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 5

My Response to The Obnoxious Mormon, His Response, and My Reply

TOM, I admit to hesitating in my reply to your comments. The reason is simply that I haven't known how to begin. I am not entirely certain why, in dealing with Protestant Christians, I can be direct, to the point, and perhaps even forceful in my disagreements, without fear of being offensive (though I may be offensive after all--I simply don't find myself worrying about it); but with you, I find myself worrying that I might, in disagreeing with you, offend you at the same time.

If I analyse this peculiar emotion, I see it could stem from 3 or 4 things (I list them in order from least forceful to most):

1) I've interacted with these particular Protestants before. This reason is quickly discounted, though, because my reply to Ryesin is the first time I've communicated with him, and is perhaps the most forceful of my above comments.

2) I used to be a Protestant, so I feel I have at least some measure of understanding or sympathy to their position. Never having been a Mormon, and only knowing what I know of Mormonism second- or third hand, I fear that I might misrepresent your faith. But again, this hardly seems a "good" reason, since I'm not here forwarding an apologetic against Mormonism in general, but only your expressed views on Justification.

3) In reading the discussions that have taken place at the forum on this topic, I often found myself more in agreement with your perspective, than those of the Sola Fide Protestants. We both, after all, agree that our works contribute to our salvation. Thus, when faced with the prospect of countering your statements on certain other, though related, aspects of Justification, I feel as though I am suddenly turning on an ally.

4) Many Mormons consider their faith to be a valid interpretation and offshoot of orthodox Christianity, whereas orthodox Christians (and in this appellation I include orthodox believers of Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions) do not consider Mormonism "Christian" but a pseudo-Christian cult. It is in this reasoning that I most greatly fear offending you, because many Protestant Christians do not consider me, as a Roman Catholic, to be truly a Christian--a belief and accusation which still does not cease to be offensive to me. Thus again, in this common plight, I feel as though I am turning on an ally.

These, then, are my reservations about simply launching into an apologetic against the description of Justification which you provided above. I hope that you take my words, then, in the spirit which I mean them--one of charity and an earnest desire to demonstrate the Biblical teaching on this subject, and not simply as an attack on those who have thus far contributed to the discussion. And while I did not say similar things to Peter and Ryesin before replying to them both (here, here, and here), I hope as well that they'll take my words to them in that same spirit. I am not trying to pontificate--only to share what I believe to be the truth of the matter. I am humble enough to know that I could very well be wrong, and welcome the chance for further discussion. Now that all that is said, I will begin my response to TOM's view of Justification.

We have an interesting definition of justifications. We say that justification is bringing our lives in harmony with God's and setting it on the right path. Once we are on this path, having been justified by the Holy Ghost, we can then allow Christ's grace to take us the rest of the way.

I believe that by repenting and living a good life and keeping the commandments, I am on the path to Heaven and allow Christ to wipe myself clean from sin.

As no unclean thing can enter the Kingdom of God, I try to stay on the strait and narrow as much as I can.

I might be repetitious, but this is a summary: through good works and repentance I am justified (that is brought into harmony with God), which enables Christ to make up for all my faults and weaknesses.
As I mentioned above, TOM, in past discussions, there was often very little of what you said on this issue that I disagreed with. The same goes for this brief description. On the whole, I agree with what is said. It is what remains unsaid and assumed that disquiets me. Especially since I seem to recall past comments from from you that fill in those unspoken blanks--a reaction on your part to the work of grace in the process of Justification. If the way I read what you do not say is correct, then your view of Justification is the same as the ancient heresy, condemned by the Church, known as "Semi-Pelagianism."

Pelagius was a priest who taught that man is not by nature evil, and, in fact, quite good--to the extent that his turning from God was not so devastating that he could not find his way back. Denying the effect of Original Sin in cutting off the supernatural life of Grace within us, Pelagius taught that we could be saved through our own efforts to live a godly life. Christ, Pelagius said, came, lived, died, and was resurrected, not to save us from sin, but to be an exemplar, in order to show us how to live the way we ought. St. Augustine, among others, showed his error, and defended the truth that, through our sin, we are completely cut off from God's Grace, and unable to save ourselves. It was only by God's Grace given to us anew, through the Death and Resurrection of Christ, that we could respond in a manner that would save us.

However, Pelagianism would not so easily be defeated. Followers of that doctrine modified it, and taught that the Grace that Christ gives us, makes us able to live that righteous life in order that we might be justified. On the surface, it sounds very like the Catholic view, but the difference is that the Catholic says: Without Grace I can do nothing. The Semi-Pelagian says: Without Grace I'd have a harder time of it, but could manage, perhaps, nonetheless.

This view was again condemned by the Church, most forcibly at the Council of Trent, in the Canons on Justification:
CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema. (Canons of the Council of Trent, On Justification)
In your above description of Justification, TOM, you seem to be saying that it is our own duty to bring ourselves to repentance, in order to put ourselves into right relation with God, that we may then be justified by the Holy Spirit, and after that receive Grace from Christ to persevere until final salvation. Now, if I have misunderstood--if you meant to say, but only assumed, that this initial repentance leading to reconciliation with God, justification by His Spirit, and further Grace through His Son, is itself all flowing from and a result of God's Grace, which enables us to have faith and to repent--if that is what you meant, then please let me know, and we will have no further disagreement (well, about Justification, anyway. There are plenty of other issues over which we could find to disagree--such as the Trinity--which are not part of the present discussion).

On the other hand, though, what you said makes it seem as though our salvation is first and foremost something we accomplish, or at least, something that we instigate and only afterward God finishes. It seems to say that we are able to have the faith, to do the works, that lead to our repentance and justification. But this position is precisely backwards--or, rather, inside-out.
CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema. (Canons of the Council of Trent, On Justification)
Rather, our Salvation is caused by God's Grace first. It is God, who, through His love for us, reaches out to us with His Grace ("prevenient" in the Canon, means "coming before"--that is, before we make any sort of move). This Grace gives us both the ability to have the necessary saving faith, and also to be able to truly choose to have that faith in God or to reject Him. Paradoxically, God gives us the Grace to reject His Grace.

That God's saving action must come before our repentance and desire for salvation is clearly seen from the Scriptures:
'No one can come to me
unless drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise that person up on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
"They will all be taught by God;"
everyone who has listened to the Father,
and learnt from him,
comes to me.' (John 6:44-45)

And since it is by grace, it cannot now be by good actions, or grace would not be grace at all! (Romans 11:6)

And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins which used to make up your way of life when you were living by the principles of this world, obeying the ruler who dominates the air, the spirit who is at work in those who rebel. We too were among them once, living only by our natural inclinations, obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim; our nature made us no less liable to God's retribution than the rest of the world. But God, being rich in faithful love, through the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, brought us to life with Christ--it is through grace that you have been saved--and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift of God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
The final passage lays things out crystal clear. It is not that we turned from our sins and approached God, who forgave us, justified us, and strengthened us to continue in righteousness. Rather, while we were still dead in our sin, or, as Romans 5:10 calls us, "God's enemies", that He gave us His gift of Grace in order to change an enemy into a friend--a sinner into a saint.
I might be repetitious, but this is a summary: through good works and repentance I am justified (that is brought into harmony with God), which enables Christ to make up for all my faults and weaknesses.
In light of Scripture, then, your summary is not in keeping with the Christian view of things (as Mormonism is not Christianity, this isn't surprising to me; but as Mormonism claims to follow the Christian Bible--as well as the Book of Mormon--it should give you something to consider). We are not justified by "repentance" or good works, but by faith. This faith cannot ultimately save us apart from good works, but it is neither faith nor good works that produce some need in God to grant us Justification. It is simply His free gift to us. But like any gift, we must unwrap it (faith), and then use it (works). Otherwise, the gift does not benefit us at all.

If I have in any way misunderstood your description above, and you do believe that Grace precedes our ability to repent and do the works necessary to attain to final salvation, please let me know!

In sum, between replying to Peter (and here), Ryesin, and TOM, I hope that I have demonstrated the Catholic perspective of Justification by Faith accurately, fairly, and charitably.

God bless

The Obnoxious Mormon rather swiftly replied to my comments to him:

Thank you Gregory. Before I start my reply I must add that I am not nearly so compelling a writer as you, so please don't condemn me for the inability to express myself adequately. I tend to repeat myself and contradict myself. If I seem contradictory, please understand that I have given this issue a lot of thought and all of Mormon (or LDS) doctrine makes perfect sense to me--you might say that it "tastes good." Having said this, I will commence.

I would first like to give condemnation to the concept of Semi-Pelagianism and Pelagianism. Without Christ we are nothing. I cannot dispute that.

With that said, I will now (for real this time) launch into my response to your critique on justification, grace and works. When I wrote my original comment, I did not expect this to turn into the debate it has; but I am glad it has.

You say I said that we bring ourselves into harmony with God. That is true--without conscious effort on our part, we cannot have our God given free will. Jesus cannot force us to come to Him. Keep in mind that he said "knock and it shall be opened unto you;" we must ask Him into our lives. However, He does play a role in this conversion, this justification. He sends the Holy Ghost to prod us in the right direction. This is what you called "prevenient." He invites us to come to Him--in effect reaching out His hand to us--and it is our duty to catch hold. You cannot save a drowning man without his consent.

In summary (and if this description is inadequate let me know; I will be happy to expound), we believe that God gently nudges us onto the path with His Spirit given through grace. But we must heed these promptings and step onto the path; God would cease to be God if He compelled us. Once on the path, Christ does the rest. I'm sure we can agree on that last point--the journey is impossible on our own.

And Gregory, have you read the Book of Mormon? It expounds much greater on these doctrines. I would encourage you to do so--somehow these ancient prophets inspired by God say this much more clearly than I am capable of doing.

P.S. If you'd like, let's start another thread on the Godhead. I feel more comfortable with that topic--I've done more studying up on it than grace.

I reply:
TOM, thank you for your praise of my writing. I'm considering writing books someday. But that's hardly relevant. You yourself, from what I have read, do indeed express yourself clearly. I am glad for your clarifications; very glad that you condemn Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism as well as I. I recognise that you were being incomplete and only summarising your views above--and reacting, particularly, to the notion that our works don't matter in our salvation. Looking at the broader scope (what comes before our works, and our justification, as well as afterward), I see we are in agreement after all. You have, as a matter of fact, summarised well in one post, what I laboured at length to say in four.

If I seemed to emphasise God's actions in saving us, to the minimising of our response, in dealing with my reply to you, I trust you read my replies to Peter (2) and Ryesin as well, where I accented much more the necessity of our response to that same Gracious act of God. It's about balance between the two poles--neither doing nothing on the one hand, nor doing everything on the other.

If it wasn't for God's prodding, His prevenient Grace, we would not be able to respond to Him in the faith we need. On the other hand, if we will not respond, that Prevenient Grace will never become Justifying or Sanctifying Grace. We will not be saved purely by God's action--yet nevertheless, in the final analysis, it is only by God's acting within us that we can act at all. This is the paradox, the mystery of faith, and we'll never be able to describe it fully.

As to a discussion of the Godhead, I would love to debate the Catholic vs. Mormon conceptions of God, the Trinity, "As God was, man now is; as God is, man can become," and all the rest of it. However, I won't be able to dive into it so readily as I'd like, due to certain circumstances of unemployment and the resulting strain on my marriage that that has brought. Hopefully within the next few weeks to a month, we can sit down and discuss it more fully.

I admit that I have not read the Book of Mormon, and that my knowledge of Mormonism is second- and third hand, as I said earlier. Most of what I know comes from a former Mormon priest who now tries to show Mormons the truths of Christianity. Apparently he's rather infamous in the Southern Ontario Mormon community. I hope that he was not fudging facts at all, or that I have not forgotten any crucial elements. I may not (or never) agree with you, but I would hate to misrepresent you (or anyone else for that matter). The only result is anger and error--which is helpful to no one. I know from personal experience.

It may be that we agree on a great many things--but on this issue at least, we seem to be in accord. Of course, since this is a secondary issue (not in importance, but in logical sequence) we may end up disagreeing later (how can we agree on how God justifies us, if we disagree on who God is?). But as long as we can proceed in an amiable manner, I look forward to it.

God bless

It seems an odd thing, to disagree with two Christians, and to agree with a Mormon. On the whole, though this dialogue hasn't demonstrated it, I would agree more with the Christians than with the Mormon, I am sure.

If Peter and Ryesin take the time to reply to my arguments to them, I will post them here. If not, this dialogue seems to be at an end. I hope that my arguments have been compelling to demonstrate that salvation by faith alone is not only not biblical, but actually contradicted in the Bible. If anyone who reads this disagrees, or doesn't find my arguments compelling, feel free to comment and engage me in the discussion. It is an important discussion--Martin Luther said that the Reformation rises and falls on this belief in Sola Fide. If it isn't true, then there are many outside the Catholic Church for a rather wrong reason.

God bless

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


Anonymous said...

"I am not entirely certain why, in dealing with Protestant Christians, I can be direct, to the point, and perhaps even forceful in my disagreements, without fear of being offensive (though I may be offensive after all--I simply don't find myself worrying about it)"

Maybe it's because of your arrogant spiritual pride AND your deep insecurities about your own choice of religion.

Gregory said...

Dear Anonymous Poster,
This is the second time that you have left a comment to this effect. The first time was in a completely different post, where I tried to respond by humbly turning the cheek. Yet you persist.

I'm curious why you didn't actually post your first comment in the post from which you pull this quotation? Perhaps you never actually bothered to read the post, and scrolled to the bottom of the page, and commented on the last post?

Perhaps before you accuse me of Spiritual Pride, you should read my articles and know something of my mental state and the context of the above quote. It was directed to a Mormon, whom I felt quite reluctant to criticise theologically. So reluctant that I actually avoided doing so, for fear that I might offend him or be wrong about him or a variety of reasons.

This fear is not typical of my apologetics, and so I made mention of it. But both the reluctance and the mentioning it don't speak, to me, of pridefulness. But then, I'm biased.

I would ask you, however, to show from my writing in what manner it is that I have 'spiritual pride'. Or does having strong conviction about the truth of one's faith and being willing to challenge others' faiths amount to spiritual pride in your eyes.

And I wonder what it is in your eyes to go around telling others of their own spiritual pride, if not itself a form of spiritual pride, or of hypocricy and the "plankeye" syndrome?

For my part, though, I will admit to having prideful tendencies, which I struggle with often. Maybe that comes out in my writing inadvertently (though I try to keep my writing rather academic and detached, to avoid that--or maybe that's what makes me sound 'proud' in the first place...). Maybe it's a weakness in my apologetics. It's definitely why I need to continually aspire to the example of St. Francis de Sales, who, on top of being a competent defender of the faith, won people over through his humility and kindness.

But, after reading part of an article that I've written, you would have absolutely no idea whether any of the above was true about me. So again I'm left wondering--who has the arrogance here? The guy who is trying to honestly proclaim or defend his faith, or the guy who, without actually reading the defense, tosses out accusations about the spiritual character of a man he's never met?

As for your opposite accusation of insecurity about my choice of religion, I'm not sure how you think to reconcile arrogance and insecurity.

But let's be clear: I am not at all insecure about my Catholicism. It is the decision in life about which I am the most sure and secure, and indeed, grow moreso every day. But then again, I suppose saying so makes me arrogant and proud in your eyes.

But again, let's take stock of this particular situation. A person who either doesn't know me nor I him, or, If we do know each other, is a person who is too disingenuous to actually let me know that I know him, is lecturing me about pride and insecurity, while he is, on the one hand, arrogant enough to criticise someone whom he does not know about matters of the heart which he cannot know, and on the other hand, is to insecure to sign his name to it.

Now, if you're actually willing to sign your name, and to really discuss your concerns with my apologetics, I'm willing to discuss them with you. If, however, your aim is simply to attack and insult me, I would suggest taking your trolling elsewhere.

I responded graciously once. I'm responding more harshly now. Further harassment will get no response at all.

God bless


Christopher said...

Gregory, prideful, arrogant, and insecure? Not in the 10 years I've known him, both personally and over the internet.


Hidden One said...

Same here... except more like 6 months than 10 years. :P

Anonymous, put some work into it and/or at least a name - anonymously sniping someone without apparent cause reveals to the world more about your character than his.

Papa J said...

Gregory, I will not comment on much that is written in your blog because I am already spending too much of my time in other blogs; however, I will offer you a simple text from which to understand what Latter Day Saints believe. Then you can feel free to blast away. I stand firm enough in MY faith as a "Mormon" to offer you this free insight. A fundamental description of our core beliefs can be found in the Articles of Faith which were written by Joseph Smith, a prophet of God.

Also, rest assured, no self respecting Mormon would take offence from anything you say.

Kataron said...

Stinky Mormons.

Hey Greg, come over this weekend.

Hidden One said...

Dude, update. ;)