Grace, Controversies on
Grace, Controversies on
GRACE, CONTROVERSIES ON
A series of disputes through the history of the Church over various aspects of the theology of grace.
Early Centuries. The Catholic doctrine of grace was first attacked by Gnostics, against whom St. Jude seemed to be writing "godless men … are perverting the life of grace our God has bestowed on us. They even deny Jesus Christ, our one Lord and Master" (Jude 4); "animal natures without the life of the Spirit" (Jude 19). St. Irenaeus continued to defend the doctrine of grace against gnosticism, insisting on the presence of the Holy Spirit in souls. Origen emphasized Christ's presence in the Christian (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161 v. [Paris 1857–66] 14:1037–39). Macedonianism, which attacked the divinity of the Holy Spirit, caused St. Basil to describe the role of the Holy Spirit as sanctifier and to develop the theology of grace (Patrologia Graeca 29:660,725). Gregory of Nyssa also treated the Holy Spirit as sanctifier (Patrologia Graeca 45:1328–29) but further emphasized the divine indwelling in the souls of the just (Patrologia Graeca 44:1248). This doctrine became a favorite theme of St. Cyril, who even said that catechumens having the faith are already indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Patrologia Graeca 33:344). Ever since, the Greek Church has generally been content to concentrate on the divine indwelling in its doctrine of grace without trying to develop a fuller theology of grace.
St. augustine, father of Western theology, under the stimulus of Pelagian opposition, developed a doctrine of grace and predestination that still is very influential in the West. In it he emphasized the remedial character of grace and its necessity, the gratuity of grace and of predestination, the fewness of the elect, and the divine indwelling (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 12:1–571). He himself retracted his initial erroneous belief in man's ability to reach unaided the initium fidei (Retract. 1.23.2; see faith, beginning of).
Pelagius was a Celtic monk who visited Rome (c. 400), and Africa (410). At first St. Augustine respected him but then opposed him vigorously (410) in De peccatorum meritis and De spiritu et littera. For Pelagius nature, free will, and moral law, the example or doctrine of Christ, and forgiveness of sins are grace. Man should ask God's pardon but not His help, for there is no free will if it needs other help of God. If other grace is needed, it is due to men's efforts and comes to crown their merits. For Augustine grace is a collection of gifts pertaining to salvation, really distinct from nature and natural perfections. Man is dependent on such grace to do good. Such grace is not only necessary but gratuitous, a free gift of God not due to man's efforts. Pelagius considered all sins mortal but held that men not only could and should achieve sinlessness but had. Augustine denied this. By making no distinction between pagan and Christian, Pelagius saw more clearly than others that men before Christ could be saved; the mistake he made was in understanding them to be saved without Christ's grace. He withdrew to Palestine, where an inconclusive investigation of his doctrine was made. His treatise on free will was condemned at Carthage (416). Nine canons dealing with Pelagianism survive from the Council of carthage in 418 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 222–230; see pelagius and pelagianism).
John Cassian and others in southern France modified Pelagius's ideas but developed the error later called semipelagianism, which ascribed more to nature and less to grace than had Augustine. To unaided human nature it attributed "a certain beginning of good will" (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 271 v., indexes 4 v. [Paris 1878–90] 49:912–913) and the power to merit or impetrate salutary graces and to "initiate faith." Prosper of Aquitaine opposed these errors, and they were rejected in the Indiculus (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 238–249). They were finally and effectively condemned by the Second Council of Orange (529), under Caesarius of Arles, which asserted vigorously that grace anticipates man's salutary acts and causes them (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 370–397); these conciliar pronouncements now have dogmatic value.
Medieval Period. The Carolingian era experienced a revival of Augustinian theology under Alcuin (Patrologia Latina 100: 934). But shortly afterward the Benedictine Gottschalk of Orbais taught an uncompromising predestination that permitted the letter of Augustine's thought to triumph over the spirit. Denounced by Rabanus Maurus, he passionately defended himself (Patrologia Latina 121:368) at Mainz (848) but was condemned at Quiercy (849) and imprisoned for life. At this time Frankish bishops and abbots and the Sees of Reims and Lyons differed sharply in their interpretations of Augustine. Hincmar of Reims enlisted the dubious aid of John Scotus Erigena. But John's emphasis on human liberty was so strong and his reduction of predestination to prescience was so evident that to the opposition he seemed to be a pure Pelagian (Patrologia Latina 119:101–250; 121:985–1134). Still, Hincmar's views prevailed at Quiercy-sur-Oise (853), where it was declared that God predestines the good and foresees the loss of the wicked, that man can choose if preserved and helped by grace, and that Christ died for all without exception (Enchiridion symbolorum 621–624). But a rival council at Valence (855) maintained a double predestination (Enchiridion symbolorum 625–633). This protracted struggle brought some profit to the theology of grace by its insistence on God's universal salvific will. (see omniscience.)
In the 12th century, Abelard briefly espoused Pelagianism and argued that since original sin did not remove man's free will, pagan philosophers could have practiced supernatural virtues. But St. Bernard secured his condemnation (1140) at Sens (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 725), and Abelard retracted (Patrologia Latina 178:707).
The great schoolmen, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, while remaining Augustinian, revived the Greek emphasis on the divine indwelling. But some extreme and erroneous views appeared in the 14th and 15th centuries. Eckhart, the German mystic who identified men in grace so absolutely with God as to say, "God's eyes are his eyes," was condemned in 1329 (Enchiridion symbolorum 950–980). The Beghards, who had identified God with grace-filled souls, were also condemned (1312) at Vienne (Enchiridion symbolorum 891–899). William of Ockham (d. c. 1349), whose ideas later had a profound influence on Biel and Luther, promoted nominalism and voluntarism to such an extent as to deny any connection between grace here and glory hereafter. Thus, according to Ockham, God could arbitrarily give or refuse either, and justification is extrinsic. Biel, a Pelagian, insisted that man unaided by grace could love God supernaturally and that God could declare sinners just. Nominalism thus laid a foundation for Reformation theology.
Reform and Counter Reform. Martin Luther, Ockham's heir, taught man's radical corruption through original sin, which poisons good works. Hence when one is justified by faith and Christ's merits are imputed to him, sin remains. Luther's theories answered his agonized cry, "How shall I find a gracious God?" His answer, erected into a universal system, is salvation through trust in Christ's efficacious Redemption, through grace (i.e., mercy), through God's gracious disposition to accept sinners unconditionally through baptism (whence Luther's triumphant retort in temptation to despair, "Baptizatus sum!"). The divine love and mercy live in Christ. All is given in Him. He is the word divine, i.e., the fullest expression of who God is and what God wills (Skydsgaard, 135). The word itself operates as a means of grace through which the new world comes into existence here and now. Nevertheless, although grace alone saves men, it changes nothing (see imputation of justice and merit).
Luther conceived justifying faith as a leap upward in confidence to the terrifying God who damns whom He wills but saves those abandoning themselves to His infinite mercy. Luther scorned the justitiarius obsessed with the law (Skydsgaard, 134). Justification is not through common beliefs and observances but comes from a divine decree of justification that renders the mortally sinful actions of those thus justified only venial. Hence man is saved by a juridical fiction in a once-and-for-all event when a man grasps by faith the fact of his election by God. In De servo arbitrio (1525) Luther taught double predestination, using the analogy of a beast ridden by God or the devil, but later Lutheran theologians rejected this doctrine. In De captivitate babylonica and De libertate christiana Luther aimed to separate souls from the Church that he felt would stifle them once the means of grace became an end in themselves. He separated absolutely grace here from glory hereafter since grace is only imputed but never really belongs to the soul.
John Calvin carried Lutheran justification to its logical conclusion: absolute antecedent predestination and reprobation. Though God calls all to salvation through exterior preaching, this affects only the predestined (Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.24.8), and they cannot lose grace. Man cannot keep the law (2.5) and is incapable of merit (3.15). Yet the Church is not intangible: to obey it is to obey God.
The Council of Trent's comprehensive decrees on original sin and justification (Enchiridion symbolorum 1510–16; 1520–83) were the Catholic dogmatic answers to the errors of Luther and Calvin. The council rejected the idea of extrinsic justification and maintained that man is justified by an interior justice infused by the Holy Spirit. It declared that man genuinely cooperates through his free will in the work of his own justification and, with the grace of Christ, merits his final reward. Thus it condemned the subjectivism in justification that would stand "man alone before God alone" and emphasized strongly (1) justification's radical, ontological transformation of man and (2) the need for man's cooperation in it. But it left unsolved many problems, such as the identification of grace with charity, the existence of infused moral virtues, and the value of works done before justification.
Baius (d. 1589), a Louvain theologian, was nominalist and Protestant in his views of fallen man: grace only restores man's natural powers. Without grace fallen man can only sin, and so all the works of infidels are sins. Man must be satisfied with imperfect justice that God mercifully accepts as true justice. Condemned (1567) by Pius V (Enchiridion symbolorum 1901–80), Baius submitted and died in the Church, but his theories survived in Jansenism (see baius and baianism).
De Auxiliis. The most dramatic controversy on grace, although happily not the most disastrous, was the struggle between Dominicans and Jesuits over Molinism. Luis de molina, SJ (1536–1600), theologian and teacher, was opposed by Domingo Báñez, OP. The controversy revolved around the questions of predestination and, more narrowly, the infallible efficacy of grace, which both sides accepted absolutely. With regard to the former, is it antecedent or consequent upon God's knowledge of man's merits? With regard to the latter, is grace infallibly efficacious because efficacious grace is intrinsically different from merely sufficient grace, or because of the knowledge God has prior to man's foreseen acts of what use each man will make of all possible graces? Molina postulated in God middle knowledge (scientia media), a knowledge of the futuribles; the existence of this middle knowledge is basic to his whole theory.
Báñez and the theologians of Salamanca opposed Molinism, for Molina's efforts to save human liberty seemed to them, among other things, an oversimplification of the divine action. In a series of public discussions beginning in 1582 at Valladolid, Diego Nuño, OP, attacked Molina's theories; Antonio de Padilla, SJ, defended them. Nuño declared Molina a heretic when Padilla quoted the latter, saying, "With the same grace given to many, one man is converted, another is not." Bitter quarreling broke up the discussion. On May 17, 1583, a second disputation likewise ended in a battle. The struggle was augmented when Báñez published his course (1584), and Molina, extracts from his called Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis … (Lisbon 1588). The reception of the Concordia was very diverse. Báñez had tried in vain to prevent its publication. The Spanish Inquisition attacked it, and the fight spread beyond theological circles (see molinism; bÁÑez and baÑezianism).
Ultimately Clement VIII intervened (1594), suspended the Spanish investigation, and commanded the superiors of both orders to send him statements of their teachings on grace. He decided then to hear both parties; thus began the famous Congregationes de [divinae gratiae] auxiliis, which met in 120 sessions from 1598 to 1607. They were terminated inconclusively by Paul V, who forbade further public discussions (Dec. 1, 1611). A formula for ending the dispute was imposed (Enchiridion symbolorum 1997). Paul V denied the alleged Calvinism of the Dominicans and the Pelagianism of the Jesuits and affirmed the orthodoxy of both orders. With the publication of Cardinal H. Noris's Historia pelagiana (1673), the Augustinian Order became involved in the grace controversy. J. H. Serry, OP, in 1699 and L. de Meyer, SJ, in 1705 wrote histories of the controversy from their respective viewpoints. In 1748 Benedict XIV stated that all three views of grace, the Dominican, the Jesuit, and the Augustinian, could be held (Enchiridion symbolorum 2564–65). This controversy on grace helped to clarify the question of God's universal salvific will just when the West was becoming conscious of the existence of countless pagans. (see congregatio de auxiliis.)
Jansenism. Cornelius jansen (1585–1638), ignoring the theological labors of centuries, tried to present a purely Augustinian theology of grace in his augustinus, which was published posthumously (Louvain 1640). In book 3, "De gratia Christi Salvatoris," Jansen said that man is not really free—as Bañezians and Molinists claimed—but only extrinsically so, being interiorly necessitated by grace and consequently absolutely predestined. There is no truly but merely sufficient grace. The only true grace of Christ the Savior is efficacious grace, and this is given to the predestined alone, for Christ died for the salvation of the predestined alone. All humanity logically could have been damned, and the majority will be, including unbaptized infants and infidels. Jansen's errors were condemned in 1653 (Enchiridion symbolorum 2001–10) and in 1656 (Enchiridion symbolorum 2010–12). A formula of submission was offered the Jansenists (Enchiridion symbolorum 2020), but they continued to resist and their errors were condemned again by Alexander VIII (Enchiridion symbolorum 2301–32), and by Clement XI in 1705 (Enchiridion symbolorum 2390). Finally the bull Unigenitus (Enchiridion symbolorum 2400–2502) condemned the Jansenist errors as elaborated by P. Quesnel, who was called the second founder of Port-Royal. (see jansenism.)
Later Developments. The Jesuit D. Petau (1583–1652) recognized the fact of development of doctrine and the imperfections in patristic teaching. Though many of his views were almost universally rejected, he opened up again vistas on the divinization of the Christian by grace that prepared the way for the "theology in excelsis " of M. J. Scheeben (1835–88). Scheeben, a fervent Thomist, revived the scholastic tradition. But while agreeing that works of the Godhead ad extra must be attributed to the common unitary activity of the three Persons, he still felt that St. Thomas suggests that the divinization of souls is not merely a work ad extra (Summa theologiae 1a, 43.3 ad 1). Hence he taught that the Trinity dwells in the soul in grace in such a way as to set up in it personal relations with each member of the Trinity. He was sharply criticized, especially by T. Granderath. Today the nature and mode of the divine indwelling are matters of liveliest controversy; cf. e.g., the theories of P. Galtier, S. Dockx, M. De la Taille, K. Rahner, P. De Letter, M. Donnelly, T. Mullaney, and B. Lonergan.
Many 20th-century Protestant theologians, such as K. Barth and T. F. Torrance, differed sharply from Catholic theologians on matters of grace. Contemporary Lutheran theology comes closer to the Catholic position, though there are differences.
See Also: grace, articles on; grace, efficacious; grace, sufficient; virtue; supernatural.
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[c. m. aherne]