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.


Pontificator said...

The citation from Warfield is illuminating. Warfield actually sees II Orange as betraying Augustine, leading to what he calls the heresy of "semi-semi-pelagianism." The thrust of this alleged heresy is the assertion that grace may be sufficient and yet not be efficacious. That is to say, it makes a distinction between sufficient grace and efficacious grace.

Two thoughts:

First, no council of the pre-
Reformation Church ever condemned the "semi-semi-pelagianism" as defined by Warfield. It's not clear to me if any of the great Reformation confessions also condemn it; but I'll leave that to the historians of dogma. This means, therefore, that when the Reformed assert semi-semi-pelagianism as a church-dividing issue, they are acting in a sectarian way.

Second, the Catholic Church has condemned in the form of Jansenism the thesis that grace is necessarily efficacious. She has recognized that it is necessary to maintain the distinction between sufficient and efficacious grace, if the mystery of grace and freedom is to be respected. The Jansenist-Calvinist insistence on the necessary efficaciousness of grace is heretical precisely because it eliminates the mystery.

Apparently, the Jansenists actually prayed to God to be delivered from sufficient grace: A gratis sufficienti libera nos, Domine. “Surely a unique moment in the history of heresy,” comments Edward Oates: “to pray to be delivered from grace!”

Mike Burgess said...

Before you know it, we'll be talking about hemi-demi-semi-pelagianism.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Pontificator,

Thank you again for stopping by. Your post is, once again, very educational for this non-theologian.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Jansenism identifies the following propositions as having been condemned by Pope Innocent X:

- Some of God's commandments are impossible to just men who wish and strive (to keep them) considering the powers they actually have, the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting;

- In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace;

- To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity,

- The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it;

- To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.

The parallels with Calvinism are, um, amazing.

I wonder if we should take up calling Calvinism Jansenism or semi-Jansenism or semi-semi-Jansenism, since labels don't really matter.



P.S. to Mike - Heh.

Mike Burgess said...

Or semi-pelajansenism.

One sees this controversy visited and revisited in Reformed circles. Bavinck's common grace (which convicts the world of sin, citing John 16:8) vs. Kuyper's Antithesis comes to mind. Hodge's Systematic Theology, which I have studied a bit, cites Bellarmine and Johann Adam Mohler in his section on efficacious grace; it's an interesting read (you'll need to have access to Bellarmine in English as well as Trent in English, though, if you don't have Latin - Hodge cites them in Latin only). You can read it at CCEL. Where Hodge's analysis is most concise, it is most conciliatory: tellingly, he is reduced to the mere forced analogy of God's regenerating word in mankind with God's creative word at the fiat lux, failing to draw the important distinction between the personhood of the former and the impersonal nature of the latter. The question, as I never tire of repeating, boils down to what was lost at the Fall. If you'll pardon the pun, that's the crux of the matter. Is the donum superadditum the proper view? (Of course it is.) Do the Calvinists get that wrong? Of course they do. Is evil the privatio boni? Of course it is. Do Calvinists get that wrong? I've met many who insist it is a positive, active entity of its own (which needs further explanation, to be sure). Very interesting stuff, this.

P.S. Father Kimel and many on his old site had a profound influence on me. I thank him for his work and ask his prayers.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Mike,

Very helpfully put. Thanks!

I have actually looked for Bellarmine in English, but it's practically impossible. More's the pity.

I consider my lack of Latin perhaps the worst deficit of my government school education. I have some ability for picking up languages, but I've had a horrible time making room in my day for learning Latin :-( There is so much in English to be read that is burning a hole on my bookshelf that I can hardly bear the time "lost" learning Latin. "Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh."

Mike Burgess said...

Perhaps Loreto or TAN will solve that problem for us eventully. Domine, exaudi orationem meam.

I am expecting Cdl. Bellarmine's Commentary on Psalms in the mail soon. I'll share on Syzygus some tidbits as I read it. I've been looking forward to it for some time.

I understand what you're saying about learning Latin. Before you know it, you'll be getting Wheelock or somesuch, though, I'll bet, so don't worry. You know a great way to get acclimated is to go to and pray the Office that way, parallel text and all can really help you pick it up when you begin your own formal study.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Heh. I've already got Wheelock *and* Collins (on Ecclesiastical Latin).

I've started Collins repeatedly, and I haven't found it difficult at all. There are similarities to Greek, which is helpful, too.

Someday...hopefully sooner than later.

David Waltz said...

Hi all,

Turrentinfan makes the same mistake that James White has made earlier, i.e., failing to make a distinction between “sufficiency” and “efficacy”. This is quite puzzling to me, for Warfield and Hodge clearly understood the difference. I just moments ago put up a little post discussing this point:


Grace and peace,


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello David,

Thank you for stopping by, and thanks for your kinds words on your blog. I'll read your post there more carefully a little later this evening.

Please forgive me for being brief. See the post that I will be adding to the blog here very shortly by way of explanation.

Grace & Peace,


David Waltz said...

Hi Reg,

As I said at the end of my latest blog post, I only happened upon your blog yesterday; and must say in all sincerity, that I was impressed with quantity and quality of your posts. (I immediately added your blog to my links section.)

Looking forward to your comments, and next blog post!

Grace and peace,


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello David,

Thank you for your kind remarks. :-) I hope that my modest efforts won't disappoint you too quickly!