Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Justification, historical theology, and apostasy

Earlier today, in the comments section of the “Did Thomas Aquinas embrace Sola Scriptura?” thread, Matt posted some cogent thoughts on the Robert Reymond article that I had linked to earlier. After typing up a brief response, I decided to pull Reymond’s, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, off of the shelf, and reread his section on justification (pages 739-756), for I had remembered that he had written some convoluted thoughts on the pre-Reformation theologians who did not embrace his understanding of justification by faith alone. The following is what he actually penned:

Finally, the Protestant doctrine calls into question the salvation of millions of Christians throughout history. This argument, made in our time even by some Protestants, against a rigid application of Protestantism’s doctrine of justification by faith alone contends that if God justifies only those who self-consciously renounce all reliance upon any and all works of righteousness which they have done or will ever do and trust in Christ’s vicarious cross work alone, then one much conclude that the vast majority of professing Christians throughout history were not and are not saved. This vast group would include, we are informed, such church fathers as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas who as sacerdotalists believed in baptismal regeneration and, because they confused justification and sanctification, believed also in the necessity of deeds of penance for salvation. Against this Protestant rigidity it is urged that just as God predestinates by grace alone Arminians who have a faulty understanding of the of the doctrine of election, so too He justifies by faith alone Roman Catholics, among others, whose understanding of justification differs (that is, it does not affirm justification by “faith alone”) from classic Protestantism’s doctrine of justification.

This argument, however, is aimed not so much against Protestantism’s “rigidity” as it is against Paul’s insistence (1) that there is only one gospel—justification by faith alone in Christ’s work alone
…(Pages 753, 754.)

In footnote #63 he references J. L. Neve’s, A History of Christian Thought, and comments that he:

carefully documents in the Apostolic Fathers how quickly after the age of Paul—doubtless due to pagan and Jewish influences without and the tug of the Pelagian heart within—the emphasis of their preaching and writings fell more and more upon works and their merit and moralism. It is one of the saddest facts of church history that from the post-apostolic age onward the church fell more and more into serious soteriological error, with grace and faith given way to legalism and the doing of good works as the pronounced way of salvation. Only upon rare occasion, and not even fully in Augustine, was the voice of Paul clearly heard again before the sixteenth-century Reformation [note: he cites NO examples]. (Page 754.)

Reymond then concludes:

What I mean by this in the present context is that the clear teaching of the Word of God should be upheld and we should not look for reasons to avoid it, even if the alternative would force us to conclude that these fathers—and all others like them—were not saved. (Page 754.)

Clearly, we have in Reymond yet another example of one who embraces ECCLESIAL DEISM. Reymond joins R.C. Sproul, James R. White, and so many other Protestant apologists, who essentially argue that virtually the entire Church became apostate after the close of the Apostolic period, and that “the true Gospel” was not recovered until the 16th century.

So much for the promise of our Lord that He would be with His Church, unto the end of the world.

Grace and peace,


P.S. For another excellent thread on justification and historical theology see Neal Judisch’s POST.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Did Thomas Aquinas embrace Sola Scriptura?

During last few days, I have been engaged in some pretty intense research for an upcoming thread that will interact with a substantial post recently penned by Bryan Cross, with the title: ECCLESIAL DEISM. (I highly suggest to all that they read this thread.) After reading through nearly 1,000 pages of material, I decided to take a break and ‘surf the web’ for a bit. A thread posted yesterday by the individual who goes under the name “TurretinFan” (hereafter, TF) with the title, AQUINAS ON SOLA SCRIPTURA caught my eye. TF opened his post with:

Some folks seem to imagine that a rejection of Sola Scriptura was the "established faith" prior to the Reformation. Those folks ought to read their Aquinas…
He then provides some very selective quotes from Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and surmises:

Was Aquinas' view of all things doctrinal the same as that of the Reformed churches? Of course not. As to Scripture, however, his views were quite close (if not identical). Scripture is the supreme authority. While Aquinas did not make councils, or the Roman bishop, or the consent of the fathers a second rule of faith, but rather stuck with Scripture, of which the creeds were "symbols" - extractions of important points.
TF is very confused on this issue; his confusion clearly stems from what Geisler and MacKenzie in their, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, identified as, “a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material.” The following is the full context:

A good bit of confusion exists between Catholics and Protestants on sola Scriptura due to a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material. Sola Scriptura in the material sense simply means that all the content of salvific revelation exists in Scripture. Many Catholics hold this in common with Protestants, including well-known theologians from John Henry Newman to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. French Catholic theologian Yves Congar states: “we can admit sola Scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation.” What Protestants affirm and Catholics reject is sola Scriptura in the formal sense that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it. (Norman Geisler and Ralph Mackenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, pp. 179, 180.)

TF misses the above distinctions, even though he wrote the following in his post:

Now, I will certainly concede that Aquinas mistakenly believed that a council of the universal church could not err, and that Aquinas accorded a primacy to the bishop of Rome that was excessive.
He sure did [i.e. that the universal Church could not err], and the following is what Aquinas wrote on this subject, in his Summa Theologica:

On the contrary, The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: for such was Our Lord's promise to His disciples (Jn. 16:13): "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth." Now the symbol is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective. (Summa Theologica, II.II, q. 1, a. 9: Christian Classics, 1981 edition, page 1171 – bold emphasis mine.)


Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. 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. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will. (Summa Theologica, II.II, q. 5, a. 3: Christian Classics, 1981 edition, page 1193 – bold emphasis mine.)

So, should one conclude with TF that Aquinas’, “views were quite close (if not identical)” to “the Reformed churches”? IMHO, Aquinas himself quite clearly answers the question.

Grace and peace,