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).


Mike Burgess said...

From Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange's "Providence":

God does not see created things immediately in themselves, in the dim glimmer of their created illumination, as though descending to their level and made dependent on them; He sees them in Himself and His own radiant light. God cannot see created things except from above: any other mode of knowledge would argue imperfection and would cease to be divine contemplation. Whatever reality and goodness there is in creatures is seen by the divine wisdom as a radiation of the glory of "Him who is."

Whereas we can hardly conceive of eternity except by relating it to the particular time period in which we live, God sees the whole succession of time periods in the light of an unchanging eternity. As a man standing on the summit of a mountain takes in at a single glance all who follow one another in the plain below, so also in one eternal instant God sees the entire succession of time periods; our birth simultaneously with our death, our trials with the glory they merit, the sufferings of the just with the endless spiritual profit resulting from them. He sees the effects in their causes, and the means in the ends they subserve.

The lives of the saints are very beautiful even in their external aspect as history records them; but they are incomparably more beautiful in the mind of God, who sees everything in its true inwardness and from above, who sees directly the grace in the souls of the just with their actual degree of charity and the degree they will have reached at the end of their journey. He sees our lives in the light of the divine idea directing them, an idea that will be fully realized only in heaven. Between God's wisdom and ours there is all the difference we observe between a stained-glass window as seen from within the church and as seen from without.

This infinite wisdom of God has been revealed to us in the person of our Lord the incarnate Word, in His life and preaching, His death, resurrection, and ascension. Our Lord has bestowed upon us a participation in this selfsame divine wisdom through living faith illumined by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of wisdom and understanding, enabling us to penetrate and experience the sweetness of the mysteries of salvation. Let our practical conclusion be to accustom ourselves by degrees to see all things from God's higher point of view, considering them not as something that may give us pleasure or satisfy our self-love and pride, but in their relation to God the first cause and last end. In the spirit of faith and by the dim light it sheds let us accustom ourselves gradually to see all things in God. Let us see in the pleasant events of our life the tokens of God's goodness, and also in the painful and unexpected afflictions a call to a higher life, as being so many graces sent for our purification, and therefore often more to be prized than consolations. St. Peter crucified was nearer to God than on Thabor.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Mike! It's good to hear from you.

Thanks for the quote. It reminds me of the way that St. Anselm addresses this subject, and it strikes me as the best way (well, the best that my small powers can imagine) to approach the question of how God's sovereignty and our freedom must be reconciled in our time-bound thinking. There's no "before" or "pre-" with respect to God's knowledge or purposes when considered from the vantage of eternity (and really that's how we must think about it); there is only "now".

I have this notion that a lot of Protestant error springs from a defective notion of God that itself arises from a confused use of Scripture, so that they foolishly imagine to be real in God what can only really be images or expressions or figures of speech accommodated to our weakness. It seems that this is inevitable to some degree or other when truth becomes measured by man, rather than by the Church.

Thanks again. I hope you're doing well.


Interlocutor said...

"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"

So I take it by "genuine freedom" you mean libertarian free will? Do you think compatibilism is not a viable option then?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

I'm not sure I can answer your question satisfactorily.

As a Protestant, I held to the view that I criticized in the paragraph you quote. Reading St. Thomas persuaded me that free will is essential to a rational conception of justice, and I gladly embrace this.

There must be a sense in which God's sovereignty and human free will are "compatible," because both notions are true: God is sovereign, and we are accountable for what we do because our choices are uncompelled. Consequently they are not mutually exclusive, although I don't know if the relationship between the two can be grasped by human minds. Certainly I don't comprehend it very well.

As far as I understand him, I think that St. Anselm's arguments in De Concordia were as sensible as anything that I've seen in the way of attempts to explain the relationship between the two. I *think* I get the idea behind St. Thomas' explanation in this regard concerning the legitimacy of secondary causes, but hopefully I'll gain further clarity about that upon further study.

At this point, though, I have been content to affirm that both are true, and I hope to understand things better in the future. I think that it is a mistake to so emphasize God's sovereignty as to minimize or ignore the fact that we have to choose.

For example, some Reformed say that the reason Christians evangelize is because that's the means that God uses to save the Elect. I don't exactly disagree, but this view almost completely ignores the fact that people have to choose to believe, and to the extent that they deny this free choice, the Reformed are wrong.