14 September 2010

Calvinism Versus Catholicism

Calvinism has an acronym for the core of its beliefs regarding salvation:  TULIP.   Since there seems to be more than a few CATHOLIC priests about lately who are, somehow, falling into errors of Calvinism or Semi-Calvinism, it would be good to look into what the Church actually teaches on these errors that are starting to crop up from within.   We'll do this by looking at these five, Calvinistic beliefs and contrast what the Church's doctrine teaches.   These five areas are:

TULIP: T=total inability (to please God without special grace); U=unconditional election; L=limited intent (for the atonement's efficacy); I=intrinsically efficacious grace (for salvation); P=perseverance of the elect (until the end of life).


The Calvinists believe that since original sin, we are unable to please God without His grace.  

This is actually true in a sense, that without SUPERNATURAL grace, our acts are unable to please God.   However, God gives all people ACTUAL grace, to lead them to the SUPERNATURAL graces (in which the normal means, since Christ, are through his Sacraments).  A morally good act disposes a person to an increase in actual grace, and itself, is born of this actual grace.  

Where the Calvinists go amiss is that they believe that we are no longer in the image of God due to original sin, and that every act is immoral without grace.   The Catholic Church, however, teaches that an act can be moral, but not necessarily in supernatural grace.  The act does not displease God, if the act itself is moral, but unless it is from a person who is in Sanctifying grace, it does not carry with in the supernatural life of God Himself.    Human beings, having been made in the likeness of God, have a special role in giving God glory by the very fact that they are human.  We are not less human because of original, but less prone to sin, that is to say, prone to acting less than human.  Moral acts in actual grace, are, naturally speaking good, but lack the supernatural efficacy by themselves. 


The Calvinists believe that God chooses whom He wills to receive salvation, and passing over the elect, does not even give them the grace to do chose to receive it.  This is an ERROR. 

While it is true that God decides to whom He wills to receive salvation, and that among them there is the pre-ordained, it is not true that persons are without use of their free will.  Catechism of the Catholic Church: "To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination', he includes in it each person's free response to his grace…." (CCC, n. 600).  It is Catholic teaching on election and predestination that God 'wants all men to be saved and to arrive at an acknowledgment of the truth.' (1 Tim 2:4).


Basically, limited atonement says that Jesus died to save the elect.  This is propagated either directly, as just described, or by subtleties, i.e.: Jesus died for everyone, but that only the elect receive the efficaciousness of act of sacrifice, and that is why only the elect are saved.  That is an example of a semi-Calvinistic view, although, as dangerous as if it were full Calvinism.

Whether or not the act of God's Sacrifice of His only Son is efficacious in a soul is dependent upon that person's free will --- which is comprised of their full knowledge and consent.  This is Catholic teaching.  Generally, most devout Catholics understand this.   Actual mortal sin, for instance, requires the full knowledge and free choice consent.  
The normal means of 'atonement' is through the Sacraments of the Church, which are given to us by Christ.  If one leaves this out of the understanding of atonement, they are leading people towards error, since the Sacraments are a substantial part of how atonement is normally found.  This is why, I believe, many Catholics who fall into semi-Calvinism --- because, simply, they lose the distinction between having something better than the rest of the world (the Sacrifice of the Mass, for example), and actually being better than the rest of the world. 

God made salvation possible for all by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, but He gave them the free will to deny or accept that possibility for themselves.  The free will of those who are eventually saved is guided by God in the form of Supernatural grace (imparting of Himself).  The normal means of this is through the Sacraments.   This is important to recognize, as Calvinists will water down the importance of Baptism, and likewise, and even more fervently, they water down the importance of the Blessed Sacrament.   They will say things such as love of neighbor is greater than even the Sacraments, however, this is BLASPHEMY.   God, Himself, tells us that Baptism is necessary for salvation.  He does say for us to love Him, then also to love our neighbor as ourselves, but in order that we love Him in the way that please Him, we must begin this supernatural walk with (valid) Baptism.   We, as Christians, sustain this Supernatural life of our Baptisms through the Sacraments of Penance (which restores lost grace) and Holy Communion (which is Christ physically presented to us).  


The Calvinist teaching on irresistable grace is that once a person comes to receive the grace necessary for salvation, he never can lose it, such as with "once saved, always saved."   This is obviously an error, as it would, again, deny the roll of free will in each and every person throughout their lives. 

God's grace is always efficacious, but at the same time, it does not do away with our free will.  Aquinas: "The first cause of the defect of grace is on our part; but the first cause of the bestowal of grace is on God's according to Hosea 13:9: 'Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in Me.' " (Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 112, Article 3, Reply 2.)  Even with grace, we can still fail.  Grace permits us to fail, eventhough itself never fails.  God does not choose to be the only one who determines a person's salvation.

But what about graces, such as those that are infused, which act without our free will, such as those we receive through Baptism?   Actually, it is Catholic teachings that some graces are what are called "prevenient", and are irresistable, but they, by themselves, to not lead to salvation in an adult, who can choose to do or omit the good deeds.  Therefore there is also graces which come after prevenient graces, which are known as "subsequent".

Earlier I refer to both actual grace and sanctifying grace.  Actual grace is the grace from God to do good. Sanctifying grace is the grace from God to be good. Both actual grace and sanctifying grace are divided into prevenient grace and subsequent grace. 

Actual grace's first grace is prevenient.  That is to say, that for a person to do a good act, he must have first understood that the act was, in fact, good.   That conception of the act being good came by means of the prevenient grace.  The act of doing the good was subsequent grace, subsequent to the prevenient grace.  The choice, made by the person with prevenient grace, was completely free.  At no time did the person have his will forced to do the good.

Sanctifying grace (a.k.a. the "state of grace") can also be broken down into these same two areas:  prevenient and subsequent.   The graces are first infused in the soul, such as in Baptism, that promote the good inclinations towards good acts, and they are given as irresistable graces --- without the cooperation of the recipient, but from God alone.  However, this person receiving these graces must chose, by his own free will, to cooperate with the grace in order to remain there. 


Perserverance in the sense of grace, is given to us to perservere even along with our free will.  Catechism of the Catholic Church: "When we say 'lead us not into temptation' we are asking God not to allow us to take the path that leads to sin. This petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength; it requests the grace of vigilance and final perseverance." (CCC, n. 2863).   The Church says that we should pray for the grace of final perserverance because we require it.  Those that are predestined require it, and those that are not predestined require it.  If the Calvinist or Semi-Calvinist view was correct, the elect would not require it, and the non-elect would not benefit from it, and God and His Holy Bride would not need to tell us to pray for the gifts of the "grace of vigilance and final perserverance."


The Catholic understanding of predestination is that the predestined are not without free will to chose sin and that which will lead them away from God even in eternity, and those that are not among the predestined are, as well, free to choose the good as well.   Grace and free will work hand in hand.