Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Good Introduction to Natural Law

Rice's book 50 Questions on the Natural Law is a wonderful introduction to the natural law and its relation to the Catholic faith. It's also a decent way to take a gentle first look at the teaching of St. Thomas, at least in regard to jurisprudence and the law.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ratzinger - Truth and Tolerance

I've enjoyed the last couple books by the erstwhile cardinal, but if I remember correctly there is a joke or anecdote about German theologians that it seems I can confirm about Ratzinger - or, if I'm just making up a non-existent memory, maybe I'll formulate the anecdote myself: they talk about questions from a variety of angles but do not very often tell you how they would answer them.

Truth and Tolerance is a case in point. On the whole I think it's a helpful book. Either I'm just very dense, though (and I concede that this may be the case), or he doesn't really come right out and describe the relations of the two in the sort of explicit terms that I'd like to see. Maybe my expectations were just all wrong.

Or maybe my temperament is of just the wrong sort for German theology. I find the approach of Maritain and St. Thomas to be much more appealing: here is the truth, and here is where modern philosophy and world religions have got things wrong. But Ratzinger takes a different approach. Where I would say that the Enlightenment has for all intents and purposes been a trip down the wrong road, Ratzinger says that "we do not by any means need to bid adieu to the Enlightenment as such" (p. 256). I just don't agree. We've had 200 years of working out the consequences of the Enlightenment (and even longer if we include its humanistic precursors), and I'm not sure that we've got much to show for it: tens of millions dead in the atheistic embrace of Marxism, for one horrible example. Yet even if we set that aside, there are problems on the right-wing of the Enlightenment as well, as even Ratzinger concedes. He rightly rejects a "freedom" that consists in seeking to divorce oneself from any dependence or duty towards others: "An understanding of freedom is wrong if it would see as liberating simply an ever-widening loosening of norms and the constant extension of individual freedom in the direction of a total liberation from all order" (ibid). Man is made for community with God and others, and we dehumanize ourselves if we deny either of these essential aspects of what it means to be human.

Well, what then is there to preserve from the Enlightenment? I'm not sure, but then I'm no philosopher or theologian.

Anyway, Truth and Tolerance is a worthwhile book, and I commend it to you, but I'm going to have to stick with Maritain and St. Thomas myself.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Holy Week - Silence

This evening at the Vigil for Palm Sunday, our priest commended the benefits of silence during Holy Week, so that we can more carefully listen to the Lord. He did not mention this, but it occurred to me that one of the greatest sources of noise in my life comes from blogging - both here and in visiting (or participating at) others' blogs.

In keeping with his encouragement, then, I am signing off for Holy Week. May God bless you richly during this season, and draw you closer to himself through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for our salvation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Romans 10:2 - The Elephant in the Room No One Seems to Want to Talk About

Over here there's been an extended conversation about unbelievers who are nevertheless recipients of God's grace.

(and the same thing has popped up over here, too)

I am not going to pretend to have been a terribly profound advocate of the Catholic view; Mike Burgess is the real star, in my judgment. But there has been rather assiduous avoidance of something on the part of the Protestants involved: namely, Romans 10:2. St. Paul says of the Jews:
For I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
I'm perfectly willing to grant that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But this passage seems to me to be rather devastating for the claims of certain Protestants - the Reformed - that God's grace is "irresistible". Why? Because it's not possible for anyone to have zeal for God apart from grace. This should be non-controversial in the present conversation, since the Protestants involved all agree with Romans 3 that "no one seeks God." So - if anyone actually does so, they must be recipients of God's grace.

Now if the Jews are zealous for God, it seems inescapable that they have received grace from God in order to be so. And yet they are not believers in Christ or in the Trinity. And these facts tell me rather unambiguously that God does not force anyone to believe, and that he gives grace even to people who wind up not believing in him.

Now the Protestants in the referenced thread are just ignoring this. And I'm perfectly willing to believe that perhaps they are embarrassed for me - that they think only a fool would be proposing this, and that out of charity they don't wish to make me look like a fool. And if all that's true - and I concede that it is certainly possible - then I commend their charitable spirit.

Nevertheless, I am perfectly willing to be embarrassed. So please - go ahead and shellack me. Explain how this verse does not mean what it seems (to me) to mean. Explain how the grace given to the Jews such that they have zeal for God but do not believe in Christ is nevertheless "irresistible".

As it stands right now, it seems to me that Protestants are just ignoring the implications of this verse. I've checked Hendriksen and Murray, and neither of them comes close to even mentioning this issue, as far as I can tell. I've checked Calvin and Luther...ditto.

I am perfectly willing to admit, too, that you wouldn't want to build a whole house on one verse. And I don't think that one needs to do so in this case: I think that there are quite a few other passages in the NT that demonstrate God doesn't "irresistibly" force anyone to believe. But I also think that if you're going to say that God's grace is irresistible, you're going to have to explain how this passage doesn't invalidate the claim.

I'm still waiting.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

More Serendipity - so-called semi-semi-Pelagianism

I wrote the previous post earlier this evening. Now I find that Turretinfan has another post involving the receding use of the term "Pelagianism." Now we're at "semi-semi-Pelagian." I hope neither of us gets hit by a semi while quibbling over semis :-)

I appreciate the fact that his latest post consists substantially of a quotation from Warfield in which the great Princeton scholar acknowledges that the Council of Orange disposed of semi-Pelagianism, so that we can lay to rest the question of whether the Catholic Church is semi-Pelagian. Instead, Warfield wants to call the Church "semi-semi-Pelagian."

Turretinfan says (again) that the label is unimportant to him, but I hope that I may be excused for being somewhat skeptical of this, inasmuch as he continues to press "pelagian" against us in some form or fashion. If it doesn't matter, why use it at all? It just doesn't work to call us "pelagian" in any sense, so why not just say that we disagree on this point?

But I digress.

The title of this post is "More Serendipity." I consider my last post juxtaposed with Turretinfan's latest to be serendipitous precisely because of how (it seems to me) my last post responds in important ways to his. Also noteworthy in the same regard is my antepenultimate post, as well as my combox ramblings here and here.

Warfield identifies the issue as a dispute over the irresistibility of grace. Since he is (apparently, and for all I know) the one coining the term "semi-semi-pelagianism" I won't quibble too much about that (but see below), but I would say that identifying a point of disagreement and labeling it pejoratively is a different thing from demonstrating that he's correct in his judgment. And of course Turretinfan hasn't presented Warfield's argument, but only Warfield's judgment.

Lastly, this issue is one that is at the core of disagreement between Catholics and (at least some) Protestants, and Turretinfan and I aren't going to settle the matter. So (particularly in view of the stuff that I've already written lately, referenced above) I don't intend to spend a whole lot of time here on the Catholic view beyond a few particulars that will hopefully serve to sum up what I have been saying.

First of course I think that Scripture demonstrates the Catholic view and contradicts the Protestant. Representative example (not the only one, and maybe not even the best one, but the one that I have ready at hand in my brain): Romans 10:2. Paul acknowledges the zeal of the Jews for God - something that they could not possibly have apart from grace - and yet they did not believe in Christ. But if they received grace so that they could be zealous for God and yet did not believe...clearly then they have resisted that grace.

Secondly, the Catholic view is what the Church has always taught. Perhaps of greater interest right now is that St. Augustine unambiguously taught it, so that Warfield's description of his own view as "Augustinianism" is flatly mistaken. See my previous posts in response to Turretinfan on the topic of [semi-]Pelagianism. St. Augustine was a Catholic on the subject, and it won't do to try and pretend otherwise. Whatever he and Turretinfan want to call their view on this point, it is not Augustinianism, and I know of no good reason whatever why we ought to abandon what the Church has always taught in favor of the Protestant innovation.

Thirdly, it's worth pointing out that - as far as I can tell - Turretinfan (or perhaps Warfield, to whom he attributes this) seems to be attempting to revise the history of the subject. Turretinfan summarizes things this way:
Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace;
2. The necessity of initial grace; and
3. The general necessity of grace.

Semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace; and
2. The necessity of initial grace.

Semi-semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace.

Uhh... maybe I missed it, but I don't remember seeing "sufficiency of grace" as a point of contention in the historical disputes over Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism at all. It's historically inaccurate to say that this was at issue before the Reformation, as far as I know. If on the other hand Turretinfan concedes that point, and merely intends to point out that in addition to the other errors the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians also erred on the "sufficiency of grace," I'd have to say that to attribute additional meaning to historically established labels does not illuminate anything, but rather confuses the issues, and the labels ought to be restricted to their proper and accepted use rather than put to use as cudgels for other purposes.

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Whether God Moves Human Will

Serendipity - "The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident."

I was thinking that a post on this topic (or something very similar) might be useful in view of certain comboxes, where the fact that God gives grace even to those who do not consequently become Christians has been - if not exactly front and center for discussion, at least in the background. But that was not on my mind when I sat down to write the next post in my continuing series based upon passages in the Summa Theologica that struck me as somehow interesting while I was reading it. I was simply going to blog on the next note in my list.

Lo and behold, that next note is on I-II Q10 A4: Whether the will is moved of necessity by the exterior mover which is God? Woo Hoo!

Why is this serendipitous? Because it comes down to specifically addressing an issue central to the two referenced comboxes: namely, whether God's grace is resistible or not. It's not too hard to see that my comments in them really depend upon the answer to that question: if grace is irresistible, then God has not given it to anyone who doesn't subsequently become a Christian; consequently my use of Romans 10:2, Acts 17:26-27, and (with TheDen) Acts 10:34-35 would have been invalid (of course, Protestants would still face what seems to me to be an insurmountable problem in explaining such passages in terms of "irresistible grace" themselves, but at least my usage of them would have been invalid if they were right about that notion). On the other hand, if grace can be resisted or rejected, then my usage of these passages makes good sense - Jews who have zeal for God, and pagan Athenians who worship an unknown God, and all unbelievers who (in the words of Acts 17) seek or grope after God, do so because of grace that they have received from him - grace that they might one day reject (and which most of the Jews of St. Paul's day did reject, denying that Jesus was their Messiah).

So this part of the Summa is wonderfully relevant. What does St. Thomas say? First, he quotes Sirach 15:14 ("When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice"), and then:
As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) "it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things." Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.
In short: God does not compel our wills. To do so would be effectively to "destroy" human nature, since (as Sirach says) he made us with free will.

This does not mean, however, that God's providential plan for creation can be thwarted by us.
The Divine will extends not only to the doing of something by the thing which He moves, but also to its being done in a way which is fitting to the nature of that thing. And therefore it would be more repugnant to the Divine motion, for the will to be moved of necessity, which is not fitting to its nature; than for it to be moved freely, which is becoming to its nature.
God greatness is such that he can ensure that his purposes are accomplished in our lives by our free choice, so that he does not in any way trample upon the free will that he gave us, while at the same time his own will is accomplished without fail.
Say not: "it was God's doing that I fell away"; for what he hates he does not do. Say not: "It was he who set me astray"; for he has no need of wicked man. ... Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him (Sirach 15: 11-12, 17).
Our choices are our own. But we have enslaved ourselves to sin, and only by God's grace can we be freed from it. If we prefer our chains, though, he will not force us to go free. In either case, his own perfect will is done.

Some folks might say that no one would resist grace "even if they could:" given the choice, full understanding of the circumstances, and complete comprehension of the consequences of the choice, no one (it is said) would ever turn away from Christ. Unfortunately such people are forgetting that this was precisely the choice presented to Satan and the demons, and yet they all fell away. They also seem not to be taking into consideration the effects of a lifetime of choices.

A critical part of Catholic moral theology is the theory of virtues and vices: habits of good or evil behavior that characterize who we are. The virtuous man does what is right out of habit because it is a part of his nature, so to speak, after much repetition, to do what is right. So too the "vicious" man, who does evil out of habit, because after much repetition it has become a part of his "nature" (so to speak) to do so. These habits for good or ill become so ingrained in us that to do them is part of what it means for us to be who we are as individuals. How likely is it that a man accustomed by long years to doing evil will actually change his ways? Rather unlikely, apart from God's help. And even then he may not want that help, because he may become so enslaved to evil doing as to not even seriously contemplate any other course of action.

It is precisely for this reason that we need to take our sins most seriously, especially when we are young. We must not dally with them. By them we set patterns for ourselves such that our lives (especially in later years, when the habits are really hard to break) are characterized not by love for God, but by love for that which separates us from him. Instead, we need to actively build (with God's help) virtuous lives focused upon our Savior. If we come to the end of our lives bound by sin, we won't be able to blame God. His purposes will be accomplished, and we will get what we chose for ourselves - one sin at a time, one day at a time. May God have mercy upon us and help us not to resist his grace, but to seize it and cling to it, to him, and to our Savior, so that we may not fall away.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Observations for those who deny that Muslims worship the true God

It has been said that worshiping God is spiritually good, and that consequently those who are not Christians do not worship him:
Worshiping God is a spiritually good thing, right?
Romans 3 says unregenerate man doesn't do it.
First off, the Jews of St. Paul's day worshiped God, but not according to knowledge (see Romans 10:2).

Secondly, St. Paul says that the Athenians worshiped God in ignorance: "What therefore you worship in ignorance, that I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23).

So we have two examples where St. Paul himself affirms that God is worshiped in ignorance. That it is possible to worship in ignorance is also confirmed by Jesus himself, when he tells the Samaritan woman, "You worship what you do not know" (John 4:22).

Thirdly, not all worship of God is received with approval by God. This is evident from Isaiah 1:12-15, where he condemns the worship being offered by the Israelites. The fact that God rejected their worship does not change the fact that they offered it to him. We can see the same thing from the story of Nadab and Abihu, who offered up profane fire to God (Leviticus 10:1-5): this act of theirs was an act of worship, notwithstanding the fact that it was an improper act.

So we have two examples where God rejects worship that has been offered because of sin on the part of the worshiper. That fact does not change the fact that what was being offered was in fact worship.

I do not see how the situation is substantively different with respect to Muslims.

No Christian would deny that there are errors in Muslim beliefs about God - but the same is true with respect to the Jews in St. Paul's day, and it is simply not credible to suggest that they didn't worship the true God. So the fact of theological error does not invalidate what one claims about whom he worships. It means that he believes false things about the God he worships. That is a distinct proposition, however, from the question of whom he worships.

Secondly, even if we grant arguendo that the Jews' place as God's covenant people is so overwhelmingly significant that they can be said to worship the true God despite their errors while we at the same time deny that others do the same despite their errors - even if we grant this, the fact that St. Paul identifies the Athenians' Unknown God as our God means that it is certainly possible for anyone - even the Muslims - to worship God in ignorance.

I simply do not see what is controversial about this. It doesn't mean that the Muslims are Christians. It doesn't mean that they are saved differently than we are.

Perhaps part of the problem for some folks is that they have taken Romans 3 rather more literally than they should. I have addressed this before. In any case, I think that there is no good Scriptural reason not to take Muslims at their word about whom they claim as their God. This doesn't mean that Mohammed actually was a prophet. And (repeating myself) it doesn't mean that they are saved differently than we are.

It seems to me that those who deny this would need to be able to explain some things. If you say that only the regenerate can worship God, then you would need to be able to explain how the Jews of St. Paul's day worshiped God. Were they regenerate or not? If they were, how could this be since they denied that Jesus was the Messiah? If they did not worship the true God, then Romans 10:2 needs explaining. And St. Paul's interaction with the Athenians needs explanation too.
And from one man he has created the whole human race and made them live all over the earth, determining their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands; that they should seek God, and perhaps grope after him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
It doesn't make sense, it seems to me, to suggest that Paul is talking about man before the Fall: man before the Fall would not have to "grope" after God, nor would they have to "seek" God: their fellowship with him would have been unbroken. No, clearly Paul has to be talking about man after the Fall. But this too suggests that it is by no means irrational to suggest that someone might worship God in ignorance.

In summary - let's take the Muslims at their word about whom they say that they worship, and pray for their salvation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Catholicism contra Semi-Pelagianism - Still More

First off I must concede that I misunderstood Turretinfan at least in part, inasmuch as I did not understand him to be referring to semi-Pelagianism as a heresy distinct from Pelagianism. Mea culpa. However, in my defense, I think that in one respect his usage was at least misleading (obviously unintentionally), when he says:
We do not mean that Roman Catholicism is fully Pelagian.
The obvious reference here (it seems to my small brain, anyway) is not to a distinct and separate semi-Pelagian heresy, but rather to some sense in which the Church might allegedly be partly Pelagian (i.e., referring to the original heresy described using that name).

Setting that aside, I don't see how the situation - now understood with more clarity on my part - is any better for his claims. In the first place of course there is the fact that St. Augustine positively and unequivocally endorsed cooperation with grace, as indicated in my original post. In the second place, his writings had (as I mentioned previously) a major influence on the work of the Second Council of Orange. And in the third place the canons of that Council simply do not condemn the Catholic view. Representative examples (from here):
CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me."

CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

CANON 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).
All of this is completely consistent with what the Council of Trent says about the causes of our salvation (which I have discussed previously), to wit: our salvation is entirely caused by the grace of God in Christ.

So what about cooperation with grace? Orange continues:
CANON 9. Concerning the succor of God. It is a mark of divine favor when we are of a right purpose and keep our feet from hypocrisy and unrighteousness; for as often as we do good, God is at work in us and with us, in order that we may do so.
It is a demonstration that God's grace is upon us when we avoid evil (hence, it is not something of our own doing). And (as previously quoted):
CANON 18. That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.
God rewards our good deeds...but when he does so, he has enabled us to do them beforehand (so that it cannot be said that the basis for the reward is from ourselves).

And lastly, from the conclusion of the Council's canons:
According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him. We must therefore most evidently believe that the praiseworthy faith of the thief whom the Lord called to his home in paradise, and of Cornelius the centurion, to whom the angel of the Lord was sent, and of Zacchaeus, who was worthy to receive the Lord himself, was not a natural endowment but a gift of God's kindness (emphasis added).
In short: There is nothing contrary to the Council of Orange in the Catholic Church's teaching about cooperation with grace. In fact, the Council endorsed it. Hence we see that there is nothing "semi-Pelagian" about cooperation with grace.

Lastly, I've had a brief amount of time to review the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Semi-Pelagianism here. It summarizes the distinctives of the heresy thusly:
  1. In distinguishing between the beginning of faith (initium fidei) and the increase of faith (augmentum fidei), one may refer the former to the power of the free will, while the faith itself and its increase is absolutely dependent upon God;
  2. the gratuity of grace is to be maintained against Pelagius in so far as every strictly natural merit is excluded; this, however, does not prevent nature and its works from having a certain claim to grace;
  3. as regards final perseverance in particular, it must not be regarded as a special gift of grace, since the justified man may of his own strength persevere to the end...
Once again: The Catholic view is contrary to this in every particular. Trent absolutely makes the beginning and increase of faith a matter of grace (contra 1); Trent denies that we have any claim on God for that grace (contra 2); and Trent affirms that final perseverance is a gift of grace (contra 3). All this is readily apparent from the Decree on Justification.

In conclusion: The Catholic Church is not Pelagian to any degree. The Catholic Church is not semi-Pelagian. Neither the Council of Carthage nor of Orange condemned cooperation with grace as taught by the Catholic Church (and, in fact, Orange positively endorsed it).

By way of a postscript, I would add that this entire controversy strikes me as hairsplitting by our Reformed friends (I am not singling out Turretinfan in this respect). No responsible Reformed Protestant would deny that obedience to God must follow upon one's salvation. But Catholics do not say anything so very different in effect from this when we say that we must strive to live holy lives. For example the WCF says:
Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God's sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections (WCF XVI:VI).
There is very little here (if indeed anything, depending upon construal of one or two phrases) with which a Catholic would disagree, it seems to me. A little earlier in the same chapter (paragraph III) it says:
Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
Now this does not sound particularly "monergistic" to this Catholic. :-) Yes, our ability to do good comes from God. Amen! And we have to do them ("they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them"). Action is required, just as we Catholics affirm, and we are enabled by the grace of God to do it - just as we Catholics affirm.

Obviously there are differences. I am certainly not denying that. But the differences between Catholics and Reformed Protestants with respect to the duty of obedience are not, it seems to me, of the "night-and-day" sort at all.

Catholicism contra "semi-Pelagianism" - More

I have been blessed to receive tips about other documentation relevant to this topic.

Mike Burgess pointed me at the 2nd Council of Orange, whose canons may be read from a Reformed website here. Relevant canons with respect to our cooperation with grace include these:
CANON 18. That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.


CANON 20. That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it (emphasis added).
I missed these when preparing my previous post, but the Catholic Encyclopedia points out that the 2nd Council of Orange intended to address "the current errors concerning the doctrine of grace and free will, i.e. Semipelagianism" and that the Council's work was heavily influenced by the writings of St. Augustine. See also a separate, somewhat lengthy article on semi-Pelagianism in the Encyclopedia. I don't have time to review these two sources in their entirety right now, but I will later, and I'll either update this post with more information from them or add a new post if it seems worthwhile to do so.

Lastly, in a trio of comments in the combox to this article at Dave Armstrong's blog, Ben M. has provided a number of relevant and helpful additional quotations from St. Augustine related to our cooperation with grace. You may find them here, here, and here. Thanks to Mike and Ben for the information, and thanks again to Dave for the "advertising" :-)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - The Image of God and Human Acts

Aquinas' ideas about human acts are fundamental to much of what he writes about morality. I don't think it's possible to do his moral views justice without adequately understanding what he means by a "human act".

Before we go look at that, though, we ought to consider briefly what he says about man as made in the image of God. In what does this image consist? I have heard others suggest that it consists in having dominion. Personally, I don't agree with this notion: exercising dominion is extrinsic to what we are, and it seems to me that we have examples of dominion after a fashion in the animal kingdom: witness so-called "alpha males" and "alpha females" among apes and wolves, for example, and territorialism among a variety of species. Clearly the quality of the dominion that these exercise is different from what a human might pursue, but it seems to me to be undeniable that we can identify animals which do seek to hold dominion after their fashion. But if the image of God in us is that which distinguishes us from the animals, then we ought to seek it in that which animals lack.

This is precisely what St. Thomas does. He says:
Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. vi, 12): "Man's excellence consists in the fact that God made him to His own image by giving him an intellectual soul, which raises him above the beasts of the field." Therefore things without intellect are not made to God's image.


But some things are like to God first and most commonly because they exist; secondly, because they live; and thirdly because they know or understand; and these last, as Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 51) "approach so near to God in likeness, that among all creatures nothing comes nearer to Him." It is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly speaking, are made to God's image (ST I Q93 A2).
And because this is so important to what he will say in the second part of ST, he repeats it at the outset of I-II:
Since, as Damascene states (De Fide Orthod. ii. 12), man is said to be made to God's image, in so far as the image implies an intelligent being endowed with free-will and self-movement: now that we have treated of the exemplar, i.e., God, and of those things which came forth from the power of God in accordance with His will; it remains for us to treat of His image, i.e., man, inasmuch as he too is the principle of his actions, as having free-will and control of his actions (source).
Having laid this foundation, we can go on to look at St. Thomas' understanding of what Human Acts are.
Of actions done by man those alone are properly called "human," which are proper to man as man. Now man differs from irrational animals in this, that he is master of his actions. Wherefore those actions alone are properly called human, of which man is master. Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence, too, the free-will is defined as "the faculty and will of reason." Therefore those actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will. And if any other actions are found in man, they can be called actions "of a man," but not properly "human" actions, since they are not proper to man as man. Now it is clear that whatever actions proceed from a power, are caused by that power in accordance with the nature of its object. But the object of the will is the end and the good. Therefore all human actions must be for an end (ST I-II Q1 A1).
This is the best starting point that I have ever seen for a proper understanding of morality.

Catholicism is not Semi-Pelagian - Response to Turretinfan

Notes in Response to Turretinfan's "Misconceptions about Roman Catholicism: Works Salvation"

Turretinfan says this in a post about Catholic views on salvation:
We criticize the Roman Catholic position as teaching works-salvation, because of a semi-Pelagian error: the ascription of a role for human cooperation in salvation.
By this he obviously means that in some sense, or in some way, or to some extent, the Catholic Church is Pelagian. But this is absurd on the face of it.

[Update 2008-03-04: It seems that there may be some room for misunderstanding the intent of this post, for which I apologize. The intent here is not to suggest that Turretinfan has called the Catholic Church Pelagian, which he of course does not do (as anyone reading his post linked above - including me, at the time I wrote this post - can see). However, since we cannot fairly be described as being semi-Pelagian without having something or other in common with Pelagianism, I write below in such a way as to deny that the Church is Pelagian with respect to her views on grace and cooperation with grace. Of course, if we are not Pelagian in this regard, and if we are not Pelagian with regard to original sin (which is not at issue), then it is unreasonable to describe us as semi-Pelagian. - RdP]

In the first place, it was the Catholic Church that condemned Pelagianism. To say that she condemns what she endorses herself would be as silly as to say that Nicea denied the Trinity, or that Calvinists deny predestination. In fact the Church denies none of the canons of the Council of Carthage with respect to the Pelagian heresy:
  1. Death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity, but through sin.
  2. New-born children must be baptized on account of original sin.
  3. Justifying grace not only avails for the forgiveness of past sins, but also gives assistance for the avoidance of future sins.
  4. The grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God's commandments, but also imparts strength to will and execute them.
  5. Without God's grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works.
  6. Not out of humility, but in truth must we confess ourselves to be sinners.
  7. The saints refer the petition of the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses", not only to others, but also to themselves.
  8. The saints pronounce the same supplication not from mere humility, but from truthfulness.

Where in these canons can one find a condemnation of "human cooperation in salvation"?

I submit that one looks in vain for it. It is not there. Consequently it seems absurd to describe "human cooperation in salvation" as "semi-Pelagian". The heart of Pelagianism was twofold: a denial of original sin, and a denial that grace was essential for salvation. But there were some interesting consequences.

Let's consider a couple quotations.
God "proposed to save by faith alone those about whom he foreknew that they would believe" (Quoted in Pelikan, The Emergence of the Christian Tradition, p. 314).
Now who might have said that? (Hint: it was not St. Augustine).

It was Pelagius, in his Exposition of Romans. This report by Pelikan is confirmed here:

Pelagius denied the primitive state in paradise and original sin (cf. P. L., XXX, 678, "Insaniunt, qui de Adam per traducem asserunt ad nos venire peccatum"), insisted on the naturalness of concupiscence and the death of the body, and ascribed the actual existence and universality of sin to the bad example which Adam set by his first sin. As all his ideas were chiefly rooted in the old, pagan philosophy, especially in the popular system of the Stoics, rather than in Christianity, he regarded the moral strength of man's will (liberum arbitrium), when steeled by asceticism, as sufficient in itself to desire and to attain the loftiest ideal of virtue. The value of Christ's redemption was, in his opinion, limited mainly to instruction (doctrina) and example (exemplum), which the Saviour threw into the balance as a counterweight against Adam's wicked example, so that nature retains the ability to conquer sin and to gain eternal life even without the aid of grace. By justification we are indeed cleansed of our personal sins through faith alone...(source: Catholic Encyclopedia; emphasis added).

The Encyclopedia also says of Pelagius, "this pardon (gratia remissionis) implies no interior renovation of sanctification of the soul." It seems unlikely that Pelagius meant "faith alone" within the same framework as Luther and the Reformers, but at the very least it seems plenty obvious that it would be absurd to suggest that Pelagius believed in salvation by works (and Pelikan indicates in the same place noted above that Pelagius denied that we must be make ourselves holy in order to be saved). Pelagianism was a denial of the necessity of grace for salvation, as the canons of Carthage indicate.

It is a regrettable fact that modern Protestants would describe as "Pelagian" or "semi-Pelagian" some views of St. Augustine himself. That St. Augustine unambiguously affirmed that we must cooperate with the grace give to us in Christ is clear from this:
And yet this is not a question about prayers alone, as if the energy of our will also should not be strenuously added. God is said to be "our Helper;" but nobody can be helped who does not make some effort of his own accord. For God does not work our salvation in us as if he were working in insensate stones, or in creatures in whom nature has placed neither reason nor will. Why, however, He helps one man, but not another; or why one man so much, and another so much; or why one man in one way, and another in another, - He reserves to Himself according to the method of His own most secret justice, and to the excellency of His power (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 6; emphasis added).
Let no Christian then stray from this faith, which alone is the Christian one; nor let any one, when he has been made to feel ashamed to say that we become righteous through our own selves, without the grace of God working this in us,—because he sees, when such an allegation is made, how unable pious believers are to endure it,—resort to any subterfuge on this point, by affirming that the reason why we cannot become righteous without the operation of God's grace is this, that He gave the law, He instituted its teaching, He commanded its precepts of good. For there is no doubt that, without His assisting grace, the law is "the letter which kills;" but when the life-giving spirit is present, the law causes that to be loved as written within, which it once caused to be feared as written without (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 32).
God's grace assists us in becoming righteous.

In this next quotation, St. Augustine speaks of the Christian as having good works by grace and by them being redeemed from death and crowned with eternal blessings:
But whosoever shall put his trust in Him, and yield himself up to Him, for the forgiveness of all his sins, for the cure of all his corruption, and for the kindling and illumination of his soul by His warmth and light, shall have good works by his grace; and by them he shall be even in his body redeemed from the corruption of death, crowned, satisfied with blessings, - not temporal, but eternal, - above what we can ask or understand (ibid., Chapter 58; emphasis added).
Now of course St. Augustine is no legalist, but he also is no Pelagian. That would be ridiculous, since he was their most prominent adversary. But there is no way that statements like these, found in works written by him specifically against the Pelagians, can reasonably be described as "semi-Pelagian".

Now, since we find this very language of cooperation with grace in the writings of St. Augustine himself in his writings against the Pelagians, I think we can lay to rest the ridiculous claim that Catholics are "semi-Pelagian". The Canons of Carthage don't come close to condemning cooperation with grace, and St. Augustine, a Catholic and the greatest opponent of the Pelagians, affirms it.

That's enough for this lengthy post. More, perhaps, to come.

Update: Turretinfan has posted more. It doesn't seem to particularly require more of a response than the above. However, I get the sense after reading it, and particularly after reviewing Pelikan on the same subject (starting on p. 318 of the book referenced above) that the particular usefulness of the term is primarily pejorative. There's flatly no denying that St. Augustine endorsed human cooperation with grace (see above), and it seems clear in consequence to say, in the light of his statements and of what Carthage actually condemned (as we may infer from the canons, listed above), that cooperation with grace was not condemned as part of the Pelagian heresy. Rather, denial of original sin and of the necessity of grace were condemned.