Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, Part 4

My Response to Ryesin

After rereading through your post, Ryesin, I find that I as a Catholic have very little disagreement. What disagreement I do have, I will engage you in discussion over.

Personally I believe that as Christian Horses said we can only be saved through God's grace.
As it stands, I have no disagreement with your summary of Christian Horse's description either. As I said above to Peter, as a Catholic, I wholeheartedly believe that we are saved by Grace alone. But then, there are some slight differences in definitions of certain concepts. I believe that when these concepts are properly defined according to the respective theologies, many perceived differences will vanish, and the real differences will come into sharper focus.
Personally, I don't believe we can do anything to be saved.
I both agree and disagree with this statement, again, because of definitions. By "saved", a Reformed Protestant such as yourself would, I take it, be referring to that moment of embracing Christ as Lord and Saviour by His Grace, through your faith. What you term "saved", I term "initially justified", and, so far as those terms are synonymous, Catholics and Protestants are in perfect agreement. Until that moment when Christ's grace infuses us, there is absolutely nothing which we can do that will merit our justification (our "salvation" as it were).

The problem, however, is that the Reformed view of "being saved" in that sense isn't quite equal with the Catholic view of Initial Justification, because of that pesky notion common among most Reformed Christians that I have met (following Calvin) of Once Saved, Always Saved, whereby this Initial Justification is so indelible in the life of the believer, that he can never reject that Justification. Along with that, the notion of Imparted rather than Infused Righteousness eliminates in some circles the notion that one can reject Christ through persistent, wilful sin, since it is not our righteousness, but His, which keeps us in God's Grace, and His Righteousness is imparted to us as a gift that never really becomes our own. The alternative that I've come across is that Christ truly does infuse us with righteousness, but in such a way that is irresistible, and so, if one does not continue in sanctification, but backslides, was never really a Christian to begin with (thus preserving the OSAS doctrine, but in the same breath, logically--though never admittedly--eliminating the very Assurance of Salvation that OSAS was designed to protect. For how does one know, from one day to the next, whether he will in fact continue in his faith?).

The Catholic notion I have tried to outline in my responses (1st and 2nd) to Peter: We are initially justified by an unwarranted act of God's Grace, made available through the death and resurrection of Christ, which we respond to in faith (the faith needed for initial justification may or may not be accompanied by works. In fact, the faith may not even be that of the person justified, as in the case of Infant Baptism. That is the nature of the Covenant--both Old and New). Once we are Initially Justified (which in a limited sense is rightly called "being saved"), we are infused with God's Grace, enabling us to share in Christ's righteousness--not simply veiled by it, but possessors of it, so that it is at the same time ours and Christ’s. We are therefore enabled to do the good works that God has ordained should make up our way of life, but it is us who do them, and not us, as Christ within us does them. There is no real distinction, as C.S. Lewis explains,
Now I am going to suggest that strictly causal thinking is even more inadequate when applied to the relation between God and man. I don't mean only when we are thinking of prayer, but whenever we are thinking about what happens at the Frontier, at the mysterious point of junction and separation where absolute being utters derivative being.

One attempt to define causally what happens there has led to the whole puzzle about Grace and free will. You will notice that Scripture just sails over the problem. 'Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling' -- pure Pelagianism. But why? 'For it is God who worketh in you' -- pure Augustinianism. It is presumably only our presuppositions that make this appear nonsensical. We profanely assume the divine and human action exclude one another like the actions of two fellow-creatures so that 'God did this' and 'I did this' cannot both be true of the same act except in the sense that each contributed a share.

In the end, we must admit a two-way traffic at the junction. At first sight, no passive verb in the world would seem to be so utterly passive as 'to be created'. Does it not mean 'to have been nonentity'? Yet, for us rational creatures, to be created also means 'to be made agents'. We have nothing that we have not received; but part of what we have received is the power of being something more than receptacles. (Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, chapter 9 [emphasis in original].)

I believe that man is so decadent by nature, that we can't do anything good. This comes from the passage below.
As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."[c]
Romans 3:10-12 (Based From Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20)
Here is the beginning of where I fundamentally disagree with Calvinism: the doctrine of Total Depravity. I mentioned it briefly in my last post, in my reply to Peter, and is the main reason I decided to engage your comments, Ryesin. I find Total Depravity to be a dangerous untruth with some staggering implications for the Character of God, our personal culpability for sin, and Christ's ability to save us (no small matters, these!)

The first problem that I see (purely an exegetical one) is that St. Paul is quoting poetry to make his point. And the particular lines of poetry which he quotes are self-evidently hyperbolic. Paul's use of it is not even to make the point you are trying to make, but simply to show that the very Law that the Jews tried to keep, told them that they could not keep it, and that they were in as bad a shape as the Gentiles who didn't have the Law. In fact, he makes the point implicitly in verses 19 and 20 (and explicitly elsewhere) that those who have the Law are even worse off, since they should have known better.

Turning to the text(s) quoted themselves, do they in fact literally mean what they say, or are they in fact poetic hyperbole?

Examining the entire Psalm 14 (and 53, which is virtually the same, with some minor exceptions), we see the phrase, "there is no one who does good, not even one" in verse 3. While the Psalmist claims to be speaking about all "the children of Adam" (v.2), he in fact really has in mind the principle subject of his poem, "The fool" who says in his heart, "'there is no God'" (v.1). This fool it is who does no righteousness, and as Psalms 14 and 53 go on, are sinful, violent, and oppressive (v. 4).

The interesting thing is when we get to verse 5 of Psalm 14. It ends with "for God takes the side of the upright." But wait, if verse 3 is to be believed, there is no one upright! Who then does God take sides with? Evidently, David has in mind some who are righteous after all. In Psalm 53:5, the Psalmist glosses, "God scatters the bones of him who besieges you." He makes the abstract 'upright' of Psalm 14 into a personal 'you'.

Returning to verse 2, "there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God" (as quoted by St. Paul in Romans 3:11), this is also clearly hyperbolic, since David himself seeks God (and was a man after God's own heart). But he was not the only one. Consider the Wise Men (whose epiphany we celebrated this past Sunday). They certainly sought for God, for the Messiah-King! They weren't even looking in the right place, being astrologers--but nevertheless, through God's grace He used even that to lead them to the truth. "In order to please God, one must first believe that He exists, and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Whom then does God reward if "there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God"? Thus I reject this passage as a proof for "Total Depravity".

Now, I also said that there were three doctrinal aspects that fall apart if Total Depravity, that is, Man is Sinful by Nature, is accepted. I shall outline these, and then present the alternative.

If Man is Sinful by Nature, then God is Author of Evil. Since God specifically creates each and every human soul at the moment of conception, man can either not be inherently evil or sinful, or God cannot be all-good, since He creates a sinful soul. In order to avert this dilemma, many Total Depravitists claim that a person inherits his sinful nature from his parents (whose procreative act creates the physical matter of the person in question). This description though cannot be correct, since "sin" is not specifically a matter of the body, and not the soul. The notion that we are pure souls within sinful bodies is a Gnostic heresy, not a Christian belief. Further, the worst sins are those which are committed by the spiritual part of man (Pride, lust, envy, etc). If the human being is evil by nature, then that evilness must extend to his soul, since a human is a composite of body and soul, not simply a body with a soul, nor a soul encaged in a body. If Total Depravity is true, God is the author of evil. Since God is not the author of evil, total depravity cannot be true.

If Man is Sinful by Nature, then we are not truly culpable. If it is our nature, who we are as people, to sin, then we cannot be held guilty of sinning. This, obviously, is the argument of those who justify homosexuality by saying "I was born this way." Well, we are all born sinful, but if that is taken to mean we are all born sinful by nature, then we truly do not have either the choice nor the opportunity to overcome sin or do good--in fact the suggestion is meaningless and absurd. Salvation, then, would not be making us more human--restoring us ultimately to the glory of Adam and Eve before the fall--but would be completely changing us so that we could no longer be called "human", for a defining characteristic of "humanity" would be our sin nature. However, when God created humankind, He called them "very good" (Gn 1:31). Salvation is not the process of becoming less human, but more human, more "in God's image and likeness". If we are sinful by nature, that is saying that we are supposed to be this way. If we are supposed to be this way, we are not sinners; God is imposing an unjust morality on us. If we are supposed to be this way, we cannot be guilty of violating an impossible and imposed morality. But we are not supposed to be this way. Therefore, Total Depravity cannot be true, and we are truly responsible for our actions.

If Man is Sinful by Nature, then Christ could not have Saved Us. Christ, being God, was the only person worth enough to satisfy a debt against the Infinite God--an infinite debt. Since Christ is God, only He could pay that debt. But God is not the debtor, and therefore had no right to pay that debt. We owe the satisfaction for our sins. Therefore, God, in His love, justice, mercy, and wisdom, became a Man in Christ Jesus, to pay that debt on our behalf. As a Man, He could stand as representative of us. As God, He could fully pay the debt that we owe. However, in order to pay the debt, Christ had to fulfil the Law. He had to be sinless. Hence Hebrews: "Christ was tempted like us in every respect, except sin" (4:15). Christ became fully human, but yet not sinful. If we are sinful by nature, either Christ would have had to become sinful by nature (and thereby incapable of satisfying our debt), or He would have had to remain sinless by not becoming quite Human (thereby incapable of paying the debt on our behalf). The fact that Christ was able to become fully human, as we are, yet not sin nor have a sinful nature, shows the error of Total Depravity. Total Depravity cannot be true, because Christ has indeed saved us!

What then is the alternative? We see that since Adam, we are subject to sin (enslaved, as it were), and therefore unable to on our own perform the good works requisite for remaining in God's Grace. We are not wholly good. On the other hand, we are not wholly evil, for the reasons outlined above. What is left? Simply this: Our sinfulness is not our "nature", but our "state".

Through the sin of Adam and Eve, their state of being, of possessing those qualities of innate righteousness and spiritual life, were lost to them, and to us. We were born in the state of sin, which is spiritual separation from God. But our nature is still good, and thus, we can do good things. Yes, because our state is sinful, we have what's called "concupiscence" or the desire to sin. The unregenerate person is a slave to this concupiscence, because he is devoid of the necessary spiritual life to really fight against it. But those times that he does a good thing, it is good, and not sin (and it is in these times that still, mysteriously and mercifully, the grace of God is causing the goodness. It's called "prevenient" or "beforecoming" grace, because its grace that God bestows before we come to Him).

When I refer to Adam and Eve's "innate righteousness" that we later lost, what I mean is that, in their state of Created Grace, in the fullness of the Spiritual Life that was conditional on their obedience (thus, not a part of their nature, since what we are by nature is not conditional on obedience, but on existence), they did not have to choose to act righteously. They simply were righteous, because they were innocent and pure and sinless. This state of innocence, as I said, was conditional upon their obedience. It could be lost, and it was. But that did not make them by nature evil, because what is natural to something is reproduced in procreation. Since procreation literally means cooperating in creation (with God), and since God creates all things good, our nature must therefore still be good. However, through Adam and Eve's disobedience, we are born in a state of slavery to sin. As such we are born devoid of the spiritual communion, the spiritual life, with God that was our state, dependent upon obedience. We were also born subject to Concupiscence, which is the inordinate desire within us to seek our own wills before God's. But concupiscence is never so powerful as to eliminate our free will to choose. However, we will only really want to choose God's will over ours through an act of His Grace. This grace, given before we are saved, is known as "prevenient" grace, because, it comes "before" regeneration.

"State" and "nature" are not the same thing. Take an example from nature: water. Water is by nature two hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom. It is by nature colourless. However, water can exist in three entirely different states while retaining (to a more or less obvious degree) those three qualities of its nature. As a solid (ice) water is still H2O, and it is still colourless. As a liquid, water is still H2O, and still colourless. As a vapour, water is still H2O, and it is still colourless. In all three states, the nature of water remains the same.

Similar to the natural example of water, we as humans have a nature (that which makes us human), but we exist in different spiritual states (three, in fact, just like water). Our nature is a physical body and a spiritual soul, created in the image and likeness of God, and created "good." The three states are Innocence, Sin, and Grace. In the Innocent state, Adam and Eve were as I described them above. The state of innocence was contingent upon their obedience to God's will, just as water's existing in the state of vapour is contingent upon its temperature remaining above 100 degrees C. However, when Adam and Eve sinned, they forsook that state of innocence, and became subject to the state of Sin, due to their separation from God--just as water becomes ice when its temperature, in the absence of heat, drops to below 0 degrees. However, we are still by nature a body and a soul, created in God's image, and created "Good". But we are trapped in the cold, hard, deadness of sin, unable to free ourselves--unable to draw closer to the heat of God's love. But God came to us, through Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin, and redeem us out of the state of slavery to it. Our responding to His Grace melts that ice and brings us into the State of Grace, where our Spiritual Life is restored. However, we are not yet perfected, and still must struggle against concupiscence and the desire for sin. But through God's Grace, we can be obedient and remain in the State of Grace, just as water is liquid when it is above 0 degrees, but not yet vapour until it is above 100 degrees. In the final Consummation of our lives, either through our death or the Last Judgement, we who have been faithful droplets of Graced humanity, alive in Christ, are again brought to the State of Innocence, or the State of Perfection, where sin no longer will have any hold on us!

(The above comments, beginning at "Through the sin of Adam and Eve" are from a previous debate that I had about Total Depravity, with a fellow named David Blissett. I would encourage you to read through, and offer comments, on the discussion--which goes further than what I've said here, and complements my arguments here quite ably--by visiting Three Nails: At It Again....)
What I believe is our actions do that we have faith.
I assume you meant, "our actions show that we have faith." This is true, yet the full context of James 2:18 show that they do more than simply "demonstrate" our faith. They, in a sense, are our faith, or at least so inseparable from it that the distinction is almost meaningless, just as is the distinction between Body and Soul when discussing the human person.
We are a slave to sin. Man can not stop sinning on his own.
Exactly right. But as I detail in the article that I linked to, "slavery" is not a part of our nature, but our state. We were not meant to be slaves, but sons (cf. John 8:34-35; 1:12).
However, once we accept Christ through God's grace we then become "slaves" to righteousness. We are able to genuinely do good works. We are not saved by good works, for it is only at the point of salvation that we can then do good works.
With this, I quite agree (except to caution that when Paul says we are slaves to righteousness, he expressly states that he is not being quite literal ["I am putting it in human terms because you are still weak human beings" Romans 6:19]). The only other slight disagreement would be with the phrase "the point of salvation", which translated into my vocabulary means Initial Justification, as I established by my clarification of definitions above. I won't belabour that point except to say that we can genuinely do "good works" without being justified, but even then it is only through God's "prevenient" grace, and they are still not salvific. When we actually come into God's justification, the grace He gives us fully empower us to do "genuine good works". But these good works do contribute to our salvation (understood as I defined it above), since Scripture explicitly tells us to "work out our own salvation" (Phil 2:12), and, at the same time tells us that God is the one performing those works and giving us the will to perform them (Phil 2:13).

As to the Scripture that you quote, I dealt with Romans 3:28 and James 2:18 and their contexts in my replies to Peter. This post is long enough already without me reiterating that point (first of my replies to him). As to Romans 6:16, I discuss that above (and in my debate at Three Nails). The slavery metaphor that Paul uses supports the "state" concept much more than it supports the "nature" concept. Slavery is always an imposition on us, not something inherent to us.

I hope I have made clear from Scripture and Reason why it is that I disagree with (and quite despise) the doctrine of Total Depravity. I hope it is not offensive to anyone that I say that I despise the doctrine. It does not mean that I despise those who hold to it. But because of the logical implications about God, Christ, and our salvation, it truly is something that I cannot abide.

I will next reply to TOMormon. I've loved replying, because the cross-section of theology (Protestant-Catholic-Mormon) keeps my middle of the road views on this from being emphasised to far in one direction or the other. If I seem to have gone too far in reply to Total Depravity arguing for our innate goodness, that will be corrected, I'm sure, as I respond to our Mormon friend's comments.

God bless

(Sorry for the length. I sure wrote a lot in a post stating that I had very little disagreement...)

(Category: Soteriology: Justification.
The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

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