Tuesday, April 19, 2005

On Paul Owen's "5 Reasons"

I have dialogued with Paul Owen in the past on the issue of the Galatian heresy. To remind the reader, here are the links to the past dialogue on this issue:

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

It now appears Dr. Owen has forgotten the content of that dialogue. He has recently written an article titled, "5 REASONS WHY PAUL’S ANATHEMAS AGAINST THE JUDAIZERS IN GALATIANS 1:8-9 DO NOT APPLY TO OUR ROMAN CATHOLIC BRETHREN."

Here are those "5 reasons" in a nutshell, each followed by my brief comment:
1. The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified by faith in Christ (CCC 1991, 1993), and not by the works of the Law (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I, and Canon I).
Not true. Owen is citing only those parts of the Decree of Trent that deal with initial justification. Subsequent justification in Roman Catholic theology is through works (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chap 16 and Canons 24, 29, 31, & 32). This has been pointed out to Owen before. Why then does he misrepresent Trent by citing it selectively? Similarly, the problem with the Galatians was that they were being persuaded to maintain their justification through works ("Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Gal 3:3).
2. The Judaizers taught that righteousness comes through the Law, and not through the death of Christ (Gal. 2:21). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified through the death of Christ (CCC 1992), and not through the Law.
This, again, is a gross misrepresentation. First of all, Owen is alone in his thesis that the real issue in Galatians was that the Judaizers were teaching a non-atoning death of Christ (see the links above for my prior discussion with him on this issue). Second, here is what Trent actually says is the means of justification:

"If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema" (Canon 24).

"If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism . . . is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, let him be anathema" (Canon 29).

"If any one saith, that the justified sins when he performs good works with a view to an eternal recompense; let him be anathema" (Canon 31)

"If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life . . . and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema" (Canon 32).
3. The Judaizers taught that the Law of Moses was always able to impart life (Gal. 3:21). Roman Catholics deny that the Law of Moses could ever impart life (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I).

Owen is playing semantic games here. We've already shown that Trent regards the works of a man as his own works and that they themselves produce an increase in justification. What Owen is attempting to do is make a distinction between the "Law of Moses" and all other good works, without recognizing that the reason Paul uses the law of Moses in his illustration is not only because the Law of Moses is the "works system" chosen by the Judaizers, but also because it represents the quintessential "good work" (as Jesus commended to the rich young ruler who wanted to earn eternal life: "you know the commandments," said Jesus, Lk 18:20). If the Law of Moses can't save a man, then no work can save a man.

But fine; let's grant that distinction for the moment. What Owen then seems to be conceding is that while Roman Catholics don't believe they are justified by keeping specifically "the Law of Moses," they do indeed believe they are justified by performing good works. Is Owen suggesting for one moment that Paul would have allowed those types of works as a means of justification when he so vehemently denied that one can be justified by keeping the Law--that that is somehow an acceptable form of the "gospel"? Such a suggestion is ridiculous.

4. The Judaizers taught the necessity of circumcision (Gal. 5:2) for justification. Roman Catholics deny that circumcision is necessary for justification.

Again, this is just a silly distinction--as though Paul would go to the carpet to this extent over a single human act of obedience to the Law (circumcision), but then ignore an entire sacramental system that in the end replaces that single work of "circumcision" with a complex system of works that are required to maintain, win back, and increase justification--such that the latter makes the former look easy to attain! If this is what Owen really believes, then he has completely missed the mind and heart of Paul.

5. The Judaizers denied that justification was effected by the Spirit of God, through faith (Gal. 5:5). Roman Catholics affirm that justification is effected by the Spirit of God (CCC 1994), through faith (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter VIII).

Owen's continued use of Paul's characterization of the Judaizers' belief as a precise tool for determining how the Judaizer's themselves would have characterized their own belief is just plain naive. No Judaizer would expressly claim his justification was not effected by the Spirit of God, anymore than he would concur with Paul that his beliefs "make us slaves" (2:4), or that he was "setting aside the grace of God" (2:21). This problem plagues Owen's thesis, especially with regard to his insistence that the Judaizers expressly denied the efficacy of Christ's atonement. Yet, nearly every tenet Owen thinks the Judaizers literally held is based on Paul's statements about the logical implications of the Judaizers' belief, rather than on the Judaizers actual beliefs. When Paul says that they are "setting aside the grace of God," we do not thereby conclude that the Judaizers themselves believed they were setting aside the grace of God, but rather that in the logical outworking of their beliefs that is in fact what they were doing. Similarly, when we say that the Roman Catholic system is a works-based system, we are not thereby saying that the Roman Catholic himself would state it in such terms, but rather that it is the logical outworking of that system. Paul is not so much interested in reproducing the doctrinal statement of the Judaizers as he is in exposing the unexpressed but very real implications of their doctrine.

Owen states his five points in such a way as to give the impression that unless a religious system matches the Galatian heresy in every detail, we cannot make a parallel between those two systems. But that's too stringent. No one on this side of the fence is saying that Roman Catholicism is the Galatian heresy. What we are saying is the that the same principles that led Paul to anathematize the Galatian heresy are operative in the Roman Catholic system as well. Paul was certainly not trying to say that a religious system must specifically coerce circumcision on its adherents and must specifically deny the efficacy of the atonement before it is in error. His broader principle is his warning against the addition of works to faith in justification--and this he calls "another gospel," which is not only powerless to save but actually condemns its proponents.

But, just for the moment, let's grant Owen's thesis in toto. Even if we were to adopt Owen's entire thesis, does that thereby vindicate Roman Catholicism? Absoultely not. If you read the links provided above, you will see that Owen actually concedes "justification by faith alone" (or sola fide) is the accurate representation of Paul's gospel. But if he concedes that, then he also must concede what Paul explicitly states about that gospel in Gal 1:8-10; namely, that if anyone preaches "another gospel which you have not received, let him be eternally condemned." In other words, once one concedes that sola fide IS the gospel, he must ipso facto reject any different gospel (as Rome's gospel surely is) as one that condemns a man--otherwise he is being unfaithful to Paul. Rome explicitly denies sola fide. It is amazing to me, therefore, that Paul Owen is so harsh on the Judaizers (who surely would not have agreed with Paul on his characterizations of their beliefs), but is so kind to Roman Catholicism, which has issued explicit statements that it not only disagrees with the gospel of the Reformers, but actually condemns it.

Hence, when you read Paul Owen's articles on this, keep in mind you are not reading the work of a dispassionate observer who is merely stating the facts. Rather, you are reading the work of a man who is actively promoting ecumenism with the purveyors of a false gospel, and is placing the best possible spin on the teachings of modern-day Judaizers.