Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cranmer, argues against semi-Pelagianism:

(taken from his "A Sermon of the Salvation of Mankind")

"First, you shall understand, that in our justification by Christ it
is not all one thing, the office of God unto man, and the office of
man unto God. Justification is not the office of man, but of God; for
man cannot make himself righteous by his own works, neither in part,
nor in the whole; for that were the greatest arrogance and presumption
of man that Antichrist could set up against God, to affirm that a man
might by his own works take away and purge his own sins, and so
justify himself.

But justification is the office of God only, and is not a thing which
we render unto him, but which we receive of him not
which we give to him, but which we take of him, by his free mercy, and
by the only merits of his most dearly beloved Son, our only redeemer,
Savior, and justifier, Jesus Christ: so that the true understanding of
this doctrine, we be justified freely by faith without works, or that
we be justified by faith in Christ only, is not, that this our own act
to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ, which is within us,
doth justify us, and derserve our justification unto us (for that were
to count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is
within ourselves); but the true understanding and meaning thereof is,
that although we hear God's word, and believe it; although we have
faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of God within us,
and do never so many works thereunto; yet we must renounce the merit
of all our said virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and all other
virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can
do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient, and imperfect, to
deserve remission of our sins, and our justification; and therefore we
must trust only in God's mercy, and that sacrifice which our high
priest and Savior Christ Jesus, the Son of God, once offered for us
upon the cross, to obtain thereby God's grace and remission, as well
of our original sin in baptism, as of all actual sincommitted by us
after our baptism, if we truly repent, and turn unfeignedly to him
again. So that, as St. John the Baptist, although he were never so
virtuous and godly a man, yet in this matter of forgiving sin, he did
put the people from him, and appointed them unto Christ, saying thus
unto them, 'Behold, yonder is the lamb of God, which taketh away the
sins of the world'; even so, as great and godly a virtue as the lively
faith is, yet it putteth us from itself, and remitteth or appointeth
us unto Christ, for to have only by him remission of our sins, or
justification. So that our faith in Christ (as it were) saith unto us
thus: It is not I that take away your sins, but it is Christ only; and
to him only I send you for that purpose, forsaking therein all your
good virtues, words, thoughts, and works, and only putting your trust
in Christ."


Hershey Belvedere said...

truer words have ne'er been uttered.

Pontificator said...

Trackback Pontifications

mike burton said...

Fr. Freeman is right on point at the pontificator's post.
A low anthropology and a high Christology is the foundation upon which the Cranmerian view of justification is built.
This is and will be the fundamental difference between the Roman and Protestant view on justification.
Fr. Freeman wrapped it up rather nicely.

Pontificator said...

Mike, I think you have misunderstood Fr Stephen's comment. He suggests cutting Cranmer a little slack on the grounds that statements like Cranmer's, which are found throughout the tradition (both East and West), can be accounted for as extreme expressions of piety and not theological description. Personally, I believe Fr Stephen is wrong on this point, because Cranmer's piety is grounded in Reformed theology and flows from that. Cranmer would have been just as critical of the Orthodox construal of theosis as he was of Catholicism.

Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy see transformative union with Christ as central. Both understand salvation as a process, involving a lifetime of repentance, prayer, and good works. Both find the classical Reformation construals of imputation and the simul iustus et peccator as inadequate and misleading, if not heretical. Neither are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, but both are synergistic. There are, of course, differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism on justification--for one thing Orthodoxy eschews scholastic-type reflection on these matters--but there can be no question that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are basically working from similar models of salvation.

mike burton said...

Thank You pontificator for your scholarly response.

But, forgive me if I still misunderstand, it seems that Fr. Freeman is warning against piety fot piety's sake. I can see nowhere in his comment that he actually ascribes Cranmer's view as piety on Cranmer's part. Cranmer, in the quote John posts, is plainly warning against piety as a means of attaining to God.

That is why he uses such strong language such as the words "reject" and "renounce" when speaking of our "good" works.

As far as whether the Catholic view of salvation and how one attains unto it is Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, I really don't think that there is any argument that I can give, to you, that would convince you of anything other than what you have already stated, althogh I think it is quite plain that I have more than a leg (and about 1500 years of history) to stand on.

Pontificator said...

Mike, if you think you've got a good argument to demonstrate that the Catholic position on justification is semi-Pelagian, please provide it. You may not be able to convince me, but please don't let that stop you. :-)

For purposes of clarity, I propose the following definition of semi-Pelagianism from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:

"[Semi-Pelagianism], while not denying the necessity of Grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that Grace supervened only later."

This construal of understanding was explicitly rejected by the Council of Orange, the canons of which enjoy dogmatic authority for the Catholic Church. Thus canon 5:

"If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, 'For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God' (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers."

This insistence on prevenient grace was reaffirmed by Trent ("If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema" [canon 3]) and is clearly stated in the Catholic Catechism.

So I think you've got your work cut out for you, Mike, no matter how many legs you have to stand on. :-)

mike burton said...

Dear pontificator,

Thank you for your further exposition. But, for we protestants, any excerpt of the Roman catechism can easily be seen as contrary to any other of the same .
For instance, thou, and thy church, saith in that same catechism which you have quoted,

" Faith is a grace (yet) Faith is a human Act"

"Believing is only possible by grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed are contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.
In Faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace ..."
Now, it is quite clear by this saying of your own catechism, that Grace alone, freely given by God is of no use to the sinner unless the sinner's will and intellect (seemingly one and the same in this context) COOPERATES with the Grace of God.
Therefore, it is not God's free gift of Grace, nor the Holy Spirit's "amending our will" which justifies but at least, at least , the cooperation of my will with the Grace of God.
That my friend is Semi-Pelagianism.
I would go so far as to say that the definition of Semi-Pelagianism from the hallowed Oxford Dictionary fits well with what I have described above.
Our undertanding of the role in which humanity plays in Faith and therefore of Justification is and will, until Rome admits it's error be forever contrary.
The idea, plainly stated in the Roman catechism, that man has a free will, is an inherent error in the Doctrine of Justification as defined by the Roman church.
I mean not to be argumentative, but to plainly state, that Christ and Christ alone is the perfect satisfaction, oblation, and propitiation for our sins. That we bring NOTHING to the table, certainly not our righteousness, good works, acts of charity or even repentance, for it be not true unless the Holy Spirit first supply us with it. And if the Holy Spirit supply us with it, it is a fruit of our Faith, the gift of God, and not the cause of it!
The idea that we, as pitiful and sinful and utterly despicable as we are, could EVER, bring even the smallest, insignificant amount of righteousness as even a partial propitiation for our dreadful sins, to the One who WILL judge us for EVERY stray thought, word or deed, is untenable.

Grace and Peace,

simeon zahl said...


The precise historical definition of semi-pelagianism is a bit slippery. For instance, the Jansenists defined it differently from the Oxford Dictionary. One of their 5 propositions, all of which were condemned, as I understand it, in the 1653 bull "Cum occasione", was the following:

"The Semi-Pelagians taught the necessity of interior prevenient grace for every action even for the beginning of faith; they were heretics forasmuch as they considered grace to be such that the human will can either cooperate with it or refuse to do so."

Under this definition, according to which "the semi-Pelagians" acknowledge the necessity of prevenient grace, the real issue in the term is whether or not grace is seen to be irresistible. Would you not agree that the Catholic Church is semi-Pelagian according to this definition? Does not "Cum occasione"'s condemnation of their proposition demonstrate it beyond doubt?

It may well be that the definition you gave applies to the original semi-Pelagians of the 5th and 6th centuries- I do not know for certain. I would tend to include anyone who denies the irresistibility of grace in the category, and there is at least some historical precedent for doing so, in the 17th century.

The issue, from my perspective, is whether a free will plays any role whatsoever, even so small a role as being free to resist grace despite prevenience. If you would reject the inclusion of those described in the above proposition under the heading "semi-pelagian", what term would you prefer for the position the Jansenists opposed?

I hope this helps clarify the terms here. The issue is the irresistibility of grace. No one disagrees about prevenience, as far as I can tell.

Pontificator said...

Therefore, it is not God's free gift of Grace, nor the Holy Spirit's "amending our will" which justifies but at least, at least, the cooperation of my will with the Grace of God. That my friend is Semi-Pelagianism.

No, Mike, that is not Semi-Pelagianism; it is synergism. The two are not equivalent. Everyone in the patristic Church, including the Doctor of Grace, was a synergist. I suggest that you are anachronistically reading a Reformed monergism back into the Semi-Pelagian controversies of the 5th-6th centuries. The Synod of Orange did not anathematize synergism and cooperative grace. It anathematized the claim that the natural man could turn to God apart from God's prevenient grace; and on this point the Tridentine and contemporary Catholic Church wholeheartedly concur.

Do you really want to dogmatically insist upon a Reformed monergism? If you do, you will end up excommunicating virtually all of the Church Fathers. Even Augustine believed that the regenerate believer could cooperate with God's grace for eternal life, and he acknowledged and warned that the regenerate could fall from grace. He did not have a notion of efficacious grace, as this was formulated by scholasticism and Reformed orthodoxy. Augustine's crucial insight: "He who created thee without thee, will not justify thee without thee."

Yet Augustine's contributions here are mixed. The Church, beginning with the Synod of Orange, could not and did follow him on all points. Augustine therefore cannot be looked upon as the exclusive standard of orthodoxy over opposed to the consensual witness of the Church Fathers.

Catholicism presently permits many different opinions on grace and predestination. On the one hand, there are those who follow the views of Banez, the founder of neo-Thomism. It's difficult, at least for me, to distinguish Banez's views on grace from the views of mainstream infralapsarian Calvinists. John Hardon summarizes the Banezian theory:

"The Thomistic explanation of how grace and free will are reconciled begins with the premise that God has eternally predestined taht some people should be saved, and to realize this aim confers effective (efficacious) graces on these elect. He therefore physically affects their free wills, and thus secures that they decide freely to cooperate with His grace" (History and Theology of Grace, p. 265).

On the other hand, there are those who follow the the views of Molina: God gives sufficient grace to all and he forsees those who freely respond to the free offer of salvation and those who do not. The former he predestines to eternal salvation; the latter he does not.

And then there are various positions in between neo-Thomism and Molinism. But all positions are dogmatically normed by Orange and Trent and their insistence upon the sola gratia.

The rejection of Jansenism should be understood, I think, as a refusal to reduce the mystery of grace to the exercise of divine, irresistible omnipotence. As Cardinal Journet writes, Jansenism was rejected because it reduced all grace to efficacious, irresistible grace. Contra Jansenism, the Church must be able to say that God has truly, sincerely, and effectively died for all humanity on the cross, that God provides sufficient grace to all to freely turn to him, that faith is a gift of God, and that the baptized are given authentic freedom to cooperate with divine grace. There is mystery here, and the Catholic Church refuses to eliminate the mystery for the sake of a wooden consistency.

But returning to my original point, if we allow the Synod of Orange to be our dogmatic guide, then it is clear that the Catholic Church does not teach semi-Pelagianism. What it does teach is a grace-enabled synergism. For historical and theological reasons, it is crucial to maintain the distinction between the two.

I would also note that if one condemns Catholicism because of its synergism, one should also condemn, for the sake of consistency, Arminius, John Wesley, and the majority of contemporary evangelicals---and the Eastern Church, of course. Doesn't that make you a wee bit uncomfortable? :-)

bpzahl said...

Hi Father Kimel,

You wrote "...and that the baptized are given authentic freedom to cooperate with divine grace."

I would disagree with that final sentence on the basis of Original Sin; I would say that even when given "authentic freedom", we do not cooperate. The whole crux of the Gospel is that it is entirely counter-intuitive - it says we should die that we may live. I would suspect that most people (even Christians), when given "authentic freedom", would choose to do whatever they heck they *want* - and whatever they want, as we know from Romans 2, is NOT God but the world. One only needs to consider the number of baptized, non-practicing Christians to see that. So I don't see how having "authentic freedom" by way of baptism somehow has the ability to enable us to choose God.

One issue I have with synergism is its assumption that the two parties involved are of similar valence - i.e. both are inherently good. I think this point of anthropology was the dividing point in some of the previous posts. Perhaps I see it too simplistically, but I think simul iustus et peccator offers greater explanatory power of what we observe as recurrences in Christian life.

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this way, but when I read Jesus saying "Be perfect", all I can think is "Shit! I'm screwed!" It's motivating to think synergistically when it involves doing something that doesn't inconvenience us too much. (The idea of convenience varies with everyone; for me, it feels more convenient to be a missionary in some 3rd world country than to live in England. I'd much rather live in Mongolia than in England!) But if "be perfect" is exactly what it means, then synergism is anything but motivating. I find that at the end of the day it offers very little hope to anyone, baptized or not.

Imagine saying to a college student, "I want you to get a 4.0 GPA and win the Gates or the Rhodes, and I'll make sure you have all the help you need - but you have to put in 100% of your effort, too!" If I were that student, I'd be tearing my hair out, studying my butt off, not eating nor sleeping, and basically getting depressed as days go by. All because I have to put in my 100% and who ever really knows whether they've put in their 100%? (I doubt anyone can honestly say "I couldn't have done any better.")

The profundity of the Cross is not that if offers a little bit of help. Its profundity is that it offers all the help we need. Otherwise the Cross is no different to the previous thousands of Jewish history - another bit of help that can be rejected, like the Isrealites rejecting one prophet after another.

Pontificator said...


"Is Catholicism Semi-Pelagian?"

Pontificator said...

I would disagree with that final sentence on the basis of Original Sin; I would say that even when given "authentic freedom", we do not cooperate.

Hi, Bonnie. Good to run into you again.

I do not know of any Church theologian before the Reformation who denied the Spirit-enabled freedom of the baptized to cooperate with God's grace. Even Augustine taught this. So if I have to choose between the consenual convictions of the Church Fathers and the innovations of the 16th century, I'll go with the Church Fathers.

bpzahl said...

Hi Father Kimel,

Thanks for your note. But I still don't see how synergism is not fundamentally the same as the scenario of the student which I described. I fail to see how, even when the baptized believer is given the ability to choose God, he can live up to Jesus' command to "be perfect". That is a devastating command even when one has been given divine help to aid in one's efforts.

I have no knowledge of the church fathers, but in the Bible Jesus repeatedly says we must be perfect and we must be like little children to enter the kingdom of God. Now we all know that children are the worse at being perfect. In fact children live by the id much more than by their superego! I don't see how the baptized believer can simultaneously be 1) childlike and 2) perfect. I will be convinced otherwise when I see a perfect Christian baby/child :)

Lastly, Jesus says that he will give his people "rest", not more work (Matthew 11:28). Again, the profundity of the Cross is Jesus himself said it is FINISHED. Not "Now they are able to do the rest", but finished. For a person who is dying in the dessert, salvation doesn't mean being given unlimited bottles of water; salvation means being taken out of the dessert.

Richard P. Cook said...

For me it is like being a little bit pregnant. Either you bring NOTHING to the table or you bring a “LITTLE” to the table. I know I would be near suicidal in desperation if I was required to bring anything to the table. All the hope comes from my inability to effect the transaction.

bpzahl said...

I think you all knew what I meant when I spoke about drowning in hot fudge sauce.

Pontificator said...

onnie, I think you have posed a false dilemma. I commend to you St Augustine's The Spirit and the Letter.

According to Augustine, the law if fulfilled in us by charity, which is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls. The Spirit, and thus love, has been freely given to us in Holy Baptism. We know this to be true because this is the promise of Christ in Baptism, and we trust his word. As a supernatural virtue, the presence of love cannot be empirically introspectively verified. We must rely upon Christ and the Spirit who is working within us and for us.

This love is nothing less than the love that binds the Father and the Son together. This love is our participation in the Holy Trinity. This love is our salvation, for it is this love that makes us fit for heaven and binds us to God eternally.

Synergism, therefore, is not a threat, for it is a gift of God and flows from our justification in Christ.

All evangelicals need to read St Augustine and Tom Oden's The Transforming Power of Grace. St Paul will then read very differently. In the most profound sense, we are justified by love, the love that God has shread abroad in our hearts.

mike burton said...

"So if I have to choose between the consenual convictions of the Church Fathers and the innovations of the 16th century, I'll go with the Church Fathers." - Pontificator

The Church Fathers also believed that the planet earth was the center of the Universe. Of course we've ALL chosen to believe the "innovations of the 16th century" in regards to that, haven't we.

mattie said...

Mike -

I gotta say, your last remark was a bit below the belt. Luther was an anti-Semite and Calvin advocated a most severe form of torture & capital punishment. We all have our blind spots. If you're really trying to say that acceptance of a heliocentric cosmology is somehow related to right theology, you're treading on shaky ground. Not to mention that you're venturing into borderlands of (possibly) heretical process-type theology. Quite ironic coming from one who has such a skeptical view of human nature.


Mike Burton said...

Dear Mattie,

My point is, exactly, that to put one's trust in ANYONE other than CHRIST alone is indeed treading on shaky ground.

It seemed to me that the Pontificator, in keeping with Roman tradition, has put his trust in the opinions of fallible men. I'm simply pointing out the danger of that. Thank you for reiterating it for me with your examples of two other fallible men, Luther and Calvin.

And by the way, a heliocentric cosmology has grave theological implications.

Boethius said...

Dear Mike:

Great discussion!

I think you have perhaps misconstrued the allegiance of the Pontificator. He has not, if I may be so bold to say, put his trust in the opinions of fallible men. Rather he is trusting in the Church that received these teachings. Thus he is choosing to accept the teachings of the Fathers through the church. Is this not how we accept the Biblical canon and the creeds, i.e., we receive them through the Church? Obviously the issues of authority and ecclesiology are intertwined.

May I also suggest that the dismissal of the Pontificator's observation with a reference to classical cosmology sounds a lot like the village atheist's dismissal of Xianity as a whole: it is merely pre-scientific mumbo jumbo. Perhaps there are legitmate reasons to set aside the teachings of the Fathers (as received by the church) while receiving the teachings of the Reformers, but an appeal to scientifc progress (and the conflation of the work of the Spirit with the work of men) is not one of them.