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Aquinas the Calvinist (via Eastern Orthodoxy?)
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.
:: The Sacrament of Baptism in Roman Catholic Theology ::
Baptism is efficacious—it removes the guilt of original sin and regenerates the soul, freeing one from the slavery of sin and conferring justifying grace, leaving an indelible mark on the baptized which can never be removed (not even by mortal sin) and marks the believer with the “seal.” It actually accomplishes that which it symbolizes—death to sin and the new birth of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is therefore the Gateway to the Christian life—to justifying grace, to membership in the Catholic Church, to communion with Christ, his sufferings and baptism, to the common priesthood of all believers, etc. Baptism is thus also necessary—for salvation, justification, sanctification, etc., and since children are born with original sin, they too must be baptized. Christian Baptism is prefigured in the crossing of Jordan into the promise land, in Noah’s ark as a symbol of salvation, and above all in the Exodus as a symbol of liberation from bondage. Water has always been a symbol of life and fruitfulness, yet the water of the sea is a symbol of death, and thus represents the death of Christ and consequently the death of the believer who dies with Christ through Baptism.
Yet, although “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism … he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” Therefore, exceptions include 1) baptism of desire (those who die with the intention to be baptized, such as a catechumen who dies before he/she is baptized), 2) baptism of blood (those who die in martyrdom for their faith before they are able to be baptized), 3) those who seek the truth and do the will of God in accordance with his or her understanding of it (for such persons “would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity”), and 4) probably unbaptized infants, since God’s mercy is so great, and since Jesus had a tender heart toward children.
The Roman Catholic celebration of Baptism is extensive and detailed. Although only a bishop, priest, or (in the Latin Church) a deacon ordinarily administers baptism, in case of necessity, anyone who sincerely wished to truly perform the celebration may do so. All not yet baptized are subject to baptism, but since baptism can never be repeated, only those not yet baptized can be candidates. For the celebration of baptism, many rituals must be performed—exorcisms, the consecration of the baptismal waters, confession of faith, triple immersion (or triple pouring) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the post-baptismal anointing which symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the white garment which symbolizes the putting on of Christ, the candle which symbolizes the enlightened neophyte and the transformation of this one from darkness to light (even the light of the world), and finally, the solemn blessing which concludes the celebration.
Texts which on the surface seem to support Baptismal regeneration—which is directly tied to salvation—are used in support of the Roman Catholic understanding of Baptism as efficacious for purification and regeneration. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). In addition to baptism being central to the Great Commission, Jesus explicitly says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mk 16:16). The apostles carried out their preaching in the same way. The Chief Apostle Peter preached this way: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Thus, it is no surprise that Paul would also strongly connect Baptism with dying to sin and being liberated from its bondage (Rom 6:4-7, cf. Col 2:12). The Catechism suffers no shortage of proof texts for Baptismal Regeneration (see also Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 3:20; Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Eph 5:26). For infant baptism, the Catechism first recognizes that infants are born with a sin nature which leaves them in need of salvation. Secondly, it harkens to Jesus words, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk 10:14). Thirdly, it appeals to the “explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on.” Lastly, the Catechism appeals to “household” baptism of the NT (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16). A frequent theme in defense of the inclusivistic widening of baptismal grace is an appeal to the desire of “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:6). This verse is reference more than once in the section on baptism.
Compared to many other doctrines of Roman Catholicism which find not even a shadow of support from the NT, Rome’s support for her views on Baptism seems at first impressive. Whereas much of the Catechism’s footnotes and quotes hearken more to Tradition, the majority of arguments in this section come straight from scripture. Much of Protestant Evangelical Theology will differ immensely from the views summarized above. There is no way to give a substantive critique of the mountain of biblical passages appealed to in the above mentioned summary, so I must only give a hint as to how certain Protestant Evangelicals would critique the Roman Catholic arguments employed in defense of their views. Although on the surface the passages cited are very persuasive, in the end, the conclusions Rome draws from these verses violate her own canons about biblical interpretation—namely, to “be especially attentive ‘to the content and unity of the whole Scripture,'” and to “be attentive to the analogy of faith.” Passages in Scripture which teach that salvation comes at the moment of faith—not the moment of baptism—are overwhelming in number, and more didactic in nature. Therefore, in spite of the plethora of proof texts, Rome falls short of her own standards of hermeneutics. Rome’s arguments for Inclusivism, which are based on the general concepts of the mercy and compassion of God are in need of more exegetical input. We should not assume God’s mercy extends beyond the explicit ways revealed to us in Sacred Scripture. Finally, as the most frequently quoted verse in Rome’s whole defense for Baptismal Regeneration, John 3:5, the concept of being born of water and Spirit is drawn from OT imagery about the New Covenant. Therefore, Jesus language of the necessity of being born of water and Spirit is tantamount to speaking of the necessity of being a part of the New Covenant (Ezek 36:25-26). One should not, then, read water baptism into this apocalyptic symbolism.
From an evangelical Baptist perspective, Jesus’ words about children are just that—words about children, not infants. Jesus referred to children who were at least old enough to “come” to him (physically, not spiritually). The passages about “household” baptisms are presumptuous in that they must assume that the households referred to include infants (which is not explicitly in the text), but also it seems clear from comparing parallel accounts of baptisms that when a household was baptized it was because the household also believed (Acts 16:34; 18:8). Beyond the fact that Protestants do not accept arguments from church history on equal grounds with Scripture, the evidence from church history can also be interpreted in a way which actually creates an argument against infant baptism.
Rome’s doctrine of baptism is not all bad. Adult baptisms are likely to be handed with greater care than in Protestant churches by emphasizing the need for catechesis. Also, she emphasizes the importance of the responsibility of the church to help nourish those who join the church through baptism, as well as the responsibility of those who are baptized to respect church authority. She rightly sees a connection between faith and baptism. She rightly sees baptism as central to the great commission, and as symbolizing our death to sin and resurrection to new life. As is common with all sacraments and doctrines of Rome, she sees the mystery of the sacrament summed up in Christ: “In Christ’s death ‘is the whole mystery.'” However, while getting these less important details right, Rome has indeed presented quite a different way of salvation than that which so many evangelical protestants believe to be the biblical doctrine of salvation by her teaching of the efficacy of regeneration and forgiveness of sins through baptism. This leads many evangelicals to conclude that Rome’s doctrine of baptism, with her understanding of its efficacy, with her inclusive tendencies, with her practice of infant baptism, violently distorts the biblical gospel. I would remind such Protestants that Jesus himself (his incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection) is the essential part of the kerygmatic gospel in the NT (1 Cor 15:3-4) not a specific view about baptism. Plenty of Protestants also believe in the efficacy of water baptism for salvation. In fact, Martin Luther himself believed this and taught it with a passion. If we accuse Rome of distorting the very gospel of Jesus Christ on account of her beliefs about baptism, we will get more than we bargained for and end up condemning almost the whole pre-reformation church, including the early martyrs, the apostolic and patristic fathers, Saint Augustine, Martin Luther himself, and several Protestant denominations. Perhaps Rome is wrong on her doctrine of baptism, but this does not mean Catholics deny the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s not make too little of the gospel and too much of our different views of baptism.
 Although the idea of “seal” seems to communicate that one is sealed for eternal salvation, if one does not “keep” the seal he or she receives then that person will lose his or her status in the state of grace, make shipwreck of their faith and go to hell—even though they would still have a permanent “mark” on their soul. In other words, neither the seal, nor the indelible mark are any guarantee of salvation, just guarantee of a “mark” and a losable “seal.” Catechism, par 1274.
 Catechism, par 1257.
 Catechism, par 1260.
 After all, it is better that a layman perform the sacrament unlawfully than that the one desiring baptism lose out on salvation.
 The church is only willing to baptize anyone who has never been baptized.
 This text, John 3:5, is appealed to more than any other verse in the section on Baptism—5 times total. See footnotes 24, 25, 40, 59, and 64.
 Catechism, par 1252.
 Catechism, par 112 & 114.
 It should be noted that Rome seems hesitant to use these verses as prove her case, since she holds out the “possibility” that they may not refer to infant baptisms. Catechism, par 1252.
 Catechism, par 1216, 1233, 1248.
 Catechism, par 1255, 1269, 1271.
 Catechism, par 1225.
@@ Is Evangelicalism Exclusively Exclusive? @@
Here’s a video I found on a link from Mike Fox’s blog. Mike believes this video is part of the evidence that President Bush should not be considered an evangelical, and most consider it proof that he is a universalist. I’m not sure about either one of these claims.
Are inclusivists not evangelical? Most arminians I’ve met are inclusive in some way because they believe that people who have never heard of Christ will be judged according to how they responded to the revelation they did have exposure to. Other evangelicals are even more inclusive and for different reasons. So … as far as I can tell, evangelicalism is not exclusively exclusive.
Is George Bush a Universalist? Do people who believe Muslims and Jews are going to heaven automatically fit the definition of universalism? I thought universalism was when you believed that all people of all religions (not just Christians, Muslims, and Jews) are going to heaven, and even all non-religious people. Universalism by definition is the belief that all people will ultimately be saved.
Anyway … here’s the clip.