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Was Aquinas a Calvinist? Well … sort of. I realize the question is anachronistic, but Aquinas retained the doctrines of grace propogated by Augustine that the Calvinist tradition borrowed from during the Protestant Reformation (e.g. the doctrine of unconditional election, predestination, infallible grace, etc.). There are many qualifications to this claim I do not have time to write about here (perhaps in a future post).
Those who hold a Calvinistic notion of predestination have also been known to hold that nevertheless God desires that all people be saved because Scripture affirms it. For this reason 1 Timothy 2:1-4 also appears to many to be a major stumbling block (read: contradiction) to the entire soteriological system known as Calvinism. How can we say that God desires all people to be saved when we know that ultimately God decides who is and who is not saved, yet does not choose everyone. Does God not always do whatever he desires? Does he not desire that all be saved?
I will now call upon Thomas Aquinas, however, to explain to us why this verse, and God’s desire that all be saved, does not contradict the doctrine of predestination. I will first quote the verse itself, then Aquinas:
First of all I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority. … This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. — 1 Tim 2:3-4 (NASB)
Aquinas thinks that the word “all” in this passage likely means “applying to every class of individuals, not to every individual of each class; in which case they mean that God wills some men of every class and condition to be saved, males and females, Jews and Gentiles, great and small, but not all of every condition” (ST I.19.6.ad.1).
He also offers Damascene’s notion of “the antecedent will of God” which is to be contrasted to “the consequent will” of God. Here the point is this: God’s will considered absolutely entails that all men should be saved, but by adding “some additional circumstances” or “by a consequent consideration” the verdict of God’s will may turn out to be reversed (ST I.19.6.ad.1).
For example, considered absolutely it is good that all men should live and be free, unless or until that one person is considered an extreme danger and menace of society by killing and raping others, in which case a good judge may will him to hang or be thrown in jail rather than live and be free.
Thus it may be said that a just judge will simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live … Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place. (ST I.19.6.ad.1).
While Damascene refers to “antecedent will” and “consequent will,” Aquinas prefers to speak of the former as “willingness” and the latter as “simple will.” Willingness is what God wills with all things being “equal” (as it were), apart from circumstantial suppositions. Simple will is God’s final will once all circumstantial considerations are in view. Not that Aquinas would imagine that there is ever a time when God’s brain fails to consider something with all its attendant circumstances (God is outside of time and doesn’t have a brain). Rather, this language is metaphorical and taken from human speech. God wills that all be saved in the same way that a judge wills all men to be free and live, although given good reason, this will may be reversed. But this does not destroy the “good will” of the judge; therefore, neither should it cause us to call into question God’s good will to those who are damned.
It is indeed striking to me that I had only been exposed to this kind of reasoning through the Calvinist tradition, yet here Aquinas is found using the same reasoning. But my amazement does not stop there, since Aquinas gets his distinctions from St. John of Damascus (Damascene), a Syrian Christian monk and priest († 676-749) venerated as a Saint in both the Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodoxy.
Some will be surprised to note that Aquinas believes that justification is by grace alone (sola gratia) and also articulates something very akin to a doctrine of irresistible grace, although he does not call it that (of course). He prefers the term “infallible” (see below).
I have here summarized articles 1 through 3 of question 112 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: ”Of the Cause of Grace.” All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.
112.1: God Alone is the Cause of Grace
IN SUM: “The cause must always be more powerful than its effect.” Therefore, “nothing can act beyond its species” (I-II.112.1). The gift of grace exceeds all natural created capabilities, “since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace” (I-II.112.1).
Christ’s human nature per se is also not the cause of grace, for Christ’s humanity is “an organ of His Godhead,” as Damascene says in De Fide Orthod. 3:19. “Now an instrument does not bring forth the action of the principal agent by its own power, but in virtue of the principal agent.” In the case of Christ, the principal agent was the Divine Nature joined to his humanity. Thus, while we might say Christ’s humanity caused grace, this must be understood to have taken place by virtue of his Divine Nature. (I-II.112.1.ad.1)
Now created things can be said to cause grace in a certain sense—as we have seen in the case of Christ’s humanity. Likewise, the sacraments of the New Law also cause grace “instrumentally,” but “principally by the power of the Holy Ghost working in the sacraments.” (I-II.112.1.ad.2).
112.2: Some Preparations and Dispositions Are Required for Grace
IN SUM: No preparation for God’s grace moving the sinner to the good is necessary. Grace can be considered to need a preparation only in the case of the bestowal of a habitual gift. Even then, however, the preparation is simultaneous with the infusion of grace, and both are a part of the same operation of God.
Grace considered as God’s moving the soul to good needs no preparation on man’s part to “anticipate” the Divine help. “Rather, every preparation in man must be by the help of God moving the soul to good. And thus even the good movement of the free-will, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace is an act of the free-will moved by God.” In this sense people are sometimes said to prepare themselves for grace even though they are moved “principally from God, Who moves the free-will” (I-II.112.2). Thus, it must be remembered that the free-will only prepares inasmuch as it is moved by God.
Grace considered as a habitual gift of God (the gift of a new disposition in the heart) requires a “certain preparation of grace … since a form can only be in disposed matter” (I-II.112.2). This certain preparation, however, “is simultaneous with the infusion of grace” (I-II.112.2.ad.1). “When God infuses grace into a soul, no preparation is required which He Himself does not bring about” (I-II.112.2.ad.3).
Sometimes people even receive an imperfect preparation that “precedes the gift of sanctifying grace, and yet it is from God’s motion” even thought it precedes justification. (I-II.112.2.ad.1). In other words, God sometimes moves people to the good instantaneously and perfectly (as with the apostle Paul), and sometimes through a process that culminates in perfect preparation. Whether a person is moved instantly or step by step is “of no account” because a person is incapable of preparing herself unless God move her to the good.
No preparation of a person for grace is meritorious of grace. However, perfect preparation and the infusion of grace are both part of the same operation of divine help, and this operation is meritorious of glory. (I-II.112.2.ad.1). Again, “no preparation is required which He Himself does not bring about” (I-II.112.2.ad.1) and “merit can only arise from grace.” (I-II.112.2.ad.2).
“Merit can only arise from grace.” (I-II.112.2.ad.3).
112.3: The Movement of Free-will Does not Necessitate Grace, but God’s Intention Does
IN SUM: No movement of the free will necessarily obtains grace because such movement is the result of grace. However, if God intends to move a person’s free will to obtain grace, it will necessarily happen, since God’s intentions cannot fail.
As already stated, a person’s preparation for grace is wholly from God “as Mover, and from the free-will, as moved.” (I-II.112.3).
No movement of free will necessarily obtains grace, but is rather the result grace. In this sense, there is no necessity about free will obtaining grace. On the other hand, inasmuch as the preparation of a person is wholly worked by God as Mover, it does have a kind of necessity—“not indeed of coercion, but of infallibility—as regards what it is ordained to by God, since God’s intention cannot fail” (I-II.112.3). “Hence if God intends, while moving, that the one whose heart He moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it” (I-II.112.3).
Any act of the free-will the towards the good is “already informed with grace” (I-II.112.3.ad.1).
If there is any defect in grace in a person, the person is it’s “first cause,” but if there is any bestowal of grace on a person, God is it’s “first cause” (I-II.112.3.ad.2).
Is there room for Calvinists in the SBC? Hear Johnny Hunt answer this question as he addresses the tension in the SBC over Calvinism with a personal story on the latest U R B A N G L O R Y podcast.
I appreciate the way Johnny address the issue. I, for one, think that when Christians start dividing over Calvinism, they need to repent by valuing the gospel more and our theological distinctive less. This is what I call having an affectional symmetry for doctrine.
::_:::__::::___:::::____HT: U R B A N G L O R Y
UPDATE: This podcast is not longer available, as the U R B A N G L O R Y project was terminated not long after it was launched.
Maybe it’s because we’re so humble. . . heeding the advice of Solomon to let another man praise us and not our own lips. Or perhaps its because we’re so consumed with our own callings that we’re oblivious, except for our general faith that God is at work, to the massive, intricate, and exciting story that God is weaving on a daily basis with our work and the work of brothers and sisters we have never met. Regardless of the reason, the fact is simple – the Church isn’t all that good at telling its story. By “story” I don’t mean the elements of the Gospel that we are so committed to preach, but the vastly bigger picture of that Gospel working revolutionary change in people and communities all over the globe. We hear testimonies of individuals often in our local congregations when a dramatic conversion occurs or when a missionary comes home to visit, but there exists no entity with the vantage point to compile the stories of individual leaders and local bodies in the cities of men into the expansive landscape that is the daily growing city of God — until now. On January 5th, U R B A N G L O R Y will begin exposing the expansion of the Kingdom in cities all over the world by broadcasting the stories of prominent and every day church leaders, innovative ministries, influential scholars, and revolutionary professionals who are all threads in the incredible tapestry that God is weaving to spread his Glory to the nations. We invite you to be the first to check it out and let your friends know as well. The future of this exciting new platform depends on your involvement.
Our first podcasts for 2009 will include …
Johnny Hunt talks about his agenda for his upcoming term as president of the SBC, and shares his thoughts on the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates within the SBC.
Gerald Hiestand clarifies his unconventional views on dating and sexual purity and lets us in on his passion for the new SAET Society, the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology.
Aaron Skinner of Kairos Creative challenges the church to think differently about the role of brand development for community presence and the sake of the gospel.
Matthew Elliot shares his story about coming to grips with the role of emotion in the Christian life during his Ph.D. studies that culminated into his high-praised books Faithful Feelings and Feel.
You might need some time to listen to this whole lecture, but it’s worth it. This lecture series, Chosen by God, has turned more people into Calvinists than anything else I know about.
All philosophical objections [that I’ve heard] to Actual Atonement (better known as Limited Atonement) are mistakes in logic. Perhaps the most common is the objection that a limited view of the atonement makes the universal offer of the gospel insincere.
First, we might say that if the Bible teaches on the one hand that God only intends to eternally redeem the elect, and on the other hand that we should offer salvation to all, we should conclude that God’s offer must be genuine even if our pre-conceived philosophical understanding makes the legitimacy of such an offer a genuine mystery.
Second, this objection misunderstands the nature of the offer. The universal offer of salvation is always contingent. The offer is not intended to benefit everyone, only those who repent and believe. Thus, the nature of the offer itself astronomically limits the scope of its intended benefactors by virtue of its built-in conditionality. The offer, therefore, is just as genuine as the offer “Whosoever meets the requirements for enrollment to SBTS, as well as the requirements for discounts on tuition, will be able to receive such benefits.” The offer is intended for, and voiced to, all seminary students indiscriminately, but the benefit is only intended for a select group. This contingency does not ruin the genuine nature of the offer.
Many of the other objections leveled against an actual view of the atonement are really objections against Calvinism as a whole—that it contradicts the concept of a loving God, that it is unfair, that it prohibits people who sincerely desire to be saved from actually being saved. These objections impose philosophical definitions of love, justice, and grace that are foreign to the Bible. They also misunderstand the nature of responsible Calvinism.
Passages which seem to contradict a limited view of the atonement do not actually contradict it. Some of these passages do just the opposite.
For example, consider the classic proof text for a general atonement: John 3:16. This passage teaches that God gave Christ to the world so that believers might be saved. All believers are elect and all the elect eventually believe. Therefore, even John 3:16 teaches a limited intention for sending Christ into the world—to save the elect (i.e. all who believe). One does not need to interpret “for God so loved the world,” to mean “for God so loved the elect,” for this to hold true. The purpose clause “so that” is limited to the elect regardless of how broad the scope of meaning for the term “world.” God loves the world, but he sends his son for the benifit only of whosoever believes, and whosoever believes is elect.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, so that whosoever believes in him would have everlasting life.”
John Owen notes that the meaning and usage of those terms which are universal in form—such as “world” and “all”—must be weighed very carefully for this reason: “Upon these expressions hangs the whole weight of the opposite cause, the chief if not the only argument for the universality of redemption.”  Once the full range of meaning for these words is closely examined, however, the biblical objections to limited atonement are less convincing. The word “world” (kosmos) in Scripture does not always refer to every person in the world without exception. There are many passages where kosmos simply cannot mean every individual human being (Jn 7:7; Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 4:9; 11:32). If one is to believe that Christ died for everyone without exception on the grounds that the Bible says he died for the sins of the kosmos, she unwittingly gives good reason to think that everyone alive in the first century was a follower of Jesus, since the Pharisees exclaimed, “Look, the world [ho kosmos] has gone after Him” (Jn 12:19).
Even more important, kosmos often refers only to those who believe. For example, Paul taught that Israel’s sin of rejecting Christ means “riches for the world” (ploutos kosmou, Rom 11:12). Can we say then, that every person in the world without exception has received the ploutos Paul has in mind? It seems clear that Paul is using the word “world” to distinguish between Jew and Gentile, and that he would intend us to understand only those who believe in Christ as the recipients of the riches Paul has in mind in this context. Such an interpretation, however, leads us to conclude that kosmos actually refers to a minority group among the people in the world—the few that find the ploutos in Christ (i.e. the elect).
When the apostle John admonishes his readers not to think of Christ’s death as for them only but for the “whole world” (1 Jn 2:2), the grammatical structure is strikingly similar to statements found in his gospel (Jn 11:51-52). On the basis of this parallel one might conclude that “whole world” in his epistle simply refers to God’s people, the elect, scattered throughout the whole world.
Although many passages describe the death of Christ as being for “all” (pas, Rom 5:18; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:14-15; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Heb 2:9; 2 Pt 3:9), like the word “world,” the word “all” in Scripture does not always refer to everyone, but it must be determined by context. Sometimes the word “all” simply refers to all those within a certain group defined by the context. For example, Romans 5:18 teaches that just as one sins led to condemnation for “all,” so one act of righteousness results in justification for “all.” Here, even within the very same context, one must interpret the former reference to “all” as virtually universal, and the latter as limited only to believers. Without allowing for such fair distinctions based on context, the interpreter has no way to object to the conclusion that all people without exception are justified before God. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:6 that Christ was given as a ransom for all can simply mean “all kinds,” (indiscriminately with respect to Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free). In fact, Paul’s usage of the word “all” is best understood this way based on the way he uses it in the context (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-2). “All” in Titus 2:11 can be taken in a similar way based on context (cf. Tit 2:2-4, 6, 9).
 John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1999), 190.
 I owe this insight to John Piper. John Piper, Tulip: The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Desiring God Ministries), 31.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have some concerns about one of the required readings for my course in Evangelism at Southern Seminary, A Pastor’s Sketches by Ichabod Spencer. He was a Presbyterian minister in Brooklyn New York who journalized some of his evangelism encounters. My last post on this topic attempted to demonstrate that he confused Calvinism with the gospel.
Oddly enough, although Ichabod is a Presbyterian minister and confuses the gospel with Calvinism, there is an Arminian principle from which Spencer seems to operate. It seems clear to me that he is either a Calvinist or at least very Calvinistic (he is after all a Presbyterian minister, see “Introduction to Spencer and his Sketches”). Yet, he seems from time to time to speak as though he believed in the sort of grace that lingers in the heart of an unbeliever just long enough to give them the chance to either accept that grace or resist it (137). This belief is confirmed throughout the book, especially when he bases the obligation of the unconverted to repent and believe, not only on the grounds of the divine command, but also in their supposed ability to obey the divine command because of the aid he indiscriminately assumes is given to them:
The Holy Spirit is their offered aid; and surely that aid is enough. They should know and feel it to their heart’s core, that they are now, on the spot, to-day, under the most solemn obligations to repent, not only because sin is wrong, but because God offers them the aids of the Holy Spirit: ‘In me is thy help.’ Their impenitence not only tramples under foot the blood of the covenant, but also does despite to the Spirit of grace (142).
When people are aware of a need for effectual saving grace, and they honestly evaluate themselves as yet unable to come to Christ, Spencer sees fit to remove any such impression from them as quickly as he can (161). Spencer seems to be convinced that unbelievers are all indeed able to come to Christ. As he said to the man who claimed he could not repent: “You say you cannot repent. He has not said so. He commands you to repent” (161). Spencer seems to be Arminian at this point, assuming that if the Lord commands it, we must be able. He argues that ability is the ground of duty. Or to say it another way—since it is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit that he assumes makes everyone able—he believes that grace is the ground of duty. He seems to operate on this principle more than once, but his belief in this is most clearly seen in his dealings with the man who claimed that he could not repent:
You reject his offered help—the help of the omnipotent Spirit. And for this reason you will be the more criminal if you do not repent. . . You can repent, just in the way that others repent—just because God is your help (164, emphasis mine).
Perhaps it is most abundantly clear in the following reflection:
Sinners certainly ought to repent, for God commands them to repent. But in my opinion, he does not design to have them understand his command as having respect only to their own ability to repent, and not having respect to the proffered aids of the Holy Spirit. Such aids constitute one grand ground on which his command is obligatory, and sweep away ever possible excuse (165, emphasis mine).
What I am calling Spencer’s Arminian principle conflicts with my understanding of grace. The scriptures do not teach that everyone has the ability to come to Christ, but only those who are effectually drawn by the power of the Father (John 6:44, 64-65). We should not assume in our evangelism (as Spencer does), that the Holy Spirit works on all in such a way that morally enables them to accept or reject the gospel. Unbelievers are responsible to repent and believe simply because God commands it, not necessarily because they are morally able. If moral ability is a prerequisite to duty, all those who are not under the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit would be exempt from their duty (hence the teaching of hyper-calvinism). However, Spencer never wants to let the unbeliever think that she is unable to come to Christ. This is the whole point of his chapter labeled “I Can’t Repent,” where he expends no little amount of time and energy to convince a man that he is indeed able to repent (161).
Another example of this principle at work can be seen when the man who struggled with the doctrine of election responded to his admonition for him to pray. He said, “But the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord” (233). Spencer rejects this claim as though it were not in the Bible:
‘That,’ said I, ‘is your own declaration. God has not said so. Such a declaration is not to be found in the Bible, though people often suppose it is, and though there may be some expressions which appear to resemble it (233).
Yet this man quoted a biblical passage almost word for word: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9). This is not the only time Spencer seems to be embarrassingly ignorant of pertinent biblical texts.
If you go to Southern Seminary (like I do), you are required to take a class in evangelism, and it’s usually one of the larger classes since it’s mandatory for almost any tract. If you take Dr. Beougher, he requires you to read a book called A Pastors Sketches. It’s an old book written by a Presbyterian minister named Spencer who was known as the “Bunyan of Brooklyn.” It’s basically his journalism about evangelistic encounters he has with people around Brooklyn and beyond. The first “sketch” of an encounter was actually quite fascinating and helpful. But as the book drags on, it becomes onerous to the critical reader in a variety of ways. I will be exploring several dangers of this book that may be influencing and effecting seminary students at Southern in the next few posts.
Spencer, Ichabod. A Pastor’s Sketches. Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2001. Reprint 2002. 285. $12.95.
Danger 1: Calvinism is Not the Gospel
Spencer believes that part of saving faith and understanding is to understand “the entire depravity of the heart” (127, emphasis mine). Reading between the lines that he is a Calvinist, believing the doctrines of grace, I assume he means by this that a person cannot be saved without an understanding of the doctrine of total depravity: “If he does not see that [the entire depravity of the heart], it is probable that he does not see his heart. And hence his repentance, his faith in Christ, and his reliance upon the Holy Spirit, will probably, all of them, be only deceptions” (127, emphasis mine). This perspective would explain why he is so intent on giving long indictment speeches to unbelievers (see “Election,” 230-255).
He seems to further imply that one must not only believe the doctrine of total depravity for there to be certainty of his true conversion, but also the other four doctrines of grace: “My observation continues to confirm me more and more in the opinion that to experience religion is to experience the truth of the great doctrines of divine grace” (127, emphasis mine). Because the following statement is made in the same context, it gives the impression that he considers these doctrines of grace, not as optional doctrinal positions, but as essential to Christianity: “And. . .I believed, and had always acted on the principle, that true experimental religion will always lead its subjects to a knowledge of the great essential doctrines of the Christian system—indeed, that to experience religion is just to experience these doctrines” (126). This principle is also evident when upon testing some young men who had supposedly been saved through a “camp meeting,” he questioned the validity of their experience because they did not have all the right answers to his questions (129).
I can’t help but think Spencer’s approach in this respect is legalistic and dangerous. Calvinism is not the gospel. While I myself believe that the doctrines of Calvinism are biblical, I do not believe any one of them is necessary to believe as a prerequisite to true conversion. If this were true, only Calvinists would be saved. (I’ve blogged about this before) Also, Spencer’s glib outlook on so called “revival” seems to result from this false notion. He says, “A true history of spurious revivals would be one of the most melancholy books ever written” (130). He appears at one point to attempt making a distinction between a person having a technical understanding of such doctrines (which he names as human sinfulness, divine sovereignty, atonement, justification by faith, regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the constant need of divine aid) and a persons being “substantially right” in their minds “on such doctrines” (130). However, it is not clear what the practical difference would be to him, especially since he was not satisfied with the answers given to him by the two young men in the chapter entitled “Excitement” (128-130). Also, Spencer almost seems jealous when members of his attend “revival” meetings or go to another church to be taught. In the section of his book entitled “Proselytying,” he immediately assumes that someone is “soliciting” them away from his preaching (182). He judges the situation too quickly, assuming that if these revival attenders are not immediately converted to Christ once they have changed churches that it is “manifest” that whoever they have gone to hear is simply “tickling their vanity and pride” with their attention (183). He seems pessimistic of all other churches but his own.
Not long ago Todd reported indignantly that he had been unjustly accused of copyright infringement for posting John 3:16 Conference messages. He complained that someone had gone to the authorities without confronting him personally (like Christians are supposed to do). Now Chris shares his side of the story, and claims the recording of the messages was legal, but distributing them to others was illegal, and that he did in fact contact Todd personally. Here are some excerpts from his comments:
I am the one who posted on Todd’s site that the audio recording being posted on his site was illegal, You have been misinformed if you believe that it is legal. No notice has to be given. The speakers are the legal owners of the material and they granted Jerry Vines Ministries the right to record and reproduce the material. It does not matter that the recordings were made by an individual. He has the right to record the material (unless notice is provided), but he does not have permission to distribute unless he has permission from the copyright owner.
I am not the one that contacted the blog host and reported the activity. I did what was biblical and went to my brother in Christ and confronted him of his sin. He removed the material and in my mind the issue is/was settled.
I would wonder why you would accuse Jerry Vines Ministry of having no integrity. What have they done…. Todd is the one that violated the law. And while he is the one that broke the law he has no been accused of having no integrity.
… I too am shocked by how Jerry Vines Ministries is being attacked when they have done nothing wrong and the way they are being treated despite the fact that they are the ones that broke the law. Why is no one condemning the actions of Todd? Todd is relying on the ignorance of his “tech guy” and he is getting wrong advice.
Chris … Glad you get your side of the story. Maybe the Proverbs 18:17 principles applies here. “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”
If Chris is right, all those who recorded the John 3:16 conference and posted them or sent them to a bunch of friends may have broken the law (even if by ignorance).