August 23, 2016
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux, France
(Photograph: June 2016, Kevin Davis)
In seventeenth century France, the future of the Catholic Church in the modern world was being decided. It was decided in a decades-long debate about grace — a highly technical debate. On one side were the Jansenists, the passionate disciples of St. Augustine. On the other side were the Jesuits, the “modernizers” who were moving away from the strict, dualist, ascetic theology of Augustine and, therefore, of much of the Western Church until their own day.
According to Leszek Kolakowski, this debate on grace, which is to say how Creator and creature relate, was decisive for how the Catholic Church could exist in modernity. The Jesuits won, and therefore Augustine lost. Is not Augustine a saint and a doctor of the Church? Yes. Nonetheless, in the Jansenist controversy the Church condemned Augustine’s teaching on grace: grace as effectual and sufficient, electing and without cooperation. For Augustine and the Jansenists, unbaptized infants go to hell. Most people go to hell, for the way is narrow and only a few are chosen to receive salvation — as the Jansenists soberly taught.
For Kolakowski, the Church condemned Augustine’s teaching on grace and became modern. This is a provocative thesis, and you can find it in Kolakowski’s God Owes Us Nothing. It is the sort of book that will elicit a strong reaction, from both historian and theologian alike. I could hardly put it down. I will try to explain his analysis further, but first a bit about the author.
Kolakowski (1927-2009) was a Polish philosopher who is best known for Main Currents of Marxism (three volumes), Modernity on Endless Trial, Metaphysical Horror, and The Presence of Myth. Additionally he produced a wide range of essays, many of which are gathered in the posthumous collection, Is God Happy?
The gist of his biography is that he was an ardent Marxist early in his career but gradually became one of its most capable critics. As a result, he lost his job at Warsaw University in the late 60’s. Most of his academic life was spent at Oxford University and the University of Chicago. His interest as a philosopher was in the history of ideas, which surely owes much to his early training in Hegel and Marx. His mature work was heavily dominated by an interest in religious matters, as he became a sympathetic interpreter of Christianity — with an openness to metaphysical questions. He became friends with John Paul II, as they were both important figures in the Polish Solidarity movement. But Kolakowski never became a Christian believer, except perhaps in his own idiosyncratic way.
The Jansenist Controversy
God Owes Us Nothing is divided into two parts. The first part, which is slightly longer than half the book, is “Why Did the Catholic Church Condemn the Teaching of Saint Augustine?” This is what we will be looking at. The second part is a study of Pascal, the most famous of Jansenists, and his religious beliefs.
Kolakowski spends several pages discussing the doctrinal details in the dispute, looking closely at the source material especially on the Jansenist side. The Jansenists believed that they were faithfully upholding the Church’s ancient teaching, which they identified with St. Augustine, while also trying to distance themselves from the Calvinists. They believed that the Jesuits were bringing Pelagian heresy into the Church.
Kolakowski agrees that the Jansenists were upholding the teaching of Augustine on grace, but:
The Jesuits were no less right in demonstrating the fundamental conformity of Jansenist tenets with Calvin’s theory of predestination. This amounts to saying that Calvin was, on this point, a good Augustinian and that, by condemning Jansenius, the Church was in effect condemning — without, of course, stating it explicitly — Augustine himself, its own greatest theological authority. (5)
Therefore, the Jansenists were also correct to say that the Jesuits were semi-Pelagian. Unfortunately for the Jansenists, Rome sided with the Jesuits. Kolakowski looks closely at each of the five condemned propositions in Pope Innocent X’s bull, Cum occasione, promulgated in 1653 and directed at Jansenius’ Augustinus. If I may attempt to summarize Kolakowski’s analysis, it all comes down to whether grace is sufficient and not merely necessary. All sides agreed that grace is necessary, but Jansenius argued that grace after the Fall must be sufficient and efficacious. “Both Augustine and Jansenius seem unambiguous on this point; once God wishes that a man do good, his will cannot be frustrated, his grace cannot be resisted” (15). By the way, Kolakowski interprets Aquinas as being ambiguous on this, though leaning toward Augustine (see 39-42).
If you are familiar with Calvinist discussions on these matters, then much of this will be familiar to you. So, for example, Augustine argued (and the Jansenists followed suit) that efficient grace is not incompatible with free will, so long as the will is understood as not coerced but freely desirous. We are empowered by efficacious grace to do that which we are otherwise unable to do, i.e, the good. Even though by grace you choose necessarily to will the good, you do it freely because God has liberated you to do so. Kolakowski explains Augustine thus: “Indeed, whatever it is in our power to do, is done freely; therefore free will is perfectly compatible with the action of efficient grace: it is grace which allows our will freely to will that and not this” (19). Apart from grace, we necessarily sin, and any good can only be attributed to grace.
In this Augustinian-Jansenist understanding, there can be no thought of cooperation between God and his creature. Otherwise, the merit for any good in a person would have to be partly attributed to the person. If the person can thwart grace, then the overcoming of sin must be partly God’s will and partly the person’s will. God no longer receives all the praise and glory. Kolakowski frequently highlights the all-or-nothing attitude of the Jansenists. The Jesuits elevate man in an intolerable way for the Jansenist. For their part, the Jesuits were appalled at the Jansenist understanding of a God who condemns on the basis alone of justice without regard to mercy or love. Grace is universal and given to all, which the Jansenists believed undermined the particularity of the Christian faith, which is to say Christianity itself.
Kolakowski also deals with the other related matters of double predestination and “for whom did Christ die?” But we need not spend time detailing all of that. The social-ecclesial consequence for the Jansenist is that the Christian life is one of rigor. While the logic may lead to indifference, the opposite is the case (as with the Calvinists). “Far from justifying passivity, indifference, or moral sloppiness, double predestination is well designed to encourage militancy. It is the ideology of a sect of warriors” (35). If you are chosen, then you are confident. And much of this rigor has to do with the signs of election expected in the believer, namely charity and humility. Unlike the more lenient Jesuit attitude toward penitents and their reception of the Eucharist, the Jansenists were far more rigorous.
The Modern World
Thanks to Pascal’s best-selling Provincial Letters, the Jesuit image of being morally lax was cemented in the popular consciousness. Casuistry would be associated with the Jesuits for a long time. While Pascal’s work was obviously biased and probably dubious in many of its more comical accounts of Jesuit casuistry, it was not entirely baseless. Indeed, the Vatican even stepped-in to denounce the methods found among certain Jesuits.
Kolakowski sees something important here. The Jesuits were striving to accommodate to the weakness of their penitents, who included much of the educated and ruling classes. “The Jesuits operated in the upper layers of society, infected by a spirit of modernity of which some aspects could appear irreversible” (46). You could say that the Jesuits were sensitive to their limitations. Their pastoral approach was founded upon a belief that “impulses and desires could, if properly guided, conduce to good…a spiritual adviser or confessor, in order to mend a sinner’s ways, should accompany him as far as feasible, show understanding for, and even solidarity with, his weaknesses and thereby direct him step by step towards virtue” (46). That is the Jesuit way, and (by the way) it is the Pope Francis way, the first Jesuit pope and “the pope of mercy.”
The Jesuits thereby represented an adaptation toward the peculiar features of modern life. Their capacity to do so is rooted in the Jesuit’s more modern understanding of human nature, moral value, and freedom of the will. Thereby, the Jesuits were fit to take the Catholic Church into this new era of the modern world. “What was at stake was the adaptation of Christianity to a new civilization that had been developing and maturing, surreptitiously, for several centuries. The Liberum arbitrium was one of its important instruments of self-expression, starting with Abelard” (47).
The Augustinian understanding of grace was no longer feasible, not only because it is difficult to believe in the Augustinian doctrine of double predestination and infants going to hell (with pagans), though that is certainly difficult! Kolakowski highlights the practical difference between the Jansenists and the Jesuits. The Jansenists reserved grace for the elect few and for reasons that are wholly unintelligible, theological or otherwise. The Jesuits instead sought to lead all people to God “who is really merciful — that is to say lenient — and understands human weakness. …God is so lavish in distributing his gifts, and nobody is left helpless by him…” (58-59).
Speaking broadly, the difference between the Jansenists and the Jesuits is about how they perceive the gulf, or lack thereof, between God and the world or the supernatural and the natural. For the Jesuit, there is harmony; for the Jansenist, there is crisis! That’s too simplistic, of course, but it helps to understand their basic orientation. Kolakowski puts it this way:
To the Molinists [i.e., Jesuits], unilateral successors of Renaissance humanism, the divine is a familiar environment, almost an extension of the cosy world of experience; grace is just there, omnipresent, and our natural skills are there to manipulate it properly to our benefit and God’s satisfaction. In the world thus arranged life is basically pleasant. For the Jansenists (and the Calvinists, for that matter) there is a terrifying abyss between nature and the divine, and there is no way we could breach the gap by relying on the resources of our incurably corrupt and rebellious nature. The abyss is ontological, moral, and cognitive. (66)
Kolakowski frequently describes the Jansenists as “reactionaries,” in the sense that the modern set of assumptions propagated by the Jesuits was anathema to their basic way of thinking about God and the Christian faith. To their mind, if the Jesuits win, then Christianity is lost. And that is what the Catholic Church chose, because the Jesuits won. To the Jesuit, if the Jansenists won, then the Church would have lost.
Like I said, this is a provocative thesis. It is surely prone to be attacked. Even if you agree with some parts of his analysis, you may disagree with other parts. I think Kolakowski is strongest when he is doing analysis of the texts, and I agree with his interpretation of Augustine and Jansenism on grace. There is indeed a sense in which the Catholic Church rejected Augustine when it rejected Jansenism. Whether this is a good or bad thing, vis-à-vis modernity, is another question. And whether modernity (never clearly defined) is the driving cause or impetus for the Church’s rejection of Jansenism is another question.
Kolakowski actually tries to avoid making value judgments about who was right. He writes at the end of the preface, “The present author’s sympathies and antipathies are divided when he reflects on the conflict between Jesuit modernizers and Jansenist reactionaries. ‘So miserable is human destiny that the lights which deliver man from one evil throw him into another’ (Pierre Bayle).”
January 19, 2016
“…that all the adult heathen are lost is not the teaching of the Bible or of the Westminster Standards.”
— William G. T. Shedd
“That’s in God’s hands. I can’t be their judge. …My calling is to preach the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the fact that he does forgive us. That’s what the Cross is all about and what the Resurrection is all about. That’s the Gospel.”
— Billy Graham, interview with Larry King asking Graham about Mormons, Jews, Muslims, etc., and whether they are condemned
This blog has been on break for the last couple of weeks, and I might continue the break for a little while longer. But I want to make a quick interruption, pertaining to a post from last month: “Calvinism and Salvation Outside the Church.”
In that post, I provided an excerpt from William G. T. Shedd (1820-1894) — a Presbyterian dogmatician of known excellence — on the vexing question of salvation outside the church. Can the electing grace of God reach the unevangelized, i.e., those who have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in its explicit, apostolic form? As is well known, the “exclusivist” answer is “No!,” apart perhaps from some extraordinary vision or dream of Christ in the unevangelized person. You can read this post from Kevin DeYoung for a clear presentation of this position.
Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology
As we saw, Shedd disagrees. In his Dogmatic Theology, he teaches that the “heathen” are capable of a “broken and contrite heart” under the ministration of the Holy Spirit: “It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word” (vol. 2, p. 709). Not only does Shedd disagree with exclusivism — although, we should remember that “exclusivism” and “inclusivism” were coined later and are not without problems — he is also adamant that the Westminster Standards, and scholastic Calvinism as a whole, are also opposed to exclusivism.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, X.3, states: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” (emphasis mine). This is the clause in question. Who are those “incapable of being outwardly called”? In his Dogmatic Theology, Shedd refutes those who teach that this only pertains to “idiots and insane persons,” i.e., those mentally incapable.
Shedd’s Calvinism: Pure & Mixed
In the year before his death, Shedd published Calvinism: Pure & Mixed, a strident defense of the Westminster Standards against those in the Presbyterian Church (Northern branch) who sought to modify the doctrine of election. It is far beyond the scope of this post to evaluate the merits, or demerits, of Shedd’s overall thesis. For our purposes, it is valuable because Shedd defends here, near the end of his life, the same position that he promulgated in his earlier systematic theology.
Shedd formulates the question in this way: “Does Scripture also furnish ground for the belief, that God also gathers some of his elect by an extraordinary method from among the unevangelized, and without the written word saves some adult heathen ‘by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost’?” (p. 59). He must first deal, once again, with the question of “idiots” and “maniacs” who are not capable of the outward call. Shedd is forceful. He believes it is “remarkable” and “incredible” to say that the confession is talking about the mentally incapable — because they are not “moral agents” and cannot therefore be “classed with the rest of mankind.” As he puts the matter:
It is utterly improbable that the Assembly took into account this very small number of individuals respecting whose destiny so little is known. …[They] are contrasted with ‘others not elected, who although they may be called by the ministry of the word never truly come to Christ’; that is to say, they are contrasted with rational and sane adults in evangelized regions. But idiots and maniacs could not be put into such a contrast. The ‘incapacity’ therefore must be that of circumstances, not of mental faculty. A man in the heart of unevangelized Africa is incapable of hearing the written word, in the sense that a man in New York is incapable of hearing the roar of London. [pp. 59-60]
So, the incapacity must be that of “circumstances.” And thus Shedd distinguishes “two classes” of those who are saved: the evangelized and the unevangelized. But he emphasizes their commonalities, namely the same operation of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts. In this way, he continues:
Consequently, the Confession, in this section, intends to teach that there are some unevangelized men who are ‘regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit’ without ‘the ministry of the written word’, and who differ in this respect from unevangelized men who are regenerated in connection with it. There are these two classes of regenerated persons among God’s elect. They are both alike in being born, ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’. They are both alike in respect to faith and repentance, because these are the natural and necessary effects of regeneration. Both alike feel and confess sin; and both alike hope in the Divine mercy, though the regenerate heathen has not yet had Christ presented to him. As this is the extraordinary work of the holy Spirit, little is said bearing upon it in Scripture. But something is said, God’s promise to Abraham was, that in him should ‘all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Gen 12:3). St. Paul teaches that ‘they are not all Israel which are of Israel’ (Rom 9:6); and that ‘they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham’ (Gal 3:7). Our Lord affirms that ‘many shall come from east and west, the north and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 8:11). Christ saw both penitence and faith in the unevangelized centurion, respecting whom he said, ‘I have not found so great faith no, not in Israel’ (Matt 8:5-10). The faith of the ‘woman of Cannan’, an alien and stranger to the Jewish people and covenant, was tested more severally than that of any person who came to him in the days of his flesh, and of it the gracious Redeemer exclaimed, ‘O woman, great is they faith!’.
…That this work is extensive, and the number of saved unevangelized adults is great, cannot be affirmed. But that all the adult heathen are lost is not the teaching of the Bible or of the Westminster Standards. [pp. 60-61]
And all God’s people say —
He continues for a couple of pages more and cites Zanchius and Witsius (and the Second Helvetic Confession, once again) as witnesses to this common understanding among “the elder Calvinists,” as he likes to say.
Billy Graham Being His Awesome Self
And how is Billy Graham relevant to all of this? On a few occasions, Reverend Graham expressed his inclusivist beliefs or, at least, heavy leanings in that regard. He is definitely not a strict exclusivist, yet somehow he was motivated to preach the gospel to more people than anyone in human history. One such example is an interview he gave with Larry King on CNN:
I love, love, love Billy’s answer to that question. The person who uploaded the video did not, which is sad. The liberating love and unfettered freedom of God is something joyous. Praise God!
December 13, 2015
You can hardly incriminate the Reformed credentials of William G. T. Shedd (1820-1894). His final academic post was Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, at a time when both Union and Princeton were strongholds of Westminster Calvinism. He wrote a three-volume Dogmatic Theology, which is one of the most important contributions to Reformed theology in America. Wipf & Stock currently publishes several of his other volumes: Literary Essays, Theological Essays, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, A History of Christian Doctrine (two volumes), and his commentary on Romans. They also publish Oliver Crisp’s monograph on Shedd’s harmatology: An American Augustinian. Moreover, Shedd authored a defense of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Calvinism: Pure & Mixed.
Who can be saved?
I have already posted a review of another Calvinist who wrote a lengthy treatment of this question: Who Can Be Saved? Professor Tiessen argues for an “accessibilist” model of the economy of grace, which is a modified version of “inclusivism.” This is my own position. Tiessen cites Shedd at a couple points, though he does not engage with Shedd at any great length. So I decided to consult Shedd’s treatment of this topic in his Dogmatic Theology.
For your reading pleasure, here is Shedd’s discussion of this topic in the second volume of his systematic theology. The underlining is mine:
It does not follow, however, that because God is not obliged to offer pardon to the unevangelized heathen, either here or hereafter, therefore no unevangelized heathen are pardoned. The electing mercy of God reaches to the heathen. It is not the doctrine of the Church, that the entire mass of pagans, without exception, have gone down to endless impenitence and death. That some unevangelized men are saved, in the present life, by an extraordinary exercise of redeeming grace in Christ, has been the hope and belief of Christendon. It was the hope and belief of the elder Calvinists, as it is of the later. [In a footnote, Shedd provides a very lengthy citation from Hermann Witsius’ commentary on the Apostles’ Creed.] The Second Helvetic Confession (I.7), after the remark that the ordinary mode of salvation is by the instrumentality of the written words, adds: “Agnoscimus, interim, deum illuminare posse homines etiam sine externo ministerio, quo et quando velit: id quod ejus potentiae est.”
[“We know, in the mean time, that God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, which is a thing appertaining to his power; but we speak of the usual way of instructing men, delivered unto us from God, both by commandment and examples.” — The Second Helvetic Confession, I.7]
The Westminster Confession (X.3), after saying that “elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where and how he pleaseth, “adds, “so also are all other elect persons [regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit] who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.” This is commonly understood to refer not merely, or mainly, to idiots and insane persons, but to such of the pagan world as God pleases to regenerate without the use of the written revelation. One of the strictest Calvinists of the sixteenth century, Zanchius, whose treatise on predestination was translated by Toplady, after remarking that many nations have never had the privilege of hearing the word, says (Ch. IV.) that “it is not indeed improbable that some individuals in these unenlightened countries may belong to the secret election of grace, and the habit of faith my be wrought in them.” By the term “habit” (habitus), the elder theologians meant an inward disposition of the heart. The “habit of the heart” involves penitence for sin and the longing for its forgiveness and removal. The “habit of faith” is the broken and contrite heart, which expresses itself in the prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word. …
The true reason for hoping that an unevangelized heathen is saved is not that he was virtuous, but that he was penitent.
[W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), pp. 706-709]
Shedd continues, but you can see what he is doing. This is good theology.
Once again, “It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word.” Amen. God is God.
November 4, 2015
I came across a fascinating passage in Thomas Aquinas’ Compendium Theologiae wherein he discusses the “defects” in the humanity of Christ’s flesh, prior to his resurrection and glorification. Yes, defects. De defectibus assumptis a Christo. Immediately this had me thinking about T. F. Torrance’s emphasis on the “fallen” humanity assumed by the Son in becoming flesh. Is there common ground here between Thomas and Thomas?
Let us look at the Scotsman first and then the Italian.
Torrance on the Fallen Human Nature of Christ
Thomas F. Torrance is well-known for advocating that the Son assumed the flesh of fallen humanity, that is, a “fallen flesh.” For example, he writes in his Edinburgh lectures:
But are we to think of this flesh which he became as our flesh? Are we to think of it as describing some neutral human nature and existence, or as describing our actual human nature and existence in the bondage and estrangement of humanity fallen from God and under the divine judgment? [Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, p. 61]
For Torrance, if the humanity assumed by the Son is not our fallen humanity, then our fallen humanity is “untouched” by the work of Christ (ibid., 62). He then quotes Gregory Nazianzen’s formula, “the unassumed is the unredeemed.” The flesh which Christ healed was a corrupted flesh, and this is the wondrous “great exchange” where he took our infirmities and we take his regal health. This is a basic pattern in the theology of the early fathers, according to Torrance:
Patristic theology, especially as we see it expounded in the great Athanasius, makes a great deal of the fact that he who knew no sin became sin for us, exchanging his riches for our poverty, his eternal life for our mortality. Thus Christ took from Mary a corruptible and mortal body in order that he might take our sin, judge and condemn it in the flesh, and so assume our human nature as we have it in the fallen world that he might heal, sanctify and redeem it. [Ibid.]
In a powerful way, Torrance connects this with the obedience of the Son in his earthly devotion to the Father. This obedience in the flesh “was not light or sham obedience.” He continues, “It was agonisingly real in our flesh of sin: ‘he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,’ [Phil 2.8] and ‘he learned obedience through what he suffered’ [Heb 5.8]. …His obedience was a battle. The temptations make that abundantly clear” (Ibid., 64).
I do not see a problem with any of this, though I am aware of others who have criticized Torrance (and Barth) on this matter. Torrance is, of course, firm in his belief that Christ’s humanity is not sinful, albeit fallen. Christ’s humanity is necessarily not sinful or else the condemnation of sin in his flesh could not have been achieved. Torrance writes, “His taking of our flesh of sin was a sinless action, which means that Jesus does not do in the flesh of sin what we do, namely, sin, but it also means that by remaining holy and sinless in our flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh he assumed and judged it by his very sinlessness” (Ibid., 63). His holiness triumphs over the falleness from within — by condemning sin in the flesh.
Does it make sense to say “fallen but not sinful”? That is an obvious objection to Torrance’s usage of the term,”fallen,” for Christ’s human nature. But Torrance is making distinctions in the type of defects in Christ’s fallen humanity versus our fallen humanity.
The defects which the Son assumed in our humanity needs to be parsed carefully. Precisely what defects did the Son assume in his becoming flesh? The Son did not assume the defects of a sinful will, but he did assume the defects of a cursed, suffering, and dying flesh, which invariably presses upon a fully human will (e.g., temptations of Christ). It is this latter sense in which Christ bore a “fallen” human nature. And this is what I see Thomas Aquinas saying in his Compendium Theologiae.
Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Caro of the Incarnatio
I am perhaps venturing too far here, without adequate gear. I have not compared this section in the Compendium to any corresponding material in his two Summas, nor have I consulted any secondary sources on the issue. But let’s go ahead anyway.
In chapter 226, Thomas is discussing the satisfaction necessarily rendered by humanity in order to be redeemed. “No punishment undergone by any man could suffice to liberate the whole human race. …God alone is of infinite dignity and so He alone, in the flesh assumed by Him could adequately satisfy for man, as has already been noted [Cf. chap. 200]” (Light of Faith: The Compendium of Theology, trans. Cyril Vollert, S.J., 284). This is all very Anselmic, and we need not detain ourselves with a comparison of the different set-up here to that of Torrance.
For our purposes, the following material is relevant to our question of whether — or, in what way — the Son assumed a fallen humanity. This excerpt is kinda lengthy but necessarily so:
…Christ ought not to have assumed those defects which separate man from God, such as privation of grace, ignorance, and the like, although they are punishment for sin. Defects of this kind would but render Him less apt for offering satisfaction. Indeed, to be the author of man’s salvation, He had to possess fullness of grace and wisdom, as we pointed out above [Cf. chap. 213]. Yet, since man by sinning was placed under the necessity of dying and of being subjected to suffering in body and soul, Christ wished to assume the same kind of defects, so that by undergoing death for men He might redeem the human race.
Defects of this kind are common to Christ and to us. Nevertheless they are found in Christ otherwise than in us. For, as we have remarked, such defects are the punishment of the first sin [Cf. chap. 193]. Since we contract Original Sin through our vitiated origin, we are in consequence said to have contracted these defects. But Christ did not contract any stain in virtue of His origin. He accepted the defects in question of His own free will. Hence we should not say that He contracted these defects, but rather that he assumed them for that is contracted (contrahitur) which is necessarily drawn along with (cum trahitur) some other things. …Therefore in Him they were not contracted but were voluntarily assumed.
Yet, since our bodies are subject to the aforesaid defects in punishment for sin — for prior to sin we were immune from them — Christ, so far as He assumed such defects in His flesh is rightly deemed to have borne the likeness of sin, as the Apostle says in Romans 8:3: “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Hence Christ’s very passibility or suffering is called sin by the Apostle, when he adds that God “hath condemned sin in the flesh,” and observes in Romans 6:10: “In that He died to sin, He died once.” For the same reason the Apostle uses an even more astonishing expression in Galatians 3:13, saying that Christ was “made a curse for us.” This is also why Christ is said to have assumed one of our obligations (that of punishment) in order to relieve us of our double burden, namely, sin and punishment.
…Again, since He came chiefly to restore human nature, He fittingly assumed those defects that are found universally in nature.
So, to answer our question in the title of this post: yes, Christ assumed our fallen human nature. Aquinas does not use the term, “fallen,” and he may have objected to doing so. But he does make clear that the Son assumed our “defects,” his preferred term. These defects are common with the defects of general fallen humanity, though Christ does not assume every defect. The Son does not assume those defects that would render his sacrifice unacceptable. He does not sin. He is not separated from God through any privation of grace. He remains holy. Likewise for Torrance, Christ remains holy and pure, thereby overcoming the power of sin.
This is not to say that Torrance and Aquinas are identical in how they are framing this. As I already alluded, Aquinas favors “satisfaction” for how Christ undoes the curse, whereas Torrance favors an ontological undoing of fallen nature in Christ, in which we partake by the Spirit in union with Christ glorified. These are probably not mutually exclusive, however, especially if we take-in the whole scope of these two theologians’ writings.
Differences aside, I think there is some interesting common ground here.
September 19, 2015
I have been re-reading portions of Berkouwer’s Faith and Sanctification, a volume from his dogmatics series. It is superb and easily among my favorite volumes, from the five or six that I have read or consulted. As I wrote a few years ago, “Berkouwer is such a well-balanced theologian that it’s hard to ever find anything to dispute.”
A particularly helpful discussion is about the Psalms, namely those Psalms with a certain “sense of self-esteem” and “in terms almost indistinguishable from those used by the Pharisees” (p. 125). You know them. And hopefully you have been perplexed as well. Berkouwer highlights Psalm 26:
Judge me, O Jehovah, for I have walked in mine integrity…I have walked in thy truth. I have not sat with men of falsehood; neither will I go in with dissemblers. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked. I will wash my hands in innocency.
Yeah, me! Hurray for me! Is that what the Psalmist is doing? Berkouwer repeats the problem, “Is there not a striking similarity here with the words used by the Pharisee in the parable?”
To the Protestant, nothing is more abhorrent than being a Pharisee. In fact, we are at our most Pharisaical when we are being anti-Pharisaical. The most judgmental people I know are the most anti-Pharisaical — always keen to spot the judgmental “splinter” in another’s eye. But that’s another topic for another day. What to do with this Psalm and others like it? Here is Berkouwer’s response:
Let no one jump to conclusions. There is in this psalm a definite center to which all these utterances are related. The poet trusts in the Lord, whose lovingkindness is before his eyes. In God’s truth he has walked. He compasses the altar of Jehovah and loves the habitation of Jehovah’s house. He makes the voice of thanksgiving to be heard and tells of all God’s wondrous works. And finally: In the congregation will I bless Jehovah.
Each of these statements undercuts Pharisaism. The expression of joy over the mercy of God and distinguishing self from others are naturally related; they find their point of convergence on the altar of reconciliation.
[Faith and Sanctification, p. 125]
Berkouwer then summarizes Eduard Köning’s objection as: “People who talk like the psalmist are the healthy people who need no physician.” Berkouwer then continues with his response:
In this manner an injustice is done to what Psalm 26 says about the mercy of God, about his altar and habitation. The whole is a song of praise. It is possible, of course, for a Pharisee to absorb the mercy of God and the altar into his own nomistic scheme; but it is also possible that in the psalms the voice of a believer speaks of the righteousness which is not subversive of the grace of God. …
Whoever gives an abstract moral interpretation to these Old-Testament expressions of righteousness is bound to distort the Scriptures. He would make of Israel’s religion and the Covenant of Grace a purely nomistic salvation. The holiness of the righteous could then be only an ethical ideal and the mercy of God becomes irrelevant.
I love that. Earlier in this chapter, Berkouwer criticizes some of Barth’s comments about sanctification in his early writings, being (as Barth was) under the sway of a too strict dichotomy between the eternal and temporal wherein the dichotomy as such holds interpretive sway. I wholly agree with this criticism, and I’m pretty sure that Barth would too. That is also another discussion for another time. Berkouwer closes this chapter with an approving reference to Barth — “Never, according to Barth, can the believer claim his good works as his own possession and contrast them with the non-possession of another man” (Römerbrief, 204) — and then a quote from Calvin:
We are not our own; therefore let us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours. On the contrary, we are God’s; to him, therefore, let us live and die. We are God’s; therefore let his wisdom and will preside in all our actions. We are God’s; towards him, therefore, as our only legitimate end, let every part of our lives be directed. O, how great a proficiency has that man made, who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken the sovereignty and government of himself from his own reason, to surrender it to God!
[Institutes, III.6.1; Berkouwer, ibid., p. 130]
February 27, 2015
This is the second and final installment of a brief, two-part series on Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” See the first part for introductory material and the main analysis. Below, I offer some concluding thoughts.
Edwards repeatedly appeals to the “heart.” It is in the heart that prejudices are harbored, as sin darkens our vision of “seeing” the truth of the Gospel. But, whenever a person discovers for himself, as Edwards writes, “the divine excellency of Christian doctrines, this destroys the enmity, removes those prejudices, and sanctifies the reason, and causes it to lie open to the force of arguments for their truth.” Reason is sanctified – set apart for God – once the heart of stone is changed into a heart of flesh, to cite Ezekiel 36:26. This experience of the heart involves one’s affections, as we have seen in Edwards’ fondness for language of “sweetness.” This is given extensive treatment in Edwards’ much-acclaimed A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). As in our present sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” Edwards continues in his later writings to account for the nature of and conditions for our affections toward God. In a basic sense, no Reformed theologian has ever discounted the affections. On the contrary, Reformed theology has emphasized that true faith is only ever present when the heart has been converted and turned toward God, all of which is part and parcel of God’s beneficence toward us in Jesus Christ. As Calvin said, faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” God’s goodness is sealed upon our hearts. In order to highlight the theme of comfort, we could turn to the famous first Q/A of the Heidelberg Catechism. For the theme of joy or delight, we could turn to the first Q/A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. These are rightly beloved statements in the Reformed tradition and often noted for their “warmth” of expression.
While there is significant continuity between Edwards and his Reformed forbearers, there is still something new with Edwards. It arises from his revivalist impulse, however cautious he was to subordinate the affections to truth. The new thing is the extent to which the affections are a criterion for ascertaining the presence of saving faith. This is especially evident, as Edwards attempted to do, when evaluating the status of a person’s soul according to the expressiveness or otherwise of his affections. It is no wonder that Edwards was ejected from his pulpit in Northampton! We can commend his concern for the souls of his congregants, but the heart of another is not ours to evaluate. We have to be satisfied with the candidate’s statement of faith and let God judge.
Secondly and more importantly, we have to be cautious about emphasizing the affections within ourselves as a measure of God’s love for us. Edwards does not do this precisely, but his revivalist heirs did and perhaps he opened the door. The problem is when the emotions subside, when the elevated feelings are no more – or during times of spiritual “dark nights,” when God’s “absence” weighs heavily on our soul. It is during these times when we need to rely the most on God’s sufficient and perfect work in Jesus Christ, not preoccupied with our malaise and questioning whether God loves us. Otherwise, in vain, we will attempt to stir ourselves and recover the initial sweetness of our conversion, when in fact God is calling us to a deeper maturity and more profound trust in him. As Edwards would agree, we do not have faith in our affections but in Jesus Christ, our eternal High Priest.
 In other words, faith is not the efficacious cause of our salvation; it is the instrumental cause – receiving, not bringing about. The grace of the Holy Spirit in regeneration is the efficacious cause.
 John Calvin, ed. John T. McNeill, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 3.2.7.
February 26, 2015
Yesterday, the Henry Center at TEDS posted a debate between Douglas Campbell (Duke Divinity School) and Douglas Moo (Wheaton College) on Paul’s doctrine of justification. This debate will garner wide interest. I just finished watching it, and I can highly recommend it. Moo is well-known for his several commentaries on Paul’s epistles and as a leading biblical scholar in the American evangelical academy, including his work on the new edition of the NIV a few years ago. Campbell is that rarest of things: a biblical scholar who is an unapologetic Barthian, happy to utilize systematic and confessional categories. You should watch his advice to students.
As the debate progressed, I thought the discussion got more and more interesting, all the way into the Q and A. Campbell and Moo are irenic and respectful throughout. I would have liked to see more exegetical work, but it serves well as an overview of their respective positions.
Embedding is disabled, so you will have to click on the link and watch it on YouTube.
If you are new to these issues, then you would do well to read Joshua Jipp’s introduction to the debate: “Re-Reading Paul: What is Being Said and Why It Matters.” Jipp’s summary of Campbell is probably the clearest that you will find anywhere.
Tip of the hat to Jennifer Guo for alerting us to this debate.
Image: The Carl F.H. Henry Center
November 25, 2014
A good analogy is hard to find. With the Trinity, analogies have been almost entirely abandoned, not without good reason. This is especially true today when “social” models of the Trinity have come under increased scrutiny, for good or ill — and I am rather undecided. As a result, an analogy from human relations and loving community is potentially an abdication of the hallowed Creator/creature distinction. With the Atonement, however, we have surer footing to appeal to human relations as an analogy, for the simple reason that we are dealing more concretely with the creature and the “economic” side of the Trinitarian coin.
As an example of an especially articulate use of this analogy for the Atonement, here is Shirley Guthrie (1927-2004), longtime professor of systematic theology at Columbia Theological Seminary:
If God loves and forgives us already, why atonement at all? Why did Jesus have to sacrifice himself to “pay the price”? Why did not God just say, “I forgive you,” and let it go at that?
We can catch a glimpse of the answer with an analogy in human relationships. Suppose I have done something that deeply hurts a friend, and he says so me, “That’s OK. It doesn’t make any difference. Forget it.” Has he forgiven me? What he has really said is: “I don’t really care enough about you to be touched by anything you say or do. You are not that important to me.” Not only that; he leaves me alone with the awareness of my guilt. He lets me “stew in my own juice,” refusing to help me by letting me know that he suffers not only because of what I have done to him but because he knows how I feel and can share with me my shame and guilt.
Good-natured indulgence and broad-mindedness, in other words, are not forgiveness and love but indifference and sometimes even hostility. Real love and forgiveness mean caring enough to be hurt, caring enough to put oneself in the other’s shoes and sharing his guilt as if it were one’s own. Real love and forgiveness are costly — not in the sense that the guilty must squeeze them out of the injured, but in the sense that the injured freely participates in a guilt not his own.
[Christian Doctrine (Richmond, VA: CLC Press, 1968), 253. It is currently published in the revised 1994 edition from WJK Press.]
As with any analogy, that doesn’t capture everything we want to say about the Atonement, but it does say it well.
Image: “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ,” Rembrandt (c. 1635)
October 22, 2014
Ref21, the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, has posted an interview with Oliver Crisp on his new book, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology.
“An Interview with Oliver Crisp,” Mark McDowell
UPDATE 10/23: Christianity Today has also published an interview with Professor Crisp.
One example of this broadening of Reformed theology (or, more accurately, recognizing its original breadth) has been the doctrine of “hypothetical universalism,” expressed by some prominent Reformed divines of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was considered a legitimate variant within Reformed orthodoxy of this period. Richard Muller’s historical work is best known in this regard. Now, J. V. Fesko at Westminster California has written a concurring report in his latest book, The Theology of the Westminster Standards.
David Ponter has been documenting these matters for quite some time. He has provided us with a large excerpt from Fesko’s book: “J.V. Fesko on Hypothetical Universalism and the Westminster Confession and Synod of Dort.” At the end of the excerpt, Ponter offers corrections to some of the details in Fesko’s account.
And while I’m providing links, I also want to point-out two excellent responses to Rachel Held Evans, to whom I wrote a brief response a couple days ago.
“Abraham, Cultural Distance, and Offering Up Our Moral Conscience” by Derek Rishmawy
Thanks to Jon Coutts for directing me to Wyatt’s piece.
May 26, 2014
Published in 1537 and while in his late twenties, John Calvin’s Instruction in Faith is a concise presentation of Calvin’s system of theology. It dispenses with the technical debates of the day and simply presents the positive tenets of the Reformed faith. It was written in French for “the common man.” According to the translator’s foreword, “His intention was not to gain the admiration of scholars, but to inspire a simple faith in the people of Geneva. This treatise presented to the common people the essence of his Institutes of 1536″ (8).
I was reading Instruction in Faith over the weekend and came across Calvin’s statement on sanctification, which is the topic du jour in Reformed circles recently. As with each doctrine in this little book, Calvin carefully communicates the substance of the doctrine:
Just as Christ by means of his righteousness intercedes for us with the Father in order that (he being as our guarantor) we may be considered as righteous, so by making us participants in his spirit, he sanctifies us unto all purity and innocence. For the spirit of the Lord has reposed on Christ without measure — the spirit (I say) of wisdom, of intelligence, of counsel, of strength, of knowledge and reverential fear of the Lord — in order that we all may draw from his fullness and receive grace through the grace that has been given to Christ. As a result, those who boast of having the faith of Christ and are completely destitute of sanctification by his spirit deceive themselves. For the Scripture teaches that Christ has been made for us not only righteousness but also sanctification. Hence, we cannot receive through faith his righteousness without embracing at the same time that sanctification, because the Lord in one same alliance, which he has made with us in Christ, promises that he will be propitious toward our iniquities and will write his Law in our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16).
Observance of the Law, therefore, is not a work that our power can accomplish, but it is a work of a spiritual power. Through this spiritual power it is brought about that our hearts are cleansed from their corruption and that are softened to obey unto righteousness. Now the function of the Law is for Christians quite different from what it may be without faith; for, when and where the Lord has engraved in our hearts the love for his righteousness, the external teaching of the Law (which before was only charging us with weakness and transgression) is now a lamp to guide our feet, to the end that we may not deviate from the right path. It is now our wisdom through which we are formed, instructed, and encouraged to all integrity; it is our discipline which does not suffer us to be dissolute through evil licentiousness.
[Instruction in Faith, trans. Paul T. Fuhrmann, Westminster Press, 1949, pp. 41-42. The newer edition from WJK Press, 1992, has different pagination. There is also another edition from Banner of Truth with a different translator and title, Truth For All Time.]
The Christian is one who “draws from the fullness” of Christ who is our righteousness before the Father. We have union with Christ through his spirit. Since we share in the same spirit of Christ, we receive both his righteousness and sanctification. This is our “alliance” with Christ.
It is not in our power to obey the law. It is only through our union with Christ and in the power of his spirit that this possibility is open to us. Indeed, the possibility is actual through the softening of our hearts toward obedience. Calvin is clear that this sanctification, realized here and now, is a necessity. But Calvin does not place this demand upon the believer. It is freely given through the same union with Christ that justifies. In a prior chapter, Calvin defines faith as a firm confidence, “the means of which we rest surely in the mercy of God….For thus the definition of faith must be taken from the substance of the promise” (38). Faith is not confidence in one’s sanctification, for that would make oneself the object of faith. It would also make justification contingent upon sanctification, instead of upon the finished work of Christ. As a result, there would be no rest.
But in the repose provided solely by the gospel, we can rejoice in the law. This obedience is a freely given “love for his righteousness” engraved on our hearts. The consummation of this “engraving” is the glorification of our bodies in the new creation, perfecting our desires. Yet, the Christian enjoys intimations of this future glorification here and now, through this love for the righteousness of God. Calvin recognizes that “this regeneration is never accomplished as long as we are in the prison of this mortal body.” Yet, he continues, “it is necessary that the cure of repentance continues until we die” (43).
The “cure of repentance” is a good way to talk about our sanctification. It is never a sanctification that proceeds from a faultless will or disposition. Our actions always require repentance, which is to say that we always require the gospel of justification by faith alone.
Image: 1909 Genevan plaquette commemorating the 350th anniversary of Calvin’s Academy. (source)