"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aquinas on Instant and Progressive Justification


"St. Thomas Aquinas"
Joos van Gent (1475)

In my previous post, I referred to two different senses of the word 'sanctification', one referring to an instantaneous sanctification, and the other referring to a progressive sanctification. Why is this distinction important? Because one of the most common Protestant objections to Catholicism (and hindrances to Protestant/Catholic reconciliation) is the claim made by some Protestants that the Catholic Church makes justification depend upon sanctification, so that the believer is progressively justified as he is progressively sanctified. Hence, a Protestant professor of theology like R. Scott Clark can write:

"In the Roman view, sanctification is justification. You are as justified as you are sanctified. Sanctification is progressive and therefore justification is progressive. Ordinarily no one leaves this life justified."

That characterization oversimplifies the Catholic position, precisely because it fails to distinguish between the two types of sanctification. More precisely, it fails to recognize the sense in which the Catholic Church teaches that we are instantly justified (and instantly sanctified) by faith, in baptism, the "sacrament of faith". (Council of Trent VI.7)

To understand the basis for the difference between these two types of sanctification (i.e. instant and progressive), consider St. Thomas Aquinas's answer in Summa Theologica I-II Q.113 a.1 to the question: "Whether the justification of the ungodly is the remission of sins?" (His words are in green font.) He writes:

Justification taken passively implies a movement towards justice, as heating implies a movement towards heat. But since justice, by its nature, implies a certain rectitude of order, it may be taken in two ways: first, inasmuch as it implies a right order in man's act, and thus justice is placed amongst the virtues--either as particular justice, which directs a man's acts by regulating them in relation to his fellowman--or as legal justice, which directs a man's acts by regulating them in their relation to the common good of society, as appears from Ethic. v, 1.

Secondly, justice is so-called inasmuch as it implies a certain rectitude of order in the interior disposition of a man, in so far as what is highest in man is subject to God, and the inferior powers of the soul are subject to the superior, i.e. to the reason; and this disposition the Philosopher calls "justice metaphorically speaking" (Ethic. v, 11). Now this justice may be in man in two ways: first, by simple generation, which is from privation to form; and thus justification may belong even to such as are not in sin, when they receive this justice from God, as Adam is said to have received original justice. Secondly, this justice may be brought about in man by a movement from one contrary to the other, and thus justification implies a transmutation from the state of injustice to the aforesaid state of justice. And it is thus we are now speaking of the justification of the ungodly, according to the Apostle (Romans 4:5): "But to him that worketh not, yet believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly," etc. And because movement is named after its term "whereto" rather than from its term "whence," the transmutation whereby anyone is changed by the remission of sins from the state of ungodliness to the state of justice, borrows its name from its term "whereto," and is called "justification of the ungodly."


Aquinas first says that justification implies a movement toward justice. Then he says that justice implies, by its very nature, a certain rectitude (i.e. rightness) of order. But he notes that rectitude of order can be present in man in two ways.

In one way, justice implies rectitude of order in human actions. And this is justice in the sense of virtue, one of the four cardinal virtues. That is because virtues are habits that exist in the powers of the human soul. (ST I-II Q.50 a.2) And since virtues are rightly ordered habits, it follows that the actions of a man who has the virtue of justice also have rectitude of order. Justice, as a virtue, is rectitude of order in the human will. (ST I-II Q.56 a.6, II-II Q.58 a.4) A man who has the virtue of justice acts justly in relation to his fellowman, considered individually, and in relation to his society, considered with respect to the common good.

The other way that rectitude of order can be present is internally, namely, in the hierarchical relation of the powers of the soul to each other. This is the mode of justice Plato discusses in Book IV of his Republic (427d-444e), and Aristotle discusses in Book V.11 of his Nicomachean Ethics (1138b6-1138b9). According to Aquinas, when the highest power of the soul (i.e. reason) is subject to God, and the inferior powers of the soul are subject to reason, and the body is subject to the soul, then there is rectitude of order (i.e. justice) in man. Adam and Eve had this internal justice as a gift of grace, before they fell. (See here.) They lost this justification instantly, at the very moment that they sinned. Internal justice is lost through mortal sin because mortal sin destroys internal justice by expelling grace and charity. And without grace and charity, there can be no rectitude of order between God and the highest power of our soul. Just as this internal justice was lost instantly, so, according to Aquinas, this internal justice is reacquired instantly by grace on account of Christ, in the justification of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 4:5. Aquinas writes,

"The justice which faith works in us, is that whereby the ungodly is justified, that which in itself consists in the due coordination of the parts of the soul" [iustitia quae fit per fidem in nobis, est per quam iustificatur impius, quae quidem in ipsa debita ordinatione partium animae consistit].(ST II-II Q.58 a.2 ad.1)

By grace our will is turned back to God and away from sin, and so rectitude of order is restored between the highest power of our soul and God. (ST I-II Q.113 a.8) But the rectitude of order between reason and the inferior powers of the soul is not restored instantly by grace. This remaining disorder is called concupiscence, and it remains after our baptism, for the sake of our participation in overcoming it,
for our humility and so to remind us that our true home lies in the life to come. (ST III Q.69 a.3) Likewise, the rectitude of order between the soul and the body is not restored instantly by grace. This is why our bodies are subject to sickness, and why bodily death remains. (For the sake of simplicity I am not here addressing the topic of infused moral virtues -- cf. ST I-II Q.63 a.3.)

Since justice can be in us in these two ways, therefore justification can be both instant and progressive, without any contradiction.

Instant justification is the restoration of rectitude of order between the highest power of our soul and God, by the infusion of grace, and thus by the gifts of faith, hope, and charity in which our will turns to God in love, and turns away from loving other things more than God. It is a fundamental reorientation of the will, and that is why it cannot be gradual, for either our will is oriented to God in love, or not. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters." (St. Matthew 6:24) And "He who is not with me is against me". (St. Matthew 12:30) This fundamental orientation of the will at the moment of death determines whether a person spends eternity with God as friend, or eternally separated from God.

Progressive justification, by contrast, is the gradual restoration of rectitude of order between reason and the lower powers of the soul (i.e. the gradual reduction of concupiscence), and the gradual increase of rectitude of order in the habit of the will with respect to action, namely, giving to God and man what each is due, out of love for God as Father, through an increase in sanctifying grace (i.e. an increase in our participation in the divine life of the Trinity). This is how we gradually grow in justice, and thus gradually grow in sanctification. This can be seen in Chapter X of Session VI of the Council of Trent, which reads:

Having, therefore, been thus justified and made the friends and domestics of God, [Eph 2:19] advancing from virtue to virtue, [Ps. 83:7 / 84:7] they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day, [2 Cor. 4:16] that is, mortifying the members [Col. 3:5] of their flesh, and presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, [Rom. 6:13, 19] they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith cooperating with good works, increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ and are further justified, as it is written: He that is just, let him be justified still; [Apoc. 22:11] and, Be not afraid to be justified even to death;[Ecclus. 18:22] and again, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only? [James 2:24] This increase of justice holy Church asks for when she prays: "Give unto us, O Lord, an increase of faith, hope and charity." [Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost]

When the Council of Trent refers to our "having been justified", it is referring to the instant justification by which through grace we are made friends with God, by the reorientation of our will toward God in charity. When the Council of Trent then says that we "increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ", it is referring both to the progressive increase in the virtue of justice by the doing of virtuous acts (made possible by grace), and to the progressive mortification of the members of our flesh (i.e. the subjugation of our lower passions to reason) through our putting to death the "deeds of the body" by the Spirit (Rom 8:18). Notice also that it is in this way that the Council of Trent understands James 2:24. The justification that takes place through our works is not the instant justification that takes place in baptism by which we are made friends with God, but is rather the increase in justification that takes place as we grow in the virtue of justice and in the continual subjugation of concupiscence, and in the growing perfection of our love for God.

This explains, I hope, why it is misleading to claim that the Catholic Church makes sanctification depend on justification, without distinguishing between these two different ways in which through Christ we are justified. To have rectitude of order in all these ways is to be pure, for any impurity is an absence of rectitude of order. In this way, justification is sanctification, for sanctification is the purity necessary for us to see God. (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14) So these two ways in which we are justified are the two ways in which we are sanctified. Moreover, this also shows, I think, why philosophical anthropology is crucial for understanding soteriology. We cannot understand salvation until we understand the sickness from which we are saved. And we cannot understand this sickness until we understand the philosophical 'structure' of the human person.

Heavenly Father, may Protestants and Catholics come to a shared understanding of justification, that we may be reconciled in full communion, as is the continual prayer of your Son, our Lord Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

38 comments:

Kevin Davis said...

I don't really have a problem with your anthropology here. I don't think Protestants in general would have a problem with an idea of "progressive justification" insofar as our justification does involve a new principle (Holy Spirit) for life, against sin/disorder.

However, as I've noted before, I think your account misses the main point in the Protestant critique. In the Catholic scheme, justification depends upon sanctification insofar as our actions, our willing, has the capacity to negate the justification freely given. According to the Catholic account, we are justified, yes, and charity is poured in our hearts -- so far so good -- but we can act against charity, we can will to sin wherein God removes our justified status. Whether it is adultery or missing Sunday mass or a number of other matters, the Catholic Church has been clear that salvation, at this level, is indeed in our hands, though powered (capacitated) by grace.

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

It is not [for Catholics] that "God removes our justified status". That would be to think of justification in a nominalistic way. When Adam and Eve sinned, God did not say, "time to remove their grace, and their justified status". No, in the very act of turning against God, they *themselves* destroyed the rectitude of order that existed between them and God. If Adam and Eve, through their free will, could destroy the rectitude of order that existed between them and God, then a fortiori so can we who retain concupiscence. Otherwise, if we could not lose our justification, it would follow that no one after baptism could commit a mortal sin. But if Adam and Eve in a state of grace could commit a mortal sin and thereby lose their justification, then so can we.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Kevin Davis said...

Of course I wasn't thinking of "status" as forensic, but a real ontological situation wherein we are "right" with God, with all the inheritances of His Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. As you say, this can change because of what we do, thus our justification depends upon our co-operation in sanctification.

As for Adam and Eve, no Protestant theologian (that I am aware) would accept a symmetry between the Edenic situation and our own. The "depravity" of fallen humans is not a category of original man. This is Protestant Dogmatics 101.

Nick said...

The key here is that the formal cause of justification is the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. How can a Christian NOT be sanctified at that moment?
Yet, from there, we are called to grow in holiness, increasing our capacity to love, and thus there is no contradiction in the Catholic view.

David Waltz said...

Hello Kevin,

You wrote:

>> According to the Catholic account, we are justified, yes, and charity is poured in our hearts -- so far so good -- but we can act against charity, we can will to sin wherein God removes our justified status>>

Me: Does not the Arminian and Lutheran also adhere to the notion that God can remove “our justified status” if one becomes an unrepentant sinner?


Grace and peace,

David

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

It seems to me that there are only two ways to think that justification is something we cannot lose: (1) make it forensic, so that it is not based in any way on our will, OR (2) allow it to be based on our will but make the Holy Spirit ensure that our will cannot turn away from God.

The problem with the first position is that it would treat God-haters as friends of God, and is thus false, for those who hate God cannot (as such) be friends of God. The problem with the second position is that either grace destroys nature, by inhibiting free will, or it has no way of distinguishing the state of the will in this present life from its state in the life to come in the beatific vision (where it, as with the angels, has been confirmed in charity and can never turn away). And if there is no difference between the will after baptism, and the will in the beatific vision, then the problem of temporal nihilism arises: there is no reason for us to be here.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

heidelblog said...

FWIW, I have, in print, explained the two-stage Roman doctrine of justification. It's true that I don't always mention everything in the give and take of discussion or in short-hand internet discussions but I am aware of the distinction.

R. Scott Clark
Westminster Seminary California

Strider said...

Kevin's first comment touches on a key conflict between Catholicism and the Reformed, but not only between Catholicism and the Reformed but between everybody else and the Reformed. Is it possible for the baptized believer to lose his justification? Who before the Reformed ever believed that it was not possible? Even Luther did. I commend two articles by Philip Cary:

Why Luther is Not Quite Protestant

Augustine on Justification"

Strider said...

Given the ecumenical intent of this discussion, I would like to suggest that the way forward lies in recognizing the deepest evangelical and theological concerns of each party. Once these are recognized, we can then ask how the opposing side attempts to address these concerns within their own conceptuality.

For example, I am convinced that the deepest Reformation concern is the unconditionality of God's love and forgiveness. What precisely is God's attitude toward us? Does his attitude toward us change, really and objectively, when we sin or fail to meet his standards of justice? Clearly this was the big question mark in Luther's mind in the 16th century.

How might a Catholic address this concern? I bring to your attention the writings of the Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, which I have summarized in this article: "Finding the God Who is Love."

What does it mean to say that God forgives us? It does not mean, insists Fr McCabe, that God moves from an attitude of vengeance to an attitude of mercy. That is an anthropomorphic and figurative way of thinking. When God forgives us, say McCabe, he does not change his mind about us; he changes our minds about him!

McCabe's reflections on divine forgiveness might prove a fruitful source for ecumenical discussion.

David Waltz said...

Hello Strider,

You wrote:

>>Kevin's first comment touches on a key conflict between Catholicism and the Reformed, but not only between Catholicism and the Reformed but between everybody else and the Reformed.>>

Me: Precisely, the only exception I am aware being the ‘1-point’ (embracing only the ‘P’ of ‘TULIP’) independent Baptists.


Grace and peace,

David

Kevin Davis said...

David and Strider,

Yes, you are right to note that I am primarily thinking of the Reformed position (which is also the dominant Free Church position) on perseverance of the saints. Some classical Arminians hold to it as well. Most Lutherans, however, do believe in the "removal of justification," but this is given in strictly defined limits of apostasy. As such, the loss of salvation is not vis-a-vis the moral law, but, instead, it is vis-a-vis faith in Christ. This, of course, is consistent with the Lutheran understanding of sola fide. Methodists, by and large, agree with the Lutherans, but many Methodists (especially in the Holiness tradition) do agree that mortal sins are possible, not just a deliberate rejection of Christ's salvation. Thus, many Reformational Protestants question the "Protestant" credentials of the Methodist and Holiness tradition.

Bryan,

Forensic justification includes the giving of the Holy Spirit in the renewal of our hearts, turning us from God-haters to God-lovers. [As an ex-Calvinist, you know this.] As such, the love we experience after our conversion are intimations of the love we will have perfected in heaven. For now, we must struggle with a fallen creation and fallen bodies. The new creation, with a resurrected bodily form, will include a removal of all objects of desire opposed to God and his glorified creation.

Taylor Marshall said...

Bryan,

Awesome post and nice Trent reference. Keep up the great work!

Strider said...

"Forensic justification includes the giving of the Holy Spirit in the renewal of our hearts, turning us from God-haters to God-lovers."

Kevin, I'd like to suggest that once the Reformed unite regeneration and forensic justification in this way then the difference between the Reformed and Catholic narrows considerably. Quite frankly (putting aside questions like mortal sin, perseverance and assurance), it is hard for me to see an important, church-dividing difference between the position you have described and the position articulated by, say, John Henry Newman.

However, I'm not sure if all Reformed would agree with you that forensic justification *includes* regeneration and the bestowal of the Spirit.

Nick said...

Strider is correct.
Forensic Justification is absolutely distinct from the giving of the Holy Spirit. It is not the formal cause of justification as it is with Catholicism and Scripture (see Gal 3).

Forensic Justification is a declaration only based on the ground is an imputed alien righteousness, thus no room for any infused component (which is expressly condemned in major Lutheran and Reformed Confessions).

Kevin Davis said...

However, I'm not sure if all Reformed would agree with you that forensic justification *includes* regeneration and the bestowal of the Spirit.

They would agree with me. This is basic Reformed theology. Nick is correct to note that justification is a distinct category from regeneration, but the Reformed standards are clear that they both belong together with the elect. The point is that the regeneration or sanctification cannot negate the justification, such as not sufficiently co-operating with the Holy Spirit.

I'm not arguing for anything novel here. You can pick-up pretty much any Reformed dogmatics (Shedd, Hodge, Bavinck, etc.) and you'll find that justification always entails union with Christ and the sealing of the Holy Spirit. It is a caricature of the Reformation to suppose that sola fide is a mere rational assent of the intellect, apart from the moral affections.

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

I agree with you that the Reformed position makes regeneration and the bestowal of the Spirit necessarily (and simultaneously) accompany forensic justification. But, I also agree with Strider that it is hard to see "an important, church-dividing difference" between that and the Catholic position. Here's why. If at the very same moment that I am forensically declared justified, I am really and truly united with Christ such that I am made alive (regenerated) with His Life which is, by that true union, also my own, then I must at that moment also internally have the righteousness of Christ. And so the forensic declaration does not need to be a 'legal fiction' wherein I am declared righteous while (at that moment) being actually, internally unrighteous. The forensic declaration can be veridical; I can be at that moment declared righteous because, in fact, I am internally truly righteous, because I have received the righteousness of Christ within me. And if that's the Reformed position, then, it is hard to see a "church-dividing difference". To maintain a "church-dividing difference", the Reformed person would have to say that he is not at that moment united to Christ such that the righteousness of Christ is within Him.

That's why I said what I said about declaring "God-haters" righteous. If the person is no longer a God-hater, but a God-lover, then the declaration is veridical, and there's no "church-dividing difference". But if there is a church-dividing difference, then the forensic declaration is a 'legal fiction', i.e. only external, meaning that the person is (at that moment) not a God-lover, but a God-hater, even if love for God necessarily follows.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Strider said...

As one who has studied and ruminated upon this subject for over three decades, I have become more and more convinced that the disagreement between the Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches does not lie with justification, not really. Yes, the two traditions use different formulations to express their respective understandings of the matter, and yes, these formulations may, at first glance, appear to be mutually exclusive. Thus, for example, Trent declares that the formal cause of our justification is the gift of inherent righteousness, while the Reformed deny this and claim that the formal cause of our justification is the external righteousness of Christ imputed to us. This would seem to be a church-dividing difference, as Bryan notes. BUT ... in neither tradition do thoughtful theologians allow the question to remain at that level. As Kevin rightly asserts, many good Reformed theologians find various ways to tie together justification, regeneration, and union with Christ. This is most apparent in Calvin himself, as well as a the modern Reformed theologian, T. F. Torrance, with whose writings I am well acquainted (or at least used to be until my mind started to become mush). Catholic theologians, on the other hand, particularly in the modern period, have acknowledged the inadequacy of the Tridentine definition and have sought to expand it by speaking of the Holy Spirit as the quasi-formal cause of our justification. When all of these qualifications are taken into account, I believe that we must speak of a real convergence between the two traditions on the question of justification.

Bryan writes:

If at the very same moment that I am forensically declared justified, I am really and truly united with Christ such that I am made alive (regenerated) with His Life which is, by that true union, also my own, then I must at that moment also internally have the righteousness of Christ. And so the forensic declaration does not need to be a 'legal fiction' wherein I am declared righteous while (at that moment) being actually, internally unrighteous. The forensic declaration can be veridical; I can be at that moment declared righteous because, in fact, I am internally truly righteous, because I have received the righteousness of Christ within me. And if that's the Reformed position, then, it is hard to see a "church-dividing difference".

I propose that we need to amplify the above by insisting that God's justifying word not only speaks of that which is true but in fact creates that of which it speaks. We are made righteous through God's justifying word. Thus Cardinal Newman:

Justification is a word of state and solemnity. Divine Mercy might have renewed us and kept it secret; this would have been an infinite and most unmerited grace, but He has done more. He justifies us; He not only makes, He declares, acknowledges, accepts us as holy. He recognises us as His own, and publicly repeals the sentence of wrath and the penal statutes which lie against us…. Before man has done anything as specimen, or paid anything as instalment, except faith, nor even faith in the case of infants, he has the whole treasures of redemption put to his credit, as if he were and had done infinitely more than he ever can be or do. He is “declared” after the pattern of his Saviour, to be the adopted “Son of God with power, by a” spiritual “resurrection.” His tears are wiped away; his fears, misgivings, remorse, shame, are changed for “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost;” he is clad in white, and has his crown given him. Thus justification is at first what renewal could but be at last; and, therefore, is by no means a mere result or consequence of renewal, but a real, though not a separate act of God’s mercy. It is a great and august deed in the sight of heaven and hell; it is not done in a corner, but by Him who would show the world “what should be done unto those whom the King delighteth to honour.” It is a pronouncing righteous while it proceeds to make righteous. As Almighty God in the beginning created the world solemnly and in form, speaking the word not to exclude, but to proclaim the deed,—as in the days of His flesh He made use of the creature and changed its properties not without a command; so does He new-create the soul by the breath of His mouth, by the sacrament of his Voice. The declaration of our righteousness, while it contains pardon for the past, promises holiness for the future. (Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, pp. 73-74)

Can the Reformed agree with this. I think so. Check out Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance.

If we wish to identify a substantive, and perhaps church-dividing, disagreement that is related to the question of justification, then I propose the issue of baptismal regeneration. For a good while now I have speculated that the reason Lutherans and Catholics have been able to reach consensus on justification, but Reformed and Catholics have not, is because Lutherans and Catholics share a common understanding on baptismal regeneration.

Kevin Davis said...

There is no mortal sin, no penitential scheme in the Reformed position, because salvation ever remains wholly gift, which we cannot negate. That alone is enough to make it a church-dividing issue. Otherwise, I agree that there are a lot of points of contact, as I have noted on my blog, e.g., this post on Thomas Watson.

Strider said...

There is no mortal sin, no penitential scheme in the Reformed position, because salvation ever remains wholly gift, which we cannot negate.

Yes, that is a critical difference between the Reformed position and the catholic (not just Roman) tradition. There are ways for Catholics to construe mortal sin as being something deeper than violation of the moral law, but Catholics are dogmatically committed to the view that the even the justified can irrevocably separate themselves from the love of God. You may find of interest my own reflections on the subject.

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

If salvation remains wholly gift (such that man plays no role), then how do you respond to the "temporal nihilism" problem?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Nick said...

Strider,

Very good link, I'm only partly finished reading but I know what you're saying. I realized a very similar thing as I was looking Calvinism. The fact is, for the Reformed, the elect have to presume they are elect, and such a realization obliterates so called "assurance."

As for there being no concept of mortal sin, the Bible never gives such an impression, quite the contrary: Gal 5:19-21; 6:7-9.

p.s. did you used to be on Catholic Answers Forums?

Strider said...

p.s. did you used to be on Catholic Answers Forums?

No, I'm far too eccentric to be worthy of Catholic Answers. ;)

Kevin Davis said...

Strider,

Thanks for the link. I've read it -- or most of it -- before, and I appreciate the clarity and honesty of it.

Bryan,

I suppose if "monocausalism" were a real category in Reformed thought then you might have something with the charge of temporal nihilism. But, instead, some of the finest literature ever written on our life in Christ, as stewards and heirs of the Kingdom, come from the pens of the Reformed. The point is not that we "have no part" in our salvation; the point is that the part we do have is in a new creation, not of our own making or unmaking. I don't see your point, Bryan, that the possibility to opt out of Life -- the possibility of going from children of God, playing in the light of His day, to slaves of Darkness and Nothingness -- somehow makes our lives more meaningful. You might as well argue that our existence in eternity will be boring and without drama.

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

If you don't like the term 'monocausalism', just replace it with monergism. (I don't wish to quibble about semantics.)

The point is that if human beings make no difference to their salvation, then once they are saved, there's no point for them to be here. They might as well commit suicide, so that they can enjoy the beatific vision. If that does not make sense to you, then let me put it this way. If a young man came to you and said, "I now have the infallible assurance that the WCF says I should have (WCF XVIII.2-3), and I'm a monergist, so I don't contribute to my salvation. So now I'm planning on committing suicide to be with God forever. Even if that is a sin, since I have infallible assurance, that sin is already paid for. I have no purpose being here, and I don't want to just sit around for the next sixty years waiting to die, and I have nothing to lose and everything to gain." What would you say to him?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Strider said...

As interesting as the temporal negation argument may be, I think it is accurate to say that most Reformed Christians, even and perhaps especially those who are utterly convinced of their election, do not experience their temporal lives of faith as meaningless. Akin to the temporal negation argument is the antinomian argument, i.e., that knowledge of one's election underwrites and encourages disobedience to the moral law. Again, as interesting as the argument may be, it does not appear to be the case that Reformed Christians are any more disobedient than Catholics or any other Christian community. In both case we might wonder why the logic fails in real life.

The construal of divine monergism to which Kevin refers is a real problem, though. Catholic instinct, Western and Eastern, rejects it immediately, not because it denies the gratuity of salvation but because it knows, based both on its reading of the Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers and on personal experience, that the freedom of the believer includes the freedom to turn decisively against the divine gift. Catholic instinct therefore finds the classical Reformed reading of the Bible, at least on the points in question, implausible and false. It should be noted that with Barth part of the Reformed tradition reformulated its understanding of predestination along Christological lines. Many Catholic theologians read this reformulation with deep, though not uncritical, sympathy. For the past thousand years Western theologians have sought ways to put Augustine in his proper theological place and incorporate him into the wider catholic tradition.

Principium Unitatis said...

Strider,

most Reformed Christians, even and perhaps especially those who are utterly convinced of their election, do not experience their temporal lives of faith as meaningless.

Of course I agree. I'm pointing out a contradiction between that experience of the meaningfulness of our post-salvation temporal life, and a theology that entails post-salvation temporal meaninglessness. That contradiction ought to concern anyone who cares about truth and therefore wishes to eliminate contradictions from his set of beliefs.

So my (temporal nihilism) argument is intended to reveal the contradiction, and then show that the contradiction is a reductio ad absurdum of monergism.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Kevin Davis said...

I think we should just kill all of our babies so they go to heaven.

Ahh, the clarity of syllogistic thinking!

Back in the real world, Reformed Christians abstain from suicide because the victory of the new creation, especially in our own suffering, is too interesting and wonderful.

I think you need to put your energies elsewhere, Bryan, than trying to think of how to catch your opponents in a contradiction. The principles of life (beauty, grace, joy, etc.) stand or fall because of the person and work of Jesus Christ -- nothing else, especially not the criteria of formal deduction.

No, I'm not a fideist. Don't even get me started.

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

I'm not "trying to think of how to catch your opponents in a contradiction". I'm pointing out a contradiction between our experiential data and the implication of a theological position.

Here's the argument:

(1) All my sins (past, present, and future) were already forgiven.

(2) My sanctification will be accomplished immediately and painlessly at the moment of my death.

(3) Given the sufficiency of the work of Christ, nothing can make God any more or less pleased with me than He is right now.

(4) Heaven is unimaginably better than here.

(5) At death I instantly enter heaven.

Ergo....

(6) Suicide is better than waiting around to die.

That's the implication of the theological position contained in the premises of the argument.

That conclusion, however, is contrary to our experience of the importance and meaningfulness of our post-baptismal actions here with respect to our eternal state. So at least one of the five premises of the argument must be false.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Maggie said...

This is an awesome post! Well written, well-researched, well-regulated (ie, good comments & responses).

Keep it up!

Kevin Davis said...

(3) Given the sufficiency of the work of Christ, nothing can make God any more or less pleased with me than He is right now.

No. Nothing can undermine his decision to elect and convert, but we can still grieve the Holy Spirit. One of the consequences of being sealed by the Holy Spirit is that He is our means for conviction in wrongdoing.

(4) Heaven is unimaginably better than here.

We experience, here and now, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the same love with which the persons of the Trinity love each other for eternity. This love is perfected in the consummation (heaven), but it is still being gloriously revealed in its present conquering of sin and death.

(5) At death I instantly enter heaven. Ergo. (6) Suicide is better than waiting around to die.

Yes, as Paul noted, it is better to be apart from the body and with Christ than to be in our present strife. But, it is Christ himself who gives this strife the profound meaning of His mission to reconcile the world to himself. This mission and the glory of God it entails, revealing the beauty of creation, is our purpose for life. Suicide is not an option for those who understand that God wants this for our lives and will provide all the means for our fulfillment. The struggle with mortal sin -- keeping ourselves good enough for God -- is a cheap substitute. It is as sinners that God loves us and died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

but we can still grieve the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit is grieved, then apparently [given Reformed theology], at the moment of death, the Holy Spirit is no longer grieved, because the person is instantly welcomed into heaven. There is not some post-death waiting period until the Holy Spirit 'gets over it' and is no longer grieved. The Holy Spirit apparently has an instant change of heart.

Second, why should the Holy Spirit be grieved at a person's doing what leads to his eternal happiness? If the person has no purpose here on earth, then it seems as though the Holy Spirit would be grieved at that, and would want the person to come home to heaven immediately.

Third, if Christ's perfect work eternally appeased the Father on our behalf, why didn't it also eternally appease the Spirit? Do we need two Passions, one for each of the other divine Persons, or does the Holy Spirit have a higher standard than does the Father?

Fourth, if grieving the Holy Spirit is a sin, then it is already paid for. But if it is not a sin, then why is it wrong to do?

Fifth, Jerry Bridges writes, "You are loved and accepted by God through the merits of Jesus. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less." (Transforming Grace, p. 73) Since we sin every day in "thought, word and deed", and thus already grieve the Holy Spirit daily, since "every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually", it seems that the Holy Spirit would gladly welcome our hastening our entrance into heaven, so that we stop daily grieving Him in thought, word and deed.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Kevin Davis said...

I'm surprised that you decided to just critique the "grieve the Holy Spirit" part of my comment, when the substance of your claim on suicide was addressed elsewhere.

Does the H.S. "get over" my wickedness when I get to heaven? He "got over it" when the Son died on the Cross. The Cross reveals God's hatred for sin, and His resolve to overcome this sin, in order to reconcile us.

Second, why should the Holy Spirit be grieved at a person's doing what leads to his eternal happiness?

It is our repentance, not our sin, that leads to eternal happiness.

If the person has no purpose here on earth,...

I don't think I need to address this a third time.

Third, if Christ's perfect work eternally appeased the Father on our behalf, why didn't it also eternally appease the Spirit? Do we need two Passions, one for each of the other divine Persons, or does the Holy Spirit have a higher standard than does the Father?

This is truly bizarre. When I dialogue with other Christians, I assume they are Trinitarian, unless they confess to the contrary. So, to grieve the Holy Spirit is to grieve God. The Son is God. God desires that we not sin. God does not like sin. God forgives and reconciles those who repent and confess Christ. This doesn't mean that he is "okay" with our sin; it does mean that this sin is, nonetheless, not a barrier to his forgiveness (once again, because of the work of Christ). For someone supposedly schooled in Reformed thought, I am surprised that you offered this as a substantive critique.

Fourth, if grieving the Holy Spirit is a sin, then it is already paid for. But if it is not a sin, then why is it wrong to do?

Just because a sin is "forgiven" doesn't make it "just," "righteous," or "holy." The sin is still condemned (and brings darkness and disorder into our lives), even as we are not (eternally) condemned. Once again, this is elementary Protestant theology, and it is hard for me to believe that you do not know how I am going to respond.

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

Does the H.S. "get over" my wickedness when I get to heaven? He "got over it" when the Son died on the Cross.

Then "grieving the HS" does not falsify premise (3).

Monergism entails that there is no purpose for our being here, once we are saved, since whatever is done here through a long drawn-out process of suffering, could also be done instantly by God (since its all done by God anyway).

The only two ways to refute my five premise argument are to show that (at least) one of the premises is false, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises (i.e. show how even if the premises were all true, the conclusion could still be false).

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Brett said...

Hey All,

I have just been watching from the backgroung. My biggest question is not in the soveriegnty of God, but of man's responsibility.

I know as a protestant we always say to someone who came to faith and abandoned it later in life, that they never truly had faith.

But that just begs the question in my mind, what component of faith were they missing? Did God not justify and accept this person when they came forward and prayed to accept Christ? Was the wrong cognitive ascent given? If so, then how do I know God justified me? Will they still be able to enter heaven because the gift God gave cannot taken back?

Kevin Davis said...

You are something else, Bryan.

I understand why most of your Protestant interlocutors have come and gone. Your replies persist in unreflective mis-characterization and a commitment to syllogistic form with little attention to matter and its unitary relation to reality. It is almost the textbook definition of degenerate scholasticism in the 19th century manual tradition.

Principium Unitatis said...

Brett,

It is necessary, given a theology in which faith can never be lost, to explain every apparent loss of faith as actually the loss of a pseudo-faith. That notion is completely unfalsifiable, because genuine faith and pseudo faith are distinguished (by us) only by whether they are retained until death. If these people who are said to have pseudo-faith actually had genuine faith and were actually losing genuine faith, the situation would look *exactly* the same.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium Unitatis said...

Kevin,

Your replies persist in unreflective mis-characterization

If I have a mischaracterized your position, then I apologize; I have not done so intentionally. Please point out where I have mischaracterized your position.

and a commitment to syllogistic form

Most of your comments above make use of syllogisms, Kevin. So unless you yourself are prepared to stop using syllogisms, how can you expect me to stop using syllogisms?

If you don't like my five-premise argument, please show which premise is false, or how the conclusion does not follow from the premises. If you can't refute it, then don't blame me; either figure out how to refute it or accept the conclusion (which is, by reductio ad absurdum, that at least one of the premises must be false).

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Kevin Davis said...

Bryan,

You will have to look back at your own replies. You've continued to put forth your "meaninglessness" claims, without regard to my own statements thereto. You believe a syllogism "locks-up" an argument because the conclusion follows from the form, while my replies have been to critique the content (=matter) in the form. We've been over this before in the Dodos exchange a little while back, and I simply do not have time to do another tit-for-tat.

I wish you well on your intellectual and spiritual journey, but, as of now, I do not see any fruit from our exchanges -- so I will desist.