Thursday, June 9, 2011

Trent Does Not Contradict Orange

I recently stumbled across a page on a Protestant website that purports to demonstrate contradictions between the Council of Trent and the second Council of Orange. It attempts this by comparing the canons of Trent on Justification to those of Orange. My purpose here is to show that the demonstration fails, and that Trent does not contradict Orange.

Before we go too far, though, a few things should be said. First and foremost, the Second Council of Orange was not an ecumenical council. Trent was. Consequently it is possible in principle for two such councils to actually contradict, but if that happens it is the non-ecumenical council which is in error. The Church does not claim that non-ecumenical councils as such have any charism for infallibility as may be exercised by the ecumenical councils. Now, we’ll find (as I intend to show) that Trent doesn’t actually contradict Orange, but the point I wish to affirm from the beginning is that such a contradiction—if it actually existed—would not stand as ipso facto proof that the Church’s claims are false. In this case, though, Orange’s acts were formally approved by the Pope, and consequently “enjoy ecumenical authority” (source).

Secondly, it should be pointed out that the comparison ignores the actual teaching of Trent on justification, focusing instead upon the canons. This is a mistake because canons do not in themselves have dogmatic force. Rather, they are a disciplinary measure that are founded upon the dogmas of the Council, and constitute a disciplinary expression of the dogmas. The point is that if you really want to know what Trent taught about justification, you need to look at the Decree on Justification rather than at the canons. It is disappointing that the author of the comparison did not do this. Certainly it is not because he was unable to find them; the very page he used as a source for his comparison for the canons also contains the Decree on Justification, and he had to scroll past the Decree in order to find the canons.
Thirdly, it’s interesting to me that there are thirty-three canons on justification, but the Protestant critic of Trent alleges contradictions with Orange related to just three of those canons. So I’m inclined to wonder: is this the worst that you can come up with?

Lastly, for the sake of stifling completeness, I’ve already written quite a few posts on the subject of Trent’s teaching on justification. It is abundantly clear that Trent taught nothing like what is charged by our Protestant accuser.
The three canons we’ll be looking at are 4, 5, and 11.
Canon 4:
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.
The text from Orange that canon 4 is alleged to contradict, including the emphasis that was added by our Protestant critic:
If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly … belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)
It seems that the emphasized portions are intended to show us where the contradiction is, so that we are to infer that canon 4 (and consequently Trent) denies that the beginning of faith, the desire for it, and the increase of faith are all a gift of grace. The problem with this alleged contradiction is that it doesn’t exist. Look at the second clause of Canon 4: “that man’s free will moved and excited by God…” The canon’s not saying that we don’t need grace; on the contrary, it’s saying that we absolutely need it, because it’s talking about a man whose free will has been moved by God first. How did our Protestant accuser miss this? I don’t know. If I had to guess, I’d say that he missed it because he holds to a false view of free will: namely, I’d guess that he probably supposes that unbelievers (at the least) don’t have free will. This view is an error, because (as St Augustine rightly taught) “punishment would be unjust if man did not have free will.” But free will doesn’t imply the ability to do just anything, and among other things it must be moved by God (as canon 4 says) before it can assent to God’s call.

So much for the criticisms of canon 4. Here is canon 5:
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.
And the corresponding criticism from the Protestant page, with its original emphasis:
If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
Once again, there is no contradiction here. Canon 5 of Trent condemns those who deny that man has free will, and Orange says not that free will has been lost, but that it has been corrupted. Our critic further claims (from what he has emphasized from Orange) that canon 5 contradicts Orange’s insistence that grace is necessary. But this too is absurd, as my series of posts about Trent make inescapably clear (but we’re going to briefly review some of these facts here anyway, in a little while).

Here is canon 11 from Trent:
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.
Our Protestant critic doesn’t quote Orange here; instead, he offers this commentary:
[Note: this says if the “the grace, whereby we are justified, is ONLY the favour of God; let him be anathema.” In Other her words, RCC outright rejects SOLA GRATIA - salvation by grace alone in Christ alone, thereby anathematizing both Augustine and their own early church council.]
It appears that our Critic has unfortunately misunderstood the canon, and has arrived at preposterous conclusions as a result. With respect to what grace is, canon 11 is denying the Protestant error that grace is neither more nor less than God’s favor. The point of the canon is that there is more to God’s grace than His mere favor, and that those who say otherwise have in this respect departed from the Catholic Faith. It is certainly not saying there is anything non-divine in grace. I hope that I’m misunderstanding this gentleman, but based upon what he writes here, it seems as though he really thinks that canon 11 is endorsing a view of grace that includes something from outside of God. This is egregiously mistaken. For starters, the first half of the canon is explicitly insisting upon the fact that “the grace and charity poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost” are essential constituents of justification, and obviously (since they are poured forth by the Holy Spirit) they are solely and exclusively from God, as I have already pointed out in a previous post on canon 11. So how this can in any way be described as a denial of salvation by grace alone is beyond my powers to comprehend. It’s just crazy talk.

At this point it’s probably a good idea to review the Decree on Justification on a few points related to these canons, because the Decree is the essential context for properly understanding what the Fathers of Trent meant by the canons. But before we do that it might be a good idea to have the Decree on Original Sin firmly in the back of our minds, not least because they explicitly refer to it themselves. Here’s my post on the subject. Among other things, they say:
If any one asserts, that this sin of Adam,--which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own, --is taken away either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in his own blood, made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption; or if he denies that the said merit of Jesus Christ is applied, both to adults and to infants, by the sacrament of baptism rightly administered in the form of the church; let him be anathema [Decree on Original Sin, §3; emphasis added].
Back to the Decree on Justification. In Chapter I, they declare:
not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, [from sin]; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them.
See my post on this chapter here.

Chapter II describes what God did on our behalf in view of the circumstances adumbrated in Chapter I: that is, because we cannot justify ourselves, He sent His Son to save us. My post on this is here.

Chapter V is the next chapter relevant for the present discussion. It declares that justification begins with the grace of God, “without any merits existing [on the part of man].” My post on this is here.

In my opinion the heart of the Decree is chapter VII, because in it the Fathers declare what the causes of our justification are. Here is my post on the subject. Executive summary: none of the causes of our justification enumerated by Trent is something that man does, as though he can justify himself.

Trent doesn’t contradict Second Orange.


Principium Unitatis said...

Good work. (Send me a note some time, if you would.)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Bryan,

Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for stopping by. :-)

Email is hopefully in your inbox.