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Catholicism, Faith and Works: Excerpts from Return to Rome

In an entry below, there's an interesting discussion on faith and works and the parts they play in the theologies of Catholicism and Protestantism. Other than posting the original entry, I have said little in the combox. For this reason, I am posting here my understanding of the issue, as it appeared in sections of Return to Rome (notes and emphases omitted):

What is the Reformed doctrine of forensic justification? It is the view that one is made right, or justified by God, as a consequence of God’s gratuitously imputing to one Jesus’s righteousness. By dying on the cross in our stead and thus for our sins, Jesus paid the price to God for the punishment we deserve, eternal separation from him. One is justified at the moment one accepts Christ at conversion. But this acceptance, an act of faith on the part of the believer, is itself the work of God. Thus, justification is entirely a consequence of God’s grace. Accordingly, at conversion one is assured of salvation, for there is nothing that one can do or not do to lose or gain one’s redemption. [It should be noted that Luther seemed to believe that a Christian may fall from grace and “lose salvation.” How this squares with a forensic view of justification is unclear. This is why I believe that Calvin’s approach is more coherent. See, for example, Luther’s commentary on the fifth chapter of Galatians in Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, trans. Theodore Graebner (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1949; originally published in 1535), 194–216]. But the grace one receives is legal or forensic. This means that grace is not real stuff that changes nature, but merely the name given to God’s graciousness by legally accounting to us Christ’s righteousness. This is why it is called the imputation, rather than an infusion, of God’s grace. Sanctification, or as [Alister] McGrath calls it, regeneration, is a consequence of one’s conversion, the internal work of the Holy Spirit in one’s Christian journey. Good works, the exercise of the Christian virtues, and the change in one’s character over time are the natural outgrowth of one’s justification. But justification and sanctification are different events, though the latter, which extends over the lifetime of the converted sinner, follows from the former in the life of the authentic Christian. Although McGrath maintains that the Reformed distinction between justification and regeneration is only notional, it is the understanding of justification as exclusively forensic that requires this notional distinction. Thus, even if the distinction is merely notional, the idea that required it, “the Reformed understanding of the nature of justification” (i.e., forensic justification), is, according to McGrath, “a genuine theological novum.”

When I got around to reading the Church Fathers, the Reformation doctrine of justification was just not there, as [Norman] Geisler, [Ralph] McKenzie, and McGrath candidly admit. To be sure, salvation by God’s grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there as well. And to be sure, a believer’s “works” apart from God’s grace was decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Sunday,” to quote a famous Gospel song. Rather, saving faith, entirely the consequence of God’s grace, begins with one’s initial conversion, which incorporates one into the family of God. But at that point the journey is just beginning. For one then exercises one’s faith, itself a gift of God’s grace, in acts of charity, the spiritual disciplines, and prayer as well as in the partaking of the sacraments—all this in order to commune with God to receive his unmerited grace to conform one into the image of Christ. According to this view, justification refers not only to the Christian’s initial entrance into the family of God at baptism—which is administered for the remission of sins—but to the intrinsic work of both the infusion of that grace at baptism and all the subsequent graces that work in concert to transform the Christian from the inside out. It is in and through this ongoing transformation that one is made justified, in the same sense of being made righteous or rightly-ordered, and thus gifted to share in the divine life of Christ. Consequently, justification and sanctification are not different events, one extrinsic and the other intrinsic, as the Reformers taught. Rather, “sanctification” is the ongoing intrinsic work of justifying, or making rightly-ordered, the Christian by means of God’s grace, the same grace that intrinsically changed the believer at the moment of her initial “justification” (i.e., at baptism) into an adopted child of the Father. For the Church Fathers, as it seems to me obvious from Scripture (see chapter 6), justification is not only a matter of you getting into heaven, but also, and more importantly, a matter of getting heaven into you. This, it turns out, is the view of justification taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seemed to me that the chief distinction between the Protestant view of justification on the one hand, and the Catholic and Church Fathers’ view on the other, rests on whether Christ’s grace is infused or merely imputed at the moment one becomes a Christian at baptism and/or conversion....

The beautiful articulation of God’s grace that one finds in these Fathers... is elegantly tied together in the account of grace and merit that one finds in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

My study of the Fathers led me to reexamine the Canons of the Council of Orange (AD 529), which, with papal sanction, rejected as heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Having its origin in the Catholic monk Pelagius (ca. 354–ca. 420/440), the first heresy affirms that human beings do not inherit Adam’s sin (and thus denies the doctrine of original sin) and by their free will may achieve salvation without God’s grace. On the other hand, semi-Pelagianism maintains that a human being, though weakened by original sin, may make the initial act of will toward achieving salvation prior to receiving the necessary assistance of God’s grace. The Council of Orange, in contrast, argued that Adam’s original sin is inherited by his progeny and can be removed only by the sacrament of Baptism.

By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it. ”Even though Protestant thinkers sometimes portray the Council of Orange’s canons as a sort of paleo-Reformed document, it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.....

[A] Christian’s good works are performed in order that the grace that God has given us may be lived out so that we may become more like Christ.....The Catholic already believes that he is an adopted child of God wholly by God’s grace. For the practicing Catholic, good works, including participating in the sacraments, works of charity, and prayer, are not for the purpose of earning heaven. For good works are not meant to pay off a debt in the Catholic scheme of things. Rather, good works prepare us for heaven by shaping our character and keeping us in communion with God so that we may be “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col. 1:22)....

Once I abandoned methodological Protestantism, I could not find the substance of the Reformed view of justification in my reading of the New Testament without artificially forcing the text into Protestant categories. To be sure, I was fully aware how Protestant theologians made their case, and I was capable of following their reasoning. But I no longer found their case convincing. Moreover, the Reformed distinction between justification and sanctification, though seemingly defensible in light of certain biblical texts when isolated and explained by Reformed theologians, just could not be sustained in light of the entirety of the New Testament canon. Add to this the historical novelty of the Reformed doctrine of forensic justification as well as the development of sacraments, practices, and doctrines in both the Eastern and Western Churches that were totally oblivious to the Reformed view, and it seemed to me that Protestantism’s view of justification had an enormous burden that it could not meet.

Robert Wilken writes that “any effort to mount an interpretation of the Bible that ignores its first readers is doomed to end up with a bouquet of fragments that are neither the book of the church nor the imaginative wellspring of Western literature, art and music. Uprooted from the soil that feeds them, they are like cut flowers whose vivid colors have faded.” Thus, it did not surprise me that when I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church it seemed to tie together the scriptures and the Church Fathers in a far more elegant, rich, multilayered, and convincing way than could any Protestant account.

This is just a brief account of my understanding of the theological issues. It is not a case for why I came to believe that the Catholic view offers a better account of the Scriptural data. That is something I do in chapter 6 of Return to Rome. If you want to read that, you'll have to buy the book!

(Originally posted on the Return to Rome blog)

Comments (83)

"One is justified at the moment one accepts Christ at conversion. But this acceptance, an act of faith on the part of the believer, is itself the work of God."

Great! I won't have to lift a finger then! I'll just lean back into my hammock with my daiquiri and "Let God"...

Frank,

When I read McGrath, he claimed that the Reformers only innovated in what they left out, not what they added. But it was quite clear from the book that the early Augustine extended the idea of justification with Platonic metaphysics which, while Platonic metaphysics was no stranger to Christian theology at the time, certainly seemed to involve an innovative use of metaphysics to flesh out spiritual categories.

When I look at the original text, I see two ideas - participation and declaration. They're both there but the relationship is not fleshed out. Nor have I expected it to be, as time has gone on. As Lewis says in Miracles and Newman says in many places, these ideas are only worked out over time.

You might think this attitude makes me a Catholic; far from it. One might hold a 'defeasible traditionalist' position, where tradition can be overturned and where the development from Christian doctrine proceeds in epochs and revolutions - like science - rather than the odd gradualist picture of theological development that Newman offers (a gradualist picture which is strikingly parallel to other such developmental accounts of biology, society, etc. of that time period). The Reformers had a point about Plato and Aristotle: Scripture doesn't need them to be understood. And in fact, I think it is quite clear that Greek metaphysics and ethics occlude the clear deontological elements in Scripture and Hebrew culture. Aristotle and Plato have an 'attractive' ethics that makes the notion of moral imperatives and law harder to grasp than on, say, a Kantian picture.

It looks like the Church has now developed two positions on the relationship between participation and declaration. Some - Catholic and Orthodox - hold that they are basically the same idea. There is an initial declaration which is constituted by a change in the soul worked by God and then the declaration is worked out over time through participation. Whereas, on the Protestant view, things are more like you described them. But the Reformers brought up some serious problems for the Catholic view. Some of the ones I find more salient are:

(1) Salvation becomes far easier to lose and this causes terror to the terrified. A theology of love would bring comfort to the terrified sinner not a burden of struggle which may well make him 'twice the child of hell'. This is the monster of uncertainty, which is categorically different from the small opening Luther left. In my spiritual walk, my terror of God needs amelioration. The Catholic view presents me with deep fear, such that I cannot see converting to Catholicism ever. It would be, truly, to embrace the yolk of slavery once more.

(2) The tight conceptual connection between declaration and participation/justification and sanctification gives a picture of the theological life that lends itself to works-righteousness. Grace within a salvific life really can be earned; and this really can lead to the sort of boasting Paul was concerned with and a life of spiritual struggle that Jesus seemed to decry throughout the Scriptures.

(3) The Catholic conception of justification understands justice as Plato did, the right ordering of the soul. It is pretty historically implausible to think that Greek metaphysics, and moreover a Greek conception of primary justice as non-relational, seems obviously read into the text.

I think we need dialogue, history, and interpretation by experts to make sense of Scripture. I don't believe in private judgment, yet nor do I think we need the Papacy to do theology by fiat. And standing on the shoulders of giants, my best sense for your argument is that you seem to think that if the Protestant view is not in Scripture, that you are vindicated. But you aren't.

As for Rob Koons paper on Lutheranism, I'm a theologically trained Lutheran and I can say with certainty that Koons' discussion reveals a misunderstanding of Lutheran doctrine on key points and also - this should strike you - claims that you can be a Catholic while rejecting Papal Infallibility. I wouldn't cite it as a great example of ecumenism if I were you.

Two thumbs up for Selfreferencing, who's hit several nails squarely on the head all at once, especially the intrusion of Greek metaphysics into Theology and biblical interpretation, and the way that intrusion militates against the Hebrew understanding of God, of man, and of life in a fallen world. Selfreferencing is also right about the various competing views of justification and the significant distance between them (not to mention Koons' misfire).

It would be, truly, to embrace the yolk of slavery once more.

mmmm . . . yolk.

Sorry self, in a goofy mood this morning.

"the intrusion of Greek metaphysics into Theology and biblical interpretation, and the way that intrusion militates against the Hebrew understanding of God, of man, and of life in a fallen world"

It's been a few years since I've studied this stuff, but my impression was that 1st century Judaism was already fairly Hellenized, especially among the diaspora. By the time Christ arrived, there was no longer any purely Scriptural/purely Hebraic understanding of God and man in general circulation.

Furthermore, even if we believe that there is a pure Hebraic understanding floating around somewhere in the ether, how do we find and access it, given all the accretions that such an understanding presumes have been building up over time? It does no good to appeal simply to the text of Scripture, because what you end up doing in that case is making a virtual priestly caste out of the textual scholar, since whoever's closest to the "real" reading of the text is closest to the truth. But the historical/grammatical method, while helpful, also has its roots in a non-Biblical philosophy, namely that of the Enlightenment. And Enlightenment philosophy trumps Greek philosophy why, exactly?


P.S. As I'm Orthodox and not Catholic, I don't agree 100% with Frank on some of these issues (I come down with Cassian and Vincent of Lerins against Augustinianism, for instance. Indeed, it was a longish study of the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian controversies that led me East instead of West when I left Protestantism some 18 years ago.) But his arguments parallel my own findings, when I began to compare Protestant doctrine to that of the Fathers.

The intrusion of Greek culture is a concern that I too have had about Catholicism. It has always unnerved me at a gut level ever since I read Paul's struggles with the philosophers at Athens. Christianity, at its heart, is the final stage of Judaism, not a religion which fuses Judaism with gentile culture or philosophy. That it incorporates gentiles and does not hold them to the ritual Law doesn't change anything there.

By the time Christ arrived, there was no longer any purely Scriptural/purely Hebraic understanding of God and man in general circulation.

As the living embodiment of the Word of God, Jesus would **probably** disagree with you on that one, Rob...

Ironically, the whole idea that there is a pure ideal Christianity untouched by the vicissitudes of time is, well, Platonic. Why would any believe that the same incarnational faith that required that our Saviour pass through the womb of a common maiden, that our Scriptures, though the Word of God, include the personality and literary quirks of its human authors (including the distinctly Hellenistic language of John and Hebrews) should have a "pure" ideal version? Gnosticism, lest we forget, is a heresy. This is why Luther, who eschewed Aristotle, winds up with Ockham, since theology, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

It has always unnerved me at a gut level ever since I read Paul's struggles with the philosophers at Athens.

Clearly, you have no understanding of the cultural and historical background of those exact times then.

Using hyperbole, Paul in his Epistles was condemning the wisdom of the world then; one of the great fights in Greek discourse being over who was the sophos.

As a certain well respected Thomist can well explain (namely, Dr. Chastek), in condemning Greek wisdom, Paul intended a much wider meaning, not the restrictive meaning.

If Paul means the restricted meaning of “Philosophy” he means to speak to the most common or popular strain of Greeks philosophy: Epicureanism. The gospel actually is opposed to this strand of philosophy.

Paul meant to speak of the philosophy of the philosophers he actually encountered while preaching in Athens. Again, these were the Epicureans, who responded to his famous “sermon of the unknown god” by saying “Who is this babbler?”

Paul is condemning the wisdom that the Greeks seek. The Greeks wanted to kill Aristotle, and they actually did kill the founder of true Greek wisdom. They killed him, moreover, for denying the existence of the very gods which Paul wanted them to deny.

“We seek wisdom among the perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world, nor the princes of this world, come to naught”.

By “wisdom of the world” Paul means the power of persuasive oratory, as is clear from only a few verses later: “my speech and my preaching was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom”.

Wisdom, even wisdom with a heavy Greek and Platonic accent, is integral to the Scripture itself as Paul understood it. There was a whole book called “Wisdom”, for crying out loud, which Paul was well aware of. Whatever he means, he’s not condemning all Greek wisdom.

Paul was speaking not of Metaphysics or anything in the Aristotelian corps, but of sensual men or human eloquence, which are both beneath the wisdom of the faith:

…we speak: not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God. For it is foolishness to him: and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.

Paul condemns Greek wisdom as it existed at his time: a multitude of competing schools, all with fundamental disagreements, tending to seeks power and political influence as opposed to the true highest good.

But, even further to what Dr. Chastek himself had previously explained, if anything, the ecumenical councils were the pinnacle of the Hellenistic Judaism that was the original milieu of the Gospels themselves.

Perhaps we should simply toss out the doctrines and wisdom of these councils, too, given this!

Aristocles,

It is not that Greek philosophy is categorically wrong, but rather that so little of it was actually correct. The behavior you describe is still common among philosophers today. For every philosopher who meets your definition of one who seeks the truth, there are legions who do precisely what you say Paul was condemning.

The wisdom that is extra scriptural is actually quite small. Most of it is just rubbish. Ironically, Kevin and I would probably agree on that point, especially as it applies to modern times.

Well put, Frank. Or as you Catholics say, bingo. ;-)

"As the living embodiment of the Word of God, Jesus would **probably** disagree with you on that one, Rob..."

Yet, Jesus' own words were transcribed by fallible men, men who, as Frank says, show evidence of being influenced by Greek ideas. Unless you have some direct, unmediated pipeline to Christ's words, you have no access to this allegedly pure Hebraic Christianity. And if you claim to have such access, you betray yourself a Gnostic.

Which is the very reason why you should categorically toss out all the doctrines asserted by the Great Ecumenical Councils; surely, these which are clearly tainted by such rubbish are undeserving of serious and even the slightest consideration due to the rather notorious Hellenistic Judaism apparent in these supposed Christian councils, which is merely a demonstration of how quickly corrupt Christianity itself had become, perhaps even immediately after the death of the last apostle.

that intrusion militates against the Hebrew understanding of God, of man, and of life in a fallen world.

Well, in retrospect reaching out to the Gentiles was a mistake, and who thought booking a trip to Athens was a good idea?

Which is the very reason why you should categorically toss out all the doctrines asserted by the Great Ecumenical Councils; surely, these which are clearly tainted by such rubbish are undeserving of serious and even the slightest consideration due to the rather notorious Hellenistic Judaism apparent in these supposed Christian councils, which is merely a demonstration of how quickly corrupt Christianity itself had become, perhaps even immediately after the death of the last apostle.

There you go again, presenting the issue as though it has to be one extreme or another.

Frank, you say: "Ironically, the whole idea that there is a pure ideal Christianity untouched by the vicissitudes of time is, well, Platonic."

No Protestant needs to be committed to this idea. Instead, the Newmanian idea that there is a single Christian idea that is gradually worked out by the church seems more like a Platonic view. In any event, we're using the term 'Platonic' loosely. Here's a gloss on Platonic universals:

Some things have essences, others do not. Many of those essences are mind-independent and are participated in by particulars. Now, supposing I affirm this, what about my theological view is supposed to follow? What is Platonic on the Catholic view is the definition of justice. And that's a problem. Protestants can be Platonists in innumerable other respects.

"Gnosticism, lest we forget, is a heresy. This is why Luther, who eschewed Aristotle, winds up with Ockham, since theology, like nature, abhors a vacuum."

But why think that the 'vacuum' must be filled by Aristotle or Ockham or any one person? And furthermore, you should ask anyone at a Lutheran seminary about the old saw that Luther fell in with nominalists. This view has been refuted in every century in which it has been advanced. Many of Luther's foremost opponents were Ockhamists themselves. Furthermore, Frank, the Reformers themselves had varied metaphysical positions. The 17th century saw a wide range of Lutheran and Calvinist scholasticisms.

Selfreferencing:

When I read McGrath, he claimed that the Reformers only innovated in what they left out, not what they added.

I just finished reading the 2005 edition of McGrath's The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation, and I find that statement hides more than it reveals. For one thing, the respective Lutheran and Reformed hermeneutics of Scripture developed during the Reformation's formative years were not entirely compatible with each other; although both depended in part on the anti-Pelagianism of the schola Augustiniana moderna, the Lutheran depended more on a Pauline "canon within the canon," and the Reformed depended more on privileging Augustine's double-predestinationism, unique among the Fathers, over his ecclesiology, which was hardly unique. Admittedly, a purely forensic account of justification was a late-medieval novum shared by both the Lutheran and Reformed wings, and that account "left out" the patristic and medieval connection between justification and sanctification; but that only goes to show that their respective hermeneutics of Scripture, while incompatible with each other to some degree, were also incompatible with the older consensus. Such "innovation" seems is not so much a "leaving out" of certain things as a hermeneutically tendentious rewriting of the history of doctrine.

I'll take your criticisms of Catholicism one at a time.

Salvation becomes far easier to lose and this causes terror to the terrified. A theology of love would bring comfort to the terrified sinner not a burden of struggle which may well make him 'twice the child of hell'.

I'm glad you're not seeing this from a Calvinist perspective; it is hardly an affirmation of God's love to aver that a very substantial segment of humanity is predestined to hell no matter what they do. But I don't think you understand the Catholic doctrine either. The doctrine is not that God withdraws his grace from the justified if they sin, but that by sinning seriously, the sinner withdraws himself from God's grace, which is itself unearned. Divine mercy, however, is always available—especially through the sacrament of reconciliation—for the repentant sinner. A sinner is cut off from that only if he freely and definitively chooses to live in alienation from God. By contrast, the doctrine "once-saved-always-saved" does not require the sinner to going on repenting and striving, with the help of divine grace, to do better. Thus it is a license for sin. To that, of course, it is usually replied that the "real" Christian is one who in fact keeps on striving to obey Christ's command to love God and neighbor, despite failures, instead of resting on his laurel of "justification" and sinning heedlessly. But that leaves the adherent of "once-saved-always-saved" with even less certainty about his "real" Christianity than the Catholic.

The tight conceptual connection between declaration and participation/justification and sanctification gives a picture of the theological life that lends itself to works-righteousness. Grace within a salvific life really can be earned; and this really can lead to the sort of boasting Paul was concerned with and a life of spiritual struggle that Jesus seemed to decry throughout the Scriptures.

Frankly, that kind of criticism mystifies me. How can a Catholic "boast" of having "earned" grace if he is faced, as a sinner, with a life of "spiritual struggle" involving repeated sin and repentance? He can't, which is why no Catholic I know does, including myself. The Catholic doctrine is that, whatever merit there may be in loving acts performed by the power of sanctifying grace, those merits are themselves the fruits of God's unearned gift; the merely human element in "works" can never suffice to be salvific; it is only salvific to the extent that God works, synergistically, in and through it.

The Catholic conception of justification understands justice as Plato did, the right ordering of the soul. It is pretty historically implausible to think that Greek metaphysics, and moreover a Greek conception of primary justice as non-relational, seems obviously read into the text.

That borders on the silly. The "right ordering of the soul" is nothing more or less than justice as a virtue, and that idea is hardly limited to Greek metaphysics. It is found in every moral and religious tradition, including the OT, and is applied to Sts. John the Baptist and Joseph in the NT. There is no evidence that, prior to the late Middle Ages, such a concept was taken to be purely forensic. The "just" of the Old Covenant were not merely declared so for no discernible reason; they exhibited the virtue of justice, albeit imperfectly. The Christian synergism of the Fathers, especially of the Eastern Fathers, is fully in keeping with that. The Reformation represents a departure from it, based largely on selective Augustinianism and private interpretation of Scripture.

I think we need dialogue, history, and interpretation by experts to make sense of Scripture. I don't believe in private judgment, yet nor do I think we need the Papacy to do theology by fiat.

All that means is that the magisterium you recognize is scholarly rather than ecclesiastical. That reduces the content of faith to the tentative, revisable opinions of scholars rather than to the authoritative pronouncements of those who claim apostolic authority. And that in turn makes the assent of faith indistinguishable from that of opinion. Where is the one who speaks "with authority, not like the scribes?" The journey of faith is not an endless seminar of experts.

"They [Athenians] killed him [Socrates], moreover, for denying the existence of the very gods which Paul wanted them to deny."

But Socrates was no atheist; he simply had a different conception of divinity than the Athenian establishment represented at his trial. I don't know if Paul would have also denied the existence and worth of the divinity in which Socrates did believe; but it seems plain that some modern Christians here on this forum would decidedly do so.

Since Aristocles laments Socrates' death, I'll throw in Vox Day's view on the matter:

The forced suicide of Socrates is lamented by many would-be intellectuals, but those who actually know their Greek history are aware that Athens would have been much better off if they had had the foresight to execute him much sooner. Anyone who manages to produce a Critias, an Alcibiades and a Plato - a tyrant, a traitor and a theorist who provided the longest-standing, still-extant, intellectual justification for tyranny - is simply not someone you want wandering around teaching the children.

To which I will probably be subjected to a withering repudiation for supporting the "culture of death," by cheerfully saying that Vox is probably completely correct about Socrates.

No wonder the early church fathers admired such figures; again, if you would consider such as rubbish, then clearly the adulterated teachings of the early fathers and the Church itself which were primary constituents of the councils who manifested such make-believe doctrines as the Trinity should be done away with.

Can you really tell me that such figures, obviously tainted by the deplorable Greek philosophers and their pagan philosophy can be trusted as their conspicuously egregious Hellenistic Judaism engrained in these doctrines as well as their practices so clearly attest?

The wisdom that is extra scriptural is actually quite small. Most of it is just rubbish. Ironically, Kevin and I would probably agree on that point, especially as it applies to modern times.

Mike T, agreed, though you might overstate the case a tad. The marriage of Jerusalem and Athens sired our civilization, so it is odd to read criticism of the Greeks from Christian teachers of philosophy who are usually celebrating the wedding.

Theologians & philosophers often fight long-settled wars that have left the ground of lived experience, while the simple seem to catch glimpes of the Face of God more frequently. An example is this, sincere Catholics and Protestants see works as active evidence of their faith and aren't stroking their chins worrying about it too much.



Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, "To an unknown god." What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

A theology of love would bring comfort to the terrified sinner not a burden of struggle which may well make him 'twice the child of hell'. This is the monster of uncertainty, which is categorically different from the small opening Luther left. In my spiritual walk, my terror of God needs amelioration. The Catholic view presents me with deep fear, such that I cannot see converting to Catholicism ever.

Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but much more now in my absence) with fear and trembling work out your salvation. Philippians 2:12

Selfref, I think I share your discomfort with the fear that Catholic teaching leaves one in. I just don't see that this discomfort somehow provides a reason to doubt the truth of Catholicism. If St. Paul exhorts his friends to remain steadfast in the midst of their fear and trembling, how can we suppose that we are to be free of it? Are we better than they?

Nevertheless, this fear is not without remedy in Catholic teaching: the peace that God gives the soul who submits to His ministrations provides a balm to that fear, so that the person is content to remain in a state of doubt as to final success. Especially as St. Teresa describes (say, Interior Castle), the soul of the advanced Christian is not greatly burdened by that lack of certainty, being much MORE attentive to other concerns, such as inadvertently offending God and thereby being defective in friendship with Him who deserves our every thought.

3 And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord, Is 11

If fear is a norm for our condition as Christian disciples, avoiding that fear is hardly beneficial to that discipleship.

while the simple seem to catch glimpes of the Face of God more frequently.
26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

I think God smiles every time a burger flipper more readily grasps cosmic and spiritual truths than people with high IQs and enough abbreviations on their C.V. to make it look like a DoD memo.

Michael,

First, let me say I am grateful for your reply. I’ll take your points one by one.

(1) Protestant Hermenuetics – I think it is very important to understand that the Catholic hermeneutics at the time hardly spoke with one voice and that Catholic hermeneutics have changed a great deal since the pre-Reformation period. For instance, Catholics do not emphasize the four interpretations of each part of Scripture that Aquinas and Augustine hewed to any longer. Hermenutical disagreement was not confined to Protestantism.

Further, it is not a problem if hermeneutical methods diverge. All hermeneutics will make some things clearer and other things more obscure. They are like scientific methodologies which help us to make progress over time unraveling the Christian idea and building on it. What is the problem here?
(2) ‘Twice the Child of Hell’ – You can claim, as you did, that Catholicism holds that the sinner withdraws himself from God. But that does not ameliorate the heart of the criticism. Suppose I am Martin Luther, terrified of losing my salvation because of my knowledge that I deliberately sin routinely. And then suppose you say to him, “Ah, brother Martin, be not afraid. For God does not reject you, you reject God.” Would you really expect this to help?
Eternal Security (a doctrine I only 95% agree with) is not a license to sin. We still have duties to obey God and if we love Him, we will let Him help us to obey. Further, we are told that there will be benefits to obedience, even if they are not salvific ones. So we can still have (a) a duty not to sin, and (b) a motivation. No license here that I can say. The punishment is simply less horrific and allows the sinner the peace God promises.
(3) Boasting in Achievement – the criticism can go two ways. First, you might argue that the Catholic position on grace opens the possibility to personal boasting in a way that traditional Protestant doctrine does not. You might see this as a conceptual problem. Further, you might – and I think we arguably should – see the practices of medieval pious Catholics in sanctification not in boasting but as ameliorating guilt, which is similarly problematic.
(4) Platonic Justice – The Catholic conception of justice as a virtue is explicitly Platonic, with the passions in submission to the will, the will to the intellect and – this is added – the intellect to God. It is one of the core ideas in the Republic and is hardly a universal conception of justice. It is a common way of understanding being virtuous but not of being just. I’m not being silly. As for the prophets, do you really think that it was Abraham’s own righteousness that helped to save him? Why then does the Scripture only emphasize that it was his belief that was reckoned to him as righteousness? Why doesn’t it mention anything else?
The ‘private judgment’ canard gets me riled up. I’m waiting for (5) on this one.
(5) I can recognize a scholarly and ecclesiastical hierarchy without a problem. And it does not follow that without infallibility we have merely tentative and revisable opinions. This is very easy to illustrate. Are your senses infallible? Ok, does it follow that the deliverances of yours senses are tentative opinions? Furthermore, don’t you still have knowledge even without infallibility? And even further, don’t you have knowledge despite the fact that other smart people sometimes disagree with you about what you both sense?

The ‘private judgment’ fallacy is a very serious one. We do not need infallibility in order to converge on common views. Science has no Pope, yet we have learned about the laws of gravity. Further, some ideas can be put beyond doubt through inquiry, despite being revisable in principle. The periodic table is in principle revisable but it is not a serious option. Further, even if the model is revisable, we still know it to be true. Fallibility does not preclude knowledge. I think of the doctrine of the Trinity in the same way. We know it to be true and know it to be inerrant, but we can be mistaken in principle. However, this possibility is off the table. And theological experts can speak with authority as a result, just as scientists can.

Anyone trained in modern epistemology knows that there is an incredibly wide gulf between knowledge gained through testimony and opinion. This is a false dichotomy of the worst sort.

As for your last comment, that ‘the journey of faith is not an endless seminar of experts’, I agree. It is also not led by an endless succession of theological dictators.

Tony, I freely grant that the Christian life presents many sources of terror but it also provides many sources of comfort. On the Catholic view, a vital, crucial source of comfort is removed. As for God giving us a 'balm' to help us not be afraid when we rightly doubt our salvation, this strikes me as horrific. Instead of having good reason to believe that we are saved, we are given the strength to not worry about endless horror and pain. Does that sound right to you?

In that link to Aquinas above, Aquinas quotes 2 Timothy 1:12:

“I know Whom I have believed, and I am certain that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.”

However, the Greek does not really have "I am certain that..." -- it has "πεπίστευκα καὶ πέπεισμαι ὅτι..." -- which can be translated "I believe and I am persuaded that..."

This is still not yet "certainty" -- thank God!


What is meant by "infused"? It is an honest question.

Francis said: "Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it."

How does this idea of santification reconcile with this: "Eph 4:11 And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, Eph 4:12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

It seems that the scriptures equate maturity i.e. sanctification with a unity of faith and true knowledge of the Son of God. Is the Roman view of infusion or infused grace talking about the renewing of the mind which would necessarily steer rational beings' actions/works toward the direction of their understanding of truth? If not, what is this infusion about if not informing?

On the Catholic view, a vital, crucial source of comfort is removed.

Sorry, but the Church hasn't 'removed' anything. Neither Our Lord nor the Apostles nor any of the Fathers promise that we should have certainty that we are saved.

Protestantism, on the other hand, really has removed a vital, crucial source of comfort: that of the Sacrament of Confession. I don't know how much time I've spent, as a Protestant, in anguish over my sins, banging my head against the floor trying to convince myself emotionally that God had forgiven me. I might hope he had, but I had precious little with which to ascertain it.

It is very different when you sit with a priest whom you know has authority stemming from the Apostles and thus possesses their powers of forgiving sins (cf. John 20:23) and he raises his hand over you and declares, "And now I absolve you from your sins; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

It is not certainty of salvation, but it sure is something in your day-to-day struggles. And when you hear it on your deathbed, it's as close to certainty of salvation as you can reasonably get.

"if you would consider such as rubbish, then clearly the adulterated teachings of the early fathers and the Church itself which were primary constituents of the councils who manifested such make-believe doctrines as the Trinity should be done away with."

Yes, and one wonders how the early Church fathers and bishops, tainted as they were with pagan Greek philosophy, managed to discern correctly which writings would be part of the New Testament and which wouldn't. And furthermore, they mysteriously included books which taught things that blatantly disagreed with their own doctrines.


"The ‘private judgment’ fallacy is a very serious one. We do not need infallibility in order to converge on common views."

What about Holy Scripture? As Rousas Rushdoony wrote, infallibility is an inescapable concept. He rightly argued for the infallibility of Scripture, yet did not see that an infallible text is only as good as its interpreters. The infallibility of Scripture is pointless if it's subject to multiple, equally valid interpretations. St. Irenaeus and other fathers knew this very early on.

The hermeneutic buck has to stop somewhere. If it doesn't stop at the Church, it stops at the individual. There are no other alternatives. End of story.

Eternal Security (a doctrine I only 95% agree with)

Well, the real issue isn't whether it gives comfort, or you agree with it 95 or 100%. The issue is whether it is true. And even St. Paul admits he had to constantly mortify his own flesh lest, after preaching salvation to others, he himself lose it.

As for the prophets, do you really think that it was Abraham’s own righteousness that helped to save him? Why then does the Scripture only emphasize that it was his belief that was reckoned to him as righteousness? Why doesn’t it mention anything else?


Didn't Jesus himself point out that even the devils believe?

c matt:

In other words, self-referencing is saying that so long as folks like Hitler were to have been born again, it wouldn't matter how many Jews he's killed since if he had accepted Jesus into his heart as Lord & Saviour; in the end, the guy will still go to Heaven.


As for the tired protestant apologetics concerning Abraham, one need only look to St. Paul on the matter:

In Romans 4:3, when Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 it says:

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

It’s not referring just to the very beginning of Abraham’s salvation experience because it’s taken from Genesis 15. To think thus would almost require us to believe that Abraham in Genesis 12, 13 and 14 wasn’t actually saved, wasn’t actually justified.

In Genesis 12, of course, he leaves his kindred, he leaves his homeland; he follows God; he accepts the Promise by Faith; he goes to the Promised Land.

In Genesis 13 and 14, he fights against armies that have captured his nephew; he tithes to Melchizedek; he’s blessed by Melchizedek; he shows himself to be an opponent of the evil in Sodom.

Abraham has done so much before you get to Genesis 15:6, that I think you’re hard-pressed to see Paul twisting a text out of context and suggesting that up until Genesis 15, Abraham had not been regenerated, that he did not have a saving faith, that he didn’t have a personal relationship with God. I think that Genesis 15:6 is actually highlighting his justified status as a growing son of God on the basis of the fact that from before Genesis 15, going back to Genesis 12, 13 and 14, he is God’s son.

The Bible never once says that Abraham was justified by faith alone. Those words appear nowhere in the Bible.

In fact, James says precisely the opposite:

You see that Abraham was justified by works and not by faith alone.


Of course, it's best (and even more convenient) to ignore the whole of Scripture and simply pick out those that support the Protestant hypothesis.

Ari,
It's not like Protestants have never read the verses you quote. Of course they have, and many times. The issue is their meaning and their application, an d how that meaning and application are compatible with other Biblical texts. Quoting a series a contrary Bbile texts won't win the day. One actually has to theologize and to synthesize, to tie the Biblical texts together accurately and wisely. I know you know that, and I don't mean to tell you something that's perfectly obvious.

The issue is their meaning and their application, an d how that meaning and application are compatible with other Biblical texts.

Exactly, which is why I continue to be dumb-founded by the fact that not only has this been the traditional interpretation not only by those who succeeded after the Apostles but also the disciples of Christ themselves and their prefigurements in the Old Testament.

Of course, it's often become the predominant view that those who came 1,500 years thereafter seemed to have determined the ultimate infallible interpretation of Scripture as opposed to these very figures from whom we have not only discerned but also received the very books of Scripture itself.

Of course, it's best (and even more convenient) to ignore the whole of Scripture and simply pick out those that support the Protestant hypothesis.

You have a problem there with that argument because on the surface, Paul and James directly contradict one another. First Paul declared that salvation is by faith, not works. Then James declared that man is justified also by works and not just faith.

The Protestant hypothesis squares well with that as all major Protestant denominations teach that works are a key sign of a saving faith.

First Paul declared that salvation is by faith, not works...

You do know what Paul was actually contending with here and the context of the very passage from which this came from, don't you?

He was dealing with the Judaizers; and, therefore, the "works" he was addressing was respectively that concerning "works of the Law".

Further down the chapter than Ari's selected verse,

You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

So, it's clear that good works sustain faith and build faith. It is not clear at all from James that works are coequal with faith in any fashion, but rather are a manifestation of faith and help to reinforce it.

Of course, presupposing free will as opposed to predestination, it's rather obvious that if one sits on their butt all of their life and does nothing to serve God that the faith they had was the sort that demons had, not the sort of faith that Paul was assuming in Romans.

He was dealing with the Judaizers; and, therefore, the "works" he was addressing was respectively that concerning "works of the Law".

I am aware of that. Still, the overlap between the works of the Law and the works of general righteousness is pretty high.

It is always strange that the standard Reformed glossing of James 2 of works that serve as an effect of faith, with the latter as a cause gets the causal order that James gives backwards. The analogy that James gives is, soul is to body as works are to faith. (v. 26) Works then aren’t here the effect of faith, they are makes or causes the faith to be genuine, as Paul indicates in 1 Cor 13, faith that can move mountains that lacks love is incomplete. The causal relation is works cause faith to be genuine and not faith genuinely causes good works.

"Was not Abraham justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness'; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." -- Letter of James, chapter 2, verses 21-24.

In simplest terms, Faith & works are 2 sides of the same coin. "So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead" (James 2:17). And works, without faith, are of no avail. This is not an "either or", but a "both and".


Also, look again to what St. Paul actually says --

St. Paul: "Abraham was justified by faith" (not "faith alone").
St. James: "Abraham was justified by works and NOT by faith alone."
Catholic soteriology: Justification by faith (but not by faith "alone").


Romans 4 never says "faith alone." The word "alone" does not appear in Romans 4 (although Luther added it to his own translation of Romans). In fact, the phrase "faith alone" -- the slogan embodying formal principle of the Reformation -- appears nowhere in the entire Bible, except in James 2 -- where it is expressly denied.

You are mistaken in thinking that "good works" are the same as "dead works." The NT often says that "works of the law" (or "dead works") avail nothing for salvation; it never says this of "good works." You will search the NT in vain for any such statement about "good works."

Good works are works done in the grace of Christ; they are not dead works of the law, works done in attempted fulfillment of the Torah of Moses. Works of the law avail nothing; works done in the grace of Christ are rewarded by God in keeping with His will and promises.


From Romans 2:

For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing ("working good" or good works) seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek... For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Note well the motive St. Paul ascribes to the just man persisting in good works: By his patience in good works he is precisely seeking glory and honor and immortality. It is not just that he already has eternal life and is merely being good because that is now his nature as a child of God. No! In his good works the justified man seeks eternal life.

And God does not damn him to hell for believing a false gospel! We have already seen in Romans 1 that the just man lives by faith. He has been justified by faith, yet by patience in well-doing he seeks eternal life. And God renders to him according to his works: not with eternal perdition, but with eternal life.


As for the rather tendentious contention of a guaranteed eternal salvation for even those who merely accept the Lord Jesus but nonetheless need not perform Good Works that are part & parcel of the Faith:

What are we supposed then to make of Matthew 25: 31-46?


Matthew 25: 31-46

31 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. 32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. 34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry and fed thee: thirsty and gave thee drink? 38 Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee? 39 Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee? 40 And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. 41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me. 44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to thee? 45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. 46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.


And what of other verses in Matthew that say:

Mt 24:13:

13 But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.


As well of the other scriptural passages:

Mt 7:21:

21 Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

1 Cor 6:9:

9 Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers:

Like Bauman himself suggested:

The issue is their meaning and their application, an d how that meaning and application are compatible with other Biblical texts.


So, please, tell me how you can reconcile what once was clearly the original interpretation of such Scriptural passages by the early church herself as evinced by several writings of the Fathers themselves and, thus, held up from ages on since (until the time of the notorious Deformation) as an integral part of Christian Teaching & Tradition, as well as these being principally the original Teachings of the Apostles themselves as thereby taught not only by them but by those who succeeded them thereafter?

It is, it seems to me, quite incorrect to say that St. Paul teaches a salvation by faith in the sense of a faith apart from the good works that flow from charity. One can certainly speak of a Pauline doctrine of salvation by faith and even of salvation by faith alone, provided that the faith we are speaking of is a faith informed by charity. There is a real sense in which our salvation is won by nothing other than placing our whole trust in the God who saves (this is, in fact, what St. Therese's "little way" is all about). But this trust does not involve a denial of the need to work out one's salvation in the course of one's life. Rather, it is the kind of trust that believes firmly that "with Christ, we can do all things." Someone above stated that the Scriptures must be taken in their whole context. I quite agree. St. Paul himself must also be understood in context. In the very letter to the Romans in which he states that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law, he also states the following:

"For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who, by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury." (Rom. 2:7-8)

St. Paul clearly asserts here that we are to seek immortality and glory and honour by perseverence in doing good. His teaching on salvation by faith then, must be understood in the light of this clear assertion, i.e., not that a good and holy life is not required to attain eternal beatitude, but rather, that without faith in God, we cannot live a good and holy life.

I will let others address Ari's Scripture Exegesis. For now, I will address some other points:

(1) Gideon, what do you think of 1 John 5:13: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life." And even if this doesn't work, Christ promises peace to the terrified and it is hard to see how the Catholic doctrine makes that clear. As for Confession, my Lutheran confessions still have a confessional liturgy and we believe that grace is received through it, despite the fact that we don't call it a sacrament (although this is open to debate). So no, forgiveness does not rely on emotional feeling. Instead, it relies only on believing God's promises. You have a false dichotomy here - church hierarchy vs. emotional assurance. Surely there are alternatives.

(2) Rob G, I first hope that we can agree that Rushdoony is perhaps not the most reliable source on these matters, given that he was ... well ... insane. Infallibility is not inescapable, anyway, only inerrancy is. These are very different ideas. Scripture can be inerrant even if there are multiple, reasonable interpretations of it. It means that we have reason to hold that one or none of us is correct and that we should continue to move forward in seeking the truth. And sure, the hermeneutical buck has to stop somehwere, but it doesn't have to stop in infallibility or an incapability of fallibility. We need knowledge, but we do not need infallible knowledge. I think people fought over infallibility for so long because they mistakenly thought infallibility was needed for absolute certainty which in turn was needed for knowledge. But that's just a mistake. So, that's not the end of the story. The next chapter starts in Epistemology 101.

(3) Ari, with respect to James, my understanding is that James is speaking merely or propositional assent whereas Paul's conception of faith is more substantive. As a result, they do not contradict one another. But I freely grant that careful exegesis is required here. That said, I wish you wouldn't pretend that only Catholics have engaged in such careful exegesis. Perhaps both sides have and they have come to a reasonable disagreement.

Ugh. Can we all agree that: (1) Catholics do not suppose works earn salvation, and (2) Protestants do not believe works are irrelevant to Christian life?

It is compatible with all of the texts quoted above to understand by faith that living faith that is distinguished from the dead faith James disapproves of. Dead faith does not cease to be faith in every respect, or it would no longer be called "faith". So the difference between living faith and dead faith is not simply one believes and one does not. A demon, or a person who was once a believer in Jesus but who now goes to Black Masses, believes that Jesus is God. But in neither of them is their belief something that makes them alive with God's life.

When we receive faith as a gift of grace from God, making us alive spiritually and making us to be adoptive sons and daughters, we receive a participation in God's own life, He who takes up His abode within us. This grace gives not only faith, but hope and love as well. The natural fruit of such love is works. A person can, by free will, refuse the works that should flow from love, reject God, and destroy that love, without ceasing to believe that Jesus is the Savior. Such a person who does no "works" according to a love of God because he rejected God, cannot remain in the Love which is received as a gift along with Faith. So, while he still has belief in Jesus, it is a dead faith. Thus James' saying that "faith without works is dead" is explained - you cannot retain living faith if you reject the works that naturally flow from the Love which is given when Faith is given. And Paul saying that "Abraham was justified by faith" is explained - works follow after Faith, Hope, and Love, and in no way cause them, so Abraham's justification is prior to any works. And the two are in no way contradictory.

Tony,

That's why I tire of the ole catholic vs. protestant debate; it never seems to end and, as even Maximos himself had rightly observed in other older threads, becomes merely a regrettable re-enactment of the Reformation.

I wish Maximos or even Paul Cella himself would post something up to take us off this already tired track of endless disagreements that inevitably goes on in painful perpetuity.

"Scripture can be inerrant even if there are multiple, reasonable interpretations of it. It means that we have reason to hold that one or none of us is correct and that we should continue to move forward in seeking the truth."

Leaving aside Rushdoony's mental state, what you're saying is that we can know that Scripture is inerrant, but we can't know which, if any, of the various interpretations of a given text is correct? Of what value then is Scripture's inerrancy? And how do we know we're "moving forward" in seeking the truth and not moving backwards or sideways? Such an understanding seems to result in epistemological agnosticism, which is a far cry from the traditional Christian view.

"the hermeneutical buck has to stop somehwere, but it doesn't have to stop in infallibility or an incapability of fallibility. We need knowledge, but we do not need infallible knowledge."

When it comes to the hermeneutics of Scripture we do, because we are presuming an infallible starting point. Again, what good is an infallible text if all possible interpretations of it are potentially errant, and we have no authority by which to judge between them?

aristocles:

The sorts of debate you're tired of go on in "painful perpetuity" because there is no agreement on what visible authority could, in principle, settle them. The only debate worth having is, accordingly, about authority.

Dr. Liccione:

Agreed. However, not all parties are actually cognizant of that very fact.

Rob G, with his usual unmistakable insight, even puts the matter more precisely:

When it comes to the hermeneutics of Scripture we do, because we are presuming an infallible starting point. Again, what good is an infallible text if all possible interpretations of it are potentially errant, and we have no authority by which to judge between them?

Selfref,

As to the verse from 1 John I'm not a Greek scholar so I don't know what is implied in the word translated "know." And even if I did I wouldn't presume to "know" what the Apostle meant by that. One thing I cannot believe that it means is that the Apostle assumes a Christian can have absolute certainty that he will be saved, because that is a doctrine which the Church condemns - and I believe that the Church has in its Tradition kept the faith of the Apostles.

On the other hand, I don't think you've explained what you think of St. Pauls "Work out your salvation in fear and trembling."

And as to Christ promising "peace to the terrified" - I don't know where He does that, and anyway that can mean any number of things. Your assertion that Catholic Christianity does not promise peace to the terrified merely because it teaches that no man can be absolutely certain that he will be granted eternal salvation is a non sequiteur. Catholic Christianity includes numerous powerful sources of consolation. For starters, I refer you to what I wrote about Confession above. Also, the Catholic Church teaches that the mercy of God is infinite and that it extends to all men, also those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of Christ but have cooperated with the grace given them by God. Protestantism, by contrast, has no hope for the 90% or so of the world's population throughout the ages who have never had the Gospel preached to them. Finally, Catholic Christians have constant recourse to the powerful intercession of the Virgin Mary and the Saints, not to mention the assistance of the Archangel Michael and his vast array of angels.

Sin is real. The possibility of turning radically away from God is always present, due to the fact that God has endowed us with free will. Such a fall is terrible to comprehend, but we Catholics know that God is stronger than all sin and evil, and much stronger than our own weakness. We know that there is nothing that He cannot forgive. And so, while we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, as the Apostle commands us to, we put our trust in Him who loved us to the end, confident that He will take possession of His inheritance for whom He paid so dearly, and mindful of the immense grace He pours out onto us in His Sacraments and in the internal workings of His Holy Spirit, and of the assistance we receive from His angels and the holy ones seated in his presence. And we absolutely do know that the victory is His, now and forever.

All this is more than sufficient to stop me from ever feeling 'terrified.'

In Selfref, the glory of God always seems to be dependent on anthropocentric certainty.

When I meet a Calvinist who is certain he is not one of the elect, then we can start talking. :-)

mercy of God is infinite and that it extends to all men, also those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of Christ but have cooperated with the grace given them by God.

What is the actual scriptural evidence that one can be saved without first believing in Jesus? Or is that one of the things that certain Catholics believe because it is easier than admitting that it is God's prerogative to "show mercy to those he will show mercy."

Mike T,

What is the actual scriptural evidence that one can be saved without first believing in Jesus? Or is that one of the things that certain Catholics believe because it is easier than admitting that it is God's prerogative to "show mercy to those he will show mercy."

I believe it's a heretic from Tarsus who himself didst teach:

Romans 2:14-15

"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;"

It is interesting to me that your underlying assertion is at odds with other Christians throughout history, like St. Justin Martyr.

St. Justin wrote in his second apology:

"When Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring [the worship of demons] to light and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that 'he was introducing new divinities;' and in our case they display a similar activity."

Likewise in his first apology, St. Justin wrote:

"Those who lived in accordance with the Logos are Christians, even though they were called godless, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus and others like them."


Consider the words of St. Iranaeus:

“There is only one unique and the same God the Father, and his Word has been present to humanity from all time, although by diverse dispositions and manifold operations he has from the beginning been saving those who are saved, that is, those who love God and follow his word, each in his own age.” (Against Heresies, IV, 28, 2) And again: “Christ did not only come for those who, since the time of the Emperor Tiberius have believed in him, nor has the Father exercised his providence only in favor of people now living, but in favor of all without exception, from the beginning, who have feared God and loved him and practiced justice and kindness towards their neighbors and desired to see Christ and hear his voice, in accordance with their abilities and the age in which they were living.” [ibid, IV, 22,2 (SC bis, p. 688.,)


St Allbert the Great:

“Examining the teachings of pagan philosophers in the light of sound reason, he demonstrated clearly that they were in fundamental accord with the tenets of the faith.” From the second Nocturn of St. Albert the Great, Nov. 15. )(Breviary Pius X).

One could provide many similar quotations from the saints.

St Thomas Aquinas held with St Ambrose that all Truth, no matter where it was found had the Holy Spirit for its author, and further that extrinsic proofs could be used in support of the Catholic Faith. Indeed his Summa is full of quotes from extrinsic sources.

How could it have been otherwise when the Word was made flesh in the beginning?

Did Moses not teach the truth?

Of course, there is that blatant notion that genuine Christianity only came into being 1,500 years thence and that those prominent figures of the early church were simply tossers.

It often strikes me with remarkable awe why we should even accept anything that was actually a product of theirs, be it that which came out of the councils they held or even certian Christian doctrines & canons they ultimately formulated & outright determined.

Apologies, Mike T -- but just keeping it REAL.

Replies to Rob G, Gideon and Frank Beckwith below,

(1) Rob G

(a) "What you're saying is that we can know that Scripture is inerrant, but we can't know which, if any, of the various interpretations of a given text is correct?" No, I'm denying that. People can reasonably disagree about the right hermeneutic and yet one of them still know that he is correct. Reasonable disagreement does not preclude knowledge. If it did, skepticism would run rampant.

(b) "And how do we know we're "moving forward" in seeking the truth and not moving backwards or sideways?" For the same reason you think that Papacy is taking us forward. We presume that God's goodness means that He will - generally speaking - move us forward and not backward.

(c) "When it comes to the hermeneutics of Scripture we do [need infallible knowledge], because we are presuming an infallible starting point." I do not understand this claim. What do you mean by an infallible starting point? We have evidence for our beliefs and our beliefs are caused by God. We have knowledge because we come to believe in God in the right way, are correct and have no defeaters. That's our epistemic starting point. Is that infallibility? No. And anyway, why would needing infallible knowledge follow from an infallible starting point, whatever that happens to be?

(d) "Again, what good is an infallible text if all possible interpretations of it are potentially errant, and we have no authority by which to judge between them?" It depends on what 'potentially' comes to. If it means something like 'could very easily be' then I agree it would be a problem because one would have reason to doubt that she has epistemic justification for her interpretation. But if by 'potentially' you mean something like 'in principle, but for now my evidence is solid' then we already have used a method to achieve justified belief that will probably help us get traction on why we reject other interpretations.

(2) Gideon

(a) “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling." It is funny that this passage is a favorite of Protestants and Lutherans like myself. Do you really think Paul means to imply from this passage that theological justification is a continuum concept as Catholics teach that it is? The implications of your salvation is something to struggle with, the associated walk with God, the awe that results from the fact that God has saved you, and so on. So what is wrong with this more expansive understanding of 'working out' one's salvation? I take it that you need to say much more to show that your interpretation of this passage is conclusive.

(b) “Your assertion that Catholic Christianity does not promise peace to the terrified merely because it teaches that no man can be absolutely certain that he will be granted eternal salvation is a non sequitor.” You have changed terms on me. 'Absolutely certain' is not a phrase I used. Catholics deny individuals *knowledge* of their salvation and it seems to me, accordingly, any high degree of epistemic justification.

And here is why this is problematic: if we lack a high degree of epistemic justification in our belief that we are saved, we have a very strong reason to live in constant fear for Pascalian reasons. The possibility of infinite sorrow and pain stands always before us, even if the probability is small. However, if we have a high degree of epistemic justification and if we have knowledge of our salvation, we can discount these probabilities. As a result, your assertion that "The possibility of turning radically away from God is always present ..." is precisely the problem because it obviates all the 'powerful sources of consolation' you cite. If we are to regard the possibility of infinite pain as a constantly live option, why are the sources of consolation you offered supposed to provide sufficient comfort for a soul in terror?

(c) Your whole sentence: “The possibility of turning radically away from God is always present, due to the fact that God has endowed us with free will.” This is interesting. I think we have free will and that God knows our future. Consequently, He can give us knowledge by testimony of our salvation even though we have free will. So on my view, this argument fails.

(d) “Protestantism, by contrast, has no hope for the 90% or so of the world's population throughout the ages who have never had the Gospel preached to them.” Catholics often complain that whenever Protestants disagree, they splinter. That said, how can you make a general claim about what 'Protestants' believe? I hold a 'hidden Plan B' theory. God tells us his Plan A for salvation, and while we might have good reason to suppose He has a Plan B for those who do not hear and believe the Gospel, He has chosen not to tell us about it for a reason. So it is possible that those who do not hear the Gospel in this life are saved, but this possibility is beyond reasonable speculation. What's wrong with that view?

(3) Frank Beckwith

(a) “In Selfref, the glory of God always seems to be dependent on anthropocentric certainty.” Well, no. God's glory is not dependent on man in any way. However, if you believe that God loves us and died for us in order to be saved, you might find it plausible that God would give us a way to either (a) know that we are saved or (b) have a very high degree of epistemic justification for the belief that we are saved, both of which Catholic doctrine appears to deny us. You can see my reasons for holding this in my response to Gideon.

'Anthropocentric certainty' has nothing to do with it. In fact, 'certainty' isn't epistemically significant at all; it is just a psychological state. The primary thing we need from God isn't mere certainty, but *rational* certainty. When you 'submitted once again to the yolk of slavery', you did so by opening yourself up to the constant possibility of damnation and fear of the law. It seems to me that by becoming Catholic you have lost a great deal of epistemic justification for your belief that you and God are at peace and are related to one another in the right way. It also seems to me that rationally speaking, you ought to be constantly afraid (or should at least acknowledge that many terrified souls could be epistemically justified in being constantly afraid), just as Luther was when he was an Augustinian monk. After all, if losing your salvation is a constant and significant possibility, then eternal and infinite pain is a constant and significant possibility. Why shouldn't you be afraid?

My considered view is that God gives humans free will and grace but that He has predestined us for salvation. I reject double predestination because I believe that when God chose a possible world to actualize, His selection criteria did not include choosing a number of souls to damn and so he bore no intentional attitude towards the damnation of any human being. Instead, He engaged in 'single' predestination, selecting a world where he intended to bring about the salvation of all but knew that He would fail given other constraints He had reason to adopt (such as, say, respecting our choices).

That said, God still knows the future and He can give us knowledge of the future alongside us having bona fide free will (I'm a Molinist, if you couldn't already tell that). I take it that the Gospel is the testimony that gives us knowledge of our salvation. Since we know, we can discount the probability of eternal pain and are souls therefore can rationally be at peace.

Gideon and Selfreferencing:

The verb used in 1 John 5:13 is (to transliterate) eidhte -- which really means "see", as in English we sometimes say "You will see what I mean", not literally seeing with the eyes, and not quite knowing, but more like "realize". Thus:

"These things I have written to you, you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you will see that you have eternal life."

Had the writer of 1 John 5:13 wished to stress the "knowing", he probably would have used ginwskete. It sounds to me more like he is saying that he is describing his communication to the recipients of his letter in terms of persuading them with an argument -- not claiming through an apodictic (and gnostic) oracle that they "know".

Aristocles,

"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;"

That should be read in the greater context of Romans. As you yourself pointed out, Paul was battling with the Judaizers and other legalists at that time. In the greater context of Romans 2, let alone Romans, it is obvious that Paul was saying to the legalists that many of the gentiles also had the essence of the law making them essentially "equal but different" to the Jews. Hence "a law unto themselves." I see nothing in there that would deny the necessity of a belief and knowledge of Jesus as part of the New Covenant terms of salvation.

In Romans 9, Paul makes the first serious blow to the idea that we are all capable of receiving grace, let alone that God even gives it to all of mankind. Then, in Romans 10, Paul reinforces the idea that knowledge of, belief in, and confession of Jesus-as-Lord is a necessary prerequisite of salvation for all of mankind:

8But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,"[a] that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."[b] 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

I know better than many Christians this fear, as most of my family members are openly anti-christ. As much as I would wish them to be saved, I know that that is impossible in their current state.

One could provide many similar quotations from the saints.

Consider your audience on that one...

St Thomas Aquinas held with St Ambrose that all Truth, no matter where it was found had the Holy Spirit for its author, and further that extrinsic proofs could be used in support of the Catholic Faith. Indeed his Summa is full of quotes from extrinsic sources.

In general, I could agree with that.

How could it have been otherwise when the Word was made flesh in the beginning?

That's a special case.

Did Moses not teach the truth?

Moses was a prophet, and unlike saints or philosophers, was receiving a direct revelation from God.

Of course, there is that blatant notion that genuine Christianity only came into being 1,500 years thence and that those prominent figures of the early church were simply tossers.

Not all of them are created equal. St. Justin didn't seem to have any problem with the idea that Socrates was not actually personally aware of Yaweh as opposed to some theoretical monotheistic deity. Using a similar logic, the Deists likewise acknowledge Yaweh, but merely hold a radically different conception of Yaweh (as opposed to how Moses would have called their "god of nature" an idol or false god).

It often strikes me with remarkable awe why we should even accept anything that was actually a product of theirs, be it that which came out of the councils they held or even certian Christian doctrines & canons they ultimately formulated & outright determined.

You're assuming that they were all equal. Would you trust a typical saint on the same level as one of the apostles? If Peter said one thing, and a saint said something that seemed to go not quite in line with that, who would you immediately question?

Even assuming apostolic succession (something I'm not big on, but will assume for the sake of argument), why would I trust various people annointed as "saints" by any church to have a clear revelation on these subjects? For example, if I were to take St. Justin at face value, I would have to conclude that Yaweh and Ahura Mazda are the same deity in essence. Thus, all Zoroastrians who seem to be obeying Yaweh's law were getting a free ride to heaven, despite committing an overt violation of the first commandment.

Mike T:

Why do you trust the Homousian understanding of the Trinity (and even accept, presumably, the Doctrine of the Trinity as) formulated at Nicaea when, clearly, the very details contained therein is notoriously absent within the confines of Scripture itself; that is, such exposition on the Trinity formulated as such is not even explicitly covered by the Teachings of the Apostles and the Writers of Scripture themselves?

As to your previous assertion that one cannot be saved without first believing in Jesus, then the Chosen People of God, including the Patriarchs, are actually damned to Hell, evidently.

'Gideon, what do you think of 1 John 5:13: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life."'

Though this question was directed at Gideon, allow me to take a shot at it. Certainly, St. John writes his letter so that his readers may "know" that they have eternal life. But how do they come to know this, according to John? Well, if you read the whole letter you'll see that they can come to know that they are children of God and inheritors of eternal life by examining themselves to see if they are living righteous lives. Consider these verses:

"By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother." (3:19)

"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death." (3:14)

"All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them." (3:24)

St. John is very clear. We can know we are children of God if we live righteously, keep God's commandments, and love the brethren. However, nowhere in 1 John does the apostle state that there will come a time in our life when we can cease to apply these tests to ourselves. He is not talking about a kind of test which, if we pass it, enables us to rest on our laurels for the remainder of life. Rather, there must be a continual examination of ourselves. Are we striving to live in accordance with the Gospel everyday? Where do we fall short? Do we truly love others or is our love merely a form of self-seeking? Clearly, St. John is not talking about some sort of absolute certainty concerning our salvation. Rather, he is speaking of something more akin to moral certainty --- a certainty that the Catholic Church allows with regard to our state of grace. Nevertheless, because of the continual propensity to grow slack in our efforts and the constant danger of falling away, we need to examine ourselves on a regular basis in order to ensure that we still abide with Christ.

"What is the actual scriptural evidence that one can be saved without first believing in Jesus? "

This is the wrong way to put the question. The Catholic Church does not teach that one can be saved without believing in Jesus and without being baptized into Him. But she does recognize that there can exist an implicit belief in Jesus and an implicit baptism in the case of those who have never heard the Gospel. In other words, God, Who is omnipotent, can act outside of the ordinary means appointed for salvation. As scriptural evidence, apart from the passage in the letter to the Romans already alluded to, we have the story of Cornelius in the book of Acts. The book of Acts relates that Cornelius was, even before he heard the gospel, "an upright and God-fearing man." The word translated as "upright" here is none other than the Greek word "dikaios", the very word used by St. Paul in his teaching on justification. When St. Peter meets Cornelius, and the latter tells him why he sent for him, Peter responds as follows: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." These words of themselves do not refer to an explicit belief in Jesus and, in the context, obviously cannot since Cornelius had not heard the Gospel. So, it would seem possible that a man who, through no fault of his own, has not heard the Gospel, but calls on God for aid and strives to the best of his ability to do His will as it is revealed to him can be acceptable to God. Such a man would have an implicit faith in Christ.

The story of Cornelius is quite in accord with what St. Paul states in Romans 2 concerning those Gentiles who "have not the law" but
" do by nature what the law requires." Mike T is correct to say that St. Paul's main point here is to show the equivalence of Jew and Gentile, but he misses the last part of the passage in which St. Paul states quite unequivocally that the law written in the hearts of the Gentiles acts on their conscience which, he says will "accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." This would seem to imply the possibility that some Gentiles who strive to keep the law as they know it through their nature will be excused on the day of judgment.

Just a final point. Implied in all the above is that the grace of God can work outside of the visible bounds of the Church. It was God's grace working in Cornelius which made him upright and acceptable in His eyes and it is God's grace working in men who have never heard the gospel which can enable them to live upright lives as far as they are able.

(a) know that we are saved or (b) have a very high degree of epistemic justification for the belief that we are saved, both of which Catholic doctrine appears to deny us.

I don't know why you think Catholic doctrine denies us such knowledge. If we partake of the sacraments, follow Christ, and don't sin mortally, we have as much assurance as anyone. All Catholic doctrine states, IIRC, is that the possibility of turning away from God is real, thus "once saved, always saved" does not hold. Hence, St. Paul's "I have finished the race; I have kept the faith," rather than "I have finished the race, I got the faith once way back when and am now in like Flynn."

Selfreferencing: "People can reasonably disagree about the right hermeneutic and yet one of them still know that he is correct."

Well of course, but what do you do when two people disagree on something which they both believe is vital, but their respective views are irreconciliable -- the Eucharist, say, or the nature of baptism? For instance, Lutherans and Baptists both believe in the importance of baptism, but their respective understandings of it cannot be reconciled. Both "know" that they are correct, yet they both cannot be.

Selfreferencing: "We presume that God's goodness means that He will - generally speaking - move us forward and not backward."

Who's the "we" here? It obviously cannot mean every single individual believer, because there's always the possibility that he will err. Is it the Lutherans? If so, which ones?

Selfref: "I do not understand this claim. What do you mean by an infallible starting point?"

For the Christian the infallible starting point is the Word of God -- Christ -- portrayed in Scripture, as interpreted by the Church.

Selfref: "why would needing infallible knowledge follow from an infallible starting point, whatever that happens to be?"

Because if we own that Scripture is infallible, the infallibility of it is moot if we have no way to determine which interpretations are fallible and which are not. You cannot simply appeal to the text, since the text is subject to multiple valid interpretations.

Selfref: "if by 'potentially' you mean something like 'in principle, but for now my evidence is solid' then we already have used a method to achieve justified belief that will probably help us get traction on why we reject other interpretations."

This solves nothing. It merely pushes the stopping place for the hermeneutical buck back a spot. In the example above of the Lutherans and the Baptists, both have "used a method to achieve justified belief," yet based on this method, they have come to radically different conclusions, and any "traction" they get is likely to move them further apart, not closer together, as we have seen in the ongoing fragmentation of Protestantism.

As to your previous assertion that one cannot be saved without first believing in Jesus, then the Chosen People of God, including the Patriarchs, are actually damned to Hell, evidently.

The requirement for salvation in the Old Covenant was to place the same level of trust and faith that we do now in Jesus into the Father, followed by a good faith effort to live according to the Law. In the New Covenant, that was transferred into the Son when the Father passed onto Him all power and authority in heaven and on Earth. Thus, the faithful did not go to hell back then, but the Jews today who reject Jesus are not considered faithful by God today.

With regard to your other comment, I will remind you once again that not all authority is created equal. I don't take the words of the saints as having divine authority behind essentially every religious thing they say. St. Justin's comments about Socrates are a perfect example. If I were to take him at face value, then I would have to welcome Zoroastrians as worshippers of the same God as the Jews and the Church.

Mike T,

I can respect your thought about not taking everything that a saint says as divine; however, you are neglecting a uniform interpretation of Scripture evident in several of the writings & teachings of the Fathers.

How you can ignore these as not actually being a genuine understanding of what the Apostles themselves actually taught and handed down onto them is beyond me.

Also, it's a particularly horrific and, indeed, evil god that would actually condemn to Hell all those people who are unfortunately ignorant about Jesus and, therefore, do not know of Him so as to accept Him as Lord & Saviour; I would think that it is not at all what the Christian God is actually all about (God being a God of Mercy, not of Spiteful Hate) but that such a conception of Him is what's flawed here.

I can respect your thought about not taking everything that a saint says as divine; however, you are neglecting a uniform interpretation of Scripture evident in several of the writings & teachings of the Fathers.

How you can ignore these as not actually being a genuine understanding of what the Apostles themselves actually taught and handed down onto them is beyond me.

Faith in a god other than Yaweh is ipso facto not a saving faith. Can a gentile who worshipped Jupiter fervently and tried to live a righteous life be considered saved? I don't see how, since the very premise of the first commandment is that worship of anyone other than Yaweh is ipso facto demon worship.


Also, it's a particularly horrific and, indeed, evil god that would actually condemn to Hell all those people who are unfortunately ignorant about Jesus and, therefore, do not know of Him so as to accept Him as Lord & Saviour; I would think that it is not at all what the Christian God is actually all about (God being a God of Mercy, not of Spiteful Hate) but that such a conception of Him is what's flawed here.

But isn't that precisely what is being said in Romans 9?

14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."[f] 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."[g] 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "[h] 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

The first premise of grace is that no one deserves it. That logically implies that damnation is precisely what every human being who has been born post-fall deserves from the moment they take their first breath. Saint and sinner alike equally deserve it. If God chooses to show mercy on some, but not others, as mere creations, it is not our place to question our creator.

I struggle with this, but have had to come to accept it, despite the implications for most of my family and loved ones.

"isn't that precisely what is being said in Romans 9?"

Depends on how you read it. You'll get quite a different take on it in Calvin than you will in Chrysostom.

Mike T:

The first premise of grace is that no one deserves it. That logically implies that damnation is precisely what every human being who has been born post-fall deserves from the moment they take their first breath.

From your "logical implication," it follows that all newborn babies "deserve" damnation and thus, given divine justice, go to hell if they die before accepting grace. That was how St. Augustine interpreted Paul; but that is not how the majority of Fathers and Doctors of the Church have. In fact, most Christians reject Augustine's exegesis of Paul on this point.

That's partly because your "logical implication" does not follow from your premise. From the fact that, almost by definition, we do not deserve grace, it does not follow that all people deserve damnation. That would follow only if original sin is personal fault, which has never been the Eastern-Christian position and is not even the Catholic Church's position (cf. CCC §405). Of course God's grace is necessary for rescuing each and every human being from the dominion of Satan; but from that, all that follows is that without unmerited grace we cannot be saved. For all you've said, it might be that some people benefit from divine grace without ever having been in a position to accept it freely. Those people would be, precisely, those who through no fault of their own have never been presented with an opportunity before death to make a free-and-clear choice for or against Christ. To forestall the possibility that such people are saved (as though anybody would want to forestall that possibility), you need to establish that grace can only be received explicitly and freely. That's true, of course, in the case of people who are exposed to the Gospel and suffer from no involuntary obstacle to accepting it; but there are also plenty of people who are not in that position.

Those people would be, precisely, those who through no fault of their own have never been presented with an opportunity before death to make a free-and-clear choice for or against Christ. To forestall the possibility that such people are saved (as though anybody would want to forestall that possibility), you need to establish that grace can only be received explicitly and freely. That's true, of course, in the case of people who are exposed to the Gospel and suffer from no involuntary obstacle to accepting it; but there are also plenty of people who are not in that position.

Excellent, Dr. Liccione!

Indeed, I would scarcely devote worship to a god who blithely sends innocent adults as well as children to Hell simply because they never even heard the name of Christ and never even encountered the opportunity to accept Him as Lord & Saviour.

Indeed, Mike T would make it seem that only the Jews during the days of the Old Testament are the ones deserving of and even going directly to Heaven while all those peoples innocently ignorant of the True God are automatically condemned deservingly unto utter damnation and everlasting hell-fire.

The God I worship, and, indeed, the very One whom St. Paul himself had preached about, is apparently not the same that Mike T worships.

That's partly because your "logical implication" does not follow from your premise. From the fact that, almost by definition, we do not deserve grace, it does not follow that all people deserve damnation.

If someone does not deserve damnation, then they don't need God's grace. You are declaring that Christ is not necessary for some people.

For all you've said, it might be that some people benefit from divine grace without ever having been in a position to accept it freely. Those people would be, precisely, those who through no fault of their own have never been presented with an opportunity before death to make a free-and-clear choice for or against Christ. To forestall the possibility that such people are saved (as though anybody would want to forestall that possibility), you need to establish that grace can only be received explicitly and freely. That's true, of course, in the case of people who are exposed to the Gospel and suffer from no involuntary obstacle to accepting it; but there are also plenty of people who are not in that position.

Actually, the burden is on you to demonstrate that a saving grace is extend to such people, considering the fact that the New Testament makes explicit references to faith in Jesus as a prerequisite for salvation. You are elevating your gut-level discomfort with the idea that God may not extend that grace to most of mankind to a philosophical argument.

Now that faith is not a requirement for most of mankind to be saved, that leaves the issue of how they are regenerated without the Holy Spirit. Seeing as how God did not promise them the Holy Spirit, and there are no known signs of the Holy Spirit at work among Imams, Buddhist monks, Shinto priests, Wiccan priestesses, etc. one might have to wonder how that would work out. Ok, so regeneration is likely out the window too.

That leaves us with saying that God shows saving mercy to people who have faith in false gods and aren't the least bit regenerate, but have some good works to show for it.

Indeed, Mike T would make it seem that only the Jews during the days of the Old Testament are the ones deserving of and even going directly to Heaven while all those peoples innocently ignorant of the True God are automatically condemned deservingly unto utter damnation and everlasting hell-fire.

Tell that to the ancient Egyptians whose sons were massacred without mercy for the sins of Pharaoh against Israel by the hand of God. I'm sure they're all in heaven right now, drinking milk and honey with Moses laughing about how it was just a big misunderstanding.

The God I worship, and, indeed, the very One whom St. Paul himself had preached about, is apparently not the same that Mike T worships.

Once again, it devolves down into "you're not a Christian... no YOU are not a Christian."

There but for the grace of God are we not Shia and Sunnis lest we be shooting and lobbing bombs at each other...

"If someone does not deserve damnation, then they don't need God's grace. You are declaring that Christ is not necessary for some people."

This is patently false. God's grace is, as St. Peter teaches in his letter, "a participation in the Divine Nature." No human, whether he be sinner or not, can raise himself to this status. Hence, divine grace is necessary for us whether we be sinners or not.

"Tell that to the ancient Egyptians whose sons were massacred without mercy for the sins of Pharaoh against Israel by the hand of God. I'm sure they're all in heaven right now, drinking milk and honey with Moses laughing about how it was just a big misunderstanding."

And just how do you know that they are not in heaven right now. Where in scripture does it state that they are not?

If someone does not deserve damnation, then they don't need God's grace. You are declaring that Christ is not necessary for some people.

Neither of those statements follows from what I said. First of all, and with traditional Christians of all stripes, I affirm that without divine grace all people would be damned, because they would remain under the dominion of "the prince of this world." But it doesn't follow that all people would be damned because they deserve to be damned. Grace is necessary to prevent people from being damned undeservedly as well as deservedly. But that doesn't mean that grace is deserved; all it means is that God, in his justice and wisdom, doesn't permit the possibility of damnation, undeserved or deserved, without the concomitant possibility of salvation by undeserved grace. Secondly, I affirm that grace is only offered us by the merits of Christ, even to people who do not explicitly or clearly know him; all people are offered grace sufficient for salvation. God wants "all men to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth"; and it may well be that some who do not explicitly or clearly know Christ are saved by his grace by means we do not know.

Actually, the burden is on you to demonstrate that a saving grace is extend to such people, considering the fact that the New Testament makes explicit references to faith in Jesus as a prerequisite for salvation.

I am under no such burden. The Orthodox and Catholic churches interpret "the NT's references to faith in Jesus as a prerequisite for salvation" as applying to those in a position to respond to grace by making an assent of faith in Christ. Those references say nothing clear about people who are in no such position; there is nothing in the NT, e.g., which says that babies or others who die before becoming capable of making an act of faith are damned. The conclusion you draw about such people is just one theological opinion among several, and that a minority one.

Now that faith is not a requirement for most of mankind to be saved, that leaves the issue of how they are regenerated without the Holy Spirit.

That doesn't follow from my position either. I affirm the Catholic dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus: "outside the Church there is no salvation." In and through the Church, by the Word and the sacraments, the Holy Spirit regenerates us. But the Catholic Church does not teach that being "inside" the Church always and everywhere entails choosing to formally join the Church. Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know that the Catholic Church is the Church outside of which there is no salvation, CAN nonetheless be joined to the Church to a certain degree by responding as God wills to the grace they experience in their circumstances. That's why we believe, for example, that baptized infants who die before reaching the age of reason are in heaven. That's why believe there are baptized but non-Catholic Christians who are joined to the Church by "imperfect communion" and who, in some cases, are better Christians than many formal Catholics. That's why we believe that even some non-Christians can be saved. Even though they are in a gravely deficient position, God will judge them after death by how they responded to the grace available to them, not by their failure to respond to the grace they were inculpably ignorant of.

"Actually, the burden is on you to demonstrate that a saving grace is extend to such people, considering the fact that the New Testament makes explicit references to faith in Jesus as a prerequisite for salvation. You are elevating your gut-level discomfort with the idea that God may not extend that grace to most of mankind to a philosophical argument."

St. John states quite unequivocally that God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Virtually all of the early Christian commentators and Fathers took this literally to include all men. If this is truly God's desire then He must provide for the possibility of salvation for all, even for those who are invincibly ignorant of the gospel.
Let's put it another way. If, as you say, it is impossible for those who have never heard the gospel to be saved then this impossibility must be due to one of the following reasons:
1. God is unable to save them.
2. God does not want to save them.

If (2), then it would follow that St. John is a liar and Scripture is not inerrant. If (1) then it would follow that God is not omnipotent.

No one is denying that faith in Jesus is a prerequisite for salvation. The question is whether an implicit faith can, in some circumstances, suffice. In other words, can a person know His Saviour without knowing Him by name? What do you make of Cornelius in the Book of Acts who, even before hearing the Gospel, was considered righteous ("dikaios") and acceptable to God?

And just how do you know that they are not in heaven right now. Where in scripture does it state that they are not?

Show me a single point in history, where God unleashed His wrath directly on those under saving grace, and I'll concede that point.

Mike L,

Just so I understand your position, please explain what the Catholic Church would generally regard as a non-Christian who participates in a non-Christian culture, who would be showing the signs of saving grace. I'm more interested in pagan societies than Islamic societies, since pagan societies often have deeply satanic practices and cultural norms. Furthermore, how does the Catholic Church reconcile Paul's blunt statement that salvation is by faith, with a doctrine of salvation that makes faith in God absolutely not necessary for the unchurched world.

I am actually curious, especially since you are the first Catholic I have met who seems to actually understand **why** his church believes what it does.

Thank you for your tone, Mike. It really does help the discussion along.

...please explain what the Catholic Church would generally regard as a non-Christian who participates in a non-Christian culture, who would be showing the signs of saving grace. I'm more interested in pagan societies than Islamic societies, since pagan societies often have deeply satanic practices and cultural norms.

I suspect that the Catholic clergy in places like Haiti, Brazil, and Africa would be in a better position to answer your question than I am; for unlike me, they have direct experience of the problems with paganism that you cite. All I can do is speculate.

On the one hand, I'd say that many people in societies that are half-pagan or more are in no way culpable for those aspects of their religiosity which are, objectively speaking, false and/or evil. Nonetheless, that still leaves them in a gravely deficient position because deep involvement in what's objectively wrong just does make it harder to respond to grace in whatever form it's offered. On the other hand, I'd also say that many people in essentially pagan cultures are good and truthful people according to those norms of the good and the true which do filter through to them. The clergy I've mentioned could explain how; in fact, I've known several priests from such places; but I've never thought to discuss such matters with them. Looks like I should.

Furthermore, how does the Catholic Church reconcile Paul's blunt statement that salvation is by faith, with a doctrine of salvation that makes faith in God absolutely not necessary for the unchurched world.

I think Paul's experience on the Areopagus, where he spoke to the Athenians of their "unknown god," goes some way toward answering that question. The majority didn't take him all that seriously at the time, but a few did; and they, along with the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, formed the seed of what was to become, by the fifth century, the most educated and powerful sector of Christendom. More generally, I'd say that there are grains of truth in almost any religion, so that when people's ignorance of the fuller truth is inculpable, God judges them leniently. But of course it is not for any of us on earth to say who in particular fits the description.

Mike L,

On the other hand, I'd also say that many people in essentially pagan cultures are good and truthful people according to those norms of the good and the true which do filter through to them.

Yes, but does that not fall back to Paul's attack on the Judaizers which was that the gentiles also behaved in many ways like they had at least a semblance of the Law, and thus having the Law was not itself relevant to salvation? I think it would. The mere fact that they know that lying is sinful and don't do it doesn't mean anything other than they prove Paul's point that the Jews did not have a monopoly on all moral truth by possession of the Law.

I think Paul's experience on the Areopagus, where he spoke to the Athenians of their "unknown god," goes some way toward answering that question. The majority didn't take him all that seriously at the time, but a few did;

But again, Paul showed them how they had an inkling of the truth, then they accepted the truth. I don't recall Paul using that point for anything beyond using it as a bridge between what they knew and what the truth actually is. It was just an appeal to evidence.

On the one hand, I'd say that many people in societies that are half-pagan or more are in no way culpable for those aspects of their religiosity which are, objectively speaking, false and/or evil.

If that be the case, then how they are culpable for the actions which follow from those beliefs?

I agree that the NT proves nothing decisive here one way or the other. I cited it only to show that the Catholic Church's position is consistent with what the NT does say, not that said position is proven by the NT. But to my mind, the key issue you've been overlooking is that of culpability for ignorance.

Some people are culpable for their relative ignorance of divine revelation because they choose, for disreputable reasons, to avoid learning the truth even though it is, in practical terms, available to them. They don't know either because they don't care or because they don't want to know; either attitude is spiritually deadly. Others, however, are not culpable for their relative ignorance of divine revelation. In some cases, it's never been presented to them at all; in others, the way it was presented was so aversive that they couldn't hear it; still others have inherited cultural or psychological handicaps that prevent them from seeing what is there to see. Such people will be judged by God only by those aspects of the good and the true which they know and act upon. As Christians, you and I would agree that such knowledge and action is salvific only to the extent that it is caused and sustained by the divine grace extended to humanity through the merits of Jesus' sacrificial passion and death. But the inculpable people I have in mind need not end up knowing, in order to be saved, that that's what's going on in their case.

"Show me a single point in history, where God unleashed His wrath directly on those under saving grace, and I'll concede that point."

Mike,
Since neither you nor I know who is or is not under saving grace this would be a difficult thing to show. What I do know is that God's own covenant people did not escape His wrath. Just read the Old Testament.
In the case of the first born of the Egyptians, the children were destroyed in order to punish their parents. This does not imply in any way that these children were damned. Indeed, taking them away in infancy might be seen as a great act of mercy given the culture they would have grown up in otherwise. Moreover, who knows if the punishment meted out on the Egyptians did not bring many of them to some kind of repentance? We have plenty of examples of extra-covenantal repentance and salvation in the Old Testament, e.g., the people of Nineveh, Job, Ruth, Rahab. There may be many more whose story is simply not related in the biblical texts. Why is not the same thing possible today?

Some people are culpable for their relative ignorance of divine revelation because they choose, for disreputable reasons, to avoid learning the truth even though it is, in practical terms, available to them.

That is a serious issue. Paul indicates that humanity already knows the truth on some level. Where does it **start** to become inexcusable to claim that you had never heard the gospel, though? I would say that merely knowing of its existence would be the starting point for that.

They don't know either because they don't care or because they don't want to know; either attitude is spiritually deadly. Others, however, are not culpable for their relative ignorance of divine revelation. In some cases, it's never been presented to them at all; in others, the way it was presented was so aversive that they couldn't hear it; still others have inherited cultural or psychological handicaps that prevent them from seeing what is there to see.

I am going to have to side with the Calvinists on this one, that this attitude is not in line with the basic duty of humanity to believe in and independently behave according to God's will. God does not, for example, forgive a child molester whose parents molested them, on the basis that their environment "made them that way." Rather, it is that God shows the repentant sinner more and more grace based on how difficult their environment and situation was.

Such people will be judged by God only by those aspects of the good and the true which they know and act upon.

That means that their salvation will be works-based, if they are saved at all.

As Christians, you and I would agree that such knowledge and action is salvific only to the extent that it is caused and sustained by the divine grace extended to humanity through the merits of Jesus' sacrificial passion and death. But the inculpable people I have in mind need not end up knowing, in order to be saved, that that's what's going on in their case.

Well actually this is a point where we disagree. I am not convinced that they would be saved since faith has always been a cornerstone of salvation. It was always open to the gentiles, and there were a number of gentiles in the Old Testament who were saved because they turned to Yaweh from their pagan gods. I see no positive sign in scripture to suggest their salvation since the only thing written on the subject is that grace is extended by faith, and faith is the cornerstone of salvation.

I come from a Calvinist background, and though I am not one today, I understand the grief that these ideas can cause. I understand the horror of seeing "all of those good people" going to Hell, but then we must remember a simple truth: God is our creator, and absent His love we are just things in His hands. The most amazing aspect of it all is the very fact that a being so incomprehensibly above us would show us such mercy, rather than throwing sinners on the trash heap of history and moving on. If Calvinism taught me anything, it was an appreciation for how insignificant humanity is compared to God and how miraculous it is that God actually does show mercy to mankind. Sometimes I think that Catholics are so borderline humanist that most of you (not you, specifically) cannot appreciate how exceptional it is that God would bother to show anyone mercy, let alone in the way He did.

It may be hard to conceive of, but what if God actually has damned the majority to Hell for reasons that you and Aristocles think are "beyond their control?" Would your response be "your will be done" or would it be apostasy?

I think this is where this argumentation should just simply cease; apparently, Mike T believes that Jesus, contrary to what St. John himself preached, didn't come to die in order to save all and that God is not as merciful as Scripture supposedly teaches, that he even damns innocent people to Hell very deliberately.

Where does it **start** to become inexcusable to claim that you had never heard the gospel, though? I would say that merely knowing of its existence would be the starting point for that.

That was the standard view in the medieval Catholic Church; but it led to all sorts of injustices and, more important, it isn't true. Suppose that P is true but that you don't know that P is true. Knowing that some people claim that you ought to believe that P (in this case, P would be the Gospel) does not create a presumption of moral guilt for failing to believe that P, unless you are antecedently guilty for failing to accept their authority as a reason to believe that P. But we have no way of knowing whether and/or when such antecedent guilt obtains; hence we cannot safely presume it does.

I am going to have to side with the Calvinists on this one, that this attitude is not in line with the basic duty of humanity to believe in and independently behave according to God's will. God does not, for example, forgive a child molester whose parents molested them, on the basis that their environment "made them that way." Rather, it is that God shows the repentant sinner more and more grace based on how difficult their environment and situation was.

That gets things precisely backwards. When a person's subjective culpability for committing an objectively grave evil is mitigated by factors limiting their freedom, then God does not offer them "more" grace than he would if their culpability were not so mitigated. Rather, when culpability is mitigated, there is less to forgive, and hence less mercy is needed; when it is not mitigated, there is more to forgive, so that more mercy is needed. "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more."

I claimed that certain "people will be judged by God only by those aspects of the good and the true which they know and act upon." You replied:

That means that their salvation will be works-based, if they are saved at all.

That doesn't follow, and I thought I had earlier made clear why it doesn't follow. We cannot earn grace by works; but neither can we attain salvation if we decline to act as God commands. The truth lies in the middle: actions can and must help us attain salvation, but they can only do so insofar as God, and thus his grace, acts through them; that both requires and flows from a degree of faith. St. Paul thus made clear that we are saved by faith; but St. James made clear that faith without works is "dead," and thus not salvific. Saving faith thus entails obeying God by doing as he commands, starting with an act of faith, through his indwelling grace and power. My only point in the passage you criticize was to suggest that some people might be doing just that without knowing it.

I wrote: "But the inculpable people I have in mind need not end up knowing, in order to be saved, that that's what's going on in their case." You replied:

I am not convinced that they would be saved since faith has always been a cornerstone of salvation. It was always open to the gentiles, and there were a number of gentiles in the Old Testament who were saved because they turned to Yaweh from their pagan gods. I see no positive sign in scripture to suggest their salvation since the only thing written on the subject is that grace is extended by faith, and faith is the cornerstone of salvation.

You are declining to distinguish between explicit and implicit faith. The latter is faith whose failure to become explicit is due to factors for which a person is inculpable. As I've said before, one cannot "prove" the distinction in question from Scripture alone; but neither can the rejection of it be found in Scripture alone. You need another sort of argument for rejecting it, and I have yet to see such an argument.

Sometimes I think that Catholics are so borderline humanist that most of you (not you, specifically) cannot appreciate how exceptional it is that God would bother to show anyone mercy, let alone in the way He did. It may be hard to conceive of, but what if God actually has damned the majority to Hell for reasons that you and Aristocles think are "beyond their control?" Would your response be "your will be done" or would it be apostasy?

For two reasons, I have never found Calvinism credible in the least. The general reason is that Calvinism is a form of Protestantism, and I have never found Protestantism in general intellectually credible. The particular reason is that it is impossible for me to see how a God who is called "love" by an Apostle in Scripture would predestine the majority of people to eternal torment for reasons beyond their control. And since I have never had the slightest doubt that Calvinism is false, the question of "apostasizing" from it has never occurred to me. Believe me, it never will either.

Although you're no longer a Calvinist, I suspect that your Calvinist background is obscuring for you a point I made earlier in this thread. So I'll put it in a rather different way here. It has nothing to do with "humanism."

God's mercy is simply God's grace as accepted and experienced by sinners. And God's grace is simply his love for us, elevating us from within and without. What's "amazing" about God's mercy is not that God thus extends his love to us who do not deserve it; for God is love (1 John 4:8) and love, in the highest sense, is a gratuitous gift. God loves us not for what we do or don't do, or even for what we are, but because of what God is: a communion of love between Persons that is so profound as to constitute a single God. God's love for us, which in itself is ontically identical to his grace and mercy, is simply his active invitation to us to participate in his own loving Reality, to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). He created humanity with that very purpose in mind. We learned of that love by Christ's teaching, death, and resurrection; given that love, it is not surprising that, when humanity fell away from him, God went out of his way to bring us back, even unto "death on a cross." The real surprise antedates sin altogether: it is the fact that he created anything at all when his being and glory, already infinite, needed no augmentation. And once we realize what his plan is for humanity in particular, then we can appreciate the sense in which his "mercy" is gratuitous. It is gratuitous because God is love, love is gratuitous, and all being other than God is the gratuitous expression of his love.

Best,
Mike

That doesn't follow, and I thought I had earlier made clear why it doesn't follow. We cannot earn grace by works; but neither can we attain salvation if we decline to act as God commands. The truth lies in the middle: actions can and must help us attain salvation, but they can only do so insofar as God, and thus his grace, acts through them; that both requires and flows from a degree of faith. St. Paul thus made clear that we are saved by faith; but St. James made clear that faith without works is "dead," and thus not salvific. Saving faith thus entails obeying God by doing as he commands, starting with an act of faith, through his indwelling grace and power. My only point in the passage you criticize was to suggest that some people might be doing just that without knowing it.

My objection to this is that the people we are talking about have no faith component. It does not logically follow from scripture that someone who worships pagan gods, but who otherwise lives a semblance of a righteous life is actually pleasing God. In fact, there are references in scripture that suggest that not only are their good works meaningless to God, but that God does not regard their ignorance of Him as innocent rather than as a manifestation of their sinfulness (Romans 1 is a good example).

You are declining to distinguish between explicit and implicit faith. The latter is faith whose failure to become explicit is due to factors for which a person is inculpable. As I've said before, one cannot "prove" the distinction in question from Scripture alone; but neither can the rejection of it be found in Scripture alone. You need another sort of argument for rejecting it, and I have yet to see such an argument.

Where I disagree with you is on the culpability part. It is because of human sinfulness that people are ignorant of who the true creator actually is. No one is innocent of that, and God will not forgive their ignorance.

For two reasons, I have never found Calvinism credible in the least. The general reason is that Calvinism is a form of Protestantism, and I have never found Protestantism in general intellectually credible. The particular reason is that it is impossible for me to see how a God who is called "love" by an Apostle in Scripture would predestine the majority of people to eternal torment for reasons beyond their control. And since I have never had the slightest doubt that Calvinism is false, the question of "apostasizing" from it has never occurred to me. Believe me, it never will either.

Mike, I specifically asked you if you would apostasize from Christianity if you found out that Luther or Calvin were correct on doctrines like predestination.

This thread is getting old, so we should probably leave it as it is.

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