Sunday, November 30, 2008

More on sola fide

These thoughts on sola fide have been inspired by praying the Our Father as part of the Rosary. A couple other thoughts are worth adding.

This is not an either/or question - faith or works. No. Protestants fabricate a false dilemma when they frame things this way. We must have both. This is a good example, as an aside, of the problems with sola scriptura as well. Because Protestants have made sola fide into a grid by which they interpret the Bible. Obvious questions: "How do we know that this grid is valid? Why should we accept that this grid is the only acceptable one?" But sola scriptura cannot answer these questions. Why may we not say that we must lead holy lives and have faith (as the Catholic Church teaches)? Well, we certainly can - because both are certainly present in the Bible.


Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,
A somewhat tangential, though related, issue of the RC view of works that is antithetical to confessional Protestants (and perhaps even EO?) is the notion of supererogation. I think this is often neglected in RC/Protestant discussions on sola fide although it really fits in logically with the role of works in RC soteriology so should be addressed more frequently. I would be interested in your thoughts defending this, personally I think the Reformers' attack on this was pretty sound (and naturally agree with the Lutheran/Reformed view of the rich young ruler which is one of the oft-used texts in support of it). I guess it would boil down to why are the 2 Great Commandments not binding commandments, or how could one possibly meet them in a "minimally required" sense so as to exceed their demand?

Martin said...

Seem's like you've asked the same question before. Maybe RdP being a patient person will go though it again.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

I'm afraid I don't see how your comment is related to the problems with sola fide that are the subject of this post and the preceding one. I have presented examples that show (as far as I can tell) that sola fide as a principle doesn't do justice to important biblical texts related to justification. Questions about how works of supererogation are related to fulfillment of the two greatest commandments do not seem to me to have much bearing on the subject at hand.

You and I have disagreed in the past about the two greatest commandments, and it seems pretty certain that today is not going to be any different in that respect. :-) Sorry. However...

I'd say first of all that I'm not sure that it can be said that the Catholic view of works of supererogation is completely antithetical to the beliefs of all confessional Protestants. To take one example, a man who (like many confessional Protestants) believes that tithing is mandatory but who gives not ten percent but rather twenty percent of his income has done more than he would say the law requires. The story of the widow's mite (Mark 12:41-44) is along the same lines: no one would suppose that she was obligated to give all that she had - but that is what she did, and she is praised for it.

That observation serves sufficiently, it seems to me, as a demonstration of how the first great commandment still leaves room for works of supererogation. Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Hence we know how it is that we may fulfill the first great commandment, because love is not a special way of feeling: it must find expression in actions. Now Christ has told us what defines the actions by which we demonstrate our love for him: namely, obedience to his law. But as we've already just shown, there is certainly room in the law for doing more than what is required by it. The same sort of thing applies to the second greatest commandment.

Furthermore, I think it goes without saying that God's commandments cannot possibly be understood in a universally maximal sense, as though they literally require literally everything of us. We cannot do everything, because we are not infinite. We are not omnipotent. We are limited and flawed. These things being so, it seems absurd to suggest that God would demand more than the nature with which he created us is capable of accomplishing with his help. It would be as though he were to say, "You must obey this as though omnipotent, though you are not." It's crazy.

All of this being so, it therefore seems obvious that the requirements of the law do have limits, and consequently it seems obvious that we can do more than what the law requires - and this, once more, is consistent with the widow's mite story.



...and a hardy lol to Martin (I wrote my comment before seeing yours) :-)

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,

I also do not wish to rehash our old discussions but still think there are some points for new ground.

"Questions about how works of supererogation are related to fulfillment of the two greatest commandments do not seem to me to have much bearing on the subject at hand."

No, I would say they do - if you are claiming works in justification, you are claiming there's some type of a threshold of keeping the law that is sufficient, and then can also be exceeded in a supererogatory fashion. Can one perform a supererogatory act while failing to meet the sufficient threshold in other ways? For instance, is a kept vow of celibacy still meritorious in a supererogatory fashion if I am failing to keep other commandments sufficiently? Is every act of charity when one is in a state of grace/without mortal sin supererogatory if the omission of that act would not be of grave matter? Or, do all heavenly rewards for our acts directly correspond to supererogatory works?

You bring up a Protestant who believes in mandatory tithing and does more than 10% - sure someone could do more than the *letter* of the law required just as many of the Pharisees did; if tithing 10% is a command, it's easy to exceed that objectively, but I think most Protestants would not consider themselves keepers of the whole law in any satisfactory manner. Hopefully most would not think in a legalistic way of having some checklist of "mandatory minimums" they were reviewing every night (i don't even know how one would create such a checklist); that's a hopeless endeavor and why we have to remember simultaneous saint and sinner. But perhaps you agree with the supererogatory view of the Rich Young Ruler story - if so, why did he go away sorrowful with Christ's words indicating he was not saved at that time if he was keeping the commandments sufficiently? Was Christ agreeing with the RYR's assessment of his law-keeping or exposing a deluded sense of self-righteousness to drive him to faith/repentance?

"It's crazy."
Why would it be crazy if it was intended to show how much higher and holy His perfect ways and standards are, to drive us to continual repentance? Otherwise one seems to equate law and gospel which can really confuse things. As you say, "We are limited and flawed" which is exactly the point; I realize you meant that in terms of our natural abilities and I am not implying God expects us to be omnipresent or to do something that is physically humanly impossible, but rather what is spiritually impossible due to corruption and sin.

"This is not an either/or question - faith or works. No. Protestants fabricate a false dilemma when they frame things this way. We must have both."

I'm not sure many Protestants would disagree with you - Eph 2:10, but then we also remember Gal 3:10. A more accurate charge would be "Protestants fabricate a false distinction when they distinguish between sanctification and justification."

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

I'm not getting into this discussion any further on this post, which has to do with problems with sola fide. If you'd like to discuss the post, that's fine; but this is going too far afield. What you seem to want to discuss (if I understand you correctly) has nothing to do with the issues I've raised here.

I'll see about creating a post that's more appropriate for the subject that you seem to have in mind.