Friday, July 01, 2005

Continuing Comments on Cheung

For those following the recent exchanges over Scripturalism: Aquascum has posted some further comments on several of Vincent Cheung's blog entries (which appear to have been occasioned by Aquascum's original critique).

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Crimsoned Catholicism

Prejean has offered yet another intelligent response to my last reply:

<< 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) This is all eminently reasonable at a general level. The problem lies with the detailed application.

One way of ascertaining what the Tridentine Fathers support is by examining what they oppose. They opposed Protestant theology.

Now, Prejean rightly points out that, at the time of Trent, Protestantism didn’t present a united from. True.

However, it was united in its wholesale rejection of the principle of human merit of any kind in our justification before God. When Trent goes out of its way to reaffirm what the Protestant Reformers went out of their way to repudiate, it is, to that extent, accepting the Protestant interpretation of that portion of Catholic tradition regarding the role of merit in our justification, but standing its ground in the face of Protestant reproval.

At issue is not whether the interpretation of the governing concept (merit) is true, but whether the concept itself is true.

ii) Another problem is that if the usage is ambiguous on so central a concept in Catholic theology as merit, such that the true meaning is uncertain, then the exegesis of a magisterial text is subject to at least the same vicisitudes as the exegesis of a Biblical text, in which case the Catholic rule of faith enjoys no epistemic advantage over the Protestant rule of faith. Indeed, it simply intercalates yet another layer to be peeled back and duly examined.

<< 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. >>

The problem with this statement is not that it’s false, but that it flies at too high a level of abstraction. Sure, experience can “inform” Scripture.

But the question at issue is whether experience can negate the teaching of Scripture or substitute an entirely extrinsic precondition.

<< 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. >>

The problem here is that Vatican I (Session 3) does assert the epistemic superiority of a magisterium over the right of private judgment.

Prejean’s sensible caveats simply surrender that principle. For this he is to be commended. Now why doesn’t he come over to our side? :-)

<< 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. >>

There is more to the consent of the Fathers than to a common process. There is a common faith. That, at least, is the original claim. Their doctrinal unity supplies a benchmark against which to measure the truth or falsity of future developments.

<< 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. >>

Yes…well…the problem with that abortive exchange is that Daniel wanted to make the entire case for or against Calvinism turn on the case for or against a highly Scholastic version of divine simplicity.

In so doing he is making two mistakes: he is trying to hold Calvinism to a doctrine that has attained no confessional status in Calvinism; and he is trying to hold Calvinism to a standard that Calvinism rejects. Even if there were some historical relation between Calvinism and the doctrine of divine simplicity, the direct argument for Reformed distinctives is exegetical, as befits our rule of faith.

There are two reasons why we should reject libertarian freewill. First, it is incompatible with several revealed truths regarding sin and grace, predestination and providence, as disclosed and described in Scripture.

Second, indeterminism is logically and philosophically inconsistent with divine sovereignty. There is, of course, a vast literature on this subject.

<< 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. >>

I agree as well, but if you’re are treating Calvinism and fatalism as synonymous, then you need to explain your equation and interact with arguments to the contrary in the Reformed literature.

<< 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. >>

This is one of those points at which there is no common ground between Catholic and Calvinist. We, on the Reformed side of the ledger, try to define Scriptural categories in Scriptural terms. How is election described in Scripture, and to what is it opposed? In Scripture, election is a unilateral decision to actually save a group of people, to the exclusion of others--not a provision of resistible grace.

What you have done is to substitute an entirely extraneous theological construct that doesn’t begin to correspond with the revelatory data. It’s like a brain transplant. Looks just the same on the outside, but something totally alien behind the eyes.

And, with all due respect, this is exactly what happens when sola Scriptura is denied. For, in that event, painstaking exegesis is a waste of time.

Catholicism has produced some fine Bible scholars. For example, I own four commentaries by Fitzmyer (on Luke, Acts, Romans, and Philemon). Yes, he’s liberal. Yet he knows his way around the primary sources and lets the text speak for itself.

But to what purpose? At the end of the day he might as well be Hal Lindsey or Tim Lahaye for all the difference it makes to Catholic dogma.

<< 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. >>

Imputation does involve actual satisfaction, but on behalf of and in the stead of the guilty party. Imputation is not where he is treated as if someone paid the fine even when the fine had not been paid. Rather, imputation is where he is treated as innocent even when he’s guilty because someone else paid the fine for him.

Again, the operative word here is “treated.” To merely be better treated than you deserve does not imply that you deserve to be so treated. There is no fiction here. No deception. You are not said to be (or declared to be) something that you are not. Rather, you are treated better than you deserve on account of a surrogate. Put another way, you are not regarded as something other than you are, but rather, are well-regarded for the sake of another--and a better.

It’s been a pleasure to interact with such a rational interlocutor. Prejean is several notches above some of his Catholic counterparts in the field of lay apologetics. Alas, the same cannot be said for me in relation to my own counterparts!

Crimson redux

Prejean ( has offered a reply to my rejoinder, or is it a rejoinder to my reply?

There’s not a lot here that I need to respond to. Since Prejean seems less concerned with the end-game than with the opening moves. So I will focus on the more substantive remarks:

<< 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. >>

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.

<< 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. >>

Fair point.

<< 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. >>

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?

<< 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.). >>

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?

<< 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. >>

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?

<< Sounds like St. Maximus's Christology >>

What does Christology have to do with the will of a sinner in relation to the will of God?

<< 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. >>

Because fatalism isn’t an invention of Greek philosophy. There are various sources of fatalism, such as astrology.

<< 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. >>

This misses the point of my query, but perhaps I was unclear. 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?

<< 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. >>

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.

<< But realistically, Hays hasn't provided sufficient evidence that his position ought to be the default either. >>

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.

<< 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. >>

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.

<< Infallibility is a rule of preservation for tradition, not a guideline for epistemic certainty. >>

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?

<< 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.

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 goes to a basic dividing line in theological method. In classic Protestant theological method (e.g., Reformed & Lutheran), theology is based on revelation.

Yes, the proposition that God is a just judge has ample Scriptural warrant. But if divine revelation is only allowed to supply us with the “that-clause” (“that” God is a just judge), while extra-revelatory experience actually defines the concrete content of “what” constitutes a just judge, then revelation is reduced to a cipher whose empty outline is penciled in by experience.

On this view, revelation is not the arbiter of experience. It doesn’t adjudicate between licit and illicit experience. It is not allowed to correct experience, but only submit to experience.

Now, for a Calvinist, if Scripture teaches imputation (and I’ve documented that fact in my book review, “Reinventing Paul”), then it is simply illicit to negate that teaching by appeal to our preconception of justice.

I’d add, for reasons already given, that imputation does not involve a false declaration.

<< 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. >>

No the vicarious dimension is directly relevant. 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.

<< 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. >>

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bush on the Iraq War

Far too many folks get their news from slanted, third-hand sources. Before the spin-meisters descend, here is the full text of Bush’s speech in support of the Iraq war. Feel free to disagree, but know with what you disagree.


8:02 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please be seated. Good evening. I'm pleased to visit Fort Bragg, "Home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces." It's an honor to speak before you tonight.

My greatest responsibility as President is to protect the American people. And that's your calling, as well. I thank you for your service, your courage and your sacrifice. I thank your families, who support you in your vital work. The soldiers and families of Fort Bragg have contributed mightily to our efforts to secure our country and promote peace. America is grateful, and so is your Commander-in-Chief.

The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression -- by toppling governments, by driving us out of the region, and by exporting terror.

To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill -- in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, and elsewhere. The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent, and with a few hard blows they can force us to retreat. They are mistaken. After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.

Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq -- who is also senior commander at this base -- General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.

The work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight I will explain the reasons why.

Some of the violence you see in Iraq is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq to fight the advance of peace and freedom. Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others. They are making common cause with criminal elements, Iraqi insurgents, and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime who want to restore the old order. They fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake. They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty, as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits, and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world.

Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: "This Third World War is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory, or misery and humiliation."

The terrorists know that the outcome will leave them emboldened, or defeated. So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction. And there is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take.

We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad, including one outside a mosque. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see.

These are savage acts of violence, but they have not brought the terrorists any closer to achieving their strategic objectives. The terrorists -- both foreign and Iraqi -- failed to stop the transfer of sovereignty. They failed to break our Coalition and force a mass withdrawal by our allies. They failed to incite an Iraqi civil war. They failed to prevent free elections. They failed to stop the formation of a democratic Iraqi government that represents all of Iraq's diverse population. And they failed to stop Iraqis from signing up in large number with the police forces and the army to defend their new democracy.

The lesson of this experience is clear: The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch.

A little over a year ago, I spoke to the nation and described our coalition's goals in Iraq. I said that America's mission in Iraq is to defeat an enemy and give strength to a friend -- a free, representative government that is an ally in the war on terror, and a beacon of hope in a part of the world that is desperate for reform. I outlined the steps we would take to achieve this goal: We would hand authority over to a sovereign Iraqi government. We would help Iraqis hold free elections by January 2005. We would continue helping Iraqis rebuild their nation's infrastructure and economy. We would encourage more international support for Iraq's democratic transition, and we would enable Iraqis to take increasing responsibility for their own security and stability.

In the past year, we have made significant progress. One year ago today, we restored sovereignty to the Iraqi people. In January 2005, more than 8 million Iraqi men and women voted in elections that were free and fair, and took time on -- and took place on time. We continued our efforts to help them rebuild their country. Rebuilding a country after three decades of tyranny is hard, and rebuilding while at war is even harder. Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made.

We're improving roads and schools and health clinics. We're working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity, and water. And together with our allies, we'll help the new Iraqi government deliver a better life for its citizens.

In the past year, the international community has stepped forward with vital assistance. Some 30 nations have troops in Iraq, and many others are contributing non-military assistance. The United Nations is in Iraq to help Iraqis write a constitution and conduct their next elections. Thus far, some 40 countries and three international organizations have pledged about $34 billion in assistance for Iraqi reconstruction. More than 80 countries and international organizations recently came together in Brussels to coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis provide for their security and rebuild their country. And next month, donor countries will meet in Jordan to support Iraqi reconstruction.

Whatever our differences in the past, the world understands that success in Iraq is critical to the security of our nations. As German Chancellor Gerhard Schr der said at the White House yesterday, "There can be no question a stable and democratic Iraq is in the vested interest of not just Germany, but also Europe." Finally, we have continued our efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces. We made gains in both the number and quality of those forces. Today Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions. Iraqi forces have fought bravely, helping to capture terrorists and insurgents in Najaf and Samarra, Fallujah and Mosul. And in the past month, Iraqi forces have led a major anti-terrorist campaign in Baghdad called Operation Lightning, which has led to the capture of hundreds of suspected insurgents. Like free people everywhere, Iraqis want to be defended by their own countrymen, and we are helping Iraqis assume those duties.

The progress in the past year has been significant, and we have a clear path forward. To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents. To complete the mission, we will prevent al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends. And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.

So our strategy going forward has both a military track and a political track. The principal task of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists, and that is why we are on the offense. And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

We've made progress, but we have a lot of -- a lot more work to do. Today Iraqi security forces are at different levels of readiness. Some are capable of taking on the terrorists and insurgents by themselves. A large number can plan and execute anti-terrorist operations with coalition support. The rest are forming and not yet ready to participate fully in security operations. Our task is to make the Iraqi units fully capable and independent. We're building up Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible, so they can assume the lead in defeating the terrorists and insurgents.

Our coalition is devoting considerable resources and manpower to this critical task. Thousands of coalition troops are involved in the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. NATO is establishing a military academy near Baghdad to train the next generation of Iraqi military leaders, and 17 nations are contributing troops to the NATO training mission. Iraqi army and police are being trained by personnel from Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Today, dozens of nations are working toward a common objective: an Iraq that can defend itself, defeat its enemies, and secure its freedom.

To further prepare Iraqi forces to fight the enemy on their own, we are taking three new steps: First, we are partnering coalition units with Iraqi units. These coalition-Iraqi teams are conducting operations together in the field. These combined operations are giving Iraqis a chance to experience how the most professional armed forces in the world operate in combat.

Second, we are embedding coalition "transition teams" inside Iraqi units. These teams are made up of coalition officers and non-commissioned officers who live, work, and fight together with their Iraqi comrades. Under U.S. command, they are providing battlefield advice and assistance to Iraqi forces during combat operations. Between battles, they are assisting the Iraqis with important skills, such as urban combat, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques.

Third, we're working with the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defense to improve their capabilities to coordinate anti-terrorist operations. We're helping them develop command and control structures. We're also providing them with civilian and military leadership training, so Iraq's new leaders can effectively manage their forces in the fight against terror.

The new Iraqi security forces are proving their courage every day. More than 2,000 members of Iraqi security forces have given their lives in the line of duty. Thousands more have stepped forward, and are now training to serve their nation. With each engagement, Iraqi soldiers grow more battle-hardened, and their officers grow more experienced. We've learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills. And that is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting, and then our troops can come home.

I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.

Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.

The other critical element of our strategy is to help ensure that the hopes Iraqis expressed at the polls in January are translated into a secure democracy. The Iraqi people are emerging from decades of tyranny and oppression. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Shia and Kurds were brutally oppressed, and the vast majority of Sunni Arabs were also denied their basic rights, while senior regime officials enjoyed the privileges of unchecked power. The challenge facing Iraqis today is to put this past behind them, and come together to build a new Iraq that includes all of its people.

They're doing that by building the institutions of a free society, a society based on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and equal justice under law. The Iraqis have held free elections and established a Transitional National Assembly. The next step is to write a good constitution that enshrines these freedoms in permanent law. The Assembly plans to expand its constitutional drafting committee to include more Sunni Arabs. Many Sunnis who opposed the January elections are now taking part in the democratic process, and that is essential to Iraq's future.

After a constitution is written, the Iraqi people will have a chance to vote on it. If approved, Iraqis will go to the polls again, to elect a new government under their new, permanent constitution. By taking these critical steps and meeting their deadlines, Iraqis will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights.

As Iraqis grow confident that the democratic progress they are making is real and permanent, more will join the political process. And as Iraqis see that their military can protect them, more will step forward with vital intelligence to help defeat the enemies of a free Iraq. The combination of political and military reform will lay a solid foundation for a free and stable Iraq.

As Iraqis make progress toward a free society, the effects are being felt beyond Iraq's borders. Before our coalition liberated Iraq, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. Today the leader of Libya has given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we've witnessed elections in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working. The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder, and make our nation safer.

We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. We're fighting against men with blind hatred -- and armed with lethal weapons -- who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September the 11th, 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat, and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins.

America and our friends are in a conflict that demands much of us. It demands the courage of our fighting men and women, it demands the steadfastness of our allies, and it demands the perseverance of our citizens. We accept these burdens, because we know what is at stake. We fight today because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world, and the rise of democracy will be the ultimate triumph over radicalism and terror. And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won. (Applause.)

America has done difficult work before. From our desperate fight for independence to the darkest days of a Civil War, to the hard-fought battles against tyranny in the 20th century, there were many chances to lose our heart, our nerve, or our way. But Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths. We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity, and returns to strike us again. We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage. And we know that this great ideal of human freedom entrusted to us in a special way, and that the ideal of liberty is worth defending.

In this time of testing, our troops can know: The American people are behind you. Next week, our nation has an opportunity to make sure that support is felt by every soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman, and Marine at every outpost across the world. This Fourth of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom -- by flying the flag, sending a letter to our troops in the field, or helping the military family down the street. The Department of Defense has set up a website -- You can go there to learn about private efforts in your own community. At this time when we celebrate our freedom, let us stand with the men and women who defend us all.

To the soldiers in this hall, and our servicemen and women across the globe: I thank you for your courage under fire and your service to our nation. I thank our military families -- the burden of war falls especially hard on you. In this war, we have lost good men and women who left our shores to defend freedom and did not live to make the journey home. I've met with families grieving the loss of loved ones who were taken from us too soon. I've been inspired by their strength in the face of such great loss. We pray for the families. And the best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission.

I thank those of you who have re-enlisted in an hour when your country needs you. And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces. We live in freedom because every generation has produced patriots willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. Those who serve today are taking their rightful place among the greatest generations that have worn our nation's uniform. When the history of this period is written, the liberation of Afghanistan and the liberation of Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom.

After September the 11th, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult, and that we would prevail. Well, it has been difficult -- and we are prevailing. Our enemies are brutal, but they are no match for the United States of America, and they are no match for the men and women of the United States military.

May God bless you all.


Anti-Semitism in contemporary Christendom

During the run-up to the Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, liberal churchmen lined up to oppose the film on the ground that it would incite violence against Jews. It, of course, did nothing of the kind.

Now, liberal churchmen, abetted by some conservative churchmen, are lined up to side with the jihadist element against the state of Israel.


Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2005 11:12:45 -0400
From: David Virtue
Subject: NOTTINGHAM: Anglican council hardens its stance on investment in Israel

NOTTINGHAM: Anglican council hardens its stance on investment in Israel

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent


LEADERS of the Anglican Church set themselves on a collision course with the Jewish community yesterday when they backed a motion calling for provinces worldwide to reconsider their investments with Israel.

While stopping short of a direct call for disinvestment, the Anglican Consultative Council, the executive body of the Anglican Communion, commended the resolve of the US church to take appropriate action where it finds its corporate investments support the occupation of Palestinian lands or violence against innocent Israelis.

The council also asked other provinces to consider such action in line with their existing ethical investment strategies and to adopt investment strategies "that support the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state" . Although the motion, based on a strongly worded report from the Anglican Peace and Justice Network, was toned down by the council after interventions by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Dean of St Paul's, Dr John Moses, it still represents the strongest statement to date by the Anglican Church on the difficulties in Israel and the territories.

One insider said: "What they have done amounts to moral pressure, but stops short of financial blackmail."

It is not mandatory for the General Synod to accept the council's motion, and another source said there would be "misgivings" at the highest levels about taking the recommendations on board in the Church of England. The Church's own ethical investment group recently turned down calls to withdraw its =A3197,000 investment in the Caterpillar group, which makes bulldozers used in clearance projects in Israel.

The motion was amended to place any disinvestment within existing ethical investment policies, which most provinces already have and which already rule out, for example, holdings in the arms trade. Dr Moses told the council that a call for disinvestment would be "a major statement of policy". Referring to the problems in Israel, he said both sides were working to resolve the issues. "I draw back from anything that might exacerbate the peaceful settlement that they might seek," he said.

The authors of the report wanted the Anglican church to put pressure on companies supporting controversial policies in Israel, such as the security fence. The US Presbyterian Church has already adopted a disinvestment policy and at least one other US church is following a similar path.

Some Anglican provinces could now do the same, feeling mandated by the Anglican Consultative Council resolution.

Jewish leaders have expressed bitter disappointment that disinvestment is still on the table, although they are relieved that the recommendations were toned down to reflect a more measured approach.

Rabbi Barry Marcus, who holds the Israel portfolio on the Chief Rabbi's Cabinet, said: "Moves toward divestment represent a flawed and disastrous course. They will do nothing to advance the twin causes of security for Israel and statehood for the Palestinians. The report itself took a one-sided and subjective view of the situation, and did not reflect the present reality.

"Domestically, I am concerned about the unsettling effect the resolutions will have on Anglican-Jewish relations, particularly in the light of the recent aborted academic boycott of Israeli universities. We urge Anglicans, despite this development, to continue to support investment and negotiation rather than divestment and recrimination."

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said that it was bitterly disappointed. A spokesman said: "Israel is a democracy and a pluralistic society in which Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, have equal rights in the law. These rights are not extended to non-Muslims in many of Israel 's Arab neighbours. Sadly, Israel is also a country on a virtual war footing; not a conventional war, however, but a war of terror characterised by the suicide bomber. It is a war against an implacable enemy which considers all of Israel as occupied territory and where no Israelis, men, women or children, are regarded as innocent."

He continued: "The report's findings ... which predated the withdrawal plans for Gaza and now Bethlehem, were based on consultation with Palestinian groups hostile to Israel. No Israeli input was countenanced."


This concerns the resolution passed by the Anglican Consultative Council regarding divestment in companies that invest in Israel. The email correspondence is between Ruth Gledhill and Irene Lancaster.

Dear Bishops and others,

I have been asked to pass this on by Ruth Gledhill of the Times. It appears in addition that if this resolution is passed by Synod, the Jews of this country will be accused of 'dual loyalties'. I want to repeat what I have said to some of you already. I was asked to send my detailed analysis of the report to the ACC and before that to their Standing Committee in order that all the falsehoods in the report were made known to ACC committee members beforehand.

I was asked to send copies to the Dean of St. Paul's and the Bishop of Liverpool, which I did, with personal covering letters. I also sent a copy of my report with a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The report is not a political critique of Israeli government policy.

It stands in the line of classic Christian anti-Judaism, the sort which in the past has led to explusions of Jews from their homelands, murders and destruction of Jewish property (including cemeteries). The meeting from which the report derived was held in Jerusalem deliberately at a time of the year when Jews would not be available to put their point of view, i.e. Jewish New Year 2004.

Members of the Jewish community, including myself, had received 'assurances' from members of the Church of England such as Dr. Charles Reed, International Advisor to the Archbishop's Council and European delegate to the Anglican Peace and Justice Network and from Dean John Moses of St. Paul's Cathedral that the outcome would not be unfavourable to the Jewish community.

This has not been the case and the Bishop of Liverpool, who asked for a copy of my assessment, was not even present during the debate.

The Jewish community of Britain constitutes half a per cent of the population. It cannot do anything about this alone. Unfortunately, and in addition, some of our religious leaders appear not to possess the leadership qualities that are necessary to put our case loud and clear.

The fact is that huge numbers of the Jewish community in my area alone are planning to emigrate to Israel because of a number of factors that are also affecting Jews in other parts of Europe, but this latest factor is the most serious of them all.

The Jewish community, unlike others, does not normally like putting its head above the parapet, but this time it is essential.

I was asked in my professional capacity to assess this report. No account can have been taken of my findings.

I repeat: this report is not just a word of sympathy for suffering Christian Palestinians. It is a call for the destruction of the State of Israel. Its language is inflammatory and full of lies. Delegates to this unelected body come from countries such as Burma, whose crucifixion of their own Christian citizens is not even mentioned in the report, which did not only cover the Israel/Palestine situation.

This report and the fact it was not thrown out by the ACC is a wake-up call to Anglicans world-wide to do something. Otherwise the situation for Jewish communities in the diaspora will be dire.

I know that there are many fine Anglicans. I know this because I have taught some of them and they are now in prominent positions in the Church partly because of my teaching. I also know that it is terribly difficult to criticise something so close to you as your own religion.

However, as many of you have already said to me, the APJN is not an elected body and I don't even know if the ACC is either. This is the time to act like the Norwegian church under Hitler, or the Danish people under their King during the Holocaust.

Drop your antipathy to Christian Zionists who you dislike for other reasons and realise that if the ACC gets its way, it is probable, due to Muslim politics in the area, that the Christian Church will die out completely in the area of the 'Holy Land' and - believe me - neither Israel, nor the Jewish communities world wide will welcome this at all.

Dr. Irene Lancaster
Centre for Jewish Studies
University of Manchester


The Crimson Catholic

Jonathan Prejean (“The Crimson Catholic”) has responded to my two-part series on Sola fide. I don’t know if this means that I’m moving up in the world, or he is moving down! :-)

Let me say that Prejean’s reply is a pleasure to read—calm, cool, collected reason. A refreshing contrast to Sippo’s demagoguery or Armstrong’s tragedy queen histrionics. Let us hope that both of us can maintain this lofty level of discourse, should it continue.

<< 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. >>

This bristles with a veritable briar-patch of difficulties:

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

viii) And while Prejean speaks of “prevenient grace,” the actual 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.

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.

For documentation, see my “Solus Christus?” and “From nulla salus to tota salus” essays in the May 05 archive.

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.

<< 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. >>

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.

<< The real question is what produces the voluntary reception of the gracious action. >>

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

<< 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. >>

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.

<< 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). >>

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.

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:

<< The word hamartia does not have the meaning of “sin offering” elsewhere in the NT, and if Paul intends that meaning here, then he uses the word with two quite different meanings in the same sentence. In the first instance he states that Christ did not know sin, and there is no indication that he intended a quite different meaning for the word “sin” in the second instance. If Paul had intended to use the noun in a quite different sense of “sin offering,” it would have been more fitting to use the verb “presented” or “offered” rather than “made.” “Sin” also contrasts with “righteousness,” and interpreting the word as “sin offering” destroys the parallel structure of the sentence:

[A] Christ who knew no sin
[B] God made him sin
[A] We (Who are sinners)
[B] Become the righteousness of God

D. Garland, 2 Corinthians (Broadman 1999), 300-301. >>

And again:

<< It remains true that:

i) hamartia does not bear the meaning “sin offering” anywhere else in Paul or the NT.

ii) Paul here probably construes hamartia in a more personal, interrelational sense than is represented by “sacrifice for sin” or “victim for sin”:

iii) one might have expected a verb such as proetheto (cf. Rom 3:25) or edoken or etheken if hamartia signified “sin offering; and

iv) if hamartia is parallel to dikaiosune theou, it is more likely to bear a judicial or forensic sense than a sacrificial or cultic meaning.

M. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2005), 453. >>

Moving on:

<<). 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). >>

I’ve responded to this line of argument elsewhere:

<< Notice, yet again, Deavel’s bait-and-switch scam. If Paul has no problem saying that we are justified by works, then what doesn’t he just say so? But Paul, in the very passage cited by Deavel to prove his point, never uses that language. He doesn’t say that we are justified by works, but that our works figure in the final judgment, where the damned are punished according to their evil deeds while the redeemed are rewarded according to their good deeds.

In Reformed theology, sanctification is a necessary condition of salvation, but not a condition of justification. There is nothing in the passage to overturn that view. Deavel doesn’t seem to have a very secure purchase of the position he is opposing.

The carrot-and-stick approach is a basic feature of Biblical pedagogy. Rewards are an incentive to good behavior, while punishment is a deterrent to bad behavior. There is nothing here about merit.

There is nothing wrong with commending good works. But the question at hand is, what is the function of good works? Do they make us right with God? Deavel did absolutely nothing to show that Jesus is addressing the same narrow issue as Paul is addressing. >>

Moving on:

<< 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. >>

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.

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.

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? What you can’t show, you don’t know (as Neusner is fond of saying).

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.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this distinction is valid, congruent merit is unscriptural on its own grounds. As I’ve explained elsewhere:


i) When you cite Rom 2:6-7, you are turning good works into meritorious works. But Rom 2 does not make that equation.

ii) As I said before, rewards and punishments may be motivational rather than meritorious.

vi) The fact that God makes a promise, and keeps his promise, does not imply that the object of his promise merited its fulfillment. For example, a D.A. may cut a deal with a hit-man to turn state’s evidence against his mob boss in exchange for immunity and witness protection. If the D.A. keeps his word, it isn’t because the hit-man merited immunity and witness protection.

iii) There is a fundamental asymmetry between reward and punishment, merit and demerit. To say that a sinner cannot merit a reward is not to
say that a sinner cannot (de)merit a just desert. The damned are worthy of judgment in a way that the redeemed are unworthy of grace. To say that one is deserving of his fate does not imply the same for the other. All men, as fallen men, are deserving of damnation. >>

Moving on:

<< 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. >>

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

At this point I’ll skip over some of what Prejean has to say since it reiterates or piggybacks on matters I’ve already addressed thus far.

<< 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. >>

Where is elsewhere? Exegetical and systematic theology are concentric. You begin by interpreting a given writer on his own terms, by his own usage, and his own literary allusions and intellectual debts. We interpret Paul by Paul, not by Matthew or James.

After you interpret each writer individually, based on his own corpus, you are then, and only then, in a position to move to the second-order stage of theological synthesis—systematic theology.

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?

<< 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. >>

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.

<< 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. >>

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.

<< 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). >>

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.

<< 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. >>

i) Yes, the nature of original sin is a dividing line between Calvinism and Catholicism.

ii) Calvinism doesn’t deny that Christ functions a sin-offering. But that is a feature of vicarious atonement, and vicarious atonement assumes a distinction between the actual righteousness of the Redeemer and the actual unrighteousness of those on behalf of and in whose stead redemption is made.

<< : 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.

<< I find that difficult to believe, given the Canons of the Council of Orange. >>

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

Monday, June 27, 2005

Refuting the Irrefutable

The mysterious and prolix blog commenter Aquascum has notified us of a couple of papers he's written in response to Vincent Cheung:

Check them out; they repay careful reading. Consider the irrefutable refuted.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sola fide-2

vii) SOLAGRATUITOUS. Protestants sometimes describe Romanism as a grace-plus-works scheme. It is important to keep in mind that in Pauline theology, the grace-principle and the merit-principle are mutually exclusive (Rom 11:6; Gal 2:21; Tit 3:3-7). The problem with Catholic theology is not simply that it tries to add works to grace, but that, as a matter of principle, works-righteousness can only subtract from grace—or rather, retract the entire principle. The grace-principle is totalitarian in scope. Grace isn’t dispensed in fractions and percentiles.

Another major rationale for justification by faith alone is that God claims all the glory for the salvation of sinners (Rom 4:2-5; Eph 2:8-9). This isn’t a divine ego-trip, for God is inherently sovereign. It isn’t a role he can share with the creature, much less the sinner. Moreover, knowing God is the highest good, for God is the summum bonum, and this includes a knowledge of his justice and mercy.

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.

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.

viii) ETERNAL. Are the elect justified in time or eternity? Reformed theologians divide on this issue. I would say that both perspectives are correct. The agent of justification (God) exists outside of time whereas the object of justification (the elect) exists within time. The divine act of justification is timeless, but the effect is temporal.

On the one hand, justification is a divine act (e.g. Rom 8:33b); hence, the elect were justified before time from the divine side of the transaction. Again, although faith is ordinarily prior to justification in terms of its concrete application to individuals, the judicial warrant for the grace of faith presupposes the union of Christ with the elect in the decree. And if, moreover, God’s elective purposes include some subjects who die before the age of discretion (e.g. 2 Sam 12:23), then their justification before God falls outside of time since they cannot comply with the existential condition of faith. This same line of consideration may also be extended to those regenerate from the womb (Lk 1:15). They are in a state of grace prior to the age of discretion. By the grace of immediate regeneration, they have a predisposition to believe the gospel, but the exercise of saving faith requires a conscious object and a certain level of cognitive development.

Lutherans believe in infant faith. But the Bible recognizes an age of discretion (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:15-16). Of course, this isn’t a fixed age, but varies with the aptitude of a given child, some being precocious. Again, the issue is not whether babies are capable of exercising trust in individuals. As one theologian has pointed out, if you take a baby away from its mother, you quickly find out that a stranger is no substitute for the original! But this is knowledge by acquaintance rather than description, whereas saving faith is propositional (e.g. Rom 10:9-10,14-15).

On the other hand, justification is ordinarily contingent on the exercise of faith, which is an existential condition. Of course, the God who decrees justification also decrees faith, so the external and existential perspectives are not in tension. By way of objection it is sometimes said that eternal justification would erase the transition from wrath to a state of grace (e.g. Eph 2:1-6). If the transitional phase disproved eternal justification, it would also disprove eternal election. So this is not a sound objection, for it fails to draw several distinctions:

a) The idea of justification presupposes that its objects were deserving of wrath, so it is misleading to treat grace and wrath as in all respects contrary, without further qualification.

b) Except in the special cases cited above (infant regeneration; elect infant mortality), there is a real transition from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ. Moreover, the Father’s eternal work in electing the heirs of justification, the Son’s past work in supplying its judicial grounds, and the Spirit’s ongoing work in ingenerating justifying faith, do not belong to the same time-frame.

c) The objection would be valid if we one-sidedly affirmed eternal justification in opposition to temporal justification. But the two perspectives are complementary rather than antithetical—for they attach to different subjects (God as the justifier, man as the justified) and different actions (God’s eternal decree and its mundane execution).

As John Girardeau remarks:


There is a distinction which is not strangely neglected, but to which Calvinistic theology ought to be recalled, as vital to its consistency and completeness...the import of it is that, on the one hand, the elect were, in mass, justified in foro Dei, in the justification of Christ as their federal head and representative; and, on the other hand, they are severally justified in foro conscientiae, when, in the period of their earthly history they actually exercise faith in Christ. In the first instance, they are conceived as justified constructively, federally, and representatively; in the second, subjectively and consciously. In the first, they were justified independently of their voluntary conscience; in the second, they are justified through their conscious exercise of faith...there is a federal oneness of Christ and his seed...His representative acts and experiences, in relation to that end [justification’, were theirs...What hinders, then, that we should hold that when he was justified, they were justified with him?...Inasmuch as no justification at God’s ban is conceivable except upon the ground of a perfect righteousness, it is obvious that the elect seed of Christ must have been, in some sense, adjudged righteous in order to their virtual their virtual justification....Here then we have a case of “antecedent and immediate imputation” of righteousness—antecedent since the imputation preceded the spiritual birth of the elect; immediate, since it was not conditioned by or mediated through inherent and conscious holiness.

The Life Work of John L. Girardeau (Sprinkle Publications, n.d.), 179,180.


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.

b) Regeneration is a precondition both of faith and sanctification (e.g. Jn 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4). And in Reformed theology, God preserves the elect in faith and fidelity throughout life. So there’s no justification without sanctification. The unilateral and irresistible grace of regeneration predisposes the subject to repentance and faith, and motivates him to a life of holiness. But sanctification is not a precondition of justification. It doesn’t supplement the merit of Christ or supply the warrant for our justification. In terms of judicial warrant, justification is prior to regeneration, sanctification, and faith. This also brings into relief a relation that is otherwise neglected, for justification doesn’t just supply an initial condition for the subsequent process of sanctification, but also serves “as the continuing basis of sanctification and as the source of comfort and confidence when the imperfect state of our sanctity here below is keenly felt” (Dr. William Young, private correspondence, 5/24/99).

More broadly, redemption is coordinated with the original sin. This event resulted in two distinct liabilities: (a) demerit, and (b) depravity. The former is concerned with our moral standing, the latter with our moral state. The soteric categories are naturally adapted to address and redress both of these liabilities. Redemption, justification, propitiation and adoption bear on the former condition, while regeneration, calling, sanctification and glorification bear on the latter. Moreover, there’s a certain asymmetry between these two categorical classes inasmuch as it is the objective (forensic) work of Christ that lays the judicial basis for the subjective work of the Spirit.

C. Tridentine position:

Trent’s position consists in some of the following elements:

i) Justification presupposes the sin of Adam and sway of the devil (6:3,7). The Tridentine Fathers believed in the historicity of Adam and existence of a personal devil. But given the inroads of modernism in the contemporary Catholicism, infecting its leading theologians and Bible scholars, and reaching the highest ranks of the magisterium, these presuppositions are moribund at best.

ii) God’s redemptive designs can be and often are frustrated by lack of cooperation on the part of its objects (6:3,5; canons 4,23,27). Canon 27 is framed in misleading terms. Justification by faith doesn’t imply that a Christian can live like the devil incarnate. By the grace of the Spirit, Christians are motivated to lead lives that bring honor and glory to God. They may continue to struggle with besetting sin or fall into grievous sin. And a critic can toy with hypothetical scenarios which take one doctrine to such a logical or psychological extreme that it come into conflict with another doctrine, such as the relation between assurance and sanctification. But the elements of salvation are not an aggregate of autonomous principles or forces that God wound up and left to run off in different directions based on their internal dynamics.

iii) Trent seems to feel that the Protestant doctrine of providence lays the blame for human iniquity squarely at God’s doorstep (canon 6). This calls for four comments:

a) Trent acts as if the Protestants ought to exert more control over the content of their theology. But a theologian is not like an editor who enjoys creative license over a contributor’s manuscript. His doctrine of providence is a theological construct derived from the witness of Scripture. A Protestant theologian doesn’t have to offer a philosophical apologetic for his position before he is justified in presenting it. Scriptural warrant is sufficient.

b) Trent tries to exculpate God’s role in the problem of evil by limiting his agency in the commission of crime, assigning good deeds to God’s “proper” agency while relegating evil deeds to God’s “permissive” agency. But what does that distinction amount to? Did the Fall just happen to happen apart from any divine causality? Is God’s world a runaway train which he passively views as it goes careening towards destruction? Is that Scriptural? Is that a solution to the problem of evil?

iv) Penitence is a prerequisite for baptism (6:6)—and just how this relates to infant baptism poses a nice question—while baptism is an instrumental cause of justification (6:7). Note here how justification is contingent on preparatory works.

v) Except in rare cases, a Christian cannot enjoy the assurance of salvation in this life (6:9,12-13; canon 16). Here Trent skews the Protestant position by insinuating that the Protestant is presumptuously prying into God’s hidden decree. But the Protestant isn’t trying to divine God’s secret will; rather, he is taking his cue from God’s revealed will. God has disclosed that he chose a people before the foundation of the world to receive salvation in time, and he has further disclosed that if certain conditions are met, a professed believer is entitled to the assurance of God’s fixed favor towards him. Indeed, a whole book of the Bible is devoted to this theme (1 John).

vi) Divine commands presuppose the ability to keep those commands (6:11; canon 18). This is the Pelagian principle of morality, glossed by assisting grace.

vii) Justification is repeatable through Penance and sundry other works— prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other spiritual exercises (6:14; canon 29).

viii) By God’s grace, the Christian is enabled to “truly merit eternal life” (6:16; canon 32). While the face-saving reference to divine grace lends this claim a semblance of piety, it should be remembered that the grace producing these meritorious works is already a contingent grace that can be thwarted by freewill. Again, canon 32 insists that good works are not gracious to the exclusion of human merit. So this grace has already been diluted by synergism.

ix) It is anathema to claim that we are justified by faith alone, apart from the cooperation, preparation, or disposition of the will (canon 9). One problem with this canon is that the Tridentine Fathers don’t seem to grasp the position they’re opposing. Protestant theology maintains that we’re justified by faith alone, not that we’re sanctified by faith alone. Insofar as the Catholic position folds sanctification into justification, it means something different by the same term, and so its contrast suffers from equivocation. But if ecumenical councils are infallible, we should not encounter this sort of straw man argument.

This same systematic equivocation also beclouds the intended contrast in canons 11 (against imputed righteousness), 12 (against justifying faith as trust, exclusive of hope and love) and 14 (against faith alone). It also confuses the category of “infused” righteousness. There’s a sense in which sanctification could be spoken of in terms of infused righteousness, although even here the imagery of “infusion” tends to reduce the agency of the Spirit to an impersonal energy force, as if God were injecting virtuous antibodies into the bloodstream. Again, Protestant theology would further distinguish a state of sanctity from a meritorious status. Even though Trent is trying to distinguish its position from Protestant theology, it fails to sort out the respective positions in order to draw an accurate set of distinctions.

An especially confused example is in canon 4, which denies that the subject is passive in justification, unable to cooperate or withhold its consent. What position is it opposing? Whether the subject is active or passive in justification cannot be answered in the affirmative or negative, for it depends on what aspect of justification is in view. With respect to justification as a divine act, the subject is passive; with respect to justifying faith, the subject is active.

Moreover, the activity of the subject does not entail an ability to withhold its consent. These are not correlative concepts. The existential dimension of justification is contingent on faith, and faith is contingent on regeneration. God has foreordained and coordained these elements in his decree. Thus, the human response is subordinate to the unilateral causality of the decree, in a cause-and-effect relation.

x) Justifying faith includes hope and love (6:7; canon 12). Protestants traditionally analyze justifying faith into knowledge, trust, and assent. The problem with the Tridentine definition is that it sanctifies faith so that faith will have a meritorious quality on account of which God then justifies the believer. So this is just another scheme to smuggle in works-righteousness through the back door.

xi) It is anathema to claim that justification is reserved for the elect while the reprobate are truly called but unable to respond since they’ve been predestined to evil (canon 17). This way of representing the Protestant doctrine of predestination is misleading:

a) It equivocates over the meaning of the call. Does this have reference to the preaching of the gospel? Or is it a Pauline metaphor for regeneration? Which vocation is in view?

b) It implies that the gospel invitation would be unethical unless God were to supply sufficient grace. By that same logic it would be wrong to prohibit child rape if the pedophile suffers from an irrepressible urge to molest little children. I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether this is a self-evident principle.

c) It implies that reprobation is an arbitrary and malicious fiat, as if God damns people for the fun of it:

α) While demerit is not a sufficient condition of reprobation, it is a necessary condition. God doesn’t damn anyone irrespective of guilt or innocence.

β) Reprobation is not an end in itself. The reprobate are an object-lesson of God’s justice and mercy,

γ) Τhe reprobate are not a bunch of zombies. They know the difference between right and wrong, and choose evil anyway. The decree is a hidden decree. It doesn’t force anyone to act against his will. Although the deck is stacked, the reprobate don’t know the order of the cards, so Judas plays the hand he’s been dealt without any sense of constraint. He isn’t free to choose his hand, but he’s free to play his hand. Even if the deck were randomly shuffled, a player can only work with the hand he’s been dealt. The concept of freewill was introduced into historical theology by the Greek Fathers in opposition to the astrological fate. It is a human construct rather than a revealed datum.

xii) It is anathema to claim that the works of the unbeliever are damnable (canon 7). In Protestant theology, any unatoned sin would merit damnation. In principle, all sin is mortal sin apart from redemption. Put another way, “all sin merits damnation, while there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.”

xiii) It is anathema to claim that the works of the Christian are damnable apart from justification (canon 25).

xiv) Good works, which are produced by grace, merit an additional infusion of grace (canon 32).

xv). Justification does not cover the penalty of venial sin. This must still be discharged in purgatory (canon 30). It is important to notice in this connection that the Tridentine rationale for purgatory is penal rather than remedial. Nowadays it is more fashionable to defend purgatory as if it were charm-school for the heaven-bound.

Observe how official teaching has quietly shifted the ground to this more politically correct rationale, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030-1031.

D. Comparison & contrast:

Let us now summarize some of the differences between the two views on justification:


Reckoned righteous…………………………..rendered righteous

Objective (forensic)…………………………...subjective


A status………………………………………….a state



A divine act………………………………………a synergistic process

By faith only..……………………………………by faith+works+baptism &/or penance

Justifying faith=knowledge/trust/assent…justifying faith=love

By invincible grace…………………………….by vincible grace

By the merit of Christ only..…………………by the combined merit of Christ
""..............................................................& the Christian

Existential and eternal………………………..existential and ephemeral

Coordinated with sanctification……………blended with sanctification

A basis for absolute assurance……………..there is no basis for absolute assurance

A basis of good works………………………..a basis of meritorious works

Works of the unbeliever are damnable… of the unbeliever are not necessarily damnable

Works of the believer are damnable………works of the believer are not damnable
apart from justification.............................apart from justification

Nullifies purgatory…………….………………necessitates purgatory

Sola fide-1

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.

For a historical critique of the theory of “mutual misunderstanding,” cf. R. Beckwith, Latimer Comment 20 (1987), 1-5.

This claim has been forward in to advance the cause of ecumenism. In the interests of interfaith dialogue, there has been a good deal of deliberate confusion fostered about the definition of this doctrine in Catholic and Protestant theology.

In order to clear the air it is therefore necessary to compare and contrast the Reformed and Tridentine doctrines of justification. This will be more in the nature of an exposition of the respective positions rather than a full-scale defense of the Reformed position.

For general treatments, cf. D.A. Carson, ed. Right with God (Baker/Paternoster, 1992); A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1989), 152-191. For a treatment with special reference to exegetical theology, cf. L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching on the Cross (Eerdmans, 1983), 251-298.

For treatments with special reference to historical theology, cf. “An Opinion on the Condemnations of the Reformation Era,” LQ 5/1 (Spring, 1991), 1-62; M. Seifrid, “‘The Gift of Salvation’: Its Failure to Address the Crux of Justification,” JETS 42/4 (Dec, 1999), 679-88.

For a treatment with special reference to practical theology, cf. R.L. Dabney, “The Moral Effects of a Free Justification,” Discussions of Robert L. Dabney (Banner of Truth, 1982), 1:73-106.

A. Definitions:

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).

Let’s compare this with a representative definition from the Protestant side:
“Justification is an act of God’s free grace to sinners, whereby he pardons all their sins, accepting and accounting them righteous in his sight, not due to anything done in them or by them, but due only to the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, reckoned to them by God and received by faith alone,” Westminster Longer Catechism (Q. 70).

While these two definitions present points of contrast, yet owing to semantic ambiguities in their respective usage, it is not readily apparent just how far apart they may really be. Is the difference mainly semantic insofar as Trent combines justification (in the Protestant sense) with sanctification? In that case, it uses the same term to denote a broader category. It names, under one category, what Protestant theology names under two distinct categories.

In principle, there’s nothing wrong with a dogmatic category being broader than a Biblical category. A dogmatic category may be a theological construct. But as a matter of theological method, a systematic theologian should appreciate and respect the foundations and boundaries of soteric categories in their original framework before he attempts a constructive synthesis. 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.

B. Protestant position:

I will begin my comparison by laying out some of the essential elements in the Protestant doctrine of justification, which consciously coincides with the Pauline category. Catholic theologians have criticized this Pauline focal-point to the neglect of James as lopsided. However, the Protestant point of departure is logical inasmuch as the Jacobean position isn’t very relevant to the conflict with Rome. The Pauline doctrine was occasioned by debate over the terms of Gentile admission. Must Gentiles convert to Judaism in order to be party to the New Covenant? This query raised the question of their relation to the law. And that, in turn, raised the question of the Jewish relation to the law. So the Pauline analysis is already framed in expressly forensic terms as it bears on the justification of sinners vis-à-vis the vicarious work of Christ.

The context of James is completely different. He is dealing with dead orthodoxy. His main point is that (saving) faith and fidelity are inseparable. Paul wouldn’t deny that. But this isn’t what Paul means by justification. And it isn’t apposite to the conflict with Rome since neither sided denied that connection. The Jacobean position isn’t cast in forensic, vicarious, or hamartiological terms; rather, it is concerned with the probative value of good works. Moreover, fidelity is subjective, which is germane to dead orthodoxy—whereas faith is objective, which is germane to vicarious merit; fidelity is a property of the subject (=the Christian) whereas faith takes an object (=Christ); fidelity is self-referential whereas faith is self-resignful. So the Jacobean position is neither contradictory nor complementary to Paul’s. Rather, it is neutral on the nature of justification—in the Pauline sense. For further discussion, see W. Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), 731.

According to the Bible, justification is:

i) FORENSIC. In terms of semantic import, the word-group (Heb.=sadeq; Gr.= δικαιοω) is used to denote an objective sentence of acquittal rather than a subjective transformation of character (e.g. Exod 23:7; Deut 25:1; 2 Sam 15:4; 1 Kg 8:32; Job 32:2; Ps 82:3; 143:2; Prov 17:15; Isa 5:23; 43:26; 50:8; Mt 12:37; Lk 7:29; Rom 3:4; 5:16; 8:33-34; 1 Tim 3:16). In a courtroom setting, to be sure, such a verdict implies that the plaintiff or defendant is actually in the right. But that isn’t built into the meaning of the verb. And the verb doesn’t carry a causal force. In the entire OT there is only one possible candidate for a causal sense (Dan 12:3), and even there it would be referring to an exemplary rather than efficient cause.

J. Goldingay, however, offers “vindicate” as an alternative rendering, based on the common usage in Dan 7-12, WBC 30 (Word, 1989), 281. This eliminates any causal connotation.

Moreover, the sense in which there is a correspondence between the verdict and the plaintiff or defendant has reference, not to a subjective ethical quality, but to an objective ethical relation between the subject and the law, viz., that he sustains a right relation to the law.

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!

When we move beyond the courtroom of justice to the throne room of grace, Paul sets this judicial verdict in studied contrast to the subject’s personal virtue (Rom 3:20; 4:5-8). The verb retains its forensic import, but in moving from the court to the Cross its range of reference is graciously extended to the undeserving.

ii) VICARIOUS. Justification is not elicited by the actual rectitude of the subject, but is bestowed from above (Rom 8:3,33; 10:3; Titus 3:4b,7). Its vicarious character in fact follows from the ethical discrepancy between the objective verdict and the moral condition of the subject.

iii) STATIVE. Justification involves the divine conferral of a righteous standing before God, in contradistinction to moral renovation. It retains the forensic character of an objective verdict, but moves beyond the negative notion of bare acquittal to a positive predication by putting the subject in the right before God (Rom 4:1-11,22-24; 5:17; 10:3; Gal 3:6; Phil 3:19).

iv) DEFINITIVE. Both in qualitative and quantitative terms, our justification is a once and for all time event. If justification is based on the sole and sufficient merit of Christ, then it is beyond augmentation or reiteration (see below). If, moreover, it is a status rather than a state of being, based on a divine act rather than an interior process, that then also entails its self-contained integrity (see above). Both of these elements imply that justification is irreversible and unrepeatable, not to mention more direct prooftexts to that effect (Rom 8:1,30-34; 11:29). So it covers a Christian’s past, present, and future sin, being both existential and eschatological in sweep (Gal 5:5).

This does not, of course, exhaust the work of Christ. In OT typology the priest not only made sacrifice, but also offered sacrifice, and offered prayer on the basis of sacrifice, in representing the people before God. So it is necessary that Christ would fulfill this typical division of labor in his self-immolation and heavenly intercession (Heb 4:14; 6:19-20; 7:21-28; 9:12,24-10:14; cf. Rom 8:34). Far from subtracting from this mediatorial role, the very perfection of his sacrifice is what warrants it. And unlike a mortal high priest who alone could enter God’s presence, and even then in replica of the reality, Christ leads his people to heaven (Heb 10:19-22).

v) SOLAFIDEISTIC. Faith is a coordinate condition of justification. It doesn’t function as a meritorious ground or synergistic prerequisite. God requires faith as a negation of the works-principle. It is set over against the merit-system (Rom 3:20-22; 4:2,16; 8:3; Gal 2:16; 3:11-12; 5:3; Phil 3:9). In particular, the works-principle is identified with law-keeping under the Mosaic dispensation. This standard of comparison is important in considering the role, if any, of personal merit in our justification:

The Mosaic law code was a divine law code. Unlike their pagan neighbors, therefore, the Jews had access to the right standard of right and wrong (Ps 147:19-20). Moreover, elect Jews acted from godly motives and godward incentives (e.g. Ps 24:4; 27:4; 51:10; 86:11; 96; 119; Jer 24:7; 32:39; Lk 1:6; 2:25,36-38). Now if devout Jews, even when operating with the right standards and inducements, could never ever be justified by works, what plainer precedent can there be to demonstrate that merit may play no part whatsoever our justification? Indeed, Paul makes himself an object lesson as the paradigm of pious law-keeping (Phil 3:3-6; cf. Acts 22:3; Gal 1:14). He was never a nominal Jew or hypocrite. He was deeply versed in God’s moral norm and zealous to comply, yet he despairs of being justified by works and disclaims any degree of self-reliance. And there is no categorical difference between the OT saint and the NT saint in this regard. The Jews were under law, but they were also under grace. They were saved by the retroactive merit of Christ (Heb 9:15). The law was never an instrument to justify the sinner but was given, rather, to awaken his sense of sin (Rom 3:20; 5:20; 7:13), to supply a standard of public and private conduct and a lay down a yardstick for assigning the varying degrees of heavenly reward (e.g. Rom 2:5-12; 1 Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 6:10).

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

This distinction suffers from four defects:

a) Although is applied to the Scriptural doctrine of justification, it cannot be exegeted from the Scriptural doctrine of justification.

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.

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.

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. The fact that he’s so emphatic

Catholics charge the Protestant doctrine with being a legal fiction. This calls for half a dozen comments:

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.

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.

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.

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).

Whether declarative righteousness is factual or fictitious depends on how the declaration is qualified. It should go without saying that the veracity of a truth-claim is relative to the terms of the claim. Since it was cast in terms of vicarious merit, the fact that the subject isn’t personally meritorious is quite coherent with the veracity of the claim. The declaration is only a shorthand expression to designate a more nuanced concept, like when a prospective father says he’s having a baby, even though it’s actually the mother who has the baby! Would a Catholic denounce the father’s elliptical idiom as “fictitious“ because it omitted reference to the maternal agent? The Catholic charge confuses word and concept. The doctrine of justification is a theological construct that goes beyond the bare meaning of a noun or verb. This is typical of theological jargon. The word “trinity” simply means “triad” or “threefold,” but there’s more to the doctrine of the Trinity than that.

What the Catholic has done is to put his own gloss on justification, and then accuse the Protestant palming off a legal fiction because it doesn’t comply with the Catholic conditions. But this is a rhetorical trick. Naturally the Protestant version of justification is inconsistent with the Catholic interpretation. But since the Protestant version never shared the Catholic assumptions, it isn’t disingenuous when it fails to meet the conditions set by the opposition. The charge is either circular or confused.

Of course, there are people who will deny that merit and demerit are commutable. At this point we must ask, are they challenging Protestant exegesis or the Protestant rule of faith? If the Bible enunciates the principle of vicarious merit, then that settles the matter as far as Protestant theology is concerned. Any further objection is a direct challenge to the authority of Scripture. That moves the debate from the realm of exegesis to apologetics.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Suppose your best friend asked if you would put in a good word on behalf of his son. Now you’re really doing it as a favor to your friend. In effect, his son is enjoying an extended line of credit for the reservoir of good will that has built up between you and your old friend over the years. I doubt there’s any society at any time or place that doesn’t honor this principle of moral transference. It’s the basis of Prov 27:10: “Do not forsake your father’s friend“ (cf. 1 Sam 20:15; 2 Sam 9:1ff.). The principle has limits, to be sure, but far from offending our moral intuitions, this kind of virtue by association is a cultural universal.

The role of faith in our justification is not the only function of faith. God has created a people to enjoy fellowship with their Maker. But in this life our fellowship must operate by faith rather than sight since the object of our duty and desire lies beyond the palpable present (Ps 17:15; Rom 8:24-25; 2 Cor 4:18; 5:7; Col 3:3; Heb 11; 1 Pet 1:8).

vi) SOLACHRISTOLOGICAL. The warrant for our justification lies in the sole and sufficient merit of Christ. (Rom 3:24; 5:9,17-19; Gal 2:21; 5:2,4; Col 2:13-14). The one-over-many structure of Rom 5:17-19 implies that individual merit is ruled out as a possible ground for justification, while the verses in Galatians are insistent on an absolute antithesis between the sufficiency of Christ and human merit. For its part, the passage in Colossians doesn’t draw any distinction between venial and mortal sin (pace Trent, 6:11).

In order to merit justification, two conditions would have to be satisfied:

a) The agent must not be guilty of personal demerit. That is to say, he must have fulfilled all of his duties to God.

b) The agent must be in a position to acquire supererogatory merit. That is to say, he must perform above and beyond his natural obligations to God.

Unfallen Adam was in a position to satisfy (a) but not (b). Only Christ was in a position to satisfy both (a) and (b). By virtue of his stainless humanity he satisfied the first condition (Jn 8:46; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet 2:22). By virtue of his economic subordination he satisfied the second condition (Jn 10:17-18; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6-11; Heb 5:7-9).

So justification is based on the merit-system, but it is the merit of Christ and not the Christian that supplies the necessary and sufficient ground. Again, it is possible for men to perform deeds above and beyond the call of duty, but that is in relation to their fellow man, and not in relation to God (cf. Lk 17:7-10).

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.