McCormack on Thomas on Justification

From Bruce McCormack’s essay “What’s at Stake in the Current Debate?”

I do not intend this as a “refutation” of Thomas, nor is this McCormack’s larger goal in his essay.  Thomas is simply too powerful a thinker to be refuted in a 600 word blog post. But McCormack nicely highlights conceptual difficulties in Thomas’s account in particular, and various evangelical-catholic paradigms of “ontological healing” in general.

And to be fair, if one were given the option of choosing between a strong Thomism or the evangelical-catholic goofiness today, Thomas is the obvious choice.  But there are more choices.

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will (87).

This doesn’t mean Thomas is wrong, of course, but it does highlight a conceptual confusion.


(4) Justification, for Thomas, is a movement from a state of injustice to a state of justice.

And for those who know their Thomas and Aristotle, this means

(4*) There must be a mover (God), which sets things in motion: the movement itself and the object of the movement.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

There is one big problem:  infant baptism (89). Infants are not capable of movements of free choice towards justifying grace, and it won’t work, pace Thomas, to speak of this as an exception, since Roman Catholicism practices infant baptism as the norm.

For most of Thomas’s account, justifying grace finds its “point of entry” on the level of the intellectual powers of the soul.  McCormack writes,

“In other words: there would be no need to locate the infusion of grace in the essence of the soul if it were not for the fact that the Church’s accepted practice was to baptize infants.  And that also means that Thomas’s tendency to understand justification as rooted in an ‘ontological healing’ of the soul, rather than in a more personal understanding of the operations of grace, is a function of the fact that the regeneration of the infant is the truly paradigmatic case where that infusion of grace which initiates justification is concerned (89).

Thomas’s project would be largely free from this confusion if, say, he were a Baptist and baptismal justification worked only with adults–but that isn’t the case.  And here is where Thomas will switch metaphors from “light” (which suggests intellectual illumination) to seeing grace as a quasi-substantial “thing.”

Thesis: The work of God in us was being made the basis of God’s forgiveness (90).

And this is what the Reformers rejected and what is at stake.  If imputation holds, then the hierarchical mediations of Rome are unnecessary.  And this is precisely what is glossed over in many “ecumenical” discussions.



FV Joint Statement Exposed, part 1

Our Triune God

We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations.

The problem with this is archetypal theology is specifically not communicable to ectypal theology.

As the Waters Cover the Sea

This section is fine, but the reader is encouraged to read Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope for a healthier presentation.

The Next Christendom

Again, not really a problem and neither is this what the FV is about.

Scripture Cannot Be Broken

We affirm further that Scripture is to be our guide in learning how to interpret Scripture, and this means we must imitate the apostolic handling of the Old Testament, paying close attention to language, syntax, context, narrative flow, literary styles, and typology—all of it integrated in Jesus Christ Himself…We deny that the Bible can be rightly understood by any hermeneutical grid not derived from the Scriptures themselves.

Why don’t you say what you really mean?  Go ahead and say those who hold to the Covenant of Works self-consciously seek not to be guided by Scripture.  No one rejects these propositions, so you are actually dealing from the bottom of the deck.

The Proclamation of the Word

Some words about rejecting specialized language, but since they are too scared to say specifics, there isn’t much I can do with this.

Creeds and Confessions

This section is tricky.  On one hand, no Reformed person would disagree with the propositions.  On the other hand, the CREC view of Confessionalism is loaded with self-contradictions.

See here.

The Divine Decrees

We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant.

Here is the problem.  Western Christendom, whether Protestant or Catholic, has always said the decrees of God are as immutable as God’s essence.  So, you can say “covenantal” all you want to, but at the end of the day, if you hold to the correct doctrine of God, you must agree with me.


We affirm that membership in the one true Christian Church is visible and objective

It’s hard to say yes or no on that.    What do they mean by “objective”?  I think I have an idea, but that’s the problem.  It’s loaded language which the average reader won’t catch.

Reformed Catholicity

We affirm that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ, and not through works of the law, whether those works were revealed to us by God, or manufactured by man. Because we are justified through faith in Jesus alone, we believe that we have an obligation to be in fellowship with everyone that God has received into fellowship with Himself.

It’s interesting to note which phrase wasn’t used.  Again, these propositions aren’t wrong, but I am left in the dark concerning:

  1. What is the ground of my justification?
  2. What is the instrument?

Covenant of Life

I’m too tired to deal with this one.  They say that Adam was in a faith-alone relationship in the pre-lapsarian covenant.  True, on one hand God condescends to us by covenant, and covenant isn’t something we deserve, but the principle in the law is “Do this and live.” Federal Vision fails to preserve these clarities.

Harvest of Medieval Theology

Narrowly speaking, this is a work on the theology of Gabriel Biel. As it is, one must be careful extrapolating Biel’s thought onto the canvas of late medieval theology. On the other hand, Oberman conclusively argues that Biel’s nominalism is not the stark break from an earlier Pristine Thomism that one often thinks.

Indeed, as one narrative has it (Pickstock, After Writing) in the beginning there was Thomism. Instead of a serpent, we have Duns Scotus. Instead of Cain, the Reformation. While this narrative has been refuted, it holds sway among certain circles. Oberman’s thesis has the merit (no pun intended) that “nominalism” had many varieties, and rather than ruining a pure medievalism, faithfully developed many points and anticipated Trent on others. Now, on to Gabriel Biel.

Biel’s theology can be structured around a dialectic: ordained power and absolute power.

The potentia ordinata and absoluta should not be seen as two different ways of divine acting, since all of God’s works ad extra are united (Oberman 37). God does things according to the laws he has established, potentia ordinata. However, he can do everything that does not imply a contradiction, potentia absoluta.

de potentia ordinata: necessity of the consequence; relates to the contingent order. Since this is not a logical absolute, this means humans cannot predict what predestination per the contingent order will do, since it is contingent (this is a huge point in later Reformed Scholastics).

de potentia absoluta: this does not mean that God can do anything he wants. It means he can do anything that doesn’t imply a logical contradiction. This distinction allowed scholastics to speak of miracles in the created order without the later Humean charge of a violation of natural law.

These categories allow Oberman to move from prolegomena (natural knowledge of God) to epistemology proper to man’s created state to justification and beyond. What makes this book so exciting is that everything is interconnected.

Facere quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam

Do what is in you–this line summarizes Biel’s thought. It forces him to rework sacramental theology, justification, anthropology and even Mariology around it. And Biel knows all of this. Per creation and the Fall, original sin is simply an “outgrowth of natural difficulties” already present (129). Grace, therefore, “means the infusion by which man is made a friend of God and acceptable for final beatification” (136). This leads Oberman to conclude: “grace is not the root but the fruit of the preparatory good work” (141).

Biel’s conclusions are not surprising. If his maxim holds, then whenever he comes across something that seems to imply divine power “closing the gap,” so to speak, then it needs to be refocused.

Habitus and Justification

The pre-act of Justification: “the dignitas of an act is its bonitas with respect to its heavenly reward…The habit of grace is the necessary bridge between bonitas and dignitas which gives the viator a de condigno claim on his eternal salvation” (161). And consistent with Biel’s de potentia ordinata God must grant the reward to once the conditions have been met (168).

habitus: disposition necessary before man is beatified. Parenthetically, Oberman notes Biel’s concern over a problem–another area where Biel paints himself into a corner: how can one talk about free will if one has a habit of grace? Aren’t people enslaved to their habits, whether good or bad?

Three stages of Justification
Acquire the habit of grace. “The sinner can reach the demarcation line” between the state of sin and the state of grace; he does what he is able to do (175).
meritum de congruo: semi-merit that is a spontaneous act and worthy of its reward. This creates an initial problem, since no human act is worthy of heaven. That’s okay, though, if we remember the above dialectic (absoluta/ordinata). God has committed himself de potentia ordinata to reward meritum de congruo.

Are There Reformed Antecedents?

It is commonly charged that the Reformation nominalized the pristine beauty of earlier theology. But can we really say that Reformed theology is nominalistic? Not really, or not without heavy argumentation. Oberman notes concerning justification, “Biel explicitly rejects the position which later was to be characterized as Protestant” (183).


Again, Biel’s dialectic appears and governs his thought. The potentia absoluta is God’s mercy. What causes predestination? We must first ask what is meant by cause. Biel will eventually define cause as order of priority (189). Not surprisingly, Biel will soften predestination for the most part (and this is certainly a move away from Anselm and Aquinas).


Keith Mathison took a lot of heat because Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for his categories Tradition I and Tradition II, except that Mathison didn’t invent these categories; Oberman did. Oberman points out that the church has long differed over whether “Tradition” is an independent stream alongside Scripture. What is important for Oberman’s argument is that the nominalists who opposed the Pope for the Council all agreed that Tradition (II) was an independent stream. Thus, any charge that nominalism is the antecedent to the Reformation is clearl false.


This book deserves highest possible praise and widest possible dissemination.

Trial and Triumph of Faith

Rutherford, Samuel.  The Trial and Triumph of Faith.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.

In this volume you are able to see a side of Samuel Rutherford that isn’t quite as flowery as his *Letters,* nor as analytical as *Lex, Rex.* The layout is relatively simple: 27 sermons on Christ’s words to the Syro-Phoneician. But in these sermons Rutherford examines the nature of faith, justification, and the Covenant of Redemption.

The book represents both the best of and limitations of Scottish Presbyterianism. When Rutherford waxes eloquent, he has no equal. But, likewise, when he analyzes a topic it goes on…and on…and on.

The Topics covered:

God’s love: it is infinite in its act but not in its object; the way of carrying on his love is infinite (41). “Mercy floweth not from God essentially but of mere grace” (42), otherwise universalism would entail. “For what God doth by necessity of his nature and essence, that he cannot but do.”


Rutherford ties the promises of the covenant of grace as exemplified in the Davidic covenant (53). Son of David: Christ had a special relation to Abraham, being his seed; but more special to David, because the covenant was in a special manner established with David, as a king, and the first king in whose hand the…Church…was laid down” (74-75). Df. of covenant = “A joint and mutual bargain between two, according to which, they promise freely such and such things to each other” (75).

The promises of Galatians 3.16 apply not to the hypostatic Christ nor the mystical Christ, but to the mediatorial Christ (very important discussion, 81-83).
(1) Christ is the heir of all things and we are co-heirs with him.
(2) The covenant (Of Redemption) was manifested in time but transacted in eternity.
(3) Not every promise made is a promise made to us (84). Christ is promised a “name above every name,” and this promise cannot be made to us. Christ is promised a willing seed; we are not.
(4) This covenant structures salvation (86).

Guilt and Justification
“Justification is a removal of sin by law-way” (195). Obligation to external punishment is removed.
Formal Justification: this goes along with the order of cause, time, and a required condition of apprehending Christ’s righteousness (209).
Guilt: the guilt of sin is not the same as sin itself (222). Macula, or the blot of sin, is defilement. “Guilt” is that which issueth from the macula because you aren’t perfectly spotless. Rutherford notes that this “blot” has different relations:
(1) Blot in relation to the law. This is formally sin and not guilt.
(2) Blot in relation to God, as offended and injured. This is formally removed in justification (224).

The reality of virtual actions = no legal fiction: “The proposition is sure: for if Christ was so made sin, and punished for sin, and liable to suffer for sin, and yet had not any sinful or blameworthy guilt on him” (226), then we can also say that God declares me just on Christ.

Rutherford ends by tying the current situation of Britain with eschatological reflections. Very beautiful and moving.

Review Hodge Systematic Theology

Charles Hodge is the highpoint of American theology. While Dabney searched deeper into the issues, Hodge’s position (if only because the North won) allowed him a wider influence. Thornwell was the more brilliant orator and Palmer the greater preacher, but Hodge was the teacher and systematician.  Of the Princetonians Hodge is supreme.  His writing style is smoother than Warfield’s and he is deeper than his predecessors.

We rejoice that Hendrickson Publishing is issuing these three volumes at $30.  Even with the page-length quotations in Latin, Hodge is strong where American Christianity is weak.   A renaissance in Hodge would reinvigorate discussions about epistemology, the doctrine of God and God’s knowledge, justification, and God’s law. We will look at Hodge’s discussion of epistemology, doctrine of God, human nature (including both sin and free volition), soteriology, and ethics.

Common Sense Realism

 Far from stultifying the gospel, Hodge’s position safeguards the reliability of “truth-speak” and if taken seriously today, adds another angle to the “convert” phenomenon.   A properly basic belief is one that doesn’t need another belief for justification.  I’m not so sure if Hodge is making that claim.  However, he does anticipate some of Plantinga’s positions by saying that God so constituted our nature to believe x, y, and z.  My aim is to show from Hodge’s own words that our cognitive faculties are (1) reliable and (2) made so by God.  I will advance upon Hodge’s conclusions:  a commoner can read the Bible and get the general “gist” of it apart from an infallible interpreting body.  Secondly, to deny the above point attacks the image of God.   Thirdly,  to deny the above point is to reduce all to irrationality.   The practical application:  Those who deny this position often find themselves looking for “absolute” and infallible arbiters of the faith.    Such a position denies a key aspect of our imago dei.

“Any doctrine [and Hodge is using this word in the technical sense of philosophic and/or scientific beliefs], therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature, must be false” (I: 215).

“Our knowledge of mind, therefore, as a thinking substance, is the first and most certain, and the most indestructible of all forms of knowledge; because it is involved in self-knowledge…which is the indispensable condition of all knowledge” (I: 277).

It is interesting to note his reference to self-knowledge.  One is reminded of Calvin’s duplex cognito dei.

Doctrine of God

…[S]tart with the revelation that God has made of himself in the constitution of our own nature and in his holy word.  This method leads to the conclusion that God can think and act, that in him essence and attributes are not identical (I: 564).

It’s also interesting to note Hodge’s comment about God constituting our nature in a certain way.  Shades of Thomas Reid.

“To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only in name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God…If in God knowledge is identical with eternity, knowledge with power, power with ubiquity, and ubiquity with holiness, then we are using words without meaning (I: 371-372).

The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals himself to his creatures…just as our several faculties are different modes in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness and acts (I: 374).

Following Turretin, Hodge writes,

The attributes are to be distinguished not realiter, but;”virtualiter, that is, there is a real foundation in the divine nature for the several attributes attributed to him (I: 370).

What does virtualiter mean?

Richard Muller defines it as “literally, i.e., with virtue or power” (Muller 371).

It’s interesting that Muller mentioned “power.”  This corresponds with Radde-Galwitz’s interpretation of Gregory of Nyssa.  Alluding to Michel Barnes he notes that divine power is the causal capacity rooted in the divine nature; inseparable from the divine nature and gives rise to the divine energies (183; Barnes).  Further, each “Good” (or attribute, in our case) entails another.

Human Nature

Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this:   does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty?  He answers no.  Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304).  Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents.  He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms.   He lists the three options:  necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism).  My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion:  God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one.  It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options.   He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.”  Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.”  Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples.   God is a most perfect being.   This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged.   Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue:  many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.”  Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem?  Is their belief any less certain?   If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action?   It’s hard to see how they can say no.  If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.”  Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily.   Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss:  the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen).  Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally:  man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).


One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible.  Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible.  But the real transfer of guilt as”a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice,’ is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another.  All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541).


Vol. 3: 114ff

Hodge gives a wonderful and penetrating treatment on justification.  He notes that The nature of the act of justification Does not produce subjective change.  It is an Act of God not in his character of sovereign but in character of judge (speech-act?)

Includes both pardon and declaration that believer is just in the sight of the law.    It is not saying that the believer is morally just in terms of character.  The believer is just in relation to the law–guilt is expiated (120).  It is not mere pardon: sinner’s guilt is expiated (125).  Mere Pardon does not produce reconciliation (128).

Scriptural usage:

Dt 25:1.  Judge pronounces a judgment.  He does not effect a character change. Condemnation is the opposite of justify.  A sentence of condemnation does not effect an     evil character change.  Thus, if sentence of condemnation is judicial act, so is justification (123).

Romanist Views

Infusion of righteousness does nothing for guilt (though possibly they would say the guilt is washed away in baptism).  Accordingly, justification does nothing for the satisfaction of justice.  Even if the Romanist claim that justification makes me holy were true, I would still be                       liable to justice (133).

Satisfaction of Justice

An adequate theory of justification must account for satisfying justice (130). Nothing “within” me can do that.

Works of the Law

Scripture never designates specifically “what kind of works” (137).  The word “law” is used in a comprehensive sense.  Nomos binds the heart–law of nature.  Not ceremonial.  Paul says “thou shalt not covet” as the law that condemns me (Romans 7).  Not ceremonial.  Grace and works are antithetical. It doesn’t make sense to subdivide works (138).


The Ground of justification is always what is done for us, not what is in us

  • justified by his blood (Romans 5:19)
  • by his righteousness (5:18)

If just means “morally good,” then it would be absurd to say that one man is just because of another (141).

  • We say that the claims against  him are satisfied.
  • When God justifies the ungodly, he does not declare him morally godly, but that his sins are expiated.

Hypothetical Objections Proves Protestant View

Why object over possible antinomianism if faith alone not true (Romans 6; p. 140)?

The Law of God

Like older Reformed systematics, Hodge has a treatment of the Decalogue.  Much of it is common fare.  What is interesting is the way he handled it. By reading his arguments we see a commentary on problematic cultural issues.  Of particular importance, which I won’t develop here, are his expositions of the 4th and 7th commandment.  In the latter he specifically deals with Romanist tyranny in marriage.

Throughout the whole discussion he is combating Jesuitism.  We do not see that today.  Modern systematics, even conservative ones, are scared of appearing “conspiratorial.”  Hodge’s age was a manlier age.  They called it for what it was.  They knew that Jesuits swear an oath to destroy Protestant nations by any means necessary. And they knew that only the Law of God provides spiritual and political liberty.

Hodge is not entirely clear, though.  When he wants to prove the Levitical prohibitions as binding today on sanguinuity and close-kin marriage, he argues like Greg Bahnsen. Almost word for word.  If he did that today he would be fired.   But when he wants to argue against more theocratic penalties, he sounds like a dispensationalist.


Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Supper is now something of a classic, and deservedly so.  I am in large agreement with most of the book.  I certainly lean towards Calvin.  That said, I think one of the unintended consequences of the book is a slighting of Charles Hodge among the “Young Turk Calvinists.”  It’s not that I disagree with Mathison or Calvin, but I am concerned about the new interest in Nevin.  I used to be a hard-core Hegelian for 3 years.   Nevin was also an Hegelian.   Granted, Nevin pulled back from the worst of Hegel.  I am not so sure Nevin’s modern interpreters fully understand that.  I hope to give something of a modified defense of Hodge on the Supper:

“really conveying to the believing recipient, Christ, and all the benefits of his redemption…There must be a sense, therefore, in which believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (III: 622).


Anything is said to be present when it operates duly on our perceiving senses” (637).  I am not so sure Hodge is able to dodge Mathison’s charge.  I agree with Hodge’s common sense realism, but I don’t think Hodge’s next point follows:  “In like manner Christ is present when he thus fills the mind, sheds abroad his love into our hearts…” (638).  I suppose the question at issue is this:  we grant that Christ fills the mind.   We grant that sensory operations also fill the mind, but it does not necessarily follow that Christ is present in the Supper in a sensory manner.   In some sense I think all Reformed would agree with that.

Hodge makes the common Reformed point that “what is affirmed to be present is not the body and blood of Christ absolutely, but his body as broken and his blood as shed” (641).  This is a decisive point against High Church traditions:  when they insist upon a literal reading, “This is my body,” the Reformed can point that Christ’s wasn’t sacrificed yet, so the “body” at issue can’t be the sacrificial body.

Hodge concludes his exposition of the Reformed teaching with “There is therefore a presence of Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper; not local but spiritual; not to the senses, but to the mind and to faith; and not of nearness, but of efficacy” (643).

The Problem with Nevin

Throughout the work is a running attack on Nevin’s theology.  Hodge makes a point that isn’t always grasped by Nevin’s defenders today: if we accept Nevin’s platonic essentialism, especially with regard to the Eucharist and Christology, then we run into huge problems.  If Christ assumed the universal humanity, then he also assumed the rules of predicating of genus:  the more universal a genus, the less specific it is.  If Christ is the universal humanity, then there is nothing specifically human about him!


It is superfluous to sing of Hodge’s greatness.  That is a given.  I do have some issues with his treatment.  Hodge routinely appeals to the “received consensus of the church” for many of his doctrines.  There are several problems with this. Aside from the most general teachings from the Creeds, appeals to the Patrum Consensus are problematic and question-begging.  Further, the Eastern Orthodox Church, to which Hodge sometimes appeals, would not share his assumptions about Adam’s imputed guilt, for example.

Augustine, Spirit and the Letter

Initial argument: to respond to Pelagius’s claim that one can live a sinless life.

Other topics addressed: justification by free grace, spiritual interpretation, the nature of human willing and choosing.

Observations:  There are many important topics in this book, yet it is neither an easy nor a pleasant read.  Augustine jumps from point to point, only to return without warning to an earlier point.

  1. The Law as Letter that Killeth
    1. Without the Spirit, the Letter (law) inflames concupiscence.
    2. Whoever obeyed the law without the Spirit, did only because of reward/fear (c.14).
  2. Justification by free grace
    1. Our soul wants to attribute to itself that which it freely received from God (c. 18).
    2. Law: what we do, not simply “external ritual markers” (c.23).
    3. Works do not precede justification, otherwise it is pointless to say we are justified freely by his grace (c. 45).
  3. Human nature and grace
    1. Grace restores nature (c. 47).
    2. Grace establishes free will
      1. When we say we do something “in our power,” we presuppose two things:
        1. Will: the assenting to of something
        2. Ability: the capacity to do it.
      2. The Free Will of man is an intermediate power–it can incline towards faith or unbelief.
      3. The very will comes from God but that is not the same thing as saying, “God made me will it.”
      4. The will probably follows the intellect.  Augustine isn’t clear on this point (c. 60) but it seems to be his argument.

Are we Together (Sproul)?

As a general rule I don’t get excited about Sproul.  He is a Nestorian and his son is a lunatic. Still, this book was relatively good.

Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism

Excellent contrast between Rome and Protestantism. Short on analysis and critique. Offers some pointers towards a critique. What I picked up in this book:

1. Rome’s viwe of justification is analytic: a man is right with God because God makes him right with God. Infused grace. Substance. Not too much to get excited about. ~1. Prot. holds synthetic view. God declares a man to be right. Imputes, by contrast. Further, Rome can’t criticize Reformers for holding to imputation as legal fiction. Rome, too, believes in imputation: Adam’s guilt, merits of the saints transferred, etc.

2. Decent section on Mary. Nice move by showing how Thomas Aquinas rejects key catholic doctrines on Mary. Had a chance to show how the “Hail Mary” prayer’s theology rests on a big mistranslation, but missed it.

3. Good section on the sacraments. He should have spent more time showing how Rome demands an Aristotelian physics for transubstation to work, but Sproul didn’t pursue that route.

4. Section on Scripture was okay. He should have pointed out in passing how the Book of Tobit is so factually inaccurate, that Rome and Orthodox conservatives must abandon inerrancy or the deuterocanonicals.

5. Section on the Church was okay: debate between Cyprianic and Augustinian interpretations of the Church.