Saturday, June 05, 2004

S. Joel Garver's "On The 'Catholic Question'" (With Commentary by Dave Armstrong)

Dr. Stephen Joel Garver is an assistant professor of philosophy at La Salle University in Philadelphia, who writes also on theological topics. He is a Reformed Protestant. Joel's words will be in black and mine in blue. See his complete essay. I will not respond to everything, but rather, to selected portions where I disagree (but I didn't all that much), or which are particularly stimulating and thought-provoking (the latter are numerous, as Dr. Garver is an excellent and ecumenical writer, with lots of important insights to offer). His words will be in blue. See also the background documents:

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My primary focus here is not upon social or political issues or inter-confessional cooperation per se. Instead, my focus is upon the possibility that 20th century Roman Catholicism, at least in certain quarters of it, has reconfigured itself so that it is more open to the genuine concerns of the Protestant Reformation and is more able to incorporate important Protestant distinctives concerning justification into its own theological interests and traditions.

I think this is true. Dialogue and ecumenism have definitely taken a giant leap forward in the last 100 years (especially the last 50). I think that often it is the case that we are not as far apart on many issues in actuality, as many on both sides have supposed. That is a function of increased mutual education and understanding. And Catholics can accept many things that Protestants believe as not contrary to existing dogmas. This was a strong underlying theme of Louis Bouyer's book from 1958: The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.

Furthermore, I believe that, among the various Protestant confessional traditions, Reformed theology has a unique ability and responsibility to engage Catholicism on these matters.

I agree, though Lutheranism and traditional Anglicanism are not far behind in that respect, and closer to Catholic thought in specific areas (such as the Eucharist in Lutheranism and the authority of Tradition in Anglicanism).

The various statements which have been produced, it seems to me, do not engage the relevant doctrinal and theological issues at a level that is sufficiently deep, at least not deep enough to allay my fears of too hasty of a unity or too harsh of a polemics.

I disagree with this. It is the very nature of such statements that they function in a "creed-like" fashion within an ecumenical framework and context. Such summaries are not intended to be extensive theological treatises, nor can they be. They are basic tools for further, much more involved discussion (and distinct from the latter). They are, in a word, a "start."

I question the advisability of an ecumenical process that is premised upon less centrally doctrinal concerns and the danger, therein, of relativizing the truth-claims of the Christian Gospel as those have been understood within classical Protestantism.

These are attempts at finding what we truly have in common, and areas of almost total agreement. Social and political and moral issues are often areas of common ground, so they were emphasized in the ECT document. It is an effort to promote what Protestant apologist Francis Schaeffer called "co-belligerency" against the zeitgeist and secular world which all Christians confront and challenge. I don't see that "relativizing" is in play here. Acknowledging whatever we have in common (e.g., sola gratia) is not watering-down anything. It is simply stating that "we agree on points a, b, and c. We still disagree on d, e, and f." No one has to deny their own distinctives. This is what I regard as the practical genius and workability of ECT. It's a realistic approach to ecumenism; neither a liberal compromise nor a pie-in-the-sky pretense that groups agree on particulars when in fact they do not.

Furthermore, such dangers are heightened, it seems to me, when such ecumenical projects are pursued outside of the framework of established ecclesiastical organizations, among para-church ministries. It is not clear to me that such public declarations of unity are necessary or salutary for continued cooperation between Christians from a variety of churches. Still, the goal of unity in truth, among all Christians, is praiseworthy.

Well, one must start somewhere. Parachurch organizations have been the source of many helpful initiatives and endeavors among Protestants, and even in the Catholic Church, there is a growing lay involvement (encouraged by Vatican II and Pope John Paul II) such as the movement I am myself a part of: lay apologetics and evangelism. Both sides should certainly seek to be in accord with the more "official" doctrines that they are seeking to represent.

In the case of ACE [Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals], I do not doubt that their response is motivated by a zeal for maintaining our Reformation distinctives which we all should rightly see as important and central to the message of the Gospel. The efforts of ECT are, evidently, a great worry to ACE, in that ECT can appear to compromise that Gospel message in the ways I have outlined already.

I think this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the goals and nature of ECT, and a needless alarmism. ECT does not require Protestants or Catholics to give up their distinctives. It only highlights the common ground. I happen to believe that the Gospel can be defined in a (biblical) fashion that includes all the major Christian traditions (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism), and I have seen various prominent Reformed writers (e.g., N.T. Wright) make the same point. He wrote:
When Paul refers to ‘the gospel’, he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.

(Rutherford House lecture: New Perspectives on Paul)
I don't believe that the Gospel is confined to the Reformed Protestant sophisticated soteriological version of it (TULIP, etc.); I think it is larger than that, as a matter of category. See my papers:

The Gospel, as Preached by the First Christians

Good News: An Evangelical / Catholic Presentation of the Gospel Message

What is the Gospel?

Therefore, I don't see that ECT forces anyone to compromise. It is a sort of Mere Christianity effort (for those who are familiar with C.S. Lewis). Lewis himself wrote in that book that Christians ultimately need to go into their own "rooms" (which represented denominational traditions) but that they could come into the great hall which represented those doctrines held in common by all Christians. That is what ECT is about.

In the following remarks I make use of two documents in particular, ECT's "The Gift of Salvation" (hereafter "Gift") and ACE's "An Appeal to Fellow Evangelicals" (hereafter "Appeal"). My basic thesis is the following. Whatever the peculiar motivations of the ECT statement and no matter how problematic those motivations may or may not be, I cannot see that "The Gift of Salvation" affirms anything in regard to Catholic and Protestant unity that is not true as far as it goes.

. . . the co-signers claim that each of their traditions may be understood in such a way so that they may jointly affirm a modest commonality in faith between Catholics and Evangelicals, one that is, on the part of the various signatories, fully consistent with, convinced by, and faithful to their respective traditions . . .

In this regard it is important to note that nowhere does "Gift" imply that no traditional differences remain on how the full implications of the Gospel are to be understood. Some of those differences are even said to be "persistent" and "serious," thereby requiring "further and urgent exploration." Thus, "Gift" evinces a willingness to admit that there are areas in which Catholics and Evangelicals cannot yet agree.


The fact that "Gift" does not affirm the doctrine of "sola fide" in its precise Reformational formula is really no surprise. First, the document never claims to do so. Second, so long as they wish to remain faithful to Catholic teaching, it is not possible for the Catholic participants to affirm the sola fide formulation . . . The Council of Trent closed the door on the option of affirming the sola fide formula in Canon 9 of its Sixth Session. Even as Protestants, we wish to maintain that while only faith justifies, faith alone does not. The "sola" of sola fide is adverbial, not adjectival. As the post-reformation Reformed theologian Francis Turretin writes, "faith alone does not justify, but only faith justifies; the coexistence of love with faith in him who is justified is not denied, but its co-efficiency or cooperation in justification" (Institutes of Elenctic Theology).

Despite the real differences, there is very significant common ground between the two traditions, which are not nearly as far apart as the common polemics on both sides would suggest. See my papers:

Reflections on Faith and Works and Initial Justification

Martin Luther on Sanctification and the Absolute Necessity of Good Works as the Proof of Authentic Faith

I doubt that the denial of imputation necessarily amounts to a denial of the Gospel itself, at least so long as one maintains that salvation is by grace alone, because of Christ alone, and that faith is sufficient for receiving it. Experience and history suggest that such a doctrine can lead to saving knowledge of Christ. And the "Gift" statement appears to be affirming at least this much in regard to justification.

Of course denying imputation is not a denial of the Gospel, because it is only a technical theory of soteriology, whereas the Gospel is the Good News of the events in Jesus' life and His death on the cross and Resurrection and Ascension (at least that is how the Bible clearly seems to define it). Protestant scholars Alister McGrath and Norman Geisler have both pointed out that imputed justification was essentially absent between the time of the apostles and Luther. So if it is essential to the Gospel, then there was no Gospel for all that time. This would include the "Gospel" of people like St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, St. Anselm, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Before turning to the resources of Reformed theology, it will be helpful to outline precisely what a Catholic who is faithful to his church's teaching may or may not affirm in regard to imputation. The main difficulty here is, naturally, the Council of Trent. It spoke of inherent righteousness worked in us by Christ through the Holy Spirit flowing from the merits of Christ. It is by this righteousness that we are justified (i.e., made just; Trent never talks of being declared just). While, in some sense, this righteousness is truly ours and created in us, it is also God’s justice "for that justice which is called ours, because we are justified by its inherence in us, that same is of God" (Decree of the Sixth Session, Chapter 16).

Now, in itself, this does not eliminate an affirmation of "double justification" as proposed by the Colloquy and Diet of Regensburg in 1541 (also known as the Diet of Ratisbon; the "Regensburg Book" or "Liber Ratisbonensis" can be found in Melanthonis Opera, Corpus Reformatorum 4:190-238). According to the doctrine of duplex iustificare we are declared just in virtue of the imputation of Christ's justice and are made just in virtue of the infusion of Christ's justice (on the Protestant side Melanchthon, Bucer, Pistorius, and probably Calvin seemed willing to accept this; on the Catholic side it was Cardinal Contarini, Eck, Gropper, and Pflug). Thus "justification" is used in a dual sense, to cover what is affirmed in the Protestant doctrines of forensic justification and sanctification. The difficulty is that Trent, in an apparent reference to Regensburg, asserts that the infused, inherent righteousness of which it speaks is the "single [unica] formal cause of justification" (Chapter 7). The use of "unica" here (solitary, unique of a kind, one and one alone), seems to close the door on any theories of "duplex iustitia" or "duplex iustificare."

Nevertheless, Trent never explicitly condemns double justification in any of the anathemas of its Canons, though it had opportunity to do so (and we know that some of the members of the Council of Trent were amenable to the doctrine). Moreover, Trent leaves the door open to a doctrine of double justification when it only condemns those who insist that we are justified,
by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and "the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5) and remains in them...

(Canon 11, Sixth Session; emphasis mine)
This seems to open the door to the inclusion of the imputation of the justice of Christ within justification (not distinguishing, at present, two kinds of justification), so long as infusion is not denied.

This is very helpful and constructive ecumenical analysis. I don't believe that Trent rules out imputation altogether (as long as infused justification is not thereby denied). 

Furthermore, even in "double justification" while infusion is a formal cause (causa formalis) of being made just, the other side of the duplex—being declared just—technically speaking, has no formal cause because it does not have reference to any subjective (i.e., formal) change in the individual. Imputation is not the "formal cause" of the forensic declaration and so the assertion of imputation does not contradict the idea that justification, qua being made righteous, has a single (unica) formal cause.

. . . It seems to me that perhaps those of us who are Reformed rather than Lutheran would have hope that some kind of rapprochement between Protestants and Catholics is possible on this issue, especially in light of the modern developments within Catholic biblical and theological studies. After all, the central motif of Calvinian theology is not merely "imputation" (especially as that is understood in some sectors of confessional Lutheranism), but union with Christ. As Calvin himself writes:
Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our heart—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—-in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him.

(Institutes 3.11.10; emphasis mine)

Calvin is not denying that justification (now being thought of in the narrower Protestant sense) is based on the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, nor that justification in the primary biblical sense, is a forensic declaration. But what he is denying, is that the divine action of the Father, through the Spirit, uniting us to Christ, is an action to be conceived of wholly imputatively. The very same action by which we are united to Christ, unites us with all his benefits. And so, Calvin might well affirm that, in this sense, justification is not by means of (as Trent would say) "a sole imputation" that excludes the "pouring forth of grace and charity," even if the purely forensic aspect of God's one action is not identical with the pouring forth of other graces. For Calvin, by receiving Christ himself (the grace of God), all that is his, is also ours--whether his legal title to righteousness and vindication before God or his own divine charity--and in the application of redemption one is not prior to another. Thus one of Calvin's favorite phrases to describe justification is "fellowship of righteousness," emphasizing that we are in Christ and he is in us.

This is an excellent example, I think, of where Catholic and Protestant theology are far closer than generally supposed, even though they are not identical. It is unfortunate that slogans and catch-phrases have been so widespread (especially in Protestant circles). They foster an "either/or" mentality that works contrary to an effort to understand those outside our own faith-traditions. We must not only learn what someone believes, but why they believe what they do, and what lies behind usually simplified almost mantra-like expressions of various doctrines, such as sola fide or infused justification.

Only with distinctively Reformed emphases, I think, can we meet the Catholic objections to the Protestant focus on imputation. Not all Protestants, however, may be entirely happy with these emphases, and they have, in reality, been historically the focus of anti-Reformed Lutheran polemics and even a matter of some dispute within the Reformed tradition itself . . .

Oh yes. There are those in all camps who will oppose any effort at recognizing common ground as intrinsically a compromise position or a distortion of one or both viewpoints. The anti-Catholics and anti-Protestants will both work against any such effort in the most stringent, oppositional terms. But that can't stop those of us who are very concerned with Christian unity and more mutual understanding.

Nevertheless, the distinctively Reformed focus on union with Christ can answer some of the Catholic objections to imputation. On the Reformed view justification need not be a mere "legal fiction" nor is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness something that occurs alone, apart from union with all of Christ’s other benefits. While Christ’s righteousness is a iustitia aliena in that it is not accomplished by us or in us, it is also a iustitia inhaerens in that Christ himself, with his forensically declared righteousness, is truly in us by his Spirit. While Christ’s righteousness is extra nos in that it finds its origin and is accomplished apart from us, it is also in nobis in that we ourselves, in the transformative and enlivening action of being raised in union with Christ, have fellowship with his righteousness. While differences between Catholics and Protestants do very much remain on this particular issue, we cannot continue to say that there is a complete impasse between the Catholic doctrine of infusion and Reformed doctrine of imputation. To do so would be to close a door on any further conversation.

I couldn't agree more. I think this is very well-stated and argued indeed.

While Catholics do emphasize the cooperation of the believer with divine grace, Catholics also may teach that the grace of cooperation is a divine gift and, within the Thomistic tradition, God is seen as acting in the sinner in a way that could well be described, in Reformed terms, as monergistic. Catholics can quite honestly state, in the words of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, "Justification, as a transition from disfavor and unrighteousness to favor and righteousness in God’s sight, is totally God’s work" (paragraph 156.5; emphasis mine). This is because "as sinners...[people] are incapable of turning themselves to God to seek deliverance." Therefore, it must be the case that, "Justification takes place solely by God's grace." Thus whenever persons consent to God's justifying actions, "such personal consent [is] itself an effect of grace, action arising from innate human abilities" (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, paragraphs 19 and 20). Since this is case, we are never to place our trust in our own accomplishments, whether faith or works, but wholly in the mercy of Christ. It is of the very nature of faith to turn from self and apprehend Another.

To make room for "cooperation" or "assent" is not necessarily to replace Reformed monergism with a semi-Pelagian synergism. Rather, it is to place the human response of faith, which is truly an act of the person, within the framework of faith as an absolute gift . . . They [Catholics] too share with us the emphasis of Augustine and the Council of Orange that salvation is by grace alone (sola gratia).

This is a superb and wonderfully sympathetic description of Catholic theology. It is a delight to see such understanding coming from a non-Catholic and I highly commend Dr. Garver.

For now, I shall note that so long as we trust Christ alone, I cannot see how it affects our salvation whether or not we put our trust in Christ's righteousness as imputed or as infused. We are saved by faith in Christ, not faith in a particular doctrinal formulation. How Christ’s righteousness becomes ours is perhaps an area of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants, but it doesn’t undermine the saving power of the Gospel. If it did, then surely Augustine was not saved for he explicitly and self-consciously believed that it was infused and inwrought righteousness which justifies since he saw the meaning of the word "justification" as "to make just" (see, e.g., his De Spiritu et Littera 26, 45; cf. Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei vol 1[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986] for more on Augustine's views). In any case, an Evangelical could well argue that, since Protestants are correct and justification is in fact wrought by imputation, then the righteousness of Christ in which Catholics place their faith is, among other things, an imputed one, regardless whether or not they understand it in that sense.

. . . since Catholics hold that the gifts of faith and charity are given along with the gift of salvation as the means by which that salvation is received, they maintain the absolute primacy of grace. Since they maintain that faith and charity are Christ’s work of faith and charity in us, they maintain the absolute primacy of Christ’s work alone.

. . . the Second Vatican Council seems to have broadened the notion of faith beyond the narrowly intellectualistic definition of Trent. Thus it describes faith as that "by which man entrusts his whole self freely to God offering ‘the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals’ [Vatican I] and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him" (Dei Verbum 5). Furthermore, the individualistic, abstract, Aristotelian categories of scholasticism (e.g., fides formata or informata) are being revised within Catholic theology by the introduction of more personalist and existentialist ones. Saving faith is not mere assensus, but includes the fiducia emphasized by the Reformers.

Bravo!!!! This is excellent!

There is much reason to believe that there is a significant material convergence on this issue of the sufficiency of faith for justification, at least among certain Catholics and certain Evangelicals. And this is a convergence that is entirely consistent with their respective traditions. If the Catholic co-signers of "The Gift of Salvation" are willing to say that what they "affirm here is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by faith alone," then I think we should take them at their word. At the very least, our reaction should not be to continue in anti-Catholic polemics that claim that Catholicism continues in a clear and persistent denial of sola fide.

Again, it is often discovered that when the two sides really talk to each other and listen carefully, that they are not as far apart as either thought. I have much more hope that accord can be achieved with regard to the issue of justification than for the issue of authority and Tradition, where the differences are much greater.

I am hesitant, however, to maintain that our criterion of authenticity in regard to that Gospel is best expressed in the idea that justification by "faith alone" is the sole article by which the church stands or falls.

. . . the criterion of sola fide can risk becoming reductionistic in regard to the fullness of the biblical Gospel since the sacraments, preaching, the Lordship of Christ, and so on, are not simply dispensable. Such a criterion also focuses, it seems to me, too narrowly upon a particular formulation of the Gospel, one that does not possess a biblical warrant that is wholly beyond dispute. Thus, such a criterion does not address the possibility that the content of that Gospel may be accurately expressed in other terms. Given what we have seen in this essay, it appears that there is, at present, an open willingness within Catholicism (at least in certain of its quarters) to incorporate the concerns of the Reformation into its own theology.

In this light, I do not think that it is helpful to maintain, apart from further considerations, that the Catholic Church continues uniformly to preach a different Gospel or to have no authentic evangelism. To perpetuate that belief apart from careful study, theological precision, and extensive documentation, appears to caricature the best elements in Roman Catholic theology, if not to make an outright fabrication of them. In the past, such carelessness has, I believe, led any number of people to mistrust their Protestant leaders, theologians, and sources, even to the point where, in reaction, they abandoned their own Protestant distinctives to join the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard, Lorraine Boettner's Roman Catholicism stands as a crowning achievement in anti-Catholic pornography, leading more than one person astray with its vicious distortions and half-truths. As evangelical Protestants, we can and must do better than this. [bolding added]

I think Dr. Garver's way of approaching this general topic of ecumenism, particularly with regard to matters of justification and the Gospel, is exactly right, and should be followed by those on both sides who are interested in further unity and understanding across the party lines. I give this paper an A+ for the cogency of its arguments and the accuracy and profound insight of its content. Kudos!

1 comment:

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