Monday, June 23, 2008

Luther & Calvin, you win this round

I've been struggling for months with this passage from "The Bondage and Liberation of the Will" by John Calvin. It is one of the fundamentally differing premises between Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholicism in it's common form is semi-pelagian, (even though it should be Augustinian), all this to say at it's simplest form: we can do go works, God expects it. Protestantism is usually (note the word usually) and Traditionally on Calvin and Luther's Depravity kick, which to say it it's simplest form: you suck. you will always suck.

Here's the quote:
"We say that man not only cannot do anything good but cannot even think it, so that he may learn to depend totally on God and, despairing of himself, to cast himself entirely upon him; and so that [man] may give the credit, if he has done anything good, to God and not to ourselves we are helpless"

Now this idea is a Protestant flavoured Augustinianism (arguably of course as Augustine did believe in merit), but aside from big labels that make me feel like I know the first thing about theology, I have found in my practical life that this is true.

Call me a post-modernist because I don't want to say it's true for everyone, but for me I am a terrible sinner. There is no way around it, I am just bad. I have tried so hard to be good, but I suck (as Mark Driscoll would say). I have found in my day to day life that I am helpless, I can't stop sinning.

It's St. Paul all over again with: "for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." (Rm 7:15 KJV) and "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" (v.18).

I have felt what is called Regeneration in theology while at Bible School in England, I was a much better Christian than I am now. However even then I look at my prayer journal, and on days I would dream for now I write things like 'forgive my miserable sinfulness' etc (see Puritans for details). As horrific as it sounds I think Calvin is right, if I know nothing else about myself, I know that I am a terrible sinner, and that I must cast myself at Christ's feet if I am ever to be saved. I think I may have given up my belief in merit.

I am currently reading "True Spirituality" by Francis Schaeffer and it is a challenging book, last night I read the chapter on death to self and I actually sat there counting the cost and thinking about what being a Christian truly means. Ultimately I remembered my baptismal vows and my entry into the new covenant, and once again I will start over, trying to be a Christian, trying to fix my plethora of problems.

As David once probably prayed (another debate I'll ignore right now), I too must pray.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me...Create in me a clean heart, O God. -Psalm 51


  1. Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and came to read.

    >"Catholicism in it's common form is semi-pelagian,"

    AS the Catholic Church came before Pelagius, I'd argue that Pelagius was semi-Catholic and not the other way around. It was the Catholic Church that confronted Pelagius and condemned his heresies, so the Catholic Church is not and cannot be semi-Pelagian as it rejected all of Pelagius' heresies.

    You and others may wrongly believe the Catholic Church is "semi-Pelagian" because you either misunderstand the Catholic doctrine that salvation is by God's grace or you are unfamiliar with Pelagius' heresies and how they differ from Catholic belief.

    I would encourage you to research both before claiming the Catholic Church is semi-Pelagian.

    By Ray Ryland

    Catechism of the Catholic Church - GRACE AND JUSTIFICATION

    God bless...


  2. I actually said in my post that the Catholic Church I go to mass at appears to be semi-pelagian, I acknowledge that the official position of the Church at large is Augustinian.

    I have no problems with an Augustinian form of Catholicism, however I believe in my area too many groups like the Jesuits introduce free will to the point of making Catholicism seem Semi-Pelagian. I have very few problems with Catholic doctrine officially, but many with the local level of it's application.

  3. I accept that your intent was "the Catholic Church I go to mass at appears to be semi-pelagian." , but the statement that appears in your blog is "Catholicism in it's common form is semi-pelagian".

    As a Catholic I naturally take great exception to my faith being mischaracterized. I also take great exception to Jesuits appearing semi-Pelagian, if that is the case.

    Thanks for taking time to clear things up.

    God bless...