Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canons 12–14

Canons 12-14 of Trent on Justification seem to constitute the Council’s canonical repudiation of Protestantism’s “sola fide.” That is, it was forbidden by the canons of Trent for a Catholic to hold this view; but these canons do not constitute the Council’s teaching on justification, which is to be found in the Decree on Justification (see the previous link, as well as our previous looks at chapters VII and VIII of the Decree).

CANON XII. If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII. If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV. If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.

Protestantism’s “sola fide” is an error; there is a sense in which it can rightly be said that we are justified by faith, as the Council says, but the error rejected by these canons is not it. Justification is not subjective and consequently contingent upon some internal subjective state of mind; faith is not confidence—although of course we ought to have complete confidence in God.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Eleven

Canon 11 on Justification addresses certain errors related to what it means to be justified.

If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

The first error seems to be related to what was said in §10:

If any one saith,…that it is by [Christ’s] justice itself that [men] are formally just; let him be anathema.

It is not the case that justification consists solely in the imputation of Christ's justice, nor solely in remission of sins. Justification is not a legal fiction. Rather, as the canon says, the grace and charity of the Holy Spirit are poured into our hearts, and become inherent in us: we are made holy, not simply made not guilty.

Note again that this infusion of grace and charity is something that God does: we do not make ourselves holy. We do not make ourselves just. It is the work of God.

Trent on Justification - Canon Ten

The tenth canon on justification makes it clear that we do not merit justification by anything that we do.

If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

Christ merits for us to be justified: nothing that we do can accomplish this for us. Consequently they who say that the Catholic Church teaches a works-based gospel are wrong. We cannot justify ourselves, nor merit it as a reward; rather, Christ merits our justification.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Yet another object lesson

David Waltz has an informative post on the 19th century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge's views of the Catholic Church. These are not the views of your average Internet anti-Catholic polemicist.

That Romanists as a society profess the true religion, meaning thereby the essential doctrines of the gospel, those doctrines which if truly believed will save the soul, is, as we think, plain.

Unfortunately, the average anti-Catholic doesn't care about this except as a demonstration that Hodge was not infallible: he is perfectly willing—no matter the measure of his own scholarly qualifications—to dismiss Hodge on this score (and any other where Hodge disagrees with him).

On the other hand, I think it is excellent evidence that even Presbyterians (to say nothing of disagreements among different theological groups among Protestants) cannot agree among themselves as to what constitutes damnable heresy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fraternizing with the Enemy

When I first read this, my response was this.

But then someone reminded me of this:

Now the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.

[Luke 15:1-2]


And that reminded me of this:

And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, spoke within himself, saying: This man, if he were if a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.

[Luke 7:39]

Oh Noes!!!!!

I think that these passages are appropriate rejoinders, and the occasion represents a teaching moment: if certain Protestants treat one of their own in this way, we should not be surprised if they likewise think the worst of us Catholics. If they can't "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" with respect to their comrades, it's a fool's errand to hope that they will show any respect to us. It's sad, but there it is.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Nine

Trent’s ninth canon on justification condemns the Protestant error of “sola fide,” and the error among the Reformed that free assent is required.

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

This is not contrary to salvation by grace alone, Protestant objections notwithstanding. There is an unwarranted assumption held by most Protestants that human cooperation in justification runs counter to salvation by grace alone, but we've seen that this is false with respect to the Catholic doctrines of grace: we must consent, and we must “work out our salvation in fear and trembling,” but our very ability to do these things is necessarily preceded by grace.

Ay Caramba

Protestants are falling all over each other in their haste to condemn Michael Horton as a heretic…because he wrote an approving blurb for a book by a Catholic about the theology of Benedict XVI. Horton didn’t approve Catholicism, mind you; he simply approved the book as a useful guide to the Pope’s theology. I suppose he left out the “pope is antichrist” shibboleths, and this is all the evidence needed to condemn him in the eyes of some. One wonders if these folks think Boettner’s rag is the only guide to Catholicism that they’ll ever need.

Meanwhile, a salient point seems to be escaping their view: they do not know why Horton wrote the blurb. This ought to be an essential precondition of judging another’s actions, unless they think that Israel’s “assume the worst” policy is the touchstone of Christian charity. But it’s hard to reconcile that with “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,”—unless maybe you’d like having your name dragged through the Internet mud on the basis of almost zero facts. Horton didn’t even build a potentially suspicious altar. All he did, basically, was to say this: “If you want to know about Pope Benedict’s theology, this is a good book to read.”

And for that, some folks think he should be charged with heresy. But he didn’t say that he agreed with the Pope’s theology, and if agreeing with Catholics on any point is sufficient to warrant the star chamber, then I can think of some others that the critics might want to “investigate,” too. Oh, and about that Holy Trinity thing that you Protestants accept: we Catholics believe that too (in fact, we believed it first). Does that make you ritually unclean?

I think some people need to put down the keyboard, step away from the Internet, and get a breath of fresh air. And maybe have a beer.

Spock’s rejoinder once again proves apposite:

You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.

Important Points: the author of the first link above, who also wrote this, does not indulge in the witch hunt; rather, some of the comboxers do.

Likewise, beyond saying that he is “disappointed,” TF has not overtly expressed an opinion about Horton’s blurb, other than to ask his “open question.” My only observation would be that rather than suspect him of (the horror!) Catholic sympathies (as TF's question obviously does), he might have asked why Horton wrote the blurb instead of going the “prove you’re innocent” route.

[Update, 11/17/2009:] Horton throws water on the speculation and the critics. I suspect that even this will be insufficient for ESPers amongst the anti-Catholics, who are just so darn good at reading a man’s heart from a single paragraph abstracted from an entire career’s worth of work. But they can never be satisfied anyway. I would be delighted if Horton does convert someday, but that blurb certainly constitutes no evidence warranting hope for that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Eight

In canon eight on justification, the Council of Trent condemns the false idea that repentance that begins in fear of punishment is sinful:

If any one saith, that the fear of hell,-whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning,-is a sin, or makes sinners worse; let him be anathema.

I'm not familiar with what historical error necessitated this canon, but for our purposes here it ought to be said that there is nothing contrary to justification by grace in this canon, nor is there any sense in which such a fear could be said to constitute some sort of justification by works. God threatens punishments to his people not because he hopes to make them sin by making them fear (far from it!) but in order to deter them from evil and motivate them to do good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This almost, but not quite, merits no response

TF regales us with a purported "Clerical Celibacy Rebuttal - Extremely Short Form". It wouldn't be worth a glance if not for the fact that there seem to be some people who think it to be creditable; but since it appears that at least some do so, let's consider it.

Proverbs 18:22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

First, a trivially obvious response in the same vein:

But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I. [1Cor 7:8]

And we could stop right there, if we wished: it is good to find a wife (as Solomon says), and it is also good to remain unmarried (as St. Paul says): hence we see that TF's "rebuttal" fails, in that Scripture commends both states. That's the first and strongest reply to TF's argument.

A second problem for his "rebuttal" is that the conclusion is unwarranted. He would have us conclude that one implication of the goodness of marriage is that to remain unmarried is not good. But nothing in the premise warrants this conclusion. We could suppose that there are perhaps two unstated premises:

  1. Either marriage or celibacy is good, but both cannot be good.

  2. If one of them is good, the other must be bad.

  3. Proverbs 18:22 says that marriage is good.

(Therefore celibacy is bad.)

It should be obvious that what TF left unsaid is also unwarranted: it is not the case that only one of (marriage or celibacy) may be said to be good. To affirm the goodness of one says nothing about the goodness of the other. This is not a zero-sum game.

I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord: how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord: that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world: how she may please her husband. [1 Cor 7:32-34]

Now there is nothing wrong with being solicitous for one's wife: this is part of loving her. And of course there is nothing wrong with being free to focus more completely upon "the things that belong to the Lord." Hence we see that both states may be good. If there is evil in either one, it is not that it is evil per se, but rather that we sometimes make our states "evil" (so to speak) in the way that we treat them. Consequently we see that TF's "rebuttal" fails.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Seven

Canon seven on Justification condemns the lie that the unjustified man can do no good whatsoever.

If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.

It's not a universal opinion amongst them, thankfully, but this opinion may be found among the Reformed even today. It is a perverse theology that "justifies" the claim that the atheist who rushes into a burning building and saves another's life has not done something good.

No doubt they hold this view because they think that if a man can do good, then he might be able to live a completely righteous life without grace, or that he might be able to merit justification by virtue of such actions. This view is false. Man's end—the Beatific Vision—is beyond his powers to attain even if he were not hindered by sin (which he is). Consequently we are completely dependent upon grace in order to attain that end. Hence there remains no good grounds for pretending that the unbeliever is unable to do any good at all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Six

Canon six on justification appears to be a condemnation of opinions that follow from illicit emphases on God's sovereignty to the detriment of man's free will.

If any one saith, that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.

Such an error impugns the glory and holiness of God, besides contradicting the fact that man is accountable for his deeds precisely because he wills them without compulsion.

It seems to me that perhaps certain ideas of at least some Reformed Protestants might be in view here: they cling to a notion according to which God's sovereignty is total in such a way that there is no room for a genuine freedom of human will. But where there is no such room, there is likewise no place for a genuine human accountability, and it seems that man's just condemnation for his sins becomes almost the same sort of legal fiction as the one by which they claim that they are "justified:" he is held "guilty," but for acts he was not truly free to avoid. But compulsion removes guilt, and to hold such a one "guilty" is to remove justice.

This is not to say that God is not sovereign. The Catholic Church teaches both God's sovereign lordship and man's free will. How these may both be true is a mystery beyond our powers to grasp properly (well, it's beyond mine, at any rate).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Five

Canon five on Justification is really related to canon four, which we looked at here: that is, they both have to do with free will.

If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.

This canon in particular condemns the false notion that men no longer possess free will (following Adam's fall): as though they are incapable of choosing to do what is right, and are so enslaved to sin that they are constitutionally incapable of doing good. But to say such a thing is as much as to remove culpability for personal sin: we cannot be held liable for things we do under compulsion.

I suspect that the purpose here is to contradict the idea—held by some Reformed types—that to say we have free will is to suggest that a man could conceivably attain salvation by means of his own works. I don't know whose views the Reformed have in mind here, but it's entirely clear that it's not the Catholic view, as we have seen. Having a free will doesn't mean that you can merit justification.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Watch Your Language

Quoth Aristotle:

We must also define the errors that occur in problems. They are of two kinds, caused either by false statement or by transgression of the established diction. For those who make false statements, and say that an attribute belongs to thing which does not belong to it, commit error; and those who call objects by the names of other objects (e.g. calling a planetree a ‘man’) transgress the established terminology.

[Topics, II, 1]

If we use words in non-standard ways, we inject into any conversation the likelihood of confusion and misunderstanding. The charitable man will recognize this, and will avoid doing it for the sake of his listeners. We ought to be careful to use words correctly—that is, in the established way that they are ordinarily used. If we care about clarity, and if we care about not putting stumbling blocks in the way of our audience's comprehension, we really have no alternative.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's not just leftists who can be lazy

Here's an interesting post from Mark Steyn relating to the ridiculous habit of some on the left end of the political spectrum to dismiss Limbaugh, Coulter, et. al. as not really taking seriously what they say.

The assumption of bad faith is the first refuge of the lazy leftist: "Why, my position is so obviously the only rational one that yours can only be an act! You cannot possibly believe what you say about climate change/health care/Islamic terrorism! Clearly it can only be explained by the check from your puppetmaster!"

But it's not just the lazy leftist; as we've seen before, lazy anti-Catholics can resort to the same nonsense. "If they were honest, they'd come to the same conclusions as I do!" Uhh...sure.

But it's not just lazy leftists or lazy anti-Catholics, either. It's just plain intellectual laziness. It's much easier to dismiss those who disagree with such ad hominem nonsense than to actually consider why it might be that they have different views than I do. And I mean that first person pronoun. I have done this too. Let's be honest, folks: we don't know why the other man believes what he does. We don't know his heart. Heck, we don't even know our own hearts very well, and we have 24/7 access to them! How foolish then it is for me to pretend that I know another man's heart (and consequently why he believes what he does).

Let's cut the other guy some slack and presume that he's actually acting in good faith, even if we don't understand it. That doesn't mean he's right; it just means treating him with charity. It means applying the golden rule. The Pontificator was completely right with these rules.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Four

Number Four of the Council of Trent's Canons on Justification relates to condemning certain errors related to man's free will.

If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.

It seems to me that this is directed at least in part against the error of what some Protestants call monergism in our justification: the false notion that God requires nothing of a man with respect to his justification. While it is certainly true that God alone justifies us by his grace (as we have seen many times), and that we can do nothing to merit our justification, this is not the same as to suppose that we have nothing to do with respect to it whatsoever. God does not save us against our will. Justification is not something that the Lord does to us as though operating upon something inert.

There is a certain ineluctable sense in which even the Protestant error of "sola fide" necessarily operates in this same dogmatic atmosphere, because having faith – even on the Protestant's definition thereof – is a human act, and as such involves an act of the will. To deny this fact while at the same time insisting that we are saved "by faith alone" as though this having faith is not really a human act is flatly incoherent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Three

In Canon 3 on Justification the Council of Trent deny that we can do anything on our own by which to move God to give us the grace of justification.

If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

This follows from Chapter V of the Decree on Justification, which we discussed here. We cannot save ourselves, but neither does God save us against our will. We cannot merit the grace of justification, but rather God justifies us by his grace.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sadly, TF is mistaken

See here.

One proviso must be kept in mind throughout this post. Like me, TF is pseudonymous, and he scrupulously resists revealing personal information about himself. That of course is his choice, as it is likewise mine. What I say in this post (or in any other one) concerning whether TF is subject to Catholic Canon law is based upon the presumption that he was not baptized in the Catholic Church and/or has never been in full communion with the Catholic Church. If that presumption is mistaken, then of course my observations would be incorrect with respect to him, though still valid with respect to the vast majority of Protestants today. It seems reasonable to suppose that this is a valid presumption based upon personal interaction with him and based upon what I have read of his writings. I could be mistaken. [EDIT, moments after posting: "personal interaction" is poor choice of words, since it suggests I know who TF is in real life and have interacted with him personally. I don't, and I haven't. I meant simply to refer to my interaction with him by way of blogging and by way of "conversation" with him in various comboxes - RdP]

First, he has mistaken the sense of Canon §96:

By baptism one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and is constituted a person in it with the duties and rights which are proper to Christians in keeping with their condition, insofar as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a legitimately issued sanction stands in the way.

He quotes this so as to defend his false claim that he is subject to the anathemas of Trent by virtue of the fact that he is baptized. Baptism is insufficient to make one subject to canon law. That this is so is entirely clear from the canon quoted above. Baptism is a necessary condition for one to be "constituted a person [in the Catholic Church] with the duties and rights which are proper to Christians in keeping with their condition," but it is not a sufficient condition. This fact follows from what follows next in the canon: "…insofar as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a legitimately issued sanction stands in the way."

But TF is not – so far as we know – in ecclesiastical communion with the Catholic Church. He has never suggested otherwise; in fact, in the post above, he affirms that he is not ("I am not, however, in full communion with Rome"). But if he is not in ecclesiastical communion with the Catholic Church, he does not meet the second necessary condition presented by Canon §96. Consequently he is not, for purposes of Canon Law, a "Juridic Person," and therefore is not subject to the requirements of that law. Period. End of Discussion. Unfortunately it probably will not be the end of the bizarre longing held by TF and others to view themselves as condemned by the Catholic Church. Whatever. Knock yourselves out, gentlemen (and ladies).

But if Canon §96 is insufficient, perhaps we ought also to look at §11.

Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age.

TF has not stated whether he was baptized in the Catholic Church. Presuming that he was not, he fails the first condition for identifying those who are bound by "merely ecclesiastical laws." The second condition is an alternative to the first: "or received into it." TF has not stated whether he was ever received into the Catholic Church. Presuming that he was not, he fails the second condition presented by §11. But failing these two, we need not consider the other conditions presented there: the man who was neither baptized in the Catholic Church nor received into it is not bound by Catholic ecclesiastical laws.

But if Canons §96 and §11 are not enough, perhaps we ought to consider §205 (to which TF appeals in denying that he is in full communion with the Catholic Church):

Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance.

TF is not joined by the bonds of Catholic Church's ecclesiastical governance. This is clear from §11.

TF rants:

RdP appears to lack this rather fundamental understanding of the scope of Rome's claims regarding herself. She claims for the pope a recognized headship over the Roman Catholic Church but an unrecognized headship over all those who have been validly baptized. That's part of the Roman Catholic Church trying to call itself the "catholic church." The "catholic church" by definition includes within it all Christians, and Rome recognizes as Christians all those who have been validly baptized.

RdP doesn't lack this understanding at all. What is lacking is TF's grasp of the fact that there is a difference between being understood to be in "imperfect communion" (the description used in Unitatis Redintegratio §3 and in Dominus Iesus §17) and one's being reckoned subject to canon law. One who is not subject to that law does not enjoy its privileges, he is not subject to its duties, and he is not subject to the sanctions attached to those duties. Above all, it ought to be obvious that one rather glaring aspect of Protestants' imperfect communion with Christ's Church is that they are not subject to her canon laws.

I don't know any other way to say it, nor how I could make it clearer; and barring some new information coming my way I'm no longer inclined to try.

That TF's opinions on this subject are badly clouded may be demonstrated from this snippet. In response to my appeal to a previous post of my own, TF claims:

RdP's link is to a prior occasion on which he attempted to argue with me about whether Rome considered the Reformers to be Christians.

Uh…No. That's not what the post was about. Don't take my word for it; read it for yourself. I said in the third paragraph:

The error here is in supposing that the condition of Protestants today is the same as that of heretics 500 years ago.

Seems pretty clear to me: the post concerns whether Protestants today are subject to the anathemas of Trent (as were the "Reformers"). Later in the same post I observed:

So: the fact that one is a Protestant today does not imply ipso facto that one is a formal heretic. [emphasis in original]

Still later, I said:

Now the case would be different for those who - as Catholics back in the 16th century - abandoned the Catholic faith for Protestantism. As Catholics, their heresy would have been both formal and material, and so far as I can tell they would have been subject to the condemnations of Trent.

Please note how I say that the "Reformers" of the 16th century who were Catholics that abandoned the Catholic Faith were subject to Trent's anathemas. Far from suggesting that they weren't Christians, I affirmed then (and do now) that they were! If they weren't Catholics, they could not have been subject to Trent! So TF has misrepresented things rather badly by suggesting the argument was over whether Calvin and others were Christians; no, the discussion had to do with whether modern Protestants are subject to the same anathemas that Calvin and others would have been.

Perhaps TF has problems digesting the idea that someone subject to an anathema should be called a Christian. Of course they should. They must be. Heretics are worthy of the name by virtue of the fact that they were/are members of the Church who subsequently fell into heresy and were condemned by ecclesiastical courts as heretics. What makes one Christian is Baptism, and that cannot be erased. In any case, nowhere in that post do I suggest that the "Reformers" weren't Christians.

In "reply" to my saying that his beliefs have been condemned by the Catholic Church (to the extent that his beliefs are actually false and under formal condemnation), TF splits microfibers:

What is interesting is that Trent's anathema (at least the one I've already discussed) is not against particular beliefs, nor even against particular statements but against the people who make those statements. RdP seems to have missed this fact in his analysis.

Apparently TF lost track of what words mean. This can be expected from Humpty Dumpty. :-) What is really interesting is that TF seems not to be willing to accept the rather blindingly obvious fact that those who would have been condemned under canon 33 actually believed what they were saying. Do we really have to be so pedantic as to insist that it would have been these false beliefs that made them subject to the anathema? Sheesh.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Two

In Canon I on Justification, the Council of Trent condemns the error of supposing that man may attain justification on his own apart from grace, as we observed previously. In Canon II, the Fathers of Trent reject a similar error.

If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

God does not give us grace so that we can be justified by our own efforts.

It seem pretty clear, in light of these first two canons, that if the Church condemns the idea that we can be justified by our works apart from grace, or that we can be justified by our own actions if God helps us, that there is no remaining sense in which it can be said that we are justified by anything that we do – with or without grace. Hence we must say that we are justified by God's grace, or not at all. This is completely in keeping with what the Decree on Justification teaches in §7. So much, then, for the canards of the Church's enemies who say that she teaches otherwise. We are saved by grace. Period.

Trent on Justification - Canon One

Having completed a review of the Decree on Justification, it's time to move on to a consideration of the canons issued by the Council of Trent related to justification. I know that I've taken my eye off the ball in varying measure at times during this series, which I began with the intent of showing that Trent's teaching on the subject does not contradict St. Thomas, but confirms it. Hopefully, though, it ought to be clear (though I haven't frequently pointed it out, admittedly) that the two are not in opposition at all, but rather agree with each other.

As I begin a review of the Canons of Trent on Justification, it's worth pointing out that when we read them, the Decree must be kept in mind as a necessary context for understanding them. It won't do for us (or our adversaries) to rip a canon out of context in order to satisfy some pet theory other.

If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema. [Canon I]

It appears that two errors are condemned here: first, that man can be justified before God by virtue of his own works as informed by natural law ("done through the teaching of human nature"), and secondly that he can be justified by works of the law apart from the grace of God. There is no way that we can merit justification in and of ourselves by anything that we do. To the contrary, if indeed it can be said that we merit that, it's only by virtue of the righteousness of Christ which God infuses into us, as we saw in relation to §16 of the Decree on Justification. Hence we see that legalism is positively and explicitly condemned by Trent, so that the canards vented by various enemies of the Church are overturned. We are saved by grace, and no Catholic may rightly say otherwise.

Trent on Justification - Chapter Sixteen

§16 is the final chapter of the Decree on Justification, and it addresses not so much justification itself, but what follows from it: having been justified by Christ, what then?

Before men, therefore, who have been justified in this manner,-whether they have preserved uninterruptedly the grace received, or whether they have recovered it when lost,-are to be set the words of the Apostle: Abound in every good work, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord; for God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name; and, do not lose your confidence, which hath a great reward.

Having been justified by the grace of God through Jesus Christ – as the Decree makes clear is the only way that one may obtain justification – we ought to live lives of obedience to God; and God rewards these good works.

And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you he shall not lose his reward. [Mt. 10:42]

Whatsoever you do, do it from the heart, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that you shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance. [Col. 3:23-24]

Do not therefore lose your confidence which hath a great reward. [Heb. 10:35, quoted above in §16 of the Decree]

For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work and the love which you have shown in his name, you who have ministered and do minister to the saints. [Heb. 6:10, quoted above in §16 of the Decree; note that because justice has to do with paying what is due to another, the clear implication is that some sort of reward has been merited]

Many (Most?) Protestants don't like to concede this, but the simple fact is that what Christians do has a bearing in eternity.

Now it is at this point that the most adamant enemies of the Catholic Faith will start stamping around and braying "Legalism!" But when they do this, they have stopped reading much too soon; indeed, one wonders if they stop deliberately at this point. Because the Fathers of Trent continue:

And, for this cause, life eternal is to be proposed to those working well unto the end, and hoping in God, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ, and as a reward which is according to the promise of God Himself, to be faithfully rendered to their good works and merits. For this is that crown of justice which the Apostle declared was, after his fight and course, laid up for him, to be rendered to him by the just judge, and not only to him, but also to all that love his coming [2Tim 4:7-8 – RdP]. For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God,-we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace: seeing that Christ, our Saviour, saith: If any one shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst for ever; but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting. Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.

[Emphasis added]

That righteousness in Christians that God rewards is not their own as though it came from themselves, as Trent says; rather, it comes from God, so that God is rewarding that which he himself has given. This might be familiar to longtime readers of this blog (if such actually exist! Ha!), since it is exactly what St. Augustine says about the matter of God rewarding our merits:

[W]hat else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?

Coincidence and Anathemas

Someone is planning a series on the Council of Trent. It might be amusing to suppose this is more than a coincidence, but given the spotty nature of my own posts on the subject I'm reluctant to accept credit or blame for the idea. Nevertheless, as opportunity and interest presents itself I'll probably offer some sort of review here.

For example, TF claims that he is under the anathema of Trent. But unless he is or was formally Catholic, this is flatly impossible. I do not understand the seeming fondness of some Protestants for wanting to be condemned by the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is some sort of projection issue: these folks despise the Catholic Faith, and so maybe they think that naturally Catholics or the Church ought to despise them in turn. Their protests notwithstanding, it's just not so, as I've said before. This fact does not mean that Protestant error is no longer reckoned to be erroneous. On the contrary: Trent has in no way been rescinded (of course). It simply means that most Protestants today are incapable of being the subject of any Catholic anathema whatever, because they do not meet a fundamental condition: they have never been Catholic. If he wishes to say that his beliefs have been condemned by the Catholic Church, then he would get no argument from me (to the extent that his views are in fact false and actually under formal condemnation).

In the same post (linked above) where he erroneously claims to be anathematized, TF also says (with regard to Canon 33 on Justification):

Perhaps it is only me, but it seems to me that the folks at Trent realized that what they were doing was dishonoring to God and to the glory of the merits of Christ. Canon 33 is the sort of canon that does not help to define dogma but is instead a sort of "shut up and don't criticize us." It is totally superfluous to the other canons. After all, one could not very well both accept Trent's teaching and simultaneously claim that the glory of God or the merits of Jesus Christ are derogated from by them.

[As an aside, TF is accumulating a history for supposing that general councils act in bad faith. It's one thing to disagree; it's another thing entirely to presume that those with whom one disagrees must be acting in bad faith. But I digress].

TF is not alone in presuming bad faith on the part of others; it's a trivial way to dismiss those who disagree with you. For my part, I think, given the historical context, that Trent's concern in this canon was legitimate. Calvin's standard for pronouncing judgment on the Councils was that "there must be nothing derogatory to Christ;" he suggested (that's putting it mildly) that the Catholic doctrine of "derogates from the dignity of justification." That's just two examples from a quick bit of googling; the point, of course, is that it seems to me the Fathers of Trent in canon 33 are rather obviously addressing charges made against Catholic teaching by the Protestants. But it is an error to say such things: the true doctrine of Justification in no way detracts from God's glory. The very idea is absurd. Hence it's fitting to condemn such a false idea.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Fifteen

§15 of Trent's Decree on Justification addresses the fact of mortal sin in opposition to Protestant error.

In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.

To be sure, one may lose the grace of justification if he loses faith; but this is not the only sin by which one may lose salvation. The Fathers of Trent appeal to Galatians 5 here.

I say then: Walk in the spirit: and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh: For these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest: which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.

The Christian may not live however he pleases. He is a servant of Christ, and if he loves Christ, he will obey him (John 14:15). But if we do not obey him in such things as St. Paul enumerates in Galatians, then we betray the fact that we do not really love him. As we've seen, though, by God's grace we may avoid such sins, and by his grace we may be restored if we do stumble into them.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter 14

We have previously seen that our justification is wholly the work of God. In §14 of the Decree on Justification, the Council of Trent teaches us that this is likewise so for those who fall from grace and seek restoration. More recently we've observed that the Council warns us against presumption with respect to a merely fiduciary idea of faith, predestination, and perseverance. The fact is that we may indeed fall from grace; and by grace we may be restored to God's good favor.

As regards those who, by sin, have fallen from the received grace of Justification, they may be again justified, when, God exciting them, through the sacrament of Penance they shall have attained to the recovery, by the merit of Christ, of the grace lost. [Emphasis added]

God does not leave those who may fall without hope. By his grace in Christ they may be restored to fellowship with him.

There are some points regarding this chapter that are worth taking note of. First: we are restored to God through the Sacrament of Penance or Confession (now commonly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation):

For, on behalf of those who fall into sins after baptism, Christ Jesus instituted the sacrament of Penance, when He said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

The mere act on our part of confessing our sins does not merit our forgiveness, as this passage makes clear. Rather, our sins are forgiven by Christ in the sacrament.

Secondly, the sacrament of reconciliation remits the guilt and eternal punishment of our sins, but not necessarily all the temporal punishment – for which we resort various penitential acts:

[H]ence it is to be taught, that the penitence of a Christian, after his fall, is very different from that at (his) baptism; and that therein are included not only a cessation from sins, and a detestation thereof, or, a contrite and humble heart, but also the sacramental confession of the said sins,-at least in desire, and to be made in its season,-and sacerdotal absolution; and likewise satisfaction by fasts, alms, prayers, and the other pious exercises of a spiritual life; not indeed for the eternal punishment,-which is, together with the guilt, remitted, either by the sacrament, or by the desire of the sacrament,-but for the temporal punishment, which, as the sacred writings teach, is not always wholly remitted, as is done in baptism, to those who, ungrateful to the grace of God which they have received, have grieved the Holy Spirit, and have not feared to violate the temple of God.

Finally, it's important to point out that not the sacrament only but even the desire for it may be sufficient to receive the grace promised in it, as seen in this passage. This should not be a comfort for the man who delays the day of his repentance, but for those who through no fault of their own are unable to receive the sacramental absolution, though they do in fact desire it. So much for the silly claims of those who wrongly suppose that an innocent failure to receive a sacrament is worthy of punishment. Here again we see that it's not what we do that matters: rather, it is what God does.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Thirteen

In our last episode, the Fathers of Trent warned us against presumption with regard to predestination. In §13, they warn us against presumption with respect to perseverance.

So also as regards the gift of perseverance, of which it is written, He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved:-which gift cannot be derived from any other but Him, who is able to establish him who standeth that he stand perseveringly, and to restore him who falleth:-let no one herein promise himself any thing as certain with an absolute certainty; though all ought to place and repose a most firm hope in God's help. For God, unless men be themselves wanting to His grace, as he has begun the good work, so will he perfect it, working (in them) to will and to accomplish. Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and, with fear and trembling work out their salvation, in labours, in watchings, in almsdeeds, in prayers and oblations, in fastings and chastity: for, knowing that they are born again unto a hope of glory, but not as yet unto glory, they ought to fear for the combat which yet remains with the flesh, with the world, with the devil, wherein they cannot be victorious, unless they be with God's grace, obedient to the Apostle, who says; We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die; but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.

It's not, as they say, that God is an uncertain rock on which we may stand. Far from it! Rather, it is we who are uncertain, and they demonstrate this fact from Scripture.

"Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall" (1Co 10:12). Does this make a lick of sense unless the Christian can indeed fall? To what purpose the warning if he cannot fall?

"Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but much more now in my absence) with fear and trembling work out your salvation" (Php 2:12). Does this make a lick of sense if Christians need not fear in some way concerning his salvation nor "work out" their salvation? To what purpose the admonition if they need not do so? This isn't to say that we have to live in terror, obviously, but it likewise doesn't mean that we can blithely go our merry way.

"But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned,…" (2Co 6:4-6). Why does St. Paul exhort them to perseverance in such things if their perseverance is assured?

"For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live" (Rom 8:13). Why does St. Paul warn the Roman Christians against a life according to the flesh if their perseverance is assured?

To the contrary: if we fall, it is our own fault; God gives his grace for perseverance to those who seek it. That perseverance may not be easy; we may have to live it through tribulations and distresses and stripes and prisons. But God's grace to help us will be there, if we ask him.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tradition is Inescapable

The question is never whether we will have theological traditions or not. The question is always, "What theological traditions shall we hold?" It's an inescapable concept.

We shouldn't have to be this pedantic, but let us consider what exactly "tradition" means:

the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way; a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on in this way.

It's pretty standard practice for theologically conservative Protestants to deny that they hold to any traditions. They do this not because they do not hold them but because they condemn the Catholic Church for holding to Sacred Tradition.

Consider the example of the Reformed theological tradition: how do people come to be Reformed? Oh, there might be some relatively few who bootstrap their way "in" from scratch, but for the vast majority, the way it happens is: they get taught by Reformed people who learned the Reformed tradition from other Reformed, who learned it from other Reformed, etc. … all they way back to Calvin & Co. This learning might come by way of hearing sermons, or it might come by way of reading Reformed books. The effect is the same: "the transmission of [Reformed] customs or [Reformed] beliefs from generation to generation." Tradition!

Now the Reformed might like to say that their views are based upon "sola scriptura". Funny, but that's what the Baptists say, too. That's what the Lutherans say. Ditto the Methodists and Pentecostals: a proliferation of theological traditions, all of which get passed down from generation to generation. In fact, even the very denial of tradition on the part of some is usually…wait for it…a tradition!

It's inescapable. The only question is: whose Tradition? I submit that there is only one satisfactory answer to that question: namely, the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church, which has been preserved from the Church's very founding.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trudging through Anselm

"Trudging" not because I find it particularly difficult (although it wouldn't surprise me to learn that I overestimate my comprehension), but because of the translation, or the arguments, or both.

For example, in II:11 of Cur Deus Homo, St. Anselm says this ("A" is Anselm himself; "B" is Boso, his interlocutor):

A: Is it not fitting that man, who, by sinning, removed himself as far as he possibly could away from God, should, as recompense to God, make a gift of himself in an act of the greatest possible self-giving?

B: This is unsurpassable logic.

Uhh…well, if anything, the statement has to do with justice, not logic. So why on earth say that it's logic?

I wonder, in Anselm's defense, whether the translator has taken unjust or illogical liberties with the text. But this is a single example of a fairly common habit.

This isn't logic. There is no conclusion here; there is an observation about fitness. I'm not going to argue the fitness of what Anselm says, but I certainly dispute the idea that I've been compelled by the force of argument to concede that.

This is completely unsurprising

…and yet also instructive.

A Protestant insists:

You know very well that the doctrine of perspicuity relates only to those things which are necessary to be known for salvation.

A Catholic responds:

Who decides the list of “those things”?

What is YOUR list?

Just so. Because, of course, if these things are perspicuous in Scripture, it should be pretty easy – especially after 500 years of Protestant contemplation – to let us all know what those things are.

Predictably, however, it is at this point that the evasions begin. Our Protestant replies:

"Who decides the list of “those things”?"


"What is YOUR list?"

See previous answer.

To be sure, this is a precise answer; to be equally sure, it is evasive precisely because its author is one who is surely bright enough to comprehend what his Catholic interlocutor is asking: that is, we would like to know what God's list of these perspicuous things consists of.

The Catholic pursues:

And what is God’s list?

Understand: the question has nothing to do with obscure theological minutiae. No. Nor does it have to do with jargon or concepts foreign to the Protestant's own milieu. No. It is the Protestant who has made the claim to perspicuity relating to certain things here. Is it unreasonable, then, to suppose that an enumeration exists of "those things which are necessary to be known for salvation"?

The Protestant replies:

You mean you want me to discern the contents of the list and provide them for you? I'd be hesitant to try to do that for you.

Astonishing. Why would he have to "discern" the list? One would think that perspicuous things would have already been found (once again, considering that Protestants have had 500 years to think about it). It seems reasonable, then, that we could find that list in just about any Protestant book, and on every Protestant website. It seems reasonable that we could find it at the very least in the books and websites of our Protestant's co-religionists, and it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that we ought to be able to find such a list on the website or in other writings of the very man making the claim.

And yet we don't.

Or…rather…sometimes we do, but those lists never seem to agree, and that very fact pretty much puts the kibosh on the whole "perspicuous" thing. But I digress. How is it that our Protestant has to "discern" these things? Why on earth hasn't he already established what the list is? This is very shocking if his claim is true (that such things are readily known from the Bible).

And why on earth would he be hesitant to do that? First, why would he be hesitant to do it for a Catholic, whom he more than likely supposes is not a Christian? Why would he be hesitant to do it for anyone he considers a non-believer? Why hasn't he already done it for himself (I presume that he hasn't done so, given that he says he would have to "discern the contents of the list," which implies that he hasn't done so already)?

None of this is surprising. I would have had the same difficulties when I was Protestant if someone had pinned me down this way. The fact is that the theological, philosophical, and epistemological problems surrounding sola scriptura and the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture are insurmountable.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Twelve

In §12, the Fathers of Trent warn us against dangerous and false opinions concerning predestination.

No one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life, ought so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; as if it were true, that he that is justified, either cannot sin any more, or, if he do sin, that he ought to promise himself an assured repentance; for except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God hath chosen unto Himself.

Why is it false to suppose that one can know for certain whether he is among the predestinate? Because God nowhere promises to give this information to everyone. Consequently only those relative few to whom he freely and graciously makes it known have any basis for confidence about the question. The rest of us live by faith.

Why is this false opinion dangerous? Because a man who comforts himself in his sin that he is among the predestined may delay the day of his repentance, and thereby suffer the loss of salvation if he dies without repenting. It encourages an unwarranted and unbiblical notion of assurance concerning one's salvation - an assurance that Trent condemns, as we have seen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What he said

Sigh. My life has been crammed quite full lately, so the next post in the Trent on Justification series will have to wait still more.

In the meantime, here's a better reply than any I offered at the time to certain criticisms offered elsewhere.

Don’t we all know that the correct answer to “I don’t find ____ rewarding” is “Then don’t do it! Do something else!”

Some people read St. Thomas as spiritual reading. Some people find Von Balthasaar irritating, not uplifting. Some people feel closer to God when polishing syllogisms. Some people actually- gasp- like reading both St. Thomas … Where’s the problem?

Human beings can’t exhaust anything by one mode of considering it.


Monday, August 17, 2009

More goodness from Bryan Cross

Here is a very good critique of Reformed presuppositionalism from Bryan Cross.

Choice quotes:

By claiming that they start with Scripture, presuppositionalists make themselves highly susceptible to being unaware of the presuppositions that they bring to Scripture.

Heh. I started down the road to the Catholic Church when I, as a presuppositionalist, began a process of self-examination to try and discern any unbiblical presuppositions I might be unconsciously holding. When I started applying that same procedure to the Reformation (necessarily so, as a theological and intellectual heir of it), the foundations began to crumble: it's no coincidence that humanism (of the Renaissance) and "sola scriptura" both make man the measure of all things (yes, Virginia, that's exactly what "sola scriptura does").

If you are explicitly claiming to start with Scripture, you cannot allow yourself to believe or recognize that you are actually starting with something that you are bringing to Scripture.

Yes, and this makes it oh-so-"fun" to discuss theology with these folks (and I know that I was the exact same way).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summary Observations on the Monologion of St. Anselm

St. Anselm says, at the beginning of the Monologion:

[Sorry, but I don't see an online edition of this work, which is very disappointing. I have taken the liberty of repairing the noxious plural-neuter pronouns in this snippet, since St. Anselm surely would not have used them, and they are rather obviously an artifact of a misguided modernity.]

Of all the things that exist, there is one nature that is supreme. It alone is self-sufficient in its eternal happiness, yet through its all-powerful goodness it creates and gives to all other things their very existence and their goodness. Now, take someone who either has never heard of, or does not believe in, and so does not know, this—this, or indeed any of the numerous other things which we necessarily believe about God and his creation. I think that [he] can, even if of average ability, convince [himself], to a large extent, of the truth of these beliefs, simply by reason alone. [Monologion, 1; emphasis added]

St. Anselm suggests, then, that what he's going to present is an argument about God – his existence and nature – from reason alone. And so he does: there are no appeals to Scripture in this work. He also says that he thinks that this argument should be acceptable to the average man who knows nothing about God.

It seems to me that he begins admirably. I'm not sure how persuasive his argument would be for the modern man, but he begins by arguing that all things must derive their excellences from some supreme Excellence, and it seems to me that his meaning is that they enjoy it by way of participation in the excellence of the supreme essence. I've read very little Plato, and none in the last couple decades, but from what I gather this is supposed to be an approach influenced by Plato. And it's not really all that bad.

After several chapters, though, it seems (to this Thomist-in-training) that St. Anselm's course veers off in an unfortunate direction for his stated purpose. We'll come back to this in a little bit, because I think it's important, but for now let's see what he begins to do. After having established that the supreme essence must be the creator from nothing of all other things that exist (because existence is a good, and they must derive their existence from the One who has existence supremely – namely, the supreme essence), he writes:

But I seem to see something which demands that we distinguish carefully the sense in which it is possible to say that created things were nothing before being created. For a maker makes something rationally if, and only if, there is already something there in his reasoning—as a sort of exemplar. … The following then is clear: before all things existed, the manner, features, and fact of their future existence already existed, in the reasoning of the supreme nature. …

But what is this form that is already there…? Before a craftsman makes something by means of his craft, he first expresses it within himself by means of a mental conception. So, what is the form but this kind of verbalization of the things to be created in the maker's reason? [ibid., 9-10 passim; emphasis added]

From here, and again in several subsequent chapters, Anselm builds an argument that this "verbalization" may be described as "the Word," and later as "begotten," and finally as "the Son."

Do you see where this is going?

After pursuing the distinctions between and attributes of the Father and the Son (as he now frequently names them), he comes to this:

What delight to gaze upon what is proper to Father and Son and what they have in common! And nothing gives me more delight in contemplation than their mutual love. For the supreme spirit indeed loves itself, just as it is conscious of, and understands, itself. … Therefore, as it is conscious of, and understands itself, so the supreme spirit loves itself. [ibid., 49]

Lest we miss it: Anselm would have us understand the Father as "the consciousness" of the supreme spirit, and the Son as its self-understanding. He continues:

Now, it is quite clear to any rational mind that self-consciousness and self-understanding are not due to self-love. But rather self-love happens because of self-consciousness and self-understanding. Self-love is impossible without self-consciousness. It is impossible without self-understanding. Nothing is loved without being the object of consciousness and understanding. … Therefore it is clear that the supreme spirit's love proceeds from its being self-conscious and self-understanding. And given that it makes sense to think of the supreme spirit's consciousness as Father, and its understanding as Son, it is evident that the supreme spirit as love, proceeds equally from the Father and the Son. [50; emphasis added]

Hopefully it's obvious that St. Anselm hasn't merely attempted an argument for the existence of God using reason alone, but also for the Trinity!

Well, my reaction to this is unquestionably that of St. Thomas: that it's not possible to make a cogent argument for the Trinity from reason alone. With respect to how he argues for the Son: he moves from saying that God must be reasonable (which is unproblematic) to making declarations about the means by which God created: namely, by his verbalization or word. But this, it seems to me, is an unwarranted leap. Even if we conclude (reasonably enough) that God created all things ex nihilo, it's a big step to then make assertions about how he did so, and yet another huge jump to go from creation by means of his word to The-Word-As-Coequal-Person of the Godhead. And similarly for how he argues for God's self-love as a Third Coequal: there is simply no good reason for it, and if there is, there's simply no good reason to stop with his love. We ought to continue with his justice and goodness and so forth, it seems to me.

So as I say: I do not consider this to be a successful argument of the kind St. Anselm says that he was presenting: namely, one that draws on reason alone, for the sake of persuading the man who knows nothing about God.

However, this is not to say that I consider the argument to be a failure. I have pondered a little how it is that St. Anselm might have considered what he was doing to be a success, and I think that it is here that we have the beginning of an answer. He writes, in the prologue:

Some of my brethren have often and earnestly asked me to write down, as a kind of model meditation, some of the things I have said, in everyday language, on the subject of meditating upon the essence of the divine; and on some other subjects bound up with such meditation. They specified…the following form for this written meditation: nothing whatsoever to be argued on the basis of the authority of Scripture, but the constraints of reason concisely to prove, and the clarity of truth clearly to show, in the plain style, … the conclusions of distinct investigations.

The brethren in view were his fellow monks of the Abbey of Bec. So what St. Anselm has written was really for the purpose of satisfying the wishes of his fellow Catholics, not for the sake of apologetics. Secondly, and (so it seems to me) importantly, I think it's worth considering something famously said by St. Anselm elsewhere: "I believe, in order that I may understand." It seems to me, if we look at the Monologion as something written for believers, and written not as a means to draw them to the Faith but rather as something that helps them to understand it, then the work comes off looking much, much better. Then, we see, Anselm and his audience have something in common. They already believe; now they wish to understand (as far as possible). That being the case, it's not necessary for Anselm to justify to the unbeliever his case for the Word and Spirit as persons of the Trinity: he is merely explicating what the monks already believe. He is helping them to understand it. Seen this way, I'd say that the Proslogion looks pretty good. I'm not sure that I understand why it is that he proposed it as something that might persuade the unbeliever, but in view of his own prologue I think we're justified in granting more weight to his audience and intended purpose: to assist his fellow monks.

Bryan Cross - Critique of a particular form of "sola scriptura"

With regard to notion of "sola scriptura" characterized thus:

We deny that the Bible can be rightly understood by any hermeneutical grid not derived from the Scriptures themselves.

Bryan Cross writes:

[I]f that statement is true, then either there is a missing exception clause for the first hermeneutical grid one uses to interpret Scripture (in which case the statement is ad hoc), or "the Bible cannot be rightly understood."

Just so. If the proper interpretive framework for the Bible can only be found in the Bible, and if the Bible cannot be properly understood apart from this framework that can only be found therein, then it is impossible to extract this proper framework from the Bible. You would have to have this framework in hand already in order to be able to have a means for extracting it from the Bible; else it would not be possible to extract it. Hence, as Mr. Cross says, the one holding to this view necessarily must grant an exception to the rule given for the sake of extracting the grid from the Bible. But there's no principled reason for doing so. The only alternative is to concede that the Bible cannot be interpreted properly because we lack the framework for doing so.

The whole paper is worth reading. I commend it to you.

[Update, later in the day] Further casual digging at Mr. Cross' blog rewarded me with a brief interaction between him and Clark (whose views are the subject of Cross' paper, linked above). Unfortunately Dr. Clark has not replied to Mr. Cross' followup yet, though it has been a few weeks.

Among other things, Dr. Clark says: "Protestants believe that Scripture is able to transcend our epistemic and other philosophical problems." I'm not fit for him to quarrel with, but this seems like rather obvious special pleading.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Eleven

The Catholic Church does not make the Protestant distinction between justification as one sort of thing and sanctification as another. Justification is not mere imputation; it is an infusion of the righteousness of Christ. We are not simply declared righteous; we are made righteous. See here, for example.

But having been made holy, we must preserve that holiness: we must live lives of obedience to God. This is what §11 of the Decree on Justification teaches us.

But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema – that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou are able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy; whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen light.

Understand: they are not saying that just anyone can do this, but rather that the man who is justified may do so. And he is able to do so not solely by his own strength, but by the grace of God which helps him to do so. This passage offers no help to those who seek a "works-based" salvation in the teaching of Trent (nor does any other passage, for that matter). The justified are the ones in view – those whom God has saved through Baptism, which (as we have seen) is entirely a work of grace.

That we must obey God is the unambiguous teaching of the New Testament, so that those who deny such a duty are in gross error.

For, whoso are the sons of God, love Christ; but they who love him, keep his commandments, as Himself testifies [John 14:15 – RdP]; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do. For, although, during this mortal life, men, how holy and just soever, at times fall into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, not therefore do they cease to be just. For that cry of the just, Forgive us our trespasses, is both humble and true. And for this cause, the just themselves ought to feel themselves the more obligated to walk in the way of justice, in that, being already freed from sins, but made servants of God, they are able, living soberly, justly, and godly, to proceed onwards through Jesus Christ, by whom they have had access unto this grace. For God forsakes not those who have been once justified by His grace, unless he be first forsaken by them. Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself up with faith alone, fancying that by faith alone he is made an heir, and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that so he may be also glorified with him. For even Christ Himself, as the Apostle saith, Whereas he was the son of God, learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and being consummated, he became, to all who obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. For which cause the same Apostle admonishes the justified, saying; Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a cast-away. So also the prince of the apostles, Peter; Labour the more that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing those things, you shall not sin at any time. From which it is plain, that those are opposed to the orthodox doctrine of religion, who assert that the just man sins, venially at least, in every good work; or, which is yet more insupportable, that he merits eternal punishments; as also those who state, that the just sin in all their works, if, in those works, they, together with this aim principally that God may be gloried, have in view also the eternal reward, in order to excite their sloth, and to encourage themselves to run in the course: whereas it is written, I have inclined my heart to do all thy justifications for the reward: and, concerning Moses, the Apostle saith, that he looked unto the reward.

To deny our duty as Christians to obey God is to shred the New Testament. Faith without works is dead. There are Protestants who agree that we have a duty to obey God, and this is good; but their view is often undermined by a contradictory notion that the Christian cannot lose his salvation. This latter view is false, and gives the lie to such a man's idea that he has a duty: it's not a true duty if their are no consequences for failing to fulfill it. To the contrary, such a pairing of ideas reduces the "duty" to naught but a pious wish.

Articuli Fidei - Don't be silly; of course Aquinas was Catholic

I can scarcely stop smirking.

Articuli Fidei has a post up that disposes of someone's silly claim that St. Thomas believed in "sola scriptura".

Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. [ST II-II, Q5, A3]

On one level, the fact that some kooks say such silly things generally discredits their criticisms of the Church: if they can't get something as obvious and easy as this right, why should anyone give them the benefit of the doubt in any of their criticisms of us?

On another level, I it may be an indication of an awareness that Protestantism utterly lacks historicity in its distinctives; that is a good thing. It may be the foot in the door, so to speak, that one day leads an errant son home. Let us hope so.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Ten

Chapter ten of the Decree on Justification instructs us concerning justification subsequent to our initial justification in Baptism.

Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God…

The first thing that we must be clear on is that the rest of this chapter describes not how we may be justified, but rather how we progress in the life of justification: "Having been justified…" It would be a gross error to miss this fact. This chapter does not describe how we may become "the friends and domestics of God," but rather it describes the life of the one who has already become God's friend – something that is accomplished by His grace in Christ, as we have previously seen. Those who "find" a works-based gospel here are careless readers, or else have an preconceived agenda.

…advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, "Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity."

Having been justified, we increase in justification through a life of obedience to God and to His Church. I suppose it probably needs to be said again for some folks: this is the life of the man who is already justified; it is the life of the man whose sins are already forgiven; it is the life of the man who is already God's friend. We cannot win these things by our efforts, but we can grow in holiness by way of living a life of holiness.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Nine

§9 of the Decree on Justification addresses certain errors of Protestantism, and asserts the truth against them; it opens with an assertion that flatly turns one Protestant falsehood about the Catholic Church on its head.

[I]t is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ's sake; …

We cannot by means of anything that we do obtain forgiveness for our sins. It's impossible. Consequently it's not possible for a man to save himself.

It seems to me, though, that the rest of this chapter of the Decree addresses the errors held by Protestants by which they might judge the Gospel and reach their false conclusion.

…yet is it not to be said, that sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven, to any one who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, and rests on that alone; seeing that it may exist, yea does in our day exist, amongst heretics and schismatics; and with great vehemence is this vain confidence, and one alien from all godliness, preached up in opposition to the Catholic Church.

This is an explicit rejection of the fiduciary notion of justification held by Protestants: no man's sins are forgiven merely because he trusts that they have been. No. And just so that there's no misunderstanding, they make things even more clear:

But neither is this to be asserted, – that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubting whatever, settle within themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified, but he that believes for certain that he is absolved and justified; and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone…

St. Robert Bellarmine is reputed (I have no source for the quote, so I can't substantiate it) to have said that the greatest Protestant heresy was their idea of assurance, which Trent condemns here. Worse, they make doubts about the matter into a deadly sin, so that it's like unto doubting Christ's work of atonement and God's promises:

…as though whoso has not this belief, doubts of the promises of God, and of the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.

In the end these ideas reduce the Gospel to a matter of subjectivism: it's all within the individual man.

This is not to say, of course, that doubts about God's promises are warranted:

For even as no pious person ought to doubt of the mercy of God, of the merit of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments…

Our salvation is not a subjective thing; consequently we ought not to doubt.

…[nevertheless] each one, when he regards himself, and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension touching his own grace; seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Meddling in politics

Normally I only offer my opinions on apologetical, theological and philosophical matters here: not because I have any great measure of competence in them, but because that's what I prefer this blog's topic to be.

This post is an exception. Here is what I wrote on the "health care crisis" in combox at Syzygus:

Since medical care is a scarce resource, it is subject to the law of supply and demand. The President and his advisors favor a rationing scheme for apportioning medical care among those who want it, but this a terrible substitute for allowing the free market to apportion it: its effects will be to create shortages (because government will set price controls on medical care), demolish the quality of care that is generally available (because the quality of legally available goods always suffer under a price control regime), and restrict the availability of genuinely good medical care to an ever smaller elite (because they possess the necessary resources to obtain it). I do not see how any good long term outcome is possible. We have all the evidence we need – in the last century – to unequivocally demonstrate that centralized economic planning does not work. But that is what Obama’s plan is all about.

Furthermore, I suppose it's time to buy stock in printing presses, because the only way that they're going to be able to "afford" to add yet another multi-trillion dollar boondoggle to the federal budget is going to be by creating the money out of thin air. The consequences for our economy will be dire as money is sucked out of every other activity for the sake of funding this monstrosity…unless, of course, they prefer to avoid that abyss by simply price-controlling the problem away (in which case, go back to my first paragraph and repeat the whole process).

This catastrophe in the making is an inevitable consequence of the refusal to accept the iron law of supply and demand: if they reduce the price of medical care, demand will increase.

The way to deal with the problem is not by reducing the price of medical care. The way to deal with it is to increase the supply of available medical care: we need more doctors and nurses. With a greater supply of good medical care available, prices necessarily will go down (in the absence of either guild or governmental meddling, anyway).

If this option isn’t feasible, then we’re going to be forced to deal with the high cost of medical care – or shoddy care. There just aren’t any other alternatives.

And speaking of justification

Francis Beckwith has a fine summary post on the subject over here. I commend it to you for its clarity.

By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it."

Trent on Justification - Chapter Eight

From time to time we see some Protestants take exception to Catholic statements that there is a sense in which we are justified by faith, or even justified by faith alone, as though such statements are contrary to the historic Catholic Faith. As we see in this installment, it is the Protestant who has erred, not the Catholic.

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace. [Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, §8]

As faith is the "beginning of human salvation,…and the root of all Justification," it is entirely appropriate then for the Catholic to say that we are justified by faith. It's important, however, for the sake of clarity and understanding that it be made clear that it is a beginning; having been baptized, we then must, as the Apostle says, "with fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will" (Philippians 2:12-13), because faith without works is dead.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

From The Knight's Tale:

One man desires to have abundant wealth,
Which brings about his murder or ill-health;
Another, freed from prison as he'd willed,
Comes home, his servants catch him, and he's killed.
Infinite are the harms that comes this way;
We little know the things for which we pray.

[emphasis added]

And in who knows how many other ways are the things we wish and pray for not, in the end, something we'd really want thanks to the consequences of having them? It's good to be content with what we have. The troubles that accompany the things we want might not be all that nice at all.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Seven

Chapter 7 of the Decree on Justification presents a brief definition of what justification is, along with an enumeration of its causes. Justification, they say,

is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.

So justification is not merely a forensic act but is forgiveness of sins and sanctification: we become literally holy. This work is accomplished in us "through the voluntary reception of the grace and of the gifts" of God; hence it is not in us of ourselves. We for our part must freely accept this grace freely offered.

More important than this definition – at least for our purposes in this series – is the rest of the chapter, which deals with the causes of justification. Trent tells us that our sins remitted, that we are sanctified and renewed in the inner man, that we become just, that we become friends of God, that we become heirs of life everlasting; but what causes all this?

[T]he final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting

Final causes are the reasons why things are done – the purpose in doing them. Trent tells us that God's purpose in justifying us is his own glory, and eternal life for us. Though it's true that it's not explicitly said that the final cause here is God's, who else can rationally be in view? As we see below, the efficient cause of our salvation is God himself; it would be irrational (and heretical) to suppose that anything could move God to act.

the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance

Efficient causes are those things which actually bring about a result or effect. In this case we see that the efficient cause is God himself: in other words, he justifies us when he graciously washes and sanctifies us. If (as some falsely allege) the Catholic Church taught a "works-based" salvation, would we not see it here? And yet we do not. The Church teaches no such thing; rather, as we see, she teaches that it is God who justifies us, not we ourselves.

the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father

A meritorious cause isn't actually one of Aristotle's four causes, but there is still a sense in which we can rightly speak of such a thing: a meritorious cause could be described as that which brings about a result by reason of merit, so that the effect is deserved because the merits of the cause. If, as some falsely allege, the Catholic Church taught that we can merit our own salvation in some absolute sense, we would expect to see that reflected here, right? And yet we don't – again, precisely because that is not what the Church teaches. Rather, the merit that warrants our justification belongs to Jesus Christ alone.

the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified

The means by which God applies this salvation to us is the instrument of Holy Baptism.

[T]he alone formal cause [again, see here for a brief description – RdP] is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation.

The formal cause is God's justice whereby he makes us just.

That's all, folks. Trent declares no other causes of our salvation besides these. How then can it be said that we believe in a "works-based" justification? Well, it can't. Unfortunately, however, there are many silly people who foolishly say otherwise, ignoring or ignorant of the facts we have just reviewed.

Some of these folks may look at the rest of §7 and draw bad conclusions.

For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith, Catechumen's beg of the Church-agreeably to a tradition of the apostles-previously to the sacrament of Baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestows life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow: whence also do they immediately hear that word of Christ; If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they are bidden, immediately on being born again, to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first robe given them through Jesus Christ in lieu of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting. [emphasis added]

The simple fact is that although God saves us, we most certainly can reject that salvation and break fellowship with him by sinning mortally. May God preserve us from ever doing so. Consequently we have a duty – one we ought to fulfill out of grateful love for our gracious Savior – to obey God, and to keep his commandments (Jn. 14:15).