Thursday, August 06, 2009

Catholic and Protestant Grace in Justification

The following post is a response to questions raised by a reader name Martin on the previous post Grace Resistible and Irresistible.

Martin said...

Do you then regard Catholics as Pelagian/SemiPelagian (I don't think we are Arminians).

Rome strongly condemned Pelagius at both Carthage and at the II Synod of Orange in 529 A.D., so it would be foolish of me to charge the church with Pelagianism. In my view, if pressed, I would say that when it comes to the doctrines of grace as the Reformers expounded it, Rome more closely resembles something like an Arminian position. If there is another theological category that is more accurate, I would certainly be willing to consider it.

Martin said...

...the Catholic Church does not teach that we can get to heaven through our works or as a result of personal merit. It is God's grace that saves.

We are in agreement regarding grace, as far as that goes, but it is a rather broad statement. We must then ask the following:

Is it a grace that saves, that is, actually accomplishes salvation, or merely makes it possible for us to attain it?

Did Christ die for all men, that is, did His death atone for the sins of all mankind, or only for believers, those whom the Father has given to Him (John 6)?

If the atonement pays for the sins of all men for all time, why should there be any men in hell?

Why must we make "satisfaction" for sins committed in this life if Christ has paid for them at the cross?

The Reformers expounded that it is Christ's righteousness which merits the sinner's forensic declaration "just" in God's eyes (simul justus et peccator = at the same time just and sinner), which Rome regards as a "legal fiction," a slander against the holy nature and character of God. Rather, the Catholic church proclaims a righteousness which, though not inherently beginning within the sinner, nevertheless becomes his own through the infusion of Christ's righteousness into him; a making just. This grace, in Rome's view, is then something with which the sinner cooperates (assentire et cooperare) in his justification.

If you are saying that a personal merit that is of yourself will not by itself merit salvation (broadly speaking), then we are also in agreement there. This being our understanding, it's clear that Rome nevertheless sees merit in the works of the individual as grace is poured into him, otherwise we would have no cause to speak of the necessity of a "treasury of merit," purgatory, the special holiness of Saints, etc. So grace, as you have said, is something given by God which, through faith, begins the process of justification. I think it's overly simplistic and unfair to accuse Catholics of advocating a salvation by works which is no different than what is understood by all the other man-centred pagan religions.

The Reformers looked at salvation as the overarching theme with justification, sanctification and glorification as the subsets of it. Justification is an event, the declaration "just" of God upon the sinner (monergism), sanctification is a process,the growing in grace the whole life long, becoming more and more obedient by cooperating with His grace (synergism), and then finally eternal glorification at His coming. I agree with all those who say that we cannot work our way to heaven. Both communions would say that our works have a place in our salvation. But the Reformers said that our works have no place in our justification, as they relate to the fruits of belief and faith.

Sin is imputed to us through the first Adam. On this the two communions (Catholic and Reformed Protestant) agree, hence the condemnation of Pelagius. Further, though, the Reformers said that righteousness is imputed through Jesus Christ, the second Adam. At the cross of Jesus Christ we see displayed a double imputation which works this way: our sins are imputed to Christ, and His righteousness, earned by His active obedience to the law, is imputed to us. If our sins are infused into Him, He would then be horribly evil in Himself and would not be able to save Himself, let alone infuse righteousness in us. This is why I see imputation as the most consistent and coherent understanding of the salvation process as it begins with Christ's work on the cross.

Although both communions agree on the necessity and importance of the grace of God in the salvation process, the differences are important and significant, and will likely continue to be addressed until our Lord calls His Church home to glory.


Martin said...

Thanks for the reply. I will be tapped out of whatever free time I have by replying to your reply. I will continue to read your blog and comment when able. If you have nothing but time to burn:) RdP has a link to a post by Francis beckwith on Jusification vis a via Catholic and Protestant/Calvinistic. I find the whole business interesting but, in my mind, very slippery. Just when I think I understand something I find some subtle particle has tripped me up. (BTW: RdP did a very long analysis of Trent on many words, so little time.)

Is it a grace that saves, that is, actually accomplishes salvation, or merely makes it possible for us to attain it?

Sigh, my time's up already as I searched to give you an answer. I did remember this post though. RdP writes:
An analogy here is that the drowning man cannot save himself; the life preserver must be thrown to him. He is free to reject that salvation: he may choose not to grab hold. But the fact that he does grab hold would hardly be cause for anyone to say that he saved himself. The claim would be lunacy.

(This is not a perfect analogy, of course, because in the case of our justification we are not able to reach out for salvation apart from God's grace.)

From here he goes on to discuss the Cavinist position that "Dead men can't reach for a life ring" vs. the Catholic.

Thank you again for your discussion. God BLess

Pilgrimsarbour said...

The Reformed flip side of that analogy would be something like this:

There's a dead man at the bottom of the lake...

And then it would go on from there to say that Jesus reaches down to that man, pulls him to the surface and resuscitates him, bringing him to life.

Steve Martin said...

The Bible says that we are "dead in our sins and trespasses".

A dead man cannot grab hold of anything.

The Lord is the Giver of life. As Jesus says to Niccodemus, "you have to be born again, from above."

We can no more anything at all to do with being "born again", than we had to do with being born the first time.

Thanks for letting me into your interesting discussion!