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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Called to Communion: Reformation meets Rome

Late last year, a number of us who had been Reformed and are now Catholic, started discussing the idea of developing a site for the purpose of fostering a dialogue specifically aimed at reconciling the Catholic and Reformed traditions, within the broader aim of working toward the reunion of all Christians in full communion. The site, Called to Communion, came online today. Have a look!

UPDATE: I discuss the subject of Christian unity on this podcast.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle

Chair of St. Peter

Today, Februrary 22, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle. This chair is the key to the unity of all Christians, as I explained here. That is in part because it not just a chair, but a throne (θρόνος), or cathedra, i.e. a seat of authority. God promised that Jesus would be given the throne of His father David.

"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David." (Luke 1:32)

Jesus instructed His Apostles to explain that the Kingdom (i.e. the Church) was here.

"And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matthew 10:7)

Jesus promised the Apostles that in His Kingdom (i.e. Church), they would sit on thrones and judge the new Israel.

"As My Father appointed a kingdom for Me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." (Luke 22:29-32)

God had promised to David that his son would sit on his throne, and build the house of His name.

"Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, he will build the house for My name." (1 Kings 5:5)

But Solomon was a type of Christ, for Christ is building the Church, which is the temple of God. God had promised to David that his throne would be established forever, and that he would not lack a man on his throne.

"then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, 'You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'" (1 Kings 9:5)

This promise was fulfilled when Christ the King, the Son of David, conceived by the Holy Spirit, established the Kingdom that will never end.

"As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces ... But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. ... And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever." (Daniel 2:34,35,44)

This kingdom will continue to increase, will never be overturned, because it is divinely established.

"Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore." (Isaiah 9:7)

Christ, the Chief Cornerstone, designed Peter the rock, upon whom to build His Church. This is the Kingdom that will never be defeated, but will prevail to the end.

"And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:18-19)

Christ has given stewardship of His Kingdom to His steward. This is the Petrine office, the chair of St. Peter the Apostle.

"Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time?" (Luke 12:42)

Christ rules the Church through the men He has entrusted with the keys of His Kingdom, and given them authority to speak in His name.

"The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me." (Luke 10:16)

In the discussion of the sacrament of Holy Orders in the Supplement of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica, we find the following question: Whether in the Church there can be anyone above the bishops? (Supp. Q.40 a.6) The answer given is as follows:

We read in the council of Constantinople [381 AD]: "In accordance with the Scriptures and the statutes and definitions of the canons, we venerate the most holy bishop of ancient Rome the first and greatest of bishops, and after him the bishop of Constantinople." Therefore one bishop is above another.

Further, the blessed Cyril, bishop of Alexandria (375-444 AD), says: "That we may remain members of our apostolic head, the throne of the Roman Pontiffs, of whom it is our duty to seek what we are to believe and what we are to hold, venerating him, beseeching him above others; for his it is to reprove, to correct, to appoint, to loose, and to bind in place of Him Who set up that very throne, and Who gave the fullness of His own to no other, but to him alone, to whom by divine right all bow the head, and the primates of the world are obedient as to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself." Therefore bishops are subject to someone even by divine right.

... Wherever there are several authorities directed to one purpose, there must needs be one universal authority over the particular authorities, because in all virtues and acts the order is according to the order of their ends (Ethic. i, 1,2). Now the common good is more Godlike than the particular good. Wherefore above the governing power which aims at a particular good there must be a universal governing power in respect of the common good, otherwise there would be no cohesion towards the one object. Hence since the whole Church is one body, it behooves, if this oneness is to be preserved, that there be a governing power in respect of the whole Church, above the episcopal power whereby each particular Church is governed, and this is the power of the Pope. Consequently those who deny this power are called schismatics as causing a division in the unity of the Church. Again, between a simple bishop and the Pope there are other degrees of rank corresponding to the degrees of union, in respect of which one congregation or community includes another; thus the community of a province includes the community of a city, and the community of a kingdom includes the community of one province, and the community of the whole world includes the community of one kingdom.

... Although the power of binding and loosing was given to all the apostles in common, nevertheless in order to indicate some order in this power, it was given first of all to Peter alone, to show that this power must come down from him to the others. For this reason He said to him in the singular: "Confirm thy brethren" (Luke 22:32), and: "Feed My sheep" (John 21:17), i.e. according to Chrysostom [347–407 AD, Archbishop of Constantinople]: "Be thou the president and head of thy brethren in My stead, that they, putting thee in My place, may preach and confirm thee throughout the world whilst thou sittest on thy throne."

The chair of St. Peter stands in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, over the bones of St. Peter: (H/T: The Adoption Report)

Father in heaven, please bless and strengthen the episcopal successor of St. Peter, through whom you have provided the way to the unity of all your people, throughout the world, in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Please help all your people see and embrace this gift you have provided to the Church, that in her unity she may show to the world the most perfect unity and love within your holy and eternal communion of divine Persons. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

UPDATE: Today, Pope Benedict said:

"This Sunday is also the feast of the Chair of Peter, an important liturgical feast that highlights the office of the successor of the Prince of the Apostles. The chair of Peter symbolizes the authority of the Bishop of Rome, who is called to perform a special service for the whole People of God. Immediately after the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, the primacy of the Church of Rome in the Catholic community was recognized. This role was already attested to in the 2nd century by St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Romans, Pref.: Funk, I, 252) and by St. Irenaeus of Lyons (Contra Haereses, III, 3, 2-3). This singular and specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome was stressed again by the Second Vatican Council. "Moreover, within the Church," we read in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "particular Churches hold a rightful place; these Churches retain their own traditions, without in any way opposing the primacy of the Chair of Peter, which presides over the whole assembly of charity (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, Pref.) and protects legitimate differences, while at the same time assuring that such differences do not hinder unity but rather contribute toward it" (Lumen Gentium, 13).

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.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Gospel and the Paradox of Glory

Dr. Michael Horton
In my previous post I considered the implications of the thesis that man does not participate in his salvation. Here I wish to consider the ecumenical implications of granting that man may participate in his salvation.

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.

Michael continues:

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)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Monocausalism and Temporal Nihilism

"The Scream"
Edvard Munch (1893)

This is a follow-up to "Monocausalism, Salvation, and Reconciliation".

There is a profound and troubling question that faces any Protestant who believes that man does not participate in his salvation. The question is profound because it goes to the heart of our existence as rational beings. And it is troubling because it threatens to destroy the meaningfulness of our choices and our entire lives here on earth. That question is simply this: "Why are you here?" The question looks innocent enough, but consider the significance of the term 'here.' A question of this sort makes sense only if one could possibly be elsewhere. For this question, the 'elsewhere' denoted is heaven. So the question asks the Protestant why he is here rather than in heaven, given that God is all-powerful and perfectly good and loving.

The Protestant might first consider whether the answer to this question is that God has a plan for his life, even a wonderful plan. But he sees that this answer will not do, because what could be more wonderful than being with God in heaven? It simply backs up the question: Why are you here in the midst of this wonderful plan for your life, rather than in heaven?

He might next consider whether the answer is that God needs to sanctify him. But he sees that this answer also does not work, because he believes that God can (and will) sanctify him instantaneously, since he believes that Christians who die not yet fully sanctified (i.e. all Christians) do not need to go through purgatory, but are at that very moment instantly and completely sanctified so that they can see God. (Matthew 5:8, Heb 12:14) Nor does he need to be here on earth to thank or glorify God, since he can do those things just as well in heaven. He does not believe that our ability to thank and glorify God decreases when we go from this life to heaven. Nor does he need to please God by his good works here on earth, because he believes that God has been fully pleased by the perfect work of Christ. The perfection and sufficiency of Christ's work on his behalf mean that God is already as pleased with him as He will ever be. Not only that, but he believes that in this life sinful imperfection taints his every thought, word, and deed, and that "there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation." (WCF XV.4) So he believes that in his every thought, word, and deed in this life, he is continually doing what deserves eternal damnation.

He might then consider whether the answer to this question is that God wishes to use him to reach other people with the gospel and the love of Christ. But he recognizes that this answer too is problematic. The reason has to do with a fundamental principle stated by Benjamin Warfield: "There are fundamentally only two doctrines of salvation: that salvation is from God, and that salvation is from ourselves." (The Plan of Salvation, p. 27) Since salvation is from God, therefore salvation cannot be from man. That is why man does not participate in his own salvation. But that is also why man cannot participate in the salvation of other men. It would be ad hoc to grant that man may participate in the salvation of other men, while denying in principle that man may participate in his own salvation. Nor does God, being omnipotent, need him in order to save souls. In fact, if he were to play some role in the salvation of others, it would rob God of some of the glory God could receive for saving them. Since he believes that God wishes to maximize the glory God receives (Soli Deo gloria!), he recognizes that God does not want him to play any role in the salvation of others. Thus playing a role in the salvation of others cannot be a reason for him to be here rather than in heaven.

He might then recall that the Bible talks about heavenly rewards for earthly deeds. This isn't salvation, of course, but simply jewels in his heavenly crown. When he thinks carefully about this, he concludes that he has no desire for jewels in heaven, even spiritual jewels. If salvation means to have Christ, and he already has salvation, then he has Christ for all eternity, and there is nothing else his heart desires or could desire. Besides, he knows that even when God rewards us for our good works, He is merely crowning His own gifts, as Augustine said, so that God gets all the glory. But God could just as easily give those gifts in heaven, as on earth. Therefore, he concludes, there is no principled need for him to be here on earth, in order to be given these gifts.

But what other answer remains? If he does not need to be here to be sanctified, or to glorify, thank or please God, and he cannot participate in the salvation of himself or of others, and there is no principled need for him to be here to receive heavenly jewels, then what answer remains to our question? He is left with this prospect: from the moment of his conversion, his life on earth is utterly meaningless. He simply awaits death, continually, every second of every waking hour for the rest of his earthly life. There is no point to anything he does; there is no need for him to suffer what he suffers. He faces the prospect of lifelong temporal nihilism, a temporal version of the Nietzschean or Sartrean sort. Yet he can't commit suicide, because his assurance level is not high enough that he can be sure that suicide would take him to heaven rather than indicate that he never had saving faith in the first place, and so he can't take the chance.

At some point in this inquiry, a Gestalt shift should occur. Instead of embracing the temporal nihilism entailed by his starting premise that man does not participate in his salvation, the inquirer should recognize that the meaningfulness of his present life is more certain to him than is the truth of the thesis that man does not participate in his salvation. At that point, the implications of his thesis serve as a reductio ad absurdum (literally), an argument against the truth of his initial thesis, by showing that it leads to an absurdity.

In his Fr. Brown mystery titled "The Blue Cross", G.K. Chesterton describes the climax of a conversation between Fr. Brown and the thief, Flambeau, who is dressed as a priest, and who has been trying to deceive Fr. Brown into believing that he is a priest.

Fr. Brown: "But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."

"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.

"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."

One way of attacking reason is, as Aquinas says, by adopting what is less certain and using it to overturn what is more certain. Aquinas writes, "Whoever by his own reasoning does away with certain [principles] which are better known to him than the ones which he posits, adopts an absurd position." (Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, 990a17-22)

And one thing that reason tells us is that our lives are meaningful, and that in saving us, a loving God would not rob our lives of meaning.

"It would be a poor kind of love that made us in His image and left us nothing to do for ourselves; it is a divine love that sets out a man's work for a man's life and stands by a man's own decisions. He has indeed left us something to do with our mind and our will as well as with our hands and our feet. If we do these things, we are fulfilling the divine will; if we do not, we are not thwarting God but ourselves, for our eternal happiness hangs on the condition of our activity." - Walter Farrell O.P.

Thus even reason tells us that grace, if it is to be grace, does not destroy nature but perfects it.

Of course many (if not most) Protestants will reject the thesis that man does not participate in his salvation. The follow-up to this post will consider the ecumenical implications of rejecting that thesis.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The Statue of St. Peter
Arnolfo di Cambio (1300)

The recent article in the New York Times on indulgences has a number of people talking, and much of the talk is confused. The NYT is not the most accurate place for anyone to gain an understanding of Catholic doctrine, as Fr. Z shows in his response to the article.

What is an indulgence? An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt (i.e. eternal punishment) has already been forgiven. A Catholic can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions, from the Church, "which dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints." (CCC glossary)

What is the basis for the Church's teaching on indulgences? The Church's teaching on indulgences follows from three things in conjunction:

(1) the power of the keys given to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19), by which the magisterium of the Church, as Christ's authorized representative (in persona Christi, ἐν προσώπῳ Χριστοῦ [2 Cor 2:10]), can forgive sins (John 20:23) through the merit and satisfaction of Christ's Passion,

(2) the communion of the saints (1 Cor 12, Job 1:5, Col 1:24, Apostles' Creed) by which we can aid one another in the Body of Christ through our prayers and sacrifices,


(3) the two-fold nature of sin (both away from God, and toward a mutable good), which entails two sorts of debts of punishment, one eternal, and other temporal, as I explained in this post. That two-fold nature of sin is confirmed when Jesus refers to a two-fold forgiveness ("in this age, and in the age to come" - Matt 12:31), and in the practice of prayer for the dead (2 Macc 12:46), which would be of no use to the damned. It is also confirmed in the distinction between mortal and venial sin (cf. 1 John 5:16).

Thus, if the Church by the authorization of Christ can forgive sins, and thereby remove the debt of eternal punishment, then it follows a fortiori that she can remove the debt of temporal punishment, by the merits of Christ and all the saints. And that is just what an indulgence is. It is also worth repeating that an indulgence cannot be purchased. "In 1567 St. Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions." (Catholic Encyclopedia article on indulgences)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Justification: Six Passages, Two Interpretive Paradigms

"The Baptism of the Neophytes"
Masaccio (1426-1427)

In his Systematic Theology, Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof claims that there are six passages in the New Testament in which the term δικαιόω, translated throughout as some variation of the English word 'justify', "can bear no other sense" than the forensic sense. (p. 510) That's quite a strong claim to make, because it implies that Catholics and Orthodox must either ignore these verses or be unaware of them, or blatantly twist them to mean something other than what they most obviously mean. But Berkhof has to make such a strong claim, because the forensic conception of justification is central to what still divides Protestants and Catholics. Anything weaker would severely undermine the grounds for Protestants separating from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and remaining separated to this day. Therefore, insofar as we can resolve the Protestant-Catholic disagreement regarding the nature of justification, we clear the way for the reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics.

So here in this post I look at each of these six New Testament passages, and determine whether they can be understood according to a different paradigm, i.e. one that goes beyond the forensic paradigm viz-a-viz justification. I am not here seeking to demonstrate that these verses necessarily mean what the Catholic Church teaches about justification. My intention is simply to see whether these verses can be understood within a Catholic paradigm. If in these verses justification can be understood in a way that goes beyond the forensic sense, then we need a means of determining whether St. Paul meant the term in the forensic sense or in this stronger sense.

In my post on St. Thomas Aquinas on penance, I discussed Aquinas's claim that human grace (as in "he was in her good graces") cannot safely be assumed to be equivalent in all other respects to God's grace, on account of the Creator / creature distinction. According to Aquinas, while human grace is a response to good in the other person, God's grace *causally effects* the good in the other. Similarly, we might take that same line of reasoning and apply it to the question of the nature of justification. When a human judge declares a defendant "not guilty", this verdict effects only the legal standing of the person before the State, not the heart of the person, at least not directly. The human judge cannot see or weigh the human heart; he can see only the evidence presented by the prosecution. But God looks at the heart. "For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) And, moreover, God cannot lie. (cf. Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2) Therefore, when God declares us justified, we should not assume that He must do so as mere human judges do. Rather, we must consider the possibility that He does so in quite a different, and more powerful way. More specifically, we should consider whether when God declares us justified, He does so because He has in fact, by the grace that flows from Christ's side and is received by faith through the waters of baptism, made us actually just.

For each of the six passages, I will be asking whether the term δικαιόω must be taken forensically (i.e. declared righteous, and being cleared of punishment, though remaining internally unrighteous), or whether it could mean that the justified persons in question were actually made righteous internally by having received within themselves sanctifying grace and the righteousness of Christ through faith and the waters of the sacrament of baptism.

The first passage is Romans 3:20-28:

"because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

If St. Paul is speaking here in Romans 3 of the justification by which we are translated from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, then this passage is fully compatible with justification in that sense. There is nothing here that precludes the possibility that we are actually made righteous with the righteousness of God, not that by which He Himself is righteous, but that by which He makes us righteous, that by which He renews us in the spirit of our mind such that not only are we reputed righteous but we are truly called and are actually righteous, having received His righteousness within us as a free gift. In other words, if St. Paul is talking about what the Church has always taught takes place at baptism, then this passage seems to be fully compatible with that. And we have good reason to believe that baptism is in view here, because St. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 6, which is almost entirely about what has happened to us in baptism.

The second passage is Romans 4:5-7:

"But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered."

If believing in Christ involves, through baptism, receiving His righteousness within us, then the reason our faith is credited as righteousness, is that through faith in Christ (which is expressed in the reception of the sacrament of baptism), we receive the righteousness of Christ and are thereby made actually and truly righteous. This righteousness we receive through baptism is not the result of our works; it is a gift of God. The 'covering' of our sins need not mean that they remain in us. They remain in our past as actual events in our personal history, for God does not change or erase the past. But through the righteousness of Christ they no longer remain in us as privations of the light and life and love of Christ. Protestants read "justifies the ungodly" and tend to assume that the person is simultaneously both justified and ungodly. But it is no less possible to read "justifies the ungodly" as meaning that by the infusion of sanctifying grace, through faith in Christ, and not by human efforts, God, at the moment of baptism, supernaturally transforms the ungodly by making them actually righteous. Hence, when the Protestant quotes this verse as evidence that justification is forensic, this is, from the Catholic point of view, question-begging, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question.

The third passage is Romans 5:1:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"

Having been made righteous by faith through the sacrament of baptism, with the righteousness of Christ infused into our soul by His sanctifying grace, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Understood in this way, any Catholic can affirm this verse. This verse is fully compatible with a conception of justification that transcends the merely forensic.

The fourth passage is Galatians 2:16

"nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

This verse too can be understood as referring to a forensic-transcending justification. We are actually made righteous (translated from the state of sin to the state of infused grace and adoption), not through the works of the law, but through faith, by the grace of Christ given to us in the sacrament of baptism.

The fifth passage is Galatians 3:11:

"Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "The righteous man shall live by faith."

Again, Catholics can affirm that no one is made actually righteous (not just forensically declared righteous) by the law. We can affirm that the [actually] righteous man shall live (i.e. be made alive, and remain alive) by faith in Christ.

And the sixth passage is Galatians 5:4

"You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace"

The person who thinks that by following the law he can be translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, or that by following the law he can be made
actually righteous, has fallen from grace. He doesn't understand that no one can be made actually righteous by law-keeping, because without grace man is infinitely removed from God, no matter how many good works man does. Apart from grace, man cannot acquire the life and righteousness of God, or have fellowship with God. Only by the grace of Christ can man be made righteous and have fellowship with God. This was taught formally by the Second Council of Orange (529 AD).

Having examined each of these six passages, it seems to me that the term δικαιόω, in each of the six passages, can quite easily be understood in a way that goes beyond the merely forensic. If so, then what does this mean? Some Protestants claim that they are rightly separated from the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church "abandoned the gospel", i.e. abandoned [forensic] justification by faith alone through grace alone on account of Christ alone. Their evidence that forensic justification is the essence of the gospel is not drawn from the fathers, because in the fathers we do not find the gospel defined in terms of forensic justification. Rather, their evidence is these passages in the New Testament, drawn mostly from Romans and Galatians, as well as the lexical studies showing how contemporaries of the New Testament authors used this term in a forensic sense.

But there are certain theological presuppositions implicit in the assumption that the best way for us in the third millennium to know what a New Testament term meant is by looking to the manner in which the Greeks (or Diaspora Jews) used the term. One such assumption is that the Church fathers did not necessarily preserve the meaning of terms as handed down by the Apostles. Another assumption is that the Apostles used these terms in mostly the same way that the pagans used them. But the very reason why we cannot work our way to heaven is the very reason why unaided human reason cannot attain to the truths of divine revelation. Such truths must be revealed, or we cannot know them. They transcend the natural, human capacity. Likewise, the concepts communicated in the gospel, concepts such as justification, should not therefore be assumed to be equivalent to the concepts commonly associated with those terms as they were used in the pagan world. God's ways are higher than man's ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Therefore God's mode of justifying cannot safely be assumed to be equivalent to man's external/forensic mode of justifying.

How then can we determine whether justification should be understood as actual or merely forensic? If these passages can be understood according to either paradigm, then why shouldn't the Catholic Church, which Protestants (of the non-biblicist sort) generally believe stood firm against all heresy for the first 1500 years of her existence, receive the benefit of the doubt? If the question of whether justification is forensic or actual is reduced to a 50/50 toss-up, why then wouldn't the decision of the Council of Trent regarding the nature of justification be authoritative and binding? A schism cannot be justified by a hermeneutical coin-flip, nor would Christ leave us in such a predicament, as Tertullian understood.

God our Father, in your infinite mercy, through the grace of Your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the illumination of your Holy Spirit, please teach us and lead us into the truth regarding this doctrine of justification, so that Catholics and Protestants may be reconciled after all these years of separation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Michael Dubruiel (1958-2009)

Michael Dubruiel died yesterday, unexpectedly. Michael was a well-known Catholic author and blogger, and the husband of Amy Welborn. Please pray for the repose of his soul, and for Amy and their children.

Monday, February 2, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance

"Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas"
Benozzo di Lese di Sandro Gozzoli (1453-1478)

NOTE: An improved version of this post is now available here. I recommend that you read the updated version. - BC

In 1273, the year before he died, St. Thomas Aquinas was in Naples working on the third part of his Summa Theologica. Having just completed the section on the Eucharist, he was in church before Matins, praying in front of the crucifix on the altar, and caught up in mystical ecstasy in the presence of Christ. Three of his brethren were there, and they heard a voice come from the image of Christ on the Cross, saying, "Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?" St. Thomas replied, "None other than Thyself, Lord." (1) St. Thomas continued his work in the Summa, now writing on the sacrament of penance. He completed seven questions (thirty-six pages in my edition) on this sacrament. Then on December 6, 1273, while he was celebrating Mass on the feast of Saint Nicholas, he experienced "an unusually long ecstasy". From that moment on he did not write. Father Reginald urged him to finish the Summa, but St. Thomas replied, "Reginald, I can do no more; such things [secrets] have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life after that of my works." (2).

In this post I will examine one of the articles within one of the seven questions that Aquinas wrote between the time that the voice spoke to him from the crucifix, and the day he laid down his pen for good. The article is Summa Theologica III Question 86 article 4, which concerns the effect of Penance, as regards the pardon of mortal sin. First I will summarize what he says in articles 1-3 of that question. Quotations from Aquinas will be in green font.

In the first article of Question 86, Aquinas asks whether all mortal sins are taken away by Penance. In other words, is the sacrament of Penance able to remove *every* [kind of] sin? His answer is 'yes, for two reasons'. First, though at death the will is confirmed [i.e. fixed or established] in its orientation toward or against God such that after death no one whose will is opposed to God can seek Penance, in this present life the will remains flexible to good and evil [cuius liberum arbitrium flexibile est ad bonum et ad malum]. Second, the power of Christ's Passion, "through which Penance produces its effect" is such that no sin can fail to be pardoned through true Penance. These two reasons together imply that in this life, true repentance always remains possible, and when repentance takes place, the power of Christ's Passion is always sufficient to pardon the sin.

In the second article, Aquinas asks whether sin can be pardoned without Penance. His answer is 'no'. He writes:

It is impossible for a mortal actual sin to be pardoned without penance, if we speak of penance as a virtue. For, as sin is an offense against God, He pardons sin in the same way as he pardons an offense committed against Him. Now an offense is directly opposed to grace, since one man is said to be offended with another, because he excludes him from his grace. Now, as stated in I-II, 110, 1, the difference between the grace of God and the grace of man, is that the latter does not cause, but presupposes true or apparent goodness in him who is graced, whereas the grace of God causes goodness in the man who is graced, because the good-will of God, which is denoted by the word "grace," is the cause of all created good. Hence it is possible for a man to pardon an offense, for which he is offended with someone, without any change in the latter's will; but it is impossible that God pardon a man for an offense, without his will being changed. Now the offense of mortal sin is due to man's will being turned away from God, through being turned to some mutable good. Consequently, for the pardon of this offense against God, it is necessary for man's will to be so changed as to turn to God and to renounce having turned to something else in the aforesaid manner, together with a purpose of amendment; all of which belongs to the nature of penance as a virtue. Therefore it is impossible for a sin to be pardoned anyone without penance as a virtue.

In order to understand this argument, we need to understand what Aquinas means by "penance as a virtue", because the sacrament of penance is not the same thing as the virtue of penance. According to Aquinas, the *sacrament* of penance was perfected by the priestly office of binding and loosing which Christ gave to the Church (cf. Matthew 18:18, John 20:23). God is able to forgive sins without the sacrament of penance, but not without the virtue of penance on the part of the penitent, for the reason explained below. The baptized penitent who knows of the sacrament of penance must at least desire the sacrament of penance, in order to be forgiven. And the sacrament of penance requires the virtue of penance on the part of the penitent.

Aquinas discusses penance as a virtue in ST III Q. 85. There he says that penance as a virtue is a species of justice. Recall that justice is the virtue of giving to each his due. And penance as a virtue is the disposition of the will (for justice is a virtue of the will) or an act of the will that aims in some sense at the destruction of one's past sins considered as offenses against God. Destruction of these offenses against God is not effected merely by ceasing to sin; some kind of compensation is necessary, to make amends for one's sins against God. Sin is a "word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law" (ST I-II Q.71 a.6), and thus sin against God always involves our taking some pleasure in a word, deed or desire that deprives God of the charity, honor and obedience that He is justly due. So penance involves contrition, grieving for one's sins (think of the Old Testament examples of sackcloth and ashes), confession, satisfaction, i.e. depriving oneself of temporal pleasures, or subjecting oneself to hardship in some way, to pay back for the pleasure that one took at God's expense. Of course no one who has turned away from God can make sufficient satisfaction for that offense. Aquinas says, "wherefore in such cases, he that falls short of the other must do whatever he can. Yet this will not be sufficient simply, but only according to the acceptance of the higher one". (ST III Q.85 a.3 ad.2)

The three traditional forms of penance are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Whereas vengeance is defined as just retribution on the part of the offended, penance is just retribution on the part of the offender, where the offended is God. Penance as a virtue is a species of justice because the penitent seeks to give to himself, in some measure, what is due to himself for his offenses against God. We can see penance as a virtue exemplified in St. Luke 18:13, when the tax collector beat his breast on account of his sins.

Given that explanation of penance as a virtue, we can now approach Aquinas's argument in ST III Q.86 a.2. There Aquinas says that an offense is directly opposed to grace, since that is just what it means to be offended with another person, to exclude him from one's grace. But there is an important difference between the grace of God and the grace of man. The grace of man does not cause, but rather presupposes either true or apparent good in him who is graced by man. The grace of God, however, causes goodness in the man who is graced by God. Thus for any man who is graced by God, that man has goodness, and that goodness was caused by God's grace. Therefore, while a man may pardon another man's offense without a change in the offender's will, it is impossible for God to pardon a man for an offense, without that man's will being changed. Since the offense of mortal sin is due to man's will being turned away from God and inordinately to some mutable good, therefore for the pardon of mortal sin, it is necessary that man's will be turned toward God and away from the inordinate love of the mutable good, with the intention of making amends for the wrongs he did to God. Since these belong to the nature of penance as a virtue, it follows that it is impossible for a sin to be pardoned anyone without his having penance as a virtue.

In the third article, Aquinas asks whether by penance one sin can be pardoned while another sin remains unpardoned. He answers that this is impossible, because, as he has shown already, without grace no sin can be forgiven (ST I-II Q.109 a.7, and I-II Q.113 a.2). But since every mortal sin is opposed to grace and excludes grace, therefore it is impossible for one mortal sin to be pardoned while another remains unpardoned, for then grace and mortal sin would be co-present, which is impossible.

Here we should briefly consider those two references, because Aquinas's argument depends on them. In ST I-II Q.109 a.7, Aquinas says the following:

Now man incurs a triple loss by sinning, as was clearly shown above (86, 1; 87, 1), viz. stain, corruption of natural good, and debt of punishment. He incurs a stain, inasmuch as he forfeits the lustre of grace through the deformity of sin. Natural good is corrupted, inasmuch as man's nature is disordered by man's will not being subject to God's; and this order being overthrown, the consequence is that the whole nature of sinful man remains disordered. Lastly, there is the debt of punishment, inasmuch as by sinning man deserves everlasting damnation. Now it is manifest that none of these three can be restored except by God. For since the lustre of grace springs from the shedding of Divine light, this lustre cannot be brought back, except God sheds His light anew: hence a habitual gift is necessary, and this is the light of grace. Likewise, the order of nature can only be restored, i.e. man's will can only be subject to God when God draws man's will to Himself, as stated above (Article 6). So, too, the guilt of eternal punishment can be remitted by God alone, against Whom the offense was committed and Who is man's Judge. And thus in order that man rise from sin there is required the help of grace, both as regards a habitual gift, and as regards the internal motion of God.

Here Aquinas recalls the three-fold loss that man incurs by sinning. Sin stains the soul, corrupts his natural good both by removing his original righteousness and weakening his inclination to virtue, and incurs the debt of punishment. None of these three losses can be restored except by the grace of God. For my discussion of Aquinas's claim that the infusion of grace is necessary for the remission of sins, see the last part of my post titled "St. Thomas Aquinas on Angels and Grace".

In article 4, Aquinas asks whether after the forgiveness of sin [remissa culpa] through the sacrament of penance, there remains any debt of punishment. Aquinas's answer is going to be "yes, there remains a debt of punishment".

But first he raises three objections to his answer. The first objection is this:

It would seem that no debt of punishment remains after the guilt has been forgiven through Penance. For when the cause is removed, the effect is removed. But the guilt is the cause of the debt of punishment: since a man deserves to be punished because he has been guilty of a sin. Therefore when the sin has been forgiven, no debt of punishment can remain.

This is a good objection, and one that many Protestants might be inclined to raise. Here's the objection: The guilt of sin is the cause of the debt of punishment. This is because of the requirement of justice, that each be given his due, as discussed above. Hence when the sin is forgiven, there should no longer be any debt of punishment. To claim that some debt of punishment remains after forgiveness of sin implies that Christ's Passion was not sufficient.

The second objection is as follows:

Further, according to the Apostle (Romans 5) the gift of Christ is more effective than the sin of Adam. Now, by sinning, man incurs at the same time guilt and the debt of punishment. Much more therefore, by the gift of grace, is the guilt forgiven and at the same time the debt of punishment remitted.

Aquinas is saying that since the gift of Christ is more effective than the sin of Adam, and since when man sins, man incurs at the same time both guilt and the debt of punishment, therefore, it would seem to follow a fortiori that by the gift of grace not only is the guilt forgiven but also the debt of punishment remitted.

The third objection is as follows:

Further, the forgiveness of sins is effected in Penance through the power of Christ's Passion, according to Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His Blood . . . for the remission of former sins." Now Christ's Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins, as stated above (Q48,49,79, 5). Therefore after the guilt has been pardoned, no debt of punishment remains.

The forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance is effected through the power of Christ's Passion. But Christ's Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins. Therefore, it would seem that after the guilt of sin has been pardoned through the sacrament of Penance, no debt of punishment would remain.

Aquinas then offers the Sed contra, which appeals to authority to verify his position.

On the contrary, It is related (2 Samuel 12:13) that when David penitent had said to Nathan: "I have sinned against the Lord," Nathan said to him: "The Lord also hath taken away thy sin, thou shalt not die. Nevertheless . . . the child that is born to thee shall surely die," which was to punish him for the sin he had committed, as stated in the same place. Therefore a debt of some punishment remains after the guilt has been forgiven.

According to Aquinas, this incident recorded in the Old Testament reveals that the forgiveness of sin does not necessarily take away the debt of all punishment.

Before we turn to his Responseo, let's briefly examine what Aquinas argues in ST I-II Q.87 a.4, because it helps prepare us to understand him. There he writes:

Punishment is proportionate to sin. Now sin comprises two things. First, there is the turning away from the immutable good, which is infinite, wherefore, in this respect, sin is infinite. Secondly, there is the inordinate turning to mutable good. In this respect sin is finite, both because the mutable good itself is finite, and because the movement of turning towards it is finite, since the acts of a creature cannot be infinite. Accordingly, in so far as sin consists in turning away from something, its corresponding punishment is the "pain of loss," which also is infinite, because it is the loss of the infinite good, i.e. God. But in so far as sin turns inordinately to something, its corresponding punishment is the "pain of sense," which is also finite.

Notice that sin has a two-fold component. It involves a turning away from God in some respect, and an inordinate (i.e. disordered) turning to some finite created good. This two-fold aspect of sin means that justice is violated in two ways, in each sin. In turning away from God, the sinner has not given to the eternal God His due, for which action the just punishment is the eternal loss of God, because the nature of the sin determines the punishment of the sin, for sin is the punishment of sin. But the sinner has also turned inordinately to some finite mutable good, for which action the just punishment is the "pain of sense", which is also finite.

That helps us understand Aquinas's argument in the Responseo of ST III Q.86 a.4. There he writes:

I answer that, As stated in I-II, 87, 4, in mortal sin there are two things, namely, a turning from the immutable Good, and an inordinate turning to mutable good. Accordingly, in so far as mortal sin turns away from the immutable Good, it induces a debt of eternal punishment, so that whosoever sins against the eternal Good should be punished eternally. Again, in so far as mortal sin turns inordinately to a mutable good, it gives rise to a debt of some punishment, because the disorder of guilt is not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment: since it is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer something against his will, for thus will equality be restored. Hence it is written (Apocalypse 18:7): "As much as she hath glorified herself, and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her." Since, however, the turning to mutable good is finite, sin does not, in this respect, induce a debt of eternal punishment. Wherefore, if man turns inordinately to a mutable good, without turning from God, as happens in venial sins, he incurs a debt, not of eternal but of temporal punishment. Consequently when guilt is pardoned through grace, the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace: so that at the same time, the debt of punishment is taken away, albeit a debt of some temporal punishment may yet remain.

I'll go through his argument step by step. First he reminds that in every mortal sin there are two turnings: a turning away from God who is the immutable Good, and an inordinate turning to some mutable good. This two-fold turning of mortal sin induces two debts of punishment, because these two turnings intrinsic to every mortal sin are not equal in their degree of injustice. The just punishment for turning away from the eternal God is eternal separation from God; this separation is called 'hell'. The literal translation is: "so that whoever against the eternal Good sins, in eternity is punished." [ut qui contra aeternum bonum peccavit, in aeternum puniatur].

But the sin of turning inordinately to some mutable, finite good also incurs a debt of punishment, "because the disorder of guilt is not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment" [quia inordinatio culpae non reducitur ad ordinem iustitiae nisi per poenam]. Hence there must be temporal punishment, "since it is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer something against his will, for thus will equality be restored" [iustum est enim ut qui voluntati suae plus indulsit quam debuit, contra voluntatem suam aliquid patiatur, sic enim erit aequalitas]. Justice can be violated in the short-term, as when someone commits an unjust act. But ultimately justice cannot be violated, because all violations of justice must eventually be brought back to the order of justice, and this can only be done by just punishment.

The debt of punishment for turning inordinately to some mutable, finite good is not eternal punishment, but temporal punishment, because a finite sin does not justly deserve an eternal punishment. So when a man turns inordinately to a finite good without turning away from God, as happens in venial sin, he does not incur a debt of eternal punishment but he does incur a debt of temporal punishment. (cf. I-II Q.87 a.5) Therefore, when the guilt of sin is pardoned through grace in the sacrament of penance, "the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace" [tollitur aversio animae a Deo, inquantum per gratiam anima Deo coniungitur]. But, the debt of temporal punishment remains.

This is why, when we walk out of the confessional after receiving absolution from our sins, we must do some penance, as assigned to us by the priest. We are making satisfaction for the purpose of paying our debt of temporal punishment. Removing temporal punishment is also the purpose of indulgences; an indulgence removes some or all of the debt of temporal punishment. Moreover, if we die in a state of grace, but with some remaining debt of temporal punishment, our soul goes to purgatory so that through our suffering there our temporal (and finite) debt of punishment can be paid, so that with a pure heart we may enter the joy of seeing God in the Beatific Vision.

Let's consider now Aquinas's replies to the three objections raised earlier. The first objection was that the removal of the guilt of sin should also remove the debt of punishment. In reply to this objection Aquinas writes:

Mortal sin both turns away from God and turns to a created good. But, as stated in I-II, 71, 6, the turning away from God is as its form while the turning to created good is as its matter. Now if the formal element of anything be removed, the species is taken away: thus, if you take away rational, you take away the human species. Consequently mortal sin is said to be pardoned from the very fact that, by means of grace, the aversion of the mind from God is taken away together with the debt of eternal punishment: and yet the material element remains, viz. the inordinate turning to a created good, for which a debt of temporal punishment is due.

Aquinas here makes use of the distinction between the debt of eternal punishment and the debt of temporal punishment. In the pardon of mortal sin, by means of grace the aversion of the mind from God as well as the debt of eternal punishment are removed. But, the pardon of the guilt of mortal sin does not in itself remove the inordinate turning to a created good, and therefore the pardon of the guilt of mortal sin does not in itself remove the debt of temporal punishment.

The second objection was that since Christ's gift is more effective than Adam's gift, therefore, since guilt and debt of punishment were given to us by Adam, so a fortiori they should both be removed by the grace of Christ. In reply, Aquinas writes:

As stated in I-II, 109, 7,8; I-II, 111, 2, it belongs to grace to operate in man by justifying him from sin, and to co-operate with man that his work may be rightly done. Consequently the forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to operating grace, while the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to co-operating grace, in so far as man, by bearing punishment patiently with the help of Divine grace, is released also from the debt of temporal punishment. Consequently just as the effect of operating grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so too, the remission of guilt and of eternal punishment precedes the complete release from temporal punishment, since both are from grace, but the former, from grace alone, the latter, from grace and free-will.

Aquinas draws upon a previous distinction between operating grace and and co-operating grace. The forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to operating grace, but the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to co-operating grace. Then, just as the effect of operating grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so the remission of guilt and of eternal punishment in the sacrament of penance precedes the completion of our payment of the debt of temporal punishment.

The third objection was this: The forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance is effected through the power of Christ's Passion. But Christ's Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins. Therefore, it would seem that after the guilt of sin has been pardoned through the sacrament of Penance, no debt of punishment would remain. In reply to this objection Aquinas writes:

Christ's Passion is of itself sufficient to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal, but also temporal; and man is released from the debt of punishment according to the measure of his share in the power of Christ's Passion. Now in Baptism man shares the Power of Christ's Passion fully, since by water and the Spirit of Christ, he dies with Him to sin, and is born again in Him to a new life, so that, in Baptism, man receives the remission of all debt of punishment. In Penance, on the other hand, man shares in the power of Christ's Passion according to the measure of his own acts, which are the matter of Penance, as water is of Baptism, as stated above (84, 1,3). Wherefore the entire debt of punishment is not remitted at once after the first act of Penance, by which act the guilt is remitted, but only when all the acts of Penance have been completed.

Aquinas teaches that Christ's Passion is sufficient in itself to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal but also temporal. But we are released from the debt of punishment according to the measure of our share in the power of Christ's Passion. In the sacrament of baptism, we share fully in Christ's Passion, for by water and the Spirit of Christ we die with Him and are born again to new life, and hence in baptism all debt, both eternal and temporal, is remitted. But in the sacrament of penance, we share in the Christ's Passion according to the measure of our own acts, because while in baptism the water is the matter of the sacrament, in the sacrament of penance our own acts are the matter of the sacrament. Therefore, in the sacrament of Penance the entire debt is not remitted at once, but only when all the acts of penance have been completed. (See CCC 1459-1460)

In this way temporal punishment, penance, and purgatory are all compatible with an affirmation of the forgiveness of all our past sins, and with the perfection and completion of Christ's Passion. Temporal punishment is compatible with the forgiveness of all our past sins because of the two-fold injustice in every mortal sin. Temporal punishment is compatible with the perfection and completion of Christ's Passion because of the distinction between operating grace and co-operating grace. By way of these distinctions, the saint to whom Christ had just spoken days earlier, saying, "Thou hast written well of me, Thomas", teaches us here why it is wrong to think either that we can make full satisfaction for our sins or that we do not need to make any satisfaction for our sins.