Friday, October 23, 2009

Augustine vs. Geneva: A Reply to an Article Written by Turretinfan Pertaining the Doctrine of Merit in the Catholic Church

“[F]or all goods must be referred to their Author, whence they come.” Pope Zosimus in the lost work Epistola Tractoria, the papal bull that condemned the errors of Pelagius (418 AD), from a fragment preserved in the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo.

"[G]race is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed, but grace, which is not due, precedes [good works], that they may be done." Local Council of Orange, Canons on Grace 19 (A.D. 529), solemnly approved by Pope Boniface II.

I. Exordium.

Recently, Turretinfan has posted a little hit-skip type article titled, "Augustine vs. Rome - Definition of Grace" on his own blog, The Thoughts of Francis Turretin, wherein he seeks to make a distinction between the Calvinist and Catholic positions on grace and merit. Mr. Fan states, “Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace. While this is well recognized in Reformed theology, it is disputed by the theology of Rome.”

Mr. Fan offers as proof for his assertion a quote out of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, described in its introduction as “a faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church” containing “in concise form, all the essential and fundamental elements of the Church’s faith” the purpose of which is to serve as “a kind of vademecum [n.b. ~ready pocket reference or enchiridion] which allows believers and non-believers alike to behold the entire panorama of the Catholic faith.” Mr. Fan then offers a number of quotations from Saint Augustine of Hippo, a Catholic priest, bishop, saint and doctor of the Church in an apparent effort to show that present day Catholic doctrine is somehow at variance with what the venerable saint from Tagaste taught. I humbly submit that nothing could be further from the truth and offer this article in rebuttal.

II. Narratio.

Before I address Mr. Fan’s use of the Compendium as a source document for Catholic doctrine, I wanted to discuss some of the overriding issues that are suggested by Mr. Fan's article.

From time to time, Calvinist apologists will attempt to claim that Aurelius Augustine of Hippo is in reality the progenitor of Protestantism teaching doctrines more in line with Reformed theology than with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Mr. Fan’s claim that Augustine teaches the Reformed notion of grace is just another repetition of the Calvinist claim of Augustinian paternity. While Augustine did sire a bastard child, his name was Adeodatus and not John Calvin. Seriously, Mr. Fan’s intimation that Augustine’s teachings are more akin to Reformed theology than Catholic is as illegitimate as other claims previously made by controversialists who trace their religious pedigree from Calvin, Turretin and Zwingli.

In contrast, I contend that there is a good reason why the Catholic Church considers Augustine to be one of its early fathers and one of its doctors of the faith. It is not the Reformed distinctives that can trace their lineage to Augustine, rather it is the Catholic doctrines which can. As I hope to show, the Catholic Church’s teaching on grace and merit is one such example of a doctrine that can trace its ancestry from Saint Augustine.

Now before I get into the meat of this paper, I wanted to applaud Mr. Fan’s effort of actually reading a document composed by the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church before offering his opinions on the validity of a particular doctrine held by the Church. It is truly laudable that on this occasion he does not disgorge the sort of emesis many of the his more polemically-minded companions often spew against the Catholic doctrines usually without mentioning a single magisterial or authoritative document composed by the Church. That said, given the effort Mr. Fan put into actually reading a Catholic doctrinal statement, it is truly unfortunate that Mr. Fan gives an incomplete and consequently, an inaccurate portrayal of the Catholic doctrine in regards to grace and merit.

Accordingly, I offer this paper as a corrective. I beg the reader’s indulgence in this making this lengthy response and hope, my usual verbosity notwithstanding, that the reader will be satisfied at the end of the day that the teachings of Augustine and the Catholic Church on whether merit does play a role in God’s distribution of grace do not differ.

Now let’s examine Mr. Fan’s case in chief.

III. Informatio:

In rhetoric, the purpose in starting a persuasive paper with a quote is to influence or encourage the reader from the get-go to engage in a specific way of thinking or acting. As noted by the famous speech coach, Dale Carnegie, “The words of a prominent man always have attention power; so a suitable quotation is one the very best ways of launching a harangue.” While the use of quotes is a popular weapon of choice in the rhetorician’s arsenal, the key to the effective use of a quotation is to make sure that the quote is suitable with and corroborates the argument.

Mr. Fan introduces his article with this quote from St. Augustine’s Enchiridion:

"Mercy and judgment I will sing to thee, O Lord, for it is only through unmerited mercy that anyone is freed, and only through deserved judgment that anyone is condemned." (Augustine, On Faith, Hope, & Charity, as provided in Fathers of the Church, Volume 2, p. 447).

Mr. Fan then links the quote with this statement, “Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace.” Mr. Fan’s use of a quote from Saint Augustine is apparently done to suggest that Saint Augustine of Hippo shares Turretinfan’s view.

While it is true that the above quote from Chapter 94 of Saint Augustine’s Enchiridion does gives a sense of his theology pertaining to grace, it says nothing about his theology on merit which is the point of Turretinfan’s article. If Mr. Fan had solicited my advice, I would have suggested that he use this more accurate and more importantly, to-the-point, quote pertaining to Augustine’s view on merit which can be found in the same work in Chapter 107:

“So the apostle gives the name of a free gift of God to eternal life itself, which is certainly a reward for good works, when he says For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ... But grace is not grace unless it is free. So it should be understood that even a person’s meritorious good deeds are gifts from God, and when eternal life is given in payment for them, what is that but grace given in return for grace?” [Emphasis Added]

Thus, from its inception, Mr. Fan’s argument is flawed. Saint Augustine does not agree with Mr. Fan’s assessment that the absence of merit is absolutely definitional to the term grace as Augustine does not absent merit from his definition of grace at all. The above quote from Chapter 107 of the Enchiridion makes it clear that Augustine adhered to the notion that merit is a gift from God Himself and indicates that the reward for doing meritorious good works is eternal life itself. Thus, Mr. Fan’s definition of grace truly does lack merit; Saint Augustine of Hippo's definition of grace does not!

IV. Divisio.

Having demonstrated that the premise of Mr. Fan's article is defective from its inception, I could call it a day but Mr. Fan's presents a number of other points that are equally flawed. I feel it important to address them as well. Let us begin.

Mr. Fan starts out with the following:

“The Reformed doctrine of grace, because it is drawn from Scripture, finds resonance in the voice of Augustine, whose love of Scripture lead him to continually study it throughout his life and rely on it as his authority in all matters of doctrine and morals.”

My reply:

I acknowledge that Calvinists often represent that the Reformed doctrine of grace is drawn from Bible, but it is my view that their claim can be true only if the editors of the Calvinist Bible have redacted a few passages from it, for starters: Nehemiah 13:14; Psalms 11:7, 28:4; Isaiah 3:10, 59:18; Jeremiah 25:14, 50:29; Ezekiel 9:10, 11:21, 36:19; Hosea 4:9, 9:15, 12:2; Sirach 16:12-14, 35:19 (which Protestants have indeed redacted); Matthew 5:16; 7:1-3; 10:22, 16:27, 24:13, 25:31-46; Mark 10:21, 13:13; Luke 12:43-48, 14:14, 23:41; John 3:19-21, 3:27; Acts 6:8, 14:3; Romans 2:6-13, 8:13, 12:6; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 12:9, 12:30, 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10, 9:6, 9:8, 11:15; Galatians 5:6, 6:6-10; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24-25; 1 Timothy 6:18-19; 2 Timothy 4:14; Titus 3:8, 3:14; Hebrews 6:10, 12:14; James 2:14-20; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 3:7; and Revelation 2:5; 2:10; 2:19; 2:23; 2:26; 3:2-5; 3:8; 3:15; 14:13; 20:12; 22:12. However, it is not the wearisome Reformed braggadocio in regards to grace that struck me as odd (perhaps because it is repeated ad nauseam by Calvinists of all stripes). Rather, it is the implicit claim that Augustine placed his reliance on the Scriptures as his singular source of authority on morals and doctrine.

Now it is quite true that Augustine considered the Scriptures to be important and authoritative. The Saint of Hippo loved studying and expounding on them. Even on his death-bed, Saint Augustine had his favorite Psalms written on the walls and ceiling of the chamber so he could reflect on them. However, the claim of Turretinfan in regards to Saint Augustine’s reliance on the Scriptures resonates with Reformed Protestantism is problematic for a number of reasons.

For starters, Saint Augustine’s understanding of what constituted the canon of Scripture is far different than Mr. Fan’s understanding. Saint Augustine forcefully argued in his writings that the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament as found in the Septuagint were Scripture (City of God, Book XVII, Chapter 20) and he regularly quoted them as such, particularly the Book of Wisdom. See, e.g., On the Predestination of the Saints, Book I, Chapters 26-29. Would that Mr. Fan emulate Augustine’s love for all of Scripture and not just the CliffsNotes ™ version of Luther, Calvin and Turretin!

Second, Saint Augustine’s study of the Scriptures operated from the premise that the Scriptures did not define the rule of faith; rather they were interpreted and subject to it. Here are only a few examples from Augustine’s writings on the matter:

Among the parables spoken by the Lord, what is said concerning the ten virgins habitually occupies serious investigators. Indeed many investigators have observed here many things which are not contrary to faith; but what needs to be worked out is an explanation of the parable which will fit together all of its parts. I have also read in a certain apocryphal text something which is not contrary to Catholic faith, but it seemed to me to be an interpretation poorly matched to this passage, if one considers all the pieces of the parable. Nevertheless, I dare make no rash judgments about this explanation lest perhaps my difficulty be caused, not by its disagreement [with the passage], but by my slowness to find in the explanation its agreement. However, what seems to me, and not absurdly, to be taught by this passage I shall set forth briefly and carefully to the best of my ability.


But the present ability to see in the Scriptures obscurely and partially something which, nonetheless, is in accord with Catholic faith is the work of the pledge which was received at her bridegroom's lowly coming by the virgin Church, who will be wed at his final coming when he will come in glory, and when she will then behold face to face; for he has given to us a pledge which is the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle says. And therefore this explanation views nothing as certain except that it is in accord with faith, nor does it pass judgment on other explanations which are possibly no less in accord with faith. From Eighty-three Different Questions: Question 59. On the Ten Virgins. (397 AD?)

The gospel mysteries signified by the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ are not open to all, and some through interpreting them less attentively and less circumspectly, very often occasion destruction in place of salvation and error in place of knowledge of the truth. ... In regard to such an enterprise, this above all must be kept in mind, that in all Scripture it is necessary for one to maintain the highest vigilance so that the exposition of the divine mystery be according to the faith. Ibid.: Question 64. On the Samaritan Woman.

No one should rashly affirm any one of these four views about the soul: 1) souls come into existence by generation; 2) souls are newly created for each one who is born; 3) souls already existing elsewhere are sent by God into bodies; 4) souls descend into bodies of their own accord. Either this question has not yet been explained and clarified by Catholic commentators of the Sacred Scriptures, as the obscurity and perplexity of the matter warrant, or, if this has been done, such writings have not yet come into my hands. The Free Choice of the Will, Book III, Chapter 21:59 (395 AD).
Finally, one must wonder where Mr. Fan gets his notion that Augustine relied upon the scriptures as “his authority in all matters of doctrine and morals” particularly when Augustine, himself, an orthodox Catholic bishop, adhered to all that the Catholic Church held. If he had not, then the Catholic Church would not have recognized him as a father, a venerated saint, or a doctor of the Church. But I will allow Augustine speak for himself as to what he regarded as his authority in “all matters of doctrine and morals”:
We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church, which is Catholic and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard." The True Religion 7:12 (A.D. 390).

"[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house" Against the Letter of Mani Called 'The Foundation' 4:5 (A.D. 397).

"If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you [Mani] answer him when he says, 'I do not believe'? Indeed, I would not believe in the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so." (Ibid. 5:6).

“Now certain people who read the Scriptures with a good and devout intention inquire what answer they can give in this case to the authors of abuse and calumny. But as for us who to our advantage cling to apostolic authority, and who think that the books preserved in Catholic teaching have been in no way falsified, let us perceive the truth: those to whom the divine secrets are closed are unworthy of and incapable of understanding them.” Eighty-three Questions: Question 68. On the Scripture: “O man, who are you to answer back to God?” (397 AD?)

"[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in Apostolic Tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the Apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23 (A.D. 400).

"But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, 'that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to Apostolic Tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,' is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation." (Ibid., 5:26).

"But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the Apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church." Letter to Januarius (A.D. 400).

According [to] Apostolic Tradition . . . the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too." Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:24:34 (A.D. 412).

"If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, 'Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.' Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement . . . In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found" Letters 53:1:2 (A.D. 412).

"We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place." The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3 (A.D. 421). [Emphasis Added]
At this point, Mr. Fan would be hard-pressed to argue that Augustine is distant cousin of Reformed theology, let alone a sort of progenitor of its doctrines and we have not yet even addressed the merits of the central thesis of his article.

V. Confirmatio: Reddite cuique suum.

Since Mr. Fan can not establish Augustinian paternity based on family resemblance, let’s see if Mr. Fan can offer any religious DNA evidence to support his claim:

Augustine, in the epigraphic quote, does not mention the word "grace" but instead "unmerited mercy." That is simply an equivalent expression. Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace. While this is well recognized in Reformed theology, it is disputed by the theology of Rome.

“The following is "Rome's position" regarding merit: 427. What are the goods that we can merit? Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods, suitable for us, can be merited in accordance with the plan of God. No one, however, can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion and justification. - Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Question 427 (associated with items 2010-11 and 2027 of the CCC)
Indeed, the above-quoted paragraph is from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the paragraph quoted by Mr. Fan does discuss that Catholics believe that man can merit from his works. However, to gain a full understanding of what the Compendium is talking about the answer to Question 427 must be read in para materia with the preceding Question 426:

426. What is merit?


In general merit refers to the right to recompense for a good deed. With regard to God, we of ourselves are not able to merit anything, having received everything freely from him. However, God gives us the possibility of acquiring merit through union with the love of Christ, who is the source of our merits before God. The merits for good works, therefore must be attributed in the first place to the grace of God and then to the free will of man. [Emphasis added]
Now after reading Question 426 in para materia with Question 427, one can readily see that the Catholic Church views merit as an aspect of God’s grace and that the Catholic Church does not teach a form of works-salvation. I realize that I am not a theologian, religious scholar or a even a graduate from a divinity school, not even a non-accredited diploma mill like some Protestants who call themselves apologists and theologians, but for the life of me, I fail to see any substantive difference between what the Catholic Church teaches in the answer to Questions 426 and 427 and what is written in Chapter XVI of the Second Helvetic Confession (aside from a polemic gloss) which purports to be a primary creedal statement of Reformed Protestantism. See, The Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America: Part I: Book of Confessions. The General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1967), paragraph 5.122 and 5.123:

GOD GIVES A REWARD FOR GOOD WORKS. For we teach that God gives a rich reward to those who do good works, according to that saying of the prophet: "keep your voice from weeping,...for your work shall be rewarded" (Jer. 31:16; Isa., ch. 4). The Lord also said in the Gospel: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matt. 5:12), and, "Whoever gives to one of these my little ones a cup of cold water, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (ch. 10:42). However, we do not ascribe this reward, which the Lord gives, to the merit of the man who receives it, but to the goodness, generosity and truthfulness of God who promises and gives it, and who, although he owes nothing to anyone, nevertheless promises that he will give a reward to his faithful worshippers; meanwhile he also gives them that they may honor him. Moreover, in the works even of the saints there is much that is unworthy of God and very much that is imperfect. But because God receives into favor and embraces those who do works for Christ's sake, he grants to them the promised reward. For in other respects our righteousnesses are compared to a filthy wrap (Isa. 64:6). And the Lord says in the Gospel: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10).

THERE ARE NO MERITS OF MEN. Therefore, although we teach that God rewards our good deeds, yet at the same time we teach, with Augustine, that God does not crown in us our merits but his gifts. Accordingly we say that whatever reward we receive is also grace, and is more grace than reward, because the good we do, we do more through God than through ourselves, and because Paul says: "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (I Cor. 4:7). And this is what the blessed martyr Cyprian concluded from this verse: We are not to glory in anything in us, since nothing is our own. We therefore condemn those who defend the merits of men in such a way that they invalidate the grace of God.
Now lest the reader think that I am somehow guilty of over- simplification or that I am guilty of distortion in making the contention that the answer to Question 427 must be read in pari materia with the answer to Question 426 in order to obtain an accurate sense of what the Catholic Church teaches, let us look at the sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church pertaining to merit referenced in those sections of the Compendium.

To begin with, here is the introduction:

III. Merit

You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts. Fn. 59.

[Footnote 59 states: Roman Missal, Prefatio I de sanctis; Qui in Sanctorum conciliocelebraris, et eorum coronando merita tua dona coronas, citing the "Doctor of grace," St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 102, 7: PL 37, 1321-1322.]
One sees that the Catholic Church’s official teaching document on its articles of faith starts off with a quote from St. Augustine, the Catholic Doctor of Grace, indicating that when God does reward merit, He is merely crowning His own gifts. In other words, merit itself constitutes a gift of grace. To claim that this is works-salvation is a piffle.

Continuing on ...

2006. The term "merit" refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.

2007. With regard to God, there is no strict right to any
merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from Him, our Creator.

2008. The merit of man before God in the Christian life
arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of His grace. The fatherly action of God is first on His own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2009. Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in
the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life." Fn. 60. [Footnote 60 cites to Council of Trent (1547): DS 1546.] The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. Fn. 61. [Footnote 61 states: Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1548.] "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due.... Our merits are God's gifts." Fn. 62. [Footnote 62 quotes from St. Augustine, Sermo 298, 4-5: PL 38, 1367. In the Latin, “Dona Ipsius sunt merita tua.” ] [Emphasis added]
Here again is another quote from St. Augustine’s writings pertaining to what the Catholic understanding of merit is. What Catholic doctrine is today pertaining to grace and merit is the same as was taught by Augustine-no more, no less. Merit is not something earned; it is an aspect of grace that God has freely chosen of His own accord to give us according to His own promise. Any meriting that we would receive from doing such works is not because we have earned it, but because God has adopted us as His children and graciously rewards us thereafter. The most merit for which man could be rewarded is condign. After receiving God’s grace that creates in us the will to do a work and we then perform an act which pleases Him, God will provide a reward (more grace) as He promised in His Scripture He would give us.

2010. Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

2011. The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our
before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.
After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your love alone.... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own justice and to receive from Your love the eternal possession of Yourself. Fn. 63. [Footnote 63 references another Doctor of the Church, “the Doctor of Confidence and Missionaries,” St. Therese of Lisieux, "Act of Offering" in Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke (Washington Dc: ICS, 1981), 277.]
The concluding two sections put an exclamation point on the matter. For Catholics, merit is nothing more than the continuation of God’s charity and grace, another kind of gift from God Himself. As seen above, Catholicism holds that we would not be able to merit anything at all unless God first willed it. Catholicism holds that it is by God’s will and His grace given to us by the Holy Spirit that creates in us the ability to move to do any works that God in His justice reward us. In the Catholic system, given the curse placed on man because of Adam’s original sin, we would not be able to move our wills but for God’s previously given grace. Our ability to ‘work’ comes from grace. If God’s grace is given according to our merits, it is only because whatever merits we do receive are due to God’s grace. As noted by the Catholic Doctor of Grace in his great work, Confessions, Book IX, Chapter 13:34, “Whoever enumerates his true merits, what is he enumerating except Your gifts?”

But lest the reader believe that the Catholic understanding of grace and merit is but an innovation of Vatican II or the present-day Church, here is what Orestes Brownson, the 19th century Catholic apologist wrote:

“In the natural order we are nothing but what God makes us; yet we are something, because He makes us something – an actor in the order of second causes, because He makes us such. In the order of grace – the regeneration, or the new creation, as Saint Paul calls it – and we are nothing but what grace, or Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, makes us; yet we are, as in the natural order, something – an actor – because He makes us so. The new creation is not merited, nor was the first; each is the free act, the gratuitous gift, of God; and in neither is our freedom as secondary cause impaired, but really sustained and confirmed by the very fact that on the part of God the act is free and the gift gratuitous. We are what we are by the grace of God, but we are, none the less, for that; we are able to merit only by virtue of His gratuitous gifts, but that does not deprive us of the ability to merit, because those gifts are precisely what give us that ability.” [Emphasis added] From Saint Worship an article that appeared in Ave Maria magazine.
In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott gives the following as a defined article of faith: "For every salutary act internal supernatural grace of God (gratia elevans) is absolutely necessary" (pg. 229). The Second Council of Orange states that "as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate" (Canon 9) and that "man does no good except that which God brings about" (Canon 20). The Council of Trent which Protestants falsely denounce regularly as teaching works-salvation states unequivocally that "without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him" (Decree on Justification, Canon 3). The Council of Trent further holds that meritorious works, as "fruits of the justification", are nothing but merits due to grace, and not merits due to nature (Sess. VI, cap. xvi).

In other words, the Church teaches that a Catholic must rely on the merits of Christ, and, far from boasting of his own self-righteousness as Protestants like Turretinfan claim, must acknowledge in all humility that any merits which are acquired with the help of grace, are full of imperfections, and that his justification is uncertain. The Council of Trent further declares: "Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ, in whom we live, move, and make satisfaction, bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from Him have their efficacy, are by Him offered to the Father, and through Him find with the Father acceptance" (Sess. XIV, cap. viii).

Thus, the Church teaches nothing less than this: God's grace is necessary both to justify man and to give man the means to sanctify him. Efficacious grace is not only necessary for one to act righteously, but in truth and in fact we would not be able to will to act without it! Moreover, the Compendium (which Turretinfan imperfectly quotes from) makes it clear that we do not earn grace as a result of our merits, but that any merit that we do receive is first due to the grace of God and only in a secondary sense, to ourselves to the extent that God’s grace frees us to do works. It is beyond cavil to claim that Catholic doctrine teaches a notion of works-salvation is simply false.

Now at this point, if I wished to emulate Mr, Fan’s master, James White, or one of his ilk, I would accuse Mr. Fan of dishonesty or engaging in slash and burn tactics that is the norm of Protestant apologetics these days or that Reformed Protestant apologists share with the Muslims their own form of taqiyya. As long as slander and falsehood is uttered against Roman Catholicism, all is well. It is OK.

But I am not Professor White or one of his ilk so I will not be accusatory. Rather than speculate as to the reasons for Mr. Fan's inept handling of the Catholic teaching on grace and merit, I will assume that he simply does not understand what he had read particularly when such in all candor directly conflicts with what his Calvinist school masters probably have told him about Catholic doctrine.

Now that we have corrected Mr. Fan's misstatements as to what the Catholic Church teaches pertaining to the relationship between grace and merit, let us now compare what Augustine wrote on the matter with what I have shown to be the Catholic Church position to be. Let us see which religious tradition his views resonates with.

VI. Confutio: There Is a Reason that the Catholic Church Named Saint Augustine, the Doctor of Grace ...

Now it is time to see if Saint Augustine’s position regarding the relationship between grace and merit is adverse with what the Catholic Church holds as Turretinfan claims:

11. For that the Apostle Paul, when speaking outwardly of the sex of male and female, figured the mystery of some more hidden truth, may be understood from this, that when he says in another place that she is a widow indeed who is desolate, without children and nephews, and yet that she ought to trust in God, and to continue in prayers night and day, he here indicates, that the woman having been brought into the transgression by being deceived, is brought to salvation by child-bearing; and then he has added, If they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety. As if it could possibly hurt a good widow, if either she had not sons, or if those whom she had did not choose to continue in good works. But because those things which are called good works are, as it were, the sons of our life, according to that sense of life in which it answers to the question, What is a man's life? That is, How does he act in these temporal things? Which life the Greeks do not call  ξωή but βίος; and because these good works are chiefly performed in the way of offices of mercy, while works of mercy are of no profit, either to Pagans, or to Jews who do not believe in Christ, or to any heretics or schismatics whatsoever in whom faith and charity and sober holiness are not found: what the apostle meant to signify is plain, and in so far figuratively and mystically, because he was speaking of covering the head of the woman, which will remain mere empty words, unless referred to some hidden sacrament. On the Trinity. Book XII, Chapter 7:11 (400-416AD).
This passage affirms Augustine’s thought that Christians can obtain internal grace through a sacramental including something as innocuous as covering one’s head at Mass. Of course, it is the Catholic Church, and not Reformed Protestantism, that believes in such things as sacramentals.
14. Since those also which are called our deserts (Me: another word for merits), are His gifts. For, that faith may work by love, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. And He was then given, when Jesus was glorified by the resurrection. For then He promised that He Himself would send Him, and He sent Him; because then, as it was written and foretold of Him, He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. These gifts constitute our deserts, by which we arrive at the chief good of an immortal blessedness.. But God, says the apostle, commends His love towards as, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. To this he goes on to add, For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. On the Trinity. Book XIII, Chapter 10:11. [Emphasis Added]
Here we see Augustine explain that the deserts of faith (merit) working through love are graces by which we arrive at the chief good of an immortal blessedness, a point which Turretinfan explicitly denies, but which the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms at CCC 2010-2011.
21. And of this certainly it [the soul] feels no doubt, that it is wretched, and longs to be blessed nor can it hope for the possibility of this on any other ground than its own changeableness for if it were not changeable, then, as it could not become wretched after being blessed, so neither could it become blessed after being wretched. And what will make it blessed, unless its own merit, and its Lord's reward? But its merit, too, is His grace, whose reward will be its blessedness; for it cannot give itself the righteousness it has lost, and so has not. For this it received when man was created, and assuredly lost it by sinning. Therefore it receives righteousness, that on account of this it may deserve to receive blessedness; and hence the apostle truly says to it, when beginning to be proud as it were of its own good, For what have you that you did not receive? Now if you received it, why do you glory as if you had not received it? On the Trinity. Book XIV, Chapter 15:21. [Emphasis Added]
Ditto. Since Mr. Fan had no problem citing to On the Trinity to support his claim in his article, we must wonder why he did not list the above passage as well. Oh well, we shall again assume his copy of the work left this book out.
We must notice in this enigma also another likeness of the word of God; viz. that, as it is said of that Word, All things were made by Him, where God is declared to have made the universe by His only-begotten Son, so there are no works of man that are not first spoken in his heart: whence it is written, A word is the beginning of every work. But here also, it is when the word is true, that then it is the beginning of a good work. And a word is true when it is begotten from the knowledge of working good works, so that there too may be preserved the yea yea, nay nay; in order that whatever is in that knowledge by which we are to live, may be also in the word by which we are to work, and whatever is not in the one may not be in the other. Otherwise such a word will be a lie, not truth; and what comes thence will be a sin, and not a good work. There is yet this other likeness of the Word of God in this likeness of our word, that there can be a word of ours with no work following it, but there cannot be any work unless a word precedes; just as the Word of God could have existed though no creature existed, but no creature could exist unless by that Word by which all things are made. And therefore not God the Father, not the Holy Spirit, not the Trinity itself, but the Son only, which is the Word of God, was made flesh; although the Trinity was the maker: in order that we might live rightly through our word following and imitating His example, i.e. by having no lie in either the thought or the work of our word. But this perfection of this image is one to be at some time hereafter. In order to attain this it is that the good master teaches us by Christian faith, and by pious doctrine, that with face unveiled from the veil of the law, which is the shadow of things to come, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, i.e. gazing at it through a glass, we may be transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord; as we explained above. On the Trinity. Book XV, Chapter 11:20
This passage reveals an absolute concurrence between Augustine’s teachings and Catholic doctrine as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that merits are God’s own gifts. (CCC 2009) Contrary to Mr. Fan’s interjections into the quotes he gleaned from Augustine, Catholicism does not teach that we receive grace because we merit; rather we merit because we first received grace and continue to receive grace.
32. There is no gift of God more excellent than this. It alone distinguishes the sons of the eternal kingdom and the sons of eternal perdition. Other gifts, too, are given by the Holy Spirit; but without love they profit nothing. Unless, therefore, the Holy Spirit is so far imparted to each, as to make him one who loves God and his neighbor, he is not removed from the left hand to the right. Nor is the Spirit specially called the Gift, unless on account of love. And he who has not this love, though he speak with the tongues of men and angels, is sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal; and though he have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and though he have all faith, so that he can remove mountains, he is nothing; and though he bestow all his goods to feed the poor, and though he give his body to be burned, it profits him nothing. How great a good, then, is that without which goods so great bring no one to eternal life! But love or charity itself—for they are two names for one thing—if he have it that does not speak with tongues, nor has the gift of prophecy, nor knows all mysteries and all knowledge, nor gives all his goods to the poor, either because he has none to give or because some necessity hinders, nor delivers his body to be burned, if no trial of such a suffering overtakes him, brings that man to the kingdom, so that faith itself is only rendered profitable by love, since faith without love can indeed exist, but cannot profit. And therefore also the Apostle Paul says, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by love: so distinguishing it from that faith by which even the devils believe and tremble. On the Trinity. Book XV, Chapter 18:32
Note how Augustine explicitly denies the Protestant innovation of sola fide here and affirms the Catholic position that a Christian is saved by faith working through love. It is truly amazing that Turretinfan quotes St. Augustine from this very treatise in his article and yet somehow misses these passages!

Wherefore, even eternal life itself, which is surely the reward
of good works, the apostle calls the gift of God. "For the wages of sin," he says, "is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."(1) Wages. (stipendium) is paid as a recompense for military service; it is not a gift: wherefore he says, "the wages of sin is death," to show that death was not inflicted undeservedly, but as the due recompense of sin. But a gift, unless it is wholly unearned, is not a gift at all.(2) We are to understand, then, that man's good deserts are themselves the gift of God, so that when these obtain the recompense of eternal life, it is simply grace given for grace. Man, therefore, was thus made upright that, though unable to remain in his uprightness without divine help, he could of his own mere will depart from it. And whichever of these courses he had chosen, God's will would have been done, either by him, or concerning him. Therefore, as he chose to do his own will rather than God's, the will of God is fulfilled concerning him; for God, out of one and the same heap of perdition which constitutes the race of man, makes one vessel to honor, another to dishonor; to honor in mercy, to dishonor in judgment;(3) that no one may glory in man, and consequently not in himself. Enchiridion on Faith, Hope & Love (to Laurentius) (420 AD)
Aside from Augustine’s commentary how merit merits, we also see a hint of how man’s free will operates in Augustine’s system of grace. But that is a paper for another day.

Thus far, we have already seen quotations from St. Augustine’s Confessions, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Charity, Enarrations in Psalmos 102; Sermo 298, and On the Trinity. Lest any detractors wish to accuse me of cherry-picking from Saint Augustine, here a few more quotes:
We are commanded to live righteously, and the reward is set before us that we shall merit to live happily for ever. But who can live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith? We are commanded to believe that we may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and become able to do good works by love. But who can believe unless he is reached by some calling, by some testimony borne to the truth? Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe? Who can welcome in his mind something which does not give him delight? But who has it in his power to ensure that something that will delight him will turn up, or that he will take delight in what turns up? If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows. He freely bestows upon us voluntary assent, earnest effort, and the power to perform works of fervent charity. We are bidden to ask that we may receive, to seek that we may find, and to knock that it may be opened unto us. Is not our prayer sometimes tepid or rather cold? Does it not sometimes cease altogether, so that we are not even grieved to notice this condition in us? For if we are grieved that it should be so, that is already a prayer. What does this prove except that he who commands us to ask, seek and knock, himself gives us the will to obey? “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” We could neither will nor run unless he stirred us and put the motive-power in us. De Diversis Quaestionibus Ad Simplicianum (396-397) Found in: Augustine: Earlier Writings, Volume VI of the Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953.)
And woe even unto the praiseworthy life of man, if, putting away mercy, You should investigate it. But because Thou dost not narrowly inquire after sins, we hope with confidence to find some place of indulgence with You. But whosoever recounts his true merits to You, what is it that he recounts to You but Your own gifts? Oh, if men would know themselves to be men; and that he that glories would glory in the Lord! Confessions, Book IX, 13:34 (397 AD) [Emphasis Added]
16. Wherefore did he choose?...“Because God loves mercy and truth” (Psalm 83:12). The Lord loves mercy, by which He first came to my help: He loves truth, so as to give to him that believes what He has promised. (Romans 11:29) Hear in the case of the Apostle Paul, His mercy and truth, Paul who was first Saul the persecutor. He needed mercy, and he has said that it was shown towards him: “I who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, that in me Christ Jesus might show forth all longsuffering towards those who shall believe in Him unto life eternal.” So that, when Paul received pardon of such great crimes, no one should despair of any sins whatever being forgiven him. Lo! You have Mercy....Lo, we see that Paul holds Him a debtor, having received mercy, demanding truth. The Lord, he says, shall give back in that day. What shall He give you back, but that which He owes you? How owes He unto you? What have you given Him? “Who has first given unto Him, and it shall be restored to him again.” (Romans 11:29) The Lord Himself has made Himself a debtor, not by receiving, but by promising: it is not said unto Him, Restore what You have received: but, Restore what You have promised. He has shown mercy unto me, he says, that He might make me innocent: for before I was a blasphemer and injurious: but by His grace I have been made innocent. But He who first showed mercy, can He deny His debt? “He loves mercy and truth. He will give grace and glory.” What grace, but that of which the same one said: “By the grace of God I am what I am”? (1 Corinthians 15:10) What glory, but that of which he said, “There is laid up for me a crown of glory”? (2 Timothy 4:8) Enarrations on the Psalms 83:16 (405 AD) [Emphasis Added]
17. Therefore “the Lord will not withhold good from those who walk in innocence” (Psalm 83:12). Why then, O men, are you unwilling to keep innocence, except in order that you may have good things?...You see wealth in the hands of robbers, of the impious, the wicked, the base; in the hands of scandalous and criminal men you see wealth: God gives them these things on account of their fellowship in the human race, for the abundant overflowing of His goodness: who also “makes His sun to rise upon the good and the evil, and causes it to rain upon the righteous and upon the sinners.” (Matthew 5:45) Gives He so much to the wicked, and keeps nothing for you? He keeps something: be at ease, He who had mercy on you when you were impious, does He desert you when you have become pious? He who gave to the sinner the free gift of His Son's death, what keeps He for the saved through that death? Therefore be at ease. Hold Him a debtor, for you have believed in Him promising. What then remains for us here, in the winepress, in affliction, in hardship, in our present dangerous life? What remains for us, that we may arrive there? “O Lord God of virtues, blessed is the man that puts his hope in You.” Ibid. [Emphasis Added]
Because for a righteous man the law was not made; [1 Timothy 1:8] and yet the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. [1 Timothy 1:9] Now by connecting together these two seemingly contrary statements, the apostle warns and urges his reader to sift the question and solve it too. For how can it be that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully, if what follows is also true: Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man? [1 Timothy 1:9] For who but a righteous man lawfully uses the law? Yet it is not for him that it is made, but for the unrighteous. Must then the unrighteous man, in order that he may be justified,— that is, become a righteous man—lawfully use the law, to lead him, as by the schoolmaster's hand, [Galatians 3:24] to that grace by which alone he can fulfil what the law commands? Now it is freely that he is justified thereby—that is, on account of no antecedent merits of his own works; otherwise grace is no more grace, [Romans 11:6] since it is bestowed on us, not because we have done good works, but that we may be able to do them—in other words, not because we have fulfilled the law, but in order that we may be able to fulfil the law. On the Spirit and the Letter 34:60 (412 AD). [Emphasis Added]
What merit, then, has man before grace which could make it possible for him to receive grace, when nothing but grace produces good merit in us; and what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits? For, just as in the beginning we obtained the mercy of faith, not because we were faithful but that we might become so, in like manner He will crown us at the end with eternal life, as it says, “with mercy and compassion.’ Not in vain, therefore, do we sing to God: ‘His mercy shall prevent me,’ and ‘His mercy shall follow me.’ Consequently, eternal life itself, which will certainly be possessed at the end without end, is in a sense awarded to antecedent merits, yet, because the same merits for which it is awarded are not effected by us through our sufficiency, but are effected in us by grace, even this very grace is so called for no other reason than that it is given freely; not, indeed, that it is not given for merit, but because the merits themselves are given for which it is given. And when we find eternal life itself called grace, we have in the same Apostle Paul a magnificent defender of grace: ‘The wages of sin,’ he says, ‘is death. But the grace of God life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.Letter 194 (To St. Sixtus) (418 AD) [Emphasis Added]
Can you say, ‘We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgments, and will act in a worthy way, so that He will give His grace to us'? But what good would you evil people do? And how would you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But Who causes people to be good? Only He Who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good,' and, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them' (Ezek.36:27). Are you asleep? Can't you hear Him saying, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,' lastly, ‘I will make you to do'? Really, are you still puffing yourselves up? We walk, true enough, and we observe, and we do; but it is God Who He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy going before us. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians. Book 4, Chapter 15 (420 AD) [Emphasis Added]
The truth is, we see that it is given not only where there are no good, but even where there are many evil merits preceding: and we see it so given daily. But it is plain that when it has been given, also our good merits begin to be—yet only by means of it; for, were that only to withdraw itself, man falls, not raised up, but precipitated by free will. Wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God, who is thus addressed by the Psalmist: Be Thou my helper, forsake me not. By saying, Forsake me not, he shows that if he were to be forsaken, he is unable of himself to do any good thing. On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 13 (426-427 AD)
If, then, your good merits are God's gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts. Ibid.., Chapter 15.
Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle's statement: We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law, [Romans 3:28] have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed a vessel of election by the apostle, who, after declaring that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, [Galatians 5:6] adds at once, but faith which works by love. It is such faith which severs God's faithful from unclean demons—for even these believe and tremble, [James 2:19] as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives—the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life. But inasmuch as we have even our good works from God, from whom likewise comes our faith and our love, therefore the selfsame great teacher of the Gentiles has designated eternal life itself as His gracious gift. [Romans 6:23] Ibid, Chapter 18.
Shortly after Saint Augustine's death, St. Prosper of Aquitaine, one of his disciples, wrote a fervent defense of the venerable bishop’s doctrines. His writings often demonstrate how Augustine’s teachings came to be understood by the faithful. Here is one concerning grace and merit:
"Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ's grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice, but never in the absence of God's help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good" Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by his Calumniators in Gaul, Chapter 6 (431-432 AD).
In the words of Stan Lee, “‘Nuff said!”

VII. Peroratio.

In his Retractions, Saint Augustine teaches that faith merits justification provided that faith itself is recognized as a gift from God. Ibid. 23:4.  Coupled with the above cited references, Mr. Fan can claim that “Augustine places essentially the Roman view in the mouth of Pelagius: "God’s grace is given according to our merits" all he wants but the bare suppositions of a Reformed apologist cum controversialist is no match for the truth. Reformed apologists, who have no real understanding as to what Pelagians adhered, usually opine upon this ancient heresy only in the context of belittling Catholic or Arminian Protestant doctrines. Ask a Reformed Protestant apologist what Pelagius taught and invariably by the end of his soliloquy (as short as it probably will be) he will be going on and on about how Catholicism promotes a works-salvation system like Pelagius did or if the apologist is a bit more irenic will “concede” that Catholicism is merely Semi-Pelagianism repackaged. Interestingly, these same fine fellows never mention the fact that the Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism as heretical and excommunicated their adherents throughout its history! Never mind the fact that Calvinism has more in common with Pelagianism than anything that Catholicism teaches.

Seriously, anyone who has actually read any of the few genuinely Pelagian works that have survived would not make this fundamental mistake as the Pelagian understanding of grace and merit is far different than that preached by the Catholic Church. In fine, Pelagianism denies infused supernatural grace; Catholicism does not. Pelagians denied the doctrine of original sin; Catholicism does not. Pelagians taught a version of fiducial faith akin to what Reformed Protestants profess; Catholicism does not. Pelagians promoted Naturalism over than supernatural grace; Catholicism does not. Pelagians have a significantly different take from the Catholic position about how one “merits,” not to mention how “merit” is even defined. Like Reformed Protestants, Pelagians deny the distinctions between mortal vs. venial sin; Catholicism does not. Like Reformed Protestants, Pelagians denied the existence of purgatory; like Augustine, the Catholic Church does not. Like some Reformed Protestants, Pelagians denied the efficacy of infant baptism; Catholicism does not. Like some Reformed Protestants, Pelagians insist that Christ’ passion and death on the cross did not redeem all of mankind. Pelagianism made God a spectator to history; Reformed Protestantism makes man one. Moreover, Pelagians practiced a form of rigorism that only a true five-point TULIP tip-toeing Calvinist would appreciate.

In short, Mr. Fan’s article reaffirms my thoughts that Calvinism itself is just a curious bouillabaisse of Christianity, Docetism, Pelagianism and Manicheism with a pinch of Antidicomarianism thrown in for flavor. Given that, I truly am amazed whenever Reformed apologists accuse Catholicism of heresy. Perhaps they should have paid more attention to the child’s proverb, “When you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.”

In closing, it is admirable that Turretinfan has started to read the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a step up from the work-product that is generated by most of his Reformed cohorts. It would have been even more admirable if he had understood it so he could have presented Catholic doctrine fairly and objectively. I pray that Our Lord give him that grace in the future so that his Catholic readers will not get the impression from his writings that the primary criterion to be a Protestant apologist is an adroitness at cherry-picking quotes from the Fathers of the Church.

God bless!


Martin said...

Nice work as usual. I'm up coughing with the black plauge so I got a chance to read this. (Yes, prayers appreciated for my cough. It worries my dear wife more than me so I pray it goes away to give her peace of mind). I pray you (and yours...and even TF and his) are in good health.

As TF will have nothing substatial to say he will pick so I offer a couple of mild corrections to save you the grief.

First sentence: Recently,....recently...

"Having demonstrated that the premise of Mr. Fan's article is defective from its inception, I could it a day but Mr. Fan's presents a number of other points that are equally flawed."

Shortly after his death, St. Prosper of Aquitaine, one of Saint Augustine’s disciples, wrote a fervent defense of the venerable bishop’s doctrines

...I'm not enough of a writer to say that this is truely wrong but my first reading did give me, "After his death...(he)...wrote a defence".

God Bless, MJT

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Martin, I am sorry to hear that you are not well and I will pray that you make a speedy recovery. My wife and daughter are recovering from the flu and my father has had some serious health issues that prevented me from posting this article a bit sooner.

I am glad that you enjoyed the article and I do appreciate the corrections. Self-editing is not one of my strong points. The mistakes are corrected now. Thanks!

God bless!

Matthew Bellisario said...

Great job Paul! I linked your article directly over to my blog on a new post in an effort to get more people to read it. Keep up the great work.

Constantine said...


Cute quips. I like the “piffle” thing.

But I think you are on your own with regard to claiming Tfan is “illegitimate” in his claim of Augustine for Protestantism. Perhaps that is a result of using Augustine’s earlier writings so extensively ((i.e. Eighty-three questions, On Baptism against the Donatists, Letter to Januarius, Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants etc.) You probably know of the late scholar of church history Dr. Phillip Schaff. He remarks of these writings that, “In them he (Augustine) afterwards found most to retract…”

Contrasting with later (i.e. anti-Pelagian) writings Schaff notes the following:

”The numerous anti-Pelagian works of Augustin are his most influential and most valuable, at least for Protestants. They were written between the years 412 and 429. In them Augustin, in his intellectual and spiritual prime, develops his system of anthropology and soteriology, and most nearly approaches the position of Evangelical Protestantism:..”

So, far from being the illegitimate son you procalim, Tfan appears to be in good company. Augustine’s later system – the one on which his theology is really built - is closely aligned with “Evangelical Protestantism”.

Schaff goes on to note that the later writings of Augustine were adopted by Lutherans “and in a more rigorous logical form by the Calvinistic Confessions”. So Schaff explains the strong and “legitimate” connection between Augustine and Calvinism.

In fact he rather admires both:

“The system gives all glory to God, does full justice to the sovereignty of divine grace, effectually humbles and yet elevates and fortifies man, and furnishes the strongest stimulus to gratitude and the firmest foundation of comfort. It makes all bright and lovely in the circle of the elect. But it is gloomy and repulsive in its negative aspect towards the non-elect. It teaches a universal damnation and only a partial redemption, and confines the offer of salvation to the minority of the elect; it ignores the general benevolence of God to all his creatures; it weakens or perverts the passages which clearly teach that “God would have all men to be saved”; it suspends their eternal fate upon one single act of disobedience; it assumes an unconscious, and yet responsible pre-existence of Adam’s posterity and their participation in his sin and guilt; it reflects upon the wisdom of God in creating countless millions of beings with the eternal foreknowledge of their everlasting misery; and it does violence to the sense of individual responsibility for accepting or rejecting the gospel-offer of salvation. “

The last sentence seems to put Augustine particulary at odds with Rome.

It’s a great topic and worthy of discussion.

Has it snowed in Ohio yet?


Matt said...


You need to read about the debates between Dominicans and Jesuits after the Council of Trent (De Auxiliis). The Calvinists at the Synod of Dordt found the Dominicans to be so thoroughgoing in their anti-Pelagianism/Augustianism that they explicitly drew from their works in their controversy with the Arminians 20 years or so later.

Richard Muller's work bears much of this out, and he is drawing upon an abundance of scholarship which has taken place since Schaff's monumental efforts.


Matt said...

And that "last sentence" which is supposedly at odds with Rome is a statement with which, if made a bit more precise, most of the doctors of the Catholic Church would agree! Since this is a blog comment, I am not putting down evidence, but if you'd like to see some from the scholarship or the sources (which are available), just let me know. Sorry about that.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hello Constantine, Thank you for stopping by. We have not gotten the snow like out west, but we did get a light dusting one day in October. However, the early exit of migrating birds, the early arrival of wintering birds from Canada and the furriness of the wooly bears and other fuzzy catepillars I am allergic to lead me to believe that we are in for a cold and snowy winter.

I was hoping that someone would notice the use of the word 'piffle'. It's a neat word that I thought it happened to fit there. :)

Addressing your points, I am aware that Dr. Schaff expressed the view you are expressing; however, Eugene Portalie, an Augustinian scholar of the first caliber in his own right, expresses a contrary view. Thus, I tried to check my quotes against the "Retractiones" and did not find any of them to be retracted. In fact, Saint Augustine reaffirms in Retractiones" the doctrine of grace expressed in "Ad Simplicianum" written in 397 AD as his full expression on the matter which happens to be the one adopted by the Catholic Church. Accordingly, I tried to cite to only works written after that date as proof of Augustine's teaching on grace and merit. If Dr. Schaff or you can show me where Augustine retracted any of the quotes I referenced, I would be happy to correct my paper to reflect such.

In regards to the notions of Augustinian thought reflected in Lutheranism and Calvinism, I would contend that to the extent that either of these religious systems mimic Catholicism there can be no question that they reflect Augustine's theology. To the extent that they don't, they have distorted Augustine's teachings particularly when it comes to the how God's sovereign will and omniscience works. Ditto, Evangelical Protestantism.
However, as I pointed out, if the Second Helvetic Confession is any indication, there is alot we do agree upon at least in regards to this aspect of grace and merit.

To add to what Matt said, that last sentence you reference provides a pretty good reason why the Church teaches "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus."

Again, if you can provide something other than the general theorie of Schaff to buttress your position, I would be glad to consider it. For an attorney, it is much more preferable to cite to binding authority such as a statute or case law than a secondary one such a learned treatise or hornbook which are merely considered to be persuasive authority.

God bless!

Ben M said...

Excellent article Paul!

Now Constantine quoting Philip Schaff:

“…Augustin, in his intellectual and spiritual prime, develops his system of anthropology and soteriology, and most nearly approaches the position of Evangelical Protestantism ...”


Constantine, with all do respect to you and Dr. Schaff, it just so happens that Augustine, when properly understood, is actually light-years removed from Protestantism (Augustine e.g., would have been appalled at the "Reformer's" immorality!).

As to doctrine, I quote briefly from Eugène Portalié (1852-1909) S. J.:

Ch. V: Augustine’s Unexcelled Teaching Role.

c. Catholic Character of His Teaching.

"Augustine’s teaching, essentially Catholic, is the very antithesis of Protestantism.…

"(1). Former contention of Protestants. Attempts to monopolize Augustine and make him an ante-Reformation reformer were not lacking. Luther naturally had to admit that he did not find in his works the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that generating principle of all Protestantism; he consoled himself, according to Schaff, 43 when he wrote: 'Augustine has often erred and is not to be trusted. Good and holy though he was, he was often in error about the true faith just like the other Fathers.' …

"(2). Recent admissions. In the last thirty or forty years all this has been changed, and the best Protestant critics vie with one another in proclaiming the eminently Catholic nature of Augustinian teaching. In fact, some go to the other extreme of seeing him as the founder of Catholicism."

A Guide to the Thought of St. Augustine, 1960, pp. 91-92.

A bit more here.

Philip Schaff: “The system gives all glory to God, does full justice to the sovereignty of divine grace…”

Again, quoting Portalié (my emphasis):

Chapter XII: Grace As Developed by Augustine, pp. 227-228.

d. Fourth theory: Salvation Effected Entirely by God.

“At the end of his life Augustine attributes everything in the works of salvation to God. He seems to retract, therefore, all earlier teaching on the role of freedom of choice. An example is this: ‘All is ascribed to God lest anyone grow proud.’ 170 Or: ‘Everything should be attributed to God.’ 171.

“Again the difficulty lies in a misunderstanding of Augustinian language. ‘To ascribe all to God’ does not deny man’s action, but rather the fact that this action can accomplish nothing without grace, not even a good desire or a very short prayer. The meaning of this expression in the Augustinian theory (which is the same as the Catholic teaching here) is that each of the elect in heaven must say: ‘There is not a single good act in my life for which I do not owe thinks to God.’

"In reality this theory is opposed to Augustine’s early error which attributed the beginning of faith to free will. In 397 he received and understand of the text: ‘What do you have that you have not received?'

"From then on there was no further variation in his teaching. He saw that everything comes from God. But far from denying the part of man and his merits, he asserted their importance to the very end of his life in even his most rigorous works.” 172.

Following the title page to Portalié 's work we read: "This translation is from the article, 'Saint Augustine,' which appeared in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, published by Editions Letouzey et Ané, Paris."

Saint Augustin: dans Dictionnaire de Théologie catholique, 1903, T. II, col. 2268-2472. Paris.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Ben, Thanks for visiting! I thoroughly enjoyed Portalie's articles as well. The reason that I limited my quotes pertaining to grace and merit from Augustine's works that were written in 397 AD or later was because of what Portalie wrote. BTW, for the reader, Eugene Portalie happened to be the author of a number of articles which appeared in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia concerning Augustine.

God bless!

Matthew Bellisario said...

Hi Paul. When is your debate starting with Turretin Fan, regarding St. Augustine? I thought it was supposed to getting underway?

Ben M said...


Just to clarify: When you say "I thoroughly enjoyed Portalie's articles as well," are you referring to those in "A Guide to the Though of St. Augustine," or those in the Catholic Encyclopedia?


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Ben,


Constantine said...

Hi Paul,

Lots to chew on here. Thanks for you kind comments. Many of the things you touch on are of interest but time being what it is may force their neglect.

At any rate, today I’d like to address the exceptions you take to Mr. Tfan in the area of Augustine and the Scriptures. If I read you correctly, you take umbrage with Mr. Tfan on the issue of Augustine and the Scriptures on three fronts: the differing views on the canon from Protestantism, your understanding of the “rule of faith” and its relationship to Scripture at Augustine’s time and finally, the fact that Augustine was a “catholic” bishop who “adhered to all that the Catholic Church held.”

While you are quite correct (and document studiously) that Augustine used the Apocrypha (especially, as you note, the Book of Wisdom) we must note that, contrary to affirming his place in the Roman camp, this actually displaces him. For example, the Book of Wisdom contains egregious theological errors that are today contradicted by the Catechism (CCC). Wisdom teaches that God created the world out of pre-existent matter (11:17) whereas the CCC teaches the opposite (see para 290). Which leads us to a sticky wicket. If Augustine is to be seen as correct in his selection of the canon and his use of Wisdom, then he must be seen as a contradiciton to modern Rome. If you uphold the CCC, then you must deny the efficacy of Augustine’s apochryphal selections, which undercuts your first point. Interestingly, too, Augustine’s position in this regard removes him from agreement with the eastern Fathers: Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus and Epiphanius. They all held that the “deuterocanonical books should be relegated to a subordinate position outside the canon proper.” (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Continuum. 2003. p. 54 f.) So in addition to the theological quandry of your position, Paul, it denies to Augustine the “catholicity” which you claim on his behalf.

------to be continued-----------

Constantine said...

The second issue you raise has to do with the “rule of faith”. You write, “Saint Augustine’s study of the Scriptures operated from the premise that the Scriptures did not define the rule of faith; rather they were interpreted and subject to it.” But to subordinate the Scripture to any other norm does violence not only to Augustine’s understanding, but also to that of the entire early Church.

Consider please:

From his first writings onward, St. Augustine was clearly and fully convinced of the divine authority of Holy Writ, and recognized no authority above it. In his famous discussion with Jerome he observed that Scripture must be placed on the highest pinnacle of authority.”
-A.D.R. Pohlman, The Word of God According to St. Augustine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), p.63.

And this is in concert with Augustine’s contemporaries as noted by the convert to Rome and theologian, Louis Bouyer:

It would be impossible to find, even among Protestants, statements more sweeping than those in which St. Jerome abounds: Ignoratio scripturarum, ignoratio Christi is doubtless the most lapidary, but not necessarily the most explicit. What is more, in this case just as when the authority of Scripture is viewed as the foundation of theology, the constant practice of the Church, in the Middle Ages as well as in the patristic times, is a more eloquent witness than all the doctors…For them, it was not simply one source among others, but the source par excellence, in a sense the only one.”
-Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964), pp.132-133. Translated by A.V. Littledale. First published by Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1954.

Additionally, J.N.D. Kelly spends a great deal of time on this very issue. He notes, “…it was everywhere taken for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish its Scriptural basis” and not vice versa. And that such innovations as homoousious had to meet the “damning objection…that they were not found in the Bible.” It’s not that Scripture had to bow to any rule, but rather that all rules – regula fidei included – had to prove their Scriptural mettle.

Constantine said...

The last issue with which you take aim at Mr. Tfan is the claim that Augustine was, after all, a Catholic bishop and “adhered to all that the Catholic Church held”. Quite true, again. But the danger is in conflating the “catholic” church of the 5th century with the Roman “catholic” church of today. And that would be a mistake. The one issue, among many, that quickly makes that point is Augustine’s rejection of Roman papal primacy. Augustine jealously guarded the independence of the African church from Rome’s meddling and so shows that what he “held” was vastly different than what a bishop of the Roman church would hold today. And this divergence from modern Rome certainly undermines the implicit assumption that you make with regard to this issue.

Just to recap: Augustine’s use of apocryphal books that contain serious theological errors undermines the effort to claim him for Rome. The errors in the Book of Wisdom contradict the modern catechism and so require the repudiation of one or the other. Augustine’s support of the apochrypha put him clearly at odds with other Church Fathers and calls into question his “catholicity” on this issue, at least. The tradition of the Church leading up to Augustine was that the Scripture was the sole infallible authority by which all other rules were subject. As a bishop of the church, he would have been bound to uphold such doctrines existing at his time and not innovate as would be required to conform to Rome, today.

The weight of your topic, Paul (10,577 words, man!) necessitates responses in smaller chunks so I apologize for the multiple posts. So I have not yet bolstered the positive case asserted by Tfan that Augustine was a Protestant, but I have endeavored to show that your claims that he was a Romanist, at least with regard to the Scriptures, cannot be sustained. Hopefully, this will be the platform from which we may continue.

Forgive me, I just couldn’t work “piffle” into this!

I hope you and your family are well and prospering.


Jamie Donald said...


Excellent article!

I don't have time to address Constantine's objections, but I do note that he finds disharmony between the CCC and Wisdom. Such disharmony that the Catholic cannot, but still must, accept Wisdom; and that the Catholic should sever any connection to Augustine (a nice attempt [again] to make Augustine a proto-protestant).

Certainly, Wisdom 11:17 reads, For not without means was your almighty hand, that had fashioned the universe from formless matter, to send upon them a drove of bears or fierce lions, and seems to bear out Constantine's assumption that it suggests a pre-existent matter.

If true, this concept of pre-existent matter would contradict the CCC (290) which reads, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth": three things are affirmed in these first words of Scripture: the eternal God gave a beginning to all that exists outside of himself; he alone is Creator (the verb "create" - Hebrew bara - always has God for its subject). The totality of what exists (expressed by the formula "the heavens and the earth") depends on the One who gives it being.

But, when reading the CCC and (hopefully) cross-referencing it against Genesis (which it quotes), did Constantine stop reading at Gen 1:1? Note that at this early stage, everything is formless. If one were to read Gen 1:1-2 in a manner consistent with Constantine's reading of Wis 11:17, then one would have to conclude that the earth was a formless wasteland already in existence from which God built the remainder of creation.

I'm somewhat certain that Constantine does not read Genesis in this manner, and his quote of the CCC shows that Catholics do not read it this way either. We also read Wisdom along similar lines.

The simple answer: Wisdom assumes that first God created matter which had no form, then gave it a form so that He fashioned the universe.

Why do I respond to this one of the three objections which Constantine has voiced? 1) It's a simple answer and I'm lazy (OK, really, I'm somewhat short on time); 2) it shows that he has some underlying assumption which does not allow him to see the Scripture (deuteros included), the Catholic Church, and Augustine in concert with each other.

These underlying assumptions are important. We cannot help to have them, and they influence how we understand both history and Scripture. Augustine and the other early church fathers were not immune to them either.

Where am I going with this? It's not a question as to whether or not the Scriptures are authoritatively authored by God in the person of the Holy Spirit. The question is how do we understand this authoritative message from our Creator?

Consider this: Very few people read the totality of Scripture, then convert to Christianity after having gained an understanding of God's word. Instead, it works the other way around. Almost everyone is converted by exposure to a small subset of the Holy Writ. They are given the Faith and then, based on the faith lessons they were given, proceed to interpret the Bible. Catholics do it. Protestants do it. The Early Church Fathers did it.

It's a fact. It's how people work and operate. It's how the earliest Christians had to operate - in the time before the totality of the Scripture was available to them.

I know that I'm not doing this the justice the topic deserves, but David Waltz at has written several excellent articles showing how this fundamental process of learning is called the Rule of Faith by Augustine (and other ECFs) through which the Scriptures could not help but be interpretted.

I suggest that the other two of Constantine's objections fall into the category of cases where he (and his sources) are reading in his (their) own background(s).

Constantine said...


The doctrine of ex nihilo creation has been around since the 2nd century and later codified by the Fourth Lateran Council. No one, in orthodox Christianity, has ever said what you did: “that first God created matter which had no form, then gave it a form so that He fashioned the universe.” That is creation out of “something” and not “nothing”. I’m surprised you don’t know that. The greater danger is that you propose what is more correctly a Mormon doctrine.

And of course the irony is that you do exactly what you accuse me of. The clear and consistent message of Scripture (Gen 1:1, John 1:3) and Church history is on my side and to reach your conclusion you have to start with the erroneous premise that Wisdom 11:17 is correct.


Constantine said...

Hey Ben,

Do you remember this headline from 2003?:

Saddam wins election with 100% of the vote!

Was it true? Yes. Was it published in reputable publications? Yes, the best around the world. Did reputable journalists write it? Sure enough. Do you believe it? No, of course not. But why? Because you would not take your American notions of free and fair elections and paste them over the situation in Iraq. You know that Saddam controlled the election – the polling places, election officials and even who voted – and murdered those who tried to vote otherwise! So you and I both know that while the headline is true it distorts the real picture. In other words, no one in opposition to the “party line” could write to the contrary.

It may surprise you to know that Fr. Portalie grew up, was educated and published in a similar environment.

Most of his life was spent under the influence of the two most repressive popes in history – Pius IX and Leo XIII. Pius was famous for his backward-looking “Syllabus of Errors” and one Catholic historian notes that “Leo’s aim in 1879 (my note – at the height of Portalie’s academic learning) was to CUT OFF Catholic thought from modern philosophies, to draw back into an arid citadel. The closed seminaries and disrupted education of the French Revolution had further deprived an already intellectually impoverished culture…”

Another scholar echoes the theme…

No Italian university outside of Rome (in the 1800’s) had a proper faculty of theology. The bishops appointed to Neapolitan sees by the Bourbon kings were unlikely to be men of intellectual power…Yet these Italians controlled the organization of the Catholic church throughout the nineteenth century without any sense of their intellectual backwardness.” (Woodward, E.L., Three Studies in European Conservatism. Constable, 1929. pp. 240-241.

Portalie, being a French Jesuit of the period would have come up – and published – under just this regime. So it is unreasonable to assume he was a genuine scholar, unfettered from censorship. (We know, also, that John Henry Cardinal Newman ran into exactly this “intellectual backwardness” during Portalie’s life, too.)

But even more damning than what the Vatican prevented from being published is what it promoted and published during Portalie’s life and in his country!

(We don’t have time or space to chronicle the Italian Jesuit publications approved by the Vatican during Portalie’s life, but I would like to share one from France, because Portalie was a Frenchman.)

In 1894, French priest, Henry Delassus wrote in the Catholic weekly, La Semaine religieuse de Cambrai:
“Anti-Semitism and Catholicism are one and the same thing.”
Fr. Delassus directed this paper for forty-nine years and was honored by two popes for his work.
(David Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews p. 226) (Professor Kertzer obtained his information from the Vatican archives.)

So, what’s the point? The point is that you can’t compare 19th century French Jesuit scholarship with Schaaf anymore than you can compare “Saddam wins the election” with any other freely published title. Portalie was not at liberty to engage in honest scholarship even if he believed what he wrote. Schaaf, of course, suffered no such restrictions.

What do you think, Ben? Did Saddam win the election?


Matt said...


You are very confident with a claim (re: formless matter) that is either erroneous or off target. This is besides the fact that this is being used to support an argument that is fundamentally misdirected (the original point about Wisdom is not creatio ex nihilo but that both Augustine and the modern Catholic Church include it in the Canon. Furthermore, both Augustine and the modern Catholic Church affirm creatio ex nihilo, whatever your interpretation of Wisdom.)

Anyway, this issue of "formless matter" was an important debate in the ancient Church and in the Middle Ages. Everyone, of course, agreed that in eternity "past", there was nothing (but God). The question was what happened "next". When God created the earth, was it truly formless matter or did the elements of creation already have their forms (even if light, plants, animals, etc. were not created yet)?

Aquinas, for instance, recognizes that there is disagreement on this point between "holy men", though (again!) not on creatio ex nihilo:

Am I missing what you are getting at?

Constantine said...

Ben wrote:

Constantine, with all do respect to you and Dr. Schaff, it just so happens that Augustine, when properly understood, is actually light-years removed from Protestantism (Augustine e.g., would have been appalled at the "Reformer's" immorality!).


Thanks, Ben. I appreciate your respectful tone and hope to reciprocate it.

How is it that a good Catholic cannot know that Rome has systematically tried to undo Augustinianism for over 1500 years?

In fact, just today the USCCB published a letter that proves that point yet again. (Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan A Pastoral Letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). The bishops describe two purposes of intercourse in marriage (pgs. 17-18), which completely defies Augustine. (It is in fact, a trend of abandonment of Augustine that traces back to the ethics of Alphonsus Liguori, and he inherited from Sanchez in the 17th century.) In a related matter, the “rhythm method” officially sanctioned by Rome was condemned, specifically, by Augustine, but later affirmed by Pope Pius XII. So if Augustine is “light years removed from Protestantism”, then modern Catholicism is “light years removed from Augustinianism.”

The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield makes the case elegantly:

"...the Church of Rome itself, whose whole history since the second Council of Orange (529) has been marked by the progressive elimination of Augustinianism from its teaching, is still able to look upon him as the chief doctor of the Church, upon whom its fabric is especially built."

Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. Calvin and Augustine. Ed. Samuel G. Craig. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1956. pp. 309-310.

Warfield further notes that the Catholicism was so confused about Augustine (having at this point rejected him for 1000 years) that the Sorbonne (1521) used Pelagius’s Confession of Faith against Luther claiming it was Augustine’s! That is funny, don’t you think?

So, Ben, as we work through this, I hope you will see that Rome has done what Warfield says. It has systematically dismantled Augustine and so it can’t rightly claim him today.

" is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For what was the Reformation, inwardly considered, but the triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church?” ibid. p. 383.

Until next time, peace.

Matt said...

Warfield's views (who was not a professional historian) have been significantly refined and even refuted by Jaroslav Pelikan.

See Augustinian Studies 18 (1987): An Augustinian Dilemma: Augustine's Doctrine of Grace versus Augustine's Doctrine of the Church?

The idea that Augustine was abandoned by Catholicism (particularly on soteriological matters at issue here) is shown to be seriously, seriously flawed by the post-Tridentine debates, which I mentioned earlier. Soto, Banez, and many other Dominican theologiains quote frequently from the latest writings of Augustine and Second Orange to refute their Jesuit opponents. Richard Muller (a fine Calvinist historian) has called Banez a radical or ultra-Augustinian!

Be more specific about the Church's abandonment and I'd be happy to give specific instances and references. Quoting the grand statements of Protestant historians (and non-historians) from almost 100 years ago doesn't get us very far.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi all, I am writing an in-depth follow up to the issue of creation ex nihilo (although Jamie Donald's comments are on spot).

Constantine, to give you a preview-Augustine explicitly held to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo against the Manichaeans. Thus, he must have read Wisdom 11:17 different from how you read it. By happenstance, Keil & Delitszch's concordance cites to Wisdom 11:17 (11:18) in assisting the reader in understanding what is being said at Gen 1:2. What information (aside from merely repeating a bald assertion that someone else has written on the internet without any exegesis)that proves that the Wisdom 11:17 is parroting Timaeus as opposed to the biblical view?

As far as some of your other comments, my article already establishes that Augustine's soteriology is the same as the present-day Catholic Church. Unless you are claiming that the Catholic Church is lying or pretending in the Catechism, I do not how you can get around the fact that Augustine's writings are quoted a number of times in it. Can you show us anything in particular in Augustine's writings on soteriological matters that differs from what the Catholic Church teaches?

And as far as discrediting Portalie, can you show us anything that anyone has written that actually demonstrate that what he wrote about Augustine was in anyway wrong? I do have documentation that Schaff wrote a number of things that has been discredited or demonstrated to be in error in his.

And as far as B.B. Warfield's statement goes, it is an assertion that is refuted by the primary material I have cited. My favorite saying in the whole world, "no amount of argumentation can ever contradict a fact." B.B. Warfield can argue all he wants, but he can not refute the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church reveals that the doctrine of grace and merit is based in large part on the writings and teachings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, its Doctor of Grace.

I hope to post more soon.

God bless!

Jamie Donald said...


As I previously wrote, I did not have much time and did not do justice to my thoughts. You correctly showed that my expression of idea was not the best. Matt did a better job expressing the concept than I did. Thank you to him.

I don't want to delve too deeply into creatio ex nihilo because, as Matt pointed out, it is tangential to the main topic of the use of the dueteros, and because it is a very detailed subject about which one could write books (and of course there would then be the danger that because I'm not writing a book, my explanation could continue to have holes which are worthy of a Mack truck). But I still want to work on a couple of points, because they seem to be telling in the form of interpretation which was my original point anyway.

We both agree that Gen 1:1 expresses creatio ex nihilo. I hope that's a good common point for starting. If you insist that Wis 11:17 violates this concept, then applying the same interpretive slant to Gen 2:7 would have creatio ex nihilo being denied very shortly after it is introduced in the Bible. Yet, no one (except those who deny creatio ex nihilo in the first place) makes the argument that Adam, being formed from the clay of the earth, is a creation from something. The very short fragment (not even a complete thought) in Wisdom which speaks to creation should be read and interpretted in this same manner as we use for interpretting the fragments which come from the more complete description of creation which is found in Genesis. When seen this way, Wisdom does not create the interpretive conundrum which you attempted to ascribe to it.

Instead, your treatment of Wisdom is to take a single fragment out of context to try to make it violate Christian doctrine. Chapter 11 of Wisdom speaks of God's punishment of sinful people (with specific references to the Egyptians in Exodus) and contrasts them to the mercy He has shown His people. Wis 11:17 simply states that the God who has the power of creation also has the power to mete out appropriate punishment.

Similarly, Job 38:4-13 describe an Earth which is flat, can be grabbed by its ends and shaken like a sheet to remove the wicked, but is also mounted on pedestals which are rooted into a foundation. But the lesson in Job is not a description of how the Earth is made. Rather it is the lesson that Job (and by extension the rest of us) have no right to complain to nor argue with the One who has the power of creation.

Just as we don't attempt to draw a lesson from Job that is not taught in the book, we should not attempt to learn a lesson from Wisdom which it does not teach. But this is exactly what you did. You took a fragment - not even a complete thought - and tried to force it into a complete teaching which is not even in context with the sentence in which it is found!

So I am utilizing the same exegetical process when I look at Wis 11:17 as I do when I read Gen 2:7. I follow a similar process when reading Job. I do not see you following a consistent interpretive process. Instead, I see a bias being read in.

So I accept your correction of my previously poorly worded explanation. I hope that even though we probably disagree on Wisdom, you will see that I do not subscribe to a LDS theology.

Constantine said...

Hi Matt,

I hope you and yours had a great Thanksgiving and are looking forward to an even more blessed Christmas.

You might be right in that we are going a little past each other here. Let me backtrack just to add a little clarity.

Mr. Hoffer in his magnum opus post on Augustine, seemed to me to take the stance that because Augustine had affirmed the apocrypha – and specificially the book of Wisdom – that that settled the matter. My point was that the apocrypha and Wisdom in particular, contain theological errors at odds – as you rightly note – with the modern Church. So how do we resolve it? If, as you say, the modern church teaches creation ex nihilo then Augustine was wrong to include Wisdom in the canon. If, on the other hand, Augustine and Wisdom are correct, then the modern church is wrong. You and I would agree to the former resolution – but that puts Mr. Hoffer’s attestation in question.

That was all I was saying.

Until next time, peace to you!

Matt said...

I hope that this holiday season (already the second Sunday of Advent!) has been blessed for you as well!

You said:

"My point was that the apocrypha and Wisdom in particular, contain theological errors at odds – as you rightly note – with the modern Church. So how do we resolve it? If, as you say, the modern church teaches creation ex nihilo then Augustine was wrong to include Wisdom in the canon. If, on the other hand, Augustine and Wisdom are correct, then the modern church is wrong. You and I would agree to the former resolution – but that puts Mr. Hoffer’s attestation in question."

I don't recall acknowledging that Wisdom contained theological errors. The reading that has been presented here, i.e., that this verse is a referring to the earth being created "formless and void" and then subsequently shaped in the "seven days" out of this "void" appears quite plausible to me. Anyway, I'm a bit lost. Help me out. Well, so much for the "first option."

As for the second option, i.e., that "Wisdom and Augustine are wrong," I would suggest that there is either confusion or obfuscation involved here. You have argued that Wisdom is wrong because it affirms eternal or pre-existing matter. Fine. But you are arguing that Augustine was wrong for including Wisdom (though he certainly was not the first to do so) in the Canon. These are very different sorts of errors, unless you are suggesting (quite implausibly) that Augustine denies creatio ex nihilo.

But if you limit your charge of Augustine to being wrong in including what you deem to be a flawed book in the Canon, then you would charge the modern Roman Catholic Church with the very same error, correct? And that is at least part of Mr. Hoffer's point, i.e., that, right or wrong (though he and I think _right_), Augustine and the Catholic Church are on the same side on almost all (if not all) essential issues of Protestant-Catholic disagreement.

So may I (somewhat pedantically) suggest that the options are as follows (though this might not be entirely complete, leaving out possibilities that are either absurd or that have not been suggested):

1) Wisdom is a canonical book that teaches (or at least does not deny) the dogmatic truth, including creatio ex nihilo. Augustine and the Catholic Church recognize Wisdom as canonical and the truth of creatio ex nihilo.(This is my position and, I suspect, that of all Catholic posters on this blog.)

2) Wisdom is an erroneous book for teaching that there is pre-existing or eternal matter. Augustine and the Catholic Church, nevertheless, accept this erroneous book as Canonical, while both affirm creatio ex nihilo. (This seems like the only really plausible option for you, if you do not accept the tradition of glosses on this text of Wisdom and the interpretations offered in the prior comments.)

3) Wisdom is an erroneous book that is not recognized as canonical by Augustine but is recognized as such by modern Catholics. (Refuting this view was the main point, I thought, of Mr. Hoffer's argument. Protestants often claim Augustine, though, on key points (like the so-called Apocrypha), he is definitely on the Catholic side. At any rate, his position is pretty implausible.)

Again, there are other options here, but they would entail denying that the Catholic Church recognizes Wisdom as Canonical or that either Augustine or the Roman Catholic Church denies creatio ex nihilo, all of which would be tragically wrong. Furthermore (though only incidentally), they would (as I suggested in a previous post) be off-topic really (though interesting!) since the point here is to show that Augustine's view of the Canon is, as it were, a tick in the column of the Catholics in the battle to claim Augustine (excuse the mixed and the martial metaphor!). By the way, this is a "battle" that I find quite sad and tragic, but that is something for another time, I suppose.

Does this help at all? Thanks for engaging with me. :-)

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Constantine, I tried to address the issue whether Wisdom denies creation ex nihilo in a subsequent post here: . I hope that I demonstrated that it does not.

However, to address the points you raise in general, your argument only gets out of the box so to speak only if you can first demonstrate that a deuterocanonical book actually teaches error. Until you can demonstrate that, we don't have to resolve the other issues that you raise.

In this instance, I have put forth evidence from both Catholic and Protestant sources that I summarized in the later post that show that Wisdom does not teach what you contend it does. I would be interested to see what countervailing proof you can muster to show otherwise as your argument is one that is often made by many Protestant apologists. However, it is an argument that I have seen little evidence actually being presented to prove the assertion being made.

I hope your Advent is fruitful both you and yours! It was fun hearing at Mass today a reading from another deuterocanonical book-the Prophet Baruch 5:1-9 - as well as Luke 3 which has the Septuagint version of Isaiah 40:3-5 being cited rather than the Hebrew version.

God bless!

Constantine said...

Hi Jamie,

Thank you for your kind response.

You wrote:

We both agree that Gen 1:1 expresses creatio ex nihilo. I hope that's a good common point for starting. If you insist that Wis 11:17 violates this concept, then applying the same interpretive slant to Gen 2:7 would have creatio ex nihilo being denied very shortly after it is introduced in the Bible.

I reply:

Ok. But the fact that Wisdom 11:17 contradicts Genesis 1:1 is no “slant”. That is merely the outcome of reading both texts.

And Genesis 2:7 is irrelevant because it takes place AFTER creation. We are talking about the creative event and what preceded it.

You wrote:

The very short fragment (not even a complete thought) in Wisdom which speaks to creation should be read and interpretted in this same manner as we use for interpretting the fragments which come from the more complete description of creation which is found in Genesis.

I reply

What do you mean?? What is this manner by which you interpret the fragments from Genesis? What are those fragments? Is Genesis a fragmentary or complete description? It seems to me that you may have gotten lost here.

You wrote:

Instead, your treatment of Wisdom is to take a single fragment out of context to try to make it violate Christian doctrine. Chapter 11 of Wisdom speaks of God's punishment of sinful people (with specific references to the Egyptians in Exodus) and contrasts them to the mercy He has shown His people. Wis 11:17 simply states that the God who has the power of creation also has the power to mete out appropriate punishment.

I reply.

Nope. My “treatment” of Wisdom is simply to show a complete thought, taken in context, violates Christian doctrine. You are in error, Jamie, if you think that this section of Wisdom “simply states” that God has the power to create or punish. A more careful reading shows that the writer of Wisdom declares what God ACTUALLY did.

Verse 17 begins with an indicative statement about God creating out of formless matter; no discussion about possible creation or what God has the power to do - but only about ACTUAL creation. This is confirmed by the last half of verse 20 which affirms that God acts with great specificity in all He does (“But you have chosen to measure, count, and weigh everything you do.”) The intervening verses - 18, 19 and first half of twenty – highlight the matter by contrasting what the writer thinks God COULD have done (vs. 18 – could have created new and terrible animals; vs. 19 – could have created scary animals; first half of 20 – could have punished them with His justice). So the point, pretty obviously is, even though God COULD have done any number of things, He ACTUALLY did the things described which were to punish the Egyptians in various ways and create the world out of formless matter. If you allegorize verse 17 you have to do it with verses 6-15, too. Which means that God didn’t really punish the Egyptians.

So the nub of it is, Wisdom is describing a literal event which the writer would like us to believe is literally true. And that’s the problem.

You wrote:

Similarly, Job 38:4-13 describe an Earth which is flat………

I reply:

Where did I ever say that Job 38 is a description of creation? However, Genesis 1, John 1 and Wisdom 11 are. The point is that Gen 1, John1 are correct – Wisdom 11 is not. And brining Job into this is just as much a distraction as was Genesis 2.

to be continued....

Constantine said...

To Jamie, continued:

You wrote:

Just as we don't attempt to draw a lesson from Job that is not taught in the book, we should not attempt to learn a lesson from Wisdom which it does not teach.

I reply.

But creation out of formless matter is precisely what is taught in Wisdom.

You wrote:

So I am utilizing the same exegetical process when I look at Wis 11:17 as I do when I read Gen 2:7.

I reply:

Indeed, you are. And in the process you forget Genesis 1 and John 1.

You wrote:

. I do not see you following a consistent interpretive process.

I reply:

Undoubtedly. But here it is:

1. Genesis 1 and John 1 state that God created the universe ex nihilo.
2. Wisdom 11:17 says God created out of formless matter. It does so in an indicative and not allegorical manner. (Please see earlier exegesis.)
3. Ergo, 1 or 2 is mistaken.
4. 1 is not mistaken.
5. Therefore, 2 is mistaken.

Jamie, this is surely a tangential issue to the debate over Augustine which got us here. But part of that original debate was how Mr. Hoffer asserted, to the effect, that Augustine was a Roman Catholic because he affirmed the Book of Wisdom. My whole point – and it still stands – is that to affirm Augustine on that basis is to do so on the basis of an error.

Now back to the main show.

Have a great week.

Constantine said...

Hi Paul,

A couple of quick responses to your note to me a few weeks back. Sorry for the delay.

Paul Hoffer wrote:
As far as some of your other comments, my article already establishes that Augustine's soteriology is the same as the present-day Catholic Church.

I reply:

I don’t think that’s true. If we take as representative of the soteriology of the PDCC their Cathechism, we would have to strongly disagree.

Let’s set out the PDCC position first:

Para 30: …Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, "an upright heart", as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.

Para 1993: Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. (italics in original).

So there is a clear “synergism” in Romanist soteriology which Augustine rejected.

Now Augustine on the matter:

Although Augustine flirted with a similar idea in his Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans, he quickly realized his error and corrected it in a later writing, To Simplician.

“For the effectiveness of God’s mercy cannot be in the power of man to frustrate if he will have none of it. (To Simplician, II. 13)

So we must conclude that your assertion, although undoubtedly well-meant, is not true. Rome has departed from Augustine. There can be no greater contradiction than that shown here between the CCC and Augustine.

Paul Hoffer wrote:

Unless you are claiming that the Catholic Church is lying or pretending in the Catechism, I do not how you can get around the fact that Augustine's writings are quoted a number of times in it.

I reply:

I wouldn’t be that bold to say that the RCC is lying but I would rather say that they are upholding their misconceptions because they are bound by the further error that what they have taught in the past is “irreformable”. Having made the errors of Trent, you are now bound to uphold them. That’s sad, really.

The Roman church’s history of using quotations out of context is well documented – and beyond our purpose here. However, take a look at the Augustinian quote that supports para 30. What does that do, except offer a little “fluff” to the page. It certainly is not supportive of the content of the paragraph.

Secondly, Luther and Calvin also quoted Augustine in their works. Are you saying that because they did so they are correct? If not, why is the Roman church correct in so doing?

Paul Hoffer further wrote:

Can you show us anything in particular in Augustine's writings on soteriological matters that differs from what the Catholic Church teaches?

I reply:

Yes. Augustine adopted a stance similar to Rome’s in an earlier writing entitled, “Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans”. In that work, he attempted to tie the gift of grace to the act of believing – which is what modern Rome does. He later realized his error in making God’s act dependent upon man’s actions and rejected this line of reasoning. His later work, To Simplician, contains his mature thought – which contradicts Rome:

“For the effectiveness of God’s mercy cannot be in the power of man to frustrate if he will have none of it. (To Simplician, II. 13)

So the answer is yes, Paul. I can provide that information. The Roman church not only differs from Augustine, it contradicts him.

I see you have a new post that mentions me by name – I am honored. As time permits, I would like to review it and respond.

Until then, I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a more blessed Christmas.


Matt said...

Using the notion of cooperation in the Catholic Catechism to put a wedge between the modern Catholic Church and Augustine is really problematic. For it is Augustine that was the source of theological reflection on operation vs. cooperation for well over a thousand years. Here is a rather long passage from On Grace and Free Will (a late work, written in the mid-420s):

"And who was it that had begun to give him his love, however small, but He who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He initiates by His operation? Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, "I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6 He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will. Now, concerning His working that we may will, it is said: "It is God which works in you, even to will." Philippians 2:13 While of His co-working with us, when we will and act by willing, the apostle says, "We know that in all things there is co-working for good to them that love God." What does this phrase, "all things," mean, but the terrible and cruel sufferings which affect our condition? That burden, indeed, of Christ, which is heavy for our infirmity, becomes light to love. For to such did the Lord say that His burden was light, Matthew 11:30 as Peter was when he suffered for Christ, not as he was when he denied Him."

And from his reflection on this work from his Retractions:

"There are some persons who suppose that the freedom of the will is denied whenever God's grace is maintained, and who on their side defend their liberty of will so peremptorily as to deny the grace of God. This grace, as they assert, is bestowed according to our own merits. It is in consequence of their opinions that I wrote the book entitled On Grace and Free Will. This work I addressed to the monks of Adrumetum, in whose monastry first arose the controversy on that subject, and that in such a manner that some of them were obliged to consult me thereon. The work begins with these words: "With reference to those persons who so preach the liberty of the human will."

Does the Catechism deny anything that is here? This view of Augustine was certainly not precluded by the Council of Trent. Besides the seventeenth-century debates, there is Garrigou-Lagrange who upholds this position. John Paul II stated that he very much admired and was helped by this Dominican's position on predestination and grace.

Well, I hope that helps.

Constantine said...

Hi Paul,

You asked me to provide an error from Fr. Portalie so here it is.

Portalie quote:

“Above Scripture and tradition is the living authority of the Church. It alone guarantees to us the Scriptures, according to the celebrated declaration in the treatise “Against the Epistle of Manichaeus call Fundamental, “ v. 6: “I indeed would not believe the Gospel except the authority of the Catholic Church moved me.” Vacant-Mangenot, “Dictionaire de théologie Catholique,” i. col. 2341.

Unfortunately, Portalie has the matter backwards.

What Augustine shows in this section is that, while it is possible for the Catholic Church to err, it is not possible for the Scriptures to err. He does this by showing that if a Manichaean could bring him Scriptural proof for their position, it would cause Augustine to call his Catholic friends, liars. (That is actually his word, not mine.) So the very clear message is that the infallible standard for Augustine is the Scripture and not the church. Portalie got it exactly backwards.

Augustine reinforces this a little later on with a great apologetic exercise. He takes the Manichaean to the Scriptures to prove the Christian position; he didn’t take him to the Catholic Church.

Portalie is simply wrong on this – and grieviously so. As I noted earlier, it is not his fault entirely. He came up in a system that stifled honest scholarship.


Constantine said...

Hi Matt,

You wrote to me:

Using the notion of cooperation in the Catholic Catechism to put a wedge between the modern Catholic Church and Augustine is really problematic. For it is Augustine that was the source of theological reflection on operation vs. cooperation for well over a thousand years.

I respond:

It’s not problematic at all. Take a look at your quote to me.

He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us.

Now compare to para 2002 of the CCC: God's free initiative demands man's free response,… (italics in original).

See the difference?…..”He operates, therefore, WITHOUT US….. vs. God demand our “free response”, in other words WITH US. That’s the rub.

True enough, too, that Augustine was the source of reflection. But don’t take that to mean he was the source of practice. The Catholic Church began undressing Augustine at the Council of Orange and by Trent the poor man was left with barely his Speedo!

Have a great Advent, Matt, and a Merry Christmas!