Grace in Protestant and Catholic Theology

 

Grace is a central teaching of the Christian faith.  Grace is a gift from God and apart from God it is not possible achieve sanctifying grace.  In this regard the Church echoes the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 where he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (NRSV).  The theology of grace developed from Apostolic times to the present, but the concept of it being a gift has remained.  However, in the 16th century there was a sharp divergence in the concept of grace.  The Protestant reformers held to a different view of man that had been taught for the first 1500 years of the church.  Along with this different view came a different view of grace.  From the beginnings of the church’s history, grace has had at its center the consent of the free will of man and this view remained the same until the Protestant Reformation.

 

DEVELOPMENT OF GRACE IN THE EARLY CHURCH

            Before the development of grace in the early church can be discussed it is important to define terms.  In describing grace Dr. Scott Hahn writes that grace is, “The supernatural gift that God bestows entirely of his own benevolence upon men and women for their eternal salvation. Justification comes through grace, and through the free gift of grace the ability is bestowed to respond to the divine call of adoptive sonship, participation in the divine nature, and eternal life(Hahn Grace).  Within this definition we see the essential characteristics of what grace is.  It is a free gift that God gives us, and we have the ability to respond.  Some, especially most Protestants, would say that grace is indeed a free gift, but we do not have the ability to respond properly.

Early in the history of the church we see a correlation between faith and works.  This does not mean that the church teaches a works-based salvation like some falsely believe, but it does mean that grace helps perfect the will (STIII, Q62, A2).  St. Justin Martyr was an in his Dialogue with Trypho in the second century that grace helps us understand the will of God to do what pleases him (Roberts 258).  This concept is further elaborated upon by St. Irenaeus in his great work against the Gnostics titled Against Heresies.  St. Irenaeus also wrote in the late 2nd century about the errors of the Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed that they were saved based on secret knowledge passed down from secret teachings of Jesus.  St. Irenaeus employed a device that became known as the rule of faith.  In this rule St, Irenaeus pointed out that the true churches can trace there lineage back to the apostles, and he also gives a listing of the Bishop of Rome up until that point.  What is interesting in his explanation of grace and how it varies from his opponents.  Regarding grace St Irenaeus writes, “in the exercise of His grace, {God} confers immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love” (Roberts 331).

In both examples cited it is imperative to have faith.  Faith shows us where our hope is founded, and hope leads to charity which shows us how to love God the way He wishes to be loved (Hardon Ch. 10).  In sacred scripture there are many passages that show what it means to love God.  In the story of the rich young ruler Jesus tells the man that following the commandments on their own is not enough.  He lays down a challenge is Mark 10:21 and tells him to “Sell what you have and follow me” (NRSV).  This challenge seems superficial, but it is a statement of faith.  If we believe Jesus is who he says he is then the Christian life is more than just faith, and more than just doing good things.  Through faith grace is conferred, but to remain in a state of grace we must cooperate with the grace given, and that may mean giving up what we have to follow him.  Conversely in this story Jesus affirms the necessity of keeping the moral laws, but emphasizes that with out faith, or following as it is stated here, it will not get one to eternal life.

 

EARLY HERESIES AND GRACE

            Though the relationship between faith and works regarding the increase of grace was clearly established early in the church’s history there were heresies that arose.  One such heresy denied the existence of original sin.  Original sin is the doctrine that says because of the fall there is a stain on our souls and describes our fallen nature (CCC para 408).  As with all Catholic doctrine, original sin was seen as a teaching very early in the church’s history.  Tertullian is credited with one of the earliest references to original sin.  In his work The Doctrine of Man and Sin Tertullian makes the connection to the fall and the tendency, or concupiscence, of man to sin.  However, he also states that the soul is still a creation of the divine and it is possible for man to use free will to cooperate with God (Tertullian).

For the most part this remained the view of original sin and grace in the church for the next two centuries until a man named Pelagius started making waves.  He was a British born lay theologian who went to Rome in the late 4th century and started a movement known as Pelagianism (Cross 1257).  Pelagius started denying the established dogma of original sin.  Regarding Pelagianism Dr. Patricia Ireland writes that it is a, “philosophical theology which denies both the need for divine grace and the doctrine of the generative transmission of original sin (Ireland 38).

The ideas that Pelagius put forth were problematic to say the least.  If the tenants of Pelagianism were carried to their logical conclusion, why would Christ have to die on the cross for the sins of the world?  In Ephesians 2:5 St. Paul writes, “even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (NRSV).  The views of Pelagius regarding original sin and grace not only were contrary to this verse but were contrary to the fathers who wrote afterward.  In this system man becomes the cause of his salvation.  This is seen in the summary of Pelagianism by a disciple of Pelagius named Caelestius.  He summarized the view by saying that man was born in the same condition as Adam and did not have a tendency to sin.  He went on further say that he knew some who were spotless and never sinned (Ireland 38).

The teaching of Pelagianism was damaging and caught the attention of the great church father St. Augustine.  In 420 St. Augustine replied to the two letters of the pelagians with his and addressed it to Pope Boniface (Smither 192).  He did this to inform the Holy Father of the dangers of the heresy that was being propagated.  In response to Julian, a Pelagian teacher, erroneously stated that the Catholic Church taught that free will was taken away by the fall.  St, Augustine countered and wrote that free will remained, but what was taken away was the full righteousness to immortality in Heaven (Augustine 378).  This is remedied by grace, and original sin is washed away in the sacrament of baptism.  Regarding this Augustine writes, “All these products of concupiscence, and the old guilt of concupiscence itself, are put away by the washing of baptism (Augustine 386).  The Pelagian view saw salvation as a reward for moral behavior and discipline apart from grace (Ireland 38).  St. Augustine, and by extension the church, saw salvation as living in detachment from the world through grace.

In the 5th century a weaker form of Pelagianism began to circulate and was advocated by Cassian at Marseilles.  This was a hybrid of sorts between the views of Pelagius and St. Augustine’s strong correction of the heresy (Thein 643).  Semi-Pelagianism held that man was able initiate salvation apart from grace, and that everything that happened after salvation was the work of grace.  The central point in both systems is the ability of man to choose apart from divine grace as the cause for good human action (Armstrong 51).  This compromise of an early heresy compromised the supernatural end of man and made it an object of mere human effort (De Lubac 65).  In further response to these heresies of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, the Council of Orange was convened.  The council clarified the church’s view of original sin, the need for grace, and formally condemned Pelagianism as heresy.

 

A MATTER OF HE WILL

            With Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism defined as heresy the church’s view of grace and the will remained unchallenged for some time.   St. Thomas Aquinas reiterated this view in his masterful work the Summa Theologia where he writes, “grace may be taken in two ways; first, as a Divine help, whereby God moves us to will and to act; secondly, as a habitual gift divinely bestowed on us” (STII, Q111, A2).  However, in the 16th century an event occurred which changed the church and the world.  On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany.  This event sparked the Protestant Reformation and it would not only sever the unity of the universal church, but the unity of grace and free will.

The reformers provided a new definition of the will and grace.  For the first 1500 years of the Christian era it was believed that sanctifying grace was given to man and man had the choice of whether to accept it or not.  By continuing to cooperate with the grace of God one is transformed into the image of Christ and increases in holiness.  Martin Luther, and later John Calvin, introduced the concept of total depravity.  This is the concept that man is no longer able to use his will to accept grace because of the fall.  Since the fall man’s nature is so corrupt that he is not able to merit anything in the sight of God (Ryrie 341).

The definition above is quite tame compared to that of Martin Luther.  In his work The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther was in a heated debate with Erasmus.  Erasmus held to the Catholic view that grace is presented by God, and man has the free will to accept or deny it.  Martin Luther took exception and described Erasmus’s pamphlet on free will as a diatribe.  Martine Luther writes regarding free will “free choice is already vanquished and prostrate” (Lull 168).

John Calvin built upon Luther’s concept of depravity.  John Calvin write am influential book titled Institutes of the Christian Religion which became known as the first systematic theology of Protestant thought.  Regarding total depravity Calvin writes, “Therefore man’s own wickedness corrupted the pure nature which he had received from God, and his ruin brought with it the destruction of all his posterity” (Calvin 23.8).  So far Luther and Calvin seem to be on the same page, but this is far from the case.  Calvin would elaborate on his theory of depravity and add to it his doctrine of predestination.  God willed the depravity of man as an act of his divine will and will save whom he wished to save.  With these developments the role of efficacious grace was done away with, at least in some Protestant circles.

At this point it may be helpful to clarify some terminology regarding grace.  Sufficient grace is a grace that does not involve consent.  This is a grace that does not need the cooperation to produce God’s desired effect.  The issue that is disputed by the reformers involves efficacious grace.  This is actual grace that is feely consented with by man to produce the desired effect.  The reformers denied the freedom of the will in regard to efficacious grace.  By contrast Catholic theologians have always upheld the freedom of the will and efficacious grace (Pohle 222).

This denial of efficacious grace would cause havoc with other doctrines as well.  Historically the church taught original sin, and how through it we had a sin nature, but we were still able to use our will to cooperate with the graces that God bestowed.  This allowed one to grow in holiness and be further conformed to the image of Christ.  Sanctification was a process by which we pursued Christ and allowed his to change us through the moral virtues and thee three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.  Regarding this concept Dr. Patricia Ireland writes, “Through the efficient grace merited by the obedient will of the Son of the cross, the sinner summons the courage to bend the afflicted will towards heaven and responds in freedom to accept God’s call to an everlasting, radiant life” (Ireland 21).  This was the view of St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and many others through history until Luther.

In Luther we find the doctrine of imputation and the idea holiness was not something that was a process, but that it was spontaneous.  The will is mute and does nothing to help develop virtues or fruit of faith.  In Luther’s view Christ is our righteousness and all that he is ours.  All fruit of faith is as a result of being saved and not a response to grace.  The concept of reward and merit become warped in this view as man really does not have to live a Christian life to share n the kingdom.  This is where an irony enters into Luther’s thought process.  In his work Two Kinds of Righteousness he, on one hand, says that faith alone is all we need to be transformed into the image of Christ.  However, just a few paragraphs later he implores hi readers to ask God for the grace needed to live a life of obedience (Lull 139).

 

CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT VIEW OF PREDESTINATION

            The concept of total depravity brought forth an even more extreme doctrine of predestination.  The Catholic church has always taught predestination, but it is different from its Protestant counterpart especially in reformed circles.  The Catholic view utilizes efficacious grace as a means by which God directs an action.  St. Thomas Aquinas states regarding predestination, “Hence the type of the aforesaid direction of a rational creature towards the end of life eternal is called predestination. For to destine, is to direct or send. Thus, it is clear that predestination, as regards its objects, is a part of providence” (ST1, Q23, A1).  God works outside the confines of time and knows how each of us will respond to efficacious grace.  This does not make grace any less important, and it certainly does not mean that God is subject to man.  Quite the contrary actually as God knows us in such an intimate way that he directs us to act by sending graces.  He directs, and he guides, but we must cooperate.  In the catholic view man is predestined to freedom to love and serve the Lord (Denzinger 81).  Anything we do originates in God.

The Protestant view of predestination is quite different from the Catholic view.  In developing their view, the reformers sought to protect the sovereignty of God.  This is admirable, and it is something that surely must be defended.  However, the pendulum shifted so far to the opposite side that predestination did not look like anything that had previously.  In discussing predestination, the Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote, “The supreme Disposer then makes way for his own predestination, when depriving those whom he has reprobated of the communication of his light, he leaves them in blindness” (Calvin 24.12).  Calvin goes on to say that God only enlightens those whom he predestined to be saved (Calvin 24.17).  To Calvin if one is not predestined to Heaven then they are predestined for hell.  This view not only varied from the Catholic view, but also from the view of fellow reformer Martin Luther.

Luther, though he did not focus on predestination, did teach that some were predestined for heaven.  One of the many differences between Luther and Calvin is that Luther did not believe that anyone was predestined for hell.  Salvation is predestined to those who seek God.  It is here that Luther, not only seems to contradict himself, but diverts quite strongly from Calvin.  In his Lectures on Genesis Luther writes regarding Calvin’s view, “For thoughts of this kind, which investigate something more sublime above or outside the revelation of God, are altogether hellish. With them nothing more is achieved than that we plunge ourselves into destruction” (Lull 526).  Predestination is reserved for those who seek God, who are baptized, and seek the sacraments.  However, according to Luther the will is so depraved that one is not able to seek these things on its own.

Our Protestant brethren who adhere to the view of Calvin reject the notion of efficacious grace.  Though it may seem that Luther had believed in a type of efficacious grace, that thought comes to an end when the imputation of Christ is discussed.  Christ died for us and our dung covered souls are covered with a robe of righteousness that was purchased for us on the cross.  When God the Father looks at us on judgement day he sees Christ as a result, and not our depraved souls that are unable to change.  This view is incapable, and historic, view of the Catholic church that shows a way of perfection.  Through efficacious grace the church teaches that grace is infused and sanctification is process that takes place over time.  Not a once and for all type of event.  Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes. “Sanctification is incompatible with the Catholic teaching on the way of perfection as integral to unity with God” (Ireland 19).

 

CONCLUSION

            The topic at hand is one that has written about for centuries, and one that has filled many volumes.  The Protestant view of grace has some merits, and at times can be convincing.  However, it is fleeting and appeals to one’s emotions.  Christians are a people of the truth, and if we are going to seek truth we must seek it with zeal.  It is appealing to see grace, salvation, and sanctification as a one-time judicial type vent where we are judged righteous based on Christ’s merits.  However, according to Luther and Calvin this does not change a man from the inside out.  Man is still covered with dung, but merely has the appearance of being clean.  In trying to illustrate his point Luther wrote to his protégé Melanchthon, “No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day” (Lull 457).

The view of the Protestant reformers regarding grace were revolutionary, but not in a good way.  They disregarded the constant teaching of the church from the time of the apostles and developed a brand of belief that made their lives easier to live.  The Catholic teaching regarding efficacious grace has remained constant since the earliest days of the church.  The grace of God is an unmerited gift, God presents grace through various means including the sacraments, man makes the choice whether to cooperate with the grace, and as a result of cooperating man merits and becomes more like Christ.  Man is transformed to holiness over time.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Armstrong, Dave. More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. Dave Armstrong, 2007. Print.

Augustine of Hippo. “A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians.” Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. Robert Ernest Wallis. Vol. 5. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997. Print.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000. Print.

Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church 2005: n. pag. Print.

Denzinger, Henry, and Karl Rahner, eds. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Trans. Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954. Print.

Hahn, Scott, ed. Catholic Bible Dictionary 2009: n. pag. Print.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart.  St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  New York: Alba House, 2009.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984. Print.

Lull, Timothy ed.  Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2005.  Print.

Pohle, Joseph, and Arthur Preuss. Grace, Actual and Habitual: A Dogmatic Treatise. Toronto: W. E. Blake & Son, 1919. Print. Dogmatic Theology.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972. Print.

Smither, Edward L.  Augustine As Mentor.  Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic, 2008. Print.

Tertullian.  The Doctrine of Man and Sinhttp://www.tertullian.org/articles/roberts_theology/roberts_08.htm, accessed September 19, 2018.

Thein, John. Ecclesiastical Dictionary: Containing, in Concise Form, Information upon Ecclesiastical, Biblical, Archæological, and Historical Subjects 1900: n. pag. Print.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne. Print.

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Article Critique: "Man, Woman, and the Mystery of Christ" by Russell Moore

In today’s society we hear about “marriage equality” on an everyday basis.  There are those who say that as long as you love someone you should be able to marry them.  There are others who say that it should only be between a man and a woman.  In his article “Man, Woman, and the mystery of Christ:  An Evangelical Perspective” Russell Moore describes biblical marriage in relation to Christ and the church.

The article is addressed to the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome on November 18, 2015[1].  The Vatican invited prominent evangelicals to this meeting because marriage is an issue that all of Christendom must be unified on.  Dr. Moore draws on the book of Ephesians and union between Christ and his church.  He describes biblical marriage as archetype and “icons of God’s purpose for the universe[2].”

There is not a Spouse A and a Spouse B, but marriage consists of a man and woman.  From the beginning this is what God saw as “very good” (Gen 1:31).  Though this is the common argument for traditional marriage it goes much deeper.  It was this foundation that is the foundation of the very gospel that we proclaim as Christians.  As a man and woman join in marriage to produce offspring, Christ consummated his marriage to the church on the cross to produce offspring.  Those offspring are new believers to the faith.  Dr. Moore uses this basis to establish why the sexual revolution and the redefining of marriage will fail to bring happiness.  As he states, “This is why attempts to free sexuality from the marriage of a man and woman do not lead, ultimately, to the sort of liberation they promise.  And therein is our challenge, and our opportunity, for the future[3].”

Dr. Moore points to John chapter 4 when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go and get her husband.  This not only points to the validity of what we hold in marriage, but Jesus, in a loving way, is holding her accountable for the sexual immorality that she had been involved in.  We live in a society obsessed with sex, and people are doing whatever they can to get it and with whomever.  The sexual revolution is a failure, and as Dr. Moore says, has led us to where we are today[4].  Marriage is a topic that must not be compromised.

In conclusion Dr. Moore lays out a solid case on why all Christians should stand firm in regard to marriage.  He does this inside the Vatican which is an excellent showing of Christian unity on the subject.  It is more than God’s design for creation, but is God’s design for the church as well.  The history and critique of the sexual revolution showed the evolution of the movement into the “marriage equality” movement that we are encountering today.  In his article he also criticizes other Christian groups for compromising the Gospel by embracing a redefinition of marriage.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Moore, Russell D. “Man, Woman, And the Mystery of Christ:  An Evangelical Protestant Perspective.” JETS:  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 58, no. 1 (2015, March 1): 89-94.

[1] Russell D. Moore, “Man, Woman, And the Mystery of Christ:  An Evangelical Protestant Perspective,” JETS:  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58, no. 1 (2015, March 1): 89.

[2] Ibid, 90.

[3] Russell D. Moore, “Man, Woman, And the Mystery of Christ:  An Evangelical Protestant Perspective,” JETS:  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58, no. 1 (2015, March 1): 91.

[4]Ibid, 93.

Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

The “95 Theses” were written in 1517 by a German priest and professor of theology named Martin Luther. His revolutionary ideas served as the catalyst for the eventual breaking away from the Catholic Church and were later instrumental in forming the movement known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther wrote his radical “95 Theses” to express his growing concern with the corruption within the Church in regards to the selling of indulgences.
One of the major issues that concerned Luther pertained to the matter of church officials selling “indulgences” to the people as a means of releasing them from having to exact penitence for their sin. Indulgences were also claimed by the Church to limit the amount of time the purchaser, or their loved one, would have to spend in purgatory . “As soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].” Luther felt that these church officials were teaching people that they could literally buy their way into the kingdom of God or buy God’s favor. To be fair, this was not the official position of the church, though it was being practiced all the up the hierarchy.  In fact, the indulgence that led to the theses being posted was being sold to build St. Peter’s Basilica.  The Pope had the power to limit or do away with penances imposed by the clergy, but he did not have the power to bring about the interior contrition that leads to salvation. Only God could do that. Indulgences are positively harmful, according to the Theses, since they induce a false assurance of peace, and cause the recipients to neglect true repentance.

Luther published his “95 Theses” fully realizing that he faced excommunication and even death for protesting the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church. To do so was considered heresy against God. Luther’s “95 Theses” became highly sought after by the populace and were soon translated into German for the common people to read. The printing press then enabled the wide distribution of the Theses, provoking in the people more disenchantment with the ways of the Catholic Church.

In 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church and declared him a heretic. Luther was so despised by the church that a death warrant was issued, giving anyone permission to kill him. However, Luther was given protection by Prince Frederick of Saxony, a staunch defender of Luther. Hidden in one of Frederick’s castles, Luther began producing a translation of the Bible into the German language. Ten years later it was finally completed.

It was in 1529, some 12 years after Luther had nailed his Theses to the church door, that the word “Protestant” became a popular term describing those who supported Luther’s protests against the Church. These opponents of the Church declared their allegiance to God and protested any loyalty or commitments to the emperor. Thereafter, the name “Protestant” was applied to all who argued that the Church be reformed. Luther died in 1546 with his revolutionary Theses forming the foundation for what is known today as the Protestant Reformation.

Below the Theses are listed in their entirety:

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.


  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
  11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).
  12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
  17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
  20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary remission of all penalties,” does not actually mean “all penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.
  21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
  22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
  23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
  26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
  31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
  34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
  35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
  36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
  38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
  40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them — at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
  41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
  47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
  49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
  53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
  55. It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. For it is clear that the pope’s power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
  67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
  70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
  73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
  74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
  75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
  76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
  78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written. (1 Co 12[:28])
  79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
  82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
  83. Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
  84. Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, beca use of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love’s sake?”
  85. Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?”
  86. Again, “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?”
  88. Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?”
  89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?”
  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

Much more can be written about the theses, a thing will be done in future posts.  Some of the objections in the Theses are still objections today.

 

Book Review: Christianity's Dangerous Idea

What is Protestantism?  This is a question that seems easy to answer on the surface, but becomes more complex as one looks deeper.  Protestantism is ever adapting and boasts over 34,000 Christian groups with more coming into existence almost daily[1].  The radical idea that Protestantism was founded upon was the priesthood of believers, and the belief that people should read the Bible for themselves without the central authority of a church[2].  It is around this idea that Dr. Alister McGrath titles his work Christianity’s Dangerous Idea.  Dr. McGrath is very accomplished as he is the author of multiple books, Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford, and fellow of Harris Manchester College[3].

 

SUMMARY

The work is strategically divided into three parts:  Origination, Manifestation, and Transformation.  The section known as origination lays the foundations of the Protestant movement.  Dr. McGrath discusses the corruption of the clergy, the abuse of the doctrine of indulgences, and the rise of humanists that laid the foundation for what would become known as the Protestant Reformation.  As Dr. McGrath states, “This growing popular interest in religion led to a lay criticism of the institutional church where it was felt to be falling short of its obligations[4].”  This paved the way for Martin Luther and his 95 theses against the Church of Rome.  The theses and Justification by faith are discussed further in chapter two.  The following two chapters reflect on Lutheranism and the rise of John Calvin.  The rise of the Puritans and the start of the Anglican Church is then looked at in great detail.  The English Civil War and Protestant persecution that took place over two centuries is outlined in chapter six.  At this point Protestantism comes to America to seek religious liberty, and that migration is the topic of chapter 7.  Chapter 7 also includes events such the Great Awakening and the role of Protestantism in the American Revolution.  Section one comes to its conclusion with the onset of World War I, but not before the expansion of Protestantism because of an emphasis on missions.  Dr. McGrath writes, “The great era of Protestant missions came to an end in 1914 with the outbreak of the Great War, as it was known then[5].”

Section Two starts out with the role of the Holy Bible in Protestantism.  The Latin term Sola Scriptura, which means scripture alone, is one of the pillars that the movement was founded upon.  However within Protestantism there are various ways that this term is interpreted, and subsequently there are various groups who interpret scripture differently.  This leads into a discussion of various Protestant belief, liberal versus conservative, church government, and the like.  Denominational structures, music, and preaching styles are discussed in chapter 11.  Chapter 11 is concluded with a poignant question.  Dr. McGrath asks, “But what of the society within which Protestantism is located?  In what ways do its beliefs and values influence culture in general[6]?”  These are still questions that must be asked today.

Section three started out with a revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California.  This revival has people speaking in tongues and would come to be known as the birth of Pentecostalism[7].  Chapter 14 further explores denominations, and the view on Catholicism.  Chapter 16 delves into the Global south and how Protestantism is a dominant force there.  The global south tends to be more Pentecostal in nature, and denominations “have more in common with each other than with their counterparts in America or Europe[8].”  The section concludes with discussions on the roles of denominational authority, the change in Biblical interpretation, and the future role of Protestantism.  Dr. McGrath ends with a very interesting statement as he states, “The future of Protestantism lies precisely in Protestantism being what Protestantism actually is[9].”

CRITICAL INTERACTION

On page 8 of the work Dr. McGrath lays out the reasons on why his study is needed.  He does it in a very methodical and sensible way.  Reason one for the study is that of scholarship.  Recent scholarship has moved away from the social reasons why the reformation took place, and emphasize the religious aspects[10].  Secondly it is not right to determine the state of the medieval church through the eyes of its opponents such as Luther and Calvin[11].  Thirdly is an issue of a theological nature, because the terms “Protestantism” and “Reformation” can no longer be used synonymously though this used to be the case[12].  A fourth reason for the study is because previous studies have been influenced by Protestant leaders and ideas[13].  Lastly Protestantism itself has changed so a new study is essential[14].

These five reasons for the study open the reader up to a history that may be known generally, but is broken down into specifics.  Dr. McGrath describes how a Christian that reads the Bible for himself is dangerous.  He is dangerous because there are different interpretations, and this did and still does cause much debate.  To drive his point home Dr. McGrath makes heavy use of historical records that the average layman may have never heard of.  However these resources are enlightening to say the least.  Dr.  McGrath also points out the socioeconomic conditions that made the world so ripe for Protestantism.  Underneath the historical evidence is an evolution of a movement that has been able to make itself available to the masses.  As an example Dr. McGrath begins with Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door to Azusa Street Revival and the birth of Pentecostalism.  He proves through history that Protestantism has been able to adapt to meet the needs of the people.

As great as the book is there are some challenge.  In regards to this John Battle of Western Reformed Seminary writes, “he often fails to distinguish what I would consider to be orthodox from heterodox ideas.  He includes all parts of the spectrum—liberal and conservative—as Protestantism, and treats all as equally authentic versions[15].”  Mr.  Battle brings up a good point in this regard.  There are some liberal denominations where Sola Scriptura hardly applies to some of their social stances.  If their social stance contradicts the Bible can they be regarded as a denomination within Protestantism?  However Dr. McGrath is writing is broad terms and is not out to label a denomination as right or wrong.  The book is wide and covers a lot of ground in this regard.  It is about the history, growth, and future of Protestantism.  Rev. Rollin Shoemaker endorses the book as history of the reformation.  In his review Rev. Shoemaker states, “I think every pastor should read this book because it refreshes one’s memory of what happened in the Reformation as well as how Protestantism developed into what it is today[16].”  The outcome of the work is simple.  Protestantism still has life, will continue to grow, and will continue to adapt.  It will remain a force in the world and it is important to understand its history.

CONCLUSION

Dr. McGrath has written a very influential book on the history of Protestantism.  It takes a different look at the reformation because it looks at the whole picture, not just the theology behind it.  Those looking for a theological study of the reformation will be hard pressed to find it here.  This book is strictly about the historical aspects, though some theological aspects are touched they are not expanded upon.  The idea of individual interpretation of scripture continues to evolve, and has become a dangerous proposition in some cases.  Protestantism will march on into the future, but there are issues that must be addressed.  This book is a refreshing read on the history of Protestantism and is recommended to review.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Alister McGrath,” Oxford University, accessed April 10, 2015, http://users.ox.ac.uk/~mcgrath/.

“Book Review: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—a History From The Sixteenth Century To The Twenty-first,” Ministry Magazine, accessed April 18, 2015 September 1, 2012, https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2012/09/christianity%E2%80%99s-dangerous-idea.

“Review of McGrath, “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”,” Western Reformed Seminary, accessed April 18, 2015, http://www.wrs.edu/review-of-mcgrath-christianitys-dangerous-idea/.

Barrett, David B… World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., s.v. “Christian Denominations.”

McGrath, Alister. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. New York, NY: Harperone, 2007.

 

[1] David B. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., s.v. “Christian Denominations.”

[2] Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York, NY: Harperone, 2007), 3.

[3] “Alister McGrath,” Oxford University, accessed April 10, 2015, http://users.ox.ac.uk/~mcgrath/.

[4] Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York, NY: Harperone, 2007), 24.

[5] Ibid, 196.

[6] Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York, NY: Harperone, 2007), 310.

[7] Ibid, 389.

[8] Ibid, 440.

[9] Ibid, 478.

[10] Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York, NY: Harperone, 2007), 8.

[11] Ibid, 8.

[12] Ibid, 9.

[13] Ibid, 9.

[14] Ibid, 9.

[15] “Review of McGrath, “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”,” Western Reformed Seminary, accessed April 18, 2015, http://www.wrs.edu/review-of-mcgrath-christianitys-dangerous-idea/.

[16] “Book Review: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—a History From The Sixteenth Century To The Twenty-first,” Ministry Magazine, accessed April 18, 2015 September 1, 2012, https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2012/09/christianity%E2%80%99s-dangerous-idea.

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