Thursday, October 01, 2015

A Response to “Cletus Van Damme” on Justification

The Sacramental Treadmill
The Sacramental Treadmill Begins
AFTER Roman Catholic “Justification”
I’m following up on a comment from another thread:

Part of restoration includes the desire to go to confession in the first place, so no it's not a semi-pelagian process as you imply. Works of mercy are not optional - one can commit mortal sin via omission as well as commission.

My interlocutor goes by the handle Cletus Van Damme. I want everyone to see how this individual’s method of argumentation works. It is not to provide clear and direct responses, but as is customary for Roman Catholics who are doing apologetics, his method is rather deflection and obfuscation (starting with his own pen name).

Keep in mind that you started off by saying that Roman Catholicism agrees with this statement: “if you rely on works of the law you are under a curse, because they have to be perfect.”

Where is perfection found in Roman Catholicism? Maybe at the moment of baptism. But again, Here you are now, with a bait-and-switch, making a case for “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” (from CCC 1446). This terminology comes from the point in time after baptism, and Roman Catholics MUST, ARE REQUIRED TO, submit to a particular set of “works of the law”. The real name for this in real Roman Catholic Doctrine is called “The Precepts of the Church” (define: “precept”: “A precept (from the Latin: præcipere, to teach) is a commandment, instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action”) – this is the very thing that I said constituted a “bait and switch”.

These “Precepts” are not just “nice things to do”. These are not “works of mercy”. In Roman Catholicism, “works of mercy” are optional. Please name one “mortal sin of omission” that might occur in someone’s every day life (outside of missing Mass on Sunday).

These “Precepts” are not “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.” In the Roman Catholic system, “corporal works of mercy” fall not under “dogmas” (as do the “Precepts”), but they fall under “the Social Doctrine of the Church” — (things which “the faithful” must be “guided by”. But these are not requirements -- and this “individual requirement” even falls after the “grave moral responsibility” that “Rich nations” have to provide such things).

On the other hand, the “Precepts” are absolute requirements, the doing of which become a treadmill which, for the Roman Catholic, MUST be repeated, all throughout life. For the Roman Catholic, “justification”, of the type that is described and haggled over in “ecumenical” documents such as the “Joint Declaration” on Justification, ends right after baptism.

In the practice of the Roman Catholic religion, “justification” occurs at baptism, and once that’s over with, the rest of the Roman Catholic’s life (a least, this was the case before the “new and improved” Roman Catholicism of the Progressives) MUST be occupied in DOING THESE “WORKS”.

Back to the original statement. Where (as I asked before) does the Roman Catholic achieve this “perfection” (which you agreed is necessary)? It is by hopping on the treadmill, and it is only on this treadmill that the Roman Catholic can achieve “perfection”: Confession, then Eucharist, Confession, then Eucharist, etc. As a Roman Catholic, bound by their rules, if you don’t do that, you can feed all the hungry people in the world, tend to all the sick people in the world, and still not have the appropriate graces for salvation. If you intentionally miss Mass on Sunday because you want to sleep in or have quiet time with your wife, you have committed a mortal sin.

You continue to conflate “the corporal works of mercy”, which are good things to do, with the requirements – “the Precepts of the Church” – which an earlier version (my version, incidentally), called “the indispensable minimums” – the MINIMUM THAT YOU MUST DO (“works of Roman Catholic law”) in order not to be committing mortal sin. (And so here is your “mortal sin by omission”).

This is a weight that is imposed – this is the heart and soul of “faith formed by charity”. This is why “faith alone” is not good enough for the Roman Catholic. This is where “the sacramental treadmill” illustrates how these “indispensable minimums” work for the Roman Catholic to achieve his own salvation.

The bottom line is this: if you are Roman Catholic, and you desire to “be perfect” by feeding the hungry etc., but you have no desire to run off to “confession in the first place”, then you have made a shipwreck of your faith, and you fail to grasp onto the “second plank”.

(And again, this was the case before the “new and improved” Roman Catholicism of the Progressives. Nowadays, you can be a Cafeteria Catholic in good faith. After all, “who is Pope Francis to judge?”

At this point, “Cletus Van Damme” provided an overview of “faith formed by charity”. I intend to respond to this separately. Back to the comment below. You said:

So it wasn't just Augustine who goofed, but the entire western and eastern church before and after him who apparently shared Augustine's linguistic ignorance? I believe the Eastern church had a handle on Greek.

First of all, we are talking about a doctrinal construction in the western church – what became “the Roman Catholic Church”. Augustine formed a doctrine of “becoming righteous” which the whole western church, in what are called the Dark and Middle ages, used as foundational for its theologies and then doctrines. This is not to say that God stopped saving people who called on Christ because they felt this way.

That is what the Augustine’s Goof article, which you first cited, is about. In case you didn’t make it through the first paragraph:

Since the Reformation, there have been a couple of major issues that have never been resolved. The issue of “justification” is an instance in which Roman Catholic “Tradition” clearly got something wrong – it turned a mistranslation into a dogma – and yet, the entire history of the Christian church since that time has been unable to resolve this issue. Rome claimed that it had the proper authority to define this dogma, and once defined by a council (Trent) and ratified by a pope, its dogma was “infallible”. The Reformers and their succeeding generations refused to accept the error.

The error started with the fifth-century theologian Augustine. The Hebrew Scriptures were written in Hebrew. Later they were translated into Greek. Augustine knew only a little Greek, and he worked primarily in Latin. It was Augustine’s misunderstanding of a Hebrew (Old Testament) concept that led to 1000 years of medieval speculation, and finally the codification of Augustine’s mistake at the Council of Trent.

At issue is the “infallibility” of “the society structured with hierarchical organs”: They picked up on “Augustine’s goof” and made it Roman Catholic dogma. That is why the Reformation had to occur. And Rome’s “progressiveness” (in addition to its condemnation of “faith alone”) is yet another reason why we must continue to remember the Reformation.

Quoting JB (incompletely): "Aside from that, NO ONE was required"

Cletus Van Damme: So the sacraments were optional in East and West?

Yes, actually they were, in the time under discussion—which happened to be the early church of the 4th and 5th centuries. These requirements were imposed in the 1100’s and 1200’s.

Quoting JB: "But these "works" contain "merit" -- It is Augustine's "inherent righteousness""

Cletus Van Damme: One was already inherently righteous at justification. Merit doesn't "make up the difference".

One “loses” “inherent righteousness”. That is the point. No, merit doesn’t “make up the difference”. But the “works” (which became Dogma in the form of “the Precepts of the Church” do contain “merit” which “increases justification”. Justification which is lost after baptism for virtually every person, and which can only be regained through the “second plank”..

JB discussing “church discipline” among the Reformed churches: “"And discipline is not over "lack of works" -- it occurs only when there is overt sin. You need to get your facts straight."”

Cletus Van Damme: So overt sin cannot be committed via acts of omission according to the Reformed?

That is not at all what I said. No Reformed church is going to discipline a member for not doing enough. You should man-up and provide an example of an “act of omission” that should be disciplined.

And given the conflation of concupiscence, venial, and mortal sin in your perspective, I fail to see how distinguishing between overt or non-overt sin in this case is justified.

Any sin is a mortal sin that causes one to “fall short of the glory of God”.

Regardless, sanctification is necessary to salvation in your view. Sanctification includes stuff "you gotta do" - if that stuff is not done you are to be disciplined and maybe even doubt your justification/regeneration was genuine in the first place. So your objection in this regard is self-defeating.

Sanctification is necessary, but as a result of, not a condition of having been justified (freely, “by faith”). He, Christ, “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy”. Do you get this? I don’t think you do.

If you are Roman Catholic, you must do, do, do the Precepts.

For Protestants, our sanctification is not something “you gotta do”. Sanctification is a fruit. It grows in our lives. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In the Greek, this verse is in a future indicative tense, not the imperative tense (Carson). If you love me, this will occur. It is a promise from the lips of Christ. We will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc., in the course of our daily lives.

From an early Reformed catechism: “But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?

No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness (Heidelberg Catechism 64)”.

Our sanctification is a work of Christ. It too is appropriated by faith -- which is very much so described as It is a fruit and evidence of genuine faith.


  1. "Where is perfection found in Roman Catholicism?"

    When one is justified. Growing in justification is from perfection to still greater perfection (Therese of Lisieux's analogy of a thimble full of water growing in capacity but ever-full).
    Yes one can commit mortal sin and must be restored to perfection via the movement of unmerited grace. Sins of omission can be mortal - slothfulness is a sin, as is placing idols before charity.

    Works of mercy cannot be optional if one has charity - that's like saying works of teaching are optional for teachers. And given one of the precepts is to provide for needs of the church, part of the church's needs is performing those spiritual and corporal works of mercy, so by your own logic of criticizing the precepts, you affirm works of mercy are not optional. The precepts are not the "minimum you must do" - if you obey the precepts but have mortally sinned against charity, it won't do you any good. The "minimum you must do" is have sanctifying grace - that is be infused with faith, hope, and charity - given at justification. If the precepts are a treadmill, so is your sanctification treadmill - or will you not be disciplined if you neglect to attend or support the church, refuse to partake of lord's supper, refuse to confess and repent of your sins, refuse to pray, etc? All this stuff "ya gotta do".

    Augustine wasn't a lone wolf in his view of justification and "becoming righteous", either before or afterwards, either in the east or west. That's why the argument by mistranslation falls flat - Augustine didn't derive his doctrine simply by slicing and dicing the lexicon, nor did others suffer his linguistic shortcomings.
    Baptism and the Eucharist and confession were held as critical in both east and west long before 1100.
    Yes, merit deepens the justified's participation in the divine life and sanctifying grace, which then gives greater strength in resisting mortal sin and further growing in grace.

    "That is not at all what I said. No Reformed church is going to discipline a member for not doing enough."

    Okay so you didn't say overt sin cannot be committed via acts of omission according to the Reformed, but then you no Reformed church is going to discipline for acts of omission. So I don't know what you're saying.

    "You should man-up and provide an example of an “act of omission” that should be disciplined."

    The sin of the priest and Levite towards the wounded man. The sin of Dives towards Lazarus. The sins of the goats in Matt 25. The wicked servant who buried his talent. Grossly neglecting family or being too lazy to work to provide for them. There are countless examples. And of course sins of omission and commission can be tied together (covetous man to hoard money both robs and omits to give what he ought)

    "Any sin is a mortal sin that causes one to “fall short of the glory of God”. "

    Right. So there should be no distinction between overt and non-overt sins in your view. All should be disciplined. So why you're not being disciplined by your church for habitually breaking the 2 great commandments every second of your life and only for "overt" sins escapes me.

    "Do you get this? I don’t think you do. "

    I get Reformed sanctification. I also get it results in actions you "gotta do". If you aren't doing them, that is cause for discipline and/or doubting you were justified in the first place. So you're stuck on the treadmill.

    "Sanctification is a fruit."

    As it is in RCism. I already cited Trent to that effect earlier.

    1. i) There's a running equivocation here, where one uses the same word ("justification") to designate different or divergent concepts.

      By "justification," Protestants traditionally mean Pauline justification. The Pauline doctrine of justification. For instance, Schreiner's new monograph exegetes Pauline theology.

      ii) Sure, Rome can define "justification" however she pleases. But using that as a theological filter imposes an alien interpretive grid on Paul.

      iii) The ultimate question is whether Rome has the authority to promulgate dogma. Giving us an exposition of Catholic dogma is an exercise in misdirection. Why should anyone take that seriously? Why think that's true?

  2. "The Pauline doctrine of justification. For instance, Schreiner's new monograph exegetes Pauline theology. "

    And Wright's monograph exegetes Pauline theology. But I doubt you agree with his views.

    "But using that as a theological filter imposes an alien interpretive grid on Paul."

    This is just begging the question. By this same token, sure Reformed theology and scholars can define justification however it likes. But that imposes an alien interpretive grid on Paul.

    "Giving us an exposition of Catholic dogma is an exercise in misdirection."

    Part of the exercise is to clarify misconceptions and/or mischaracterizations the street preachers seemed to have that John was citing approvingly as well as the ones he seems to have in his responses. The Catholic dogma might be completely wrong, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be presented properly.

    1. i) No, it's not begging the question when Schreiner argues for his interpretations.

      ii) Moreover, unless you're a hermeneutical relativist, the fact that Wright and Schreiner disagree hardly means their respective interpretations cancel each other out. Not all supporting arguments are equally good. And you can only deny that on pain of self-refutation.

      iii) And if anyone is begging the question, that would be you, since the Tridentine filter is only legitimate on the assumption that Rome is what she claims to be.

      iv) The question at issue isn't whether, given enough quick fixes, the mishmash of Catholic justification can be made to be internally consistent, but whether that's consistent with Pauline teaching.