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Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism: Has the Battle Ground Begun to Change?

Well Dan, you have certainly caused a stir. I think this conversation concerning the relationship of modern Catholicism and Protestantism is needed.

I just have one initial point to make. Having spent much time with Catholics, I think that it is important that we don’t lose this: While Catholics are monolithic in confession, they are not monolithic in their interpretation of their confession. In recent years Rome (no, not Rhome – he has not authority in this area) has given much allowance for discovery and diversity. This has encouraged those both in the Protestant and Catholic church. The implications seem to be far reaching.

While we, as Protestants, may interpret Trent and other official statements prima facie, we have to be careful not to require all Catholics to interpret their documents the way we do. For example, while I read the “partim, partim” from Trent (revelation is partly in Scripture and partly in tradition) as evidence of dual source authority, many Catholics, such as Scott Hahn, would interpret it differently allowing for a prima Scriptura view (that Scripture is the final authority, but not the only infallible authority). This is much closer to the historic Protestant view of sola Scriptura and is even better, might I say, than most Protestants’ aberrations of sola Scriptura who replace it with solo or nuda Scriptura (that Scripture is the ONLY authority) which is not what the Reformers meant by sola Scriptura. See here for more on this.

My point is that if Catholicism is changing (or, in their view, progressing), then why should we stand as guards at the gate and say “You cannot do this! You must interpret yourselves the way we interpret you and remain under your confessions the way we see them.” Isn’t change/progression what we want? Doesn’t this propose a hope that Protestants should desire? Or has the definition of Protestantism solidified as “Those who are against Catholics?”

Sigh . . . It would seem that for some Protestants to stay in business as Protestants, they have to define themselves by what they are against. And if what they are against changes, even for the better, they will do all they can to divert attention away from the change, saying “You can’t change. If you do, then I will have no purpose.”

I am not saying that all of Catholicism is changing (or progressing), but there are many who are. In fact, when I read and listened to Peter Kreeft, a Catholic apologist, I find it hard to distinguish some of my views from his. I think to myself if this is what Catholics believe, then Protestants really don’t have a handle on what is going on in Catholicism. The same may be said about Francis Beckwith as I have seen some of his comments on these issues to be encouraging.

As well, we should not fail to see that many in the Protestant church are changing. We are beginning to see the value of authorities outside of Scripture as we drown in the sea of our self-created free-church mentality. Any and all who desire can start a new “Church” or “Christianity” with no accountability. Many of these present teachings find no place in historic Christianity. Protestants are beginning to realize the important of the body of Christ, both living and dead, - the historic body of Christ – (might we term this “the communion of saints?”). These raise their hand in objection to many of the strange interpretations of the Christian faith and life saying “Why don’t you listen to us anymore? Didn’t we have the same Spirit as you? Why don’t we have any respect? Are you not standing on our shoulders?”

I am not saying that the Reformation was not worth it (for I would still take of its fruit and eat), but we must recognize the serious weakness that it introduced. So serious is this free-church weakness, I sympathize, to some degree, with those who convert to Catholicism. What is the solution? To find accountability in the rich traditions of the historic Christian faith and to quit mimicking the vigilante attitudes of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

All that I ask for consideration (and I am not even sure where I am at on this – and I don’t speak for Dan, Ed, or Rhome) is this: Could it be that the battle that was fought in the 16th century was legitimate, but the battle grounds have changed and, therefore, to continue to fight the same battle is building straw men? Could it be that we must allow for diversity in the Catholic church and not require them to abide by the interpretation that we enforce? Could there be hope as we learn from each other?

78 Responses to “Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism: Has the Battle Ground Begun to Change?”

  1. How exactly to reconcile this split is beyond me, but I do know that our God has a pretty good track record of doing the seemingly impossible. While I would not advocate that anyone abandon their deepest convictions for the sake of a half-hearted compromise, I am very encouraged to know that so many on both sides dream of some form of reconciliation – no matter how hard it may be to imagine at times. I pray that the Holy Spirit leads all of us to a greater knowledge of the truth, and that He opens our eyes if there is anything in us at all that is causing unnecessary division. I can only hope that I will live to see a day when the world marvels at the unity of those who profess Christ as Lord. With God, all things are possible!

  2. Wouldn’t this be a great thing? While there would have to be some type of compromise, let’s hope that we can all be led by the Holy Spirit to a spirit of wisdom. While, like you, I know that there are things that I am not willing to compromise in my own theology, there are some things and ways of articulating things of which I am willing to be more tolerant. With this spirit, let us proceed with caution and excitement and see what the Lord has in store for us.

  3. I am right there with you on this one. As a critic I can step back and point to a long list of flaws on both sides. I see the Catholic Church as the old ship that accumulated too many barnacles along the way, then adopted some of the barnacles as integral parts of the ship. Not a great analogy since barnacles are always bad, and not all the accretions the Catholic and Orthodox Churches added were a “drag” on the ship at all, but in many ways enhanced it, but you get the idea.

    The Protestant movement said, “to heck with all this barnacle-laden ship, i am outa here!” and hopped off onto a raft to head off in the direction they think the ship was supposed to have headed (to borrow a theology unplugged analogy, I believe).

    Overall, I agree that the Protestant theology is OVERALL more likely to be correct, but as an Arminian (in general), the differences for me are not as many.

  4. Amen, Michael. I like that – caution and excitement. I have embraced that perspective when interacting with Roman Catholic friends and family of mine (and they have done the same with me). Perhaps it comes somewhat natural to me because I was baptized Roman Catholic and have several Roman Catholics in my life who I love and respect. I am cautious when we have honest disagreements – it does neither of us any good to pretend that we agree in areas where we really don’t. Nevertheless, I am incredibly excited when we profess agreement on major points of orthodox Christianity. I recently had a really great discussion with a wonderful Roman Catholic friend of mine on the Trinity – both of us really benefited from each other’s understanding. Again, with God, all things are possible!

  5. Vance said:

    “The Protestant movement said, “to heck with all this barnacle-laden ship, i am outa here!” and hopped off onto a raft to head off in the direction they think the ship was supposed to have headed (to borrow a theology unplugged analogy, I believe).

    Overall, I agree that the Protestant theology is OVERALL more likely to be correct, but as an Arminian (in general), the differences for me are not as many.”

    I have to disagree with the analogy. I think a better one would be to say that Rome committed mutiny against the ship’s Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and jumped ship believing they could tread water on their own and make their own way, taking their faithful followers along with them. The Reformers were treading water along with everyone else until, by God’s grace, they saw the ship on the horizon making its way for them. Overcome by the prospect of the comfort of the ship (the true gospel), they were happy to be retrieved by the Captain and begin life anew under his direction and care. Soon others, by grace, saw the ship and were rescued as well, hence the Reformation.

    Also, I think Vance has touched on the main issue here (see comment 40 under “51% Protestant”). Arminianism really only has differences of form with Romanism when it comes to soteriology. In principle there really isn’t much difference at all. Both are semi-pelagian cooperationist systems. Both deny Reformed predestination. Therefore, both systems are in reality denials of sola gratia, grace alone.

    With regard to the C. Michael Patton’s post:

    I fully understand how Arminianism could be squared with Romanism without Romanism having to give up its defining soteriological principles. However, I do not think the same could be said for Reformed (Calvinistic) Protestantism, which is the true heritage of the great reformers. The two systems are mutually exclusive in their soteriology. Therefore, the only way progress in doctrinal unity could occur is for either Reformed Protestantism to cease to be Reformed Protestantism or for Roman Catholicism to cease to be Roman Catholicism or for both to cease to be either.

    I agree that individuals from whatever tradition should be read understood as individuals and dialogue should occur between all Protestants and Roman Catholics with all kindness and clarity. But the suggestion that mutually exclusive systems can somehow be reconciled without the total deconstruction and redefinition of at least one of those systems is simply unreasonable.

    Is Rome showing signs of abandoning its soteriology for Reformed soteriology? I don’t think so. Is there any chance they might? Perhaps, our God is sovereign and merciful and all things are possible with him, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  6. To stretch the analogy to breaking point, I don’t see that the Roman Catholic Church every “mutinied” because the process was a gradual series of accretions over 1,000 years, a long series of theological additions and “clarifications” which, eventually took on “dogma” status in too many cases. I don’t see any point where there was a distinct turn away from earlier teaching.

  7. jybnnt,

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t know if compromise is the exact issue here. I think the issue is tolerate and understand that both sides have some contributions. As I said, the Protestant free-church mentality is borderline and has allowed for the greatest heresies that have plagued the church since the Reformation (JWs and Mormons).

    The starting point in my thinking is this: Can someone who is without God fall down on their face, confessing Christ as Lord God, and beg for mercy? I don’t see how anyone can do this outside of the Spirit. As a Calvinist, I don’t believe that the Spirit will bring someone to this confession and repentance in vain. There are many Catholics who have done this.

    A short biblical illustration might help. In the parable of the Pharisee and tax-gatherer we hear of the story of the self-righteous Pharisee who goes to the temple confessing his own righteousness, believing himself to be justified before God on his own merit. The tax-gatherer pleads with God saying “Have mercy on me, the sinner.” He left justified while the other was not.

    There are many of these Pharisee types in both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, I am sure you would agree. But my contention is that there are those in both groups who are like the tax-gatherer who simply plead with God for mercy.

    If this is true, we must consider the situation of the tax-gatherer. When he left, I doubt that he had any assurance of his justification. He simply left with hope in his heart that God would have mercy on him. We, from the other side, only know that he was justified because Christ said he was. But from his perspective, he may have thought he had to give up many sins, abide by the law better, and/or offer more sacrifices. In other words, he would not have had any conception of salvation by faith much less salvation by faith alone. All he had was his request for God to be merciful and he was justified.

    His theology did not include the Calvinistic understanding of predestination, eternal security, or faith alone. In fact, from a Reformed Protestant perspective, he did not even have as good of theology as Arminians or Roman Catholics. Yet he was justified. His theology did not save him, but his humble request before God did.

    I believe that Calvinistic Reformed Protestantism, from a soteriological perspective, has the fullness of the Gospel in a way that neither Arminians or Roman Catholics do. But I don’t require that people be Calvinistic Reformed Protestants before I will claim the same Savior. Just as I don’t doubt the tax-collector’s Spirit lead love and sincerity, I don’t doubt many Catholics Spirit lead love and sincerity. I simply disagree with their theology and wish that they would read Romans and Galatians like we do, understanding what they are missing and how striving to establish a righteousness of their own in addition to Christ’s is unnecessary and counter productive to the Gospel and the glory of God.

    But, having said this, there are some Catholics out there who would say that we are misunderstanding them. I am willing to listen and learn.

  8. By the way, next time any of you are in Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc, there are two little books to watch out for, they are a set, but sold separately.

    Why I am not an Arminian
    Why I am not a Calvinist

    Both are very good and very short, and really set out the points very well. I learned a lot from both.

    Of course, they are both on Amazon as well.

  9. Got them both. Very good. Can’t believe you are still Arminian after reading them! ;)

  10. Yes, quite right, C. Michael Patton. Individuals within the Roman Catholic and Arminian churches can certainly be saved. That is not the point I was making. And I think the main point you are making is that Protestants should not have a knee-jerk reaction against every Roman Catholic they meet. We should all be willing to dialogue with one another in kindness and clarity.

    The point I am making is that I believe your post and Dr. Wallace’s previous post go too far in attempting to establish common doctrinal ground between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Given, neither the conglomerate of RC individuals nor the conglomerate of Protestant individuals is by any means doctrinally monolithic. If Barna were to do a survey, he’d probably need to release a multi-volume set on it. Again, I concede that point, because it is not the point. My point is that within Protestantism there is a Reformed tradition. I would say that tradition is the true heritage of the great reformers. That tradition is quite monolithic with regard to basic soteriological principles (i.e. sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus). Also, Roman Catholic soteriology officially speaking (i.e. Trent, Vatican II, CCC) is monolithic with regard to basic soteriological principles (i.e. semi-pelagianism). These two systems are mutually exclusive. Therefore, we should not suppose that they can be reconciled with one another. That would be unreasonable. This is the mistake I think you and Dr. Wallace are making.

    I very much appreciate your desire to prompt a change in perception among Protestants so that they will be more willing to honestly and lovingly interact with Roman Catholics. I share that desire. But we dare not minimize essential differences between mutually exclusive doctrinal systems in order to achieve that.

    I share your perception of the tendency of the free church tradition towards waywardness and heresy. I believe it is one of the most tragic consequences of the Reformation. Although, I would not say that the free church tradition was an intended cause of the reformers. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin disagreed sharply with the religion of the radicals. While I would not go so far as to say that all free-church traditions have apostatized through teaching a false gospel, I agree that it is not the best way to go. I am not part of the free church tradition. Instead, I am a member of confessional Reformed Presbyterianism (PCA). I think that form is the ideal this side of glory.

    Until then may we all cling to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ as our only boast and in his resurrection and soon return as our only comfort and hope in this life!

    Solus Christus,

    M. Jay Bennett

  11. Vance,

    Yes to the breaking point. I think I might have broken it a few times first though. Those are slippery little devils. :-)

    I agree that the “Babylonian Captivity” grew in force over centuries of teaching with so many historical stimuli that it would be impossible to trace it back to a moment of turning. But again, that is not the point.

    The point is what did Rome officially teach at the turn of the the sixteenth century? What was it that the reformers were reacting against? It seems that the answer is both gross immorality within the leadership of the Western Church as well as fundamental doctrinal error with regard to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Counter-reformation cleaned house with regard to the issue of immorality. But they simply tidied up a bit with regard to doctrinal error, not changing anything fundamentally. What is the official statement of Roman Catholic Theology produced via the counter-reformation? The Council of Trent.

    Rome has not changed its fundamental soteriological stance since Trent. It is still singing the same old song. A song that could only be sung by those who jumped ship. I think it goes something like: “Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”

  12. I don’t know what I would call my soteriology. I don’t think I am either
    Arminian or Calvinist. Essentially I believe in man’s free will and God’s
    predestination (as I believe both are taught in scripture), but I do not take a
    position on the Ordo salutis. I think that is ultimately (and in my view Biblically)
    a mystery. I allow and live within a tension that I think is Biblical. I don’t
    want to get into a whole discussion on this, but if you have futher questions
    or anything on this feel free to contact me through email or my blog.

    For me to stand as a Evangelical with the Reformation is my understanding of the
    reformation as something that was not so much about “predestination” but
    essentially about authority. This is true with the Waldesians and other Reformers
    essentially. This is what I stand on and is one of the major dividing lines, but
    not so much a division as to seperate fellowship.

    jybnnt,

    Essentially the question comes down to whether you or any Evangelical or
    Calvinist could call a RC or EO a brother in Christ if they clearly have put
    their faith in Christ and adhere to the essentials of the faith? I don’t think
    this goes so much toward a unification, but allowing a unity in Spirit (1 Cor 12:13).
    I think there is greater unity when denomination comes closer to a common
    belief (ie The Church of Nazarene going away from the full pelagian like
    Sanctification). If a 5 point (or even one point) Calvinist Soteriology is the standard then there
    are many Evangelicals and even Calvinists who you would not be able to
    call brother.

    -Ted.

  13. I quote:

    For example, while I read the “partim, partim” from Trent (revelation is partly in Scripture and partly in tradition) as evidence of dual source authority, many Catholics, such as Scott Hahn, would interpret it differently allowing for a prima Scriptura view (that Scripture is the final authority, but not the only infallible authority).

    Aside from the idiosyncratic nature of much of Hahn’s writing and teaching, a more salient point is that Trent did not use the partim/partim language. Perhaps you meant you “hear” that, or something, but the partim/partim language was in an earlier draft, but taken out before the final document promulgated 4/8/1546, which used the language, “…are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which have been received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself….” (Denzinger 783).

    I’d be interested in an example of who might fit into the category noted here:

    It would seem that for some Protestants to stay in business as Protestants, they have to define themselves by what they are against. And if what they are against changes, even for the better, they will do all they can to divert attention away from the change, saying “You can’t change. If you do, then I will have no purpose.”

    As well, we should not fail to see that many in the Protestant church are changing. We are beginning to see the value of authorities outside of Scripture as we drown in the sea of our self-created free-church mentality.

    What, may I ask, is the logical connection between the abuse of sola scriptura, and the negation of it through the elevation of extra-biblical, non-inspired authorities? Are you blaming sola scriptura for “the sea of self-created free-church mentality”? If so, upon what possible basis? And, how does the use of extra-biblical authorities solve the problem? If you are simply referring to such things as confessions of faith, etc., such surely has a long history in Protestant history, and is in no way inconsistent with sola scriptura.

    Any and all who desire can start a new “Church” or “Christianity” with no accountability. Many of these present teachings find no place in historic Christianity.

    Agreed, but is the answer to compromise on sola scriptura?

    Protestants are beginning to realize the important of the body of Christ, both living and dead, – the historic body of Christ – (might we term this “the communion of saints”?). These raise their hand in objection to many of the strange interpretations of the Christian faith and life saying “Why don’t you listen to us anymore? Didn’t we have the same Spirit as you? Why don’t we have any respect? Are you not standing on our shoulders?”

    I would really like to know what you mean by this.

    James>>>

  14. Hey James,

    The point of the partim/partim language was, from my understanding, to allow for intentional obscurity. Although it was not accepted, it does exhibit the spirit of the debate which, in my proposal here, is on going today in Catholic circles and still being discussed.

    James, I think that we all sometimes define ourselves by what we are against, and sometimes this is not totally uncalled for. Often clarity is found in controversy. But my point here is not so much being in disagreement with others, but doing so in a way that quenches the spirit of that which we are trying to accomplish. I pray that we use our polemics wisely, but we all often find true gracious dialog hard to come by.

    I do not deny sola Scriptura at all. But I do believe that their is a regulating force, albeit fallible, that does act as an authority along with Scripture, the final and only infallible source. In the early Church, this was called the regual fidei or the analogia fidei. I believe that Protestants are suffering from a reaction to the abuses of tradition, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The connection is clear. People don’t respect those who have gone before them, believing that they can start with a blank slate simply because abuses and mistakes have unfortunately been a norm throughout Church history. But my contention is that there is still salt and light that shines through time that is a fallible authority and provides unified voice of the sheep of God with regards to the essentials of the faith. I believe that Protestants need to have a much higher regard for how the Holy Spirit has worked in the past, knowing that we are held accountable by those who have gone before us.

    In this sense, it is not sola Scriptura that is to blame for the radical Christianities that abound, but nuda Scriptura. The Scripture is our final and only infallible authority, but not the only authority.

    Hope this clears some things up for you my friend.

  15. vangelicmonk,

    I agree the Reformation was certainly about authority. It was in fact about many things. My point was about predestination was with regard to the soteriological issue. Interestingly, as I pointed out in comment 40 of “51% Protestant,” Luther, a primary source, understood that the whole disagreement between himself and Roman Catholicism came down to the doctrine of sola gratia, which is dependent on an Augustinian understanding of predestination. I understand your unwillingness to consciously work out an ordo salutis. However, practically speaking we creatures cannot escape answering the question in our thoughts, words and deeds. Whether a person is willing to admit it or not everyone must have some implicit answer to the question: Ultimately, who caused my salvation? God alone? God and me? Or me?

    You wrote:

    “Essentially the question comes down to whether you or any Evangelical or Calvinist could call a RC or EO a brother in Christ if they clearly have put their faith in Christ and adhere to the essentials of the faith?”

    First let me say, I have purposefully restricted my comments to RC because I have not yet been conversant with EO theology. But with regard to RC, absolutely I would. But I would not consider that brother to be RC, strictly speaking (i.e. outside the official confession of RC) with respect to some of those essentials of the faith.

    BTW, Dr. White, thanks for your input here and all your hard and heartfelt work in the field of Christian theology and apologetics. You have been a blessing to many in our Lord’s church. Keep up the good work!

    Blessings,

    M. Jay Bennett

  16. jybbnntt,

    I thank you for your prompt and irenic response. I appreciate what you have
    added to the conversation and your respectfulness to all on here.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “implicit answer” but I agree that humans do
    desire to know the what, who, and how of anything. This is the frustration
    of many o Christian when handling any doctrine or question in complicated
    theological issues like soteriology, eschatology, the Trinity etc. However, in
    certian areas I allow myself to live with the tension and not allow myself to
    infer farther than the text allows and in other areas (as with the Trinity) one
    who infers too much tends to go the way of Oneness Pentacostalism or some
    other heretical teaching.

    I’m glad you still call them a brother, because that would mean you would
    call me a brother and that is a blessing to me. God bless you as well.

    -Ted.

  17. I think most Protestants interpret Trent in light of their own use of terms, often unknowing how those terms functioned in medieval scholasticism. You mention Hahn’s view of Scripture as something close to SS. In fact, that view was well worn among some Scholastics, particularly in Aquinas. (See Persson, Sacra Doctrina: Reason and Revelation in Aquinas.) And Trent does not include the “partim” language with respect to the relation between Scripture and Tradition. From my understanding that was a suggested way of wording the decree made by some bishops but was not included in the formal statement of Trent. If you know that Trent does in fact use that language, please direct me to its location.

    One friendly suggestion for Protestants is to become sufficiently familiar with the Latin theological world for five hundred years prior to the Reformation. Few Protestants have anything like an adequate grasp of the theology of Scholasticism in men like Albert, Aquinas, or Scotus.

    Case in point, comparing Arminianism with Catholicism carte blanch is a gross mistake. Scotus and Aquinas have such strong views on Predestination and election sufficient to warm the heart of any Calvinist and nauseate any Arminian. The Jesuits were responsible in the post Reformation era for much of the education in the primary school system and the Jesuits are by and large historically Molinists. Molinism has many similarities with Arminianism (but still significant differences) and so this is why people conflate the two. Catholicism permits Thomism, Scotism and Molinism as permissible theological interpretations of its official teaching (dogma.)

    Moreover, semi-pelagianism is not the same as synergism. Augustine was a synergist since he thought we cooperated in justification, but he was not a semi-pelagian. That is, he didn’t think that nature was sufficiently pontent in the hands of fallen persons to enable them to do things that pleased God. They could still do acts that were good to the point of being called “virtues”, but since they had themselves as the goal or end of the acts, they were not capable of pleasing God. So it is quite possible to be a syngergist without being semi-pelagian, that is doing works that please God apart from divine aid/power derived from nature. Rome in fact in officially endorsing the 2nd Council of Orange condemned semi-pelagianism in 529 AD.

    And the Babylonian Captivity line seems to miss one big fact-The Orthodox. How are they to be explained on such an interpretive grid? I’d suggest that continually framing the issues in terms of a dual opposition isn’t helpful.

  18. Perry Robinson,

    While you made no direct reference to me, I cannot help but feel you had some of my earlier comments in mind in a few of your own. (If I am mistaken please accept my apologies.)

    You wrote:

    “comparing Arminianism with Catholicism carte blanch is a gross mistake.”

    I completely agree with you here. However, if one defines Roman Catholicism according to Trent, Vatican II, and the CCC, it is in principle with regard to soteriology the same as Arminianism. Let me explain. Both RC and Arminianism are semi-pelagian or synergistic soteriological. I suppose you are correct of say that the word synergism is not technically speaking tied to a particular aspect of soteriology, but in the soteriological conversation which we are having I assumed the normal usage of the word as being in “reference to the doctrine of divine and human responsibility in conversion” (The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition, 1161.) And by conversion what is meant is the moment of conversion, of turning to Christ in faith and repentance. Synergism is the understanding that at the moment of conversion there are two agents with equal independent (e.g. for the human power retaining the moral ability to finally resist the beatific vision) powers of causation cooperating together in order to effect the conversion. Given that definition, Roman Catholicism (as formally confessed in Trent, Vatican II, and the CCC), Arminiansim, and Molinism are synergistic and, therefore, comparable at a fundamental level that especially involves issues in the doctrines of sin, grace, and predestination. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology goes on to say: “One tradition within Christianity, the Augustinian, emphasizes the sovereignty of God in conversion (monergism or divine monergism). Calvin and Luther stood within this heritage” (1161).

    Orange (529) was indeed a turn away from the semi-pelagianism of John Cassian, however, Roman Catholicism as defined by Trent, Vatican II and the CCC is not in accord with Orange (a document that somehow was lost for hundreds of years).

    And finally, when I used the phrase “Babylonian Captivity” above it was in reference to the Western Church only.

  19. Jybnntt

    You are quite right that I had some of your comments in mind though please do not take my criticisms of the ideas you expressed to be personal.

    As I explained above synergism isn’t by itself semi-pelagianism. When Rome advocates a type of synergism it does so because it takes itself to be following Augustine’s synergism based on his dialectic of nature and grace. For Augustine, nature can’t be sufficient for effecting salvation, but it can’t be evil either, lest he return to Manicheanism, so it is both. This is why Augustine did not believe in sola fide, that is, that faith alone of the three virtues is the formal cause of justification. Consequently for Augustine divine action is primary and logically prior to our action but qua being simultaneous with it. That is, divine causation is not a kind of temporal causation and it certainly isn’t efficient causation. The divine will acts on the human will in such a way as to free up the human will to cooperate and so then to actually do works that fulfill the law.

    I also assumed the normal meaning of terms, but of course we obviously run in different circles with different norms. The citation from EDT is inadequate since that would be true of Augustinianism as well, since it too is a term in “reference to the doctrine of divine and human responsibility in conversion.” Augustine is sufficiently clear that while God creates us without our will, he will not save us without our will. So I think the Dictionary in question is mistaken and I would recommend a detailed scholarly monograph on Augustine’s teaching, preferably from a peer reviewed publisher like Oxford.

    The heart of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism is the identification of grace and nature so that with the former, nature is completely unaltered post fall and in the later, while it is weakened it is still capable of doing at least one thing that pleases God without divine aid. This is why Augustine goes to such lengths to distinguish nature and grace. With Arminianism and Molinism are synergistic, so is Augustinianism but it doesn’t follow that Augustinianism is semi-pelagian.

    Synergism is the view that there are two wills operating. Christology then for example is synergistic, since Jesus has two wills-one human and the other divine. Synergism per se isn’t tied with questions of conversion, though inter Protestant debates it usually is confined to that locale. But even then, synergism doesn’t require that the two wills operating be equally independent for who is equal to God? Wesley is quite clear on this point. They are not equal in standing and they aren’t identical in the way they cause actions as I noted above.

    And I know it is popular to label John Cassian as a semi-pelagian but it is certainly false. Cassian has problems with Augustine distinguishing nature and grace in terms of platonic opposition (grace is what nature isn’t). For Cassian freedom is part of the divine creation of the image of God in man and humans aren’t powerful enough to overturn that image so that what humans lack is not ability to choose otherwise but the ability to *do* otherwise, that is, please God. The way to distinguish nature and grace for Cassian is not by opposition otherwise you’ll fall into Manicheanism since everything from God will be good and creation will necessarily be evil. The distinction for Cassian is more properly between persons and nature, since nature is good and natures don’t sin, persons do.

    The council of Orange was lost in the West for a long time, but upon its rediscovery Rome re-affirmed it and officially endorses and accepts it. Tridentine theology is written in light of many of its decrees.

    As for the Babylonian captivity, western Church or not, the fact is that it is still a problematic way of reading the data. If Rome became corrupt, what then are Protestants to say about the East which was cut off from Rome for 500 years and held many, though not all of the same practices and at the time of the reformation condemned Protestantism? I don’t see the explanatory value that can be had by reading history that way given that it leaves out major facts.

  20. Kris Greenleaf July 7, 2007 at 5:07 am

    Just a note to add, concerning the way recent converts to RC, such as Hahn,
    interpret Catholic doctrine in a Protestant way. I attended a Eucharistic conference
    last year taught by Peter Kreeft. During the coffee hour I told him that I, as a
    Reformed Christian, believe in a Real Presence during the sacrament, but not
    a physical RP. He replied that Catholics do not believe in a physical RP, either.
    In his words, “That would be absurd!”

    He said that the RP is metaphysical, not physical. It seemed to me at the time
    that he has carried over a good bit of his Reformed theology into his RC conversion
    , which from my point of view is a good thing — but I wonder how many people
    in the RC camp realize this.

    Following your discussion with great interest!

  21. Perry, you said, “Catholicism permits Thomism, Scotism and Molinism as permissible theological interpretations of its official teaching (dogma.)” I am not a theologian like many of you here so I don’t know the definition of the “isms” above. But if I believe the humans have “free will” and that though God has provided saving grace through Jesus, people have freedom as to whether or not they will accept that grace, does that make me one of the isms above? I guess I don’t believe in predestination IF that means that God created humans in a way that he “decided” exactly what they would do. He KNEW what they would do, but he didn’t decide what they would do. Humans would be no more than puppets if that were the case.

    Someone asked above if it is God alone who saves us or God and us or just us. It is God alone, but we must ACCEPT that grace, so if you say that accepting that grace is a “work” then I guess some of you would say that I am saying that it is NOT God alone. But I would disagree. If someone hands me a gift but I won’t reach out to accept it, I have not received that gift. But only the giver of the gift was the gifting one.

    Joanie D.

  22. Perry Robinson,

    you wrote:

    “As I explained above synergism isn’t by itself semi-pelagianism.”

    Yes. I conceded that much in my previous comment. When I used the term synergism, I intended it to be understood according to the definition given in the EDT, which, I think, is the normal way the term is used in Protestant/Roman Catholic soteriological discussions. The portion I quoted from the EDT that synergism is a term used in “reference to the doctrine of divine and human responsibility in conversion” is clarified further in the dictionary article according to the sentence that followed where I wrote: “And by conversion what is meant is the moment of conversion, of turning to Christ in faith and repentance.”

    My point in this discussion really has no relation to Augustine’s doctrine of justification, which was certainly different from the reformers’ view of sola fide but not as you say synergistic.

    You wrote:

    “Synergism is the view that there are two wills operating.”

    If this definition is accurate with respect to our discussion then every system short of some sort of hyper-determinism, which denies any human will whatsoever is synergistic, leaving practically no one as really synergistic. In other words, I think your definition is too imprecise to be of any real use in the discussion. Again with respect to my main point, my use of the word synergism was only meant with respect to ultimate causation in conversion. That is the issue at hand.

    You also wrote:

    “But even then, synergism doesn’t require that the two wills operating be equally independent for who is equal to God?”

    I’m certainly not claiming equality with God. What I mean by “equally independent” is only with reference to causation in the moment of conversion. Another way that idea has been framed is by saying the human agent of causation in conversion ultimately has the power of counter-causation. That is, when God acts to cause a person’s conversion, the person always retains the moral ability (or desire) to say no.

    Fundamentally the question boils down to this: Ultimately, who caused my salvation? God alone? God and me? Or me? To answer that question with “God alone” is monergism. To answer it with “God and me” is synergism, or semi-pelagianism. To answer it with “me” is pelagianism.

    You wrote:

    “And I know it is popular to label John Cassian as a semi-pelagian but it is certainly false.”

    Given the definitions I’ve outlined above, I must disagree. Cassian answered the question of ultimate causation in salvation with “God and me.”

  23. Perry Robinson,

    One last point on your last comment. I think it is important to remember that the question at hand when dealing with modern Roman Catholicism is not primarily what did Augustine believe, but what does modern Roman Catholicism teach? Modern RC is officially defined by Trent, Vatican II, and The CCC. Those documents present a semi-pelagian system of soteriology. Is the system subtle and nuanced? Of course, there had been time enough to do some of that. But remember the basic question we must all answer:

    Ultimately, who caused my salvation? God alone? God and me? Or me?

    Modern RC soteriology answers: “God and me.”

    The reformers and their true heritage answer: “God alone.” Hence their doctrine of sola gratia grace alone.

    On this issue in particular, there simply can be no common ground between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism.

  24. Correction. I wrote:

    “My point in this discussion really has no relation to Augustine’s doctrine of justification, which was certainly different from the reformers’ view of sola fide but not as you say synergistic.”

    That should read:

    “My point in this discussion really has no relation to Augustine’s doctrine of justification, which was certainly different from the reformers’ view of sola fide and as you say synergistic.”

  25. JonieD,

    You wrote:

    “If someone hands me a gift but I won’t reach out to accept it, I have not received that gift. But only the giver of the gift was the gifting one.”

    Another way to ask the question of causation is: “Why did you accept the gift, while so many others do not?”

    I wonder how you might answer that question?

  26. I tried posting earlier today and was unsuccessful. I think it could be helpful
    for protestant evangelicals seeking to understanding what Roman Catholics
    actually believe to read Benedict XVI´s (aka Joseph Ratzinger) encyclical
    _God is Love (Deus Caritas Est). Since an encyclical expresses the definitive
    teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, it might be a great place to start.

    My favorite (among many others) sentence in the encyclical is:

    Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea,
    but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon
    and a decisive direction.

    The entire text can be read at:
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html

    In the spirit of ecumenism,
    Emerald

  27. jybnntt

    Part of my point is that the way you frame the issue is not the way that Catholics, not to mention others, frame the issue and that in fact the issues are more complicated. As for the “moment” of conversion, I think the temporal aspect is irrelevant since everyone historically agrees that God’s activity is atemporal and therefore before nor after our activity. And even with logical priority that too won’t sufficiently capture the matter since Molinists and people like Wesley would agree. What I think you are trying to say is that our act of faith is solely an effect of God’s causal activity. My worry would be that this leads to Occasionalism (which it did historically) real quick or Manicheanism.

    I think it is related to Augustine’s teaching on justification since he thinks we cooperate there as we do in conversion. The difference it seems to me between the Reformed on the whole and Augustine is that the former think that our act of faith is purely an effect of a cause, whereas Augustine thinks that we genuinely cause our act of faith under the influence of grace. The fundamental issue then is, does nature have any positive value and inherent power/goodness post fall for Augustine? His dialectic is nature and grace and not the Reformed/Jansenist one of sin and grace, so the answer to the previous question is, yes. Grace perfects nature, it doesn’t trump it or obliterate it.

    I glossed syngergism widely to point out that the difference is not per se over cooperation but the kind and point at which that cooperation may or may not enter the picture. The definition was precise enough to motivate readers to look elsewhere for a more precise explanation of the differences and so was quite adequate. Nor again is glossing the matter in terms of “ultimate causation” going to be sufficient. Molinists think that God is the ultimate cause of our salvation as do Occasionalists (who think that God is the only cause of anything). Hence we need to add some conceptual material. I think it would be the idea that God is the only cause in conversion and our act of belief is an effect, and I don’t think Augustine thinks that but the Reformers generally do, with some major Lutherans excepting perhaps.

    Nor is your gloss on “equally independent” going to help since Augustine thinks that those who are truly regenerate can in fact say “no.” And generally the Lutherans follow him in this regard. Now, is Augustine a semi-pelagian? Are the Lutherans? It doesn’t seem so.

    Again, the issue doesn’t seem to be the primacy of divine causation, but the exclusivity of it, for Augustine includes our causal activity in conversion. In that sense Augustine is a synergist, but no semi-pelagian.

    Having read Cassian’s works I must disagree. Cassian thinks that God’s activity is always primary but as I noted above that isn’t where he and Augustine disagree. If you disagree then it might be helpful to refer me to something in his works that you read firsthand that indicates otherwise.
    While it is true that Catholicism is defined by sources other than Augustine, it is also true that Augustine is an official doctor of the Catholic Church and that Catholic theology root and branch is derived from him on the whole at least in terms of its framework. He is their main theological lens. So it is quite impossible to understand Trent, the CCC, et al, without first understanding Augustine’s teaching. My point is that Augustine and perhaps the Lutherans function as a sufficient counter example to your mistaken definition of semi-pelagianism.

    The basic question is twofold. Is God the only cause of conversion and is human nature as sovereignly decreed by God *intrinsically* changed by human agents or not? It does no good to stave off Pelagianism by being Manichean.
    Another way to think about it is to think about Matt 7:17ff. Does the reference to the good tree and bad tree denote natures or persons? Augustine against the Pelagians says that good and bad trees refers to persons while the Pelagians argue that it refers to natures. Which would you say?

  28. One last thought:

    I was reading from Jonathan Edwards’s “Miscellanies” this morning and ran across an interesting idea. WARNING: the harshness of Edwards’s rhetoric may be troubling to our more modern “enlightened” sensibilities. I DO NOT mean to blatantly offend any individual Roman Catholic by quoting him here. I only mean to share a principle with respect to this discussion that has yet to be considered, and is actually fundamentally opposed to the proposal of common ground in both Dr. Wallace’s and C. Micheal Patton’s posts on this topic. Hopefully, that is enough disclaimer to calm the nerves of those who might be militant tolerationists. :-)

    Edwards writes in “Miscellainies” No. hh (from the Yale Edition of Works):

    “Antichrist. It is alleged against the Church of Rome being Antichrist–say they, how can he be Antichrist that profess Christ? To that it may be answered, that he is a great deal the more Antichrist for that, for he is a [great] deal the worse for it; and the worse he is, surely the more anti-Christ, against Christ. Now certainly, those wickednesses that are professed, est[ablished] and commanded by that church are much the worse for their profession of Christ, for their professing the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. They ever deny Christ, because they profess him, than it is possible for any of those that do not profess Christ to be; more anti-Christ than it is possible for the heathenish, Jewish, or Mahmetan church to be.

    To illustrate it by example: thus the filthiest of a snake or toad is much more abominable for being joined with life, which is in itself excellent, than the same filthiness and shape would be in lifeless matter. Thus again, the hatefulness of the devil is much greater for its being united with an angelic nature. So there is as much difference [between] the Church of Rome and heathens, Jews, or Mahotmetans, as there is between a viper or some loathsome, poisonous, crawling monster, and lifeless filthy matter of the same shape.”

    AGAIN, if I did not express myself clearly enough in my initial caveat let me reiterate. I do not condone the harsh rhetoric employed by Edwards in his personal notebook (we must remember that that is exactly what it was before passing judgment on his rhetoric in this case) with respect to this conversation. And I don’t mean to quote him in order to bash those who may be my brothers or sisters in Christ while still holding membership in the Roman Catholic Church. I love my brothers and sisters as fellow members of the body of Christ, adopted children of the Father who has loved us and given his Spirit to us.

    I ONLY mean to point out that Edwards makes a salient point that is directly related to the discussion at hand. He is asking and answering the question: Does the fact that Roman Catholicism holds so much in common with Reformed Protestantism necessarily lead to the conclusion that it is in any better position or closer to the true religion than those religions with which we hold very little if anything in common? I think the way Edwards answers that question is quite insightful, and, to the best of my recollection has not been considered throughout this discussion.

  29. Perry Robinson:

    You wrote:

    “As for the “moment” of conversion, I think the temporal aspect is irrelevant since everyone historically agrees that God’s activity is atemporal and therefore before nor after our activity.”

    Agreed. This is why througout the discussion I have tried to frame the question in terms of causation, which is not necessarily a temporal category.

    You also wrote:

    “And even with logical priority that too won’t sufficiently capture the matter since Molinists and people like Wesley would agree.”

    No. I think we may be defining terms differently again. I am understanding ultimate causality in terms of logical ordering. Neither Molinism nor John Wesley understand the ordo salutis the same way Reformed Protestants do. Neither allow for an Augustinian doctrine of predestination nor do they allow for the doctrine of irresistible grace. Both held to a libertarian human will (i.e. the power of counter-causality in the moment of conversion).

    You wrote:

    “The difference it seems to me between the Reformed on the whole and Augustine is that the former think that our act of faith is purely an effect of a cause, whereas Augustine thinks that we genuinely cause our act of faith under the influence of grace.”

    I am not sure which Reformed confessions you may be referring to here. But as far as I am aware the compatibilism of the Reformed faith has always held that our faith is both an effect of an irresistible cause (the irresistible work of God) as well as a genuine use of free will in the one who is converted. Reformed compatibilism is meant to demonstrate that these two ideas are not at odds but rather established by one another. A great resource on this doctrine would be Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will. I highly recommend it.

    You also wrote:

    “Molinists think that God is the ultimate cause of our salvation as do Occasionalists (who think that God is the only cause of anything). Hence we need to add some conceptual material. I think it would be the idea that God is the only cause in conversion and our act of belief is an effect, and I don’t think Augustine thinks that but the Reformers generally do, with some major Lutherans excepting perhaps.”

    Again, I am understanding ultimate cause with respect to logical ordering in the ordo solutis. I understand that through a subtle manipulation of the eternal decrees and a severely deficient redefinition of divine knowledge Molinism is, technically speaking, able to retain the language of ultimate causation, although its understanding of the concept ultimate is illegitimate. Let me explain. For the Molinist, God has set the stage, now I must respond (all the while having the ability of counter causality). Therefore, who is the ultimate cause of my salvation? No one. There is no the ultimate cause, because there are in fact two causes. God and me. There is mutual dependency but no ultimacy. God is absolutely necessary but not the ultimate cause. When we use the word ultimate, we can only refer to one. By definition a singularity must necessarily be understood there. There cannot be two ultimates. I think that was in fact one of Augustine’s major apologetics against Manicheanism, was it not?

    You also wrote:

    “Nor is your gloss on “equally independent” going to help since Augustine thinks that those who are truly regenerate can in fact say “no.””

    I am not saying that the truly regenerate cannot say “no” to God. What I am saying is in the final analysis in the moment of conversion, those whom God calls come to him both necessarily and willingly due to the irresistible nature of his the beatific vision. After reading the Confessions, I am certain that Augustine is in agreement with me on this point.

    You wrote:

    “Again, the issue doesn’t seem to be the primacy of divine causation, but the exclusivity of it”

    Again, see my comment above with regard to the intrinsic exclusivity of the concept “ultimate.”

    On Cassian, Harnack writes:

    “God’s grace is the foundation of our salvation; every beginning is to be traced to it, in so far as it brings the chance of salvation and the possibility of being saved. But that is external grace; inner grace is that which lays hold of man, enlightens, chastens, and sanctifies him, and penetrates his will as well as his intelligence. Human virtue can neither grow nor be perfected without his grace–therefore the virtues of the heathens are very small. But the beginnings of the good resolve, good thoughts, and faith–understood as the preparation for grace–can be due to ourselves. Hence grace is absolutely necessary in order to reach final salvation (perfection), but not so much so in order to make a start. It accompanies us at all stages of our inner growth, and our exertions are of no avail without it (libero arbitrio semper co-operatur); but it only supports and accompanies him who really strives. . . . even this . . . action of grace is not irresistible” (History of Dogma, part 2, book 2, trans. James millar, p.247)

    Matthew 7:17? I would say that the bad tree is a reference to false prophets (7:15), and the bad fruit is the works of the false prophets.

    I absolutely agree with you that there are complexities and subtleties in every theological system that have varying degrees of importance. But there are also fundamental unifying principles that, logically speaking, are really quite simple. My main point in this discussion is that regardless of whatever label you want to use or redefine or nuance in the final analysis this question must be answered:

    Ultimately, who caused my salvation? God? God and me? Or me?

    Officially speaking Roman Catholicism answers: God and me.

  30. Perry Robinson,

    You state:

    Nor is your gloss on “equally independent” going to help since Augustine thinks that those who are truly regenerate can in fact say “no.”

    Could you point out a writing by Augustine that reinforces this, because
    I haven’t run by it? I have just read Peter Brown’s biography of Augustine
    that reinforces much you have said in that Augustine’s view of Grace and
    Free Will is complex in that a person’s will is not pure, but becomes pure by His
    Grace (if I’m paraphrasing Brown’s paraphase correctly).

    jybntt,

    You have interestingly asked what I think is million dollar question that
    we have been dancing around (for a reason). The question boils down to
    are the distinctives of the Catholic church undermine that which we have in
    common (and in Edwards view become that much more deceptive and corrupting)?

    In answering this question I think you have to define somethings. First, what do
    we have in common and two what are the distinctives. Whole chapters (and long
    blog comments) have and could be written on this item. To make it simple I am
    going to use an example: Baptism. EO, RC, and Prot all believe in the importance
    of this rite (a shared essential), but the various views on what this rite means
    varies (a distinctive). The various EO, RC, and Prot views do not undermine the
    essential of Baptism (which we share), but still allows for distinction (infant, sprinkle,
    dunk, regenerative quality etc.) However, if a Church was to reject Baptism in any
    way shape or form for a Christian as a need I would not call them an unbeliever,
    but I would question their fruit as they clearly reject and essential of the faith and
    their vew on Baptism is not a “distinctive” but undermines an essential.

    Second, what are RC distinctives and do any of these distinctives undermine an
    essential of the faith (again I haven’t fully defined what I mean by essential and
    so many views can be pored into that word and we all talk past one another).
    This is an ongoing thing for me right now and I think is true for many RC and
    Protestants.

    Third, I think an essential distinctive and point is authority. RC and Prot talk past
    each other so many times because of the underlying authority issue.
    Sometime back in my discussions and later research on these issues
    I found that many of the Catholic views are tied to the early church fathers. This
    does not mean that I think tradition is on the same authority as Scripture, but
    I think that ignoring Church history and the history of tradition (and how that
    concerns where our Tradition/Bible comes into being) is problamatic. However,
    taking them into consideration makes the whole essentials/distinctions issue that much
    more difficult.

    So jybnntt to answer your question for us who more of the ecumenical mindset
    (and I can’t say I speak for everyone) is that we don’t know. Seriously. This
    is something we are wrestling with in thought, discussion, readings, writing, and prayer.
    What troubles me somewhat from your writings or more importantly from James
    White (who I respect in upholding the essentials like the Trinity) is the strong
    reactionary response to when some of us question old assumptions. Instead
    of helping us flesh out many of these thoughts there is the same old reinforcement
    of the ideals we are questioning, but glossing over many details.

    I don’t claim to have all my answers lined up and for my views on this issue to be
    perfectly set in stone because there is a constant shifting and challenges that is happening in
    what we as Christians are to consider in first what makes us Christian and
    what makes us part of the Body of Christ.

    Sorry that was just some rambling of thoughts. It isn’t as articulate as I wanted
    it to be. Hopefully it helps you to see at least where I am coming from in all
    of this. God Bless.

    -Ted.

  31. Guys, I really do appreciate the discussion that you all are having, but much of it seems to have moved from the topic. Please only post if it has direct relation to the specitifics of the blog.

    Thanks so much for your spirit of discussion.

  32. jybnntt

    No need to cite what I wrote. It saves space not too. Framing the question in terms of causation won’t eliminate temporality since there are things such as temporal causes, at least last time I turned the ignition key on my car that is. I wished to cut away any temporality explicitly for clarity’s sake.

    I too am understanding ultimate causation or primacy of divine action in terms of logical order. Molinism certainly adheres to this. That is the whole point of Middle Knowledge. God chooses which world to create based on his knowledge of what your essence will determine you to do across logically possible worlds. Molinism is in fact an interpretation of Augustine’s doctrine of Predestination, so it would come as quite a shock to find out that it wasn’t in fact Augustinian. If it isn’t, then it isn’t obvious that it isn’t. As for Irresistable grace, by my reading, Augustine never uses the term and doesn’t teach the concept either. He is clear that some who are truly regenerate can and do fall away to the uttermost.

    I know it is popular that Molinism advocates a Libertarian view of freedom, which is the idea that the agent is the final though not only cause of their actions and that they have alternative possibilities open to them. But I think it is a mistake and certainly controversial in light of the Grounding Objection to Molinism that Molinism is compatible with a Libertarian view. Here is why. If God knows what Jones will do in world W at T1 based on Jones’ essence and that essence grounds God’s knowledge, then it seems that Jones’ essence determines what Jones will do, and determinism and Libertarianism are not logically compatible because Libertarianism logically entails incompatibilism, that is, that determinism and freedom cannot both be true. Consequently, Molinism is on the surface quite in line with Augustine’s predestinarianism. I don’t think that the vast majority of Augustine scholars take his predestinarianism to be the same as Reformed predestinarianism.

    The question for the Reformed view is not whether our act of belief is a genuine use of compatibilist type freedom, but whether we are a genuine cause of it or it is merely an effect. Sure, it may in term cause other things, but the question is whether we genuinely cause our act of faith. For Augustine, I think he thinks that we act in grace as a cause with God of faith, which is why he thinks we can say “no” and for the Reformed that only God is acting, which is why we can’t say “no.” Isn’t that what Monergism means, after all?

    As I used to be Reformed, I am familiar with Edward’s work and I think he is wrong because of its implicit commitment to Platonism, which is why Edwards gets into trouble with the idea that creation is a necessary act as an emanation of the divine essence, since actions for him are determined by nature. And I am familiar with Compatibilism more widely. In any case, the question is, is there more than one will working in conversion *to produce it*? I think Augustine thinks yes, and the Reformed say no. This is why I brought up the Lutherans since in the Reformation and post Reformation context, this was a significant point of dispute between them, with the Lutherans following Augustine.
    Granted you can understand ultimate cause in reference to the ordo, but the question is not ultimate, but sole cause. It is after all, monergism, not primagism. You don’t think just that God is the logically first cause in conversion, you think he is the only cause, right? As for your gloss on Molinism, I’d recommend reading some contemporary molinists, chief among them would be Flint’s, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. I think you are reading Arminianism into Molinism.
    For the Molinist, God knows via individual essences yet uninstantiated what any given agent will do in any specific circumstance. God selects that set of circumstances in which that particular instantiated essence (person) will without faith in fact do the action that God knows he will do. That is, God knows via my nature that in such and so circumstance I will respond to grace if it were to influence me. Other people won’t. So while my will plays a causal role, God because he creates the circumstances and instantiates my essence, is the first cause of everything, including my acceptance so that I can’t claim any inherent autonomous value to my acceptance. Ultimate means first, primary, etc. It doesn’t mean exclusive or only. This is why you can have pen-ultimate causes subordinate to the ultimate cause.
    The Manicheans were also deterministic, and so while Augustine argues for one ultimate cause of the cosmos, he doesn’t argue for only one cause in conversion till his dying day. God is always the ultimate cause for it, but he thinks that we genuinely cause it as well.

    If monergism were true and Augustine were a monergist, then how could he hold that it was possible for someone to in fact say “no” in conversion? Yet he does and so the former must be false. For Augustine, no one even sees the beatific vision in this life, so I can’t see how that functions as a ground for an irresistible character to the call. Secondly, Confessions is an early work and Augustine explicitly rejects a number of things in it later in life. I’d recommend reading his last and most extensive work against the Pelagian in his debate with Julian of Eclanum.

    The question is not whether those called come willingly, but whether their act of will to come is preceded by an act of will of their own to convert, or whether their act of will to come is only an effect of divine causation.

    Harnack’s work is a survey. It is also over 100 years old.. And Harnack is not always reliable. Case in point, Cassian doesn’t think that grace per se is “external” or alien to nature. Harnack is here importing an Augustinian notion of grace as opposed to nature to Cassian. I’d recommend looking at the primary source or a contemporary monograph by a scholar who specializes in Cassian. More to the point, the question with semi-pelagianism isn’t whether or not there is some desire for the good in post fall humans, but whether such a desire or even choice can hit the mark and please God. Cassian says no, semi-pelagians say yes.
    Granted that Matt 7 speaks of false prophets, but since you mentioned Edwards, among other Reformed sources, is it not the case that the Reformed argue on the basis of this passage that a sinful nature determines the actions of sinful people and viola! Total depravity?

    As to your question, if we say god and me, we are semi-pelagian. Are the Lutherans then semi-pelagian too?

    Since Mr. Patton as requested it, I will drop the convo. If you wish to continue you can email me privately to continue it

    vangelicmonk,

    I think you can find such statements in, On Nature and Grace, and On Grace and Free will, but I’d have to check. In any case, Bonner, Markus or any of the major Augustinian scholars in say Studia Patristica when they discuss this aspet of Augustine’s teaching will give references.

  33. jybnnt,

    The Edwards quote is helpful, but I would disagree with you that this is necessarily the way things stand today. I think that, whether either side likes to admit it or not, there is, with many, a spirit of gracious discussion that is now taking place and concessions made on both sides. Things may have been spoken in the past that were the result of the heat of the debate. Granted, Trent may have overreacted (in my view), but VII has changed some things for the better. If nothing else, the spirit of self-criticism has been allowed to the point where we are talking again, and the language used to separate the two traditions is softening.

    I think that there are many in both Catholicism and Protestantism who represent the spirit of anti-Christ. I just don’t think that we should evaluate a tradition by the worst representatives of that tradition. I don’t hold Benny Hinn up as an example on our side and I don’t think we should refer to examples are their side that represent the more radical fundamentalist Tridentine variety (not that all Trinentine Catholics are radical).

    Are we still different? Absolutely. Are the differences important . . . yes! But are the differences that far apart in soteriological issues? I don’t think so. In fact I would say that, practically speaking, they are not much further apart than those of a Reformed Calvinist and an Weslyian Arminian?

    I am a Reformed Calvinist. Being such, I don’t believe Arminians have the fullness of the Gospel. In the same way, I don’t believe Roman Catholics have the fullness of the Gospel. But that is as far as I am willing to go with both groups. Neither are a cult. Neither are heretical from a historic perspective. Both have good people who know the Lord and are very intelligent.

    Am I right being a Reformed Calvinist? Of course. I am always right, but I am nice to those who are wrong and love the same Lord I love.

  34. vangelicmonk,

    I respect your agnosticism with respect to this issue very much. I know many faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who claim agnosticism. Still I do not think, practically speaking, anyone is really agnostic on this issue. Everyone in thought, word, and deed implicitly understands causality and the fact that someone must ultimately have caused our salvation.We all implicitly understand that there is no such thing as a causeless effect. But I really think that is beside the point.

    A central point of Wallace and Patton’s posts seems to be (correct me if I’m wrong guys) to minimize doctrinal distinctives, even fundamental soteriological ones, in order to facilitate Protestant-Catholic dialogue. I am in complete agreement with the end in mind, but I disagree with the method employed.

    Whether or not an individual is agnostic on the soteriological issue at hand or not is beside the point, because neither Roman Catholicism (by which I mean the official system) nor Reformed Protestantism is agnostic on the matter. Both have certainly answered the question and can be evaluated according to their respective answers.

  35. jybnntt,

    You are right that Dan and I want to foster thinking about these issues at a different and level. I simply want people to evaluate their prejudices based upon whether or not someone could really fall at the feet of the God-man, professing him to be such, and beg for mercy and not receive it. I don’t think anyone should presuppose that a Catholic, simply because he or she is a Catholic, has not done so.

    What is the result. Humility. To understand that God does not, contrary to my desires, require perfect theology among his children. If he did, we all would be in a heap of trouble. God’s light can and does shine outside of our boxes.

    Having said that, I think I should make something clear. I am not a supporter of ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics together). I can’t speak for Dan. I think that ECT does minimize the differences in favor of a misleading ecumenicism. And I believe the differences minimized are significant.

    At the same time, the spirit of ECT is to recognize how close we are when it comes to historic issues of orthodoxy. I believe that we can accomplish this by lifting our mutual anathemas and recognize our brotherhood in Christ. Both sides have members that need to be evangelized. Both have members that are saved.

    Since I believe that that Reformed Protestant Evangelicalism has the fullness of the Gospel in a way that other traditions don’t, my assumption is that there are more true believers percentage wise in my tradition that any other.

  36. C. Michael Patton,

    You wrote:

    “I think that there are many in both Catholicism and Protestantism who represent the spirit of anti-Christ. I just don’t think that we should evaluate a tradition by the worst representatives of that tradition. I don’t hold Benny Hinn up as an example on our side and I don’t think we should refer to examples are their side that represent the more radical fundamentalist Tridentine variety (not that all Trinentine Catholics are radical).”

    I agree. My point is not to criticize any one individual but the system itself. While VII may have allowed for a lot of things it in no way repudiates Trent.

    You also wrote:

    “In fact I would say that, practically speaking, they are not much further apart than those of a Reformed Calvinist and an Weslyian Arminian?”

    I agree. I have said this several times in the comments either here or at “51% Protestant” already.

    You also wrote:

    “I am a Reformed Calvinist. Being such, I don’t believe Arminians have the fullness of the Gospel. In the same way, I don’t believe Roman Catholics have the fullness of the Gospel. But that is as far as I am willing to go with both groups. Neither are a cult. Neither are heretical from a historic perspective. Both have good people who know the Lord and are very intelligent.”

    Again, I have been very careful not to call any individual a heretic here. My point has been to evaluate the systems of doctrine not the individuals in the churches that officially hold to those systems. There is a big difference. I think I remember J. I. Packer in his Introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death making a point that would perhaps be helpful here. He suggested that there is no such thing really as a non-Calvinistic Christian. All Christians are Calvinistic whether they are ready to admit it consciously or not. I think Packer used the phrase “intellectually dishonest” Christians to refer to those who confess a non-Calvinistic soteriology. I think Packer is right on that.

    You wrote:

    “Am I right being a Reformed Calvinist? Of course. I am always right, but I am nice to those who are wrong and love the same Lord I love.”

    That’s great! I rejoice that you are a Reformed Calvinist. I don’t know about that always right thing though. Perhaps on this particular issue but even Reformed Calvinists are sinners and therefore at error on some points by definition and prone to error at all times. One quote I appreciate from N.T. Wright is (and I paraphrase) “I know I am wrong in my theology; I just don’t know where.”

    And I completely agree that we are called to love all people everywhere. Now that love does get expressed in different ways but it should be heartfelt love that is faithful to truth in every situation.

  37. Perry Robinson,

    I think we have gotten far offtrack in our side discussion, and honestly I am having trouble following your comments.

    Agree to disagree? :-)

  38. C. Michael Patton,

    First, I just want to tell you how much I am enjoying this dialogue! I have certainly been sharpened and edified through it. Thanks for your work at RTM Ministries!

    From the beginning I have tried my best to make it clear that I do believe a person could be a member of the Roman Catholic church and be a true believer. That is not what I am arguing at all. And I am happy to love and dialogue with Roman Catholics. However, part of loving them has to be sharing the truth about Roman Catholicism with them, in a gracious way of course.

    You wrote:

    “To understand that God does not, contrary to my desires, require perfect theology among his children. If he did, we all would be in a heap of trouble.”

    I have to disagree with you here. I think God does require perfect theology from us. Being wrong in our theology is sin. As R.C. Sproul once said, “No one has the right to be wrong in their theology.” Does that mean we have perfect theology. Well, if we have a correct doctrine of sin it means we can’t believe that. Does that excuse it. May in never be! All that we do have right is because of God’s grace. Does it mean that what I have wrong puts me “in a heap of trouble”? (I was raised in Georgia so I’m definitely following your language here!) Well, yes. Our Father graciously disciplines us out of love so that we might come to know him more and more.

    I agree on the ECT issue completely.

    You also wrote:

    “Since I believe that that Reformed Protestant Evangelicalism has the fullness of the Gospel in a way that other traditions don’t, my assumption is that there are more true believers percentage wise in my tradition that any other.”

    I agree.

    Blessings Michael!

  39. jybnntt,

    No, but as I said before we can drop it.

    More in line with the thrust of the thread, a suggestion would be if Protestants read representative Catholic theologians like Lubac, Lonergan and Rahner, rather than romping through papal and synodal creeds and finding words that they take to have a specific meaning, which in fact may not.

    That is, if you want to treat others as you would want to be treated, it is best in investigating another position to read primary source material of the best representatives first and not critique type books. Unfortunately, few people do this.

  40. jybnnt,

    Concerning the first post after mine, I think we are on the same page except for this I am not sure about right now (and this is the point of my post):

    “I agree. My point is not to criticize any one individual but the system itself. While VII may have allowed for a lot of things it in no way repudiates Trent.”

    My point is that VII reinterprets Trent in a way that Protestants (and I would argue Trent itself) never supposed. This “reinterpretation” have created room for dialog and, in my opinion, hope.

  41. Patton,

    I am not sure that V2 reinterprets Trent. It says things that Trent doesn’t and so broadens Trent out. That is, I think the way Catholics would see it is that V2 compliments Trent but doesn’t revoke Tridentine theology.

  42. Perry Robinson,

    I am happy to be treated the way I am treatin’

    Evaluate the Westminster Standards according to what the framers taught. But please don’t interpret it according to some contemporary reworking that basically redefines the original meaning.

  43. PR,

    Oh, I meant to say also that I agree with you on the relationship between Vatican II and Trent. I took a Systematics Elective at Dallas Seminary with Dr. Lanier Burns last Fall. Burns did one of his PhD dissertations on the Reformation form the perspective of Roman Catholics. He is an expert in the field.

    He made it very clear that Vatican II did not repudiate Trent, it simply allowed for more dialogue around the core which is Trent.

  44. Perry, well enough. I know that concede to “reinterpretation” of Trent is beyond the possibility that the system allows and I respect your opinion.

    VII does, however, present itself in a different religious cultural context that did not exist until the 20th century and therefore the tone, if nothing else, is condusive to better Protestant Catholic dialog. I do applaud the Catholic church for making this move. In truth, if they had not, I don’t think Protestanism was going to make the same move. In my view, you guys said you were sorry first. Although this “apology” was not an “You were right, we were wrong” type, it did say, “I think we may have misunderstood each other.” And you know what? This is good enough for now. I think we can move forward from here and see what happens. I am certianly willing.

  45. jybnntt,

    I am not. I was Reformed (I am not Catholic eithert btw). I studied Reformed theology and still do. Of course, most Reformed bodies, the Covenanters excepting don’t hold to the original Westminster Standards anyhow. They have been modified over time.

    In any case, I always try to describe other positions in such a way that its best advocates would recognize it. But I often find that from the Reformed side, rarely do they engage in reading through the best treatments of Catholic theology or have any serious familiarity with scholasticism that was prior to the Reformation. There is just one big historical hole from Augustine to the Reformation usually. Carolingians? Who are they? Thomas who? What’s a Scotus? etc. are the usual types of responses one hears.

    I’d recomend Arvin Vos’ little bk, Calvin, Aquinas and Contemporary Protestant Thought. Vos is a presbyterian who compares and contrasts Calvin and Aquinas and the Protestant reading of Aquinas.

  46. PR,

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  47. I too pray for unity among all Traditions. Many in my family and my wife’s family
    are Roman Catholics. And I grew up as one. But, excuse my ignorance here, how
    has Catholicsim changed or is changing?

    I have never heard a priest say that a person must be born again, and that you
    cannot earn your selvation. How do you handle that and all the non-Scriptural
    venerations they incorporate — Mary, dead saints and even bones and relics of
    martyrs — in their worhip?

    What’s the answer to the rosary and the hierarchy of holiness, from the
    ordained to monks and nuns with the laity at the bottom rung?

    What do we say to all that. Do we sit back and say that’s OK, simply because
    MEN began incorporating it into the church after the first 300 years when
    persecutions were ended by the Romans?

    Please answer those questions. In addition, as a Christian I don’t live to hate
    Catholics. I speak to them about what I believe and why. But have you ever
    watched the Catholic television station program called Coming Home, where
    they take shots at Evangelicals?

    I wrote them an e-mail and asked them why they did that and why not stress
    what we have in common, and they never wrote back.

    Lou Ortiz

  48. Hi Lou,

    I believe that Catholicism is changing from the standpoint of scholarship. Catholic scholars have been given more room to discuss issues and have disagreements about the interpretation of their own documents.

    As to the Mary, relics, and martyrs issues, I don’t think that this is or ever has been an essential point of disagreement. In fact Luther held to some of the later pronounced Marian dogmas. While I think that the emphasis on them by SOME Catholics is misguided and can be misleading, I don’t think that we should focus on non-essentials.

    Concerning “Coming Home.” I think we need to be careful not to require one show to represent our view on the entirety of Catholicism. I sure hope that they don’t do the same with Benny Hinn or Jack Chick. Radical are are not the best representation of the dynamics of any institution.

    Hope this helps. You can also listen to our broadcast on Catholics here.

  49. I’ve been lurking in the discussion. I don’t really have anything to say, except this: once you guys figure out whether or not I will spend eternity in hell, please tell me. I’m always interested in knowing about the final judgment of my posthumous fate offered by complete strangers on a blog.

    Frank

  50. Thanks Frank. I will let you know as soon as I have the info!

    I would appreciate you comments on both Dan and my post if you get a chance.

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