Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is Calvinism Semi-Pelagian?

Yesterday, I linked to an outstanding blog post authored by Tim Troutman at Called to Communion, "Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?" As Troutman points out, the charge of Semi-Pelagianism would be laughable if it were not repeated so often by some Calvinist thinkers who should know better.

Ironically, there is a sense in which Calvinism is Semi-Pelagian. As I write in Return to Rome:
My study of the Fathers led me to re-examine the Canons of the Council of Orange (AD 529), which, with papal sanction, rejected as heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Having its origin in the Catholic monk Pelagius (ca. 354–ca. 420/440), the first heresy affirms that human beings do not inherit Adam’s sin (and thus denies the doctrine of original sin) and by their free will may achieve salvation without God’s grace. On the other hand, semi-Pelagianism maintains that a human being, though weakened by original sin, may make the initial act of will toward achieving salvation prior to receiving the necessary assistance of God’s grace. The Council of Orange, in contrast, argued that Adam’s original sin is inherited by his progeny and can only be removed by the sacrament of Baptism. By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Even though Protestant thinkers sometimes portray the Council of Orange’s canons as a sort of paleo-Reformed document, it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.

1 comment:

Daniel Murphy said...

Hi Dr. Beckwith,
I'm grateful for your post. It led me to look up some descriptions of (semi-)Pelagianism, and I was surprised. My understanding had been that semi-Pelagianism is the view that divine grace is prevenient and necessary but not sufficient for salvation. However, I found a mix of characterizations in Reformed authors. Berkhof characterized it as just mentioned, Reymond and Bavinck as you have (such that man "makes the first move"). Turretin called the synergistic view itself "pure and unmixed Pelagianism." Is this confusion or error on the part of many, or simply a lack of widely recognized terminological stipulation across place and time? Maybe a bit of both? Turretin clearly knows the difference between Pelagius's view and Bellarmine's; I suspect for him 'Pelagianism' referred more to what he thought was a certain spirit to make room for an autonomous human will, not only to the views of Pelagius.

However, I doubt your link between Pelagianism and Calvinism. First, you say there is some agreement about "justification," but did Pelagians even think in terms of the Reformed ordo salutis with justification as a proper part thereof? If their denials of the necessity of infused grace were meant with respect to salvation as a whole (as I believe it was), then the Reformers did not agree (there is grace-driven sanctification and perseverance). Second, infused grace is necessary for justification for the Reformed, as regeneration causally precedes justifying faith. Third, to the extent that infused grace is not made a part of justification for the Reformed, isn't this part of Protestantism more generally; such that the link would be between semi-Pelagianism and Protestantism?