Monday, June 20, 2005

The Hyper-Sacramentalist and the Roman Catholic Concept of Grace

Imagine if you were to read at this blog the following headline:

The Prophet of Salt Lake City on the Trinity

Having been intrigued by that title, you are led on to read the following:

"One of the things I most appreciate about Mormon theology is its consistent adherence to the Trinity. Christians and Mormons have many theological differences, but the belief that God is a Trinity is not one of them."

Would you conclude you are reading the blog of someone with penetrating insight into Mormon theology? Or would you perhaps conclude that I've been naively duped by the Mormon practice of using Christian terminology to communicate anti-Christian beliefs?

If you are spiritually discerning, you would no doubt conclude the latter.

So when the hyper-sacramentalist posts a headline that reads . . .

The Bishop of Rome on Sola Gratia

. . . and follows that up with . . .

One of the things I most appreciate about post-Reformational Roman Catholic soteriology is its consistent adherence to salvation by grace alone (sola gratia). Protestants and Roman Catholics have many theological differences, but the ascription of salvation solely to the sovereign grace of God is not one of them.
. . . you can probably understand what someone like me would conclude about that person, and you might even understand that I would be restraining myself to call such a person "naive" (a word that assumes the benefit of the doubt) and not venture into other words that may apply, such as "deliberately deceptive."

You see, just as when the Mormon uses the word "trinity," he is not thinking of Trinity in the Christian (biblical) sense of the word, so also when a Roman Catholic pope uses the word "grace," he is not using it in the Christian (biblical) sense of that word. I thought that was understood by supposedly informed Protestants, particularly those with Ph.D.s. But I'm learning you can't assume anything these days.

You see, "grace" in the Roman Catholic system means something like: "one merits his salvation through his works; but so that we are not accused of teaching we are saved by works, we'll introduce a complex but completely unbiblical distinction between 'condign merit' and 'congruous merit'; that way we can have our grace-works cake and eat it too."

Here's how the Catholic Encyclopedia defines the term "merit":
By merit (meritum) in general is understood that property of a good work which entitles the doer to receive a reward (prœmium, merces) from him in whose service the work is done. By antonomasia, the word has come to designate also the good work itself, in so far as it deserves a reward from the person in whose service it was performed.
The Encyclopedia then goes on to explain what it means by this:
If we analyse the definition given above, it becomes evident that the property of merit can be found only in works that are positively good. . . . Thus the good workman certainly deserves the reward of his labour, and the thief deserves the punishment of his crime. From this it naturally follows that merit and reward, demerit and punishment, bear to each other the relation of deed and return; they are correlative terms of which one postulates the other. Reward is due to merit, and the reward is in proportion to the merit. . . . If, however, salutary acts can in virtue of the Divine justice give the right to an eternal reward, this is possible only because they themselves have their root in gratuitous grace, and consequently are of their very nature dependent ultimately on grace, as the Council of Trent emphatically declares (Sess. VI, cap. xvi, in Denzinger, 10th ed., Freiburg, 1908, n. 810): "the Lord . . . whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things, which are His own gifts, be their merits."
In other words, all those works are ours, they are rewards for service, they earn salvation, and they are necessary for salvation--BUT, as long as we qualify all that by stating upfront that we can do these works that merit our salvation only by God's "grace," then we've exonerated ourselves from the charge that we teach a works-salvation. That is what "sola gratia" is in Roman Catholicism; and it is absolutely contrary to Paul's teaching, which pits grace against works: "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Rom 11:6).

Hence, my charge of naiveté stands. And I think I'm am being kind to leave it at that.