Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The donum superadditum and the doctrine of man: a foundational difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics

This is a slightly edited re-post of a topic I put up at Beggars All some time ago. The topic is relevant to some of the discussions of panentheism, which have been showing up in some of the comments.

At the heart of the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are key differences understandings, both in terms of their understanding of the doctrine of God, but also of the doctrine of Man.

Peter Escalante has, in the context of a discussion about civil authority, given a fairly succinct overview of one of the key differences. I’m not fully prepared to engage in a discussion of all of this -- it involves different concepts of man, and different consequences in terms of the doctrine of justification. But I’ve been following this excellent discussion, and I wanted to pass it along while it was still fresh in my mind.

It involves Rome’s understanding of the donum superadditum with regard to the state that Adam was in before he fell. Briefly, Protestants say that man, created in the image of God, was “very good,” and when he fell, it resulted in a spiritual death. God’s legal declaration, imputation of righteousness and union with Christ are what’s required to restore man back to his pristine, pre-fall state. Rome, on the other hand, holds that, not only was Adam “very good,” but that he had some “super-added gift of grace”, which made him what he was. (Why God would not have created him “complete”, but “needing some super-added grace, is beyond me). But according to the Roman Catholic paradigm, man lost only this “super-added grace” in the fall, all other things being equal, and it is that “superadded grace” that needs to be restored. Hence the need for an “infusion of grace” in Roman doctrine. [This accounts for the difference in which Calvin described man as “spiritually dead,” and hence “totally inable” or “totally depraved,” whereas Roman Catholics merely believe that man was “impaired” but with an otherwise full capacity to please God with his own grace-assisted works.]

Peter describes it this way:

For us, man originally had connatural beatitude, and when he fell, the reduced and superficial participation in that beatitude still possible to him, in an extrinsic way, was what we call temporal felicity or civic righteousness. But for RC, original felicity was a donum superadditum, and the status of original creation was thus left unclear, with at the very least a strong suggestion that much of what we think of as creation is in fact the effect of the Fall- an anti-Hebraic gnosticism which marred the thought of the ancient Greek church (and modern EO), and Rome too, though a more Biblical countertendency was present in the West and finally came into full victory with the Reformation. Given that the RC think of the New Covenant as the restoration of the donum superadditum, its relation to the temporal is ambivalent at best and hostile at worst. But for us, the New Covenant a) disables the heteronomous and unattainable Law which measured our alienation, and b) grants full citizenship in the Kingdom of God, simply by trust in Christ and union with Him. This means that the reality of original beatitude is poured into the forms of the creational order, and slowly transforms it spiritually, until all things shall be made new (emphasis added).

There are many, many concepts tied up in this one little paragraph, and it would take a long time to extract the meaning from them. But the one I want to focus on is that, right from the outset of their understanding of man, Protestants and Catholics differ.

John Fesko, in his Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, describes this situation with respect to the “donum superadditum”:

It seems as though much of the debate over infused versus imputed righteousness hinges upon the presuppositions of each party. The typical Reformed understanding is that Adam was created upright, or righteous, and that God justified, or declared righteous, the initial creation as well as man in his declaration that everything was “very good” (Gen 1:31). We see the Westminster Larger Catechism echo this point when it states that God created man in “righteousness, and holiness, having the law of God written in their hearts, and the power to fulfill it” (q. 17). By way of contrast, the typical Roman Catholic understanding of Adam’s original state holds to the necessity of infused righteousness. Roman Catholic theologians typically hold to the idea of the donum superadditum (“superadded gift”). Medieval Roman Catholic theologians, for example, argue that the donum superadditum was a part of the original constitution of man, that it represented his original capacity for righteousness. We see then, from the outset, that man in his fallen state required infused righteousness in the form of the donum superadditum. If man requires infused righteousness in the prefall state, then he would most assuredly require it in his sin-fallen but redeemed state. The original state of man, then, is an issue that must feature in any dialogues over the question of imputation (John Fesko “Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, pg 372.)

Michael Horton, in his Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, expands on this concept greatly. “According to the federal theologians, Adam and Eve were never in a state of grace before the fall. Endowed in their creation with all of the requisite gifts for fulfilling God’s eschatological purposes, there was nothing lacking requiring a gracious supplement” (194). If anyone is interested, Horton develops this topic quite extensively, relying on Bavinck’s account.

This is one of the key differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and it is one of the distinctions that the Reformers made -- a (very likely unwitting) Roman misunderstanding and accretion that somehow became the law of the land at Trent.


  1. What do you think about this:

    "We have seen that iun the East man’s relationship with God was understood as a communion of the human person with that which is above nature. “Nature,” therefore, designates that which is, in virtue of creation, distinct from God. But nature can and must be transcended; this is the privilege and the function of the free mind, made “according to God’s imge.”
    Now, in Greek patristic thought, only this free, personal mind can commit sin and incur the concomitant “guilt” – a point made particularly clear by Maximus the Confessor in his distinction between “natural will” and “gnomic will.” Human nature, as God’s creature, always exercises its dynamic properties (which together constitute the “natureal will” – a created dynamism) in accordance with the divine will which created it. But when the human person, or hypostasis, by rebelling against both God and nature misuses its freedom, it can distort the “natural will” and thus corrupt nature itself. It is able to do so because it possesses freedom, or “gnomic will,” which is capable of orienting man toward the good and of “imitating God” (“God alone is good by nature,” writes Maximus, “and only God’s imitator is good by his gnome“); it is also capable of sin, because “our salvation depends on our will.” But sin is always a personal act, never an act of nature. Patriarch Photius even goes so far as to say, referring to Western doctrines, that the belief in a “sin of nature” is a heresy" (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology).

    An Orthodox priest quoted it in a discussion we were having about the fall.

  2. I've not been a fan of Eastern Orthodoxy, generally, and I really haven't got the time or the inclination to discuss it. Sorry.