Sunday, April 24, 2005

No to God

There are many popular introductions to the Catholic faith. Most of these are written by members of the laity or priesthood. As such, the writers have no real authority to speak for the RCC.

But recently I was reading a popular introduction to the Catholic faith by Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver. As a member of the magisterium, he is an official spokesman for the RCC.

There are, of course, degrees of authority in Catholic teaching. Presumably, though, he is a representative voice for Catholicism.

On page 17 he tells the reader that God “has a plan for us,” Living the Catholic Faith (Charis Books 2001). Now there’s a statement that any Calvinist would be happy to affirm. But on the very next page, he says that “Mary could have said ‘no’ to the Holy Spirit.”

Think about that for a moment. For more than a moment. Think long and hard about that. Where does that put the plan of salvation?

For centuries, in type, promise, and prophecy, God had laid the groundwork for the Messiah. From the protevangelion (Gen 3:15), through the flood, and the covenant with Abraham, and the seed of promise, and the patriarchs, and the Exodus, and the covenant with Moses, and the sacrificial system, and the covenant with David, not to mention the Messianic prophecies of Job and Joseph and Balaam, David, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Malachi, to name of few, as well as the Exile and restoration—and yet all that age-long preparation could have been negated by a single word from a single woman: “No!”

With one solitary word it was within her own power to damn the whole human race, herself included. Or maybe she was exempt, give the Immaculate Conception.

This is what freewill really means. It means “no.” It means “no” to God.

Archbishop Chaput is not saying anything outlandish from the standpoint of Catholic theology. For in Catholic dogma, Mary is the exemplar of synergism. Just consider what Vatican II has to say about the role of Mary in the economy of redemption:


Wherefore she is hailed as preeminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church, and as its type and outstanding model in faith and charity.

Thus the daughter of Adam, Mary, consenting to the word of God, became the Mother of Jesus.

Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience.

Thus the Blessed Virgin…associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her.

Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace. This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.

Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, A. Flannery, ed. (Liturgical Press 1979), 414-419.


The only difference between Vatican II and Archbishop Chaput is that he cuts to the chase, summarizing the point in a brief, blunt sentence.

Mind you, Vatican II, in the very same context, speaks of the “predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God,” ibid. 418. Yet there is no place for predestination when the creature can negate the plan of God. Indeed, there is no room for foreknowledge when the creature can either say “yes” or “no” to God.

What we have here is a twisted and perverted version of covenant theology. For, in Scripture, the fate of the human race is, in a sense, bound up with the fate of certain individuals—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and—of course—our Lord. The fortunes of mankind in general, or the elect in particular, rise and fall in the fortunes of their federal head.

But with a world of difference. In Calvinism, a man may say “no” to the law of God, but not to the plan of God. And even when he says “no” to the law of God, that, too, subserves the plan of God. Although our destiny is bound up with the destiny of our federal head, his destiny and ours are both predestined in the eternal purpose of God. No man can negate the decree of God Almighty.

I have taken Mariolatry as my point of departure. But Chaput’s essential position is by no means limited to the details of Catholic dogma. Any libertarian is committed to the same basic proposition. Mary could have said “no” to God. Noah could have said “no” to God. Abraham could have said “no” to God. Moses could have said “no” to God. David could have said “no” to God. One or all could say “no” to God, and thereby damn mankind.

So where, again, would that leave the plan of salvation? Must God recruit an alternate or understudy for Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, or David, or Mary? In that exigency, God would also need to recall all copies of Scripture and issue emended prophecies. Can’t you just hear it now?

“”Hey, all you folks down there. That’s right, this is God talking. I’ve been working overtime ever since Mary backed out on me. Said it would ruin her figure! Did I say Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? Scratch that! There’s gonna be a change of venue. Check back with me on that. I’m working on Topeka Kansas. Oh, and that business about the 70 weeks. There’s been a last minute cancellation. Sorry ‘bout that. I’ve gotta nail down Topeka before I can reschedule. Thanks for your patience! Oh…I almost forgot! Did I say the ‘son of David?’ I’m afraid that statement’s inoperative. Messiah’s new name may be Cuthbert or Leroy. I’m negotiating the name-change with a girl in Topeka. She wants a slot with American Idol in exchange for the unplanned pregnancy. If that falls through there’s a girl in Buenos Aires who might be game. If not her, maybe another girl I know in Heshbon. Pray for me, folks! It isn’t easy being God all the time. Sometimes I have to play it by ear, just like the rest of you.”


  1. Monenergism was condemned by the 6th Council of Constantinople and by the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor. It might be helpful to look at that.

    By my lights, Calvinism with its voluntarist necessetarianism is semi-Origenistic.

    Perry and I have been looking for some takers here


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  4. The fact that Mary's 'fiat' -- her 'yes' to God -- is omnisciently known by God outside of time (the term 'predestination' may be legitimately used here, though it requires further work, since it can misleadingly suggest a view in which God is "looking forward" to a certain destined end in time, which would be erroneous) does not remove her freedom in asserting it. Her affirmation is not coerced, but voluntary, and this is the glorious fact of human freedom. Chesterton called hell God's monument to human freedom, I think. C.S. Lewis said there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done" -- the point being that God (whatever His sovereign power and omniscience) honors the free choices of His creatures. Man's choices are significant. Francis Schaeffer would have affirmed that. John Calvin would have affirmed that.

    Relevant to this discussion are Steve Hays' critique of Philip Blosser's critique of sola scriptura, "By Scripture Alone," and Blosser's rebuttal, "Sola Scriptura revisited: a reply to Steve Hays (in 95 antitheses)."