Monday, August 31, 2009

Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?

That's the title of an outstanding blog entry by Tim Troutman at Called to Communion. Here's an excerpt (note omitted):
There are certain charges which are worthy of a defense only on account of their frequent repetition. If someone refers to a Calvinist as a hopeless determinist, the well rounded Calvinist might decline to defend such an uneducated attack after hearing it once or twice, but there is a point at which the accused party, for the benefit of onlookers who might be swept away by the table pounding, is well justified in offering a defense. He might dare to hope that the false accuser will correct his error but he does not expect it. His defense is for the benefit of those undecided....

...[T]he term “semi-Pelagianism” is vague. Generally on the lips of the accuser, what this term means is reducible to “anything which imparts to man a role in salvation greater than what John Calvin does.” If this is the definition, then we end the discussion here, “guilty” as charged. But what else might it mean? If Pelagianism means that salvation does not require grace, then semi-Pelagianism must mean we stand in semi-need of God’s grace, or rather, that grace accomplishes x% of salvation and man accomplishes the rest. But this is a false division of cooperative powers.

This error rests on the denial of the distinction between primary and secondary causes. If we say that a thing is only truly caused by its primary agent, then all actions are reducible to acts of God since God is the Prime Mover and everything that moves at all is moved as a result of His being. Therefore if we deny secondary causes, we cannot, with any intellectual respectability, deny absolute determinism. But if the universe is not absolutely determined, then secondary causes must be in play since, as we have said, all things, without exception, are results of God’s initial act as the Prime Mover.

Since we have admitted the existence of at least some secondary causes, i.e. human free will, in at least some actions, do we have any reason whatsoever to suppose that the secondary causal powers of man are strictly limited to actions which do not move us closer to God? We do not find support for this belief either in Scripture or in Church Tradition so it must be dismissed. If someone disagrees, they need only produce evidence of its existence in either of the two and my point will be refuted.

But what if the accuser agrees with secondary causal powers of man even in case of actions, such as faith,1 which lead us to salvation, but insists that grace is necessary for all of these actions and not just some of them? Then he agrees with the Catholic Church and should end his schism.

You can read the whole thing here.

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