Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trent, semi-Pelagianism and Berkouwer: are R.C. Sproul's misrepresentations cases of dishonesty or just shoddy scholarship


In a recent thread here at AF (LINK), I took issue (yet once again) with a renewed assertion by Ken Temple that the decrees of the Council of Trent concerning justification and salvation are essentially "semi-Pelagian". To support this charge, Ken relies heavily on the polemics of R.C. Sproul, as expressed in his published works, Faith Alone and Willing to Believe (see THIS THREAD for some critical reflections). Ken invokes Sproul's use Herman Bavinck, who wrote, "although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a ‘roundabout way", and adds the following from G. C. Berkouwer (via Sproul):

Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence...

For a fuller context of the above quotes, I now turn to Sproul's, Faith Alone—wherein after quoting chapter 5 of Trent's sixth session—we read:

Here Rome makes it clear that fallen man cannot convert himself or even move himself to justice in God's sight without the aid of grace. Again Pelagiansim is repudiated.

This predisposing grace, however, is rejectable. It is not in itself effectual. Its effectiveness depends on the fallen person's assent and cooperation. This sounds very much like semi-Pelagianism, which had been condemned at Orange. Earlier in the fifth session, which treated original sin, Trent affirmed some aspects of the decrees of Orange.

Rome has repeatedly been accused of condemning semi-Pelagianism at Orange but embracing it anew at Trent. Herman Bavinck held that "although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a 'roundabout way'". G. C. Berkouwer observed:

"Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence...Hence the situation became much more complicated for Rome in Trent than when, in 529, semi-Pelagianism had to be condemned for its "weakening" of grace...Trent had to ward off the Reformers' attack without derograting from the decrees of Orange...The gratia praeveniens had to be taught without relapsing into the sola fide of the Reformers. That is why the Orange texts are repeated in Trent, especially in the decree on justification."

The Council of Trent to steer a course on the razor's edge between semi-Pelagianism and Reformed thought. It is arguable that they cut themselves on that razor. At issue was the residual power of man's weakened, fallen will. Rome tried to argue that the will is weaker than semi-Pelagianism allowed, but not as weak as the Reformer's insisted. Berkouwer concludes: "At Trent there was no concern with the threat to grace as there was at Orange. But Trent is concerned with the natural freedom of the will. The latter, it is true, has been weakened by sin (Orange, Valence, Trent) but not at all extinguished."

...To avoid the Reformation and Augustinian view of the enslaved will, Rome speaks of the power of fallen man to assent and cooperate with prevenient grace. That grace is not effectual without the sinner's response. (Sproul, Faith Alone, pp. 140-141.)

Now, the above has certainly given Ken the impression Sproul believes that Trent is semi-Pelagian, and that Sproul believes he has support from Bavinck and Berkouwer on this issue. But what one will fail to uncover in Sproul's writings is a clear, definitive description of what semi-Pelagianism actually is. The nearest I have been able to find is in his book, Willing to Believe, wherein he seems to identify any system of soteriology that does not embrace "monergistic regeneration" as a form of semi-Pelagianism (see pp. 20-29, 69-84). As such, he is convinced that the vast majority of modern Evangelicals  embrace semi-Pelagianism, and that in official Roman Catholic doctrine, we have the, "triumph of semi-Pelagianism over Augustinianism" (p. 84).

The major error in Sproul's assessments lies in the fact that he has incorrectly described/understood what actually constitutes semi-Pelagianism. This fact comes as shock to me, for a number of the scholars he has quoted (e.g. Berkouwer, Harnack, Schaff), in his two referenced books above, do define the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism—i.e. the rejection of the belief that preceding/prevenient grace (gratia praeveniens) is necessary for one to accept the Gospel.  Sproul has substituted this distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism with the notion that it is the rejection of "monergistic regeneration" that makes one's theology semi-Pelagian—to do so is either a case of dishonesty or very shoddy scholarship.

Before moving on to Sproul's misrepresentation/misunderstanding of Berkouwer, I would like to provide a few scholarly selections that identify the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism:

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. The doctrines on human nature upheld in the 4th and 5th cents. by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of *Grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and Grace supervened only later. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. 1974, 1985 reprint, p. 1258.)


SEMI-PELAGIANISM. Doctrines, upheld during the period from 427 to 529, that rejected the extreme views of Pelagius and of Augustine in regards to the priority of divine grace and human will in the initial work of salvation...

Cassian taught that though a sickness is inherited through Adam's sin, human free will has not been entirely obliterated. Divine grace is indispensable for salvation, but does not necessarily need to precede a free human choice, because, despite the weakness of human volition, the will takes the initiative toward God. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, p. 1000.)

In opposition to both systems [Pelagianism and Augustinianism]  he [John Cassian] taught that the divine image and human freedom were not annihilated, but only weakened, by the fall; in other words, that man is sick, but not dead, that he cannot indeed help himself, but that he can desire the help of a physician, and either accept or refuse it when offered, and that he must cooperate with the grace of God in his salvation. The question, which of the two factors has the initiative, he answers, altogether empirically, to this effect: that sometimes, and indeed usually, the human will, as in the cases of the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Penitent Thief, and Cornelius, determines itself to conversion; sometimes grace anticipates it, and, as with Matthew and Paul, draws the resisting will—yet, even in this case, without constraint—to God. Here, therefore, the gratia praeveniens is manifestly overlooked. 

These are essentially Semi-Pelagian principles, though capable of various modification and applications. The church, even the Roman church, has rightly emphasized the necessity of prevenient grace... (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1910, 1981 reprint, 3.861, 862.)

The preeminent Christian doctrinal/historical scholar of the latter-half of the 20th century, Jaroslav Pelikan, 'puts-the-icing-on the-cake' (so to speak). He begins his section on Semi-Pelagianism with:

The opposition to Augustine earned this position the title "Semi-Pelagian" in the sixteenth century, but already in the fifth century the partisans of Augustine were calling it "the remnants of the Pelagian heresy [Pelagianae pravitatis reliquiae]." The term is used to cover a group of theologians from the fifth and sixth centuries, the most prominent of whom were John Cassian, Vincent of Lérins, and Fautus of Riez. (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), p. 319.)

After presenting the doctrines that the adherents of "Pelagianae pravitatis reliquiae" agreed upon with Augustine and the catholic tradition, Pelikan then delineates where they departed:

Even while asserting that without divine assistance none of these virtues could attain perfection, Augustine's critics still insisted that "it cannot be doubted that there are by nature some  seeds of goodness in every soul implanted by the kindness of the Creator." This did not detract from the glory of redemption. If is was said "that one should not pay attention to what is good by nature because before the coming of Christ, the Gentiles obviously did not attain to salvation," the reply was the axiom: "Anyone who denies that nature is to be proclaimed in its good qualities, simply does not know that the Author of nature is the same as the Author of grace," and that therefore "since the Creator is the same as the Restorer, one and the same is celebrated when we praise either work." Praising the free will of man meant praising its Creator and did not detract from his grace.

This was evident from the Bible itself, where "the bounty of God is actually shaped according to the capacity of man's faith." Sometimes, for example in the conversion of Paul or of Matthew, divine grace had preceded any desire or good will on the part of man. But in other instances, for example in the account of Zacchaeus or of the thief on the cross, the free will of man had taken some initiative. By the goodness of the Creator there still remained the capacity to initiate the will for salvation. (Ibid., pp. 323, 324)

He then moves on to the synod of Orange (529) and its clear, direct condemnation of the teaching that "there still remained the capacity [in fallen mankind] to initiate the will for salvation":

...in response to the argument that there was a diversity of operations by which in some cases men took the initiative and in others God took the initiative, the synod condemned as "alien to the true faith" anyone who taught that "some have come to the grace of baptism by mercy, but others by free will." Citing the specific biblical examples that had been used in support of this teaching, Caesarius affirmed that the conversion of Zacchaeus and of the thief on the cross had also been "not achievements of nature, but gifts from the generosity of divine grace." The "beginning of faith" was always due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Ibid., p. 328)

So, the question for me is: why did Sproul substitute the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism—the belief that "there still remained the capacity [in fallen mankind] to initiate the will for salvation"—with the notion that it is the rejection of "monergistic regeneration" that makes one's theology semi-Pelagian ? What makes this substitution even more baffling is the fact Sproul informs his readers that it was the Synod of Orange in 529 which, "condemned the system of semi-Pelagianism"; and yet, one will look in vain to find ANY reference to "monergistic regeneration" in the decrees of that synod.

Time to move onto Sproul's use of Berkouwer. Does Berkouwer side with Sproul's view that Trent, and subsequent Catholic theology, had adopted semi-Pelagianism ? Sproul's surrounding context of the two quotes from Berkouwer in Faith Alone gives the reader the strong impression that he believed this. However, a deeper, more extensive reading of Berkouwer reveals that Berkouwer did not believe Trent, and subsequent Catholic theology, had embraced semi-Pelagianism. Berkouwer discusses this issue at length in two of his important works that have been translated into English: The Conflict with Rome (English 1958) and Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election (English 1960).

Sproul quotes Berkouwer three times in his Faith Alone (pp. 140, 141), all of which are from The Conflict with Rome (pp. 80, 82, 84). Two of those three quotes are directly related to the topic at hand (the third deals with Calvin) and are provided in their entirety above. If one limits their reading of Berkouwer concerning semi-Pelagianism and Catholicism to what Sproul has provided, a severely flawed impression is difficult to avoid. However, if one reads Berkouwer's full contributions on this issue as found in The Conflict with Rome (pp. 76-112) and Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election (pp. 28-52) a much different impression emerges. One will find Berkouwer's clearest assessment on whether or not the Roman Catholic Church teaches semi-Pelagianism in the following selection:

The Council of Orange (529) condemned not only Pelagianism but also semi-Pelagianism, a condemnation to which the Roman Catholic Church still adheres for the reason that even semi-Pelagianism thinks too depreciatively of the necessity of God's grace. To be sure, semi-Pelagianism rejected Pelagianism and did not teach an inviolate ibberum arbitrium, but it still maintained a belief in free will — although a weakened free will (infirmitas liberi arbitrii). It taught that man retains his free will, but because it has been weakened by sin it is in need of God's helping grace, so that a cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom is necessary. Rome rejects this doctrine because she does not think the necessity of grace is sufficiently confessed by it. (Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election, p. 30 - bold emphasis mine.)

I don't think that Berkouwer could be much clearer on what his position concerning semi-Pelgainism and the RCC is. (Anyone who thinks Berkouwer maintained that the RCC is semi-Pelagian after reading the above is in dire need of some help.)

Before ending this somewhat lengthy post, I would like to point out one more significant difference between Sproul and Berkouwer. Note the following from Sproul's pen:

A theologian friend of mine says frequently that in church history there have been only three basic types of theology. There have been a multitude of theological schools with subtle nuances, but in the final analysis there are only three kinds of theology: what we call Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. Virtually every church in Western church history, and Eastern church history as well, has fallen into one of those three categories. (Saved from What ?, p. 46.)

It was after reading the above that I came to understand why Sproul labels Arminian, Lutheran and Catholic theologies as semi-Pelagianism, for in his worldview, "there are only three kinds of theology".

But, Berkouwer does not agree with Sproul on this matter. Berkouwer's view adds a fourth kind of theology: synergism. In Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election, he makes a clear distinction between Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, synergism and monergism, and places the Arminian, Lutheran and Catholic theologies into the synergistic category.

I shall end here, feeling fairly confident that I established some significant flaws in a number of Sproul's assessments.


Grace and peace,

David


P.S. I think it is prudent that I let my Calvinistic readers know that this thread is not a critique of monergism and/or an endorsement of synergism (in any form).

28 comments:

Rory said...

Hi Dave,

This further examination that you have presented, especially with its examination of Sproul and Berkouwer shows that Sproul has clearly redefined and expanded semi-Pelagianism beyond what it has ever meant historically within any camp of Christendom.

I want to again highlight Berkouwer who is a very respected and prominent Reformed theologian from whom Sproul claimed to get his ideas. Berkouwer is NOT CATHOLIC:

"The Council of Orange (529) condemned not only Pelagianism but also semi-Pelagianism, a condemnation to which the Roman Catholic Church still adheres for the reason that even semi-Pelagianism thinks too depreciatively of the necessity of God's grace...Rome rejects this doctrine because she does not think the necessity of grace is sufficiently confessed by it."

I would ask Ken and those he follows, does this concession on behalf of a prominent Dutch Reformed theologian compromise his Calvinistic faith? Srely not. He can still oppose baptismal regeneration, Marian doctrines, purgatory, and the concept of faith working by charity from which springs all of the Catholic spiritual exercises so loathsome to Reformed Baptists. Accuse us of practicing baptismal regeneration and the answer is yes, (as it is for Luther and his children). Accuse us of being semi-Pelagian and we will never discuss anything about what really separates us. I don't know why some are so stubborn about this issue.

Maybe such a false charge is valuable as a way Reformed ministers comfort uninformed pew-sitters. But it cannot be maintained in the face of actual discussion. I can understand how someone could be honestly duped into following Sproul by reading him alone. Also, once a minister has taught something publicly, it can be humiliating, even privately, to admit the error. But after seeing Berkouwer's precise examination of the question, it seems like the time for honest and thoughtful Reformed teachers to admit that while maintaining that Catholic belief and practice is still filled with damnable errors, not one of them is semi-Pelagian.

Such an insignificant concession as that which came from Berwouwer is necessary if a Catholic could believe in the competence of their Reformed accusers.

Rory

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for your response; you wrote:

==This further examination that you have presented, especially with its examination of Sproul and Berkouwer shows that Sproul has clearly redefined and expanded semi-Pelagianism beyond what it has ever meant historically within any camp of Christendom.==

So good to see that someone has understood my post; as such, I no longer feel that my efforts have been in vain.


God bless,

David

Scott Windsor, Sr. said...

Good post! Thanks for posting on the CathApol Blog too. Between Dr. Sproul being wrong about his own source and wrong about what the Catholic Church really teaches on this matter - it just makes one wonder how he got so popular!

AMDG,
Scott<<<

David Waltz said...

Hi Scott,

So good to hear that you were able to read the thread, and that you found some merit in it.

As for Sproul's popularity, I am sure that a number of factors are involved. First, he is an excellent communicator/speaker (especially concerning 5 point Calvinism); second, his Ligonier Ministries has been around for decades, and generates millions of dollars every year; and finally, I have found that popular Evangelical personalities are allowed significant mistakes with impunity, while those outside their paradigm are held to much higher standards.

You may find the following links of interest:

Sproul and Ligonier

R.C. Sproul Jr.


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

I do not wish to belabor a point that has gone unchallenged, but I would like to say a word about the Reformed charge that Semi-pelagianism" has crept back into the Catholic Church since the days of Augustine by means of Catholic devotions that follow from Catholic beliefs.

Besides the unequivocal teachings of the Church as found in the Ecumenical and writings of orthodox theologians there is another unequivocal voice of the Church that literally speaks day and night of the fact that from cradle to grave, the soul that is saved will be saved by grace alone.

Lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. The charge of the Reformed camp is actually that the Catholic Church says one thing in her official documents, but practices a semi-Pelagian faith, introducing an element of works through the prayer life of the believer.

In a certain sense, I welcome this argument because it affirms the truth of the maxim mentioned above, lex orandi, lex credendi. We believe what we pray. It is fine says the Protestant if you say you believe in grace, but then in your prayers you tell God He is your debt because you performed this work or said that prayer. If that were happening, it would indeed be problematic. It is not impossible that some ignorant souls who think they are Catholic, imagine that they are doing just that. Woe be to them.

The Liturgy of the Church never ceases. Night and day, the priests, religious, and lay faithful of the Catholic Church worship and praise God according to set forms that the Church herself gives us, assuring that whatever is prayed is, reflects the beliefs of the Church.

Even though the charges of semi-Pelagianism are clearly incorrect as far as the expression has ever been understood historically, it still remains to answer the charge laid at our door. Do we, if we say a Rosary, offer prayers for the dead, or have a devotion to the saints, necessarily do so in a "spirit" of Pelagianism?

The answer is an emphatic no, and it can be proven in virtually every breath the Church breathes in her sacred liturgy. Coming up is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. It is recommended that the faithful prepare for Sunday Mass by familiarizing ourselves with the readings and prayers that we will be offered to God in the coming week. There is also a commentary on the liturgy available. The classic work of Dom Gueranger, O.S.B., The liturgical Year, gives us in sixteen volumes a full and clear exposition of what the Church means in her liturgy, especially for the prayers of the Sunday Masses and major feasts.

In a comment regarding one of the prayers for this upcoming Sunday, we read in vol. 11, p. 200: "Not only are we incapable, or ourselves, of doing any good work, but without the help of grace, we cannot even have a thought of supernatural good. Now, the surest means for obtaining the help that is so needed by us is to acknowledge humbly before God we depend entirely upon Him; it is what the Church does in the Collect."

The italics are those of the author(s). Of course they were prompted by what is called the collect, which is a prayer following the Gloria and preceding the reading of the first epistle. Here is a prayer which I find difficult to reconcile with the charge of even a spirit of semi-Pelagianism. You be the judge: "Grant us O Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit of always thinking what is right; and grant us mercifully the spirit of doing it: that we who cannot subsist without thee, may live according to thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc."

Ken said...

Hi David,
I understand what you are saying and you are technically correct. However, what Sproul, and I contend is that the RCC unwittingly came back around to practical semi-Pelagian emphasis, by the fact that baptismal regeneration is taught - so all cradle Catholics are taught as soon as they can think and reason that they are able to perform good works that prepare their wills and cooperate with God, since they got that initial grace at their baptism. As Tony Lane wrote, the need for grace is "pushed back to forgotten infancy" - they feel no need for the reality of knowing and understanding that they are lost and condemned sinners. Also, the sacramentalism of Purgatory and penance works that developed between Orange and Trent is IN OUR OPINION, a return to semi-Pelagianism. Also, the emphasis of Sproul and Bavinck is the phrase, "in a roundabout way", not a conscience official document way. You are emphasizing the official exact statements of denying semi-Pelagianim. ok, I get that.

Of course the official Roman Church denies that it is Semi-Pelagian.

But, it still seems to be semi-Pelagian in practicality, for example here, while the first part denies it, the second part says, "we can merit for themselves", etc.

That seems semi-Pelagian.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2010
Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

Ken said...

It seems to me, one can deny that they are committing the errors of the Galatian Judaizers, just by saying that the context was only adding circumcision and obeying other Jewish rituals of the law, in order to be saved. But the principle in Galatians that Paul lays out is that any works or rituals or deeds added to faith alone are committing the same sin of the Galatian Judaizer heretics. (Galatians 1:6-9, 2:16; 3:1-5) Technically, any movement in history after that time that adds something else that is not specifically named in the book of Galatians (like circumcision), could be said, "no, it is not the same thing".

That seems to be what you are doing.

Rory said...

Hi Ken,

Thank you so much for your acknowledgment of the more precise meaning of Semi-Pelagianism. I knew that such a modest concession would still allow you to express the difficulties you see with certain Catholic beliefs. I for my part, am willing, in a spirit of good will, to admit that I understand why you see a parallel.

That being said, I must also say that at the very root of the problem is that it appears that the Reformed perspective of the regenerated man is gravely and profoundly defective and truncated. If it were otherwise it seems like they could understand the gracious operation on those to whom is granted the dignity to be called sons of God and heirs of our Lord Jesus Christ. With understandable awe at the privileges granted to those who are partakers of the divine nature, you would also recognize the awesome responsibility of using this privilege well. You would recognize the colossal difference between mere works of the law and children of God doing greater works by His grace, than raising Lazarus from the dead.

I have not forgotten the epistle to the Galatians, but I feel some preliminary comments and questions need to be made and asked before we could possibly proceed fruitfully. A blessed Lord's Day to you Ken, and to all.

Regards,

Rory

Rory said...

The last three weeks in the Calendar have placed side-by-side three readings from St. Paul to the Romans for the Sunday epistles. I offer the following as a commentary on these passages:

"For, the leading idea which pervades the whole of this sublime Epistle to the Romans is this: man unaided by grace, is incapable of producing perfect justice and absolute good. Experience has proved it, St. Paul teaches it, the fathers will, later on, unanimously assert it, and the Church, in her Councils, will define it. True, by the mere powers of his fallen nature, man may come to the knowledge of some truths, and to the practice of some virtues; but without grace he can never know, and still less observe, the precepts of even the natural law, if they are taken as a whole.

From Jesus, then, from Jesus alone, comes all justice..."

-The Liturgical Year, Vol. 11, p. 205

He that attempts to be just must live it whole and perfectly. That is what is required if we would be united to Him who personifies justice. I would hope that what has been quoted so far will be seen to be agreeable by all parties. Before moving closer to Galatians and whether a rosary is the same as circumcision, are there any objections or comments to the summary I have quoted from the Liturgical Year?

Rory said...

Continuing my monologue regarding the Catholic understanding of falling from grace by circumcision in Galatians, and a Rosary...

The fall of Adam was a tragedy of incalculable magnitude for the children of Adam. Fearing God in a servile manner, our first parents thought, ridiculously, to hide themselves from God when previously they enjoyed a joyous harmony and unity with Him. From a garden that grew wonderful fruits with minimal effort from the tenders of the Garden of Eden, Adam was made to know that life hitherto would be one of drudgery and toil if he would find suitable bread for living, while Eve and her daughters would suffer horrible agonies every time they brought forth a child. Worst of all, death, the unholy, unseemly, and terrifying specter which haunts every human being that has lived since Adam's day. Along with this certainty of physical death, comes the reality of a death more terrifying, prepared for the devil and his angels, an eternity of separation, exiled from the good God who once conversed amiably with our parents in the cool of the garden, awaiting Adam and his children, helpless to find a remedy for these mind numblingly agonizing realities.

This is the position of all of Catholic Tradition, with which the Reformed teaching seems to agree, regarding the fall of Adam and Eve, our first parents. As promised Adam died, in trespasses and sins (notwithstanding the possibility of repentance against "the second death", Hell), and his children have been born with the contagion which attached itself, called original sin, plain for all to see, in every individual. At the same time, every society of men seemed to be the instrument of its own destruction beginning with the first murder of his own brother, by the first born son of Adam, and continuing to this day. Presumably, we are agreed upon the Scriptural proofs as to the sorry truth of this sad situation whereby not one of Adam's children has any ways or means to return to the favor of his Creator.

I understand silence as probable disinterest but permission to continue. Perhaps tomorrow. (Please interject if so inclined.)

Rory

Rory said...

Today, August 6, is the great Feast of the Transfiguration. In churches of both the East and West, a solemn remembrance is held of the holy glories beheld by the Apostles, Peter, James, and John at the top of Mt. Thabor. I cannot think of a better way to introduce the privileges of the sons of God and heirs of our Lord Jesus Christ than by pondering implications taken from lessons taken from what happens when one ascends the holy mountain of God.

Unfortunately, I have to go to work presently, but the good Lord willing, we can return to visit this them in detail later today.

A good day, and a blessed Feast of the Transfiguration be to all who with faith in God's promises, are pliable instruments of His glory, in the loving hands of our good God.

Rory

Ken said...

Hi Rory,
Sorry for taking so long to respond. Busy with life, etc.

You wrote, quoting this section from the Liturgical Year, and then asking,

"Before moving closer to Galatians and whether a rosary is the same as circumcision, are there any objections or comments to the summary I have quoted from the Liturgical Year?"

"For, the leading idea which pervades the whole of this sublime Epistle to the Romans is this: man unaided by grace, is incapable of producing perfect justice and absolute good. Experience has proved it, St. Paul teaches it, the fathers will, later on, unanimously assert it, and the Church, in her Councils, will define it. True, by the mere powers of his fallen nature, man may come to the knowledge of some truths, and to the practice of some virtues; but without grace he can never know, and still less observe, the precepts of even the natural law, if they are taken as a whole.


As far as I can tell, this seems consistent with Reformation theology and monergism.

The problem is while it states that grace is necessary, the issue of the Reformation was grace is sufficient to cause regeneration, holiness, and perseverance all the way, without the "off again, on again" treadmill of sacramentalism/penances/indulgences/
ceremonies /good works/alms-giving/prayers to Mary and saints/purgatory, etc.

It seems that RCC still maintains that a person has some level of free will in him that he/she has to co-operate and could reject this grace, that is, that the person who gets grace could reject this grace and fail to come all the way to regeneration, progressive sanctification, and perseverance.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Forgive me for intruding into your dialogue with Rory, but I feel compelled to offer a small correction concerning the following that you wrote:

==The problem is while it states that grace is necessary, the issue of the Reformation was grace is sufficient to cause regeneration...==

In actuality, the issue of the monergists (I use this term instead of "the Reformation" because of Reformers like Menno Simon) was not over the sufficiency of grace (all non-Pelagians embrace this concept), but rather, it was over the issue of the efficacy of grace.

Grace can be sufficient to bring about regeneration, but if an individual does not accept such grace, it is not efficient. I delved into this issue in the following threads:

LINK 1

LINK 2


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

Hi Ken, I am glad you're still here. No worries about always being available to make replies.

It is grieving to me when Evangelicals stumble at the idea that one of His children could so glorify God by grace, as to qualify for more (merit) grace. It seems to me like a sickly Gospel, a fallen "Gospel", indeed another gospel, that correctly understands the fall of Adam while denying the elevated status of the children of God, born again, newly adopted into God's family, partakers of the divine nature, and heirs of promises that are as magnificently beneficent as the fall of Adam was magnificently evil. It seems like even if you don't embrace Luther's image of the dungpile covered with snow, the redeemed in your "gospel" are still paralysed in their slavery to sin, and cannot participate in any meaningful way in God's work of redemption in the world. When Adam fell, he became bad inside, and really worthy of death with his children. When the Second Adam comes, what of those who are born from above? Is not their elevation unto life similarly real unto goodness? Or is salvation in Christ merely a legal proclamation, a fiction in reality, with no intrinsic elevation unto holiness by grace?

Of course fallen man cannot merit anything with God. He lacks any kind of nature that can bring glory to God. Not even regenerated man can merit anything apart from grace. But it is fitting and appropriate that those who God calls His own sons and daughters should glorify their Father by works that are supernatural. That is why Jesus told His disciples that "he that believeth in me" would do greater works than those Jesus had done. Miracles. Yes, we are not talking about raising a dead body to life, but a spirit rising from the dead, to walk in newness of life. That is what happens whenever a Christian performs any act that is motivated by the love of God. It is a greater work, according to divine justice, to give alms to the poor, or recite a Hail Mary for God's sake, than it was to create the world out of nothing, or to raise Lazarus.

-to be continued...

Rory said...

"And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one..." (Jn. 17: 22) The Son came in obedience to the Father and to glorify the Father. Even as a child (Lk. 2), God's Son affirms that the mystery of his disappearance is resolved if one recalls that He would always be about "His Father's business". Now that we are in the "family" it is likewise our concern, too. We want to bring glory to our good Father , to be about the business of Him Who has lavished us with every gift, Who sends showers of blessed graces upon us every moment, and Who has made us His very temple. Can it be believed? Yes, God lives in His children! And the children glorify the Father with every act of submission to His will, in imitation of His Only Begotten Son who shows us how.

A rosary means nothing, just as circumcision meant nothing, if it is performed according to a justice system whereby the individual imagines that God owes Him something. Sounding brass? Tinkling cymbals? Perhaps there will be Catholics who can recite their religious exercises of whom God on that awful day says, "I never knew you". The apostle tells us that the very moving of mountains is nothing without charity. But does this mean that it is wrong to "move mountains"? Heaven forbid! The least act performed with charity and for God our Father, is of virtually infinite value. Grace is worth more than every natural good. What better reward can we have for pleasing our Father, than to "merit" by uniting with Christ His Son in charity, than more of Himself, more grace? For what is grace, except the work of God moving in and upon the soul. The soul that knows the value of grace wants nothing except more and more grace.

God is glorified by any act which is prompted by charity, by love of God, which as St. Peter says, covers a multitude of sins. This is what it means to have the glory which the Father gave to the Son, given unto us. But a "gospel" that denies this our privilege (and obligation), to truly share in bringing glory to God the Father is impoverished and destitute, and detracts from the glory which the redeemed are to give to the Father. As it has been presented repeatedly to me, as I understand it, this is the grave, and insurmountable misgiving I have with the "Gospel" according to John Calvin.

Rory said...

>>the issue of the Reformation was grace is sufficient to cause regeneration, holiness, and perseverance all the way, without the "off again, on again" treadmill of sacramentalism/penances/indulgences/
ceremonies /good works/alms-giving/prayers to Mary and saints/purgatory, etc.

It seems that RCC still maintains that a person has some level of free will in him that he/she has to co-operate and could reject this grace, that is, that the person who gets grace could reject this grace and fail to come all the way to regeneration, progressive sanctification, and perseverance.<<

We are synergists, a new term to me. Certainly. As St. Augustine reasons:

"Someone says to me (John Calvin): 'Since we are acted upon, it is not we who act.' I answer, 'No, you both act and are acted upon; and if you are acted upon by the good, you act properly. For the spirit of God who moves you, by so moving, is your Helper. The very term helper makes it clear that you yourself are doing something.'" Sermons of St. Augustine 156:11

Rory said...

It is interesting that the Council of Orange, 529 AD, has been cited favorably by the monergists/Calvinists as a time before the false Catholic teachings that supposedly appeared later.

But canon 13 is about the restoration of free will: "Freedom of will, weakened in the first man cannot be repaired, except through the grace of baptism,'once it has been lost, it cannot be restored except by Him by whom it could be given. Thus Truth itself says: If the Son liberates, then you will be truly free.'"

The bold is mine referring to how free will is regained according to the Council of Orange, the italics were from Denzinger's 186, from which the entire citation was taken. The expression promising freedom is from John 8:36.

It is absolutely necessary that we do not sacrifice the truth of free will on the altar of grace, as the Calvinist, or that we sacrifice grace on the altar of free will as the Pelagians. Of course we agree on much (about 50%) with both Pelagians and Calvinists. Nobody is wrong about everything. But error arises when a party overemphasizes a truth to the point that it eclipses another important truth.

St. Augustine, using moderation lacking to both Calvinist and Pelagian, speaks eloquently on the necessity of the reconciliation of grace and freedom and the truth of both, easy though it is to favor one and despise the other:

"Let us take care not to defend grace in such a way that we would seem to take away free choice, nor again can we insist so strongly on free choice that we could be judged, in our proud impiety, ungrateful for the grace of God." (The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3, William A. Jurgens, p. 90, #1722)

Clearly, this apostolic doctrine, being labelled synergism, is more ancient, and involves the Church long before our Lady appeared to St. Dominic with the first Rosary.

The Council of Ephesus was convened in 431 AD:

"Therefore assuredly, because the good will is provided beforehand by the Lord, and that the good may accomplish something. He Himself touches the hearts of His sons with paternal inspirations. For all that are moved by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God; so that we do not think that our free will is lacking; and we do not doubt that in each and every good movement of the human will, His help is more powerful. That God thus operates in the hearts of men and in the free will itself, so that a holy thought, a pious plan, and every motion of good will is from God..."

(Council of Ephesus, 431 AD, chapter 5 and 6 Denz. # 134)

Before Augustine and after Augustine, Before the Rosary and after the Rosary, the Catholic Church, relying on the certainty of the Apostolic deposit of faith, has stood faithfully unwavering against all the faithless logic of heretics who would insist that we must choose grace or free will. Both grace and free will have been revealed, and upon both the Church has always and will ever stand firm.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Though I suspect your continuing reflections are primarily directed towards Ken, I cannot help but feel you believe that a much broader audience will also derive some benefits from those contributions as well...

I found the following from the Council of Ephesus (431)—something I have missed in my numerous readings—to be informative:

"...we do not doubt that in each and every good movement of the human will, His help is more powerful. That God thus operates in the hearts of men and in the free will itself, so that a holy thought, a pious plan, and every motion of good will is from God..."

IMO, the above sure seems to be more consistent with what we find in the Bible than Calvin's musings. The Bible is content to allow man's free will and God's sovereignty to exist side by side—each being operative in the redemption of fallen mankind—such that salvation is in a real sense synergistic.

Augustine (and Aquinas), even when in his later he theology placed a good deal of emphasis on election and the gift of perseverance, never denied man's free will and the sacramental nature of baptism and the Eucharist. I cannot help but think that Calvin (and other monergists) are 'guilty' of the following axiom that you provided:

"...error arises when a party overemphasizes a truth to the point that it eclipses another important truth..."

I would like to suggest that when approaching the Bible, and theology, one must recognize that there is a big difference between paradox and contradiction; the Bible seems to contain a number of paradoxes, and theology runs into problems when it seeks to eliminate those paradoxes.

Anyway, thanks much for your contributions; they prompt me to retain a healthy dose of balance in my continuing studies...


Grace and peace,

David

Ken said...

It is interesting that the Council of Orange, 529 AD, has been cited favorably by the monergists/Calvinists as a time before the false Catholic teachings that supposedly appeared later.

But canon 13 is about the restoration of free will: "Freedom of will, weakened in the first man cannot be repaired, except through the grace of baptism,'once it has been lost, it cannot be restored except by Him by whom it could be given. Thus Truth itself says: If the Son liberates, then you will be truly free.'"


The battle against Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism was a good battle, but not far enough, as baptismal regeneration is just not Biblical and wrong. Adding ex opere operato powers to it later in the fourth and fifth centuries, made it even worse.

I think the Council of Orange was incorrect in this, as they gave too much power to baptism. Baptism in water does not give any grace. If a person repents, and trusts in Christ to save them, they are justified; THEN they want to be baptized in water to follow the Lord in obedience to His command, and example, and the command of the apostles, as an outward sign of the inward reality of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Baptismal regeneration is one of the, if the not the first mistake of the early chuch, along with calling partaking in the Lord's supper "a sacrifice", using the language of Malachi 1:11. Those are probrably the first two earliest mistakes of the early church, along with exalting one of the presbyters out of the college of presbyter-overseers, to be a mono-episcopate. (Ignatius)

Ken said...

God gives grace by the reality of regeneration in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit causes regeneration, and then there is ability to repent and believe, almost simultaneously. Water baptism is the outward symbol and rite of that inward reality and identification with the body of Christ in a local church. - 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3, 1 Peter 3:21

Ken said...

The other discussion of the difference between
the necessity of grace
the sufficiency of grace
and
the efficency of grace

-that would take me a while to read all that and make a comment, but I hope to, Lord willing.

Rory said...

Hey Ken.

Baptism of the the Holy Ghost or water baptism? The point I would make about the Council of Orange, which indicates baptism only, without specifying water, is that it restores free will. Free will is the point. Once you admit free will, you have synergism. No? I don't see how Sproul can be claiming Orange as monergistic.

I don't expect you to back away from John Calvin and his monergism, but you need to back away from the Council of Orange. Right? It clearly affirms free will, would you not agree? I am thinking that you should probably back away from St. Augustine and the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD too?

Rory said...

Dave says:

>>I would like to suggest that when approaching the Bible, and theology, one must recognize that there is a big difference between paradox and contradiction; the Bible seems to contain a number of paradoxes, and theology runs into problems when it seeks to eliminate those paradoxes.<<

Isn't free will vs. grace a study in the folly of proclaiming contradiction? Paradoxical, sure. Well said, Dave. And of course, everybody's comments are welcome, and none more than the owner (is that the right expression) of the blogsite. Anyway, I am always conscious of those who may be watching without commenting too.

The principle we can draw from the monergistic heresy is maybe more important than the heresy itself. God seems to give us truths that at first glance seem difficult to reconcile. Only faith overcomes the first glance. The heretic rejects one of the truths, trusting not in revelation, but a faithless logic. Faithless logic ignores the omniscience and omnipotence of God who humbles the proud intellect.

Free will and grace. The thoughtful Catholic understands the intellectual dilemma. But both are revealed. God can resolve the matter. Shoot, even Augustine and Aquinas seem to resolve the "contradictions". But what if they didn't? There is still no necessity to exercise our brains when God has spoken. We trust.

Rory said...

Ken Temple write:

>>Baptismal regeneration is one of the, if the not the first mistake of the early chuch, along with calling partaking in the Lord's supper "a sacrifice", using the language of Malachi 1:11. Those are probrably the first two earliest mistakes of the early church, along with exalting one of the presbyters out of the college of presbyter-overseers, to be a mono-episcopate. (Ignatius)<<

Rory:

I agree that the evidence for those teachings, for those interpretations of Apostolic revelation, were present so early as you say, in the earliest part of the 2nd Century. The Apostle John had barely died and we see these things. What would be the difficulty in regarding these as norms rather than mistakes.

By regarding such ancient traditions as mistakes, you divorce yourself from the entire grand history of Christ's Church triumphing over pagan Rome. All you can say about the first three hundred years is that they were heretics. Where were the Reformed Baptists? Nobody was pointing out these "mistakes".

It seems like serious Protestants like yourself, desirous of historical continuity, are in a tough spot, if you will label the teachings and practices of the early Church as "mistakes". This morning I was reading in the Liturgical Year again. Yesterday was the Feast of St. Lawrence and they cite St. Augustine in a sermon applauding the intercession of St. Lawrence, the holy martyr, saying words about how St. Laurence always helps those who call on him. The Apostles Creed means this when it mentions are belief in "the communion of saints."

Sadly, the Protestants have placed themselves outside "the communion of saints". If you will never understand the practices of "gaining merits" or [prayers fior the dead, or prayers to the saints, while you deny that article of the Creed. It is in the communion of the saints with Christ, the Head of the Church, that His Mystical Body, its members have their dignity, and a share, however small in His victory over death and in glorifying the One God, His Father and ours. Pater Noster.

Rory

Rory said...

Unfortunately, I need to sometimes post when I don't have much time. Before work, During lunch. That last post had some misfires grammatically and I am sure otherwise according to some readers. But anyway. if anything needs clarified please ask.

In the last paragraph, it should have read "You will never...", instead of "If you will never"

Rory said...

Sproul and his followers can talk about pelagianism or semi-pelagianism, but they can't talk intelligibly because they do not understand divine grace as it works efficaciously in the human soul. This is why they are offended when the Catholic Church cannot, as they so blithely do, pass over the profound meaning attached to the words of the angel unto Mary, "Hail, full of grace." Such words are spoken of only one other human being in Scripture, and that Person was also God.

Taking these realities into consideration, we cannot but agree with the Mother of God against our Calvinist detractors, about Mary's own wonderment in regards to grace, "He that is Almighty hath done great things to me." Spoken after John the Baptist leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, at the voice of "the mother of my Lord", I guess we are supposed to think there wasn't much special about the woman who carried the Creator of the universe in her womb. They are forced by their obstinacy about Jesus' mother into demeaning the power of grace. They refuse to know what God does in the regenerate human soul. It is an utterly unhappy and wretched Gospel that deserves a slight following and sterile ministry.

Rory said...

Hi Dave,

I'll probably leave off here unless someone else wants to speak. It seems to me that the whole problem is that for practical purposes, Calvinism reduces the Gospel to little more than merely being forgiven. And that is a little odd, considering that no one has free will to have done anything worthy of forgiveness anyway. God makes a situation where we cannot merit because we lack free will. But on the other hand, we can sin without free will?

The stupendous implications of the truths of the Gospel do not jump off of the pages of Scripture. But they are there for those, like the Mother of God, who was the example par excellence, of the one who "hears the word of God and does it." More blessed was she for that than because she nursed the Baby Jesus.

"I ascend to my Father and your Father." God is our Father. What does this mean? We are partakers of the divine nature. But what can this mean?

Does it not mean that we have access by grace to what the Second Person of the Trinity is by nature? And someone dares to chide those who by faith begin to realize the sublime realities that have happened to those into whose hearts the Holy Ghost inspires the words, "Abba, Father"?

Jesus entire life may be summarized by the word obedience. His very meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him. His desire was to be the first among many brethren. What can this mean? That we can't obey? That we can't love God? That we can't please God as did the "First born among many brethren"? We are not pelagian or semi-pelagian. But to believing that the realities of divine grace in the soul allow us, and indeed obligate us, to perform MERITORIOUS acts advancing the kingdom of God in earth and heaven, there is no doubt. I am guilty of failing to act as I should, but God helping me I will not deny the most amazing story imaginable, the Good News that we have "power to become the sons of God", as the Galatians deined with their legalism, and as the Calvinists deny with their philosophically tainted view of man in the world.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Yesterday, you wrote:

==I'll probably leave off here unless someone else wants to speak.==

Understood...I am a bit surprised that Ken has not continued with the discussion; I would have liked to have seen what his take on these matters would have been.

Anyway, thanks much for taking the to participate in this thread. Your contributions should give all who take the time to read them some impetus to seriously reflect on the massive body of dogma that the historic Catholic Church has given to world.


God bless,

David