“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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Contra Mundum: Athanasius and the LDS on Deification

October 30, 2009

For some time, the Mormons have been availing themselves of material in the Fathers of the Church regarding theosis in order to render their own doctrines more plausible. There is no shortage of LDS blogs and websites that exclaim with glee that the LDS doctrine of exaltation is within the bounds of Christian teaching on the basis of the Orthodox cut-n-pastedoctrine of theosis. They routinely pelt Protestants as well as Catholics with patristic material maintaining that not only is their view within the corral of Christian orthodoxy, but that they alone possess the true teaching with respect to deification. They then put such claims in the service of motivating their claims of an apostasy after the apostolic age. Of course, such claims are, so far as I have seen not only false and supported by fallacious reasoning, but in many cases the use of Patristic material would make the cut and pasters over at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society blush. Here I leave an examination of these specific claims by LDS apologists for another time.

What I wish to look at here is one of the principle texts brought out by LDS apologists and its argument thatStAthanasius4 Athanasius’ doctrine of theosis is inconsistent with his doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This claim has become quite common among Mormon apologists and it is well suited to demonstrate the coherence and strength of the Orthodox position.

The specific text is a doctoral dissertation by Keith E. Norman entitled, Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology. It is available in both print and electronic form. The dilemma so far as I can tell from Norman’s text is that if we are to be deified, then we cannot be created ex nihilo and vice versa. And this is so because things created ex nihilo can’t become deified since by essence, God enjoys a kind of underived existence or aseity.  Humans are therefore radically different or “wholly other”  than God, so much so that it is impossible to become what God is by essence. Something cannot both be beginingless and have a begining. Deification would entail a natural and therefore essential change in humanity which is precluded by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Without such a change, humans can’t be deified and are left in a mutable metaphysical state apart from salvation. The implication is that the LDS can affirm theosis consistently because they reject the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Therefore LDS theology stands in superior position to the Athanasian and by extension, the Orthodox teaching on deification.

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More Jedi Mind Tricks

August 17, 2009

Steve Hays has taken it upon himself to reply on behalf of my recent criticism of James White and his ascription of libertarian free will to God here and here. I promised Steve I would reply to the rest and I think at least one round of replies would help clarify my position. As of today I am still waiting for any of White’s toadies to defend White’s claim that G0d has libertarian free will and that the Bible teaches it. Steve gives a two pronged response. First, White was being ambiguous, and second with respect to the Fall, I face the same problems Calvinists do in explaining how our first parents could sin being created good. As I am sure you’ll see, especially in the case these are just more Jedi mind tricks.

Jedi Mind Tricks

 William Lane Craig

Craig may have some quirky and erroneous positions, but I think White does as well so noting that fact about Craig really doesn’t move me.  To say that White’s theology is “consistently sound” is to preach to the choir at best. Furthermore, apart from being a serious problem it is actually a sign of genuine scholarship, as odd as it may seem. Professional theologians and philosophers often do hold such views. It’s a sign that White really doesn’t have any professional competence in the philosophical topics he discusses. That was part of the point. White is accusing Craig of gross ignorance regarding Calvinism, when White doesn’t seem to know the terms he is using.

White’s Libertarianism

To say that White didn’t use the term in the “elaborate sense” that I gave it concedes the point, that White doesn’t know what the term means. Second, the content I gave to the term has been spread across the literature for the last thirty years. Anyone familiar with any of it would recognize the sketch I gave as representing the concept. Arminians have been employing it in the sense I gave it, and I know White has read some of that literature.

Steve notes that it is a blog post and not an article in a journal. Fair enough. But I think that Steve misses the salient point. Craig’s comments weren’t in a journal either but a Sunday school podcast. If it is fair for White to criticize Craig’s brief comments, then it is so for my criticism of White’s. 

Craig may have access to a research library, but one doesn’t have to in order to have access to catalogs from Oxford or any academic publisher. I can’t think of any introductory text on the issue in the last twenty years that doesn’t in the main give the gloss I give. So it is irrelevant that Craig has access to a research library.

Doubting that the philosophical literature on Frankfurt counter-examples was in White’s mind is exactly the point. He doesn’t really know of what he speaks. Secondly, even if he weren’t, any Calvinist worth his salt is familiar with Edward’s work on free will or Luther’s Bondage of the Will. If he thinks that God fulfills the libertarian conditions on free will, then the arguments given by Edwards and others that are quite popular that Libertarianism is incoherent are still out the window. I only need one case where an agent has it that White agrees to, to preclude him from using such arguments. And he gave me that one case. Moreover, White claimed that the teaching is Biblical and given his adherence to Sola Scriptura, he owes us some biblical support. So far none has been forthcoming. Why is that I wonder?

The disagreement is again not over whether Libertarianism is a coherent concept or if it is true. To say that there is a difference between White’s comments and a Calvinist with a doctorate in philosophy who specializes in the finer points of action theory does no work. First, this is not a finer point of action theory but a major term.  Second, Steve makes the mistake of thinking that I am engaging Calvinism as a position, but I am not. I am engaging White and so for as White is concerned, Libertarianism is not an incoherent concept. So I am not burning a straw man, unless White is the scare crow.  Moreover, White seems to think that he is competent to take on and correct someone with a doctorate in philosophy who does work in action theory and metaphysics. If that is too much for White then he should refrain from doing so and refrain from taking on persons who have expertise and training that he lacks. Otherwise, he is just as responsible for his comments as anyone else is. If White doesn’t wish to be held to the standards of precision of an expert then perhaps he shouldn’t entry the fray.

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