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.


Pontificator said...

The allegation that Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) is Semi-Pelagian appears to be grounded in a mis-reading of St Augustine. I reference here two short pieces by Phillip Cary: "Augustine and the Varieties of Monergism" and "Augustine and Justification."

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Fr. Kimel,

Yes, I kinda got that same idea from reading the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the subject. Thank you for providing some modern confirmation of what it says. Thanks too for commenting!



------- Theo ------- said...

Excellent article Reginald. Thanks much.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Theo,

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the kind words.

Thanks also for the excellent example of charity you offer in your interaction with others.