Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Roman Catholic Bait-and-Switch on Justification

Over at Green Baggins, Jason Stellman is making the argument that, “under the New Covenant” (Galatians 3), “disobedience brings death”, and that Protestants and Roman Catholics “believe in exactly the same phenomenon but call it different things”:

The problem here is that because of our different paradigms, we both believe in exactly the same phenomenon but call it different things.

You believe that if a baptized person who professes to be a Christian lives a life characterized by disobedience and sin, that he, despite his profession, will most likely be condemned on the last Day.

So do I.


I disagreed with him: “For the Roman Catholic, this takes just one ‘mortal sin’, of which the ‘cradle Catholic’ is typically neurotically afraid. The Roman Catholic (the cradle Catholic who cares about his or her faith) gets to live a life with fear in back of his mind. For the Reformed person, it would take something more than just ‘a life characterized by disobedience and sin’. It would take something much more persistent than that. So the ‘exact same phenomenon’ really is a different phenomenon.”

Jason is confused. The Reformation separated “justification” and “sanctification” out as two separate processes. Prior to justification, the Reformers could follow the discussion quite nicely. But in the Roman Catholic system, there is a whole “system” – the “system” of sacraments – which has nothing to do with actual “sanctification”, and everything to do with “what Rome says you gotta do”.

Here’s how that “bait-and-switch” works. Following on his discussion of semi-Pelagianism, Bavinck continues (Vol 3, pg 512):

According to Aquinas, a person can indeed do a number of naturally good things without grace, but that person needs grace “to be healed and to perform the good of supernatural virtue”, to love God, to keep the law, to acquire eternal life, to prepare for the grace of justification, to rise up again from sin, to refrain from sin, to refrain from sinning, and each time he or she needs new grace to know and do the good and to persevere in it.

Note that Bavinck here is throwing in a lot of different kinds of functionality of “grace”, but these occur prior to baptism. Trent as well:

Similarly, Trent established that adults, to prepare themselves for the grace of justification, needed prevenient grace, so that those who “by sin were turned away from God, through his stimulating and assisting grace are disposed to convert themselves to their own justification. Rome, therefore, definitely teaches the necessity of prevenient (actual, stimulating, or arousing) grace and hence rejects the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism that attributed the beginning and increase of faith to the powers of [unregenerate] human nature.

Semi-Pelagianism?
There is reason to ask, however, whether Rome, in speaking of prevenient grace, has in mind anything more than the external call of the gospel, which exerts moral impact on the intellect and will, and which was also recognized by Pelagius and his followers. Sometimes, in any case, it description of that grace is very weak: Trent identifies it with the calling “whereby they are called without any existing merits on their part.” Yet Rome understands by prevenient grace an inward influence of the Holy Spirit on the intellect and will. The Synod of Orange spoke of an infusion and operation in us of the Holy Spirit. Trent called it “arousing” or “stimulating” (excitans) and described it in the words: “God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.” Aquinas says that the grace by which an adult prepares himself or herself for justification consists not in “some habitual grace” but in “an operation of God by which the soul is turned toward himself,” some “assistance of God moving the soul within or inspiring a good purpose.”

Bonaventure sometimes also calls it a “grace freely given” and says that humans need it to prepare for justification and that it “arouses” (excitat) their free will. Bellarmine describes it as a “grace of special assistance,” as a “motion” or “action by which God moves a human toward activity” and as “special assistance,” “grace that arouses and assists extrinsically,” contrasting it with “indwelling grace,” “infused grace,” “the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.” Among theologians there was much disagreement about the characteristic nature of that preparatory grace. Thomists considered it a “physical quality supernaturally infused,” “a certain physical entity.” Molina, Lessius, Ripalda viewed it as “an illumination of the mind and an inspiration of the will.” Suarez, Tanner, and others thought that it was not anything created but that the Holy Spirit himself moved the will immediately. Yet it is generally viewed as “gratuitous assistance,” “an internal and supernatural gift of God,” “an illumination of the mind,” and “an immediate movement of the will” which conveys to humans not only “moral strengths” but also “physical powers” and enables them to prepare for justification.”

Protestants may disagree with some of those characterizations, but up to this point, they can follow the discussions.


But this is where things change. This is where you get baptized, and the whole Medieval discussion about “prevenient grace” and “justification” goes out the window.

Bavinck’s contemporary, A.A. Hodge, noted this change, and points out that … absolutely forgiveness of sins precedes and conditions infusion of grace. And yet, with palpable inconsistency, Thomas, and after him the who Romish Church, actually reverse this fundamental order when they proceed to elucidate the actual realization of redemption by the individual believer:

In the actual realization of justification by the individual, according to the Romish scheme, a distinction must be carefully observed between (a) that which in the case of an adult sinner prepares for it, (b) the realization of justification in the first instance, and (c) its subsequent progressive realization in the advance of the gracious soul toward perfection; (d) that which is necessary for the restoration to grace of the baptized Christian after backsliding into sin.

(1) The preparation of the adult sinner for justification proceeds from the prevenient grace of God, without any merit on the part of the subject. This grace conceiving faith through hearing, brings him (a) to know himself to be a sinner and to apprehend the divine justice, and (b) to consider the mercy of God, and to trust that God will be merciful to him for Christ’s sakes; and hence (c) disposes him to co-operate with that grace which inclines him to love God, and moves him to that detestation of sin and penitence which must be experienced before baptism, and finally (d) leads him to determine to receive baptism and to lead a new life. (Con. Trent., Sess. 6, chaps. 5 and 6.)

(2) The justification of the sinner according to the Romish system, as above shown, is the infusion of gracious habits, the pollution of sin having been washed away by the power of God, on account of the merits of Christ, through the instrumentality of baptism, which operates its effects by an effective energy made inherent in it by the institution of God. After this, inherent in it by the institution of God. After this, inherent sin being removed, remission of guilt follows necessarily as its immediate effect. Guilt is the relation which sin sustains to the justice of God. The thing being removed, the relation ceases ipso facto. (Bellarmin, “De Amissione gratia et statu peccati.”)

(3) Having been thus justified and made a friend of God, he advances from virtue to virtue, and is renewed from day to day, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the church, faith co-operating with good works, which truly merit and receive as a just reward increase of grace, and more and more perfect justification. His first justification was for Christ’s sake, without any co-operation of his own merit, but by consent of his own will. His continued and increasing justification is for Christ’s sake, through and in proportion to his own merit, which deserves increase of grace and acceptance in proportion (a) to his personal holiness and (b) to his obedience to ecclesiastical rules. (Conc. Trent., Sess. 6, chap. 10, and can. 32.)

(4) In the case of those who, having been justified, have sinned, the grace lost is restored, for the merits of Christ, through the sacrament of penance, which is provided as a second plank to rescue those who by sin have shipwrecked grace. the penance includes (a) sorrow for sin; (b) confession of all known sins – at least the desire to do so – to a priest having jurisdiction; (c) sacerdotal absolution; (d) satisfaction by alms, fasts, prayers, etc., and finally by purgatorial fires – which all avail for the avenging and punishing of past sins, as well as for the discipleship of the new life, and are meritorious satisfactions to divine justice, canceling the temporal punishments involved in the guilt of the sins for which they are undergone, the eternal punishment whereof having been freely and at once remitted, either by the sacrament itself, or by the honest desire for it. (Conc. Trent., Sess. 6, chaps. 14 and 16, and can. 30, Sess. 14, chaps 1-9.)

This system, involving the logical contradiction already pointed out, we acknowledge to be Christian (generically), because it builds ultimately upon the satisfaction and merits of Christ, which alone it regards as absolute.

But we unhesitatingly pronounce it at the same time to be anti-Christian – i.e., a system which substitutes that which is not Christ in his place and stead, inasmuch as it, (1) After building upon, overlays out of sight the true foundation with human merits and penances, without authority, destitute of all meritorious desert. (2) Because it interposes between the soul of the repentant sinner and Christ many false mediators, as Mary, the saints, and priests. (3) Inasmuch as it teaches that divine grace operates magically, through sacraments, ex opere operato; and not, as is the fact, ethically through the truth revealed in the inspired Word, apprehended through spiritual through spiritual illumination, and received by faith, and loved and obeyed in the heart and life.

So as a person who intends to convert to Roman Catholicism, Jason Stellman has not yet reached the point at which, according to Hodge, “reverses the actual order of grace”. Up to the point of baptism, Jason Stellman will be in the world of “prevenient grace,” at which, discussions of grace and justification carry on with a kind of Medieval flavor. But after his baptism, then the system changes, and it does become more of a system of works, of “things you gotta do”.

While the Protestant who is living out sanctification must still “work out his salvation in fear and trembling”, he is in no wise bound by the behemoth of a system that Rome has created, following the [as it is called] grace of initial justification.

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