Friday, August 24, 2012

Explaining away Augustine's error

Bryan Cross has contested my article on Augustine and Justification from yesterday (here and here). But he doesn't do it by challenging the version of the facts that I presented. He does it by making an argument that if Augustine had made the error, then the Protestant version of history can't be the correct one because in that case no one for a thousand years would have believed "the article by which the church stands or falls, justification by imputation".

Bryan said:

(1): From a Reformed point of view, justification by faith alone is the article by which the Church stands or falls.

I don't think I need to defend this premise, because no Reformed person I've ever met contests it. Luther said it, and prominent Reformed people say it all the time (see, for example, here). Or just google it.

The meaning of "justification by faith alone" here is not "justification by fides caritate formata, i.e. faith informed by agape. Therefore, "justification by faith alone" is here referring to justification by the extra nos imputation of Christ's righteousness.

1. Yes, we say this, and in fact I have said this, but it's not a doctrinal articulation. In the same way that "Sola Scriptura", "Sola Fide", Soli Deo Gloria" were slogans. They were short-hand for things. They were sound-bites. They were not doctrinal articulations.

So no, "you don't need to defend this premise", except that -- and this is the thing you frequently do -- you need to take on the best theologians of Protestantism -- and that means someone like Turretin, or the WCF, or Bavinck -- folks who are thinking through all the ramifications of these doctrines. And not the articulations of the popular masses.

You would have a conniption if James White put together an in-depth "argument" on the phrase "To Jesus through Mary". It is a popular slogan, not the articulation of a doctrine.

So from unpacking (1) we can see that: ... (2) From a Reformed point of view, justification by the extra nos imputation of Christ's righteousness is the article by which the Church stands or falls.

2. I'm not denying it was important. But you need to "unpack" the doctrine as it exists in the confessions, not a popular understanding of it, or worse, your own caricature of it.

(3) Augustine goofed on justification by claiming that justification was by infused righteousness; the whole medieval world followed him in his goof for a thousand years, and the Council of Trent ratified this error infallibly. (source)

3. Augustine clearly misunderstood the Hebrew notion of hasdiq; as the LXX translated it (there is a range of meanings in any translation) Augustine stepped further away from the original meaning, the term "make righteous". And yes, the net effect was that the concept of "infused righteousness" became a concept in Christian understanding for the first time. (Why don't you make a big deal about this theological novum?)

And I'm not the one saying this, it is Alister McGrath, at Oxford, who spent years studying this in the original languages, and whose work was checked by some of the most knowledgeable scholars in the world.

If you want to contest this, it would seem to me that the "logical" thing to do would be to contest McGrath's findings at a factual level. Simply saying, "this doesn't fit with our paradigm so it's wrong" ... I'm sure you are aware of a named logical fallacy named for this.

(4) As soon as the whole Catholic Church adopted Augustine's goof, the Catholic Church fell, and remained fallen for a thousand years. [from (2) and (3)]

4. As I said above, the church did not fall. Christ did not become inoperative in the world because of Augustine's mistake. No doubt he worked around it. Your characterization "the Catholic Church fell" is a straw man in several respects. First, it assumes that "the Catholic Church" structure is the one that Christ put in place; it assumes that the whole church is dependent upon the word of one theologian; and it assumes that "the church" is dependent upon doctrinal articulations.

(5) "The truly catholic church has always been." [R. Scott Clark (source)]

5. I agree with Clark. And keep reading what he says: That it has not always been visible as it was in the Reformation does not mean that there has not always been a remnant or that the church has not at times been profoundly corrupted. There is an developmental understanding of the church that avoids both the trail of blood historiography and its Romanist alternative.

* * *

Then Bryan says:

So this leaves us with a Reformed version of the Baptist trail of blood, in which ecclesial deism is denied by positing a continuous but historically invisible succession of persons holding "justification by the extra nos imputation of Christ's righteousness" for a thousand years, even though there is no historical record that any such persons ever existed during those thousand years.

So, when Clark says there is a church "that avoids both the trail of blood historiography and its Romanist alternative", and you omit that part of his sentence, but immediately say "this brings us with a Reformed version of the baptist trail of blood", how is it that you are not being the dishonest one here?

We are far from agreed on what your definition of the church is, or should be.

And as for your characterization that "there is no historical record that any such persons ever existed during those thousand years", do you believe that the dogma quoad se [doctrines in themselves] and dogma quoad nos [as they have to do with us] are identical with one another and perfectly correspond at every single point?

If you believe that, you have to make that argument.

If Augustine truly made an error, it is more intellectually honest to say that he made that error, than to explain it away. You are the one trying to explain it away.

Bryan has yet to articulate a positive case for his statement that the Roman Catholic Church is "the Church that Christ Founded".


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Bryan seems to be implying that the historical Protestant understanding is that one cannot be saved, or that a group be part of the true church, unless that person or group believes in and teaches the doctrine of Sola Fide.

    But that's not true. One can be justified by faith alone even though he doesn't know that he has been justified by faith alone. Or is even aware of the doctrine or concept of sola fide. Otherwise, Protestants would have to say that Augustine couldn't have been saved. That no one was saved between the time the Pauline understanding of justification was lost in the Church to the time it was later re-discovered by Luther (circa the Medieval period). Sure, there have been a few Protestants (e.g. James Durham) who believed that few (if any) were saved during the Middle Ages, but that's not a standard belief held by those in the Reformation tradition.

    Historic Protestants believe that the doctrine of Sola Fide itself doesn't save us. Perfect doctrine could never save. CHRIST saves us, not knowledge or mere belief. Yet, we receive that justification from Christ through the instrument of faith alone.

    That means people like Thomas Aquinas, Thomas à Kempis, Francis of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Patrick et al. could have been saved.

    1. Annoyed, I am willing to give God a lot of latitude as he determines who may be saved.

  3. "If Augustine truly made an error, it is more intellectually honest to say that he made that error, than to explain it away. You are the one trying to explain it away.

    Bryan has yet to articulate a positive case for his statement that the Roman Catholic Church is "the Church that Christ Founded". "

    Bryan denies the argument put forth because he doesn't like the implications. Catholics do this alot. You'll often hear them say "Well if such and such is true that means that the gates of Hades have prevailed against the Church." (in violation of Mt. 16:18, etc.)

    He simply employs more words to say the same thing.

    1. Hi EA -- it really is a backward way of looking at things. They start with Newman's "it is not a violent assumption to assume that the same leadership structure was in place all the way back", and then they begin to reason from that.

    2. I'm thankful for your consistent work in addressing the claims of the RCC, John. Blessings to you and your family.

    3. Thanks EA. I appreciate your comments and your friendship.

  4. Interesting. Years ago I recall, I think, pointing out McGrath's comments on Augustine in response to the charge of "theological novum." That is, it's a double standard to argue against the Reformers while at the same time giving Augustine a pass. That comment from McGrath (theological novum) seems to have lost some of its polemical power, I've not seen more well known Romanists use it in a long time. I would be interested in any comments from Mr. Cross in which he directly interacts with McGrath's comments on Augustine (tell him to use the expanded edition of the book in question).

    1. Hi James -- I've not seen more well known Romanists use it in a long time.

      I think this may be because McGrath's book has gone through several iterations already, and what we have available now in this third edition makes it available in English. (If I recall, James White spent a good bit of space in his "The God Who Justifies" in relating this very account from McGrath's 2nd or earlier edition).

      And we go round in circles from topic to topic, and justification hasn't been on the table recently.

      I'll certainly let you know if I see anyone from that camp interacting directly with McGrath. Maybe, Lord Willing, some contemporary NT scholar will take a look at the language issue from a Reformed or Evangelical perspective.

  5. I fear and yet rejoice in this back and forth debate with these Romanists. Why? Well it makes it much easier for the Holy Spirit to declare the Truth to those called and elected and foreknown before the foundation of the world and to understand more clearly these verses from John 16:

    Joh 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
    Joh 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
    Joh 16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
    Joh 16:10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;
    Joh 16:11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
    Joh 16:12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
    Joh 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
    Joh 16:14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
    Joh 16:15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
    Joh 16:16 "A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me."

    It is interesting that verse and the conclusion made of it, verse 9, concerning sin. The Romanists by their stand makes void the imputation of His Righteousness upon the guilty. It feeds the imagination that there is really something inherently good about me that God accepts and will use and appreciate. He will cut off the bad parts and add to the good parts and I will become useful to God and mankind.

    When you try to pin Bryan down to "why" his works are helpful to obtaining saving Grace, Faith by the Scriptures to the glory of Christ, Our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit his responses seem to mirror what the Holy Spirit is teaching there at verse 9. If he doesn't attain to repentance, well, that's why I fear as I said earlier, above.

    I have sat as a jurist on several trials in my county. Every time during the opening the prosecutor declares guilt while the defense attorney declares his client "not" guilty, not " not innocent".

    It's the job of the prosecutor to prove the guilt leaving no reasonable doubt while all the defense has to do is raise sufficient reasonable doubt so there is either a clear "not guilty" verdict or a hung jury.

    I think this debate and the consistency of it in these days goes a long way to help us understand the power of the enemy and his clear arguments and attacks against the "guilty" from Adam to today to convince them of their innocence all the while God declares none righteous no not one.

    1. Hi Michael (Natamllc), you are right to point out the distinction that Roman doctrine says "there really is something inherently good about me that God accepts and use and and appreciate". However, I don't think it's correct to say "works are helpful to obtaining saving grace". "Saving grace" comes (in the RC system) in a form that's different than it does in the Protestant system, but neither is dependent on works. Where works come into the Roman system is after "baptism" (which for most RCs is practically all their lives). It's almost as if, after baptism, God's whole program to save sinners is thrown out, to be replaced by the RC system of sacraments.

  6. John,
    Thanks for the post. Coming at this from another angle, what do you think of these quotes from Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff?

    "However, when one considers some of the essential religious intuitions of the Reformers, one is struck by their convergence with the most important elements of the patristic synthesis. I am thinking now, in particular, of the idea that saving grace can never, under any circumstances, be considered created. This was, in fact, the main intuition of both Luther and Calvin when they rejected created, meritorious media between God and man and also the created institutions which were supposed to "administer" or "dispense" God's grace. There is undoubtedly a fundamental encounter between them and Orthodoxy, where neither the idea of created grace nor that of human "merit" for man's salvation can find any place. This encounter is simply based on a common understanding of the gospel of Christ liberated from all philosophical reinterpretations." (Catholicity and the Church p. 75)

    Or this quote

    "There is no doubt that the Reformation was a great movement of liberation from false categories imprisoning the Christian gospel. . . An Orthodox theologian can say, therefore, that they rejected not the catholic tradition of the Church, but its one-sided and corrupt form. They were undoubtedly looking for this authentic, true tradition and, in several instances, were practically on the verge of identifying it in the same terms as does the Orthodox Church." (Catholicity and the Church p. 76)

    I am certainly not saying that the Orthodox hold to imputation, but Meyendorff is saying that both the Orthodox and the Protestants reject Romes idea of human merit and that this has always been taught in the church, though eclipsed (in part)in the west until the Reformation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Michael (different Michael?) -- I'll take a look at these. I know Luther approached the Orthodox, and I believe Calvin did, in some way, but I've not really spent too much time looking at Orthodox issues.

    2. John,
      Thanks. I guess I am a different Michael since this is the first time I have ever posted here:)

  7. oops John, add the word "not" before helpful. My bad. Should I go to the confessional booth today then? :)

  8. John,

    I'd like to get your take on This Imputation (logizomai) Article. To me, this is what everything comes down to. This might sound arrogant, but I believe there's somewhat of a 'conspiracy' on the Protestant (especially Reformed) end to run away from the plain Biblical teaching on this matter.

    If people are really interested in a theological novum, this is it. It's a red-herring to suggest Augustine's view of "righteousness" was the real issue if the very notion of imputation is not being addressed.

    1. Nick:

      Carson says of Romans 3:4-5, “The passage is notoriously complex”.

      Then Devin Rose says: This is quite an astonishing admission by a well respected and very conservative scholar, since Protestants teach that the Bible alone is the only inspired source for Christian teaching, including the idea that Scripture clearly teaches all essential doctrines (i.e. Scripture is “perspicuous”). So, from the get to, Carson has not only admitted that Romans 4 is “notorious complex,” but also that Paul does not clearly state Christ’s righteousness is imputed. This should leave room for a long pause to consider the implications of these admissions: the chief proof text for Justification by Faith Alone, Romans 4:3, does not, by their own admission, clearly teach what they need it to teach.

      Right from the start, Rose is guilty of misrepresenting what the doctrine of Sola Scriptura actually teaches. Here is what it actually says about “perspicuity”:

      All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

      Bryan Cross is “out there” saying things like this: “when the participants do not exercise the discipline to withhold criticism of prima facie appearances or impressions of their interlocutor’s position, without first confirming that these appearances or impressions are accurate characterizations of their interlocutor’s position. Charity calls us to avoid setting up straw men of our interlocutor’s position, and so it calls to refrain from a shoot first ask questions later approach to our neighbor’s position. That’s a virtue necessary for fruitful rational dialogue”.

      And yet that is the very thing that Devin Rose does. He sets up a straw man about perspicuity, and when one New Testament scholar says that a particular verse is “notoriously complex”, he is talking not about the doctrine itself, but the exegesis which goes into following the concept through the Scriptures.

      Much of what Rose reports afterward is the in-house discussion, wherein naturally there is some disagreement. That disagreement does not undermine the central truths of the Scripture (“those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them”).

      “Imputation of Christ’s righteousness” is not one of “those things”. It is rather one of those things which “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”.


    2. * * *

      He refers to “a serious lack of integrity and honesty in Protestant scholarship and thinking when approaching and speaking on this subject”. This is hogwash. Later on, he talks about “‘drive by’ exegesis”, failing to realize that incredible amounts of work on this topic have already been done by those we understand as “the Reformed Orthodox”, those theologians of the 17th century who explored this question every which way. Lane Keister notes on one such question, “You need to read some of the older Reformed exegesis here.” I haven’t read it all, but knowing “the older Reformed exegesis”, it is very thorough and not in the least dishonest.

      Carson’s article is a very thorough and honest exegetical treatment of this word and topic. Very few people have the ability to do the type of exegesis that Carson did. And there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

      In dismissing John Owen, Rose says: This ‘analysis’ of Owen is some of the most in-depth philosophically that I’ve found (I only quoted a portion for brevity), but Biblically it holds no weight. He literally invents a distinction and projects it right onto the Bible. His “antecedent” distinction (i.e. speaking of a quality possessed beforehand) has no basis in Scripture; he invented it simply to make Imputation work.

      First, since when is a Roman Catholic averse to a philosophical treatment? But that’s not the real issue with Owen.

      Carl Trueman notes that in his multiple and complex arguments in favor of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, Owen “is working within an established framework of standard [Reformed] Orthodox responses to criticisms of the mainstream position”.

      “As is typical of Owen, however, this lack of originality in the basic trajectories of argument does not prevent him from engaging in significant theological elaboration, of a kind which lays bare the sophisticated underlying structure of the Reformed Orthodox theology to which he is committed, particularly as it finds its ground in the doctrine of the Trinity, specifically the covenant of redemption and its determinative impact upon both the history and the order of salvation.”

      I have no objection to Owen’s pursuit of the implications of “Reformed Orthodox theology”. It’s true that not everyone accepts it. And it’s likely that there are honest objections to it.

      Devin Rose’s is not an honest objection.

      On the flip side, none of these objections do anything to explain what Reymond calls “Rome’s tragically defective representation” of justification. Rome is not just wrong, it is tragically wrong, and it has doubled-down [authoritatively, because it can do nothing else but assert its own authority].


    3. You [and others like Devin Rose] take the argument form that “Protestantism has conflicts, therefore Rome is correct”. But that is very wrong. One of the chief complaints that Protestants have been having with Bryan Cross over at Green Baggins and other places is that Bryan (following Rome) never puts forth an argument for Rome’s supposed authority. The only thing forthcoming on that score is something akin to Newman’s statement that “it is not a violent assumption” to assume that the Roman Catholic Church is somehow today the bearer of the authority that Christ gave to the apostles. And if you don’t hold to that assumption, anything you say is “begging the question”. Everything a Protestant says is “Begging the question”, and that is the response over there.

      But that is a violent assumption, in today’s environment, where we know so much more about the earliest church than Newman ever could imagine.

      In asking for an argument for the authority of the papacy, the CTC guys have put up the “Papacy Roundup”, articles full of assertions and “philosophical” treatments of why there is some necessity for Roman style of authority. Philosophically, it is argued that there is some need for some authority who can “infallibly” posit “the formal proximate object of faith”. But never argument either from Scripture or history that such a thing was ever provided by God, or required by God. Nor that the historically-developed Roman Catholic Church was ever the bearer of the Apostles’s authority.

      Rome is very much like the emperor with no clothes. Strutting around, without any Scriptural or historical foundation for itself, beyond the fact that it inherited the vacated seat of power in Rome in the fifth century. Prior to that, there was no agreement that Rome, as a church, had any authority outside of its sphere of influence.

      The Protestants rightly rejected that.

  9. John,

    It seems you've missed the big picture entirely about that link. It's dealing with a Biblical term that is at the heart of Imputation, logizomai. None of your response addresses anything directly pertaining to logizomai, where as the article did. The article looked at how Scripture uses and defines logizomai, where as every Reformed author referenced deliberately or ignorantly looked at few (if any) passages where logizomai appeared and instead laid out their definition from thin air.

    1. Nick, you are the one who misses the big picture. If the Roman Catholic Church isn't what it says it is, then all the in-fighting among Protestants in the world isn't going to make it so. And the Roman Catholic Church certainly isn't what it says it is, and that's a far bigger problem for you than the fact that Robert Gundry disagrees with a point of Protestant theology.

      The discussions over justification range all through church history, and both before and after the Reformation, few people have agreed upon all the details. Though one thing is certain: Rome settled upon, and dogmatized, probably the worst of all the theologies of justification that were bouncing around at that point.

      No single Protestant voice is the voice for all Protestants. In the same way, no single human being (except for Adam and later Christ) is the one voice for all humanity.

      You just watch. Bryan Cross is out there making noise. He is quite energetic these days, and guys like you are flocking to him. But he is just one person; Protestants are getting wise to him, and they are keying in on his weaknesses.

      We are going to have the arguments of the Reformation again, although this time, Rome does not have access to either the physical sword -- to incite war and persecution -- and Jesuitical casuistry is a non-starter in a world with an Internet.

      Rome's arguments are going to be exposed for what they are -- bluster and nonsense -- and those of you who have staked your world on a human edifice are going to be the ones crying.

    2. John,

      The article I linked to laid out the facts. There was no hiding anything. By their own admissions, the Protestant side does not want to analyze Logizomai, almost like it's a third-rail issue.

      Also, there is no Protestant equivalent to Called To Communion and Bryan Cross in terms of an online presence. I think that fact is very telling.

    3. First, Carson did "analyze Logizomai". It's no issue at all.

      Second, Bryan Cross is the worst kind of fool. I think that fact is very telling.