On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory

Jul 15th, 2018 | By Guest Author | Category: Blog Posts

This is a guest post by Jeremy de Haan. Jeremy was born and raised in the Canadian Reformed Churches. He received a Master of Divinity degree from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario in 2016, and with his family was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter, 2017. He tells the story of his conversion to the Catholic faith in “With Faces Thitherward: A Reformed Seminary Student’s Story.”


The Light of the Incarnation” by Carl Gutherz (1888)

I.

In Reformed theology, there are five “solas,” sometimes called the five pillars of the Reformation. They are sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, and soli deo gloria – by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. These slogans contain in peppercorn form what the Reformed hold are the necessary corrections to Catholic teaching. They are what give meaning to the word “Reformed.”

In the world of Catholic and Reformed dialogue, sola scriptura probably receives the most attention, with sola fide a close second. But soli deo gloria is no less worthy of attention, as there’s an assumption underlying it that puts much of the “protest” in Protestant. On his blog, Dr. Wes Bredenhof gives the following explanation:

Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory. Rome taught that God ought to be praised for salvation. However, they included good works in the basis of salvation. They gave a place to Mary and the saints alongside Christ as the Redeemer. Human beings had to cooperate with God’s grace for justification and salvation. The inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings. The Reformation objected. The Reformation upheld the biblical teaching of Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory..” All the credit, all the glory, all the praise, goes to God for our salvation.

The assumption I’m referring to is the belief that if man plays a role in his salvation, which the Catholic Church certainly teaches, then “the inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings.” What’s assumed here is that if we include a human role in salvation, we necessarily exclude God. Even if man’s role is only 1%, God’s role is necessarily reduced to 99%. If we want God to be properly glorified, then man must necessarily be excluded from being responsible for salvation.

But consider further what’s being assumed here. What’s being assumed, even for Christians, is a fundamental opposition between God and man, where what is my good work is not God’s good work. My good works and my cooperation with grace are mine, not God’s, since, the assumption goes, the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including a Christian’s good works in salvation. The good works of the saints are theirs, not God’s, since the Catholic Church robs God of glory by including those works in the salvation of others. If including a human role in salvation robs God of glory, then that human role must not itself be God’s work. If it were God’s work, then, of course, it wouldn’t be robbing God of glory to include it in salvation.

What’s assumed is an either/or way of thinking wherein either God is doing the work, or I am. Either God is responsible for my salvation, or I am. Thus, to properly glorify God, we must say that God is responsible for salvation, not man.

It’s certainly true that apart from grace, man is only ever doomed to compete with God for glory. Apart from grace, there remains a fundamental opposition between God and man, an enmity born of man’s pride. Apart from grace, man’s work is man’s work and God’s work is God’s work, and ne’er the twain shall meet. That’s true, so long as we exclude grace from the picture.

But grace is not excluded from the picture. Grace isn’t even merely a part of the picture. Grace is the picture. Grace is the very thing that demolishes this either/or opposition between God and man.

This is the gospel proclaimed, in fact, by the Person of Christ, for in Christ, God and man are united in harmonious fellowship. In Christ, our humanity does not compete with divinity for glory. In Christ, our humanity is not fundamentally opposed to divinity. In Christ, our humanity does not stake out territory to the exclusion of divinity. No, the Incarnation shows us the demolition of that former reality. It shows us a humanity in perfect harmony with divinity, a humanity whose thoughts, words, and actions are the thoughts, words, and actions of God.

II.

This is why the Catholic Church sees no opposition between God’s glory and including our good works in salvation, or between God’s glory and including the communion of saints in salvation. From the Catholic perspective, including them in our salvation does not rob God of glory, because they are His works through us.

When we are “born of the Spirit” (Jn.3:8), and are fashioned into “a new creation” (2 Co.5:17), and are “made alive together with Christ” (Co.2:13) we have been given a new humanity, “the new self, created after the likeness of God” (Ep.4:24). Just as our biological humanity is carbon-based, so our new spiritual humanity is grace-based. It is grace that precedes our life, carries our life along, saturates our life, and perfects our life. Grace is the fundamental building block of life for those who are in Christ. We are grace-based lifeforms. That’s why in Catholic teaching, even our cooperation with grace is itself a gift of God’s grace.

The Apostle Paul sums this up when he writes, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Ga.2:20). Christians are people who now take part in the humanity manifested in the Incarnation, the humanity united with divinity in Christ. Thus, they are people who no longer compete with God for glory, for it is God who lives in them. They no longer live in opposition to God, for it is God who lives in them. Their works are no longer their works, for it is God who works through them. Their love for each other is no longer their love, for it is God who loves through them. This is what God accomplishes through us by grace.

The either/or reality that underlies the soli deo gloria critique of Catholic teaching is not “the biblical teaching of Psalm 115:1.” It’s not biblical teaching at all, for it assumes a denial of the real reconciliation between God and man that is the gospel. It is Catholic teaching, on the contrary, that upholds biblical teaching. Catholic teaching acknowledges a human role in salvation, because

if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself (2 Co.5:17-18).

Because “the old has passed away,” and because “reconciliation” has come, the good works of a Christian are the good works of “a new creation.” The love that one Christian has for another is the love of “a new creation.” It does not rob God of glory to include these new creation works in our salvation, for the very fact of being a new creation means that it is God who lives through us.

III.

The above thinking is not foreign to Reformed theology. I think most Reformed people would read it and say, “That’s what I already believe.” Part of my purpose here is to show that reflecting on the soli deo gloria critique of Catholic teaching shows it to be false even by Reformed standards. Reformed people, no less than Catholics, believe that our good works are God living through us.

To drive the point home, consider this. Many people in heaven today are there because their parents faithfully taught them in the faith. Many people in hell today are there because they did not have such faithful parents. For many souls, the difference between being saved or being lost was their parents, meaning that parents play an essential role in the salvation of their children. But does that mean that God doesn’t get glory? Of course not. Although the parents are fully involved – mind, soul, heart, and will – in the salvation of their children, it is at the same time fully God’s work through them. There’s no either/or.

Many people in heaven today are there because they made a habit of attending church, praying, and studying Scripture, and so were carried along through the peaks and valleys of life. Many people in hell today are there because they were not faithful in those things and fell away. For many souls, the difference between being saved or being lost was the habits they formed, meaning that the habits we form play an essential role in our salvation. And again, although we are fully involved in forming habits of worship and prayer, it as the same time fully God’s work through us. There’s no either/or.

When we accomplish some good and holy thing, we are 100% involved. We have been made fully alive in Christ. But the very definition of being made fully alive is that God lives through us. That means that at the same time we are involved, God is 100% involved, too. The reality of grace means that it is no longer either me working or God working, or partly me and partly God, but all of me and at the same time all of God. That is what it means to be a grace-based lifeform.

IV.

So indeed, to God alone be the glory! But giving God all the glory cannot mean excluding from salvation our works and our love and commitment to each other. No, giving God all the glory means acknowledging all of our good works, and all of the love of the saints, and all of our cooperation with grace as all of God’s so many saving works through us. Our life in Christ, the life that we fully live with mind, soul, heart, and will, is among God’s greatest works.

And the fact that it is among His greatest works means that it brings great glory to Him, for God’s glory is magnified by His works.

Tags: Incarnation, Justification, Reformed Theology, Sanctification, Soli Deo Gloria, Soteriology

28 comments
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  1. I remember, in about 1984, some ten years before I became a Catholic, puzzling about this. I concluded that there was something fundamentally misleading about many of the ‘either/or’ discussions when pitting man against God. This could not be done, because you were trying to compare the infinite with the finite. When I had become a Christian, at the end of 1969, some of these things were thrown at me. I fairly quickly concluded that my ‘life verse’ was Philippians 2:12-13:

    12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    It was not ‘either/or’, I thought, but ‘both/and.’

  2. Beautifully said! I think this hits the nail squarely on the head on terms of where Reformed thinking often goes wrong, particularly in its critique of Catholicism. I think that an enormous amount of the conflict between “Catholic” and “Reformed” is accounted for by pointing out the conflict between “either/or” and “both/and”.

  3. Thank you for your comment. In 1984 my wife and I entered the church on Easter via a holy Basilian priest and RCIA. In 6 short months, years of bad theology, pitting grace against works, were corrected and we were finally at peace. We are so grateful for the full gospel given us by Jesus through His Church.

  4. Some have pointed out that ‘glory’ and ‘boast’ are the same Greek word in the Bible, and if we are taking about glory to God alone, the simple fact is the Bible does speak of giving glory to men in a positive sense (not only in a negative sense). For example:

    2 Corinthians 8:24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

    2 Corinthians 9:2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.

    1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

    2 Thessalonians 1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

  5. Also, the Council of Trent, Session 6, Decree On Justification:

    Canon 33.
    “If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema.”

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/trent6.htm

  6. Jeremy,

    The critique of Dr. Wes on Roman Catholic Theology was the inclusion of good works as the ‘basis’ of salvation.

    Protestant creedal statements always affirms the role of ‘good works’ in salvation. I think this is not disputed. I feel like the essay was addressing a strawman.

    The main difference between the Tridentine (versus the Reformers) view of the function of ‘good works’ in salvation is this: Trent made our ‘good works’ the ground of having righteousness that merits eternal life. The Reformers pointed to Christ’s Righteousness as the second adam as the ground upon which we are counted righteousness and upon which eternal life is merited.

    Conscious of this emphasis, Trent’s last paragraph is a defence of why our ‘own inherent righteousness’ should keep us from boasting. Trent argues that our own righteousness (although ours inherently) is from God. That means, God infused it ‘according to our own measure’ i.e. ‘our proper disposition and cooperation’. God can do this because Christ made it possible. Without Christ’s virtues, our ‘good works’ can not please God. But because Christ’s virtues accompanies our good works, it becomes meritorious of righteousness then eternal life (this sounds to me like ‘imputation’ of some sorts).

    This function of ‘good works’ in salvation by RCism is what is being objected to by Protestants. And, for us, it seemed that this is exactly what Paul was saying that we should not believe in. Paul wrote, ‘We are saved… not of works (in another letter, he wrote, ‘he saved us not of works done in righteousness’) so that no one can boast.’

    JH

  7. Hi Joey,

    Thanks for your comment. You wrote,

    The critique of Dr. Wes on Roman Catholic Theology was the inclusion of good works as the ‘basis’ of salvation.

    No, that wasn’t his critique. You’ve left out 90% of his quote, including the key sentence, “The inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings.” That’s what I was responding to.

    I feel like the essay was addressing a strawman.

    Which straw man is that? It helps if you provide quotes from my post, because I don’t see it.

    Thanks,
    Jeremy

  8. Jeremy,

    As a Reformed Protestant, I generally agree with your response. Moreover, as a compatabilist (a position I assume Wes holds as well), I find this language “Human beings had to cooperate with God’s grace for justification and salvation. The inevitable conclusion is that God gets praise, but so do human beings” far too simplistic.

    A necessary condition for justification according to the Reformed is faith. Election is actually not a sufficient condition for justification even if it is a necessary condition! WCF 3.6 explains faith is the means by which God’s election is accomplished, “[the elect are] kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation.” WCF 3.1 also affirms God is sovereign in all things yet, “neither is God the author of sin,nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Thus, while we are still responsible for our actions–even the decision of faith–we make those free decisions based upon the foundation of God’s sovereignty.

    I fully acknowledge there are differences between Geneva and Rome on cooperation and justification, but even the Reformed believe there is cooperation in justification. That cooperation, though, is merely the empty hand of faith. Without extending that empty hand (which we do only by the power of the Spirit, mind you), we cannot receive the imputed righteousness of Christ.

    Wes may acknowledge all of this and protest that Reformed and Roman cooperation are different things. But that is my point. Wes simply stated cooperation in grace detracts from God’s glory, but this unwittingly puts the Reformed confessions in the crosshairs, too.

  9. Hi Jeremy,

    Nicely written, argued and boiled down succinctly: “What’s assumed here is that if we include a human role in salvation, we necessarily exclude God.”

    A recent revert to the Catholic Church, I spent the last 10 years in Reformed Baptist circles (Southwestern, Ontario). In the order of salvation, teachers and preachers carefully placed ‘regeneration’ before repentance, faith and obedience. I accepted that teaching for a while but it never sat well in my mind. Having studied Catholic theology for the past year, I see why it doesn’t make sense, for it assumes that God regenerates a person without their (or another’s) cooperation.

    Before regeneration, was I cooperating when I chose to sit in church and hear the gospel? The Protestant says “no”.

    Before regeneration, was I cooperating when I chose to read the scriptures because I was interested. The Protestant says “no”.

    Before regeneration, was I cooperating when I chose to ponder my response to the gospel and consider my sins? The Protestant says “no”.

    Or, maybe the Protestant answer “yes” and says that God regenerated me before all of these things, even before I stepped foot in the church. (Things are getting silly at this point).

    I now see this belief is required in order to make the whole Reformed tent stand upright – otherwise man gets glory, God doesn’t, and the whole thing falls apart and decays (jokingly) into Catholicism.

    Another image that comes to mind. Would you be upset if a teller closed your bank account without your consent? What if a broker sold your house without you knowing? Or what if a hacker leaked your privacy behind your back?

    Apparently, God regenerates you without your consent, too.

    Glad to see an article up on ctc from someone who lived in Hamilton, ON (where I currently live). Thanks for writing!

    God bless,
    Hassan

  10. Joey,

    I wanted to comment on two things you mentioned.

    (1) You seemed to state, as do many other Protestants, that ‘good works’ are what Justify a Catholic. This is probably the biggest strawman of the entire reformation, and once a Protestant is forced to address the Catholic view head on, all such ‘works’ accusations become moot. In reality, the Catholic view dogmatically teaches we are 100% justified immediately at the moment of conversion, before a single work is done. That’s because the grace which Justifies us is infused instantly, Justifying the individual 100%.

    The Protestant mind think (fallaciously) that the Catholic view of Justification entails a Never-Fully-Justified scheme, wherein each good work we do fills up our Righteousness Tank by 1%. With this mentality, the Protestant thinks that when a Catholic speaks of Repenting, Believing, and Getting Baptized, these are 3 good works, and thus at the moment of conversion the Catholic is 3% Justified, with a lifetime of good works needed to hopefully get that Tank up to 100% full. With this Misconception/Strawman, Protestants can (quite understandably) be scandalized by the Catholic view, as it never actually puts a person at peace, since he’s never actually justified. But once this Strawman comes down, then the Protestant really is without any excuses, as all charges of ‘works’ become moot and make no sense. I think Catholics would do well to emphasize the instantaneous 100% righteousness of the individual upon Conversion in the Catholic view. The only thing good works do is increase our capacity to receive the infused righteousness/love of God, just as two cups can be 100% full of water but the cups can be two different sizes.

    (2) You had quoted Paul saying we are “not saved by works of righteousness” and “not of works”. While this is true, I feel it’s an equivocation of sorts by the Protestant end, because in reality they believe that works alone are what Justify, with the only ‘catch’ being that Jesus had to do them in our place. The whole point of Imputation is so that when God looks at you, He can judge you as if you did 100% of those works of righteousness yourself, and so in reality, it is Works Alone which justify in the Protestant scheme. Faith is kind of a smokescreen here because all faith does in the Protestant view is ‘receive’ this 100% Good Works title deed of Jesus. The only reason why Works do not justify in the Protestant scheme is because they say we are sinful, but that’s not what Paul is saying. Paul doesn’t speak of our works as sinful. Paul says Works do not save because they never were intended to. Even if you kept the law 100% it would not save, because it never promised salvation. Paul says “not of works,” which Protestants project as being “not of works [because they are tainted by sin],” but that’s not what Paul is *actually* saying. Rather, Paul is saying “not of [genuinely good] works,” which actually undermines the whole point of Imputation (which is also why Paul never says Jesus kept the law in our place, but rather that we are each called to personally “fulfill the law” as Christians, cf Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14).

  11. Hi Nick,

    I think your second point is key, and really can’t be emphasized enough. Allow me to piggyback and reinforce what you’ve said, especially in regards to the topic of the post.

    At the heart of the doctrine of imputation is a belief that salvation is legalistic – it can only be achieved by perfect obedience to God’s law. Since we can’t perfectly obey the law due to sin, Christ obeys it in our place, “as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me” (Heidelberg Catechism QA 60). The assumption is that man is saved by obedience to the law; but since our own obedience is polluted by sin, we need Christ’s obedience to be saved.

    When it comes, then, to the question of God’s glory, the Reformed person understands that glory in terms of this legalistic framework. Since obedience to the law is what saves us, and since Christ obeyed the law perfectly in my place, to speak of my own good works as influencing my salvation necessarily obscures Christ’s perfect obedience.

    But as you pointed out, that whole legal framework is precisely the thing Paul is rejecting. Reformed people often use the book of Galatians against Catholic teaching, and yet it is Catholic teaching that makes perfect sense of the entire letter. In that letter, Paul rejects the law as a means to salvation, and he does so categorically. That is, he’s not contrasting our imperfect obedience to the law with Christ’s perfect obedience to the law, and telling us to seek the latter through faith. He says that obedience to the law in itself is utterly powerless to save:

    If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Ga.3:21)

    So, even if you could present God with a record of perfect obedience to the law, you would be no closer to having life or righteousness than someone who’d disobeyed the law all his life. That’s because life and righteousness do not come through the law.

    We don’t, then, glorify God by claiming that our life and righteousness rest entirely on Christ’s perfect obedience to the law. In fact, we rob Him of glory, for we commit the same error the Galatians were committing by assuming that salvation is legalistic.

    No, we glorify God by saying, with Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Ga.2:20). Joey brought up Ephesians 2:8-9:

    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    When Paul speaks of being saved by grace through faith, he’s not speaking about Christ perfectly obeying the law in our place. He’s speaking of the fact that although we were once dead, God has “made us alive together with Christ” (Ep.2:5). It’s this new life that is not a result of works, which is precisely what the Council of Trent taught. God does not make us alive because we first achieve a black belt in holiness. We don’t come to God with a bag full of good works and say, “Here, God. Look at all these good things I’ve done. I now deserve that new life you’ve promised.”

    No, we receive it the same way the hemorrhaging woman received healing (Mk.5:25-34). We come to Christ in faith, reach out and touch Him sacramentally, and He in turn pours out His life into our hearts. That woman had no grounds to boast, and neither do Catholics.

    When Catholics speak of the glory of God, we aren’t thinking in terms of obedience to the law; we are thinking in terms of the life-giving power of Jesus Christ. The glory of that woman’s health lay in the generous and unstoppable power of Christ. And the glory of our health – a life of good works, a life of communion with others, a life of cooperating with God in prayer and self-denial – lies entirely in that same generous, unstoppable, and life-giving power.

    That, too, is what Paul claims removes any grounds for boasting. What removes our grounds for boasting not that Christ perfectly obeyed God in our place. It’s that God has made us alive together with Christ by grace. And that is precisely what the Catholic doctrine of salvation is all about – that new, grace-given life with God.

    Jeremy

  12. I think Catholics would do well to emphasize the instantaneous 100% righteousness of the individual upon Conversion in the Catholic view. The only thing good works do is increase our capacity to receive the infused righteousness/love of God, just as two cups can be 100% full of water but the cups can be two different sizes.

    Whoa! Nick! You have no idea what kind of “ah ha” moment you just gave me. A question that I’ve struggled with is “How do you know when you’ve performed enough good works?”

    Have you just explained how I ought to respond?

    Is there a Scriptural basis for your explanation?

  13. Hi Jeremy,

    The strawman is the assertion that any role of man in salvation detracts from the glory of God according to Wes. I pointed out that protestant creeds have acknowledge the role of man in salvation more specifically faith and good works yet do not assert that it detracts from the glory of God. The way I understand Wes’ argument is that the ‘basis’ (not role) of salvation, if includes, man in the equation detracts from the glory of God.

    Hi Nick,

    Good works do justify according to Trent. I think both of us can read the dogmas of Trent and I do not think this is disputed. I get your point that at the moment of baptism you are infused with righteousness but this righteousness needs to be kept (because of mortal sin) and should be increased (because of venial sin) in order to enter into the beatific vision. Short of the requirement of righteousness will end up in the sufferings of purgatory. Rome’s theology is that initial justification and final justification differs because justification is a process whereby man cooperates with the grace of God.

    Tridentine dogma believe that good works is intended as instrument to save and merit eternal life. Clearly, by saying that Paul do not intend that good works save, you are discrediting Trent. Secondly, Trent believes that good works alone is not acceptable to God. It needs to be accompanied by Christ’s virtues in order for it to be meritorious (ala imputation version of the acceptability of good works). In this assertion by Trent, there is similarities between Reformed thinking. Both believed that God has to look passed the imperfection of good works through Jesus in order for it to be pleasing to God. Rome use this in her conception of justification while protestants use this in her conception of sanctification.

    Sincerely,
    Joey Henry

  14. Hi Joey (#13),

    The strawman is the assertion that any role of man in salvation detracts from the glory of God according to Wes. I pointed out that protestant creeds have acknowledge the role of man in salvation more specifically faith and good works yet do not assert that it detracts from the glory of God. The way I understand Wes’ argument is that the ‘basis’ (not role) of salvation, if includes, man in the equation detracts from the glory of God.

    I’m responding in this article to a particular attack on Catholic teaching. According to soli deo gloria, at least as explained by Wes, Catholic teaching on good works, the communion of saints, and cooperation with grace robs God of glory. My purpose here is to show that that attack is unfounded.

    Whatever your distinction between works being “the basis of” salvation or works having “a role in” salvation might mean, it’s irrelevant to this post. I’m not critiquing Reformed teaching. I’m not critiquing Wes’s beliefs, or yours, or any Reformed person’s.

    I’m responding to a critique of Catholic teaching. I’m attempting to show that Catholic teaching about good works, the communion of saints, and cooperation with grace does not detract from God’s glory, and that any claim to the contrary assumes a denial of the gospel.

    If you wish to show that Catholic teaching does in fact rob God of glory, or that claims to the contrary don’t assume a denial of the gospel, then of course you are free to do so. But accusing me of “addressing a strawman” for not carefully attending to your distinctions is baseless, for I made no claim to present your views here.

    Jeremy

  15. Hi Jeremy,

    You’ve argued that my view, Wes’s or the Reformed view is irrelevant. However, it strikes me that you begin your article with supposedly an ‘either/or’ paradigm that you assert is assumed by Wes or Reformed theology. And then, you proceed to defend your understanding of RC theology against the ‘either/or’ paradigm. But, it is still legitimate to ask whether it us true that the ‘either/or’ paradigm is Reformed theology’s assumption.

    It is a strawman because Reformed theology have emphasized the role of good works and faith in the life of the believers. Our creeds reinforces the necessity of sanctification and yet proclaims Soli Deo Gloria. Good works and faith have roles in salvation. They are results of God’s salvific action. They are not the ‘basis’ of salvation.

    Having addresed that, let me provide a critique of RC soteriology. Trent teaches that good works have a role in salvation. The role being is that ‘good works’ can merit righteousness and eternal life. It is not only the means of being accepted by God but the basis of God’s acceptance of us. Although Trent said that all prior works at the moment of baptism do not merit the grace of justification, all works after baptism merits justification. Trent further emphasized that ‘good works’ satisfies the Divine Law. Important in Trent’s view is the fact that cooperation is needed. This means that man, even in a state of grace, can be lost through mortal sin. Or, his access in Heaven is hampered through venial sins where he has to suffer in purgatory to make atonement of the temporal punishments of sins. This puts the decisive success of God’s saving activity upon man’s decision. If the basis of salvation is internal to us then ‘our cooperation’ is ultimately the act that makes God’s saving activity a success.

    This is where Reformed theology do not agree with Trent. It asserts (and rightly so) that the success of God’s saving activity is dependent on God’s alone. He elects, he provides the covenant and fulfills it through the Cross, he regenerates, he justifies, he sanctifies, he glorifies. He saves us without fail. All acts of God in salvation is his and his alone. The result of those actions are renewed hearts, doing good works, persevering in faith and glorified at the last day. That is why we say “All to the Glory of God” because salvation is solely by grace, by faith in Christ Alone. Insert in this paradigm the idea that somehow man gives the ‘go or no go’ for God’s work to be succesful results in the dependency of the success of God’s saving activity on man, and thus robs him of his glory.

    Sincerely,
    Joey Henry

  16. Joey:

    “Rome’s theology is that initial justification and final justification differs.”

    I wonder if you can explain in which sense they do really differ.

    Reading your last comment it seems that the difference consist in that the instrumental cause of initial justification (Baptism) is not (¿only?) the instrumental cause of final justification (good works).

    The problem is that Tent never suggest something close to it, as far as I understand.

  17. I recall my realisation, in 1984 – ten years before I knew I had to become a Catholic – that phaenomenologically there was no difference between the Catholic and Reformed view on works. The Catholic says that we are saved by faith working through love (Galatians 5:6). The Reformed seemed to say that we are saved without works – yet every sane Reformed person I had ever known, when presented with a person who says he believes and is saved , but continues to live a life of gross immorality and doesn’t seem worried about it, that the person in question did not have true faith.

    jj

  18. Joey,

    I think you set up a false Reformed ‘either/or’ dichotomy in your last post (#15). You seemed to think that if man cooperates, especially such that he could fall from salvation by mortal sin, then it puts the decisive success upon man rather than God. But Augustine was clear that even though man could fall from grace (as even Adam did), it was up to God whether they persevered. The Reformed would (understandably) object, “Why would God save someone but not make them persevere?” to which the Augustinian-Catholic would respond: “Who are you, O Calvinist, to answer back to God?” The truth is, our perseverance is ultimately in God’s hands, you just have to be able to accept that God (for reasons we don’t fully know) doesn’t have all the Justified also persevere to the end.

    The intention of the Reformed view seems to be that of a way of giving the believer Full Assurance, but the Catholic view is honest enough to know that there’s no such thing as Full Assurance, and that the Reformed view itself *logically* cannot even give Full Assurance due to things like Evanescent Grace, wherein we see all the time Reformed folks who for years thought they were elect only to end up leaving Reformed theology. Acting Reformed, going through all the motions even genuinely, etc, doesn’t mean you’re Elect. That’s the cold hard logic.

  19. Hi Joey (#15),

    You’ve argued that my view, Wes’s or the Reformed view is irrelevant. However, it strikes me that you begin your article with supposedly an ‘either/or’ paradigm that you assert is assumed by Wes or Reformed theology.

    Only insofar as it’s assumed in the soli deo gloria critique. I’m fully aware that this either/or thinking is not consistently held throughout Reformed teaching, hence my later claim that

    The above thinking is not foreign to Reformed theology. I think most Reformed people would read it and say, “That’s what I already believe.” Part of my purpose here is to show that reflecting on the soli deo gloria critique of Catholic teaching shows it to be false even by Reformed standards. Reformed people, no less than Catholics, believe that our good works are God living through us.

    Like I said, I’m not responding to Reformed theology in general. I’m responding specifically to the soli deo gloria critique as articulated above.

    The fact that I haven’t misunderstood the critique itself is amply demonstrated by your last paragraph. What you’ve written there is precisely the thing I’m responding to in my post. What I’m responding to is the assumption that, as I wrote, “If we want God to be properly glorified, then man must necessarily be excluded from being responsible for salvation.” This is the very thing you articulated when you wrote,

    Insert in this paradigm the idea that somehow man gives the ‘go or no go’ for God’s work to be succesful results in the dependency of the success of God’s saving activity on man, and thus robs him of his glory.

    According to you, we must not “insert” the belief that “somehow man gives the ‘go or no go’ for God’s work to be successful.” Doing so “results in the dependency of God’s saving activity on man, and thus robs him of his glory.”

    To properly glorify God, then, as I wrote, we must exclude man from being responsible, that is, from “somehow giving the go or no go,” for salvation. My post is a response to just this assumption.

    Jeremy

  20. Hi Jeremy,

    I do not want this conversation to drag on and this will be my last post on this article.

    1. I still do not understand why you want to make Wes’ or Reformed Theology’s view irrelevant when you have argued for an ‘either/or’ belief that is assumed by Wes or Reformed Theology. You want to focus on Soli Deo Gloria. Fine. But, even in that context the ‘either/or’ paradigm that you placed on Wes or Reformed Theology is unfounded. When it comes to good works, Reformed Theology has a robust understanding of its role in salvation without detracting from God’s glory.

    2. The fact that you wrote this in your article should have alerted you that Wes or Reformed Theology’s objection to Trent’s teaching has nothing to do with whether or not Catholic or Reformed adherents believe that ‘good works are God living through us’. You wrote:

    The above thinking is not foreign to Reformed theology. I think most Reformed people would read it and say, “That’s what I already believe.” Part of my purpose here is to show that reflecting on the soli deo gloria critique of Catholic teaching shows it to be false even by Reformed standards. Reformed people, no less than Catholics, believe that our good works are God living through us.

    In fact, the I can say a hearty ‘Amen’ in the last paragraph of your article. But, sadly, it misses the point of why Reformed adherents do not believe that the prevailing interpretation of Trent’s soteriological framework is for the Soli Deo Gloria.

    3. Lastly, I said that the whole article was dealing with a strawman because it failed to address what Wes’ and Reformed Theology’s deep concern about prevailing interpretation of Trent’s soteriology today among its adherents. The main objection is whether or not God’s salvific work depends on the cooperation of man (i.e. good works). Does God wills to save but could not save because man did not cooperate? I know this has been debated even within the RC tradition. The Jesuits and the Dominicans have debated this for a long time. The way I read Trent on Justification favours the Jesuit paradigm in several fronts. The accusation of the Dominicans against the Jesuits that the Jesuit framework is akin to Pelagianism and thus robs God of his glory by making the will of man the ultimate variable of God’s success in saving an individual, is the same concern that Reformed Theology voiced out against the prevailing (or famous) soteriological interpretation of Trent by RC adherents today.

    4. My plea is for you to focus on the main point. How do you interpret Trent? Do you side with the Dominicans or the Jesuits when discussing what makes the grace of God efficacious. It seemed that you favour Molina’s view. If so, how do you avoid the charge of the Dominican’s against that view? If man’s cooperation makes God’s grace effective, how is that not robbing God of his glory?

    Sincerely,
    Joey Henry

  21. Hi Joey,

    Your last comment (which is a reflection of Reformed theology) is a bit troubling to me. You said:

    “Insert in this paradigm the idea that somehow man gives the ‘go or no go’ for God’s work to be succesful results in the dependency of the success of God’s saving activity on man, and thus robs him of his glory”.

    If this is true, then the natural consequence of that is that God has to control your free will, or otherwise he cannot have control on the success of his saving activity. That is according to this view how he can get the fullness of the glory for your salvation. A corollary of this interpretation is that nothing can fall outside of God’s ordaining will, or else this doctrine just cannot work.

    The reason that I am troubled with it, is that it takes you to conclude that God is the one who also brings and allows evil in the world, just for the sake of his own glory.

    You can see the progression of that logic in a quote from John Piper:

    “God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory and his people’s good. This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child… Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside God’s ordaining will. Nothing, including no evil person or thing or event or deed. God’s foreordination is the ultimate reason why everything comes about, including the existence of all evil persons and things and the occurrence of any evil acts or events. And so it is not inappropriate to take God to be the creator, the sender, the permitter, and sometimes even the instigator of evil… Nothing — no evil thing or person or event or deed — falls outside God’s ordaining will. Nothing arises, exists, or endures independently of God’s will. So when even the worst of evils befall us, they do not ultimately come from anywhere other than God’s hand.”

    The reason I believe in the “go or no go” idea, is that it allows free will to enter into the equation, and therefore excludes the possibility of evil being a result of “God’s ordaining will”. In other words, I believe in a loving God that wants to save us and provides the gift of grace, that we are free to accept or reject, with the realization that we cannot be saved or do any good works without that grace. The reformed paradigm entails the necessity of radical human abasement and implies a sadistic creator, that decides to save only a few, and send the rest to hell.

    How could I understand this as a loving God?

  22. Joey Henry,

    You said:

    The main objection is whether or not God’s salvific work depends on the cooperation of man (i.e. good works).

    Let me suggest that we need to be especially careful of language at this point. It is my observation (as a current Catholic and a former Presbyterian) that Catholics and Reformed people tend to use language very differently in this area and have a perennial tendency to misunderstand each other.

    Both Reformed and Catholics will agree that we “cooperate” with God’s grace – that is, grace does not work in us by circumventing our will or dragging us against our will. When we are converted to Christ, we come freely and voluntarily, and that voluntary choice is essential to the process. Likewise, when we remain in Christ and grow in sanctification, our will is intimately and necessarily involved.

    The real question is this: Is our “cooperation” with grace something we contribute of ourselves independently from God, or it is a gift of God’s grace? The Reformed will answer that it is a gift of God’s grace. And so will the Catholics. Jeremy, in this very article, says:

    That’s why in Catholic teaching, even our cooperation with grace is itself a gift of God’s grace.

    This has always been the Catholic view. I’m sure you are familiar with the Second Council of Orange. The Canons of Orange represent official, authoritative Catholic teaching. Just recently, Pope Francis put out an Apostolic Exhortation where he made the same point:

    The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace

    In Pope Francis’s words from this Exhortation, this is the “dogmatic” teaching of the Catholic Church. Pelagianism and Semipelagianism are both heresies, plain and simple. All Catholics are required to agree with this, and all Catholic schools do agree with this, including the Molinists. The problem is that Catholics and Reformed are coming from very different cultural backgrounds in terms of theological emphases and terminological habits, and so it is very easy for both sides to misunderstand each other.

    I agree with Jeremy that there is a tendency in Reformed thought to create a false dichotomy between God’s work and man’s work. In some areas, that tendency amounts to some substantial theological differences. In other areas, it manifests perhaps more in terminological habits – like not recognizing the validity of words such as “cooperation” used to describe the will’s . . . well, the will’s “cooperation” with grace (it’s hard to think of a better term). On the other hand, I think it must be admitted that Catholics tend on the other side to read Calvinist monergistic language as implying the utter absence of the will in salvation, which Calvinists are repeatedly clarifying that they don’t mean.

    At any rate, we must be careful with language here.

    (And by the way, Joey, I used to hold the same view of the Molinists that you do, but further research has led me to the position that classical Molinists are faithfully within the Augustinian tradition in terms of grace. I’ve dealt with this in a few articles, such as here and here, if you are interested. I’ve also written up some things on clearing up misunderstandings between Catholics and Calvinists, such as this.)

    Sincerely,

    Mark Hausam

  23. Joey,

    “If man’s cooperation makes God’s grace effective, how is that not robbing God of his glory?”

    Apply this question to your doctrine of sanctification. Many reformed authors affirm synergism in sanctification, we both resist and cooperate with grace in that sphere. Are they robbing God of his glory or giving grounds to boast upon receiving heavenly rewards?

    As to the fears of Molinism giving grounds to boast, I suggest checking out Feingold’s lecture here at /2011/12/lawrence-feingold-on-sufficient-and-efficacious-grace/ from minutes 40-64 – pay attention to the prime moving, St Francis, and unprofitable servants illustrations. Neither the Thomists nor the Molinists have room to boast.

  24. Hi Joey (#20),

    I do not want this conversation to drag on and this will be my last post on this article.

    It isn’t my intention to drag this conversation out, either. But a good and edifying conversation depends on both parties responding directly to what the other is saying – something, to be frank, you have not done. I asked you in comment #7 to provide a direct quote of me attacking a straw man of your position, and while you’ve continued with your accusation, you’ve provided no actual evidence of it.

    In your last comment, you pleaded with me “to focus on the main point.” You then brought up the Jesuit and Dominican interpretations of Trent, as though that is the main point. But those are just red herrings.

    Wes’s critique, which is the critique you’ve further outlined in comment #15, is a simple and straightforward objection to Catholic teaching. To understand that critique, it’s enough to know that the Catholic Church teaches that good works merit both an increase in our love of God and eternal life itself. It’s not necessary to know how a seventeenth-century Catholic theologian and his opponents differed on how to relate grace to free will.

    Further, my response is also simple and straightforward, and understanding it, too, doesn’t require an appeal to Molina and his opponents. To understand my response, it’s enough to know that in Catholic teaching, all of the works by which we collaborate with God, merit an increase in love for Him, and merit eternal life itself, are at the same time Christ’s works through us.

    These are things that your average non-seminary-educated Catholic or Reformed person can understand. Bringing Molina and his opponents into the discussion is not focusing on the main point, but is a pointless distraction.

    What’s on point, rather, is the inconsistency I pointed out in my article, and which you yourself have demonstrated in your comments. I don’t dispute that you agree with Catholics that our good works are Christ’s works through us. I believed it when I was Reformed, and no Reformed person that I know would take issue with believing it, either.

    And yet in your last comment, you asked two questions that demonstrate that you do not consistently believe this. You asked,

    Does God wills to save but could not save because man did not cooperate?

    If you consistently believed that man’s cooperation is itself God’s work through us, you would not be asking this question, since you would already know the answer: of course not. Man’s freely-willed cooperation is at the same time 100% willed by God. God does not fail to save anyone, since it is God who wills all the good works He has set before us to do, including our cooperation with His grace.

    And again, you asked:

    If man’s cooperation makes God’s grace effective, how is that not robbing God of his glory?

    And again, for someone who believes that man’s cooperation is itself God’s work through us, the answer is clear: since man’s cooperation is itself God’s work, God is not robbed of glory by His own works.

    Nothing contained in those answers is anything you’d disagree with. Because of the inconsistency in your own thinking, I can answer your critique of Catholic teaching by appealing to things you already believe. For you to be consistent, you’d either have to drop the “Catholic teaching on good works robs God of glory” critique, or drop the belief that our good works are entirely Christ’s works through us. Clearly, the former is the only option.

    Jeremy

  25. Re #22:

    Mark,

    Re “being careful with language here”, can you help me understand this: Trent’s decree on justification states that:

    “…none of those things which precede justification – whether faith or works – themselves merit the grace of justification”

    Does this official teaching of the church exclude both congruous and condign merit in regards to the things that precede justification?

    Secondly, what does Trent say about congruous and condign merit for the things that follow justification?

    Thanks,
    SS

  26. SS,

    I don’t recall that Trent really gets into the congruent vs. condign merit issue. It says, as you noted, that nothing that precedes justification merits it, and it says that works done in grace after justification, if combined with final perseverance, merit eternal life. In Catholic theological terminology, I believe the word “condign” would be used for the latter. The idea of “congruent” merit refers to a situation where something, for some reason, may be “fit” to receive some kind of response, but that response is not demanded in justice. Works done before justification cannot merit in justice justification, but the idea many Catholic theologians have held is that there might be some things a person might do without grace which might put him in the way of receiving greater blessings from God, though not owed in justice.

    But this conversation is getting out of the main point of the thread, so we should probably not take it any further here.

    Sincerely,

    Mark

  27. I don’t recall that Trent really gets into the congruent vs. condign merit issue. It says, as you noted, that nothing that precedes justification merits it, and it says that works done in grace after justification, if combined with final perseverance, merit eternal life. In Catholic theological terminology, I believe the word “condign” would be used for the latter

    Mark, earlier in your reply to Joey Henry, you said:

    I’m sure you are familiar with the Second Council of Orange. The Canons of Orange represent official, authoritative Catholic teaching. Just recently, Pope Francis put out an Apostolic Exhortation where he made the same point:

    The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace

    In Pope Francis’s words from this Exhortation, this is the “dogmatic” teaching of the Catholic Church.

    This is a contradiction: Trent says, according to you, that works done in grace after justification, if combined with final perseverance, merit eternal life. You also qualify this merit as condign, meaning that God is both obligated to reward and owes this reward to the one who perseveres. But Pope Francis says all cooperation with grace is a gift. How can one merit something which is a gift? Either Trent is wrong, or Pope Francis and Synod of Orange is wrong, or Pope Francis is wrong in having misunderstood the Synod of Orange. Which is it?

    This is eminently related to the OP and your exchange with Joey Henry.

  28. SS,

    That the works done *in grace* after initial justification *merit* eternal life in the modus of condign does not contradict the pure gift-quality that Pope Francis teaches is shown hereby: That God is obligated to reward those with such works with eternal life is a fact when considering the works themselves, not the principle of production. In other words, if good works are truly *good* works, then God’s *good* character obliges that it is met with justice (i.e. to render what is due). However, when considering the question how those works came into production, now we are talking about the human being operating under the divine operation of grace which can infallibly influence the will towards the good, all not by virtue of human nature but the impetus of the Holy Spirit. Another way to see this is that God rewards his own good works wrought in human persons at the day of judgment.

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