On Protestants

God’s Resistible Grace

Calvinist apologist Matt Slick defines Irresistible Grace as a doctrine that states, “the grace with which God regenerates an individual cannot be successfully resisted by the sinner when he becomes saved.” In other words, we have no free will but to accept God’s grace.

Now, this obviously differs from the Catholic and Arminian point of view. We are not Pelagians, of course, insofar as we also hold that no one can be saved without grace. Man cannot merit anything of himself from God, insofar as all good deeds are ultimately from God through grace. However, man must allow God to work in his life, for we are God’s “fellow workers”, in Paul’s words. (1 Cor. 3:9

I should note that this differs from Semi-Pelagianism as well. The Semi-Pelagian stance is that man requires the Holy Spirit to become saved but can remain saved without grace. Catholics agree that a Christian can only remain with God by grace, but it is a resistible grace. Without further ado, let us begin:

Objection 1: It is written, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) If salvation is not of your own doing, then God must have saved His children apart from their own choice.

To this I respond that grace is a God’s free gift to us on account of God’s mercy. Faith is, of course, a free choice, but it is not one that can be chosen without the grace of God. In that sense, it is not of our own doing

Objection 2: It is written, “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:37-39) If Christ says that all that the Father has given Him will come to Him, the Father determined to give to the Son a redeemed humanity and every human person whom God decided to save from the beginning will, in fact, be saved.

To this I respond that, to quote St. John Chrysostom, “In this place, by the ‘which the Father gives Me,’ He declares nothing else than that ‘the believing on Me is no ordinary thing, nor one that comes of human reasonings, but needs a revelation from above, and a well-ordered soul to receive that revelation.’ And the, ‘He that comes to Me shall be saved,’ means that he shall be greatly cared for.”

In other words, Christ is not saying that man has no free will to resist, but rather that our Lord will not “lose” or “forget” those whom the Father gives Him, such that if a man falls away, he is wholly to blame and not Christ at all. This interpretation is supported by the previous two sentences, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” (John 6:35-36) Hence the main focus of this passage is that Christ will not turn away anyone who comes, not that Christ will prevent anyone from turning away of his own volition.

Objection 3: It is written, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws [ἑλκύσῃ, helkysē] him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:44-45) The Greek term, helkysē, generally has the connotation of dragging. As a consequence, it can be supposed that this drawing cannot be resisted.

To this I respond that it is true that the term frequently means drag. However, the word seems, as in English, to also have the connotation of attract or persuade. For this passage to prove Irresistible Grace, Jesus would have to say that no one leaves the father who is drawn to him. The point is that coming to the Father is a thing of grace, not that such grace is irresistible.

Objection 4: It is written: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30) We do not see free will playing any part in this passage. Therefore, it is completely God’s decision and man is unable to resist it.

To this I respond that Paul is explaining that God’s plan is secure on the objective level, not that a soul has no choice but to follow it on a subjective level. Now, God “foreknew” that those who would be conformable by grace and free will to Himself. These are the “predestined”. Christ then “justified” the predestined elect, having justified all men on the Cross. However, on a subjective level, a man must still, “believe in his heart unto justification”. (see Romans 10:10) Paul calls for “obedience unto righteousness [i.e. justification]”. (see Romans 2:13, Romans 6:16, Matthew 12:36-37, etc.) Finally, Christ glorified all on the cross, in a sense, but nevertheless, we must “suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17) Thus, if we are finally justified, it is only because Christ already “justified” us on the cross. If we are “glorified,” it is only because Christ already “glorified” us on the cross. Otherwise, one has rejected God’s predestination.

“Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

According to Galatians 5:4-7,

“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Here, Paul warns that a man can “fall away from grace” by following the Judaizers and blames the Christian for not obeying the truth.

A similar teaching is taught in Hebrews 12:14-16,

“Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fail [Greek: husterōn] to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.”

The greek, husteréo, means to fall behind or to fall short. So this phrase could literally be translated, fall short of the grace of God. 

Similar to in Galatians, the author of Hebrews warns Christians not to “sell their birthright” as Esau did and thus forfeit the glory of heaven which is their inheritance as Christians. We are children of God, “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17) But there is a condition that we suffer with him, so as also to be glorified with him.

St. Stephen’s Address

But if this is not proof enough, see Acts 7:51, where Stephen says the following,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.”

I cannot think of any clearer way the Bible could state that grace from the Holy Spirit is resistible. To this, Calvin responds that:

“Neither doth he speak in this place of secret revelations, wherewith God inspireth every one, but of the external ministry.”

In other words, Calvin claims they only resisted the words of the Holy Spirit, since they do not have irresistible grace. However, I do not think this is credible, primarily because Stephen says the Holy Spirit, not the words of the Holy Spirit, making it more likely that he is talking about the power of the Holy Spirit, that is, grace. Besides, if man really has no free will in the matter, he cannot very well be blamed for not resisting the Holy Spirit’s calling. At any rate, these terms are far clearer in my mind than any arguments Calvinists put forth.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”

But if this is not proof enough, see Matthew 23:37-38:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.”

Here Jesus cries to Jerusalem that He is ever calling His people to come to Him as a hen does to her young, but He respects their free will to refuse. It is man’s choice to resist that grace.

Now to this, Calvin responds

Again, when the sophists seize on this passage, to prove free will, and to set aside the secret predestination of God, the answer is easy. “God wills to gather all men,” say they; “and therefore all are at liberty to come, and their will does not depend on the election of God.” I:reply: The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself. It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man.

If it be objected, that it is absurd to suppose the existence of two wills in God, I reply, we fully believe that his will is simple and one; but as our minds do not fathom the deep abyss of secret election, in accommodation to the capacity of our weakness, the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways. And I am astonished at the obstinacy of some people, who, when in many passages of Scripture they meet with that figure of speech (anthropopatheia) which attributes to God human feelings, take no offense, but in this case alone refuse to admit it. But as I have elsewhere treated this subject fully, that I may not be unnecessarily tedious, I only state briefly that, whenever the doctrine, which is the standard of union, is brought forward, God wills to gather all, that all who do not come may be inexcusable.

In modern words, what Calvin seems to be saying is that God wills all men to be saved because He preaches to all men, but he does not will all men to be saved insofar as he does not actually give them the grace to be saved. My problem with this is that it seems to me that Jesus is clearly saying almost the exact opposite—How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! In other words, God is still laying the blame on men, which would not make sense if they have no free will in the matter. Jesus is speaking here as God to his children, father to son, saying that he wants to draw them to him, but men refuse and God cannot do anything about it without denying a gift He chooses to give to man, namely free will. At any rate, I think this verse is much clearer than the alleged proof texts for the opposing sides.

If grace were really irresistible, this verse shows us that God does not want anyone to perish. Thus if man had no free will in the matter, everyone would be saved. Scripture is clear here.

Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor

All Scripture verses are from the Revised Standard Version.

On Protestants

The Errors of Eternal Security

If my readers cannot tell, I seem to be in a streak of arguing against Calvinism recently, so now I will deal with the doctrine of Eternal Security, also known as Perseverance of the Saints. 

There are two forms of it among Protestants. The first and more common one is held by Calvinists and states that although there are actions that could theoretically cause a person to lose his salvation, such as apostasy, in practice God prevents true Christians from committing these. Anyone who apparently commits apostasy, they claim, was never a true Christian to begin with.

The second version, held by certain Baptists and Evangelicals, states that there are no actions that would cost a Christian salvation. A Christian could lose his faith, become an atheist, commit murder and adultery, die unrepentant, and still be saved, provided at one point in his life he actually did believe and profess Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Without further ado, this topic shall be discussed as follows.

Objection 1: God saves His children to His own glory. Therefore, he who claims that God allows His children to lose their salvation once they have gained it teaches divine failure.

To this I respond that the same could be said of those who were never saved and therefore went to hell. Thus anyone who is damned, in that case, could represent divine failure. The better argument is that those who were never saved in the first place also bring glory to God, not by being examples of his mercy upon the repentant but of his justice upon the unrepentant. However, the same could be said, I think, for those who were initially saved and then forfeited their salvation. Such a case would serve to illustrate both God’s mercy and His justice—as well as His creative power by giving a person free will.

Since all God’s actions, in the end, bring Him glory, and He has chosen to do so in many ways, He thus may choose to glorify himself by saving some, by allowing some never to be saved, and by allowing some to attain salvation initially and then lose it. Some would contend that since God is a perfect Savior, He should be able to save those whom He chooses. However, I do not think if God intends to allow people who experience initial salvation to freely choose to change their mind, to return to sin, and to fall from grace, that this represents divine failure, but rather the failure of humans to respond to grace. Is not God able to allow man to choose freely to accept Him rather than forcing it on man (and thus, necessarily, also allowing man in some cases to choose to reject Him)?

Objection 2: It is written, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:39) By it, Christ means the Church, for the Greek uses neuter rather than masculine pronouns. Therefore, it is not God’s will that Jesus lose any from the Church, and Jesus will raise up this body on the last day.

To this I respond that God sometimes wills things in an irresistible, unfailing way, such as in creating the universe. However, Scripture also tells us that it is not God’s will for people to commit murder or adultery, and sometimes they do. Creatures can make choices that don’t conform to God’s will. This is sometimes called God’s “conditional will” because He makes His Divine Plan by taking the choices of His creatures into account.

Now one would inquire precisely in what way God wills those who choose Christ to remain with Him. This is certainly clarified in John 17:12, where our Lord states, “While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled.” This “son of perdition” is Judas Iscariot, of course. So Christ is quite clear that He once had all of them, but Judas was lost. This is on account of Judas’ choices that he once had salvation and later rejected it.

Objection 3: It is written, “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40) Therefore, as soon as one sees the Son and believes in him, he cannot lose his salvation.

To this I respond that anyone who “sees the Son and believes in him” will be saved. Therefore, he who ceases to see and believe in the Son will lose his salvation.

Objection 4: It is written, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)

To this I respond that no orthodox Catholic would deny that salvation is based on God’s the initiative. However, this verse does not say everyone whom the Father draws to me will come but only no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. It also does not reference whether after the person comes to Christ whether he will necessarily stay with him. This verse does not mention the mechanics of salvation whatsoever in regards to faith, baptism, and the rest—nor does it mention if this is continuous or a one-time event. 

Objection 5: It is written, “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:26-29) If no one can snatch God’s children from Him.

To this I respond that the sheep know His voice and follow Him, but the sheep following the shepherd is an ongoing process. Even after the sheep have been following the shepherd for some time and turn aside. Of course, if the sheep chooses to continue with the shepherd, no one can snatch the sheep away. The sheep, however, can himself refuse to follow.

Those who argue for eternal security might say that the claim that no one can snatch the sheep from the Father’s hand. However, this metaphor seems more to denote thieves, wolves, nassty little hobbitses *gollum*, and others who might be interested in stealing the sheep. However, the sheep can stray. (see Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:3-7)

Christ does not exclude the possibility of them going astray but only being snatched away.

Objection 6: John 6:37 states, “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.” Thus no one can reject God.

To this I respond that the Greek phrase translated “all that” (pan ho) is neuter rather than the expected masculine. Thus this verse refers to the collective people of God rather than the individuals, which is the Church. Thus all Christ is affirming that the whole Church will come to Him, although certain people might leave the Church and therefore reject grace.

You are the branches

It is written, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2) And again, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6) Thus our Lord testifies that some of the branches can be thrown away when before they are part of the vine.

And again, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:9-10) So only one who continues to follow God’s commands will stay in grace.

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

All Scripture verses are from the Revised Standard Version

On Protestants

Did Christ Die For All?

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on the Calvinist view on double predestination. I would now like to discus the particular doctrine of limited atonement, espoused by certain Calvinists, which states that our Lord only bore the sins of the elect (those chosen for salvation by God apart from their choice) and that He did not bear the sins of every individual who has ever lived. This is contrary to the Catholic position which states that Christ bore the sins of the entirety of mankind. Following I will show how limited atonement does not seem to have a firm foundation in Scripture.

Objection 1: It is written, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Matthew 26:27-28) If the blood is poured out only for the many, it can be presumed that the blood of the covenant was not actually given for all.

To this I respond that I suppose I see what would lead a person to believe this. The greek word is πολλῶν. The phrase is τὸ περὶ πολλῶν. Note that our Lord does not say “many of you” but simply “many”. Were He to say, “for the many people on Earth”, it would further suggest that it meant everyone. So by “many” here, what he means is “for the masses”. This makes sense considering the words of 1 Timothy 2:6, “who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

Objection 2: It is written, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) Hence it was only for the Church that Christ died.

To this I respond that I think this leads to other implications. If Christ actually laid His life for those currently in the Church alone at the time, that is actually very few people. As Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10) As Paul writes to the Church, it is hardly surprising that Paul’s focus should be on the meaning of Christ’s death for the Church. Hence it is written, “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

Objection 3: It is written that Christ’s blood was poured out “for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28) Since not all are actually forgiven of their sins, it stands to reason that Christ did not actually die for them.

To this I respond that I think a few unfair assumptions are being made. The primary one is that if Christ died for a person, that person will necessarily be saved, which rather leads us to circular reasoning or back to the doctrine of total depravity, which is beyond the scope of this article. 

Now some Calvinists would argue that it is unreasonable to imagine that Christ goes to the cross “with his fingers crossed” as it were, hoping that someone will accept the grace. However, this is not an entirely accurate description of what God does. As is shown in Song of Solomon, He is an active suitor. Like a suitor, He pursues the woman incessantly, but does not force her to marry Him without her consent.

Calvinists sometimes point to our Lord’s words in John 19:30, “It is finished”. Thus, they claim, it shows everything necessary for salvation is done and therefore the salvation of the elect was complete. However, I do not think that is quite what He is saying.

Paul states in Romans 4:25 that Christ “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” So it can be told at very least from these words that Christ’s crucifixion was not, in fact, complete without His resurrection.

Later on, He says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) And again the angel says to Cornelius, “He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (Acts 14:11)

Hence, through the gospel, people will be saved. Note the future tense is used. What is still needed is belief and baptism. Hence St. Jude can say, “And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 22-23) And again, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) So the work of salvation is not really “complete” in the fullest sense until heaven.

Indeed, either Christ offered the reprobate salvation and they refused it, or He never wanted them to be saved in the first place. The Calvinist argues the latter, because in their mind God hates sinners. However, this is not consistent with our Lord’s command, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) And Jesus even calls Judas “friend”. (Matthew 26:50) It does not seem to follow that he does not love even sinners.

Does God Will All to Be Saved?

1 Timothy 2:3-6 states,

“This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.”

Paul says “a ransom for all”, which seems to rule out the teaching of the Elect alone.

And 2 Peter 3:9 says,

“The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

This seems to refer to all rather than to the Elect alone.

Now Calvin’s response to this is that Scripture does not actually refer to all men, but rather all classes of men. I do not see how this follows. Were a ship to be sinking and the captain were to say to the first mate, “Get everybody in a lifeboat!” I doubt he would be satisfied with the response, “Aye, capt’n. That I’ve done! I put at least one black person, at least one white person, and at least one Pacific Islander, making sure to balance out the number of men and women. The other hundreds of people still onboard can die for all I care.”

2 Peter 2:1-3

Perhaps the clearest indication that Christ died for all is the following:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.”

2 Peter 2:1-3

Here St. Peter is plain that Christ “bought” even those sinners who rejected Him. The Greek word here is agorasanta, which is the same word is used in 1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Corinthians 7:23, Revelation 5:9, and other verses to mean “ransom” or “redeem”.

The three objections Calvinists typically bring up (although Calvin himself never referenced this passage) are first, that it is unclear whether the purchase of these false teachers is a reference to the death of Christ or not, second, that it is unclear whether the one who “bought” them is even Christ or simply the Father, and third that it is unclear whether Peter is speaking according to reality or appearance.

Concerning the first objection, what it basically means is because Peter is making a comparison to the Old Covenant, it may reference some sort of worldly deliverance such as the Exodus or simply apparent deliverance from the idolatry of the world only to later fall back into sin, as Peter says in verse 20, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” First of all, if that even was the Old Testament parallel, it makes sense that in the New Covenant, the way God “bought” them would be through His Son in the Redemption, since Moses strongly prefigured Christ, down to them both being survivors of a king who wished all male infants to be killed. I do not wish to get to all the parallels between Moses and Christ here, but as Moses delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, Christ delivered us all from sin. As for the claim that in verse 20, Peter says that those who have escaped defilements can fall back into sin again, I think this goes on the assumption that no one can actually lose his salvation after having gained it. I explain that in more detail here.

As for the objection that it is ambiguous whether Peter is referring to the Father or the Son by “Master”, I do not quite see why that matters, since they are two Persons, but only one Being, so it references God at any rate. Finally, Christ is the principle “buyer” of God’s children, so I think that makes more sense.

Finally, as for whether Peter is speaking of appearance or reality, he says “who bought them” not “who apparently bought them” or “who seemed to have bought them”.

So, Christ did die for all, not only for the Elect. That does not mean all will be saved, since only some will accept him, but that is of their own free will.

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

All verses are from the Revised Standard Version

On Protestants

Against Calvinism and Double Predestination

By double predestination, I mean the belief that God sovereignly and freely chooses to predestine some to Heaven (the elect) and some to Hell (the reprobate) without regard to any personal choice of their own or anything else about them. In other words, the Calvinist claims that God chooses that some people go to hell. This differs from the Catholic viewpoint that God predestines no one to hell and sin and damnation are a result of free will. 

I admit that I have wanted to write this article for some time, since I have a first cousin once removed who holds to this belief (although I have been informed that he has changed his theology very frequently so perhaps he will change it again). I have finally gotten around to it. Here I would like to particularly discuss the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election. Without further ado, let us begin.

Objection 1: It is written, “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, ‘The elder will serve the younger.’” (Romans 9:11-12) Thus Paul explains that although Jacob and Esau were had done nothing good nor evil, God had chosen which He loved and which He hated.

To this I respond that a Catholic, first of all, has no trouble discussing “the elect”. The number of the “elect” is “predetermined” inasmuch as God knows how many will cooperate with this grace and persevere until the end. The Second Vatican Council, for instance, refers to the Virgin Mary as being “predestined” (Lumen Gentium 61), meaning not that she had no choice to be Mother of God and our Mother and our Mediatrix with Him, but rather that God foreknew that she would cooperate with his grace and on that account he predestined her to take on such roles.

To understand specifically the passage in Romans, we must understand the context. There is a difference between the gift of God’s grace and God’s plan. Now Paul was writing the Judaizers who taught that we should keep the Old Law and all its rites, even if Christ did come in the flesh. What Paul is showing is that if Christians return to the Old Covenant and trust it for salvation, they are in danger of losing their souls. Hence he writes elsewhere, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:2-4

So St. Paul is exhorting Christians in his letter to the Romans to understand God’s plan and gift of grace to have been decreed long before they were ever born. Paul also, however, warns not to fall away. “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22) God’s plan is irrevocable for salvation. Paul questions if we will respond to it. The fact that God makes a plan foreknowing our actions does not mean from our perspective that He causes them.

Objection 2: It is written, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) And again, “It is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.’” (Romans 3:10-12) Thus, Scripture teaches that man is evil beyond redemption. Thus a man could only never choose God by free will, since any moral choice in which we cooperate at all is evil.

To this I respond that first of all when we find in the passage in Genesis soon after it says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:8-9) So Noah was righteous at any rate. 

Onto the verse in Romans, one of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (Romans 11:22). So it is indeed the case that it is only by God’s grace that we can be made righteous. He writes,

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

Romans 5:1-2

And again:

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Romans 8:2-4

Notice how Paul states that that a man is made capable to follow the requirement of the law. What does that mean but that he is made righteous?

Furthermore, in Romans 3:10-12, the verse Paul is quoting is Psalm 14:3. Examining the following two verses, we find this: 

“Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.”

Thus the psalmist clearly indicates that there is a difference between evildoers and the righteous. 

Perhaps there could be no clearer verse than this one:

“Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”

1 John 3:7-8

In other words, the faithful are actually righteous in their being through the grace of Christ.

The issue comes to another level when we consider Calvin’s notion of depravity of the just. According to depravity of the just, even those justified by Christ cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation. This seems to be quite a difference from John’s “he who does right is righteous, as he is righteous”. James also writes, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) And our Lord says, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) In other words, our works can in themselves be good.

Objection 3: It is written that our Lord said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” (John 15:16) Thus it can be seen that we do not choose Christ but rather Christ chooses whom He will save and through whom He will bear fruit.

To this I respond that I definitely understand this argument and what would lead a person to believe that this teaches unconditional election. However, I do not think that is what He is saying. As to how to illustrate this, most Catholics and Arminians use analogies relating to drafts from some sports team. I know absolutely nothing about sports, so I may not be competent in that area. Instead, I will use my own area of expertise—that being Tolkien lore. I hope enough people are familiar with it (if not, read The Hobbit once you are done this article), but I will try to explain the plot.

In The Hobbit, the Lonely Mountain, the capital of Dúrin’s folk during the reign of Thrór had been taken over by a dragon. Thorin Oakenshield, an extraordinarily proud Dwarf and the grandson of Thrór, seeks to reclaim his homeland and Gandalf decides to help because he is rather concerned about the lack of strong defense in the East as well as a dragon of which the Black Lord Sauron might find use (but that is for another story and Gandalf’s ulterior motives are not even mentioned in The Hobbit). Thorin’s plan was to make a huge frontal attack on the Mountain, but Gandalf says that is not wise since Thorin is not yet King under the Mountain and suggests they try a stealthier approach. He therefore seeks a so-called “professional treasure-hunter” or “burglar” for hire. He chooses a hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins and comes to his door and tries to get him to come on the adventure (not that Bilbo had any experience whatsoever).

Except from The Hobbit adapted by Charles Dixon and David Wenzel.

So what matters is that Bilbo did not choose Gandalf but Gandalf chose Bilbo and appointed him as the official Burglar. But that does not mean, of course, that Bilbo had no choice (even if it felt as if Bilbo was being actively forced to go on an adventure he did not wish to go on and his thirteen companions on the adventure did not want him either, but Gandalf is just very persuasive—but that is only an analogy; read The Hobbit for further details). Bilbo could have refused to go on the adventure and explained to Thorin and Company that he did not want to go on the adventure any more than they wanted him to come. But he did not. Thus, although Gandalf was the initial person who chose Bilbo and not the other way around, Bilbo still had to accept the call (albeit debatably under duress).

In a similar manner, the fact that Christ is the One choosing us does not mean that we cannot choose whether we accept Him. Thus it is written elsewhere, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) Thus He seems to make it conditional as to whether we open the door or not when we hear. Or why would Christ bother knocking if no one will answer the door?

Objection 4: It is written, “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7) And again, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does evil befall a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6) Thus it can be seen that it is God who causes man to choose evil.

To this I respond that the one kind of evil God can directly cause is physical evil, such as the ten plagues He released on Egypt. But this was an act of justice and therefore justified. In the case of moral evils, He can permit evil in view of the fact that He created us with freedom. But even in such a case, He does so with the promise that He can bring good out of it. The greatest evil in the history was the Crucifixion, but God brought from it the greatest good, which was the redemption of mankind.

For instance, St. Paul writes in Romans 1:28, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” But a Catholic would understand this as saying that God may hold back grace which is rejected.

Zechariah 8:17 states, “Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, says the LORD.” So there is no question as to whether God hates sin. So how can God make His creatures do something evil? God cannot lie. (Numbers 23:19) God cannot “deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. Since God is a Being of pure love, He can by no means “do” evil or force His creatures to do so. St. James states, “God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) Now most Calvinists with whom I have spoken about this issue have said that this can be explained because God’s ways are mysterious. This is true, but He does not act in ways contradictory to His nature and I cannot see how this believe of double predestination is in keeping with His nature.

Foreknown, predestined, justified, and glorified

St. Paul writes the following:

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

Now one of Calvin’s greatest problems is failure to distinguish these three concepts. Now God has secured everything for His children on the objective level. However, on the subjective level, we still must cooperate with with His plan in order to bear fruit.

For instance, Christ “justified” all mankind on the cross. However, a man must believe in his heart in order to be justified (Romans 10:10). He must then continue to practice what St. Paul calls “righteousness” (Gr. dikaiosunein, “justification”). (Romans 2:13, Romans 6:16, James 2:21-25)

Christ also “glorified” all men on the cross as He justified them. However, we must “suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17) In other words, Christ’s glorifying our lives has no effect unless we choose to accept him.

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

All Scripture verses are from the Revised Standard Version