|Dr. Michael Horton|
Recently I read Michael Horton's article "What Still Keeps Us Apart?". I genuinely like and respect Michael, and even as a Catholic I've recommended some of his books to others. Some of his writings were instrumental in helping me become Reformed. I remember meeting him in 1995, when he kindly signed my copy of one of his books: "To Bryan, Soli Deo Gloria! Mike Horton". I was a seminary student, and he was both gracious and friendly to me. I used to listen to him every week on his radio program, "The White Horse Inn". Michael has an engaging personality, and so much of what he describes of his religious upbringing in Evangelicalism, I too experienced. His book In the Face of God is a great antidote, in my opinion, to what I call "Montanistic gnosticism", which characterizes much of contemporary Evangelical / Pentecostal spirituality.
So I wish very much that Michael and I could be in full communion. So does Michael. He opens his article by describing his experience of visiting St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. While there, he finds himself wishing that this could be part of a shared history that includes both Protestants and Catholics. He writes, "It is the same feeling one has (and a surely justified sense of shared history) when reading Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas—or Bonaventure, Bernard, or Gregory the Great." Indeed. I know that feeling.
What then, according to Michael, still divides Catholics and Protestants? (His words are in blue font.) He writes:
"There is only one thing standing in the way: The gospel itself."
That gives me great hope, because it shows that if we can reach agreement about the gospel, then we can be reconciled in full communion. Michael is not the sort of Protestant who has forgotten that Protestantism came from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. He therefore understands that this division should be reconciled, and that the reconciliation should take place not by compromising the truth, but by mutually embracing the truth. Thus if Michael is right that a disagreement about the gospel is the only thing standing in the way of the reconciliation of Catholics and Protestants, then resolving this disagreement will result in the end of a painful schism that has continued for almost five hundred years.
What exactly is the point of disagreement between the Catholic teaching on the gospel, and Michael's conception of the gospel? What I argue here is that the disagreement is not fundamentally a matter of exegesis, because the texts can be interpreted by reasonable persons according to either paradigm, on account of what might be called underdetermination of hermeneutical disambiguation. Fundamentally, according to my argument, the disagreement involves a philosophical principle within Michael's hermeneutic that seeks to maximize divine glory by maximizing divine causality.
Michael quotes the Council of Trent's teaching that "they who by sin had been cut off from God may be disposed through his quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace." Then, explaining the Catholic position, he writes:
So, while a person is not "able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in his sight," he can and must cooperate with grace.
That is correct. If we cannot cooperate with grace, then we are left with the temporal nihilism I described in my previous post. In Catholic doctrine, grace does not destroy nature but restores and perfects it. Grace works faith into our hearts, so that we desire (implicitly or explicitly) baptism. In that way we cooperate with the Holy Spirit; we are not dragged to the baptismal font by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves us, not by coercion or violence to our will but by drawing us, so that we freely choose to be baptized. (I'm speaking of adult baptisms here.) In baptism we receive the "washing of regeneration" that St. Paul speaks of in Titus 3:5, and in that font we are justified, having our sins washed away, and receiving within us the righteousness of Christ. This understanding of baptism is what we find both in the New Testament and in the Church Fathers, as I showed here. Likewise, this same cooperation between the Spirit and the baptized believer who has committed sin leads him to the sacrament of penance.
Justification is defined [by Trent] as "not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just." The Protestants never denied the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, but this was identified in Scripture as sanctification, not as justification. Rome simply combined the two concepts into one: God justifies us through the process of our moving, by the power of God's Spirit at work in our lives, from being unjust to becoming just. This, however, rejects Paul's whole point in Romans 4:1-5, that justification comes only to those who (a) are wicked and (b) stop working for it. God justifies the wicked as wicked, the sinner as sinner. That is the good news of the gospel, and the scandal of the Cross!
Michael does not seem to consider the possibility that there are two senses of the term 'sanctification', one that is instantaneous and occurs at our baptism when we are marked as holy unto God, and instantly made holy by the work of the Holy Spirit through sanctifying grace, and another sense of the term 'sanctification' that is progressive over the course of a believer's life. If only the progressive sense of the term is noted, then obviously sanctification cannot be intrinsic to justification, because the justification that takes place at baptism is immediate. But if we acknowledge both senses of the term 'sanctification', then sanctification need not be separated from baptismal justification, because there is no reason to believe that our initial sanctification is not part of our justification.
St. Paul uses this instantaneous sense of the term 'sanctified' when he writes, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor 6:11) He is speaking there of the [instant] sanctification that takes place at the moment of washing (i.e. baptism), and by which we were [instantly] justified. Notice also there that sanctification precedes justification, suggesting that the justification is based on the [instant] sanctification. Similarly, in Romans 8:30 St. Paul writes, "and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." Where is sanctification? How could someone be glorified without being sanctified? Did St. Paul forget to include sanctification? No. St. Paul has included it within justification. These brief considerations show that the Catholic position is at least compatible with the Scriptural data.
Michael then goes on to list some of the canons of Trent that are relevant to this disagreement about the gospel. He writes:
The most relevant canons are the following:
Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone (supra, chapters 7-8), meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost (Rom. 5:5), and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.
Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy (supra, chapter 9), which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works (ibid., chapter 10), but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.
Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.
Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.
Then Michael summarizes what he thinks these canons mean with respect to the gospel.
In other words, men and women are accepted before God on the basis of their cooperation with God's grace over the course of their lives, rather than on the basis of Christ's finished work alone, received through faith alone, to the glory of God alone. There are indeed two fundamentally different answers to that recurring biblical question, "How can I be saved?" and, therefore, two fundamentally different gospels.
Notice that Michael does not demonstrate any of these canons to be false (at least he does not do so here). Rather, he points out (correctly) that these canons affirm that man must cooperate with God's grace. And this, he assumes, is enough to show them to be a false gospel. But if Michael wishes to be consistent in his belief that man cannot cooperate with God's grace, then he must be willing to embrace temporal nihilism. However, I do not wish to use only a negative argument against the monocausal position. I want to examine the positive intention that is motivating it. What is the underlying principle behind Michael's rejection of the notion that man may cooperate with grace? We can see it more clearly in his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace, where he writes:
"Why do we insist on having something to do with God's gift? Why can't we just say, "To God alone be glory" – and really mean it? Any reference at all to "our part" immediately tends to make for a salvation by works, not grace; hence, salvation would be a product of humans and God, rather than God alone." (p. 158)
Michael's concern is that the doctrine that man participates in his salvation takes some glory away from God, and gives it to man. This concern is based on three implicit philosophical assumptions:
(1) that God gets the most glory when God alone receives glory,
(2) that glory is the sort of thing that is lost by the giver when the giver gives it to others,
(3), that the degree of glory is determined entirely by the degree of causality exercised, such that the greater the causality exercised, the greater the glory.
But each of these three assumptions is not true. If (2) and (3) were true, then God would lose glory by creating creatures and giving them actual causal powers, since St. Paul tells us that creatures already have glory simply by the kind of nature that they have. (1 Cor 15:41) Moreover, if each of these three assumptions were true, then if God wished to maximize His glory, He would have either to avoid creating anything at all, or He would have to give only the illusion of causal powers to creatures, reserving all causality to Himself. This position is called occasionalism, and I have discussed it elsewhere.
Let's consider what St. Thomas Aquinas says about this. Regarding our genuine participation in God's providential governance of the world, Aquinas argues that it is more perfect for God to give causality to creatures than to make creatures but withhold causality from them. (Aquinas's words are in green font.)
"[T]here are certain intermediaries of God's providence; for He governs things inferior by superior, not on account of any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness; so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures [ut dignitatem causalitatis etiam creaturis communicet]." (ST I Q.22 a.3)
"If God governed alone, things would be deprived of the perfection of causality [subtraheretur perfectio causalis a rebus]." (ST I Q.103 a.6 ad.2)
"Some have understood God to work in every agent in such a way that no created power has any effect in things, but that God alone is the ultimate cause of everything wrought; for instance, that it is not fire that gives heat, but God in the fire, and so forth. But this is impossible. First, because the order of cause and effect would be taken away from created things: and this would imply lack of power in the Creator: for it is due to the power of the cause, that it bestows active power on its effect. Secondly, because the active powers which are seen to exist in things, would be bestowed on things to no purpose, if these wrought nothing through them. Indeed, all things created would seem, in a way, to be purposeless, if they lacked an operation proper to them; since the purpose of everything is its operation. ... We must therefore understand that God works in things in such a manner that things have their proper operation." (ST I Q.105 a.5)(my emphasis)
It takes a greater power to make a creature with actual causal powers than a virtual reality in which God is the only causal agent. Therefore, creating creatures that have actual causal powers gives God more glory than creating creatures that have no causal powers. Since *natural* causal activity on the part of creatures does not detract from God's glory but further reveals His great power and thus enhances his glory, so also the causal activity of rational creatures in cooperation with *grace* does not detract from God's glory, but likewise enhances it. Regarding our genuine participation in God's salvific work, Aquinas writes:
"In this way God is helped by us; inasmuch as we execute His orders, according to 1 Corinthians 3:9: "We are God's co-adjutors." Nor is this on account of any defect in the power of God, but because He employs intermediary causes, in order that the beauty of order may be preserved in the universe; and also that He may communicate to creatures the dignity of causality [ut etiam creaturis dignitatem causalitatis communicet]." (ST I Q.23 a.8 ad.2)(my emphasis)
Notice that Aquinas quotes St. Paul's statement that [the Apostles] are God's "co-adjutors". In the Greek this reads: θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί. "For we are God's co-workers." Of course St. Paul is speaking about the work of preaching the gospel and building up the Church through prayer and teaching and service. But, if man may be a co-worker with God in the salvation of others, then it would be ad hoc to claim that man may not in principle be a co-worker in his own salvation. St. Paul implies as much when he states explicitly to the Philippians that they should "work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling" [μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε]. (Phil 2:12) Aquinas continues:
"Now it is a greater perfection for a thing to be good in itself and also the cause of goodness in others, than only to be good in itself. Therefore God so governs things that He makes some of them to be causes of others in government; as a master, who not only imparts knowledge to his pupils, but gives also the faculty of teaching others." (ST I Q.103 a.6)
Likewise, this is why Aquinas makes a distinction between operating grace and co-operating grace. First he quotes St. Augustine:
"Augustine says (De Gratia et Lib. Arbit. xvii): "God by cooperating with us, perfects what He began by operating in us, since He who perfects by cooperation with such as are willing, begins by operating that they may will." [quia ipse ut velimus operatur incipiens, qui volentibus cooperatur perficiens] But the operations of God whereby He moves us to good pertain to grace. Therefore grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating." (ST I-II Q.111 a.2)
In his responseo of that article, Aquinas quotes the line from St. Augustine that directly follows the one previously quoted:
"He [God] operates that we may will; and when we will, He cooperates so that we may perfect [ourselves]. [ut autem velimus operatur, cum autem volumus, ut perficiamus nobis cooperatur].
Why is this not semi-Pelagianism? Semi-Pelagianism is the heresy that claims, among other things, that human free will, apart from grace, turns to God, who then provides grace. The Second Council of Orange (529 AD) condemned this notion. It is a de fide dogma of the Catholic Church that there is a "supernatural intervention of God in the faculties of the soul, which precedes the free act of the will". This supernatural intervention imparts prevenient (also called 'antecedent') grace. The Council of Trent declared, "In adults the beginning of justification must proceed from the antecedent grace of God acquired by Jesus Christ." (Session VI.5) Even our desire for salvation is a result of God's antecedent grace working in us, to open our eyes and ears, and soften our heart.
We cannot perfect ourselves (for heaven) by ourselves; to deny that is Pelagianism. Nor can we even begin to perfect ourselves (for heaven) apart from antecedent grace; to think otherwise is semi-Pelagianism. But between semi-Pelagianism on the one hand, and the notion that God does everything in our salvation without any cooperation from us on the other hand, is the Catholic position. Since it is more perfect that we participate in our becoming perfect than that we not participate in our becoming perfect, therefore God brings us to our perfection by cooperating with us, so that the perfection of our participating in our becoming perfect is preserved. For this reason, by saving us in a more perfect way (i.e. by preserving our participation in our perfection), God receives more glory than He would if He were to save us without any cooperation with us.
We can see this exemplified when St.Paul says to the Thessalonians, "For you are our glory and joy". (1 Thess 2:20) He is not saying [contra (2)] that he lost glory in giving himself pastorally to the Thessalonian believers. Nor is he saying [contra (3)] that insofar as the Thessalonian believers exercise their causal powers, they deprive him of glory. Rather, he is saying that insofar as they flourish and thrive as a church in fidelity to what he taught and planted, they bring glory to him. Their free exercise of their causality is a necessary condition for their being his glory. What does this imply? What St. Paul says to the Thessalonians in this verse is also what Christ says to the Church, "You are my glory and joy", for St. Paul tells us that woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7), and that this is a type of the relation between the Church as Bride and Christ as Groom. (Eph. 5:32) And therefore assumptions (2) and (3) are no less false as applied to the relation between Christ and the Church than they are as applied to the relation between Paul and the Thessalonian believers.
The paradox of glory has to do with assumption (1). The paradox is precisely this: that the more glory God gives to creatures, the more glory is given to God. That is in part because the effect can never exceed the cause. The greater the glory revealed in the creatures, the greater this reflects back upon the Creator from whom they come, from whom they have their natures and powers, and from whom they have the healing salve of grace by which their wounded nature is restored. God is shown to be greater and more glorious not by doing everything Himself and monopolizing causality, but instead by giving actual causal powers to creatures. God could have created all rational creatures such that they were already in the beatific vision of heaven. But it was more glorious and more perfect for God to create rational creatures in a condition in which they were not fully complete, so that they themselves could participate freely in their own formation and perfection.
That is why some angels fell, because they were given by God the opportunity to complete their creation by choosing whether to love God above all things or to love themselves above all things. Similarly this is why we are here, now, on earth, and not in heaven. This earthly life is our opportunity to participate in the completion of our own creation, by our free will in what is called self-determination. Grace does not destroy that gift of self-determination, because grace does not destroy nature. Grace restores nature and, insofar as we cooperate with grace, allows us to participate again in attaining what we were made for, namely, seeing God (Matt 5:8). That is why we who have been baptized are still here on earth, and not in heaven; we have been graciously gifted with the opportunity to participate in our salvation and the salvation of others. This is why our post-conversion life on earth has meaning and purpose. (See here.)
One possible objection to what I have argued here is that because we are dead in our sins (Eph 2:1,5), therefore we cannot make ourselves alive, or cooperate in making ourselves alive. And thus we cannot cooperate in our regeneration. But in Catholic theology, regeneration is a step-wise process, as was the healing of the blind man in St. Mark 8:22-26. It begins with antecedent grace, by which our will is enabled to turn to God and desire baptism (either implicitly or explicitly), and then is completed when we are baptized. In this way we have the opportunity to participate even in our regeneration, by freely willing (after the reception of antecedent grace) to be baptized.
Another possible objection is that St. Paul teaches that we are saved by faith and not works. (Romans 3:20, 28; 9:32, 11:6, Gal 2:16, 3:2,5,10) Was St. Paul denying human participation in our salvation, and thus implicitly endorsing temporal nihilism? No. The first thing to notice is that believing God is itself a cooperation with God, for it is not God who has faith, but man who believes, as a gift of God. Secondly, in these verses St. Paul is talking about works apart from [grace and faith]. He is not talking about the works that result from grace and faith. If we keep in mind the distinction between ungraced-works and graced-works, then we will recognize that we cannot assume that St. Paul's "grace and not works" dichotomy eliminates the salvific contribution of [graced] works in the life of the believer.
When we recognize that God is given greater glory by our participation not only in the sufferings of Christ and in the salvation of others through our testimony to Christ's gospel, but also in our own salvation, then we do not need to fear that the gospel is at stake when the Church teaches that God has given us the privilege, gift, and responsibility of cooperating with Him in working out our salvation in fear and trembling. My hope and prayer is that in pursuing earnestly the resolution of that which is at the heart of what has kept Protestants and Catholics separated for almost 500 years, we may, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, receive from Christ the peace and unity He bestowed upon His Apostles when He said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." (St. John 14:27)
"Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:17)