Saturday, July 14, 2007

Protestants who know nothing about Catholicism

Over at the Cor Ad Cor Loquitur blog, I've encountered yet another example of a Protestant who knows nothing about Catholicism but genuine believes that he does. Here is my response:

The conflict between Trent and Protestantism was not over whether works were the instrumental cause of salvation. (did you mean “faith” here ?)

No, I mean "works" in the most basic sense of "any human action." In fact, I agree with you that the Reformers were not even consistent among themselves as to whether the only human action that was the instrumental basis of justification was faith or whether baptism ought to be included. But regardless, they all believed that faith justified.

You are right on the issue of infused righteousness vs. imputed righteousness, if you include in your argumentation of the issue, as the ground or basis by which one can stand before God in judgment

That doesn't have anything to do with anything. The ground or basis by which one can stand before God in judgment is Christ's merit. Trent affirms that. It's not a difference.

Sproul and Gertsner flesh all of this out in their works, and explain the formula of the RCC system, “Faith + works = justification. So they do indeed explain the difference in infused righteousness and imputed righteousness. The issue was which one is the ground upon which one could stand before God.

In fact, that's exactly why Sproul and Gerstner are viewed by Catholics as being terminally clueless on this point. They appear to be oblivious to the distinction between meritorious/efficient cause, instrumental cause, and formal cause. The question is formal cause, and it is a strictly metaphysical one. If one grants that ontological righteousness can inhere in an individual, then the instrumental causality of human action is not even an issue. All the little intramural squabbles over whether faith is the alone instrumental cause of justification are irrelevant to the Catholic/Protestant divide. The question is whether the Protestant denial of righteousness inhering in human beings is coherent. If it isn't, then they've lost the fight before you even get to this other stuff. And by the way, it isn't.

One can never know if he is ever justified in the RCC system because your initial justification is dependent on baptism (an external work apart from faith and repentance), (an ex opera operato act done to the child, so the child has no experience of that initial justification) and then your final justification is never sure because it depends on your own works of increased infusions of grace by prayers to Mary and penance and going to ceremonies and mass and taking the Lord’s supper and confession to a priest, all drawing upon the treasury of merit in heaven. You sure know less than you think you do.

Going in reverse order, the treasury of merit applies only to temporal punishment and has nothing to do with justification. Your statement there was not just wrong but insanely wrong. The grace of the Sacraments come from the direct action of Christ, not from the treasury of merit given to the Church to dispense. They produce grace directly infused by God (likewise with the sacrifice of the Mass). Pious works like venerating the saints, penance, and alms can produce an increase in grace, but they cannot justify. Only the grace of God can do that. Those are just baseline matters of Catholic theology that are akin to knowing basic arithmetic. You can't even pretend to understand the subject if you can't grasp those distinctions.

The question of the child's "experience" of baptism and the adult analog of "certainty" of salvation is irrelevant, and worse, Pelagian. To think that anyone's "experience" has anything to do with anything is to deny that justification is a work solely of God's grace. Augustine's polemics against Julian, which appeals to infant baptism against Julian's Pelagianism, makes this clear. You're arguing directly against the guy who literally wrote the book on Pelagianism. All ex opere operato does is to point out that the human action itself has nothing to do with the efficacy of the Sacrament; the work is all God's. Perversely, you are making an argument that something in the person makes the Sacrament effective, while the ex opere operato position completely denies that anything in the person makes a Sacrament effective. You seem to be living in the same conceptual opposite-land that a sad number of Protestants (including Sproul) inhabit.

In the RCC system salvation is more dependent on the human works that one does after the initial infusion grace in order to keep increasing that righteousness, which is never perfected, which is why there is the need for the extra treasury of merits in heaven in which to draw upon, indulgences, prayers to Mary and other saints, and the whole doctrine of purgatory. One can never know.

This truly is stunning! Do you really think that the treasury of merit justifies? I've seen some Protestants say something similar, but it is so wrong that I wonder how any thinking person could believe this. Seriously, this is Jack Chick, "IHS stands for Isis, Horus, and Seb" type nonsense.

But these are the necessary and immediate fruits and results of true faith and not the basis or ground on which one can stand before God on judgment day.

Your statement directly contradicts Scripture, which says that eternal life is a reward for works. See, e.g., Matt. 19:29 and 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6-8; Gal. 6:7-9. Your dubious philosophical position has caused you to neglect the wisdom of Scripture, and if that isn't "vain philosophy," I don't know what is. Breaking the Scripture clearly isn't the correct solution, and there is no necessary contradiction between there being a "book of life" and eternal life as a reward for works, nor does the fact that God justifies the ungodly mean that infusion is not the method by which this justification takes place. Nor does the concept of "crediting," "reckoning," or "imputing" in any way contradict this. Indeed, from a philosophical perspective, it actually supports it, because it reinforces that the nature is being given something not proper to it as its own. But to pretend that this is a sham, something in God's head, simply defies the Scriptural witness.
But again, what floors me is the treasury of merit thing. Justification from the treasury of merit? That's the most ridiculous misrepresentation of Catholic belief I have heard in quite a while.