The Heresy of Calvinism II

August 2, 2010

Calvinism, as was said previously, is a very elastic term. Broadly, it is a movement that has its origins in Zurich, and refined through Geneva. Often it is seen as flowering in the Puritan and Presbyterian movements in England, though much of the Puritan mind was drawn from Zurich from Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli, among others. But Bullinger, Martyr and Calvin were largely of one mind on most issues, the Eucharist excepted. The origin of the term seems to have come from its Catholic interlocutors, most notably Thomas Stapleton, though the word generally used was Calvinian. This helps us little in defining what it is. It is one of those words like liberal or conservative, though I don’t think quite so. Here, and especially here, I will give it the meaning of those who believe in forensic justification, effected in the Christian through the decree of God without reference to any faith, or faith foreseen. This definition would certainly take in not only Calvin, but also Martyr and Bullinger, and as well Melanchthon (though Luther is problematic, but not for the reasons the new Finnish interpretation of Luther teaches). Read the rest of this entry »

Prelude to “Heresy of Calvinism II”

August 2, 2010

The completion of HoC2 was delayed by the frivolities of a weekend wedding (and some really good homebrews – – especially the cider ales – – that the lord and lady served), and a necessary Sunday afternoon with my dear friend Guillaume (and some outstanding Canadian imports).  But, I have cleared my decks for action (I have also been distracted by Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series), and shall have the promised piece  up by late this afternoon. Nonetheless, to whet everyone’s palette, please note the following quotes (all from Calvin’s Institutes, II.17). As you read them, keep in mind the simple words of our father among the Saints, St. Maximos the Confessor: “Virtues are natural things.”

The whole of Calvin’s II.17 is but six sub-chapters, and is worth looking at, but what I shall be sailing into are pretty much these waters. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will and Virtue in Athanasius

February 9, 2010

“‘Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before. And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord hath said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.’ And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For when the soul hath its spiritual faculty in a natural state virtue is formed. And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest. For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, “Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel,” and John, “Make your paths straight.” For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created. But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul. Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil. If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts. And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognize His work as being the same as He made it.”

Life of Anthony, 20.

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“Christic” Grace in Augustine’s Christology

February 5, 2010

“If Adam had been created upright (rectus ) and without defects (sine ullo uitio ), how could he possibly lack the gift of final perseverance? Augustine responds by saying that Adam was not lacking in this respect, but that he lost that gift when he fell from the state of grace in which God has created him. Moreover, the real difficulty arises as the logical consequence of the first statement, viz. : if Adam was perfect, how could he, in fact, lose his perfection, and sin against God?

Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen: The Relationship between Grace and Free Will in the Discussion of Augustine with the so-called Semi-Pelagians, Leuven, 2003.

“Analogously [to the angels], the first man, had he so willed could have remained in his original state of uprightness (rectitude) and bliss (beatitudo) without any defects or faults. Had he stood firm using his free will in accordance with God’s plan, instead of abusing the gift God had given, he too would have received, like the angels who did not rebel against God, eternal, perfect bliss and happiness of resting in God’s beneficent regard. Having freely abandoned God, Adam was condemned to be abandoned by God, together with his heirs who share in his sin.”

Ogliari, 78.

“Since the time of Adam’s fall and condemnation in which all men became obstricti, only Christ’s redemptive and gratuitous death is able to save those predestined, through God’s design, for salvation.  This redemptive grace is great but at the same time different (magna, sed dis parem) from the gratia laeta …Mankind then requires not so much a laetior gratia as a potentior gratia, a more powerful grace than that given to Adam, namely the grace that comes only from the incarnate Son of God, Christ the Savior, through whom human beings are enabled to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh…the grace accorded to Adam was ultimately dependent on his own free will which having been perfectly created, was able to decide whether to remain in perfection and persevere in justice of abandon it. The grace accorded to Adam’s heirs through Christ, instead is more powerful (plus potest), not only because it gives man the possibility of doing good and persevering in it, but above all because it makes him desirous of that same good.”

Ogliari, 80.

“In Augustine’s eyes, divine grace is ‘one’, even though it operates on different levels (or regimes, temps), and is per se efficacious at any stage. Adam was left completely free in his decision for good or evil, and yet could not have desired and chosen good, nor persevered in it, except under the sovereign influence of God’s bountiful grace.  On the other hand, the internal action exercised by Christ’s grace on Adam’s descendants, an action which has to be sought ‘plus loin,-et plus bas’, possesses the prodigious feature of providing fallen human nature with the capability of following righteousness in an unquestionable and unfailing manner. This does not mean that the human being remains passive before grace, but certainly, de facto, he remains a secondary co-operator, subordinate and subservient to the agency of grace…In other words, if primordial operative grace did preserve intact the human (and angelic) ability to obey or disobey the will of God, in Adam’s heirs, this ability would seem to be overshadowed from the beginning by the ‘Christic’ grace, the direct cause of mankind’s desire for good and of its perseverance in it.”

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An Impermissible god

November 8, 2009

“From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture. What we formerly quoted from the Psalms, to the effect that he does whatever pleases him, certainly extends to all the actions of men. If God is the arbiter of peace and war, as is there said, and that without any exception, who will venture to say that men are borne along at random with a blind impulse, while He is unconscious or quiescent?…And hence it appears that they are impelled by the sure appointment of God. I admit, indeed, that God often acts in the reprobate by interposing the agency of Satan; but in such a manner, that Satan himself performs his part, just as he is impelled, and succeeds only in so far as he is permitted…The sum of the whole is this,—since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religon 1.18. 1-2

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He’s Got Issues

July 3, 2009


As I noted above in Three Strange Days the Lutheran radio program, Issues, Etc. had a three day series of programs on Eastern Orthodoxy now about a month ago. Here I wish to go through the programs and address the arguments given by David Jay Webber and Todd Wilken.  The programs are divided up into, Orthodoxy: Strength and Weaknesses, Orthodoxy Today, and The Pelagian Controversy.

In the first broadcast that I heard, Strength and Weaknesses there is the usual attempt to tar Orthodoxy with something very much alien to it, namely the Charismatic movement. The criticism made by Webber is that Charismatics and the Orthodox go to worship for the same thing, namely the attainment of a mystical experience rather than to be slain by the law and revived by the gospel. What constitutes “mystical” or “experience is really left undefined. Consequently it is very easy to mash these two bodies together. The term “mystical” is deployed to connote an experience that is irrational or contrary to reason and that the goal is some kind of absorption into God and a loss of one’s identity. The implication is that Orthodoxy and the Charismatics are modern Schwermers and are really peddling Buddhism in Christian garb.

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We Have Met the Enemy

February 20, 2009

Turretinfan has given me more material to write about. Here  he is attempting to fend off the accusation that Reformed anthropology is fundamentally Pelagian. He characterizes the error of Pelagius in the following way.

Pelagius’ primary error was denying the necessity of grace – he consequently also denied the sufficiency of grace. Calvinists affirm the necessity of grace, and it is a central aspect of Calvinism to affirm the necessity of grace. Furthermore, another error of Pelagian was in arguing that people (other than Christ himself) are born without sin. Calvinism, however, affirms the Total Depravity of fallen mankind, making Original Sin a doctrine of central importance in Calvinism. Thus, no consistent Calvinist could be a Pelagian. Any superficial similarity between Calvinism and Pelagius with respect to the state of Adam before the fall would be a trivial matter.

It is true of course that Pelagius denied the necessity of grace. Of course part of the question was what constituted grace in the first place so that Pelagians never outright deny the necessity of gace but rather deny what others consider grace to be. The question of the sufficiency of grace is another matter since Augustine seems to distinguish between those recipients of grace who receive sufficient grace that is effective to glory and hence are elected to glory as well as those who receive grace that is sufficient that is effective only to regeneration. In any case, the primary error of Pelagianism is not about the necessity of grace and not even over the idea that humans can make themselves autonomously right with God. That is, the error of Pelagianism is not primarily thinking of salvation entirelly in terms of our effort, though that is certainly a serious error. That is a consequence of Pelagianism’s fundamental error. Pelagianism proffers a kind of monergism with respect to salvation. Any aiding grace not already intrinsic to human nature that could be effective is extrinsic and external to human nature. That is just one theological irony when Calvinists discuss Pelagianism. Both are monergists, but just with respect to different ends of the spectrum-humanity or divinity? This should be a clue that both systems share some fundamental presuppositions. But we haven’t even gotten to the fun stuff yet.

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