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

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)


Kevin Davis said...

I just have two brief points:

1. Where in Reformed literature is the term, "monocausalism," found? I say this because, as you know, Reformed theologians are very careful and very precise in the terms they use. "Monocausalism" conveys the idea that divine agency in the human appropriation of salvation, or in anything else, works in a reductive or mechanistic movement -- whereas, the Reformed confessions are clear that this is precisely where mystery must be the controlling principle. Thus, the WCF can state, "...thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established." This, of course, is frustrating to the philosopher who is quite sure that Reformed determinism requires that God is the author of sin and the human will is as a puppet governed by God's hand. Reformed theologians deny this, just as strenuously as they deny that God "desires" any to perish.

2. This brings us to my next point. In what sense is it true "that God does everything in our salvation without any cooperation from us." Once again, you will not get a definite answer from Reformed theology if you are looking into the depths of human willing and self-consciousness. What is denied, however, is that humans contribute anything from themselves that can either gain or forfeit the salvation given freely. Thus, the Protestant objection on this point is not with baptism (the sacramental efficacy of which may or may not be denied by the Protestant), because it is wholly gift. The problem is with the subsequent requirement for righteous living vis-à-vis the boundaries of mortal sin. Here, even though God's grace is always necessarily present, the human will is given options for or against salvation. Thus, the gift is then given qualifiers for retention. Co-operation is required, and sanctification becomes the qualifier for justification. In other words, justification depends upon our faithfulness, our righteousness. This is where the Reformers most strongly resisted Rome, and it is where the average layperson under Protestant care found her freedom.

Principium Unitatis said...

Hello Kevin,

As to your first question ("where in Reformed literature is the term 'monocausalism' found?), I have not claimed that the term is found in Reformed literature, and the soundness of my argument does not depend on the term 'monocausalism' being used in Reformed literature. What I have presented here is an argument that extends over two posts, this one and the previous one. In the previous post I show the nihilistic implications of monocausalism. In this present post I show the ecumenical implications of rejecting monocausalism.

Part of my argument, as you may have noticed, is that insofar as Reformed theology grants secondary causality under providential activity, and under our being instruments of salvation to other men, it is then ad hoc insofar as it rejects the secondary causality of oneself in one's own salvation, after the necessity of antecedent grace is granted.

As for your second point, I agree that Reformed theology denies "that humans contribute anything from themselves that can either gain or forfeit the salvation given freely". The premises and conclusion of my argument are fully compatible with it being true that Reformed theology denies "that humans contribute anything from themselves that can either gain or forfeit the salvation given freely". I'm not here evaluating whether the Reformed position is more 'freeing'; that would require another post. My argument is showing that it is more perfect, and God receives more glory, when rational creatures are allowed to participate in the own salvation, rather than having no choice in the matter, and make no causal contribution (either for or against) to their own salvation.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Kevin Davis said...

I was, by the way, presupposing your previous posts on "monocausalism."

I don't have a qualm with your arguments about God's glory. I largely agree with you, as they are some of the same criticisms that I have made. My points were, rather, to question the value of using non-Reformed terminology, which skew the semantic field. I say this because I know quite a few Reformed students and profs who would not accept your account of "monocausalism" as faithful to the Reformed standards. I am not [classical] Reformed myself -- I largely prefer Barthian categories -- but my experience with Reformed thought has made me especially aware of the importance in respecting their nuances.

Mike Burgess said...

I was musing on related subjects recently, and the fifth chapter of St. John's Gospel gave me a great deal of food for thought. I am still working out some things with that pivotal chapter in mind, and I think it quite relevant to your post here. Could you, perhaps, read it again in light of this post and see of you don't agree? I think it would shine even more light on the issues you raised.

daniel said...

Hi Bryan,

I have a question for you on the nature of causality as it has been imparted by God to His creatures.

As one of his proofs of God's existence (I.Q2.art3), Aquinas points out that "Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another. . .It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. . .[and] it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God."

The second objection in this article mentions the distinction between "nature" (i.e. the movement of billiard balls, planets, etc.) and "voluntary things" (denoting human action). My quote from Aquinas above handles "nature" very well. But is it possible that "voluntary action," by its definition, poses a problem for his 1st proof of God's existence?

As I understand it, freely-willed acts of human beings appear to be in some sense the action of an 'unmoved mover.' In being granted the 'dignity' of agency, we become the cause of X in a way that isn't predetermined by our nature—as is the case with planets or weather patterns, etc.

But if my choice of X isn't determined by my biological makeup, or God's imposition on my will, but rather as an exercise of my capacity for causality, doesn't it follow that I am in some sense an unmoved mover?

And if that's the case, then does the universe contain more than one unmoved mover?

If it's not the case, how is it that we can reconcile human beings possessing true agency if the movement of their will is entirely caused?

I know of reformed theologians who simply can't make sense of the idea of a free (as in 'Thomist' free) will. (They are compatibilists.) They see predestination as the great middle ground: God changes the nature of the person in question, who then "freely" chooses His salvation, etc. But their account lacks the agency that I see in Aquinas (and Catholic theology in general).

I can tell that I am missing a piece of the puzzle. Can you help me find it? :)


Jared said...


Excellent post. I Just have one question.

I quote...

"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"

How does the defect of original sin play in at this point? Certainly we were not born with the same disposition of soul in which Adam was Created. Adam was created free in a way which we are not. We have the bondage of the flesh which he didn't. We are born cut off from the life of the Holy Spirit. Adam walked with God in the Garden; he was created upright. Upon sinning, he and Eve were exiled. We were born in exile. We were born in death. Adam didn't know death until sinning. The angels, having the same freedom as Adam, sinned, and are therefore cursed forever.

I don't know if it would be entirely correct to say that Adam was in a state of perfection, or likened to the state of beautific vision, for he would have had to eat of the tree of life for this to be so. But we, being born in original sin, do participate in our perfection in a different respect than Adam. Wouldn't you agree?

This is why Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that through the same freedom which Adam posessed, and from which fell, sending his posterity into the curse of death, he might perfectly obey the will of God in that same freedom, sending his posterity into the blessing of life. Thus, by his death and resurrection (i.e. justification), he invites us and brings us to participate in that freedom where there is life from the dead.

Adam could obey or disobey God without any bondage to sin. We don't have that same situation, for we are sold as slaves under sin.
How does this difference in freedom that Adam had and we have play into this whole thing. Does this difference play into this at all?

In Christ,
Jared B

Principium Unitatis said...


Why don't you elaborate a little, about how you think my post relates to John 5. It help me to know a bit more about what you are thinking.


That is a good question. Aquinas addresses it in ST I Q.83 a.1 ad.3. He writes:

"Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature." (my emphasis)

Man is self-moved, but that is not the same thing as being unmoved. Man is not an unmoved mover. He is moved by God. So man is both self-moved, and God-moved, in different senses. He is self-moved as secondary cause, and God-moved as first cause. God moves us in such a way that does not deprive us of our natural causal agency, but in fact establishes, enables and preserves our natural causal agency and freedom.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium Unitatis said...


Adam and Even were created such that they already had grace (this internal quality by which they were partakers of the divine nature). But they did not yet have the beatific vision (because the beatific vision, once had, can never be lost). When they sinned, they lost the grace they had, and original righteousness. Original sin is just the absence of original righteousness. We also have concupiscence as a result of having lost grace, but concupiscence is not original sin. Without grace, man cannot reach his supernatural end, because without grace man is not proportioned to the beatific vision. But, through the grace that comes through Christ [i.e. the grace that we receive in the sacraments], man can participate in attaining his supernatural end (i.e. the beatific vision), even though man (in this life) still retains concupiscence.

I'm not sure I'm answering your question. But perhaps that's at least a start.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jared said...


Yes that answers my question but
hat exactly do you mean by concupiscence? Ardent sexual desire? Or the ardent desires of the flesh in general? Because I would consider the ardent desires of the flesh to *be* original sin, i.e. sin as a condition or bondage.

Jared B

Principium Unitatis said...


The Catechism defines 'concupiscence' as "human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin." Concupiscence is not human desires or appetites (e.g. sexual desire) per se, but their disorder, since these desires should be in perfect conformity with reason. That is what it means for them to be ordered. Sexual desire itself is not sin. But even *disordered* sexual desires are not sin, because sin necessarily involves the will. Sin is a "deliberate thought, word, deed or omission that is contrary to the eternal law of God" (Catechism). That definition is drawn from St. Augustine. A disordered desire can lead a person to sin, if he consents to that desire with his will. But if he resists the desire, he has not sinned.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Mike Burgess said...

Here is my intial take on how that and other passages tie in. There is more to it which lead to a discussion of the glory of God and the Body of Christ, but I hope this gives at least the skeleton of my thoughts upon reading your post (so close to when I was already reflecting on these and other matters anyway). Thanks for listening.

Strider said...

I commend you for this article and the preceding piece on temporal nihilism. I believe you have identified one of the critical weaknesses in the classic Reformed position--the rejection of the salvific significance of human cooperation with the grace of God. What is breathtaking about this rejection is its radical departure from the entirety of the theological and ascetical tradition, both East and West. One would think that such a departure might at least give the Reformed some pause, but sadly that is not the case. Even St Augustine must ultimately be understood as having proclaimed a false gospel. As strong a predestinarian as he may have been, he was also a synergist who understood "justification" as including both forgiveness and sanctification.

The Reformed concern is one which the Catholic heartily endorse--the unconditionality of God's love--sola gratia! If the Reformation is understood--as it is so understood by contemporary Lutherans like Robert Jenson and George Lindbeck--as a summons to the Church to effectively proclaim in word, sacrament, and liturgy the unconditionality of God's love, then the Catholic should acknowledge the rightness and perhaps even necessity of the Reformation. But when the Reformers then proceeded to "dogmatize" their idiosyncratic construals of the gospel, thereby effectively excommunicating virtually all the saints and theologians of the Church of the preceding 1500 years, they stepped outside the catholic tradition and became sectarians.

My personal sympathies lie strongly with the Lutheran Reformation, as opposed to the Reformed. Luther spoke a word that the Catholic Church desperately needed to hear in the 16th century and desperately needs to hear today, as well evidenced by the dreary moralism of so much contemporary Catholic preaching. Luther's theology was existential, dynamic, personalist to the core--hence his impatience with and rejection of scholasticism. The irony is that both the Lutheran and Reformed traditions quickly moved into their own respective forms of scholasticism.

Ragamuffin said...

Bryan, I had a question about this portion of your post:

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.

Surprisingly enough, this is very close to how the process of salvation was explained to me in a Presbyterian church. You seem to agree with them on the "dead in our sins" notion, meaning that man left to his own devices or even merely "appealed to" by God will not respond to His call. God must act first upon the man's heart and will so that he desires God.

So the question becomes: does God give this "antecedent grace" to everyone at some point in their life? Because if He doesn't, it seems like you've just made the Calvinist's argument for them...that God chooses to act on some to quicken their soul and enable them to come to Him (though they would further say that all that He acts on in this way WILL come - i.e. "irresistible grace" or "effectual call") AND He simply chooses not to act on others in this way and allows them to die in their sins.

Principium Unitatis said...


So the question becomes: does God give this "antecedent grace" to everyone at some point in their life?

Yes, when they reach the age of reason. At that point, depending on whether they turn to God or turn away from God, they are either in a state of grace (by way of [at least implicit] baptism of desire] or in a state of mortal sin.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan