative of God’s essence/existence, not just originally but in an ongoing way.

    Correct.

    Is this correct, and if so then isn’t our existence itself a kind of continual outpouring grace from God?

    It is true that the act of creating us and sustaining us in existence is a pure gift of God, and in that sense is gratuitous. But, in Catholic theology, the term ‘grace’ has a more specified meaning, referring only to that which is ordered to the beatific vision, which is our supernatural end, not our natural end. So we speak of what God has created (and sustains) as ‘nature.’ And ‘grace’ is an additional gift, over and above nature. I have written about this in more detail in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.” I suggest reading that, and listening to Prof. Feingold’s lecture available there. If you have any questions that arise on that subject, that thread would probably be the best place to ask them.

    Regarding your second question, what needs to be added to what you have said is the distinction between nature and grace, to avoid the false notion that intact human nature per se could merit the supernatural end which is the beatific vision. In addition to the link I provided in the previous paragraph, see “Pelagian Westminster?” and the comments that follow that article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Good heavens, no, I’m definitely not R.C. Sproul, although we share the same first two initials.

    (Sorry, that potential confusion should have occurred to me. Glad you clarified that for me, Bryan.)

    I’m finding the notion of a natural/supernatural distinction increasingly difficult to articulate: Since both Creation and Miracles are supernatural acts of God, and since the continued existence of anything is an ongoing outpouring of the gift of existence, how, then, can we distinguish between that which is natural and that which is supernatural?

    I mean, you just said, “We speak of what God has created (and sustains) as ‘nature.’ And ‘grace’ is an additional gift, over and above nature.” But the Holy Spirit in us is the only uncreated/unsustained grace, isn’t that correct? Aren’t all the other graces, the actual activities of the Spirit which He does in us at specific moments in time, “created” graces? In what sense are they not therefore “natural?” The angels are created and, I presume, sustained; but one doesn’t typically call them “natural.” But one can’t call them “supernatural” merely on the basis that “God supernaturally produces them” because the same statement is true (both originally and continually) of the whole “natural” universe.

    I don’t mean to nitpick or be needlessly pedantic; I just want to not fall into error, and the terms used in discussing soteriology seem fraught with vague or tricky definitions and ample opportunity for misunderstandings!

    The word “grace” itself seems bad enough: Labeling a thing not by what it is but by how much the recipient deserves it, which leaves the “what it is” part unstated! And now that the layman’s idea of how to distinguish between what is natural and what is supernatural is ruled out, I’m not sure with what to replace it.

    I believe that one commenter has already asked for a kind of soteriology chart, an infographic? I agree, that’d be helpful…but a Glossary Of Relevant Terms also seems necessary!

    I’d appreciate any further helpful explanations you can offer. In the meantime I’ll go listen to Feingold’s lecture again, and try to better absorb it on my second go-around.

    Thanks.

  15. R.C. (re: #14)

    You wrote:

    Since both Creation and Miracles are supernatural acts of God, and since the continued existence of anything is an ongoing outpouring of the gift of existence, how, then, can we distinguish between that which is natural and that which is supernatural?

    As explained in the other thread, ‘supernatural’ is a technical term in Catholic theology. As a technical term, it doesn’t mean simply ‘above’ nature. It refers to the supernatural order that belongs per se to God alone. Creation and providence are acts of God in the natural order that is ordered to God as Creator and Sustainer. But grace is a gift of God in the supernatural order that is ordered to God as Father, according to His internal Life which is the communion of the three Divine Persons. The terminus of the supernatural order is infinitely greater than the terminus of the natural order (even though the object [i.e. God Himself] of each is the same) because God as known to Himself is infinitely greater than God as knowable by the unaided power of any creature. Nature shows us and is ordered to God as He can be known from creation, much as art reveals the artisan. But grace shows us and is ordered to God as He knows Himself, through revealing His own internal self-knowledge (which is His Word) and by uniting us with His Word catches us up into the eternal communion which is the Love between the Father and His perfect self-image, i.e. His internal Word.

    I mean, you just said, “We speak of what God has created (and sustains) as ‘nature.’ And ‘grace’ is an additional gift, over and above nature.” But the Holy Spirit in us is the only uncreated/unsustained grace, isn’t that correct?

    Correct.

    Aren’t all the other graces, the actual activities of the Spirit which He does in us at specific moments in time, “created” graces?

    Actual graces and sanctifying grace are created graces.

    In what sense are they not therefore “natural?”

    Because they are ordered to a supernatural end.

    The angels are created and, I presume, sustained; but one doesn’t typically call them “natural.” But one can’t call them “supernatural” merely on the basis that “God supernaturally produces them” because the same statement is true (both originally and continually) of the whole “natural” universe.

    Angels too need grace, in order to have the beatific vision. See my post titled “St. Thomas on Angels and Grace.”

    I believe that one commenter has already asked for a kind of soteriology chart, an infographic? I agree, that’d be helpful…but a Glossary Of Relevant Terms also seems necessary!

    The hardcover version of the Catechism has a helpful glossary with definitions of terms. I would also recommend Fr. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary. On this subject of the distinction between the natural order and the supernatural order, see The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. [...] A Reply to R. C. Sproul Bryan Cross, Called to Communion [...]

  17. Thank you for this cogent response to Mr. Sproul’s lecture. The thing that strikes me about the original lecture is the underlying assumption that the Church could blithely blunder about in such a fashion, unwittingly rejecting all possible options with regard to a doctrinal matter of such fundamental importance. It also seems that the original lecture reflects an absence of the depth of engagement with Augustine and the pronouncements of the Church that is necessary to truly grasp the theological positions that they set forth. Without commenting on Mr. Sproul directly, do you think that a lecture of this type is simply aimed at Calvinists with the goal of reinforcing what they already believe? Or is there a belief that actual engagement is taking place, with that goal undone by benign neglect?

    Thanks again.

  18. Is it possible to lose actual grace?
    If so, how does one re-enter into it?
    If not, what keeps the actual grace in place?

  19. Mark O (re #18)
    Hi there. My understanding of actual grace is that it is a helping or assisting grace whereby the mind and heart is operated on by God so as to move us to a particular action. This might be where we touch a sacramental like a Scapular and all of a sudden feel a rush of joy or have a miraculous vision, or how we might enter Church and feel a rush of joy spring out in our heart. Operating or actual grace is when God works in our hearts before we are ever able to reach back up to Him. In fact, this is how justification starts off when we are in the process of conversion. God acts on us to bring us to Him, He takes the first initiative of which we must then act and co-operate with what He has given us. Actual grace then, in my understanding, is merely the act of God giving Himself over to us in an attempt to move us to a particular place or reflection, and so it is efficacious when He brings us to a moment where, in His love, He offers us a choice to further act on what He has given us to move towards or to hold back. So in a sense, I do not think you can lose actual grace because when God gives actual grace He effects what He desires (He has mercy on none in vain), but instead He moves us to a place where He has assisted us in coming to make a choice, of which the final act is our own choice.

    This is my simplistic understanding of actual grace, and I recognize that probably many theologians will pick apart this answer because it is not thorough or technical enough or because it has a certain Augustinian character but falls short in some respects to the Doctor of Grace’s thoughts. What keeps an actual grace’s effect in place is God’s operation on us, or so I think, because actual grace can be called operating grace, in some respects, where God moves the heart to a certain point or conclusion.

    Sanctifying grace on the other hand is that indwelling of the Trinity in the soul and heart as His holy temple. In this manner, God continually transforms us, our will, our minds, and our hearts so that we can actively co-operate in the good works that He has prepared for us. So we might conceive that He has prepared the soul not only to receive an operating grace whereby our mind sees the good thing to do and recognizes it as good, but then also to enjoy that co-operative grace and condescending love where He treasures us as adopted sons and grants to us the capacity to enjoin ourselves to His loving push forward. We are not compelled to take on that good work as if against our own will, but this co-operating grace is the effect, I think, whereby we enjoy and see what God’s commandment is and because our hearts have been so transformed we fulfill it in loving submission to God saying, “Not my will, O Lord, but Yours” to which we add our own will to fulfill His will.

    Actual grace, sorry to confuse, might hold an operating grace where God brings us forward to a certain point from nowhere to do a certain action, and then gives us Himself in a different effect in what is called co-operating grace in order for our wills to be empowered to do what we see is to do good.

    Sanctifying grace is similar perhaps in that an operating grace shows the mind what it needs to do and a co-operating grace fulfills our good will so that we actually do the good thing. The difference is in how the relation of the sinner responds to God, I think. Actual grace is where God acts on us to move in a certain direction regardless of our relation to Him, while Sanctifying grace is the relation of a Father to an adopted son, one of filial love and tender respect, where the person actively participates in the divine life and operation of Him who moves Him by love. In actual grace one might receive a partial understanding of the love of the Father, but in sanctifying grace one experiences and understands the Father’s love in an fulfilling manner that that person understands himself to be walking in the loving faith and life of God. In actual grace one might not be walking with God at all but only be yearning to be joined to Him.

    That’s what I think about actual and sanctifying grace, but I’m not especially knowledgeable about it. I’m sure the other commentators can say a much greater thing about it than me. At the end of it all, we may speculate, but God’s love for us and grace for us is mysterious and above comprehension, though we can speak some of it through our experience of God’s continuing and enduring love as well as what is handed down to us from those faithful contemplatives of God’s Word both written and lived.

  20. Kevin (re: #17),

    Without commenting on Mr. Sproul directly, do you think that a lecture of this type is simply aimed at Calvinists with the goal of reinforcing what they already believe? Or is there a belief that actual engagement is taking place, with that goal undone by benign neglect?

    I think lectures of this sort are aimed primarily at a Reformed audience. Prior to the internet, it was much easier to ‘get away’ with this sort of insularity, and this is how these traditions have lasted as long as they have, namely, by speaking, reading, and writing mostly in-house, and avoiding genuine engagement with other traditions. This allows the continual setting up and knocking down of straw men. Sproul is one of the leading intellectual figures in the Reformed world. I remember listening live to the PCA general assembly in 2007 during the FV debate, and Sproul’s decision there was virtually magisterial – when he came down with his decision, the debate was over. The authority had spoken. So because of his leadership status in the Reformed world, his caricature of Catholic theology here in this lecture (and elsewhere) is telling, and disturbing. This lecture would deeply disturb me if I were still Reformed, and at least knew what I know now about Catholic theology. It would cause me to call into question all that he has said and written, and perhaps even question the whole Reformed tradition. But the internet is exposing this, and it cannot go on. Insularity is no longer an option. The only two options are extinction by losing people (including seminarians and pastors) to Catholicism, or authentic engagement. And there are Reformed pastors and thinkers who have chosen authentic engagement.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. Bryan,

    Thanks for your reply – very helpful and informative.

    In Christ,

    Kevin

  22. MarkO, (re: #18)

    Actual grace is the movement of God in the soul, so it is not exactly something we ‘have;’ it is the work of God in us and upon us, moving our heart toward union with Him in love. It is possible to fail to cooperate with actual grace. The more we cooperate with actual grace, the more grace we receive. The more we refuse to cooperate with grace, the less we receive. But sufficient grace is given to all (see here), and so long as we remain in this present life, there is the possibility of repentance, and cooperation with actual grace. He who hardens his heart to the grace of God by repeatedly refusing to correspond to the grace given him, places himself in danger of eternal separation from God.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. Steven Reyes (#19)

    I like your description, except that I think that we don’t necessarily – and in fact usually don’t – actually feel anything with actual graces. Grace itself is supernatural and though the results in us when we respond to it may be feelings, normally they are not.

    When I struggle with a sinful tendency and ask God for grace to combat it, He gives it to me – but my struggle is experienced as struggle (and seldom a pleasant feeling :-)) just the same – only with the grace God gives me I can win out in that particular struggle this time. Actual graces can contribute to the growth of habitual graces – in which case the struggle may not be so much of a struggle next time. But they are ‘actual’ which sounds, in English, like it means ‘reallio-trulio’ – but I think what it means is related to the way French say actuellement – which in French class I had to learn didn’t mean ‘actually’ but meant ‘at the present moment.’

    But I am not a theologian either :-)

    jj

  24. Bryan–

    Mainstream Catholic soteriology has been, since the Second Council of Orange, semi-Augustinian and not semi-Pelagian as Sproul contends. He, of course, knows this and is probably speaking in “for all intents and purposes” lingo. For, as Catholicism gave up on Augustine’s concept of perseverance and accepted the potentiality of apostasy for the elect, they might as well be considered [at least] semi-Pelagian because ultimate salvation depends on man’s will and his will alone. (Some Lutherans and all Arminians would also fit such a definition. So you are in good company.) Molinists, on the other hand, are de facto Pelagianists pure and simple, as far as anyone can tell.

    But on to Augustine. He does not teach, as you so glibly proclaim, that fallen man possesses the “ability to choose freely between good and evil.”

    On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 48:
    “According to some, however, they who do by nature the things contained in the law must not be regarded as yet in the number of those whom Christ’s grace justifies, but rather as among those some of whose actions (although they are those of ungodly men, who do not truly and rightly worship the true God) we not only cannot blame, but even justly and rightly praise, since they have been done—so far as we read, or know, or hear—according to the rule of righteousness; though at the same time, were we to discuss the question with what motive they are done, they would hardly be found to be such as deserve the praise and defense which are due to righteous conduct.”

    Augustine does believe that the imago dei remains intact and that unbelievers are capable of actions which are outwardly obedient to the law of God. In the end, however, they are incapable of “righteous conduct.” In other words, ALL that they are capable of is sin. Sproul is not disregarding the disparity between nature and grace. He is simply defining sin differently than you do. Actions not motivated by agape and not directed toward a supernatural end are sinful. How difficult is that to figure out?

    Of course, in differentiating between actual grace and sanctifying grace, you are indeed speaking past Sproul. He knows you make the distinction. He doesn’t buy that it is a biblical distinction…nor an Augustinian distinction. (As far as Aquinas goes, he is probably engaging in wishful thinking.)

    Augustine himself does presage the Protestant notion of “total depravity” in rather Protestant terms.

    On Nature and Grace (Against Pelagius), Chapter 3:
    “Man’s nature, indeed, was created at first faultless and without any sin; but that nature of man in which everyone is born from Adam, now wants the Physician, because it is not sound. All good qualities, no doubt, which it still possesses in its make, life, senses, intellect, it has of the Most High God, its Creator and Maker. But the flaw, which darkens and weakens all those natural goods, so that it has need of illumination and healing, it has not contracted from its blameless Creator—but from that original sin, which it committed by free will. Accordingly, criminal nature has its part in most righteous punishment. For, if we are now newly created in Christ, we were, for all that, children of wrath, even as others, ‘but God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by whose grace we were saved.’ ”

    Also, contra-Trent, Augustine clearly states that man does nothing to prepare himself for grace and does not cooperate with grace in any meaningful sense; indeed, the “whole work belongs to God.”

    Enchiridion, 32:
    “And further, should anyone be inclined to boast, not indeed of his works, but of the freedom of his will, as if the first merit belonged to him, this very liberty of good action being given to him as a reward he had earned, let him listen to this same preacher of grace, when he says: ‘For it is God which works in you, both to will and to do of His own good pleasure;’ and in another place: ‘So, then, it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.’ Now as, undoubtedly, if a man is of the age to use his reason, he cannot believe, hope, love, unless he will to do so, nor obtain the prize of the high calling of God unless he voluntarily run for it; in what sense is it ‘not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy,’ except that, as it is written, ‘the preparation of the heart is from the Lord’? Otherwise, if it is said, ‘It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy,’ because it is of both, that is, both of the will of man and of the mercy of God, so that we are to understand the saying, ‘It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy,’ as if it meant the will of man alone is not sufficient, if the mercy of God go not with it,—then it will follow that the mercy of God alone is not sufficient, if the will of man go not with it; and therefore, if we may rightly say, ‘it is not of man that wills, but of God that shows mercy,’ because the will of man by itself is not enough, why may we not also rightly put it in the converse way: ‘It is not of God that shows mercy, but of man that wills,’ because the mercy of God by itself does not suffice? Surely, if no Christian will dare to say this, “It is not of God that shows mercy, but of man that wills,’ lest he should openly contradict the apostle, it follows that the true interpretation of the saying, ‘It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy,’ is that the whole work belongs to God, who both makes the will of man righteous, and thus prepares it for assistance, and assists it when it is prepared. For the man’s righteousness of will precedes many of God’s gifts, but not all; and it must itself be included among those which it does not precede. We read in Holy Scripture, both that God’s mercy ‘shall meet me,’ and that His mercy ‘shall follow me.’ It goes before the unwilling to make him willing; it follows the willing to make his will effectual. Why are we taught to pray for our enemies, who are plainly unwilling to lead a holy life, unless that God may work willingness in them? And why are we ourselves taught to ask that may receive, unless that He who has created in us the wish, may Himself satisfy the wish. We pray, then, for our enemies, that the mercy of God may prevent them, as it has prevented us: we pray for ourselves that His mercy may follow us.”

    Lastly, a quote to back up Sproul’s assertion of efficacious [irresistible] grace.

    On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 45:
    “It is not, then, to be doubted that men’s wills cannot, so as to prevent His doing what he wills, withstand the will of God, ‘who hath done all things whatsoever He pleased in heaven and in earth,’ and who also ‘has done those things that are to come;’ since He does even concerning the wills themselves of men what He will, when He will.”

    –Eirik

  25. JJ said:
    “But they are ‘actual’ which sounds, in English, like it means ‘reallio-trulio’ – but I think what it means is related to the way French say actuellement – which in French class I had to learn didn’t mean ‘actually’ but meant ‘at the present moment.’”

    I just had a lightbulb and bells go off in my head. The English there is particularly unfortunate I think and your explaination is great, thanks.

  26. Eirik said:

    Also, contra-Trent, Augustine clearly states that man does nothing to prepare himself for grace and does not cooperate with grace in any meaningful sense; indeed, the “whole work belongs to God.”

    Please show where Trent or any Catholic here or anywhere has said that man prepares himself for actual grace. It seems you are making the same mistake Sproul makes in not distinguishing between actual grace and sanctifying grace.

    Thanks,

    David Meyer

  27. David (#25)

    If I’m right :-) I think in a way it is not quite ‘present moment’ per se but rather from the philosophical concept of ‘in act’ – meaning ‘not potential.’ So it is not so much ‘actual vs unreal’ but ‘actual vs unrealised.’ But thinking of French actuellement helps me to remember that it isn’t the English idea of ‘real’ as opposed to ‘imaginary’ or something.

    But perhaps someone who actually knows about these things (rather than someone like me, who am just sitting here idly speculating :-)) could explain.

    Of course there, when I said ‘actually,’ I did mean ‘really.’ :-)

    jj

  28. David Meyer, you write:

    Please show where Trent or any Catholic here or anywhere has said that man prepares himself for actual grace. It seems you are making the same mistake Sproul makes in not distinguishing between actual grace and sanctifying grace.

    David, I think that you have hit the nail on the head. R.C. Sproul has a confused understanding about what the Council of Trent teaches about the actual grace that adults must receive before receiving the sanctifying grace bestowed by the Sacrament of Baptism. But that is somewhat understandable, since the Council of Trent never used the term “actual grace” in any of her decrees.

    Bryan notes:

    He [R. C. Sproul] also claims (around 3:50) that most Protestants view modern Catholicism as having reverted back to a form of semi-Pelagianism, and therefore being inconsistent with its prior rejection of semi-Pelagianism.

    So first (around 5:00) he focuses on Canon 4 of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, which reads:

    If anyone says that man’s free will moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God’s call and action, in no way cooperates toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive, let him be anathema.

    He claims (around 8′ – 9′) that for the Catholic Church, the person must cooperate with infused grace. Then (around 9:40) he explains the nature of the ambiguity he mentioned earlier. The ambiguity, according to Sproul, is this: “They talk about the grace of justification. Are they talking about the grace of regeneration, which is necessary to awaken somebody from spiritual death, or are they talking about a cooperation that takes place after regeneration?” According to Sproul, for both Augustine and the Reformers, regeneration is monergistic, by irresistible grace, and the will is utterly passive in regeneration.

    The question that R.C. Sproul raises about the supposed “ambiguity” Canon 4 shows exactly where he is confused in his understanding:

    “They talk about the grace of justification. Are they talking about the grace of regeneration, which is necessary to awaken somebody from spiritual death, or are they talking about a cooperation that takes place after regeneration?”

    In reference to Canon 4, the answer to Sproul’s question is neither. The question Sproul should be asking is what does the Council of Trent teach are the actual graces need to be received by unbaptized adults to prepare them to receive the grace of justification. The supernatural grace that allows an unbaptized man to hear the Gospel and to respond positively to it, is not justifying grace, it is actual grace. Now it is true that a man continues to receive actual grace after he is justified by baptismal grace, and that he needs to cooperate with the actual graces given to him by God. But that is not what Canon 4 is talking about. Canon 4 is talking about the need to cooperate with a specific type of actual grace before a man is justified.

    Canon 4 is addressing a question about adults (or more precisely those who have reached the age of reason) that have never received the Sacramental Graces of Baptism. An adult that has never been baptized has not yet received the “grace of justification”, because that grace is received through the reception of a valid Sacrament of Baptism. The adult that is hearing the Gospel preached to him, must first receive two kinds of actual grace before he can desire to receive the “grace of justification” (i.e. sanctifying grace) that is bestowed by the Sacrament of Baptism. These two forms of actual grace are known in the Catholic theology of grace by many different names, such as praeveniens and subsequens (preceding and subsequent); antecedens and concomitans (antecedent and consequent); operans and cooperans (operating and cooperating); vocans and adiuvans (calling and aiding); exitans and adiuvans (arousing and helping).
    For example:

    Prevenient and Coöperating Grace.

    The vital acts of the soul are either spontaneous impulses or free acts of the will. Grace may precede free-will or coöperate with it. If it precedes the free determination of the will it is called prevenient; if it accompanies (or coincides with) that determination and merely coöperates with the will, it is called coöperating grace.

    Ref: Grace, Actual and Habitual, A Dogmatic Treatise
    By The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph Pohle, Ph.D., D.D.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29540/29540-h/29540-h.html

    Canon 4 is speaking about the specific actual grace of cooperans. Canon 4 is condemning the proposition that the actual grace of cooperans does not exist, and that man does not need to exercise his free-will to cooperate with this actual grace in order to receive justfifying grace.

    As far as I can tell, R. C. Sproul is claiming that St. Augustine taught that justifying grace (sanctifying grace) is received “monergistically” by the “elect” before the elect man receives the Sacrament of Baptism. But St. Augustine taught no such thing, and the Fathers of the Council of Trent were well aware of the distorted understanding of the “Reformers” about what St. Augustine actually taught concerning saving grace and monergism.

    The confusion of the Reformers stems, in my opinion, from the fact that St. Augustine did indeed teach that “prevenient” actual grace is received “monergistically” by man. (As does the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.) But St. Augustine also spoke about the actual grace of cooperans that follows the reception of antecedent grace (prevenient grace). The actual grace of cooperans is efficacious only synergistically. The Catholic understanding of the actual grace that is received before justifying grace is not either/or – that is, either monergism or synergism. The Catholic understanding of actual grace is both/and – it allows for both monergism and synergism.

    St. Augustine thus describes the operation of antecedent and subsequent grace: “God works in man many good things to which man does not contribute; but man does not work any good things apart from God since it is from God man receives the power to do the good things which he does” (Contra, duas Ep. Pel. II 9, 2i = D 193). “The Lord prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation that which He begins by His working. For the same God works in the beginning so that we may will to do good … He willingly co-operates with the willing one and perfects him. … In order that we may will (to do good), He works without (= before) us; but if we will (to do good), and so will that in fact we do it, He works with us. But without Him Who so works that we may will (to do good) and co-operates with us when we will, we can do nothing in regard to the good works of piety” (De gratia et lib. arb. 17, 33). Cf. St. Gregory the Great. Moral, XVI 25, 30, and the Prayer Actiones nostras.

    Ref: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott

    I would like to expand upon what Trent taught about the actual graces of operans and cooperans, but, if I may be allowed, I would prefer to do that in the comboxes of this CTC article: Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace. The reason why I want to do that is that I have already begun to comment on the two kinds of actual graces in that thread, and I would like to complete my thoughts there, since that thread deals specifically with actual grace, and not so much with the question of freewill.

    As for Sproul’s accusation that the Catholic Church has reverted to the heresy of semi-Pelagianism, that too can be refuted from the decrees of the Council of Trent, but first we would need to define the heresy of semi-Pelagianism as it is understood by the Catholic Church.

  29. Mateo–

    Thank you for your input. I don’t however, think it matters whether Augustine spoke of actual [cooperative] grace in coming to faith or not. That’s not really the crux of the issue for the Reformers. That’s just an ordo salutis problem.

    The real questions are these:

    1. Did Augustine teach that prevenient grace was granted only to the elect?

    2. Did Augustine teach that the elect cannot fail to persevere?

    On both counts, I believe that he did.

    –Eirik

    I’ll go over to the other thread and follow up there.

  30. Eirik, you write:

    I don’t however, think it matters whether Augustine spoke of actual [cooperative] grace in coming to faith or not. That’s not really the crux of the issue for the Reformers.

    For Catholics it is the crux of the issue. St. Augustine does not teach that the grace that justifies precedes the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism! St. Augustine also does not teach semi-Pelagianism. Catholics maintain the distinction between the actual graces that prepare adults to be justified, and the sanctifying grace that regenerates man through the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Without the distinction between these actual graces and sanctifying grace, it seems to me, that the teachings of St. Augustine on grace are incomprehensible.

    The real questions are these:

    1. Did Augustine teach that prevenient grace was granted only to the elect?

    If one does not make the distinction that prevenient grace is an actual grace, then one may fall into the errors of the Reformers that conflated prevenient grace with regenerating grace. The bible itself teaches that God desires all men to be saved, which means that God must give to all men the grace they need to be saved. Whether men cooperate with that grace is another question.

    2. Did Augustine teach that the elect cannot fail to persevere?

    The bible teaches that Christians can commit the sin of apostasy, and that those Christians that are guilty of the sin of unrepentant apostasy cannot be saved. St. Augustine did not contradict what the bible teaches about the consequences of unrepentant apostasy.

    .

  31. Mateo–

    The Reformed believe that God’s desires are fulfilled. (Augustine himself clearly felt that no one thwarts the will of God.) Given that, your Catholic interpretation of 1 Peter 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 creates a problem: universalism. Since universalism is clearly unbiblical, your interpretation cannot stand systematically. Reformed theologians believe that “all” in these verses refers to men from every land and tongue and tribe. (There are many instances in Scripture where “all” cannot possibly mean “every single one.”)

    The Bible does NOT teach that Christians can commit apostasy. Otherwise, verses like John 10:27-29 would lose all meaning: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” The Reformed believe that passages of apparent apostasy (e.g., Hebrews 6) speak of those who were never genuinely regenerated: they were not of the elect. 1 John 2:19 appears to bear this out: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

    There’s not really any conflation going on in regards to grace. Protestant grace calls and regenerates and justifies and sanctifies and glorifies. Grace in Catholic terms has many functions, as well.

    Augustine does not contradict the Bible though he does contradict current RC dogma on perseverance. I’ll pull you out some quotes later.

    You are correct that the Thomistic version of Catholic soteriology is definitely not semi-Pelagian. As I noted above, it is rightly termed semi-Augustinianism. (Molinism is a different matter entirely. Personally, I find it outright Pelagianistic.)

    All the best,

    –Eirik

  32. I just wanted to thank Brian for comments 13 and 15 and thank Mateo for comments 28 and 30. These comments have helped me immensely in giving me a clearer understanding of the subject (basically , guys, you have answered my personal prayers for clarity).Thank you for carefully replying to Eirik . I also am very thankful for Eirik who has taken the time to ask these questions because these things have been on my mind also.

  33. Eirick you wrote:

    The Reformed believe that God’s desires are fulfilled. … Given that, your Catholic interpretation of 1 Peter 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 creates a problem: universalism. Since universalism is clearly unbiblical, your interpretation cannot stand systematically. Reformed theologians believe that “all” in these verses refers to men from every land and tongue and tribe.

    Eirick, the Catholic Church does not teach universalism, so universalism is not an issue with me or with the Catholic Church. The problem that I have is with your Calvinist interpretation of the word “all” in this verse of scripture:

    … God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    1 Tim 2:3-4 RSV

    In your Calvinist interpretation, “all” does not mean “all”, it means something else. From what I understand of Calvin, he believed that most men were created by God for damnation, and that only a few would be saved. Therefore, the Calvinist interpretation of 1 Tim 2:3-4 would need to read:

    … God our Savior, who desires only a few men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    1 Tim 2:3-4 RSV

    I find that Calvinist interpretation of scriptures to be incompatible with these scriptures:

    God is love
    1 John 4:8

    Love does not insist on its own way …
    1 Cor. 13:5

    Love desires all men to be saved, but Love does not insist on its own way.

    Eirick you wrote:

    The Bible does NOT teach that Christians can commit apostasy. … The Reformed believe that passages of apparent apostasy (e.g., Hebrews 6) speak of those who were never genuinely regenerated: they were not of the elect.

    Hebrews speaks of apparent apostasy? Again, I find that Calvinist interpretation of scriptures to be in error.

    My problem isn’t with scripture, my problem is with the Calvinist interpretation of the scriptures, and I find that some Calvinist interpretations are heretical. But then again, I am not claiming that my personal interpretations of the scriptures are infallible. So we would be at an impasse, except that the scriptures tell us how to resolve our dispute. We must bring our dispute to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded and let her rule on our dispute. The man that “refuses to listen even to the church” is to be excommunicated.

    I am willing to listen to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded, and I don’t see anything in the scriptures that authorizes me to rebel against what Christ’s church teaches, or authorizes me to listen to “churches” that are founded by mere men and women.

    Eirick, let me ask you a question. If you could locate the church Jesus Christ personally founded, would you, in principle, be willing to listen to and accept what Christ’s church officially teaches as Christian doctrine?

  34. David (#26)

    I never said that Trent or Augustine either one taught that man must prepare himself for actual grace. (Although I would assume, in terms of the ongoing interventions of God in the life of the RC believer, said believer should prepare himself to cooperate.) According to Catholic soteriology, all non-infants must prepare themselves for sanctifying grace by cooperating with actual grace.

    The problem here is that Protestants split the concept of justification into…justification and sanctification; whereas Catholics split grace into actual and sanctifying. (For Protestants, grace is grace is grace is grace, the unmerited favor of God. Now, the effects of that grace are many, but that’s another story. In Lawrence Feingold’s talks on grace, he defines the Protestant concept of grace as non-transformative. [Feingold: On Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace, question #7 of the lecture entitled, "The Theological Virtue of Charity." It comes on the audio starting at 17:55 and ending at 25:11.] For Reformed Protestants, particular grace is ALWAYS completely transformative. For Catholics, sanctifying grace is transformative merely sometimes…because baptismal regeneration must be confirmed in conversion of life and because it can later be rejected in apostasy or any other unreconciled mortal sin.)

    For Catholics, actual [operative] grace is temporal and monergistic while sanctifying grace is progressive, semi-permanent, and unambiguously synergistic. Reformed Protestant justification is permanent and monergistic, while sanctification is progressive, inevitable (permanent), and ambiguously synergistic (many do, in fact, label it as monergistic). That being said, however, Protestant justification lines up better with RC sanctifying grace (being/character) than with actual grace (actions/good works) even though actual grace, in the operative sense of prevenient grace, is related to conversion. Actual grace, especially in its cooperative sense, is more in line with Protestant sanctification.

    Augustine did not prepare for or cooperate in his conversion (just as the Apostle Paul did not). An unregenerate Augustine resisted God, but inevitably could not resist the force of God’s grace. His running away to Rome and then Milan only brought him closer to his eventual Redeemer. The whole work belonged to God. Augustine never “cooperated” with prevenient Grace. He bucked it all the way home. Regeneration preceded assent.

    I’m sure you disagree with that analysis, but there’s the rub. You think we make Augustine say something he does not. We think that you do.

    Augustine makes it quite clear in Enchiridion 32 that “the entire work belongs to God, Who both makes the human will righteous, and prepares it in this way for His assistance, and then assists it when it is prepared.”

    This divine “assistance” counts for everything. Mankind, according to Augustine, is given no credit whatsoever. Psalm 59 states that “God’s mercy shall meet me.” And Psalm 23 says that “His mercy shall follow me.” Therefore, Augustine observes that “Mercy goes before the unwilling person to make him willing, and it follows the willing person to MAKE his will effective.” ***

    –Eirik

    BTW, I do not wish to be looked upon as an apologist for R.C. Sproul. I find him somewhat careless. And he does not hold near the clout in the Reformed world that Bryan Cross seems to assume.
    Finally, I don’t know about my making the same mistakes as Sproul, but I certainly make more than my fair share. I’m still flailing away in murky theological seas trying to keep my head above water!

    ***This is true in both justification and sanctification for Augustine:

    On Nature and Grace, Ch. 35.
    “ ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass,’—not, as some suppose, that they themselves bring it to pass. Now, when he said, ‘And He shall bring it to pass,’ he evidently had none other in mind but those who say, We ourselves bring it to pass; that is to say, we ourselves justify our own selves. In this matter, no doubt, we do ourselves, too, work; but we are fellow-workers with Him who does the work, because His mercy anticipates us. He anticipates us, however, that we may be healed; but then He will also follow us, that being healed we may grow healthy and strong. He anticipates us that we may be called; He will follow us that we may be glorified. He anticipates us that we may lead godly lives; He will follow us that we may always live with Him, because without Him we can do nothing.”

    Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk. 4, Ch. 15.
    “But who causes that men should be good save Him who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good’? and who said ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them’? Are ye thus not yet awake? Do ye not yet hear, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,’ lastly, ‘I will make you to do’? What! are you still puffing yourselves up? We indeed walk, it is true; we observe; we do; but He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy preventing us.”

    In other words, when Augustine speaks of cooperation, he doesn’t mean what you think he means….

  35. Eirik, (re: #34)

    You wrote:

    In Lawrence Feingold’s talks on grace, he defines the Protestant concept of grace as non-transformative. [Feingold: On Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace, question #7 of the lecture entitled, "The Theological Virtue of Charity." It comes on the audio starting at 17:55 and ending at 25:11.] For Reformed Protestants, particular grace is ALWAYS completely transformative.

    Please avoid all caps; it is the internet equivalent of shouting.

    I’ve listened to Prof. Feingold’s answer to Question #7 (found here) and I think you are misunderstanding him. He doesn’t mean that according to Protestant soteriology there is no change in the believer. He means instead that the believer remains fundamentally evil before God, just as the WCF says, when it teaches that “there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation” (WCF XV.4), and of course “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8). So in WCF theology, every day the believer remains deserving of damnation before God, and except for the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, he would be damned, for what he does every waking minute of every day: sin.

    Similarly, Michael Horton says the following about the notion of grace as transformative:

    The Reformation way of putting it was, simul iustus et peccator – “simultaneously justified and sinful.” This was the Reformation debate more than anything else. Rome agreed that the sinner is saved by grace – but by grace transforming the unrighteous into righteous, the unholy into holy, the disobedient into the obedient. Depending on how one appropriates and makes use of this grace, one could eventually be accepted by God. Not so, said Luther and Calvin. Even on a good day, the average Christian is wicked. The believer, however, does not await a verdict in the future; he reminds himself of the verdict already declared: “not guilty.” He lives each day as though he had fully satisfied the requirements of the law. And to enjoy this promise, he does not have to meet certain criteria for growth in grace. Before he can be confident in this promise, he need not “clean up his act.” More than this, he knows he can’t clean up his act to the degree that he can make enough progress to be accepted or approved by sanctification. (Putting Amazing Back into Grace, pp. 166-167, my emphasis)

    On that same page of that book, Horton has a cartoon of a man sweating and trembling, holding a sign that says ‘Sin!’. The man is standing in the shadow of the cross, with an arrow showing that from “God’s View”, the man is hidden, because the man is standing behind the cross. Here’s the cartoon:

    That’s what Prof. Feingold is talking about when he says that in the Protestant view, the person remains fundamentally unrighteous before God, not being made truly righteous (except by extra nos imputation) until glorification. That same idea is communicated in the following video:

    (Source: Reformation Theology, July 6, 2009.)

    And that’s what Prof. Feingold means when he says that in Protestant soteriology grace is not transformative. The sense of ‘non-transformative’ is in relation to the Catholic doctrine, according to which the baptized person is instantly made truly righteous by the infusion of sanctifying grace, faith, hope, and agape which fulfills the law. So by contrast, the Protestant conception of grace is non-transformative, until the person dies, and is then instantly completely sanctified.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  36. Eirik, (concerning number actually 34) do not the Protestants have two types of grace. Common grace and particular grace?

  37. Kim, thank you very much for your post # 32! Your encouragement is an answer to my prayers.

    R.C. Sproul accuses the Catholic Church of teaching semi-Pelagianism, and he makes an analogy between the Council of Trent and a shotgun blast that sent pellets flying everywhere. Some pellets were bound to hit some targets. If I were to make an analogy about Trent using guns and bullets, I would say Trent was more like a precision sniper rifle that fired carefully aimed bullets.

    The Reformers unleashed upon the world a raft of conflicting novelties concerning grace and justification. The Fathers of the Council of Trent very carefully laid out their arguments against the ideas of the Reformers that they considered heretical. One such argument is found in the decrees of the Council of Trent is the defense of the Catholic Church against the charge of Reformers that the Catholic Church teaches semi-Pelagianism.

    Here is one definition of the heresy of semi-Pelagianism:

    Semi-Pelagianism

    This developed by way of reaction against the Augustinian doctrine of grace. … Semi-Pelagianism recognizes the supernatural elevation of man, original sin, and the necessity of inner supernatural grace for preparation for justification and for the achievement of salvation, but limits the necessity and gratuitous nature of grace. Striving to preserve the freedom of the will and the personal co-operation of man in the process of sanctification, the originators of the error came to the following conclusions:

    a) The primary desire for salvation proceeds from the natural powers of man …

    Ref: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott

    The Catholic Church rejects as a heretical proposition that the primary desire for salvation can proceed from the natural powers of man. It is necessary for man to receive grace to enlighten his reason and will before he can assent to the Gospel. The heresy of semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the Second Council of Orange:

    The Second Council of Orange (529) declared the following proposition to be heretical: Man, by the power of nature alone and without the enlightenment and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, can think and act as he ought to, and be saved, that is assent to the preaching of the Gospel …

    Ref: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott

    The Catholic Church reaffirmed once again her rejection of semi-Pelagianism at the Council of Trent, and it is from the Council of Trent that the Catholic Church received her formally defined ( de fide definita) dogmas concerning actual grace. I want to show where Trent did that, and I will do that in the comboxes of this CTC article:

    Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace

    Kim, I hope that this helps you, and any other “lurker” that is trying to understand what the Catholic Church dogmatically teaches about actual grace. It was CTC, (especially David Pell) that helped me understand what Trent was actually teaching concerning actual grace. There is a rather involved dialog in the comboxes of a CTC article that really helped me on this particular issue. See CTC article How John Calvin Made me a Catholic. In comment #277 Fr. Kimel raises a question about what the Catholic Church dogmatically teaches about monergism and synergism, which eventually leads to a question about what the Catholic Church taught about prevenient grace at the Council of Trent (Fr. Kimel’s comment #286). At comment #384 we are still discussing that question! I want to condense down what I learned from that exchange into a concise a post as possible. Pray for me that I might be successful!

    Kim, I highly recommend listening to Dr. Feingold’s lecture about Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace, as what I am adding is only supplemental to what Dr. Feingold is teaching.

    Thanks again Kim,

    mateo

  38. Mateo (concerning comment 37). Yes , I have listened this week to Feingold’s two lectures. I have not gotten around to listening to the audio of the comments. His lectures have helped along with the comments on this post here about R.C. Sproul’s video. I will read the comments over at the Feingold post later this weekend when I hope to get some time. I do have Ott’s book and have read some sections which have also been helpful.

    The link to “How John Calvin made me a Catholic” is broken [Fixed! -Eds.] . I have read that one (some time ago)–and when I can link to it I will try looking again at the comments you have mentioned.

    Thanks, Kim

  39. Eirick, you wrote:

    For Catholics, actual [operative] grace is temporal and monergistic while sanctifying grace is progressive, semi-permanent, and unambiguously synergistic.

    Catholics believe in, and practice, infant baptism. The infant that receives justifying grace through the Sacrament of Baptism does not cooperate by an act of the will to receive baptismal regeneration!

    Reformed Protestant justification is permanent and monergistic, while sanctification is progressive, inevitable (permanent), and ambiguously synergistic (many do, in fact, label it as monergistic).

    The “Reformed” deny that Christians can commit deadly (mortal) sin, even though the scripture is unambiguous about the fact that Christians can commit deadly sin. So when the “Reformed” assert that sanctification is “inevitable”, the Catholic Church (along with the Orthodox Churches, and a good deal of Protestantism) see that mere assertion as heresy.

    Protestant justification lines up better with RC sanctifying grace (being/character) than with actual grace (actions/good works) even though actual grace, in the operative sense of prevenient grace, is related to conversion.

    How can it be the case that the Reformed idea of justifying grace in any way lines up with what the Catholic Church teaches about justifying (sanctifying) grace? The Catholic Church teaches that sanctifying grace does exactly what the name implies – the person that receives sanctifying grace is made holy; the person receiving sanctifying grace shares in the divine life of God by this incredible gift. From the Catholic POV, the person receiving sanctifying grace is made holy not just in fictional sense, but is actually made holy by this grace.

    The Reformed conception of justifying grace is that Christ’s righteousness is only imputed to the sinner, and that the sinner is rather like what Luther described – a dung pile covered by snow. Before the sinner received justification he was a dung pile; after he is justified he is still a dung pile, but he now has a covering of snow that hides his filthiness and corruption. The “sin nature” of the totally depraved man is left intact and unchanged by justifying grace according to the Reformed (as I understand Reformed soteriology).

    Actual grace, especially in its cooperative sense, is more in line with Protestant sanctification.

    But you said earlier that for “Protestants, grace is grace is grace is grace.” So which is it? Do the Reformed believe that justifying grace makes the regenerated man holy or not?

    Augustine did not prepare for or cooperate in his conversion …

    Who is claiming that Augustine “prepared” for the reception of prevenient grace? St. Monica was praying for her son, but her son was resisting what St. Monica was praying for. When Augustine received prevenient grace at “the call in the garden” he did not prepare himself to receive that grace. But he had to use his free will to respond to that call, and he could only do that by receiving cooperating grace.

    An unregenerate Augustine resisted God, but inevitably could not resist the force of God’s grace.

    It the Reformed, and not St. Augustine, that claims that Augustine could not resist “the call in the garden”. St. Augustine never describes himself as man that was forced by God’s to become a Christian.

    Augustine never “cooperated” with prevenient Grace.

    No one “cooperates” with prevenient grace, since prevenient grace is irresistible. (See both the CTC article “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace” and my post #6 to that same article.) I, for one, and not disputing that St. Augustine taught that prevenient grace is irresistible, since with prevenient grace God works “ in us, without us”.

  40. Bryan,

    Before the fall, did Adam and Eve have concupiscence (lust of the fleash, lust of the eyes, pride of life) as part of human nature?

    If they did, then how would you explain Trent’s teaching that concupiscence is “of sin”, that is, is an effect of sin? How can there be an effect if the cause doesn’t exist?

    If they didn’t, then how would you explain Feingold’s definition of original sin as the removal of gifts? In other words, as far as I remember, Feingold says original sin is the absence of something rather than some corruption injected into human nature. Yet, if Adam and Eve contracted something, namely concupiscence, after the fall that they didn’t have before it, then original sin is, partly, some corruption (I realize concupiscence is not sin in itself) that is in human nature; thus, Feingold’s definition would be incomplete. If, after the fall, Adam and Eve were left with human nature minus the gifts, then concupiscence would have been part of human nature before the fall because it certainly is part of human nature after the fall.

    Thank you in advance for your reply.

  41. David (re: #40)

    Before the fall, did Adam and Eve have concupiscence (lust of the fleash, lust of the eyes, pride of life) as part of human nature?

    Before the fall, Adam and Eve did not have concupiscence, because they had the preternatural gifts. But they had in their human nature a ‘potency’ to concupiscence through sin and the loss of the preternatural gifts. This potency was actualized when they sinned, and lost the preternatural gifts.

    how would you explain Trent’s teaching that concupiscence is “of sin”, that is, is an effect of sin? How can there be an effect if the cause doesn’t exist?

    The cause was their sin, by which they forfeited the preternatural gifts, and thereby reduced themselves to a condition of concupiscence.

    how would you explain Feingold’s definition of original sin as the removal of gifts?

    Original sin in its essence is the absence of sanctifying grace, which is a supernatural gift (not a preternatural gift). Original sin is not the same thing as concupiscence.

    Yet, if Adam and Eve contracted something, namely concupiscence, after the fall that they didn’t have before it, then original sin is, partly, some corruption (I realize concupiscence is not sin in itself) that is in human nature;.

    You’re interchanging the terms ‘concupiscence’ and ‘original sin.’ Those two are not the same. By their sin Adam and Eve came into a condition of original sin and concupiscence. But it does not follow that either original sin or concupiscence is a corruption that is in human nature. A corruption is a corruption of something, from a good or better state to a bad or worse state. There was no corruption in man prior to the fall. Even when Adam and Eve sinned, human nature itself remained intact. They didn’t go from 100% human to 60% human. They remained 100% human. The loss of sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts exposed the weakness of human nature without those gifts. But that weakness is not a corruption of human nature. Sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts are not intrinsic to human nature, because we are neither God nor angels.

    If, after the fall, Adam and Eve were left with human nature minus the gifts, then concupiscence would have been part of human nature before the fall because it certainly is part of human nature after the fall.

    The potency to concupiscence was present before the fall, but not concupiscence itself.

    All this is explained in more detail in “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin,” especially the Q&A session following that lecture. If you want to ask a follow-up question on this subject, I suggest that you do so in the combox there.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  42. Bryan,

    Would you please explain the difference between the concupiscible nature (which I believe Adam and Eve had before the fall as part of human nature) and concupiscence, which they had after the fall?

    Thank you.

  43. David, (re: #42)

    I wouldn’t use the term ‘concuspiscible nature,’ because concupiscence is not essential to human nature, and there wasn’t a second nature (i.e. ‘concupiscible nature’) our first parents had (either before or after the fall) in addition to human nature. Before the fall they had human nature, as well as the preternatural gifts and the supernatural gifts. Human nature contains formally four powers, among which are the rational appetite, and the concupiscible appetite (each of which are in themselves good). (See Aquinas and Trent: Part 3.) The rational appetite is intrinsically ordered to the good as such, but the concupiscible appetite is not intrinsically ordered to the good as such, but to the good under a limited aspect, namely to concupiscible goods. Otherwise nothing would differentiate the concupiscible appetite from the rational appetite.

    The preternatural gift of integrity by which the concupiscible appetite was ordered to the rational appetite, and thus extrinsically ordered to the good, was part of the divinely established order. Without that preternatural gift of integrity, the concupiscible appetite is not inherently ordered to the good, but must be mastered and trained so that the virtue of temperance develops in it. As I wrote in “Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,”

    Why is integrity not intrinsic to human nature? Because man is both body and soul, and matter by its nature cannot be intrinsically ordered to the good as such, as reason is. That inability is not a defect in matter; it is merely a natural limitation of matter. For example, arrows are not naturally ordered to their target, but this is not a defect or imperfection in arrows. Similarly, not being the Creator is not a defect or imperfection in creatures; it is a limitation that necessarily accompanies being a creature. So likewise, not being intrinsically ordered to the good as such is not a defect or imperfection in matter; it is merely an intrinsic limitation of matter. And therefore the need for the preternatural gift of integrity in order for there to be no concupiscence, is not an indication that human nature is imperfect or flawed.

    So the difference between human nature (which they had before the fall) and concupiscence (which they had only after the fall) is that human nature is that by which they were human [both before and after the fall] whereas concupiscence is the disorder between the powers of the soul, resulting from the loss of the preternatural gift of integrity through sin. Prior to the fall, this disorder [i.e. concupiscence] was not present, because of the presence of the preternatural gift of integrity. But the potential for this disorder was present, both on account of human nature, and on account of their capacity by the power of free choice to lose through sin the preternatural gift of integrity. After the fall, this disorder was present, because the preternatural gift of integrity by which the concupiscible appetite had been extrinsically ordered to the rational appetite, was lost.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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