Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brief discussion, but high-quality

I've read Steve Hays's last reply, and I commend him for his resolve to stick to the issues. This will probably have to be my last post on the subject, because I've decided to wind down my dialogue activities for a variety of reasons. But the particular subject of Tridentine merit was one that I thought deserved a clear explanation from the Catholic perspective, so I was glad to have this opportunity to discuss it.

In particular, I thought that Mr. Hays asked several good questions that could use a response, so I will try to answer those questions with a bit of thematic organization.

1. Hays disagrees with my interpretation of the use of the term "merit" in Trent, suggesting that I am importing an external understanding into the plain text for no good reason. For example:

How does one probilify in the absence of evidence? And, sure, something could simply be taken for granted, but that is one of those claims which is, in the nature of the case, nothing more than a groundless assumption.

By contrast, we do have the text of Trent. That is what we know. The burden of proof is on those who wish to interpret the known by the unknown.
My position isn’t a default position. My position is based on the actual text of Trent. Trent, of itself, represents the selection-criteria of the Church as applied to pre-Tridentine tradition. I’m choosing to begin and end where the Tridentine Fathers chose to begin and end. I’m taking my cue from them. The text supplies its own context in terms of what parts of prior tradition they chose to formalize.

Now, if we had the “minutes of Trent,” that would be directly relevant to original intent. But apparently we don’t. Otherwise, Prejean could simply quote from the deliberations of the Tridentine Fathers and settle the interpretation then and there.

CC: My point is that based on purely exegetical reasons, there is no reason to think that the word "merit" in and of itself refers to strict justice. The text is ambiguous given the reasonable semantic range of the term, which is why you would consider external factors. It's not a question of clear text being overridden by outside considerations; it's a question of ordinary exegetical investigation into what a word means, at least as I would understand exegesis. So I would simply say that the text itself doesn't render either interpretation substantially more likely; both are possible, and we have to look at the totality of the evidence (including external factors) in making a judgment. I'd respond in like fashion to your suggestion that Scripture should inform experience rather than vice versa. I don't think that a coherent line can possibly be drawn between the two; there's always judgment involved in where you set the limits, so that a statement like that typically begs an interpretive question.

2. Hays also raised a couple of questions about my definition of infallibility.

This option is, indeed, available to Prejean, but it comes at a cost. Infallibility is secured at the price of wholesale skepticism. We’re abandoned to the useless tautology that Church is infallible whenever she’s infallible, although we never know when she’s infallible.

In that respect, how does the Catholic rule of faith improve over what Catholicism finds fault with in the Protestant rule of faith?
This begs the question of what supplies the “context of tradition.” You can only measure something by reference to a fixed frame of reference. That’s what makes a standard a standard. It doesn’t change. Hence, it can be used to measure change. If the standard changes, then you’re left with sheer skepticism.

According to Trent, and reaffirmed at Vatican I, the “context of tradition” is the unanimous consent of the Fathers. And this has a chronological cut-off. The earlier is not interpreted by the later; rather, the later is interpreted by the earlier.

I’d add that if the true interpretation of earlier tradition can only be ascertained by reference to later tradition, then no Roman Catholic can have access to the true meaning of tradition since his own historical position will always be past relative to some future tradition.

One also wonders what would ever amount to a principle of falsification in Prejean’s religious epistemology. He has drawn the rules of evidence so loosely that magisterial teaching can be harmonized with any pattern of evidence or counterevidence, convergent or divergent.

And, in that event, there is no evidence for Catholicism, since it’s consistent with anything. If nothing can ever count against it, then nothing can count in its favor.
If that case, how do you know when to apply infallibility to tradition? How do you know to which traditions the rule is applicable? What traditions should be preserved, and what traditions should not be preserved? Not everything that has survived would count as Sacred Tradition. Again, how is this any improvement over the Protestant rule of faith?

CC: It isn't, or at least, I've never argued that it is. As I said before, infallibility is a conclusion, not an assertion of epistemic certainty; I think that it is illogical to view infallibility any other way. One isn't any more certain of your conclusions about infallibility than you are certain about anything else, so this notion that we are vying over who has the most epistemically certain method strikes me as fanciful, not that this has prevented the argument from being beaten to death by both Protestants and Catholics. If that kind of a standard is required to avoid skepticism (i.e., a requirement for epistemic certainty), then we're all stranded either in hopeless circularity (essentially asserting our own individual infallibility) or in nihilism. Neither strikes me as very appealing, and I think it puts far too much faith in human ability than can be reasonably warranted.

Instead, I would view infallibility as a statement of one's judgment about the divine content of a concrete object, viz., that it is an actual thing that God intends the people of God to retain and integrate into the collective Christian life. To me, then, the real empirical question is how this process actually worked, and that is what appears to be meant by "unanimous consent of the Fathers." They all had an agreement on a process of communion and accountability grounded in actual persons by which concrete things were recognized to be part of the tradition, through the process of theological speculation and pious reflection on what is previously preserved. The objection I would have to sola scriptura, then, is that I doubt from the historical record that this is the process by which God reveals Himself to people. IOW, I have no reason that sola scriptura couldn't work in principle as a means for God to reveal Himself; it is simply my empirical judgment that it is not the process that God actually used. And I think that there is abundant evidence in the historical record in favor of that proposition.

3. Hays raised several points related to my understanding of grace and free will, including:

How do you know that there’s no logical conflict if you can’t show that there’s no logical conflict? What is the basis of your confidence?
Here Prejean redefines divine sovereignty by restricting the scope of divine sovereignty. Sovereignty only attaches to intent, not effect.Yet, on this view, either God is able to secure intent, but unwilling to do so—or else is willing to secure assent, but unable to do so. In what sense does he intend an unsuccessful outcome? Does he intend to fail?
What does Christology [referring to the Christology of St. Maximus] have to do with the will of a sinner in relation to the will of God?
How can grace be both efficacious and unsuccessful? Prejean seems to be distinguishing between a type of grace which is efficacious because God intends it to be efficacious, and another type of grace which is resistible because God does not intend it to succeed. If so, then it will hardly do for Prejean to say there’s no question that God’s grace is efficacious, simpliciter. He himself has set up a disjunction between efficacious and inefficacious grace, resistible and irresistible grace, with divine intent as the differential factor.

CC: I have yet to be convinced by any rebuttal to the notion that Perry Robinson, Daniel Jones, and I have variously presented regarding the essentiality of free will to any orthodox presentation of Triadology and soteriology, including your own observations here, here, and here. Frankly, unless you can show be a good reason why I should believe that free decisions are deterministically caused, I don't see where the problem is in supposing that they are not deterministically caused or that the existence of such voluntary causes poses the least bit of difficulty to God's sovereignty. I agree that fatalism may not have been exclusively an element of Greek philosophy, but it is most assuredly a pagan invention as far as I can tell, and it strikes me as fundamentally irreconcilable with the Christian account of God.

4. A few odds and ends that don't find handily into what I said above:

The very categories of election and predestination imply that the elect, and only the elect, will be saved, while all the non-elect will be damned.The question is how this can be squared with the Rahnerian view of universal grace ratified in Vatican II and post-Vatican II theology. Is everyone elect? Is salvation a live possibility for the non-elect? What does election do?

CC: To some extent, this is answered by what I said above, but to clarify, I don't think that the view of "universal grace" adopted by Vatican II is any different than the Thomist concept of "sufficient grace," wherein God allows people to be condemned by their own sinful resistance to grace (which He could have prevented had He chosen to do so, but does not). It's not a live possibility, but it would have been a possibility but for the sinful resistance, which God knew beforehand would arise. Election is God's unilateral decision to provide grace at a time that it will or won't be resisted (condemning people by their own evil) along with God's decision to allow the person sufficient freedom to exercise that resistance.

Imputation and vicarious atonement are correlative. The subject is acquitted or freed, not because he is actually innocent, but because a second party, who is righteous in his own person, has assumed his (the first party’s) debt and transferred his (the second party’s) line of credit to the account of the guilty party.

CC: I think we're miscommunicating here. What I meant by "innocent" was not that the person had not done the wrong, but that he had paid the penalty in the eyes of the law so that he was no longer obligated to pay the penalty. That doesn't strike me as imputation; that strikes me as actual satisfaction. Imputation would be if he were treated as if someone paid the fine even when the fine had not been paid, at least as I understand it. In other words, the person is treated as if the crime had never taken place; he is never judged guilty. This could be my unfamiliarity with Reformed soteriology getting to me, so forgive me if I am mistaken.

Is there no difference between pre-Photian local councils and pre-Photian general councils?

CC: Not as far as I can tell, at least in any practical sense. The distinction appears to be entirely nominal, provided that the Pope approved the council's decrees (which I believe was the case for Orange).

Again, I enjoyed the discussion, and I hope what I said was helpful to set up the board, since as you say, I am really just concerned with opening moves at this time.

Update in the Euro culture war

Glad to see this kind of collective action against the secularist trends. Sad to see that it failed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hays on Trent

Thanks to Steve Hays for a thoughtful reply. I regret to disappoint him by saying that I am a nobody in the Catholic apologetic community, so he's probably lost points by interacting with me instead of, e.g., Dave Armstrong or Art Sippo, who have a much larger following. But I think my audience might be conducive to the discussion he wants to have, so here goes. For the most part, I don't have a great deal of disagreement, since the point was to clarify rather than contend. I begin with the following:

i) Prejean seems to be using The Conference of Ratisbon to gloss the Tridentine doctrine of justification. Taken by itself, and Prejean offers no supporting argument, this commits the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. The fact that this Conference preceded Trent does not imply that Trent formally codifies or ratifies any of the formulations floated at Regensburg. In fact, the Church of Rome generally prefers to conduct interfaith dialogue at an informal level since that does not officially commit it to whatever the dialogue-partners happen to agree on. Even at an Ecumenical Council, there are preliminary debates over one bishop’s draft language and another bishop’s draft language. What is actually finalized is frequently a linguistic and theological compromise which differs from either. Prejean needs to offer a separate argument showing, by direct historical evidence, that the Tridentine Fathers did, in fact, make use of Regensburg in their preliminary deliberations and/or final formulations.

ii) Was there “miscommunication” on this point? If there was miscommunication, then it must be a case of mutual miscommunication, for Trent anathematizes a number of theological propositions which it clearly identifies with Protestant theology. In some instances, at least, it accepts the Protestant characterization of Catholic doctrine as accurate for purposes of reaffirming traditional Catholic doctrine in the teeth of the contrary Protestant positions. So the thesis of “miscommunication” can only be underwritten at the cost of attributing error to Trent.

CC: I'm not sure that it would be fair to characterize my position as an "argument" proper; I was essentially stating why it wouldn't be crazy to think that Regensburg fairly reflected the true state of Catholic theology at the time. Could that be wrong? Sure, it could be, and similarly, the theology of merit coming from St. Augustine and St. Anselm might not have been reflected in Trent. The point was to elucidate why I don't find Hays's argument from the use of the term "merit" to refer exclusively to strict justice all that convincing, and those are all pieces of evidence that tend to reduce the probability of that conclusions. Similarly, I don't think the idea that Regensburg was a relatively typical example of Catholic theology on justification is all that controversial, or at least, it's not the sort of claim that one would be unreasonable to accept as a default absent evidence to the contrary. If it is, then one wouldn't even expect to find evidence or clarifications on that subject in deliberations, because it would have simply been taken for granted. In the end, these are all judgments of probability, so the notion that one doesn't have an airtight demonstration of a conclusion doesn't particularly bother me. I'm content to let the reader decide.

Regarding the condemnations of Trent being directed to Protestant theology, keep in mind a few things. First, Protestant theology wasn't anything like a monolith at the time. There were Protestant groups ranging all the way to flaming antinomianism (condemned by the Magisterial Reformers, of course), and Trent was aimed at all of them. Second, Trent also condemned probable (or even possible) misinterpretations of Protestant theology in several instances. Third, infallibility only applies to what the council actually condemned, not how well it identified the group it was trying to condemn or even how well that condemnation accomplished its intent. Like badly drafted laws, what ends up written may convey the intent poorly or not at all (in fact, the action of the Holy Spirit could have been to thwart the council from condemning something that it oughtn't have), so while intent and circumstances are relevant, they aren't entirely dispositive. Suffice it to say that I think your conclusions in (ii) are stronger than is warranted.

iii) But let us assume, for the sake of argument, Prejean’s own interpretation. From a Reformed standpoint, the key distinction is that saving grace is qualitative, not quantitative. To quantify grace by saying that grace is resistible for some, but not for others, or that grace is resistible at one stage of the process but irresistible at another phase, is beside the point as far as Reformed theology is concerned. For we still end up with synergism rather than monergism. When all is said and done, man remains a free variable in the economy of salvation.

CC: Certainly, this is a real point of difference. From the Catholic perspective, there isn't a logical conflict entailed between the work of salvation being wholly of grace and truly free, so we don't bother with the question, although there has been speculation about the exact causal mechanism (Thomism, Molinism, Augustinianism, etc.).

iv) By the same token, Reformed theology doesn’t regard justification as a “process.” That’s the point. Justification is a divine act, not a historical process. Sanctification is a process.

v) True, the will is active in the sense that justification is contingent on faith, and faith is a human mental act. But Reformed theology would say that the object of grace is passive in regeneration, and that faith is a reflexive result of regeneration. So you still have no synergism.

CC: You state the differences admirably.

vi) What does it means to say that the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moves and excites the will “toward” assent to grace. Does it always and actually secure such assent, or does it merely move the will “toward” assent, without necessarily securing its assent?

CC: It always secures God's intent for the moving. It may be that God moves the will toward assent, knowing that there will be resistance and it will not succeed, hence condemning the person by the person's own will. In other words, the operation of free will never thwarts God's sovereignty.

vii) This form of words also suggests a transitional state when the will neither giving nor withholding assent, but in a neutral state short of either assent or nonassent. From a psychological standpoint, Prejean has postulated a highly artificial state of mind—something that isn’t quite “A” or “non-A.” Sounds like psychobabble to me.

CC: Sounds like St. Maximus's Christology to me. I've never been a big fan of Aristotle's "prime mover" anyway, which is, incidentally, why I thought it extremely odd that you saw free will as a response to fatalism, rather than fatalism as invention of Greek philosophy.

viii) And while Prejean speaks of “prevenient grace,” the actually imagery is not of the will moving from grace to faith, but moving towards a state of grace. Human assent is not a direct result of grace. Rather, the will must consent to grace in order to assent to grace. Grace is not the cause of the state of grace, but the consequence or end-result of human assent.

CC: Actually, it's the cause, instrument, and result (end state) in the Catholic view, but I agree that this is a major difference.

ix) Finally, perhaps Prejean can explain how the old categories of predestination and election, in which “permitting” grace can be resisted by those who, due to their non-elect status, lack “prevenient grace,” is consistent with the paradigm-shift from exclusive to inclusive ecclesiocentrism in Vatican II and post-Vatican II theology.

CC: I don't believe that there was ever a general statement about the election of pagans who did not actively reject Christianity. The possibility of God's grace as late in life as one's deathbed has always been cherished in the Christian faith, and it is a long-standing part of the tradition that the exercise of natural virtue and reception of truth helps to dispose one toward receiving grace even if it is not capable in and of itself of guaranteeing salvation. In other words, it's always been the case that what we would ordinarily consider "good people" were capable of being saved by Christ outside of the ordinary course. BTW, the non-elect wouldn't necessarily lack prevenient grace in an absolute sense; they might fall away through their sin later in the process of their own justification. Remember that for a Catholic, grace is a more or less constant state; it's not something that's given at one time.

Prejean might object that my appeals to the Reformed standpoint simply beg the question in favor of Reformed theology. If so, I’d reply that:
i) We can’t begin to say who is right or wrong in the conflict with Rome until we are clear on the differences.

ii) In my essay I offered an exegetical defense of the Reformed doctrine of justification. And I’ve posted a number of other essays, by others, and me defending Reformed theology from Scripture. So I’m not simply assuming the truth of the Reformed faith without benefit of argument.


With all due respect to the Reformers, my primary obligation is to learn from Scripture, and to learn from the Reformers insofar as they learn from Scripture.

CC: No disagreement there. My point is that strictly as a matter of exegeting what Trent was saying, it's not ridiculous to take into account what the Reformers said, or to think it likely that they understood what Trent meant.

No, the real question from a Reformed standpoint is whether the grace of God is efficacious or not.

From a Reformed, and Pauline, standpoint that is not good enough. Note the restriction to “natural” works.

No, the question is whether “any” works of the law can solicit or earn or deserve God’s gracious favor. The Reformed answer emphatically in the negative.

CC: If the question is whether the grace of God is efficacious, then there is no question that it is; the dispute is simply over the mechanism by which it is efficacious. The notion that a person could somehow surprise God by resisting what He intended to be efficacious grace is absurd; if grace is resisted, it follows inexorably that God never intended for it to succeed. If that's the problem, then I don't see a cognizable difference in the positions. What you say about works seems to relate to sola fide by my understanding: whether justification can or cannot involve works. ISTM that the question is what grace does, how it works, rather than whether it is God's unilateral action.


Prejean is confuses imputation with identity (“So that Christ literally became a sinner”). The whole point of imputation is that it involves a relation between two parties, and not strict identity.

CC: Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. My point is that we deny BOTH that Christ literally became a sinner (which some people actually do believe, unfortunately) AND that sin was counted against Christ in any way, legally or otherwise. We deny both imputation and identity.

As to the Catholic interpretation of 2 Cor 5:21, there are weighty objections to Prejean’s identification of “sin” with “sin offering” in this verse

CC: There are definitely objections. At this point, I'm only reporting what the Catholic view is. Ditto Hays's response to the argument that the reward-punishment approach in Paul does not imply merit at all and the later argument that reward and punishment aren't symmetrical in Scripture (it may be true, but right now, we're just stating the Catholic belief).

Unless I’ve missed something, Trent, of itself, never draws a formal distinction between condign and congruent merit. This distinction is a makeshift apologetic ploy to take the sting out of the notion that we merit God’s grace. So Prejean needs to defend the category of congruent or quasi-merit as an authoritative gloss on Tridentine usage.

Prejean offers no pre-Tridentine precedent for this usage. At most, he comes up with some pre-Tridentine precedent for some possibly analogous ideas in Augustine and Anselm.

CC: But realistically, Hays hasn't provided sufficient evidence that his position ought to be the default either. He's essentially arguing that merit ought to be construed in the language of strict justice absent some indication of special usage. I happen to reject that argument for several reasons, including that the ordinary use of language doesn't bear that argument out, that there had been repeated acknowledgments in influential texts (I could cite St. Thomas Aquinas in addition to the ones I mentioned) that strict justice can never apply with respect to God, and that the cardinals at Regensburg didn't view justification in this way. I could commission someone to translate from Latin some obscure medieval theology texts and whatnot, but I think I've done my job in articulating an ordinary reason for differing from Hays's conclusion. In good faith, I think he has to concede at least that the disagreement is reasonable.

But not all tradition is Sacred Tradition. The purpose of an ecumenical council is, in some measure, to sort out mere tradition from Sacred Tradition.

One cannot, willy-nilly, pluck something out of church tradition which was never formally ratified at an Ecumenical Council and assume, with no further ado, that this supplies the interpretive grid. There are no controls on such an appeal.

CC: I'm just talking straight historical exegesis here, and I'm not plucking it "willy-nilly": Anselm, Augustine, and Aquinas were well known as the classic texts on the subject. Infallibility, tradition, and "interpretive grid" are a whole 'nother can of worms, and for that question, whether there are "controls on such an appeal" doesn't even strike me as being relevant. There's no reason to expect that there will be some standard outside tradition that you can apply to judge tradition, but that's a long, long discussion and I don't want to get into that now.

If this preunderstanding is essential to the meaning of Trent, why didn’t the Tridentine Fathers make that explicit? And in the absence of hard evidence, how does Prejean know that this was an unspoken assumption of their canons and decrees? How do you document an unspoken assumption?

CC: I would think that there are some ordinary standards that historians use for this sort of thing: the ubiquity of certain references, the historical climate, etc. Again, I don't think what I've said is unreasonable in any respect.

I’d add that we’re often admonished by Catholic writers that the preunderstanding of a conciliar degree is not normative—indeed, may even be a culture-bound mistake. The only thing that’s binding are the formal definitions.

CC: True, and what is not often added is "as those formal definitions are interpreted in the context of tradition." That's why it's de facto useless to attempt to demonstrate a contradiction between later and earlier interpretations of magisterial documents; unless the later interpretation is simply so insane that it cannot even possibly be supported by the wording of the original (and what are the odds of that?), then there's no contradiction. It's like the equivalent of the "rational basis" test in constitutional law; it requires so little that it's hard to even imagine a violation. Infallibility is a rule of preservation for tradition, not a guideline for epistemic certainty.


The bone of contention is not with Scriptural language, but with unscriptural inferences from Scriptural language.

CC: OK, then we don't think that they are unscriptural inferences; we think that they are reasonable inferences. Again, just stating the difference for the moment.

Even on its own grounds, where does what we know of Scripture from elsewhere contradict the principle of imputation? Where does Scripture say or imply otherwise?

If the Catholic analogy is sound, then God making an objectively false declaration would make him a flawed judge (like a human). I think that God as the "just judge" has ample Scriptural warrant, so if we have rightly defined what a perfectly just judge is, then the contradiction is shown.

All that Prejean has done here is to interpolate what he regards as a necessary condition of just judgment. That is not a condition he can find actually stated in the text of Scripture. He merely assumes that it must be so. Notice that there is absolutely no actual exegesis to back up his claim. So he’s begging the question.

CC: This argument proves too much. If taken to an extreme, it wouldn't let one take one's experience about what a term like "judge" means into account, which would render translation impossible. Hays provided the example of the "legal fiction" of someone being declared "innocent;" I replied that if we resort to our actual experience of the courtroom for interpreting the courtroom analogy, then the judge resorting to a "legal fiction" if he were omniscient and the facts did not match the declaration would be considered a travesty of justice. This is exactly the Catholic argument: that if we let our ordinary legal understanding inform the legal terminology of Scripture, God declaring something falsely would be unjust. The question of how much we allow out ordinary experience to inform interpretation is a valid one, but it's hardly begging the question to make an assertion from experience that one could reasonably think bears on a Scriptural image.

This is a very confused statement. What is the contrast between actual sin and ontological sin? If it’s actual, it’s personal. That makes it ontological.I don’t know what he means by “solely a matter of one’s legal standing.”

In Reformed theology, sin has two sides to it: (i) subjective corruption and (ii) objective guilt. Sanctification answers to (i) while justification answers to (ii).

To say that we are guilty in our own right does not imply that we are righteous in our own right. These are not convertible propositions.

A Christian is actually or ontologically sinful. What he is not is actually or ontologically righteous. Sin has degrees—righteousness does not, not in terms of being right with God. The standard of divine acquittal is perfect righteousness, not partial righteousness.

Actually, it’s the Catholic position which is a falsehood. For it makes partial, personal righteousness deputize for actual and absolute righteousness. These are hardly commensurate.

CC: And these are all differences in the Reformed and Catholic positions, most of which were lined out at Trent. Obviously, we think that people can be ontologically righteous in degrees without being perfectly righteous, and we think the "standard of divine acquittal" as you put it is strictly whether the debt to divine justice for your sins has been paid on your behalf. Such a person is acquitted, righteous.

This is confused on two grounds:
i) It fails to distinguish between subjective corruption and objective guilt. A payment may acquit you, but it doesn’t make you actually righteous. Indeed, it assumes that you are actually unrighteous, which is why you must make restitution in the first place.
ii) It fails to distinguish between first and second-party manumission. If a second party redeems the debt, then that, by definition, involves a vicarious satisfaction of the debt. The debtor didn’t pay it himself. He is not actually just. Rather, the action of the kinsman redeemer is imputed to his account. That’s the whole point of penal substitution.

CC: I don't think it's confusion; I think it's simply a difference. Remember, Catholic theology does not recognize a distinction between justification and sanctification; what you call "subjective" and "objective" (a little confusing for me; I would see both as objective) are cleansed simultaneously (you are declared righteous, and you are righteous). What I was saying above is that the vicariousness of the satisfaction is irrelevant; free is free from the legal perspective regardless of who pays the tab. The person is no longer guilty; his debt to justice is paid.

<< : I agree with this statement, but I'll note that it is entirely routine for people to view sola gratia and sola fide such that this would be an issue of sola fide rather than sola gratia. >>

Sola gratia is the general principle, of which sola fide is a special case. We are justified by faith alone because, in Pauline theology (and elsewhere), we are saved by grace alone; and since we’re sinful, our own works cannot solicit or merit God’s favor. And faith is faith in another, the resignation of all spiritual self-confidence, as we trust solely in the sole and sufficient merit of Christ for salvation.

Fair enough. You have been duly warned that others disagree.


To my knowledge, these were never ratified at an Ecumenical Council. This was just a local council.

As a general Western council with papal approval (a plenary council), it might as well be ecumenical from my perspective. The only reason it isn't technically an ecumenical council is that the East and West were still in union at a time, but it isn't any less binding on me than the post-schism Western councils.

The Dueling Dane's deft defense

Eric Svendsen has returned fire against Paul Owen, and where his volleys strike, they strike true. Dr. Owen's last series included some pretty nasty jabs against Dr. Svendsen's linguistic abilities, and Dr. Svendsen has quite reasonably pointed out that the same criticisms have to be levelled against the people from whom he is borrowing his arguments, leading to some pretty absurd conclusions (such as Leon Morris, Craig Blomberg, Robert Mounce, and A.T. Robertson being incompetents). This is exactly the danger of equating disagreement with incompetence; it's almost invariably the case that some intelligent and highly-skilled person will hold the view that you are calling ridiculous. That's why one has to separate intelligence and credentials from being correct and to think critically about arguments and evidence, rather than who is presenting them.

Now, what Dr. Owen really means is that he thinks these other scholars are wrong as well, and the point that I'd like to emphasize is that there's nothing wrong with that. If he thinks they are drawing conclusions that aren't justified, if he questions their methodology, if he finds their reasoning unsound, if he thinks that their desire to defend a particular position has exceeded what their methods will allow, then it is hardly unfair to say so. If one doesn't give Eric Svendsen a pass on an argument, then one oughtn't give D.A. Carson or Wayne Grudem a pass on it either; an argument is an argument no matter who speaks it. The reason that I thought Dr. Owen "won" the previous confrontation is that I thought his arguments were stronger, not because I was impressed by his ability to insult his opponent. [NOTE: I've developed the habit of simply those kinds of statements to save my own time, since my interest is in the arguments, so if it seems like I'm blowing by some pretty serious statements, I probably am.] And if it is the case that the argument is stronger, it should be articulable even against scholars.

I think that the lack of interaction with Baptist or other free church scholars is creating the illusion that opponents of the Reformed Baptist position are unwilling to interact with the substantive arguments. In other words, the appearance is that Baptists are being attacked as if they have no reasons for believing their positions, but there is a peculiar silence on the scholarly work upon which they are relying, which ought to be relatively well-known to opponents. There really isn't an excuse for that, and I would encourage anyone who is going to publicly take on the Baptist position to publicly take on the scholars taking that position as well. If you aren't happy with the positions of Archer, Carson, Moo, Morris, Schreiner, Grudem, Blomberg, Nettles, Dockery, Stamoolis, et al., then you ought to articulate specific reasons that you think they are wrong and demonstrate why you believe that they are less than convincing (which doesn't mean that they've necessarily erred; they may have simply overestimated the strength of their arguments). If you can't commit to doing that, then any adversarial interaction on the subject (particularly in blogs) is likely to be unprofitable; better to simply say "read X, Y, and Z as an introduction, and interact with their arguments before we continue."

In this vein, as someone who would be happy to interact with scholars, I will confess a pet peeve of my own: the lack of scholarly support for certain historical arguments made by Baptist apologists. It's been no secret that I become irate (perhaps inordinately so) with people who offer patristic prooftexts without demonstrating the requisite familiarity with the scholarship to know whether their interpretations are simply loopy, particularly when such interpretations flat out contradict the conclusions of actual scholars without even addressing those arguments. Thus, if someone is going to present an argument such as "this shows that Athanasius believed in sola scriptura" or "this shows that Irenaeus didn't believe in the Immaculate Conception," for example, I would sure like to see an excerpt from a qualified scholar who agrees with your conclusion about that particular quote. And just for my general background, I'd like to know Baptist historians who specialize in patristic-era history to the point of doing serious scholarly work in the area (I know Michael A.G. Haykin is one), because I've found it extremely difficult to have meaningful discussions with Baptists on church history absent any knowledge of where their assessment of the historical record originates.

Anyway, I have to concede Dr. Svendsen's point that the personal attacks and the failure to interact with Baptist scholars didn't help Dr. Owen's case, and his argument, correct or not, hasn't really carried the burden it ought to have. Dr. Svendsen has reasonably shifted the burden of persuasion back on Dr. Owen, and now he has to evaluate whether it is worth his time to attempt to carry that burden or to drop it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Just another rant from the Red Romanist

Angels cap tip to the Pedantic Protestant both for my new tagline (I can't recall ever having laughed so hard at myself as when I read that) and for pointing out Steve Hays's series on the differences between Catholic and Protestant ideas of justification (Part I and Part II). By and large, I agree with the point of the series: that the ideas of justification in Catholic and Protestant theology are fundamentally irreconcilable. ISTM that we did about as well as we could do at Regensburg, and that wasn't good enough. But I think that it's also important to note that Regensburg did actually clear up a miscommunication on at least one point: whether God was the sole cause of the works that Catholics consider justifying. The answer to that question is "YES," God's grace is infallible at obtaining its intended effect to apply Christ's merits to a person. Note the statement of Regensburg: "By the Holy Spirit the human mind is moved toward God through Christ and this movement is through faith." The condition of whether grace is resisted or not is the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which moves and excites the will toward assent to grace (Trent on justification, Canons III-IV). Thus, the Father bestows Christ's merits by the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while permitting grace to be resisted in those who lack such inspiration, thus condemning them by their own sin. While the will is active in the process of justification, it in no way thwarts God's ultimate sovereignty in the process regarding predestination and election.

For that reason, I must respectfully dissent from some statements made by Mr. Hays regarding the real differences between Catholics and Protestants. Again, I want to make clear that I agree with his statement that follows:

Nowadays it is fashionable to claim that the Reformation was based on a massive misunderstanding. You see, the Protestants weren’t conversant in the Catholic language-game. So both sides were speaking at cross-purposes. This claim disregards the obvious fact that, by definition, the first generation of Protestants were former Catholics. They received the same theological instruction as their Catholic opponents. Calvin may even have been a classmate of Ignatius Loyola at the Sorbonne. Luther was a professor of Catholic theology. Peter Martyr was an abbot. It is special pleading to claim that the Protestant Reformers wrote as outsiders to the Catholic tradition.

It is for that very reason, however, that I think we are obliged to learn from the Reformers themselves about what the remaining differences were after Regensburg. Thus, I proceed to some areas that require clarification. As Mr. Hays offered the series as an exposition of the respective positions, I trust that this effort will be seen as an effort to make sure that they are explained correctly.

Hays provides the following definition of justification:
Trent defines justification in terms of the remission of sin as well as the sanctification and renewal of the inner man, through the voluntary reception of a gracious action that transforms the state of the unjust into a condition of personal and actual rectitude, enabling them to become heirs of everlasting life (6.7).

This definition is true, but possibly misleading. The real question is what produces the voluntary reception of the gracious action, and that is based on the providential guidance of God and the Holy Spirit in a person's life before justification (6.6), which incorporates the order of voluntary causes as usual. At the point of justification itself, it is strictly a question of whether the person is or is not under the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The providential influence of the Holy Spirit before that point is, as always, an inordinately complex and mysterious process that is radically individual, incorporating the voluntary order of causes under the overarching will of God. Some ideas have been proposed (Thomism and Molinism, for example), but I doubt that we'll ever resolve that particular contradiction. We know only that, contra Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, it is not something that one can work to earn or deserve by performing natural works so as to solicit God's grace.

Even if the Tridentine position didn’t suffer from any positive errors, it would still be gravely defective for failing to articulate a positive and sharp-edged summary of the Pauline category of justification, in contradistinction to his category of sanctification. One would be at a loss to recover the Pauline doctrine from the Tridentine construct. So it is not a case of classing two soteric categories under one designation; rather, we would be unable to reconstruct the Pauline category from the Tridentine statement since it doesn’t preserve the essential elements of the original.

I cite this only to point out that this is one of the major points of difference. Catholics do not believe St. Paul draws this distinction between justification and sanctification, which is one of the fundamental differences in our respective understanding of Scripture. That contributes significantly to the interpretational differences in the letters of St. Paul and St. James that Hays mentions.

I'll now turn to some specific points that were raised to explain how misconceiving the Catholic position may create misunderstandings.

In section (i) on the Forensic nature of justification, Hays notes the following objection to the Catholic argument that dikaioo is causative:
But even if the verb were to carry a uniformly causal connotation, that would not settle the issue in favor of the Catholic claim. When Paul says that Christ was made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21), the verb (ποιεω) has a naturally causal import (“to do, make, bring about, produce, execute,” &c.), yet Paul doesn’t mean that Christ became a sinner!

The Catholic interpretation of this verse is that "sin" refers to a "sin offering," so that we are quite definite in saying that this has a causative sense (Christ obviously didn't crucify Himself). Indeed, a significant objection that Catholics have to imputed justification is that the use of this passage (and the similar "made a curse" in Galatians) to demonstrate the "reverse imputation" of sins to Christ either contravenes the natural sense of the verb or blasphemously retains it (so that Christ literally became a sinner). But incidentally, it doesn't seem to me that Catholics are arguing for infused righteousness based on the causal force of the verb itself, but rather by the fact that God Himself has pronounced the verdict (more on that below).

In section (v) on the solafideistic character of justification, Hays presents two Catholic arguments, both of which seem to be misunderstood. Hays introduces the first argument as follows:
One major rationale for justification by faith alone is that the merit principle is based on the principle of strict justice—where there’s an exact equality between deed and desert. But since our fallen deeds can never satisfy this inflexible standard, they properly merit punishment rather than reward. This is not an artificially high standard. Rather, it is nothing more or less than the standard intrinsic to the principle of merited reward or punishment. Strict justice doesn’t allow for any degree of declination.

Catholic theologians distinguish between strict merit, condign merit and congruent merit. Condign merit is a synergistic second-order merit obliging a commensurate reward, whereas congruent merit is more discretionary. Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia (CUA 1967), 10:202b-203a

The big problem here is that the first paragraph is entirely wrong from the Catholic perspective (or for that matter, from the logical perspective). The Catholic formulation of merit comes straight out of the Scriptural language of reward-punishment in the context of eternal life (see, e.g., Rom. 2:6-28, Matt. 25:46). Realizing that it is utterly impossible for God to ever have any sort of obligation to His creation (i.e., strict merit), Catholic theologians noted other areas in which merit was used outside of the context of obligation. One is the case of condign merit, in which a person completely voluntarily offers to give something to someone on a specified condition, described quite aptly by Mr. Hays thusly:
Of course, God can obligate himself by making a promise. In that sense we may have a claim on God. But a divine promise is strictly gratuitous. If God makes a promise, he “must” keep his promise, but that is owing to his own veracity, and not to our desert. Any proffered reward is still in the nature of a favor rather than a debt. Only Christ was in a position to earn a reward for his people.

Likewise, the notion of congruent merit arises in cases where people give a reward that is fitting but in no way obliged by action. It is strictly gratuitous; no rule or promise obligates it. One could count innumerable occasions on which someone is not strictly entitled to receive something, but gifts are fittingly given (birthdays, graduation, Christmas, etc., etc.). Obviously, one also could give gifts out of affection without some occasion, and even that would be congruent merit, fitting to the love the giver has for the receiver. The point of congruent merit is that it describes the merit of the receiver based on the regard of the giver, not on any concept of earned reward. In the cases of condign and congruent merit, the language of merit is rightly used without any question of strict justice between the giver and the receiver, so that the receiver "earns" the reward.

In that light, it becomes clear that Hays has listed objections that are unfounded:
a) Although is applied to the Scriptural doctrine of justification, it cannot be exegeted from the Scriptural doctrine of justification.

CC: I disagree. It is in our unwillingness to abandon the Scriptural language of reward and punishment that we look to a way to make that language meaningful.

b) It cannot be invoked to gloss the Tridentine formulation since the Tridentine Fathers refrained from drawing on such a distinction in their canons and decrees on justification, although it was available to them.

CC: I would argue that this would have been clearly understood by a Catholic theologian of the time, especially given that the "crowning His own merits" language had been in use from even before St. Augustine and the authoritative medieval work on the atonement (St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo) specifically ruled out the possibility of strict justice as a basis for salvation.

c) It falters on a fatal equivocation. The fact that Catholic theologians find it necessary to qualify the character of merit already betrays the extremity of their position. You can’t modify a concept by merely annexing an adjective to a noun (viz., extra virgin olive oil). The principle of merit cannot be modulated. To merit something, it must be owing to the subject in his own right. He must be personally deserving and his recompense must be commensurate with the claim. The same applies to demerit. Mercy and merit are contrary principles.

CC: If one assumes that the term "merit" is limited in application to strict justice, then it might be true that "[t]he principle of merit cannot be modulated." But that is true neither linguistically nor theologically, and in fact, if it were true, then Scripture would have spoken in nonsensical terms.

d) This sort of ethical hair-splitting is Pharisaical. It tries to jimmy open a few cracks in the solid front of Scripture in order to wedge in a little leeway for human merit. Paul could have introduces these qualifications if he wanted to.

CC: St. Paul wrote Romans 2, which strikes me as an adequate rebuttal to this assertion.

Similar problems can be noted in Hays's objections to the Catholic argument that imputed justification is a "legal fiction":

a) The only burden on a Protestant is to justify his exegesis, and not to justify the results of his exegesis. At that point the Catholic is taking issue with the propriety of God’s redemptive arrangements.

CC: Part of justifying one's exegesis is to make certain that one does not contradict what one knows of Scripture from elsewhere. The notion of a legal fiction in this instance is that it attacks God's own justice. The entire notion of "legal fiction" is that it is something superfluous if we could judge the cases truly on their merits; to say that God is using one would, from the Catholic perspective, be impugning God's ability to judge cases rightly.

b) The Catholic category of “quasi-merit” (=congruent merit) invites the characterization of a legal fiction. So the Catholic alternative is objectionable on its own grounds.

CC: On the contrary, it seems to be quite harmonious with both the ordinary use of language and the Scriptural use of language. Regardless, it's a tu quoque argument, not a response.

c) It seems as if Catholic theologians are trying to extract the doctrine of justification from the form of the word, reasoning that unless the subject declared to be righteous is, in fact righteous, God’s judgment would be at variance with the truth. But this is a semantic fallacy. Take another judicial term. We declare a defendant to be either innocent or guilty. Now “innocent” is a Latin derivative which literally means “harmless.” So is it a legal fiction to declare the defendant innocent when he may be a vicious and violent individual? But this is irrelevant to the truth of the verdict. “Innocent” is a technical term in jurisprudence. It simply means that the defendant is not guilty as charged. It says nothing about his personal character. It is only concerned with his legal standing. He may be a vicious and violent individual, but as long as he is not guilty of the specific offense for which he was charged, he is innocent in the eyes of the law.

CC: First, being an American lawyer, I have to point out that the finding is "not guilty," not "innocent," and the change was made for exactly the reason that the jury is technically not making a determination of guilt or innocence, but rather whether the person is certain to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, it's hypocritical for you to chastise Catholics for technical use of the theological term "merit" in a way contrary to its ordinary understanding (which I don't concede BTW) as Pharasaical and then to excuse the exact same type of usage for "innocent" based on the usage being technical. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the "legal fiction" involved in these terms "in the eyes of the law" is exactly because of that reasonable doubt. We as lawyers even acknowledge human fallibility in the maxim that guides the standard of proof: "Better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be condemned." If there were no doubt involved, such as when the judge is perfectly omniscient, then it would be a travesty of justice for the judge to declare a person not guilty of an offense when he was guilty. Indeed, even with our fallible means, it is perceived as unjust when someone perceived to be guilty goes free; imagine the much greater outrage if the jury could not plead human fallibility. So you've unintentionally hit on exactly the Catholic objection: to accuse God of resorting to a legal fiction is to impute either fallibility or dishonesty to God. As an omniscient and perfectly truthful judge, God literally cannot utter a judgment that is not objectively true, and the Scriptural witness to the truth of God's utterances is quite simply undeniable.

d) Justification by faith would only be fictitious if it pretended that the sinner were actually righteous. But what it means is that the good credit of Christ’s perfect righteousness is attributed to the sinner by virtue of the solidarity of Christ with his people in election and redemption. So it is not a groundless attribution. God justifies the sinner on just grounds—the merit of Christ (Rom 3:24-26).

CC: This is a valid objection, but it weakens the argument for imputed justification substantially. If sin is solely a matter of one's legal standing, that would make the person actually righteous, not righteous by imputation. On the other hand, if sin is ontological, then the judgement would either be false or the person would have to be made righteous. In either case, the person would be righteous in his own right, not by virtue of imputation.

e) Since it is God’s law that must be satisfied, shouldn’t he have the first and final say in how his law is to be honored? If God tells us that the terms of his broken law can be met on behalf of the elect by the vicarious merit of his Son, who is the Catholic to slander this as a legal fiction? Doesn’t the divine legislator appreciate the moral requirements of his law for man? The obligation of the law is an obligation to God? Isn’t God in a position to say how that obligation may be met? Doesn’t the divine lawmaker enjoy a measure of discretion in stipulating what form of recompense is appropriate? The Catholic charge is presumptuous in the extreme.

CC: Not at all. If the divine law says that a kinsman can voluntarily pay a price to redeem someone, that justice can be satisfied by either punishment or payment, then Christ's merciful sacrifice also satisfies justice (as St. Anselm argued). The point is that if salvation is a matter of legal standing, and the law says that payment sets someone free from the sentence, then the person is actually righteous (there's no need for imputation).

f) If alien righteousness were a legal fiction, then alien unrighteousness is also be a legal fiction. The Bible teaches a triple imputation: the demerit of Adam is imputed to his posterity, the demerit of his elect posterity is imputed to Christ, while the merit of Christ is imputed to the elect. So if the Protestant doctrine of justification were fallacious, that would further falsify original sin, and also invalidate the role of Christ as the sin-bearer for his people. Deny justification by faith and you’re committed to denying the Lamb of God, for sola fide and the Agnus Dei go hand in hand.

CC: This response fails against the Catholic argument for two reasons. First, original sin in Catholic theology is actual, not imputed. Second, we reject the idea that demerit is imputed to Christ in any respect; our interpretation of "made sin" and "made a curse" and "bore our sins in His body" is strictly that He was a sacrificial offering for those purposes, not that they counted in any way against Him. Consequently, Catholic theology uniformly rejects all three forms of imputation.

g) Trent’s attack on justification by faith treats theology as it were an exercise in creative writing. If you don’t like the way the story ends, you just rewrite it. But the Protestant theologian is not at liberty to write an alternative ending to revelation.

CC: Again, the objection is to self-contradictory interpretations of Scripture, not to some "outside standard."

h) When the Catholic charges sola fide with positing a fictitious merit, we can counter that the Catholic posits a fictitious God. What does it reveal about his doctrine of God when his doctrine of justification amounts to saying, in effect, “Look, Lord, I can never pay you back in full, but I can pay you 59¢ on the dollar if you will agree to write off the remainder of the debt”? Does this represent a serious conception of God? Doesn’t it reduce the object of faith to a toy God, a pet God, a pocket God—no better, really—than a glorified rabbit’s foot? The notion of a God who can be bought off by petty brides is typically pagan.

CC: But Catholic theology says no such thing. The notion of "merit" is rigorous in the sense that it is meant and bears no relationship to the account Mr. Hays gives here.

While the truth of this triple imputation is an article of faith secured by the authority of God’s word, I would add that there is nothing notably counter-intuitive about it.

CC: In fact, it is so intuitive that I wonder what the need is for contriving the entire scheme of imputation.

Regarding the solagratuitous aspect of grace, Hays notes the following:
The Augustinian tradition affirmed that justification was by grace alone. For this reason, ecumenists sometimes claim that both Rome and Geneva affirm the sola gratia character of justification. But this is misleading:

a) When Augustinians referred of the grace of justification, they meant infused grace. By contrast, the Lutheran and Reformed theologians define this grace in strictly forensic, vicarious and relational terms.

CC: I agree with this statement, but I'll note that it is entirely routine for people to view sola gratia and sola fide such that this would be an issue of sola fide rather than sola gratia. Thus, as a caveat in dealing with Protestants who state "Catholics believe in sola gratia," one should understand that this is intended to imply that good works in Catholic theology are caused solely and infallibly by grace.

b) The Augustinian tradition affirms the fully sovereign character of saving grace. However, that tradition was never codified in official dogmatic teaching. To the contrary, Rome has always struck a semi-Pelagian stance. As a consequence, then, both of (a) and (b), the comparison rests on an equivocation of terms.

CC: I find that difficult to believe, given the Canons of the Council of Orange.

I have one brief remark about the following:
ix) COORDINATED WITH SANCTIFICATION. Catholic theologians charge the Protestant doctrine with being antinomian. This calls for a couple of comments:

a) The very same accusation was leveled against Paul’s doctrine of justification (Rom 3:31-32; Gal 2:17). It is only because the Protestant version is true to the Pauline paradigm that it is even vulnerable to this charge.

CC: The Catholic argument would be that the charge would have been valid if St. Paul were actually teaching Protestantism. However, I think your response (b) is adequate to responding to that charge.

I still have to read through the synopsis of Trent itself. I likely will have a few things to say about that as well, but I hope that what I said so far is useful.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The fatal flaw in James White's worldview

James White says that he doesn't have the time to respond to the critique that I posted in this thread on Patrick Madrid's forum. But based on his citation of 1 Cor. 1-2, his implication is that I am somehow dealing in the "wisdom of men," while his own philosophy is "grounded in the inspired text." But White is simply a wolf in sheep's clothing, trying to hide from the fact that his own philosophy not only originates in human reasoning entirely outside of the Word of God but rather partakes of fundamental Christological error, which is what happens when you don't learn from church history.

White says:
Now, Crimson Catholic may choke when I say this, but the only sound Christian philosophy is that which is grounded in the inspired text. And, though he will utterly blow a circuit here, I believe exegesis is, in fact, the "queen of the theological arts," the most important of the fields of study, and that it is foundational to all else, including systematic theology, Christian philosophy, apologetics and the like.

Oh, I entirely agree. In fact, if you read Dei Verbum, you'd know that Catholics entirely agree too. The question is what philosophy one brings to exegesis. In other words, in evaluating Scripture, do you start from the historical reality of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, or do you instead start from the fallible limitations of humanity? That's what determines whether you allow exegesis of the text to include spiritual exegesis, wherein the true meaning of Scripture can be also realized in the Holy Spirit by pious reflection on Scripture within the life and Tradition of the Church, or whether you limit the true meaning of Scripture according to human limitations. White's "grammatical-historical" method is a human invention, plainly and simply, and to limit the true meaning of Scripture by that human method makes Scripture into a mere created thing, much like Arianism makes Christ into a mere created thing. But Scripture is not a mere created thing; it is the transcendent Word of God, God-breathed (inspired) by the Holy Spirit.

Orthodox Christians start from the historically real Christ, fully God and fully man, not from Arian presuppositions that cannot be reconciled with the reality of the God-man. That fosters a recognition of the Word of God as a union of the transcendent and the created, not one at the expense of the other. Indeed, it is hardly a coincidence that Arian heretics such as Maximinus were the ones arguing against the transcendent quality of Scripture, while the orthodox St. Athanasius risked his own life and suffered exile in order to defend the reading of Scripture in the life of the Church. White's faith in human reason is simply the old serpent of Arianism resurrected from the grave, and that's why it is so ridiculous (and completely insupportable) for him to argue that St. Athanaius supported sola scriptura.

So why am I wasting my time with White, whose claim of historical continuity with the risen Christ is as fanciful as that of Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons? Simply because their absurdity from a historical perspective is obvious, while James White's is the insidious Arian venom that has infected the orthodox Christian community before. Nor is it a case, as with the Reformers, where they endorsed serious errors (including Monophysitism for Luther, Nestorianism for Calvin, and quite obvious Monotheletism in both cases) in a sincere effort to act for the good of the Church, an effort inherited my a large number of Protestants of the present day who are attempting to reconcile their theology with the historical Church. Their concept of sola scriptura was inseparable from the life of the Church, nothing like the bile of heresy that White swallows without blinking.

So perhaps White should convince me why I should abandon the true faith of the Christian Church to accept what would require me to deny the historical reality of Christ, his man-made tradition of the exclusive "grammatical-historical method." I have an idea what St. Paul would say about accepting the "wisdom of men" in place of the Cross.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What theologian are you?

Check out my top two matches on this quiz. Can I spot Protestantism in questions or what? ;-)

You scored as Augustine.
You have a big view of God and also take human sin and depravity very seriously. Predestination is important for you.

Charles Finney
Karl Barth
John Calvin
Friedrich Schleiermacher
Jonathan Edwards
Paul Tillich
Martin Luther
Jürgen Moltmann

Wrapping up

To complete the quite civil discussion I've recently had with Eric Svendsen on the Catholic concept of merit, I will offer the following response to Dr. Svendsen's latest comments. At this point, it appears that we are simply going over the same issues again, so I'll do my best to provide a recap and summary of what has already been discussed, rather than introducing new arguments. Also, I didn't realize that Dr. Svendsen's wife had recently had rotator cuff surgery (please join me in praying for her successful recovery), and I certainly don't want to take away from his time.

In his last comments, Dr. Svendsen noted:
1. The Reformers were scholastics as well, and they still rejected the merit part of RC theology. Indeed, Trent’s statements on merit were written against the Reformers view. Hence, your earlier attempt to suggest that we’re really saying the same thing in two different ways must be rejected on historical grounds.

My point was exactly that the Reformers differed with the Catholics on imputed justification, not sola gratia. That's a subtle point, but I think that the historical record bears it out. At any rate, I concur that studying the Reformers is useful for resolving the conflict; so is the study of the counter-Reformation era Catholic theologians.

2. None of the classic RC theologians cast it in this way. When Ott, for instance, discusses merit, none of your proposed nuances enters the picture.

Ott takes a great deal for granted in terms of theological understanding. I've had to correct Catholics on Ott before. Moreover, when studying the actual counter-Reformation theologians of the time, particularly Molina, Suarez, Banez, and John of St. Thomas, it becomes much clearer that the Catholics of the time speaking of "free will" and "cooperation" don't mean anything like what Arminians, for example, believe about free will. At any rate, the question is one that would bear intensive study (which I obviously can't reproduce here), but suffice it to say that I think there is good reason in the record for the conclusion.

3. Most importantly, even if you are correct, it doesn’t change the final outcome or the ramifications I brought forward. The recipient of grace in RCism still must produce good works in order to merit salvation, in order to increase justification, and in order to gain eternal life. Whether that “merit” is your definition or the common definition does not matter in the actual practice of the man who fears he may not have done enough in the end, and who therefore ends up trusting in his own efforts to gain eternal life. That’s a works-based salvation no matter how you slice it.

This is a reasonable position for you to take, and although I would entirely disagree about the Catholic fears at the end of life based on my own experience (having been near *many* of them, I've found that they were filled with hope and trust, not dread), it's a fair argument for you to make. The reason that I am making an effort to correct what I see as an error in your assessment of formal Catholic theology is that it does make a difference for other Protestants' views of Catholics. If people share your view that any human action being part of the ordinary dispensation of grace de facto negates sola gratia, then whether Catholics view these works as wholly the outworking of grace or not doesn't matter. However, there are many Protestants (including Calvin and Luther) who thought that the sacraments were the ordinary instruments of grace, and for those kinds of Protestants, it matters significantly whether Catholics view works as solely the outworking of grace.

There was one serious gaffe in Dr. Svendsen's later comments:
You were doing well all the way up to your Aquinas quote. It's never a good idea to explain a 16th-century belief by appealing to a belief held three centuries prior to that. As I mentioned in a prior comment, I do not believe there is some kind of organic unity of thought on this throughout the history of the RCC. Whatever Trent means by merit needs to be clarified by Trent or by other relevant literature of that era.

Considering the degree to which St. Thomas was quoted by both sides in this debate, including the particular passages on grace, that's simply illogical. There's no kind of "organic unity" required to cite an authority who was specifically acknowledged by the people writing at the time to be of paramount importance. Indeed, that's simply logical exegesis. One wouldn't think to interpret the beliefs of 1st century Jews without reference to the Old Testament, even though those documents were written centuries B.C.

To mention some salient points in Dr. Svendsen's last response:
The Roman Catholics have been insisting RCism really does hold to sola gratia. Is this because there is no human effort involved in attaining eternal life? Well, no. There is human effort involved, but that human effort is initiated and aided by God's grace.

Strictly speaking, it is wholly the outworking of God's grace (Trent Canons I-IV on justification).

So then the recipient of that grace need not worry about anything regarding his salvation since it is all of God's grace? Well, no. He needs to actively cooperate with that grace in order to "merit" eternal life (although we don't really mean "merit" in the strict meritorious sense of "earn"; however, if you don't do these works then you cannot "gain" the "reward" of eternal life--not to be confused with "earn," mind you).

Regarding active cooperation, the will is "moved and excited by God" to cooperate (Can. IV on justification), so even that is by God's grace. See also Can. III on the "prevenient inspiration of the Holy Spirit."

Regarding the definition of "merit," I refer to my own previous answer:
So while it is true to say that what the Catholic has been given truly *merits* the reward, in the same sense that a ticket that someone gave me merits admission to an event, it doesn't show that the person *earned* the reward. There's a connotation of "earning" in the use of the term "merit," but strictly speaking, that connotation is not the essence of merit, which addresses the actual value of something.

Svendsen concludes:
So then, it's merely an act of the human will? Well, no. He must do works to qualify for the attainment of eternal life; and those works primarily consist of observing the sacraments, but also include all acts of charity. But you're saying these works are all of God? Well, not technically. These works are accomplished by "truly his own works"--although these are not really his works but God's; on the other hand, be sure you are careful not to consider them God's works to the exclusion of the man's works, or you'll be in danger of placing yourself under the anathema of Trent.

Actually, the works are "all of God" in the sense of being wholly caused by "the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them" (Can. XI on justification). To be clear on this point, it is absolutely critical to construe the sense in which works and merits are truly the merits of one justified through careful exegesis, so I will reproduce Canon XXXII on justification here:

CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

What everyone leaves out of this interpretation is "whose living member he is." They are "the good merits of him that is justified" exactly and only in the sense that the person justified is acting as the living member of Christ, performing good works "through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ." In the context of this Canon and Canons I-IV, moreover given the interpretation of the Reformers at Regensburg and the counter-Reformation theologians, it is untenable to suppose that there is any room left for human effort in the formal doctrine.

Anyway, like I said, it's been a civil discussion, and I thank Dr. Svendsen for that. I hope it's been helpful for everyone involved.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The brutal path of ecumenism

I'm starting to have sympathy for how hard it is to be ecumenical in the Evangelical community. People get savaged by their brethren for simply suggesting that there might logically be a third position that still entails rejection of Catholicism, but does not involve hanging the more lurid labels on Catholicism (e.g., Judaizer). The problem is, I think, that there is not enough critical thinking about one's own position, because being critical of one's own position is viewed as tantamount to being critical of the Gospel itself. There isn't that distinction between one's position and the arguments for one's position, which leads to bad arguments being maintained far longer than their shelf-life.

I'll pick on James White, who offered a rebuttal to Paul Owen's exegesis of Galatians.

Owen said:
The Judaizers were legalists, who thought that the Law, which was in place long before Christ died on the cross, was sufficient for justification (Gal. 3:21). They did not need Christ to deliver them from the curse of the Law, to provide a righteousness they could not secure for themselves (Gal. 3:10-14). Why? Because they thought it WAS possible to adequately obey the Law. They did not believe that the Law brought only a curse from which they needed to be delivered by a Law-endingatonement for sin and a new covenant. That was the whole problem. The Judaizers did not see the Law as an ineffective solution to sin. That is why Paul accuses them of rejecting the need for Jesus' atoning death (Gal. 2:21). The problem with receiving circumcision was not that it added one little, itsy bitsy, teeny weeny work of merit to faith in Jesus. The problem with circumcision is that its continuation implied the continued use of the Law for righteousness (Gal. 5:3 cf. Rom. 10:4). The gospel of Christ is the negation of every effort to secure or maintain ones righteous status before God on the basis of personal obedience to the Law.

White calls this "bad argumentation," and argues as follows. First he quotes Galatians 2:20-21:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [comes] through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

Then White argues:
Now, if this point on Paul's part is going to accomplish anything, it would have to contain a conclusion that demonstrates the error of the Judaizers, just like in our example above. I mean, if Paul's conclusion is nothing more than what his opponents are already saying, where is the force of the argument? So obviously, the Judaizers were not saying Christ died needlessly, for if they were, Pauls argument is worthless. Instead, as sober scholars have known all along, Pauls argument is based upon the recognition that Paul's opponents were not in fact denying the importance, centrality, or even salvific nature, of Christ's atonement. They, like all who have followed in their footsteps since then, recognized the necessity of that sacrifice; but, they likewise sought to control the access to that work through human means. They claimed to be preaching the gospel, did they not? Gal. 1:6-9 shows they were, of course. So are we to believe that Paul would call a cross-less message another gospel in any sense at all? Why did Paul say to those who would be circumcised "Christ will be of no benefit to you" (5:2) if his opponents were not making room for Christ in addition to their legalism? And why say, "And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law" (5:3) if once again this is doing nothing more than simply repeating the very position of his opponents, who would then say, "Hey, we think Paul is starting to get the point!" If your opponents are saying you can be made righteous by keeping the entire law, it is a pretty lame argument to simply repeat their own position as if this refutes them.

This is, obviously, a terrible argument, because it excludes the rather obvious case of the Judaizers thinking that the benefit of Christ was exactly allowing them to keep the law unto righteousness, a benefit that non-Christians did not have. Supposing that the Judaizers believed that non-Christians could not keep the law unto righteousness but Christians could, imagine what a damning declaration Galatians 5:1-4 becomes:

[1] For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
[2] Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
[3] I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law.
[4] You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Thus, St. Paul's statement in 5:3 is a dire threat in the context of 5:2 and 5:4. Far from being a repetition of the Judaizers' position, it is a rebuke of the form "If you believe being Christian means that you can fulfill the law unto righteousness, you are in exactly the same boat as the non-Christians." Or as the converse argument proceeds in Gal. 2:20-21, "If all Christ does is allow you to fulfill the law unto righteousness, you could have done that before; Christ didn't have to die for it, so you are rendering his death meaningless." So ISTM that the Judaizers clearly could have thought that Christ's death had a purpose, but the *wrong* purpose. In that light, St. Paul's response would make sense; he would be rebutting the idea that the purpose of Christ's death was to allow people to fulfill the law unto righteousness.

Now it may be that White has other reasons to disagree with this interpretation, but the argument thus far presented that Owen's interpretation would render St. Paul's rebuke meaningless is clearly false. I also question how much sense St. Paul's lesson about St. Peter compelling Gentiles to "live like Jews" (Gal. 2:11-14) would make if White's interpretation of the Judaizers based on Gal. 5:3 is accurate (i.e., that the Judaizers want to selectively keep portions of the law, but not the entire law, as a means to appropriate Christ's righteousness). My hypothetical account of the Judaizers' belief would make a coherent whole of Gal. 5:1-4 while also harmonizing with Gal. 2:11-14 and 20-21.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What They DO Teach in the Ivy League

After that nice series on "Defending Romanism," the Pedantic Protestant evidently worked up some frustration over us obstinate Roman Catholic types and elected to let me know about it. That's OK; I don't mind people letting me know when they think I've gone off the beam. But I think the PP is badly mistaken about my objection to certain Evangelicals quoting from the Church Fathers.

The PP's basic argument is as follows:
Let's suppose that I think that position X on an issue is false, but agree with position Y. Along comes Author Z who, in his writings, simultaneously holds or indicates an acceptance of the conjunction of X and Y. Query: am I violating some canon of consistency by citing Author Z's endorsement of Y? Answer: not necessarily

Helpful guidelines for those who seek true wisdom:
(1) If Y and X happen to be logically independent of each other, or if the reasoning for Y's truth does not imply the truth of X, then there is no logical problem with my citation of Author Z.

(2) Even if the truth of X were to imply the truth of Y, this wouldn't make somebody who holds Y but not X to be inconsistent. This is a mere restatement of the converse fallacy.

(3) One could challenge me to cite an author [say Z2] who, besides agreeing with Y, also finds X to be false. But then in most situations [perhaps all?], Z2 will then disagree with me on some other proposition Q. Supposing that the argumentation for Q is logically independent of that for X and Y, the imaginary interlocutor could ask why I'm citing Z2 and not some other author Z3 who agrees with me on X, Y, and Q. And the cycle could go on and on, until one can only cite somebody who agrees with him in every detail. This is a rather silly way of proceeding, methinks.

Unfortunately for the PP's case, they actually teach us all of these things in the Ivy League. Rebuttal done!

OK, OK, I realize the PP was being facetious, but even in this little summary when you might be able to cite Author Z, he's left out a number of situations (listed with ROMAN numerals) in which Miscreant K shouldn't cite Author Z in support of Y.

I. Z's argument bears little or no relationship to K's argument for Y, or worse, contradicts K's argument for Y.

A.k.a. Bad Lawyering 101, because this is probably the most common rookie mistake and the most telling sign of a bad lawyer among the more experience. Evidence is cited in favor of arguments, not conclusions. If Z supports your conclusion but provides no help for your argument, then Z is not evidence for your position. In that case, it doesn't make any sense to cite Z whose entire argument is X->Y when you hold ~X. At any rate, you have to study Z in sufficient detail to thoroughly understand Z's argument for Y before you can even think of citing him, which is why this error is typically the hallmark of lazy scholarship. People can get away with this one for years, because it's mostly self-policed, but that doesn't make it any more defensible.

II. Z's argument requires K to accept a contradiction by contrapositive.

Sure, there's a converse fallacy, but there's also a valid argument from the contrapositive. If Z has elsewhere made an unrebutted argument that Y->X or X iff Y, then Z is likely going to be a bad source. Sure, it's possible for K to cite Z and rebut the argument Y->X, but then how reliable can Z be? Moreover, if K's argument for holding ~X and Y depends on X and Y being logically independent, then Z's argument is evidence that they aren't, thus undermining K's position. In fact, given that it's extremely unusual for an objector to cite something that's entirely unrelated, I'd argue that the burden of proof is always on the person asserting logical independence to illustrate that they were logically independent in Author Z's mind if there is any plausible reason for expecting they might be connected; ordinary interpretation presumes consistency and reasonable relationships when the same person is writing on related subjects.

III. K's argument begs a question of interpretation, and K fails to cite adequate evidence for the interpretation.

Ought to go without saying, but it never does. It's legitimate, even in blog discussions, to ask your opponent to cite something to show that his conclusion isn't simply ridiculous among people who have actually studied the matter for a living. It's also reasonable to neglect the argument of someone who hasn't done reasonably adequate research and who does not cite someone who has done reasonably adequate research. That's not saying that scholars are always right (God forbid!); they are only as strong as their arguments. But it does say that even a layperson must do the minimum necessary work to assure their conclusions of reasonable certainty and to lay out that work for examination (either by proxy for a scholar or by their own records), which means at the minimum surveying what is known about Author Z's position before citing Author Z.

IV. K confuses support for conclusions with support for K's argument.

The reasonable way to determine which author to cite from Authors Z1, Z2, and Z3 is which one of Z1, Z2, and Z3 best supports your argument for Y, not by determining how many conclusions Y1 ... Yn on which each agrees with you. Note that this doesn't excuse one from the flip side...

V. Persuasive power of K's citation of Z varies inversely with the number of independent beliefs X1 ... Xn on which K disagrees with Z.

That's true as a rule of thumb even if the contradictions on X1 ... Xn are somehow explaned; it's probably more like (1/k)^n (k > 1, higher values based on greater overall consistency of the writer) if the contradictions are unexplained. As a practical matter, the likelihood that Author Z supports your position diminishes so rapidly with subsequent contradictions that it's almost impossible to have any utility with a significant number of disagreements (hence, the unexplained "Z can err" argument is a virtual confession that Z is evidence against your position). It's far more reasonable to argue for interpretations based on the interdependence of beliefs and explain a small number of disagreements or inconsistencies. That's not to say that simply bringing up a random contradiction removes them as a source, but a large number of contradictions is in and of itself a significant objection, and in most cases, it's not just a question of a large number of contradictions but also a question of probable logical interdependence of the positions.

So to turn more pointedly to the issue at hand:
(a) It is quite one thing to say that X and Y are logically dependent on each other, and quite another thing to show it. Given the theological diversity in the ECF's --- contra the claims by the 10-minutes-per-day triumphalistic RC apologists --- it isn't a trivial matter to show that X and Y are logically interdependent.

First, there's the question of theological diversity within one author, which is far less probable than theological diversity among different authors. To say otherwise is special pleading; the ordinary presumption of interpretation of a single author is consistency absent a demonstration to the contrary. Second, if the group as a whole is this chaotic, that's an argument against citing them as evidence for group belief at all, not an argument in favor of K's use of any one individual. Third, it's no defense to argue that showing the interconnection isn't trivial if it's in fact been done elsewhere, which is the point of surveying the literature in the first place. If there's a good argument out there, it demands a response.

(b) On an ethical note, I allow RC's to do the same thing with regards to ECF's. However, I'm not so arrogant to think that they have a Property of Pedantic Protestant sticker on them. Some of the ECF's agree with me on some things, others disagree. In the language of the skaters down the block: whatever, d00d.

Nor are we so arrogant. But in any event, that's a meaningless generalization. What matters is whether the particular individual has good reason for citing the ECF's, not whether the group as a whole does. Protestants are capable of citing the Church Fathers responsibily, but that doesn't address whether any particular Protestant is handling the Church Fathers responsibly.

(c) It is quite possible that an ECF who holds both Y and X [whereas I hold Y and the negation of X] is citation-quality relative to Y simply because there are good reasons for Y and not-so-good reasons for X. Example: X might be something against which one has a good scripture-based argument, whereas the ECF holds Y due to some abstract philosophizing based on questionable principles.

Sure, but it does require at least showing that Z has good reasons for believing Y before you cite Z in support of Y. If you think Z has terrible reasons for believing Y, then it makes no sense to cite Z in favor of your argument for Y.

(d) Conservative Protestants have an objective criterion why they take certain parts of the ECF's pleasantly and other parts unpleasantly, and that criterion is Scripture. Whether or not RC's approve of this really doesn't mean anything unless they can give an argument that this criterion is a bad one, and that isn't something that can be shown in a quick-n-easy fashion.

Doesn't matter whether anybody thinks it's a good or a bad one; what matters is whether Z can be cited in support of it. It's dishonest to cite Z in support of conclusion Y if Z's reasoning for Y is not compatible with your reasoning for Y. I couldn't care less what criterion you use to judge the Fathers; the only thing that matters is whether you are responsible for citing them in favor of that criterion when making an argument for Y.

I've got no problem with people citing the Church Fathers. I've got a big problem with people citing the Early Church Fathers without even doing a reasonable survey of the known evidence. Primary sources are next to useless if you haven't surveyed all of the available primary source evidence and reasonably necessary secondary evidence to make your opinion worth anything. That's why most laymen are actually better off citing scholars who agree with their arguments (NOT simply their conclusions) than primary sources.