Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Justification by the numbers

Is the Bible 100% God's Word? The answer, according to Dei Verbum, is "yes." And yet, the Bible was written by human beings, with their own distinct writing styles and personal touches...So, even though the authors of Scripture cooperated with the production of Scripture, and even though their cooperation was a necessary condition for the Bible that resulted, the Bible is 100% God's Word. In order to make sense of this, one must bring to bear on this analysis the distinction between secondary and primary causality. That is, in the work of inscripturation, God is the primary cause of Scripture, but he is not the secondary cause. In fact, the secondary cause consists of all the human authors of the Bible. Because what resulted is precisely what God intended, the fact that he employed secondary causes in order to achieve this end, means that the final product is 100% God's Word. But, in a sense, we can also say that because the secondary causes he employed were human agents with rational powers, therefore, St. Paul wrote Romans, I Corinthians, and Galatians, St. John penned the Gospel of John, I, II, and III John, and other Bible writers authored the other books, and so forth. This understanding does not diminish the divine authorship of Scripture, but neither does it diminish the human contribution to it. So, the Bible is 100% God's Word, even though it is entirely authored by human beings.

If you can understand this, then you can understand the Catholic view of justification. Here's what the Catholic Catechism states:

"The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful...Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life."

So, if one mistakenly insists that Catholicism embraces "works righteousness" because justification requires human cooperation (though performed in sanctifying grace), then one must be prepared to abandon the idea that the Bible is 100% God's Word, since the theory of inscripturation requires human cooperation. Conversely, if one accepts the theory of inscripturation while insisting that the Bible is still 100% God's Word, then one must abandon the idea that Catholicism is semi-Pelagian because its view of justification requires human cooperation (though performed in sanctifying grace).

One can, of course, reject Catholicism for a variety of other reasons. But the semi-Pelagian (or "work's righteousness") charge simply cannot be one of them, unless one is willing to abandon one's theory of inscripturation.


There are some glaring problems with this comparison:

1.Beckwith has given us an argument from analogy minus the argument. He takes for granted that justification and inspiration are analogous. He takes for granted that justification and inspiration are both synergistic.

At no point, however, does he even attempt to show, through serious exegesis, that Pauline justification is synergistic. So all Beckwith has done here is to assert an analogy without arguing the point. Where is the exegetical spadework to warrant the comparison in the first place?

2.In addition, there are some pretty conspicuous disanalogies. Since human beings are rational agents, God can use the medium of human agency to reveal himself in and through the written word or spoken word.

Is that parallel to justification?

i) To begin with, human beings are sinners. We stand guilty before the bar of God. So how can culpable human beings merit, even in part, their own acquittal? How can they merit divine acceptance and approval on the partial basis of their personal virtue?

For example, a Mafia Don might be a wonderful family man. A devoted husband and father. Loving, caring, considerate.

He attends every ballgame his son plays. Attends every dance his daughter performs. Always remembers the anniversary of his marriage.

Yes, he murders his business rivals, but he keeps his business life separate from his family life. So, if he’s indicted on 20 counts of murder, should he get partial credit for being such a swell guy at home?

ii) And even if human beings were sinless, in what sense could they accrue merit with God? How could they ever put God in their debt? Since they owe their being and wellbeing to God, how could God owe them anything in return? Isn’t that patently absurd?


  1. Steve asks: "Where is the exegetical spadework to warrant the comparison in the first place?"

    I think the working assumption by Dr. Beckwith is that the Magisterium has long ago done the exegetical spadework and he's just using the results of that spadework to argue for the validity of his comparison.