Saturday, January 05, 2013

Catholicity and Calvinism--Or Why Calvinism isn't a Dirty Word

Those who know me well know my penchant for Great Tradition theology, by which I mean that we need to recover true catholicity, the faith of the early, undivided Church.  I believe that the methodology that best gets us there is an embrace of the Vincentian Canon, the product of St. Vincent of Lerins (died c. AD 445).  It is tempting to want to reproduce all four paragraphs of this Canon, which come from Chapter 4 of the Vincent's Commonitorium, and I encourage you to click on the link and read the four fairly short paragraphs, because a great many errors in the Church could be avoided if we utilized this theological method.

 However, in the interest of not straying too far from my intended topic I will only quote paragraph three, which focuses specifically on theological method:
(3) Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.  That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent.  We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.
Universality, antiquity, and consent, these are our criteria for discerning the Catholic faith, the essential faith of the undivided church, the Great Tradition in Theology as I prefer to call it.

So many folks I speak with who consider themselves to be Catholic really don't have a grasp of theology that is Catholic (in the Vincentian sense) at all.  They have paddled their canoes up a narrow inlet and, fascinated with all the flora and fauna they find there, think they are in the only body of water on earth that matters.  Meanwhile a whole ocean of theology lies unseen and unexplored.  By this I don't mean exploring theological innovations and heresies (far from it!).  I am speaking of the vast number of tributaries that flow into the whole body of theological orthodoxy--the Great Tradition, vast and rich--left unexplored by those who think their little bayou is all there is to the Catholic faith.

What brought this topic to mind is the remembrance of comments I made in response to a piece by David Ould on the Stand Firm website last year, entitled, Reformation Day. Every Year. Every Day.  I will modify my comments somewhat to make them more relevant to my topic here.  But, in response to Ould's commendation of Reformation Day (October 30) I was moved to say:
I can’t count how many people I have had conversations with in recent months who are dismissive of the Reformers and the Reformation—and I am talking about Anglican leaders, even in the Anglican Church in North America.  While some of these same folks make fun of the resolution that was proposed (in 2011) at the Convention of the Episcopal diocese of Atlanta to reinstate Pelagius as “a viable theological voice within our tradition,” many of these Anglican leaders do not realize that their own disdain for Calvin really amounts to a rejection of St. Augustine, and their disregard for important Reformation truths really amounts to an unthinking embrace of the very Arminianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Pelagianism that they are ridiculing Episcopal liberals for resurrecting.

R.C. Sproul gets at the heart of the matter when he says:  
“Humanism, in all its subtle forms, recapitulates the unvarnished Pelagianism against which Augustine struggled.  Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by Rome, and its modified form, Semi-Pelagianism was likewise condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, the basic assumptions of this view persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Socinianism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism.”
In response to my comment, Stand Firm Contributing Editor Matt Kennedy replied:
I think two years ago Metropolitan Jonah spoke at the ACNA general assembly, articulating the same flawed sentiments…John Calvin, he said, was a heretic.  How such a proclamation could be lauded (as it was) at an orthodox Anglican gathering in which the 39 articles are supposedly honored is beyond me.  But there we are. Semper Reformanda!
In response to this I replied:

It was awkward when Metropolitan Jonah made his statement about Orthodoxy regarding Calvinism as a heresy at the inaugural ACNA Assembly.  I have discussed this very matter with His Beatitude and I believe that his view is the result of two factors: (1) (and this is simply my own personal opinion) He was exposed to a lot of anti-Calvinistic prejudices as an Anglo-Catholic Anglican before he became Orthodox.  (2) It is a matter of Eastern Orthodox history that Cyril Lucaris, who became the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria as Cyril III and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as Cyril I, taught Calvinistic views that, following his death, were condemned as heresy by an Orthodox Synod in Jerusalem in 1672.  (For a lot of Orthodox, this settles the matter, and they aren’t willing even to discuss it.)

The background to all this is that Eastern Church was largely unaffected by the Augustine vs. Pelagius controversy and so they never really understood Augustine or the error he was trying to combat.  The East was also largely unaffected by the scholasticism of the medieval and renaissance periods which produced doctrines in the Western Church which could only be combatted by a reappropriation of Augustine by the Reformers.

As a young theologian, in the late 1500’s, Cyril had studied in the West, and particularly in Geneva, where he came to appreciate fully the errors of the Roman Church and to embrace Calvinism as a necessary corrective.

So when Cyril tried to institute Calvinistic teaching in the East, it looked to them to be an innovation because they really had no context for understanding the teaching or why it was necessary.  In my opinion, an Anglican-Orthodox dialogue on justification which considers these matters is an absolute necessity once relations have progressed to the point where such a dialogue is possible.

Let me say, parenthetically, that I love and respect (now former Metropolitan) Jonah and am thankful for the conversations we have had and that I hope we will still have in the future.  I pray that God leads him to a place of many more years of continued fruitful ministry, even as this former seminary dean/president prays that for himself.

But this matter of the strain that comes through Augustine and Calvin as it pertains to soteriology being correct theology as opposed to the strain that comes through Pelagius and Arminius is a matter that we must resolve as we go forward.  It is particularly crucial for what is to be the understanding of a renewed Anglicanism in North America and globally.

As a theologian who is concerned for catholicity, my effort has always been to discern and believe the Catholic faith of the undivided Church.  And we ALL must strive to be Catholics, because in the words of the Athanasian Creed, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

So while I recognize that a Catholic theologian affirming Calvin and quoting R.C. Sproul (as I did above) may be jarring to some, I believe that a serious attempt to explore one’s own theology and to ground it in the Early Church Fathers and the Councils will lead one to recognize the extent to which Luther and Calvin (and the English Reformers and authors of the Articles of Religion) are simply reflecting Augustine in the whole matter of bondage of the will and the utter necessity of God’s grace for our salvation.

A crucial part of the Catholic faith is the acceptance of what the early Church did with regard to Augustine vs. Pelagius, which is recapitulated in the Reformers’ teaching on justification by faith roughly 1000 years later.  Pelagius’ error consisted of (1) a failure to recognize the true condition of man subsequent to the Fall; and consequently, (2) a failure to recognize that right standing with God can only be imputed to us as the result of an external cause (God’s grace) and received by faith, rather than merited through our own choices and actions.

Although the Church upheld Augustine in his day, the same humanistic tendency to exalt the role we play with regard to our salvation continued to rear its head in the scholasticism of the late medieval and renaissance periods and influenced Church doctrine in the West so much that the Reformation became “a tragic necessity.”  It continues in the mindset of modern and postmodern liberals and also, strangely enough, in the views of those who see catholicity as synonymous with Rome and who view the Reformation as a mistake.

I have elsewhere and in a number of places commended the theological method of the English Reformers, and it is appropriate to mention it here.  For instance, if you read the works of Thomas Cranmer in the Parker Society reprints, Cranmer will state a doctrine of the Reformation, and then give a page or more of quotations from Scripture in defense of his point.  He will then follow that with several pages of quotations from the Early Fathers to show that he is interpreting Scripture in a way that is consistent with the faith of the undivided Church.  In my humble opinion, we should still do our theology that way.

In a precise illustration of that method one commenter on Stand Firm proceeded to list a plethora of quotations from the Early Fathers in support of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith.  It is indeed helpful to realize just how truly Catholic (in the Vincentian but, obviously, not the Tridentine sense) this teaching is and what an essential piece it is in Great Tradition theology, pertaining as it does to our salvation.

The following material is from "Rick P.," quoted without his permission; but since I don't know how to contact him, and since his comment was made on a public website, I reprint it here with link to the original comments, for purposes of attribution.  I am very grateful for what he had to say:
The Reformers themselves (including Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others) were convinced that their position was not only biblical, but also historical. In other words, they contended that both the apostles and the church fathers would have agreed with them on the heart of the gospel.
For example, the second-generation Lutheran reformer, Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), wrote a treatise on justification in which he defended the Protestant position by extensively using the church fathers.  And John Calvin (1509-1564), in his Institutes, similarly claimed that he could easily debunk his Roman Catholic opponents using nothing but patristic sources. Here’s what he wrote:
If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory — to put it very modestly —would turn to our side. Now, these fathers have written many wise and excellent things.  . . .  [Yet] the good things that these fathers have written they [the Roman Catholics] either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert.  . . .   But we do not despise them [the church fathers]; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval.
Source: John Calvin, “Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France,” The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Section 4.
How could the Reformers be so confident that their understanding of the gospel was consistent with the teachings of the ancient church?  Or perhaps more to the point: What did the early church fathers have to say about the gospel of grace?
Here is an admittedly brief collection of 30 patristic quotes, centering on the reality that justification is by grace alone through faith alone.  Many more could be provided.  But I think you’ll be encouraged by this survey look at the gospel according to the church fathers.
(Even if you don’t read every quote, just take a moment to consider the fact that, long before Luther, the leaders of the ancient church were clearly proclaiming the gospel of grace through faith in Christ.)
1. Clement of Rome (30-100): “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Source: Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32.4.
2. Epistle to Diognetus (second century): “He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal.  For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness?  By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?  O sweet exchange!  O unsearchable operation!  O benefits surpassing all expectation!  That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”
Source: The Epistle to Diognetus, 9.2-5.
3. Justin Martyr (100-165) speaks of “those who repented, and who no longer were purified by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of an heifer, or by the offerings of fine flour, but by faith through the blood of Christ, and through His death.”
Source: Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 13.
4. Origen (185-254): “For God is just, and therefore he could not justify the unjust.  Therefore he required the intervention of a propitiator, so that by having faith in Him those who could not be justified by their own works might be justified.”
Source: Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.112.
5. Origen (again): “A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this.  Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith.  Even if they are good in themselves they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God.”
Source: Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.136.
6. Hilary of Poitiers (300-368): “Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.”
Source: Hilary, Commentary on Matthew (on Matt. 20:7)
7. Hilary of Poitiers (again): “It disturbed the scribes that sin was forgiven by a man (for they considered that Jesus Christ was only a man) and that sin was forgiven by Him whereas the Law was not able to absolve it, since faith alone justifies.”
Source: Hilary, Commentary on Matthew (on Matt. 9:3)
8. Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398) “A person is saved by grace, not by works but by faith.  There should be no doubt but that faith saves and then lives by doing its own works, so that the works which are added to salvation by faith are not those of the law but a different kind of thing altogether.”[31]
Source: Didymus the Blind. Commentary on James, 2:26b.
9. Basil of Caesarea (329-379): “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption.  This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is justified solely by faith in Christ.”
Source: Basil, Homily on Humility, 20.3.
10. Jerome (347–420): “We are saved by grace rather than works, for we can give God nothing in return for what he has bestowed on us.”
Source: Jerome, Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.1.
11. John Chrysostom (349-407): “For Scripture says that faith has saved us.  Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us.  Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all?  Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast.  What then is Paul saying?  Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works.  No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, 4.2.9.
12. John Chrysostom (again): “But what is the ‘law of faith?’  It is, being saved by grace.  Here he shows God’s power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 7.27.
13. John Chrysostom (again): “God allowed his Son to suffer as if a condemned sinner, so that we might be delivered from the penalty of our sins.  This is God’s righteousness, that we are not justified by works (for then they would have to be perfect, which is impossible), but by grace, in which case all our sin is removed.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 11.5.
14. John Chrysostom (again): “Everywhere he puts the Gentiles upon a thorough equality. ‘And put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith.’ (v. 9.)  From faith alone, he says, they obtained the same gifts. This is also meant as a lesson to those (objectors); this is able to teach even them that faith only is needed, not works nor circumcision.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts, 32 (regarding Acts 15:1)
15. John Chrysostom (again): “What then was it that was thought incredible? That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor.  Upon this head accordingly Paul has discoursed at length in his Epistle to the Romans, and here again at length.  “This is a faithful saying,” he says, “and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy, 4.1.
16. John Chrysostom (again): “”For it is most of all apparent among the Gentiles, as he also says elsewhere, ‘And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.’ (Romans 15:9.) For the great glory of this mystery is apparent among others also, but much more among these.  For, on a sudden, to have brought men more senseless than stones to the dignity of Angels, simply through bare words, and faith alone, without any laboriousness, is indeed glory and riches of mystery: just as if one were to take a dog, quite consumed with hunger and the mange, foul, and loathsome to see, and not so much as able to move, but lying cast out, and make him all at once into a man, and to display him upon the royal throne.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians, 5.2.
17. John Chrysostom (again): “Now since the Jews kept turning over and over the fact, that the Patriarch, and friend of God, was the first to receive circumcision, he wishes to show, that it was by faith that he too was justified. And this was quite a vantage ground to insist upon.  For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely.  But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light.”
Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 8.1.
18. Augustine (354-430): “If Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified? The apostle goes on to tell us how: What does scripture say? (that is, about how Abraham was justified).  Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6).  Abraham, then, was justified by faith.  Paul and James do not contradict each other: good works follow justification.”
Source: Augustine, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31, 2-4.
19. Augustine (again): “When someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6).  What righteousness is this?  The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.”
Source: Augustine, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31, 6-7.
20. Ambrosiaster (fourth century): “God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works.  By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins.”
Source: Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:4.
21. Ambrosiaster (again): “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.”
Source: Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Romans 3:24.
22. Ambrosiaster (again): “Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.”
Source: Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Romans 3:27.
23. Ambrosiaster (again): “God gave what he promised in order to be revealed as righteous.  For he had promised that he would justify those who believe in Christ, as he says in Habakkuk: ‘The righteous will live by faith in me’ (Hab. 2:4).  Whoever has faith in God and Christ is righteous.”
Source: Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles; CSEL 81 ad loc.
24. Marius Victorinus (fourth century): “The fact that you Ephesians are saved is not something that comes from yourselves.  It is the gift of God. It is not from your works, but it is God’s grace and God’s gift, not from anything you have deserved. …  We did not receive things by our own merit but by the grace and goodness of God.”
Source: Marius Victorinus, Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.9.
25. Prosper of Aquitaine (390–455): “And just as there are no crimes so detestable that they can prevent the gift of grace, so too there can be no works so eminent that they are owed in condign [deserved] judgment that which is given freely.  Would it not be a debasement of redemption in Christ’s blood, and would not God’s mercy be made secondary to human works, if justification, which is through grace, were owed in view of preceding merits, so that it were not the gift of a Donor, but the wages of a laborer?”
Source: Prosper of Acquitaine, Call of All Nations, 1.17
26. Theodoret of Cyrus (393–457): “The Lord Christ is both God and the mercy seat, both the priest and the lamb, and he performed the work of our salvation by his blood, demanding only faith from us.”
Source: Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans; PG 82 ad loc.
27. Theodoret of Cyrus (again): “All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler.  For [Paul] adds, ‘And this is not of yourselves but it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph. 2:8–9).  It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins”
Source: Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of the Fourteen Epistles of Paul; FEF 3:248–49, sec. 2163.
28. Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): “For we are justified by faith, not by works of the law, as Scripture says.  By faith in whom, then, are we justified?  Is it not in Him who suffered death according to the flesh for our sake?  Is it not in one Lord Jesus Christ?”
Source: Cyril of Alexandria, Against Nestorius, 3.62
29. Fulgentius (462–533): “The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God.  Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity.  Where there is true belief through true faith, true salvation certainly accompanies it.  Anyone who departs from true faith will not possess the grace of true salvation.”
Source: Fulgentius, On the Incarnation, 1; CCL 91:313.
30.  Bede (673-735): “Although the apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works, those who understand by this that it does not matter whether they live evil lives or do wicked and terrible things, as long as they believe in Christ, because salvation is through faith, have made a great mistake.  James here expounds how Paul’s words ought to be understood.  This is why he uses the example of Abraham, whom Paul also used as an example of faith, to show that the patriarch also performed good works in the light of his faith.  It is therefore wrong to interpret Paul in such a way as to suggest that it did not matter whether Abraham put his faith into practice or not.  What Paul meant was that no one obtains the gift of justification on the basis of merits derived from works performed beforehand, because the gift of justification comes only from faith.”
Source: Cited from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ed. Gerald Bray), NT, vol. 11, p. 31.
If you are still reading, I hope you can see from this list how much an understanding of justification by faith is an important and central part of the Catholic faith, rightly understood.  The method employed, one of probing for universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent--a method as old as St. Vincent and beyond, must be ours going forward as we recover a comprehensive and orthodox theology of the Great Tradition in Christianity.


Anonymous said...

I love how Calvinists always point out that "Semi-Pelagianism" was condemned by the Council of Orange yet leave out that so was Augustine's view of predestination, which is the same as the Calvinist view!!!! You call the Semi-Pelagians heretics on the basis that this council condemned them, but it condemned you too!!!

Another interesting thing is that the semi-Pelagianism of the council is not really the same as semi-Pelagianism as Calvinists use the term. In fact, the council doesn't use the term "Semi-Pelagianism" at all. Further--and this is hilarious--the proceedings of the council (although it supposedly took place in 529) were not "discovered" until two years after Erasmus of Rotterdam's death...which is rather convenient for the Augustinians both in the Romish church and the Protestant churches at that time.

Robert S. Munday said...

Jose, I may deal with this in a separate post, but the specific sentence you are referring to in the Canons of the Second Council of Orange is the one that says, "We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema."

The teaching that is being condemned is what some call "Double Predestination"--that some are predestined to eternal life and others to eternal damnation. Scholars debate whether Augustine or Calvin actually taught that.

However, one can disagree with Calvin on that point and still be a Calvinist. If one truly believes what the Second Council of Orange affirmed in Augustine's teaching, then one is already a Calvinist in most respects. You are right to point out the Council's condemnation of this one point. But do you believe the rest of what the Council affirmed? Because if you do, you are already 90% Calvinist.

Anonymous said...

I'll give you a canon by canon breakdown.

"CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was changed for the worse through the offense of Adam's sin..." I don't believe in adding to the Old Testament what is not there. Genesis 3 only tells us about death, pain in childbirth, and having to work hard to survive as punishments or effects of the 'fall,' so no I don't believe any change was made in the soul, unless it was a change for the better, namely inheriting the knowledge of good and evil.

"CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body..." It is indeed only physical mortality and physical hardship that is inherited.

"CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God..." This whole line of reasoning is silly. The idea that we have to pray for grace is silly. The idea that we need grace to make us pray is silly.

"CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit..." In other words, if you agree with what God told Cain, you are anathema to the forgers of these canons, for God told Cain, "If you do will, well you not be approved? But if not, sin crouches at the door and its desire is to conquer you, but you can conquer it." Does he make any of that depend on the Holy Spirit?

So, I would dare say the entirety of these canons is entirely wrong headed, and just plain silly. Furthermore, as I hinted above, since the proceedings of the council were 'lost' until 2 years after Erasmus' death, I have my suspicions that they were forged during the Reformation period itself.

Robert S. Munday said...

Jose, I think all you have demonstrated is that you don't believe the canons of the Second Council of Orange and that I do. But to answer your objections briefly:

Canons 1 and 2 - There is a lot more in the Bible that tells us about the effects of the Fall than just Genesis. For example, Romans 5:18-19, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." So the effect is more than physical death, and it is definitely not a positive thing.

Canon 3 - Romans 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Psalm 86:6, "Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace." So, yes, we need to pray for grace, and the Spirit helps us to pray when we are unable.

Canon 4 - Hebrews 11:4 tells us: "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts." It was by faith that Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Even the faith we have is a gift from God, not the result of our own works.

If the proceedings of the council were 'lost' until 2 years after Erasmus' death, the Catholic Encyclopedia makes no mention of that, and it would have been in the Roman Catholic Church's interest to do so, since many of the canons from the council were used by the Reformers to support their positions. Instead, the Roman Catholic Church supported the authenticity of the council and even incorporated some of its canons in its response to the Reformers in the Council of Trent.

Jose, your responses to the canons you cite makes me curious:

1. That the Fall brought about "a change for the better, namely inheriting the knowledge of good and evil."

2. That, "It is indeed only physical mortality and physical hardship that is inherited."

3. "The idea that we have to pray for grace is silly. The idea that we need grace to make us pray is silly."

4. You deny, "that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit..." In other words, we can be saved by making the right choices, unaided by God's grace.

Each of these positions is precisely the position that would be taken by someone who is a member of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Are you by any chance a Mormon? I am not asking the question to be insulting. I am merely curious.

Anonymous said...

"4. You deny, 'that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit...' In other words, we can be saved by making the right choices, unaided by God's grace."

That's foolish and doesn't follow at all. That is not logic. If a drowning man wants to be saved, but can't swim, and needs a lifegurard to swim over and rescue him, does the fact that without the lifeguard giving him the ability to want to be saved, that he desired to be saved on his own, does that make him his own savior? If he yells "help, I'm drowning" did the lifeguard save him any less? Was the lifeguard any less necessary? You see, Calvinism is just stupid. Its nothing but brain warping tactics.

As to it being in the best interest of the Catholic church to reveal that the proceedings of the council of Orange are a forgery, that's silly. The position of the Catholic church is basically that free will can do nothing but make itself available to grace or reject grace. It is not the position condemned by the council. To a Calvinist everything other than Calvinism sounds like the same thing, I know, but that's part of your lack of logic problem. I got the information about the proceedings being lost from a footnote in The Battle over Free Will where Erasmus is explaining Duns Scotus' position and says "this has never been condemned by the church" and the editors explain in the footnote why neither Erasmus or anyone else at that time knew that it had been condemned by the church, namely that the proceedings of the council were lost until 2 years after Erasmus' death.

Nashotah House Press said...

Hey Fr. Munday, this is Ben. Your post here touches on something I myself have been wrestling through. Would love to hear your thoughts to my objection:

Calvinism, as you noted, has been refuted by all Eastern Christians since the time of Cyril (and before, don't forget Jeremiah II's response to Melancthon). That's 400 years of God-fearing theologians saying "no". Furthermore, the Church of Rome has anathametized (at Trent, s.6) anyone who hold to fidei sola. So, how is it tenable to say that you only want to believe that which has been believed Catholically, and then hold to a doctrine that has been rejected by the greater part of the the Church for the greater part of 500 years now? By the very definition of catholicism you gave (Vincent's), calvinism fails the test: it is not believed by all, everywhere. If you appeal to the undivided Church, this is problematic on two counts, 1) we are then on an academic, paleographic exploration of history, which *always* can be shown to be defending both sides, on every imaginable contention. You drag out your Fathers, and I'll drag out mine. (cf. the Filioque debates) 2) it tacitly assumes that the Spirit of Christ is not inhabiting the Church as much today as he was in the good old days. Are you willing to concede this? On the one hand, does God so abandon his people; and on the other, was there *ever* an era of the Church sans ruthless theological contention? I don't think there was. I think the only truly catholic teachings are minimal apophatic assents, e.g. the creed of 381.

Anyway, the question was: how can you say Calvinism (qua Calvinism, not the bits that ARE catholic) is catholic, WHEN IT IS CLEARLY NOT.




Robert S. Munday said...

Hi, Ben, thanks for commenting! My contention is that, for the most part, Calvinism has been condemned by name, based on generalizations and comments taken out of context, and without adequate regard for the historical context in which Calvin's teaching arose.

In a sense, we are doing the same thing in this conversation: using the one word, Calvinism, to apply to the whole body of a man's work, a whole theological system, and a historical movement spanning several centuries--a movement that has, at times, embraced ideas that were not originally a part of Calvin's teaching.

To be clear, I am not saying all of Calvinism is catholic. But, as I said to another commenter on this thread, if you accept the Canons of the Second Council of Orange (as well as the Church's earlier verdict on Angustine vs. Pelagius) then you are already 90% Calvinist (at least in regard to soteriology--and that is really the only aspect I am dealing with here. Obviously, given my position, I do not think Calvin had the right idea about church government and other things.)

The theological method for which I am arguing ultimately means that Evangelicals, Reformed, Charismatics, Orthodox, and Catholics (Roman, Anglo-, etc.) all need to reexamine their theologies in the light of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and the Councils and arrive at a theology that meets the tests of ecumenicity, antiquity, and consent. This means that each camp will have to lay aside baggage that doesn't meet the test of catholicity.

Appied practically, that may look like getting back to a "Mere Christianity" and working our way forward again on many of the doctrines we believe, only doing it in a Vincentian way.

This means that Calvinists will have to lay aside doctrines that do not meet the test of catholicity, but it also means that those who have not though of themselves as Calvinists will have to embrace those aspects of Calvinism that are catholic. And, as I said, when it comes to soteriology, I believe that the Church's past decisions on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, and the Canons of the Second Council of Orange are important guideposts pointing the way.

Anonymous said...

If by the test of catholicity you mean that it "Has been believed by all Christians at all times" nothing meets that criteria, unless of course you begin with a preconceived notion of what a Christian is and weed out certain groups. But if you came to the question as a totally objective outside observer, you wouldn't find one doctrine that meets that test, because as a unbiased observer you've have to include in the category of "Christian" everyone who ever claimed to be a Christian, meaning all the heretics too. But if you don't approach it in an unbiased way, then you can make anything you want 'catholic' by simply saying that the groups that disagree with were heretics rather than "True" Christians. So catholicity is a meaningless category ultimately; its something for children to play with.

Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church said...


This is why I left the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church. This is why I was so dissatisfied with the emphasis at a "Methodist" seminary.

I thought that becoming an Anglican would get me away from this utterly stupid and non-productive bickering.

Please use your enegeries on something that will do good for the Church and the world!

Anonymous said...

@Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church

"I thought that becoming an Anglican would get me away from this utterly stupid and non-productive bickering."

Only leaving Christianity altogether for Judaism or something will get you away from this "non-productive bickering." So long as you are in a denomination that accepts Paul's writings as scripture you will have to deal with this "non-productive bickering" over what Paul means in Romans 9 and in Romans 5:12. Its just reality.

Micah Joseph said...

I'm an Arminian in the classical sense of the word. I've been aware of the Council of Orange for some time and I find it amusing that Calvinists claim it as their own and feel that it is a rejection of Arminian theology. This stems, I think, from listening to Calvinists define Arminianism! In fact, as an Arminian who holds to Prevenient Grace (the foundational distinction), the Council of Orange paints a picture of Prevenient Grace very clearly. Canon 20-22 make mention that when we do good, we do God's will, and when we do evil, we do our own will, and the summary indicates that God does not foreordain any to evil. Essentially, everything good in us is attributed to God and His grace, and everything evil is attributed to our free (yet fallen) will. This is perfectly compatible with Classical Arminianism. The Council of Orange, rather than dividing us, ought to be a rallying point of consensus between Classical Arminians and Calvinists on the importance of Preceeding Grace, while we nonetheless disagree on the extent of how many people receive this grace and whether it is resistable.
Now, regarding the church fathers quotes, you did a good job finding affirmations of grace, yet none of these indicate unconditional election. John Chrysostom's commentary on Romans, if you read the parts on Romans 9, are quite illuminating. The early consensus before Augustine was conditional election, and in the East that always remained true.