Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Is Sanctification the Cherry On Top of Salvation?

Dr. R. Scott Clark, over at the Heidelblog, a blog of Reformed theology, posted recently a quotation from Reformed theologian Caspar Olevianus (writing in 1567).  Olevianus is responding to the question, "You are not saying, then, that good works are useless?"

He answers that good works "do not serve to make us right with God, either wholly or in part, but they do serve this purpose: after we have been freely and graciously justified through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we show with good works that we are thankful to God the Lord, so that God might be praised through us."  Good works, he says, are also useful to confirm "that we have not a hypocritical but a true faith" and to provide an example to move others closer to Christ.

I am commenting on this quotation because it illustrates what I see as a serious danger of the classic Protestant articulation of the doctrine of justification.  Protestant theology posits a sharp divide between what it calls "justification" and what it calls "sanctification."  Justification involves the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us and the forgiveness of our sins.  It is a strictly legal transaction and does not involve any alteration in our internal condition or in our behavior.  Before, we were at odds with God's law because we are sinners; with justification, Christ's righteousness is counted ours, and so we are deemed righteous by the law and so are no longer at odds with it.  According to Protestant theology, this legal transaction is all we need to be right with God.  We are also to be sanctified--or made holy internally, resulting in the production of good works--but this sanctification is something totally distinct from justification (though it always accompanies it).  Sanctification is not any part of what makes us right with God.

The difficulty (or at least one difficulty) is this:  If legal justification is all that we need to be right with God, what is the point of sanctification?  Apparently it is not important to God, since he finds us wholly satisfactory without it.  His moral character is totally reconciled to us apart from any consideration of it.  And surely if God is wholly morally satisfied with us--if he finds nothing in us to warrant a moral rejection--then surely, since we are so righteous, we must attain to the fullness of blessedness.  If God's law declares us righteous, God's law will grant to us all the blessed fruits of a right relationship with God.  So it would seem that sanctification must have no role to play in our salvation at all.  Now, many Reformed theologians balk at this, insisting on the cruciality of sanctification in our salvation; but it is difficult to see how it could be so crucial.  Is legal justification all we need to be totally right with God or not?  If it is, then what could we need more for salvation than to be totally right with God?  Doesn't that include everything of importance?  If it isn't, then it will have to be admitted that the Catholics have a point when they include sanctification in the mix of all that makes us morally acceptable to God.

My experience in the Reformed tradition suggests that Reformed people, at least subconsciously, often see the tension here.  Sometimes, this results in a rendition of the role of sanctification that lessens its cruciality, making it a sort of nice addition--a cherry on top, if you will--that is not strictly necessary to but which is a wonderful after-effect of salvation.  That's what it looks like is happening in this quotation from Caspar Olevianus (though I admit that I know very little of him outside of this quotation, so I am only going by what I see here without claiming anything about his overall theology).  Not finding any place for sanctification in his concept of what actually accomplishes our salvation, he adds it on as a cherry on top.  Sanctification is the way we say "thank you" to God for saving us.  It's like a tip at a restaurant, or a thank you card for a gift received (which is not part of the gift itself nor necessary for the possession of that gift).  Sanctification helps us know we have real faith, which is important because that tells us that we have been given legal justification and are thus right with God.  Sanctification helps us help others.  But it is not part of the fundamental process of salvation, which addresses how we can go from being sinners estranged from God to righteous people in a right relationship with him.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that, while it is good to have gratitude to God, etc., biblical and historic Christianity envisions a much more crucial role for sanctification in our salvation.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10) 
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) 
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans 8:6-14)

The Catholic Council of Trent better captured the biblical teaching:

Justification itself . . . is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. (Sixth Session, Chapter 7) 
[T]he alone formal cause [of justification] is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us . . . For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. (Sixth Session, Chapter 7)

For more, see here and here.  For a positive approach to reconciling the Protestant position with the biblical and Catholic teaching on this subject, see here.  For a commentary on Martin Luther's Freedom of a Christian, showing how the inspiration for the Protestant articulation of justification seems to have been rooted in a kind of antinomianism that rejected the cruciality of sanctification, see here.

Published on the feast of St. Cecilia

Is the Cooperation of the Will With Grace Semipelagian?

I read recently an article from the Reformed website of Dr. R. Scott Clark, the Heidelblog, on failed attempts in the past to reconcile Catholic and Reformed views of justification.  The article can be found here  In the course of the article, we find this comment:

The dominant medieval doctrine of salvation was not Pelagian, strictly speaking (i.e., denying that “in Adam’s fall sinned we all”), but semi-Pelagian. It affirmed original sin, but like many movements afterward, denied the consequences of original sin, i.e., total inability to cooperate with grace.

I wanted to address this comment briefly, because it is so characteristic of Calvinist views of Catholicism.  Catholics talk about how the free will of man "cooperates" with grace in salvation.  Calvinists almost always seem to interpret this to imply that grace alone is not the cause of the moral goodness of believers, that the free will must provide an independent contribution to the process of salvation that must be added to God's grace.  They think we Catholics are picturing God and ourselves working together in our salvation, each contributing something of our own, like people bringing various dishes to a potluck supper.

But this is a serious misreading of what Catholics are saying.  We do affirm that the will must cooperate with God's grace in our salvation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1993, puts it this way:

Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit . . .

In #2002, the Catechism says,

God's free initiative demands man's free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love.

But where does the cooperation of the will with grace come from?  Notice the ellipsis at the end of that first quotation from the Catechism.  I did that on purpose, because the rest of the sentence answers the question as to the source of our cooperation:

Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

The Catechism discusses this further down in #2001 (footnote removed):

The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, "since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:"  (The last part here is a quotation from St. Augustine.)

So where does the cooperation of our will come from?  It is a gift of God's grace.  God's grace gives us a good will, and then grace works with the good will it has produced.  We make no independent contribution to the process at all.  We do indeed cooperate.  We choose to come to Christ, to have faith, to repent, to obey the commandments of God.  But our good choices and actions are part of the gift of our salvation rather than something we contribute from ourselves in order to be granted salvation or to make God's grace effectual.

This has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church.  We've seen that the Catechism quotes St. Augustine.  We might add also the testimony of St. Thomas Aquinas, that great medieval Catholic doctor:

Now . . . grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating. For the operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of "operating grace." But in that effect in which our mind both moves and is moved, the operation is not only attributed to God, but also to the soul; and it is with reference to this that we speak of "cooperating grace." Now there is a double act in us. First, there is the interior act of the will, and with regard to this act the will is a thing moved, and God is the mover; and especially when the will, which hitherto willed evil, begins to will good. And hence, inasmuch as God moves the human mind to this act, we speak of operating grace. But there is another, exterior act; and since it is commanded by the will, as was shown above (I-II:17:9) the operation of this act is attributed to the will. And because God assists us in this act, both by strengthening our will interiorly so as to attain to the act, and by granting outwardly the capability of operating, it is with respect to this that we speak of cooperating grace. Hence after the aforesaid words Augustine subjoins: "He operates that we may will; and when we will, He cooperates that we may perfect." (Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Question 111, Article 2--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed)

In other words, God creates in us a good will by his grace alone, and then that good will cooperates with God's grace by making good choices.

Dr. Clark says that "[t]he dominant medieval doctrine of salvation was . . . semi-Pelagian. It affirmed original sin, but like many movements afterward, denied the consequences of original sin, i.e., total inability to cooperate with grace."  But how can a doctrine of salvation be semi-Pelagian when it affirms that the totality of all our goodness, from the beginning of the good will up to the completion of good works, is a gift of God's grace?  Does the Catholic view deny that original sin resulted in an inability to cooperate with grace?  Did medieval Catholicism deny that?  No, Catholic theology has always affirmed, as we've seen, that cooperation with grace is a gift of God's grace.  If it's a gift of God's grace, then it is not something we can do without God's grace, so it is not a natural ability of fallen man.  Fallen man still has a will.  He has a faculty which, theoretically, could cooperate with God's grace.  But in the state of sin that will is infallibly bent to evil.  In order for it to choose good and to cooperate with grace, it must be turned by grace.  The Council of Trent put it this way:

If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema. (Sixth Session, Canon 3)

Calvinism (of the soundest sort) says exactly the same thing.  The Fall has brought about the bondage of the will to evil.  No one can do any good without the grace of God.  And yet, once grace has created a good will, that good will cooperates with grace; and without that cooperation, there is no salvation.

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 9, Section 3--footnotes removed in this and subsequent quotations) 
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. (WCF 10:1) 
This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. (WCF 10:2) 
They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (WCF 13:1) 
Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty, unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them. (WCF 16:3)

Is Calvinism semi-Pelagian because it affirms that we must come freely, that we must answer the call of grace and embrace it, that we must stir up the grace of God within us, and that we must practice true holiness or not see the Lord (sounds like the will is doing an awful lot of cooperating to me)?  No, because it affirms that all that is required of the will is given to the will as a gift of God's grace and is not in the power of nature without grace.  Catholicism says exactly the same thing, and so neither is it semi-Pelagian.

I think that, at least partly, what we have here is a failure to communicate.  When Catholics talk about the will "cooperating" with grace, Calvinists automatically read into this a semi-Pelagian idea that grace is insufficient and our good will is something we contribute apart from grace, even though this is furthest from the Catholic intention.  Catholics do the same in reverse.  When they hear Calvinists vehemently reject the idea of the "cooperation" of the will with grace, they automatically read into this the idea that Calvinists are rejecting that the will has any role in salvation at all.  They imagine that Calvinists are saying that we are dragged into salvation by grace apart from or even against our will, when this is furthest from the Calvinist intention.  If both sides would engage better in listening and trying harder to understand what the other side is actually trying to say, we might have much more productive conversations.

For more, see here and here.

Published on the feast of St. Cecilia (I feel like I should be singing this or something.  I can see it now: Calvinism: The Musical)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Predestination and Grace in Catholic Theology

Imagine two individuals: Sarah and Suzie.  Both of them are humans, descendants of Adam and Eve, inheritors both of human nature in general and of original sin in particular.  Of themselves, therefore, considered apart from the grace of God, they are in a state of mortal sin and can only end up in hell for all eternity in the righteous justice of God, for this is the condition original sin has brought all men into.  However, God has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to redeem it, and Christ has given the world grace through his sacrifice and merits, redeeming men from the curse of sin.  This salvation is made available and offered to all the world through the preaching of the gospel by the Church.  Sarah and Suzie, during their lives, both heard the message of salvation.  Sarah, at some point in her life, made a decision to gladly accept it and was baptized, taking Christ upon herself and washing away her sins in his blood.  She also chose to persevere to the end of her life in a state of grace, and then died and went to heaven, and she will be blessed in the presence of God for all eternity.  Suzie, however, refused to accept the gospel, and died in a state of mortal sin.  When she died, she went to hell, and she will suffer God's wrath and the privation of the blessed vision of God for all eternity.

Now I want to ask a very important question:  What, ultimately, made the difference between these two women?  Of course, the divergence of their ultimate courses came about because of the different decisions each of them made, particularly Sarah's decision to accept the gospel and continue in it until the end of her life (with all that that means and implies) and Suzie's decision to reject it.  But this is not the end of the matter.  What is it that made it so that Sarah would accept the gospel and Suzie would reject it?


One answer might go something like this:  God in every way and sense equally willed the salvation of Sarah and Suzie, and to that end he gave them both in all relevant respects the same graces, but Sarah made a good use of her resources and Suzie made a bad use of them.  In this scenario, the ultimate source of the difference between Sarah and Suzie is within these two women themselves.  What God gave both of them was exactly the same in all relevant respects, but out of that same set of opportunities and graces Sarah produced a right response to God's grace and Suzie produced a wrong response.


But there is another answer that could be given, and it goes like this:  Sarah and Suzie are both human and descendants of Adam and Eve, and so both are inheritors of original sin.  Both would therefore be doomed to hell apart from God's grace.  However, God has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to redeem it, and Christ has given the world grace through his sacrifice and merits, redeeming men from the curse of sin.  This salvation is made available and offered to all the world through the preaching of the gospel by the Church.  Thus, God has provided sufficient grace to both Sarah and Suzie, and both can freely avail themselves of it if they will.  There is no hindrance to the salvation of either of them outside the potential refusal of their own free will.  From all eternity, God has ordained everything that has come or will come to pass in time, including all events both good and evil.  Good (like light) is a positive thing, produced by God's positive power and working, while evil (like darkness) is a negative thing.  God positively brings about all good but permits or allows evil, as he has determined to use both to fulfill his glorious purposes in history.  Therefore, nothing happens which defeats his ultimate goals or purposes for the creation.  Evil is a thing displeasing to God in its own nature, but its presence in history is not a defeat of his sovereignty, for it only exists at his sufferance to the extent and in the form that he has wisely and freely determined to permit in every detail.  God's free ordination of all things includes who will and who will not be saved, as it includes every other detail of history.  From all eternity, God freely decided that, in addition to making sufficient grace available to both Sarah and Suzie, he would give Sarah a special efficacious grace that would move her will to accept the gospel and persevere in that acceptance to the end of her life and so arrive at ultimate salvation, while he determined not to give that particular gift to Suzie.  In other words, God chose to give Sarah a good will but not to give that gift to Suzie.  He predestined Sarah to salvation by his grace.  He did not predestine Suzie to damnation, in the sense of forcing her to reject the gospel or infusing into her evil that caused her to reject the gospel.  He simply refrained, of his own free and wise will, for his good purposes, from moving Suzie's will to accept the gospel, allowing her to continue to reject it of her own free will until her death.

Why would God do this?  He did not elect Sarah to salvation because she was any better than Suzie, for both were equally in need of grace due to original and actual sin.  He did not refrain from moving Suzie's will to salvation out of any malice or hatred or lack of compassion, but rather because he saw that it would be better, all things considered, to give a grace to Sarah that he did not give to Suzie.  (This issue, then, is simply part of the larger question of why God allows evil and suffering to exist in his creation.  He does not do so because he loves or approves of evil, or because he is incapable of keeping evil out of his creation, but because he sees, in his infinite wisdom, that it is ultimately better overall to allow certain evils to happen than to stop them from happening or to arrange things so they don't happen.  As Pope Leo XIII put it in his encyclical Libertas, "God Himself in His providence, though infinitely good and powerful, permits evil to exist in the world, partly that greater good may not be impeded, and partly that greater evil may not ensue.")  God did not do any injustice to Suzie in not granting her the same efficacious grace that he gave to Sarah, for he granted her sufficient grace for salvation which she could have availed herself of if she had wished to do so.  Nothing outside of her will was impeding her acceptance of salvation.  In rejecting it, she acted with full freedom of will--as did Sarah, who was moved and inspired but not forced to accept the gospel by God's efficacious grace.  Nor did Suzie (or Sarah) do anything to deserve or merit God's efficacious grace.  All human beings since the Fall deserve God's damnation rather than his grace, and any grace received is an unmerited gift rather than something owed to us.

Catholic doctrine accords with Scenario 2 but not with Scenario 1.  This is because Catholic doctrine teaches that God is the creator of all things and is therefore sovereign over all things, and it also teaches that all good that we have relative to salvation is a gift of God coming from his grace through the sacrifice and merits of Christ.


First of all, the Catholic Church teaches that God is the creator of all things and therefore sovereign over all things:

The Holy Scriptures repeatedly confess the universal power of God. He is called the "Mighty One of Jacob", the "LORD of hosts", the "strong and mighty" one. If God is almighty "in heaven and on earth", it is because he made them. Nothing is impossible with God, who disposes his works according to his will. He is the Lord of the universe, whose order he established and which remains wholly subject to him and at his disposal. He is master of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with his will: "It is always in your power to show great strength, and who can withstand the strength of your arm?  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #268-269--footnotes removed) 
The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events: "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases." And so it is with Christ, "who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens". As the book of Proverbs states: "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established."  (Catechism #303--footnotes removed) 
The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."  (Catechism #308) 
St. Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: "Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best." (Catechism #313--footnotes removed)

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Predestination" puts it this way:

 According to the doctrinal decisions of general and particular synods, God infallibly foresees and immutably preordains from eternity all future events (cf. Denzinger, n. 1784), all fatalistic necessity, however, being barred and human liberty remaining intact (Denz., n. 607).

Regarding moral evil:

God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it: . . . 
For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself. . . . (Catechism #311--footnotes removed)

The Catechism of St. Pius X talks about God's permission of moral evil in this way (in the section on "The First Article of the Creed"):

10 Q. Does God take any interest in the world and in the things created by Him?
A. Yes, God takes an interest in the world and in all things created by Him; He preserves them, and governs them by His infinite goodness and wisdom; and nothing happens here below that He does not either will or permit. 
11 Q. Why do you say that nothing happens here below that He does not either will or permit?
A. We say that nothing happens here below that He does not either will or permit, because there are some things which God wills and commands, while there are others which He simply does not prevent, such as sin. 
12 Q. Why does not God prevent sin?
A. God does not prevent sin, because even from the very abuse man makes of the liberty with which He is endowed, God knows how to bring forth good and to make His mercy or His justice become more and more resplendent. 

If God ordains all that comes to pass, and if all good comes from him and all evil is permitted willingly by him, and if all saving moral goodness that we humans can possess is a gift of grace through Christ (as we will see more later), and if some end up saved and others end up damned, it follows that those who are saved are saved by the election and mercy of God and as a gift of his grace, and that those who are damned are permitted to be damned by God, who decided not to give them the same gift of salvation he gave to his elect.  Ludwig Ott, in his well-respected and widely-used book on Catholic doctrine, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974 {orig. 1952}, 242-245), explains (capitalization removed) that it is Catholic dogma that "God, by his eternal resolve of will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness."  Ott goes on:

This doctrine is proposed by the Ordinary and General Teaching of the Church as a truth of Revelation. The doctrinal definitions of the Council of Trent presuppose it . . . The reality of Predestination is clearly attested to in Rom 8:29 et seq: . . . cf. Mt 25:34, Jn 10:27 et seq., Acts 13:48, Eph 1:4 et seq. . . . Predestination is a part of the Eternal Divine Plan of Providence. (found here--ellipsis in original)

While Catholic theologians do not entirely agree with regard to all aspects of how to articulate the doctrine of predestination, they agree on certain things.  They agree on the utterly gratuitous nature of predestination, in that we have nothing good which is not a gift of God.  Ott puts it this way:

Only incomplete Predestination to grace is independent of every merit (ante praevisa merita), as the first grace cannot be merited. In the same way, complete Predestination to grace and glory conjointly is independent of every merit, as the first grace cannot be merited, and the consequent graces, as well as the merits acquired with these graces and their reward, depend like the links of a chain, on the first grace . . . [ellipses in original]

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, in his book Predestination [(Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2013), p. 10], which is pretty universally regarded as a modern classic reference on Catholic theology regarding predestination, makes the same point:

But in any case, from this minimum admitted by all we get three propositions to which all Catholic theologians subscribe. They are: (1) Predestination to the first grace is not because God foresaw our naturally good works, nor is the beginning of salutary acts due to natural causes; (2) predestination to glory is not because God foresaw we would continue in the performance of supernaturally meritorious acts apart from the special gift of final perseverance; (3) complete predestination, in so far as it comprises the whole series of graces from the first up to glorification, is gratuitous or previous to foreseen merits. These three propositions are admitted by all Catholic theologians.

St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Doctors of the Catholic Church, talks about how some have been predestined by God to grace and to eternal life, while others have been "reprobated" by God--that is, passed over by God and permitted by his providence to remain in sin:

God does reprobate some. For it was said above (Article 1) that predestination is a part of providence. To providence, however, it belongs to permit certain defects in those things which are subject to providence, as was said above (I:22:2). Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation. Thus, as predestination is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end. Hence reprobation implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above (I:22:1). Therefore, as predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin.  (Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 23, Article 3--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed)

In the early medieval Church, the doctrine of predestination was dealt with in a number of councils which have informed the development of Catholic thinking on this subject.  Two of these councils were the Council of Quiercy (853) and the Council of Valence (855).  Here is a selection from the canons of Quiercy [Guido Stucco, God's Eternal Gift: A History of the Catholic Doctrine of Predestination from Augustine to the Renaissance (Xlibris, 2009), 350-351--footnotes removed]:

     Almighty God created man without sin, righteous and endowed with free will.  He placed man in paradise, and wanted him to dwell in the sanctity of justice.  Man, by making bad use of his free will, sinned and fell (from this state of justice), becoming the 'mass of perdition' of the entire humankind.  However, the good and righteous God, according to his foreknowledge (secundum praescientiam suam), chose out of this mass of perdition those whom he predestined through grace (Rom 8:29 ff; Eph 1:11) to eternal life, and likewise, he predestined eternal life for them.  He foreknew that everybody else, whom he abandoned in the mass of perdition according to his just decree, was going to perish, though he did not predestine them to perish; rather, being just, he predestined eternal punishment for them.  Because of this, we speak of only one divine predestination, which pertains to either the gift of grace or to the retribution of justice. . . . 
     We lost the freedom of will in the first man, but got it back through Christ our Lord.  We have free will to do what is good, which is preceded and helped by God's grace; we have free will to do what is evil, as it is abandoned by God's grace.  We [can say] we have free will because it is freed and healed from corruption by grace. . . . 
     Almighty God wants "all men to be saved" (1 Tim 2:4) without exception (sine exceptione), even though not all will be saved.  The fact that some are saved, is the gift of the saving God; the fact that some perish, is their own fault.

Here is part of Canon 3 from the Council of Valence (Stucco, 363-364):

     In regard to God's predestination, we wished in the past and still faithfully wish to claim in the present, on the basis of the apostolic authority, that: "Does not the potter have a right over the clay to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one?" (Rom 9:21), and also according to what immediately comes next: "What if God, wishing to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction?  This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory" (Rom 9:22).  With confidence, we profess the predestination of the elect to life and the predestination of the impious to death: in the election of those who are to be saved, the mercy of God anticipates their good merit; in the damnation of those who will perish, their guilt anticipates just judgment.  "By means of predestination, God has only established what he is going to do either out of gratuitous mercy, or out of just judgment," as we read in the Scriptures:  "He has done what will be," (Is 45:11 LXX).  In the case of evil people, he has foreknown their malice, which originates from themselves, but has not predestined it, because it does not stem from him . . . [as the] Second Council of Orange said: "That some people have been predestined by the divine power," meaning that they could not be otherwise, "not only we do not believe, but if there are some who wish to believe something so evil, we anathemize and detest them."

In the year 785, Pope Hadrian I articulated briefly and succinctly the Catholic teaching on predestination in a letter to the bishops of Spain, where there was apparently some confusion on the topic.  Some were asking what the point of doing anything is if everything is predestined, and others were asking what the point of asking God for help is if we can make our own choices.

    As for that, however, which some of these say, that predestination to life or to death is in the power of God and not in ours; they say: "Why do we try to live, because it is in the power of God?"; again others say: "Why do we ask God, that we may not be overcome by temptation, since it is in our power, as in the freedom of will?"  For truly they are able to render or to accept no plan, being ignorant . . . [of the words] of blessed Fulgentius [against a certain Pelagius]:  "Therefore, God in the eternity of His changelessness has prepared works of mercy and justice . . . but for men who are to be justified He has prepared merits; He has prepared rewards for those who are to be glorified; but for the wicked He has not prepared evil wills or evil works, but He has prepared for them just and eternal punishments.  This is the eternal predestination of the future works of God, which as we have always acknowledged to be taught to us by apostolic doctrine, so also faithfully we proclaim. . . ."  (Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, tr. Roy J. Deferrari [Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2001], a translation of "the thirtieth edition of Enchiridion Symbolorum by Henry Denzinger, revised by Karl Rahner, S.J., published in 1954, by Herder & Co., Freiburg", p. 120--ellipses and brackets in original)

In short, God is the source of the good works of the saints as well as of their eternal reward, but he is not the positive source of the evil works of the damned, though he ordains their eternal punishment.

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."  How does this square with the fact that God has only predestined some, not all, to salvation, choosing to grant the efficacious grace that creates the good will and perseverance in good only to his elect?  God wills all men to be saved by what Catholic theology calls his "antecedent" will, but not by his "consequent" will.  Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, in Predestination, pp. 74-75 (footnotes retained in square brackets), in the context of describing the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas on these matters, articulates this distinction:

     What metaphysical definition shall we give, then, of the consequent and antecedent wills?  St. Thomas gives us in substance the answer to this question.  He points out that good is the object of the will; now goodness, unlike truth, is formally not in the mind but in things as they actually are.  Hence we will, truly and simply, what we will as having to be at once realized, and this is called the consequent will, which in God is always efficacious.  As St. Thomas says:  "The will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications.  Hence we will a thing simply, inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. . . .  Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills, takes place." [Ibid., Ia, q.19, a.6 ad 1um]  As we shall see later on, this principle concerning the will is of supreme importance for St. Thomas as constituting the foundation for the distinction between efficacious and sufficient graces.
     If, on the other hand, the will is drawn to what is good in itself regardless of the circumstances, not to a thing as it actually is, then this is called the antecedent will, which of itself and as such is not efficacious, since good, whether natural or supernatural, easy or difficult to acquire, is realized only with its accompanying circumstances.  As St. Thomas says:  "A thing taken in its primary sense, and absolutely considered, may be good or evil, and yet when some additional circumstances are taken into account, by a consequent consideration may be changed into the contrary.  Thus that a man should live is good, . . . but if in a particular case we add that a man is a murderer . . . to kill him is good." [Ibid., q.19, a.6 ad 1um]  Thus the merchant during a storm would will (conditionally) to retain his merchandise, but he wills to cast it into the sea so as to save his life. [Ibid., Ia IIae, q.6, a.6, c.]  Thus again, God wills antecedently that all the fruits of the earth become ripe, although for the sake of a greater good he permits this not to happen in all cases.  He also wills antecedently that all men should be saved, although, in view of a greater good, of which He alone is the judge, He permits that some commit sin and are lost.

In short, in itself considered, God loves the salvation of all men and hates their damnation, but in his wise providence, all things considered, he sees that it is better not to predestine all to receive the grace that efficaciously leads to salvation.  With regard to Christ having died for all men, of course his atonement was of infinite value and so was sufficient for all men and is truly offered and available to all (thus providing sufficient grace to all), and yet only those who, moved by grace, receive it have its benefits actually applied to them in such a way as to move them from a state of sin into a state of grace (and, with the elect, moving them to persevere in a state of grace to the end of their lives).


This has already been spelled out above quite clearly in the context of what we have said about God's sovereignty and predestination, but it bears emphasizing in its own right.  Catholic doctrine is crystal clear that all good that we have relative to salvation is a gift of God coming from his grace through the sacrifice and merits of Christ.  It is not only the completion of good actions that comes from God, but also the very beginning of our good actions all the way down to the basic good will itself.  If we have a good will, it is entirely a gift of God's grace.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it (#2001--footnotes removed):

The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, "since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:"

Then follows a quotation from St. Augustine of Hippo, another of the Church's greatest Doctors, called the Doctor of Grace:

Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.

This was a major point emphasized by the Church in its opposition to the heresy of Semipelagianism, which affirmed the necessity of God's grace for salvation (unlike pure Pelagianism) but which wanted to attribute some part of salvation--such as the very beginnings of a good will--to ourselves apart from the grace of God.  The Church made its response to this back in the year 529 at the Second Council of Orange, the canons of which were confirmed by Pope Boniface II.  As the Catechism says (#406--footnotes removed), "[t]he Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529) and at the Council of Trent (1546)."  Here is Canon 5 from the Canons of Orange:

If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism — if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers. 

Canon 22 puts it this way:

No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it is from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.

St. Augustine elaborates upon the point:

Men, however, are laboring to find in our own will some good thing of our own, -- not given to us by God; but how it is to be found I cannot imagine.  The apostle says, when speaking of men's good works, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?  now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?"  But, besides this, even reason itself, which may be estimated in such things by such as we are, sharply restrains every one of us in our investigations so as that we may not so defend grace as to seem to take away free will, or, on the other hand, so assert free will as to be judged ungrateful to the grace of God, in our arrogant impiety. . . . 
Unless, therefore, we obtain not simply determination of will, which is freely turned in this direction and that, and has its place amongst those natural goods which a bad man may use badly; but also a good will, which has its place among those goods of which it is impossible to make a bad use:—unless the impossibility is given to us from God, I know not how to defend what is said: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”  For if we have from God a certain free will, which may still be either good or bad; but the good will comes from ourselves; then that which comes from ourselves is better than that which comes from Him.  But inasmuch as it is the height of absurdity to say this, they ought to acknowledge that we attain from God even a good will.  It would indeed be a strange thing if the will could so stand in some mean as to be neither good nor bad; for we either love righteousness, and it is good, and if we love it more, more good,—if less, it is less good; or if we do not love it at all, it is not good.  And who can hesitate to affirm that, when the will loves not righteousness in any way at all, it is not only a bad, but even a wholly depraved will?  Since therefore the will is either good or bad, and since of course we have not the bad will from God, it remains that we have of God a good will; else, I am ignorant, since our justification is from it, in what other gift from Him we ought to rejoice.  Hence, I suppose, it is written, “The will is prepared of the Lord;” and in the Psalms, “The steps of a man will be rightly ordered by the Lord, and His way will be the choice of his will;” and that which the apostle says, “For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.”  ("On the Merits and Remission of Sins, and On the Baptism of Infants," found in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 1st Series, Vol. V: Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, (1887); Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1987], 56 [footnotes removed])

St. Thomas Aquinas makes the same point, affirming that our good will is a gift of God's grace.  He divides grace into two categories: operative and cooperative.  Operative grace is grace working by itself in us without our cooperation.  Cooperative grace is grace working with our active cooperation.  By operative grace, God changes our bad will (inherited from Adam) into a good will, causing us to turn to him in love.  This grace is operative because before it has finished its task, there is no good will in the person to cooperate with it.  But once the good will is created by grace, that good will cooperates with grace by not resisting grace, turning to God, and in the doing of good works and the furthering of sanctification (and of course the continuation of the good will in us is owing to the continuation of God's grace).  There is a logical sequence here (logical rather than temporal).  God arouses our collaboration, and, once thus aroused, we collaborate.  Thus all our goodness is fully a product of divine grace from beginning to end.

Now . . . grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating. For the operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of "operating grace." But in that effect in which our mind both moves and is moved, the operation is not only attributed to God, but also to the soul; and it is with reference to this that we speak of "cooperating grace." Now there is a double act in us. First, there is the interior act of the will, and with regard to this act the will is a thing moved, and God is the mover; and especially when the will, which hitherto willed evil, begins to will good. And hence, inasmuch as God moves the human mind to this act, we speak of operating grace. But there is another, exterior act; and since it is commanded by the will, as was shown above (I-II:17:9) the operation of this act is attributed to the will. And because God assists us in this act, both by strengthening our will interiorly so as to attain to the act, and by granting outwardly the capability of operating, it is with respect to this that we speak of cooperating grace. Hence after the aforesaid words Augustine subjoins: "He operates that we may will; and when we will, He cooperates that we may perfect." (Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Question 111, Article 2--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed)

God efficaciously draws his people to Christ.  Because he does so, they will certainly come.  But they also come completely freely.  Grace does not subvert or destroy their will or intellect but rather works by persuading them effectively to do the right thing.

But can they do otherwise, or are they drawn by irresistible power against their will?  The Council of Trent (Sixth Session, Chapter V) says that the sinner who is the subject of the inspiration of divine grace is not "utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it."  The Catholic view holds that when God converts us, we are not converted as blocks or stones but as human beings with free will, and so our will must cooperate with grace.  Grace does not destroy or subvert human will but rather perfects it by bringing it to function properly.  But it is imperative that it not be forgotten that man's cooperation with divine grace is itself a fruit of divine grace.  There is no idea here of any independent contribution from man.  The idea that man makes an independent contribution to salvation is precisely the idea of the Semipelagianism that the Catholic Church has condemned so thoroughly time and time again.  No, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2011) says, "[t]he saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace."  And because even our good will is in its entirety a gift of divine grace, grace must be efficacious.  If God gives a person the gift of a good will, that person will have a good will.  God's grace does not need to be met with some independent contribution from the will, without which grace remains ineffective.  Grace itself provides the very assent of the will that cooperates with it.

Fr. John Hardon, in his Course on Grace: Part IIA - Grace Considered Intensively, Chapter XV, comments on Catholic dogma regarding efficacious grace:

It is a dogma of the Catholic faith that there exists a truly sufficient but inefficacious grace, and also that there exists a truly efficacious grace which, however, is not necessitating. 
A truly sufficient grace is sufficient for placing a salutary act. It carries with it the power of producing such an act. . . .
By a truly efficacious grace is meant one that will be (is) infallibly followed by the act to which it tends, e.g. contrition. If you receive such a grace, even before your will consents to it, that grace is infallibly “sure of success;” it will infallibly procure your consent, produce that act – of contrition. But although it infallibly procures your consent, it does not necessitate you to consent: it leaves you free to dissent. Your will will infallibly say "yes" to it, but it is free to say "no.”

God gives sufficient grace to all, so that there is no obstacle to a person coming to Christ outside his own free refusal to avail himself of the opportunity presented to him by the offer of salvation through Christ.  God commands us to return to him in reliance on his grace.  In order for us to be able to fulfill this command, God must make divine grace available to us upon condition that we will choose to make good use of it.  This is why Catholic doctrine insists that God has provided "sufficient grace" to all men.  All obstacles external to the will have been removed.  However, no one will choose to avail himself of the opportunity to return to God unless God gives him the gift not only of the ability to come to Christ if he will, but also the willingness itself, and it is efficacious grace which provides this willingness to those whom God has chosen.


With all of this in mind, look back at Scenario 1 at the very beginning of this article, which we rejected in favor of Scenario 2.  It is evident now why Scenario 1 is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

First, it contradicts the Catholic doctrine that God is the creator of all things and is therefore sovereign over all things.  If God's contributions to both Sarah and Suzie are truly exactly the same in all relevant respects, then Sarah, in producing her good will to embrace the gospel, has brought about the existence of something out of nothing.  She has produced something which does not in any way have its root in God.  She has exhibited a First Causal power not ultimately traceable to God, the one First Cause.  "But God gave her the ability to choose," one might say, "and so her choice did come from God."  Yes, that would explain Sarah's general ability to make choices; but it would not explain why she made the particular choice she did.  It would explain Sarah's general will, but not her good will.  A good will (that accepts the gospel) and a bad will (that rejects it) are two significantly different things--so different as to result in exactly opposite eternal consequences.  If God's contribution explains why Sarah had a will but not why she had a good will rather than a bad one, then all the aspects of Sarah's will that differentiate it from Suzie's would not be in any way traceable back to God, but would be created ex nihilo by Sarah herself apart from God.

Also, if God in every way and sense wills salvation equally to Sarah and to Suzie, then God's will is defeated when Suzie rejects the gospel and ends up in hell.  On the whole, the universe will not turn out exactly as God wants it to be.  We must picture God, observing the whole of space and time, and concluding, "I got some of what I wanted, but not everything.  My ideal and what actually happened are not the same.  They are different in some very significant ways, in that some people have gone to hell when I wanted everyone to go to heaven."  But if the universe is not ultimately completely in accordance with God's will, then God is not the creator of all of reality.  There are aspects of reality, laws governing it, causes at work in it, that aren't traceable to God and which defy him and win.  Instead of the idea of one supreme God who is the creator of all things and rules over all in accordance with his sovereign will, we end up with the idea of a universe partly uncreated by God, ruled partly by God and partly by forces beyond his control which can thwart his desires and ideals.  We have abandoned monotheism for a polytheism in which God is merely one god in the midst of other ultimate realities that are at the root of existence.

Secondly, Scenario 1 contradicts the Catholic doctrine that all good that we have relative to salvation is a gift of God coming from his grace through the sacrifice and merits of Christ.  In Scenario 1, as I noted above, since God's contributions to Sarah and Suzie are exactly the same, Sarah's good will (at least the particularly good aspects of that will) is not ultimately traceable to God, and therefore cannot be conceived of as a gift of God's grace.  Rather, it is something Sarah has produced from herself, and the difference between her and Suzie is that Sarah did produce from herself and Suzie didn't produce from herself a good will.  But, as St. Augustine indicated in our quotation earlier, our very justification is ultimately rooted in our good will.  It is our good will which allows us to be reconciled to God and therefore makes the difference between heaven and hell.  To say, then, that the part of a good will that distinguishes it from a bad will is not ultimately attributable to God's grace but fully and ultimately to ourselves is to blaspheme God by taking to ourselves the highest credit for our salvation.  This is the heresy of justification by works that St. Paul so strenuously argued against in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians and which the Church so strenuously resisted in its battles with Pelagianism and Semipelagianism.

I will close this article with one of my favorite summary statements of the doctrines of grace and predestination, from St. Isidore of Seville, a 7th century Doctor of the Church.  I like this statement because he puts all the pieces of the puzzle together so clearly--God's sovereignty over all things, salvation by God's grace alone, God's permission of evil according to his eternal plan, the freedom of the will, etc.:

Between the infusion of divine grace and the faculty of the human will there is the following element: the decision stemming from a human choice, which is capable of spontaneously desiring good or bad things. Grace is the free gift of divine mercy, through which we evidence the beginning of a good will and its fruits. Divine grace anticipates man, so that he may do what is good; human free will does not anticipate God's grace, but grace itself anticipates an unwilling person, so that he may want what is good. Because of the burden of the 'flesh,' man finds it easy to sin, though he is slow to repent. Man has within himself the seeds of corruption but not of spiritual growth, unless the Creator, in order to raise him up, stretched his merciful hand to man, who is prostrated as a result of the Fall. Thus, through God's grace human free will is restored, which the first man had lost; in fact, Adam had free will to do what is good, even though he did it with God's help. We obtain our will to do what is good and embrace God perfecting us, thanks to divine grace. We receive the power to begin and to perfect what is good from God, who gave us the gift of grace; as a result of that, our free will is restored in us. Whatever good we do, it is God's, thanks to his prevenient and subsequent grace; but it is also ours, thanks to the [God-made] obedient power of our wills. But if it isn't God's, why do we give him thanks? And if it isn't ours, why do we look forward to the reward of good works? Insofar as we are anticipated by God's grace, it is God's; insofar as we follow prevenient grace to do what is good, it is ours. Nobody anticipates God's grace with his merits, thus making him almost indebted to us. The just Creator chose in advance some people by predestining them, but justly abandoned the others to their evil ways. Thus, the truest gift of grace does not proceed from human nature, nor is the outcome of our free will, but is bestowed only in virtue of the goodness of God's mercy. In fact, some people are saved by a gift of God's mercy which anticipates them, and thus are made "vessels of mercy;" but the reprobates are damned, having been predestined and made "vessels of wrath." The example of Jacob and Esau comes to mind, who, before been [sic] born, and again, after being born as twins, shared the bond of original sin. The prevenient goodness of divine mercy drew one of them to itself through sheer grace, but condemned the other through the severity of divine justice. The latter was abandoned in the mass of perdition, being 'hated' by God; this is what the Lord says through the prophet: "I loved Jacob but hated Esau" (Mal 1:3). From this we learn that grace is not conferred on account of any pre-existing merits, but only because of divine calling; and that no one is either saved or damned, chosen or reprobated other than by decision of God's predestination, who is just towards the reprobates and merciful towards the elect ("All the paths of the Lord are faithful love" Ps 25:10).  [The quotation is from St. Isidore of Seville, Libri Duo Differentiarum, chapter XXII, found in God's Eternal Gift: A History of the Catholic Doctrine of Predestination from Augustine to the Renaissanceby Guido Stucco (Xlibris, 2009), pp. 317-319--first set of brackets in original.]

For an earlier version of this article, which mostly overlaps in content but is arranged a little differently and has a few additional quotations scattered throughout, see here.  For a more basic overview of the Catholic doctrine of salvation in general, see here.  For those who are wondering how the Catholic school of thought known as Molinism fits into all of this, see here and here.  For a look at the heresy of Jansenism and the Catholic Church's response to it, which sheds further light on the issues discussed here, see here.  And finally, for those who are interested in how all of this relates to Calvinism, see here.

Published on the feast of St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Gertrude

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Anglican Church is Not the Heir of the Historic English Catholic Church

The Anglican Church often claims to be the continuation of the historic Catholic Church in England, but this claim is clearly belied by history.  The Anglican Church is a break-off church, founded in the sixteenth century as a new body by breaking off from the Catholic Church.  Previous to this break, the English Church had been, since its beginning, a loyal province of the Catholic Church in submission to the pope, the Bishop of Rome.

By breaking off from submission to Rome (and appointing the monarch of England as the new head of the Church of England on earth), a new church came into being, because the Church of England after the break with Rome had a fundamentally new constitution.  Certainly, she continued to hold many of the teachings she held when in union with Rome, but she rejected an essential component of the fundamental basis of her authority as a church--communion with and submission to the Bishop of Rome, her superior.  To use an analogy, imagine that your local Walmart decided that it would no longer submit to Walmart headquarters.  It refused any longer to recognize any directives coming from any Walmart authority higher than its own manager, and it designated its own manager as the supreme head of the store.  Of course, Walmart would at this point repudiate the store as being a legitimate branch of itself any longer.  If the local store continued to try to use the name "Walmart," Walmart would probably sue (successfully), arguing that, by altering its fundamental constitution without authorization from the parent company, the store had lost the right to identify itself by the name "Walmart" since it had become, in fact, a separate, independent store.  Similarly, the Church of England, by repudiating her former allegiance to Rome, undercut the previously-accepted foundation of her own authority and changed herself into a new, independent body, no longer remaining what she had been previously--a branch of the Catholic Church in England.


That the Church of England fundamentally altered her previously-accepted constitution and basis of authority is easy to show from history.  I am not going to attempt to reiterate all the evidence for this here, but I will lay out some basic points in outline and refer the reader to other sources that provide more specific evidence.

The Church of England traces itself back to the mission of St. Augustine of Canterbury, who was commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great to plant a church among the Anglo-Saxons of the British Isles.  St. Augustine, and all the subsequent English bishops, saw themselves as subordinate to the authority of the Apostolic See of Rome.  This is an uncontroversial claim among any with any serious familiarity with English church history.  The basics of this history can be found in Wikipedia articles here and here, for example.

One of the main sources of our knowledge of the early English church is the writings of the Venerable St. Bede, who wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People around 731 AD.  If you are interested in early English or British church history, you should read Bede's work.  Bede is a very accessible writer, and I found the book a delight in terms of its basic historical narrative as well as its accounts of the lives of various Celtic and English saints and the stories of various churches and communities during the early days of the Church in the British Isles.  Reading Bede will also give you a clear picture of the nature of the early English church, including its subordination to the Bishop of Rome.

Here are a few short snippets from Bede on St. Augustine's mission to the English from Pope Gregory I:

      IN the year of our Lord 582, Maurice, the fifty-fourth from Augustus, ascended the throne, and reigned twenty one years. In the tenth year of his reign, Gregory, a man eminent in learning and the conduct of affairs, was promoted to the Apostolic see of Rome, and presided over it thirteen years, six months and ten days. He, being moved by Divine inspiration, in the fourteenth year of the same emperor, and about the one hundred and fiftieth after the coming of the English into Britain, sent the servant of God, Augustine,and with him divers other monks, who feared the Lord, to preach the Word of God to the English nation.  (Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book I, Chapter 23) 
      IN the meantime, Augustine, the man of God, went to Aries, and, according to the orders received from the holy Father Gregory, was ordained archbishop of the English nation, by Aetherius, archbishop of that city. Then returning into Britain, he sent Laurentius the priest and Peter the monk to Rome, to acquaint Pope Gregory, that the English nation had received the faith of Christ, and that he was himself made their bishop.  (Bede, Book I, Chapter 27--editorial note removed) 
      Moreover, the same Pope Gregory, hearing from Bishop Augustine, that the harvest which he had was great and the labourers but few, sent to him, together with his aforesaid envoys, certain fellow labourers and ministers of the Word, of whom the chief and foremost were Mellitus, Justus, Paulinus, and Rufinianus, and by them all things in general that were necessary for the worship and service of the Church, to wit, sacred vessels and altar-cloths, also church-furniture, and vestments for the bishops and clerks, as likewise relics of the holy Apostles and martyrs; besides many manuscripts. He also sent a letter, wherein he signified that he had despatched the pall to him, and at the same time directed how he should constitute bishops in Britain. The letter was in these words:
      "To his most reverend and holy brother and fellow bishop, Augustine, Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. Though it be certain, that the unspeakable rewards of the eternal kingdom are reserved for those who labour for Almighty God, yet it is requisite that we bestow on them the benefit of honours, to the end that they may by this recompense be encouraged the more vigorously to apply themselves to the care of their spiritual work. And, seeing that the new Church of the English is, through the bounty of the Lord, and your labours, brought to the grace of God, we grant you the use of the pall in the same, only for the celebration of the solemn service of the Mass; that so you may ordain twelve bishops in different places, who shall be subject to your jurisdiction. But the bishop of London shall, for the future, be always consecrated by his own synod, and receive the pall, which is the token of his office, from this holy and Apostolic see, which I, by the grace of God, now serve. But we would have you send to the city of York such a bishop as you shall think fit to ordain; yet so, that if that city, with the places adjoining, shall receive the Word of God, that bishop shall also ordain twelve bishops, and enjoy the honour of a metropolitan; for we design, if we live, by the help of God, to bestow on him also the pall; and yet we would have him to be subject to your authority, my brother; but after your decease, he shall so preside over the bishops he shall have ordained, as to be in no way subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop of London. But for the future let there be this distinction as regards honour between the bishops of the cities of London and York, that he who has been first ordained have the precedence. But let them take counsel and act in concert and with one mind dispose whatsoever is to be done for zeal of Christ; let them judge rightly, and carry out their judgement without dissension.
      "But to you, my brother, shall, by the authority of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, be subject not only those bishops whom you shall ordain, and those that shall be ordained by the bishop of York, but also all the prelates in Britain; to the end that from the words and manner of life of your Holiness they may learn the rule of a right belief and a good life, and fulfilling their office in faith and righteousness, they may, when it shall please the Lord, attain to the kingdom of Heaven. God preserve you in safety, most reverend brother.
      "Given the 22nd of June, in the nineteenth year of the reign of our most religious lord, Mauritius Tiberius Augustus, the eighteenth year after the consulship of our said lord, and the fourth indiction."  (Bede, Book I, Chapter 29)

You may have noticed the mention of Pope Gregory giving St. Augustine the "pall" as a token of his authority.  The pall, or the pallium, is a vestment which has historically been given by the pope to newly appointed bishops to signify recognition of their authority by the pope and permission for them to exercise that authority.  It is a sign of the authority of the bishop to whom it is given, and it is a sign of the subordination of the bishop's authority to that of the Apostolic See of Rome.  The pallium was something required to be attained by all the Archbishops of Canterbury (St. Augustine's successors as leaders of the English church) throughout their history until the break at the time of Henry VIII.

I am tempted to quote the whole of Bede's work, but I will content myself with one more reference.  During the time of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, around the year 680 AD, there was a controversy in the Catholic world over the question of whether or not Christ has only one will, a divine will, or two wills, a divine and a human will.  The Catholic Church decided in favor of the two-will doctrine, in order to preserve Christ's full humanity (for what could it mean to have a human nature if that nature were bereft of a will?).  The English church was anxious to put forward her orthodoxy on this matter, and the pope was anxious to be sure of the orthodoxy of the English church.  The pope thus sent a representative, "the venerable John, archchanter of the church of the holy Apostle Peter, and abbot of the monastery of the blessed Martin," to check up on the English church:

      Besides his task of singing and reading, he had also received a commission from the Apostolic Pope, carefully to inform himself concerning the faith of the English Church, and to give an account thereof on his return to Rome. For he also brought with him the decision of the synod of the blessed Pope Martin, held not long before at Rome, with the consent of one hundred and five bishops, chiefly to refute those who taught that there is but one operation and will in Christ, and he gave it to be transcribed in the aforesaid monastery of the most religious Abbot Benedict. The men who followed such opinion greatly perplexed the faith of the Church of Constantinople at that time; but by the help of God they were then discovered and overcome. Wherefore, Pope Agatho, being desirous to be informed concerning the state of the Church in Britain, as well as in other provinces, and to what extent it was clear from the contagion of heretics, gave this matter in charge to the most reverend Abbot John, then appointed to go to Britain.  (Bede, Book 4, Chapter 18)

After Abbot John had arrived, Archbishop Theodore held a synod to state clearly the Catholic orthodoxy of the English church:

      ABOUT this time, Theodore being informed that the faith of the Church at Constantinople was much perplexed by the heresy of Eutyches, and desiring that the Churches of the English, over which he presided, should remain free from all such taint, convened an assembly of venerable bishops and many learned men, and diligently inquired into the faith of each. He found them all of one mind in the Catholic faith, and this he caused to be committed to writing by the authority of the synod as a memorial, and for the instruction of succeeding generations; (Bede, Book 4, Chapter 17)

The result of the check-up was as follows:

The synod we have spoken of having been called for this purpose in Britain, the Catholic faith was found untainted in all, and a report of the proceedings of the same was given him to carry to Rome.
      But in his return to his own country, soon after crossing the sea, he fell sick and died; and his body, for the sake of St. Martin, in whose monastery he presided, was by his friends carried to Tours, and honourably buried; for he had been kindly entertained by the Church there on his way to Britain, and earnestly entreated by the brethren, that in his return to Rome he would take that road, and visit their Church, and moreover he was there supplied with men to conduct him on his way, and assist him in the work enjoined upon him. Though he died by the way, yet the testimony of the Catholic faith of the English nation was carried to Rome, and received with great joy by the Apostolic Pope, and all those, that heard or read it.  (Bede, Book 4, Chapter 17)

For a more detailed account of the history of the English church's communion with and subordination to the See of Rome, I would recommend a couple of sources (besides St. Bede).  One of them is the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia on "England (Before the Reformation)".  The other is chapter 9, "The Church of England," in The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated, by Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick.

So the English church was founded, explicitly, as a branch of the Catholic Church under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  All the English bishops acknowledged that their authority was subordinate to and subject to and in a sense derived from the Bishop of Rome.  When the church in England broke from Rome, then, at the time of Henry VIII, she ceased to be what she had been previously and became a new body with a new constitution--a new church, the "Anglican church."


The Church of England was directly founded by Rome and directly acknowledged her subordination to Rome's authority.  But even apart from these specific characteristics of the church in England, the English church was certainly a part of the broader western Catholic Church.  She never saw herself as an independent body, but always held communion with the other churches of the world and particularly of the western world.  The Eastern churches, I would argue (but now is not the time for it), also understood themselves to be under the authority of the pope, but their relationship with the pope was certainly more distant.  They had their own patriarchs--the Patriarch of Constantinople, of Antioch, of Alexandria.  The western churches, however, were more directly under the authority of Rome not only as the mother church of the whole world but also more specifically as the patriarch of the western churches.

Also, as a part of the western church, when the Eastern churches grew more and more estranged from Rome and eventually ended up in schism with Rome (the schism that has given us today the Eastern Orthodox churches as separate from the Catholic Church), the English church remained loyal to Rome.  She accepted the ecumenical councils of the Church as these were understood by Rome.  One of these councils, for example, was the Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215.  Canon 5 of this council reads thus:

Renewing the ancient privileges of the patriarchal sees, we decree with the approval of the holy and ecumenical council, that after the Roman Church, which by the will of God holds over all others pre-eminence of ordinary power as the mother and mistress of all the faithful, that of Constantinople shall hold first place, that of Alexandria second, that of Antioch third, and that of Jerusalem fourth, the dignity proper to each to be observed; so that after their bishops have received from the Roman pontiff the pallium, which is the distinguishing mark of the plenitude of the pontifical office, and have taken the oath of fidelity and obedience to him, they may also lawfully bestow the pallium upon their suffragans, receiving from them the canonical profession of faith for themselves, and for the Roman Church the pledge of obedience. They may have the standard of the cross borne before them everywhere, except in the city of Rome and wherever the supreme pontiff or his legate wearing the insignia of Apostolic dignity is present. In all provinces subject to their jurisdiction appeals may be taken to them when necessary, saving the appeals directed to the Apostolic See, which must be humbly respected.

Another of these ecumenical councils accepted by the whole of the western Catholic Church was the Council of Florence, held around 1438-1445.  In its sixth session, the Council gave this definition:

We also define that the holy apostolic see and the Roman pontiff holds the primacy over the whole world and the Roman pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter prince of the apostles, and that he is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians, and to him was committed in blessed Peter the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church, as is contained also in the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons.

The Apostolic See was regarded as having power, as possessor of the keys given to St. Peter, to teach the truth and to confute heresies.  Communion with the Apostolic See, therefore, was seen as the same as communion with the true fullness of Catholic faith.  It is the cure for schism, as St. Jerome articulated:

[T]he Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.  (St Jerome, AD 393, Against Jovinianus [Book I], section 26--New Advent website)

In the early 6th century, at the resolution of a schism between Rome and the Eastern churches (the Acasian schism), as a requirement for return to communion with Rome all the estranged Eastern churches had to sign this statement:

     The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers.  For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18), should not be verified.  And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied.  From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies . . .
     Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St. Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion.  And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides.  I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries.  But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned.  I have signed this my profession with my own hand and have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome.  (The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation, tr. John F. Clarkson, et al. [Tan, 2009])

In the 7th century, St. Maximus the Confessor, an Eastern theologian (well-respected and considered a saint today by both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches), expressed the same ideas:

All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness.  (Footnotes removed--the quotation is from "The Ecclesiology of St. Maximos the Confessor," by Andrew Louth, published in the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, No. 2, July 2004, p. 116)

(For more on the recognition of papal authority in the early Church, East and West, see here and here.)

These ideas were fully accepted by the English church, and the whole western Catholic Church, before the split of Henry VIII.  Once again, we can see that in breaking with Rome and forming her own new Anglican theories of the foundations of her authority, the English church broke from her own acknowledged head and illegally (according to her own previously-accepted terms) revised her constitution fundamentally, and thus ceased to be the continuation of the same Catholic Church in England but instead became a new, hitherto non-existent entity, the Anglican Church.


1. The Anglican Church was not a new church; it was the continuation of the ancient Celtic Church that was supplanted by the English Church with the coming of St. Augustine and his successors.  That earlier Celtic Church was independent from Rome and didn't acknowledge Rome's authority.  The Anglican Church simply returned the British church to its previous ancient condition.

The main problem with this argument is simply that it is blatantly false in its basic historical claims.  First of all, whatever we think the "Celtic Church" was like, it is a simple historical fact that the Church of England is not a descendant of the ancient Celtic churches but of the English church founded by St. Augustine (of Canterbury!) and ruled by his successors.  So the Celtic churches' testimony in this regard is irrelevant.

Secondly, there is no evidence that there ever existed an independent Celtic church or churches that were not part of the broader community of western Christianity and which did not acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  The evidence, instead, clearly suggests that the Celtic churches (British, Scottish, and Irish) that predated the English church acknowledged the basic authority structure of the western Catholic Church, including the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, just as much as English churches would.

I recommend this article, and also this Wikipedia article, to provide some basic historical evidence for my claim here.  Let me also refer to some testimony from one of the great Irish saints, St. Columban (not to be confused with another great Celtic saint, St. Columba).  St. Columban wrote a series of letters to a couple of popes of Rome about various issues, including the Celtic dating of the Feast of Easter (see below for more on this).  Around the year 612, as he was engaged in combatting Arianism, there were reported to him some suspicions that Pope Boniface might not be standing up for orthodoxy against Arianism as well as he ought, and St. Columban wrote to the pope, remonstrating with him to clear his name and stand up for the truth.  Here are some snippets (editorial additions to the text removed) from this letter (see the letter itself for full context) which reveal the relationship of the Irish church to the See of Rome:

To the most fair Head of all the Churches of the whole of Europe, estimable Pope, exalted Prelate, Shepherd of Shepherds, most reverend Bishop; the humblest to the highest, the least to the greatest, peasant to citizen, a prattler to one most eloquent, the last to the first, foreigner to native, a poor creature to a powerful lord, (strange to tell, a monstrosity, a rare bird) the Dove dares to write to Pope Boniface. . . . 
Watch, for water has now entered the vessel of the Church, and the vessel is in perilous straits. For all we Irish, inhabitants of the world's edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching; none has been a heretic, none a Judaizer, none a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was delivered by you first, who are the successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken. Strengthened and almost goaded by this confidence, I have dared to arouse you against those who revile you and call you the partisans of heretics and describe you as schismatics, so that my boasting", in which I trusted when I spoke for you in answer to them, should not be in vain’’, and so that they, not us, might be dismayed. For I promised on your behalf (as the disciples should so feel for their master) that the Roman Church defends no heretic against the Catholic Faith. Therefore do you accept with willing mind and dutiful ears my necessarily presumptuous interference; for whatever I say that is useful or orthodox will redound to you; for the master's praise lies in the doctrine of his disciples; thus if a son [speaks] wisely his father will rejoice’’; and yours will be the credit, since, as I said, it was delivered by you; for purity is due, not to the river, but the spring. But if you find some thoughtless words of a zeal that seems excessive, either in this letter or in the other against Agrippinus, who provoked my pen, set it down to my tactlessness, not pride. . . . 
Watch therefore for the Church's peace, succour your sheep, who already tremble at what seem the terrors of the wolves, and who also fear yourselves with too much trembling as they are driven into various folds. Thus they are in doubt, partly coming, but partly going, and as they come so they return, and ever are in fear. Then use, dear Pope, the call and known voice of the true shepherd, and stand between sheep and wolves, so that, shedding their fear, they may then first fully acknowledge you as shepherd. . . . 
Therefore, that you may not lack apostolic honour, maintain the apostolic Faith, establish it by testimony, strengthen it by writing, defend it by a synod, that none may lawfully resist you. . . . 
Then, lest the old Enemy bind men with this very lengthy cord of error, let the cause of division, I beg, be cut off by you immediately, so to say with St. Peter's knife, that is, with a true and synodical confession of faith and with an abhorrence and utter condemnation of all heretics, so that you may cleanse the chair of Peter from every error, if any, as they say, has been introduced, and if not, so that its purity may be recognized by all. For it is a matter for grief and lamentation, if the Catholic Faith is not maintained in the Apostolic See. But, to speak my entire mind, lest I should seem to flatter even you beyond your due, it is also a matter for grief that you in zeal for the faith, as has long been your duty, have not first condemned outright or excommunicated the party withdrawing from you, after first demonstrating the purity of your own faith, seeing that you are the man who has the lawful power; and for this reason they even dare to defame the chief See of the orthodox faith. . . . 
For we, as I have said before, are bound to St. Peter's chair; for though Rome be great and famous, among us it is only on that chair that her greatness and her fame depend. . . 
Therefore, since these things are true and are accepted without any gainsaying by all who think truly, though it is known to all and there is none ignorant of how Our Saviour bestowed the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven upon St. Peter, and you perhaps on this account claim for yourself before all others some proud measure of greater authority and power in things divine; you ought to know that your power will be the less in the Lord's eyes, if you even think this in your heart, since the unity of faith has produced in the whole world a unity of power and privilege, in such wise that by all men everywhere freedom should be given to the truth, and the approach of error should be denied by all alike, since it was his right confession that privileged even the holy bearer of the keys, the common teacher of us all; it should be lawful even for your subordinates to entreat you for their zeal in the faith, for their love of peace, and for the unity of the Church our common mother, who is indeed torn asunder like Rebekah in her maternal womb, and grieves for the strife and civil warfare of her sons, and in sorrow bewails the discord of her dearest. . . 
But while I urge such considerations, like a man sluggish in action and speaking rather than doing (I am called Jonah in Hebrew, Peristera in Greek, Columba in Latin, yet so much is my birth-right in the idiom of your language, though I use the ancient Hebrew name of Jonah, whose shipwreck I have also almost undergone) I beg you, as I have often asked, to pardon me, since necessity rather than vainglory compels me to write, while a certain character in his letters, with which he greeted me almost on my arrival at the frontiers of this province, pointed you out to me as an object of suspicion, as if you were slipping into the sect of Nestorius. To this man in my astonishment I replied briefly, as I was able, not believing his charge; but lest I should in any way be an opponent of the truth, considering his letter and my own good opinion of you (for I believe that there is always a strong pillar of the Church at Rome) I have changed the tenor of my answer, and sent it you to read and controvert, if in any part it has attacked the truth; for I dare not claim to be amongst the faultless. . . .

We can see from St. Columban's letter that he considered the Irish churches to be under the authority of the Apostolic See of Rome just as much as the English churches were.  There is certainly no idea here, or in anything we have from the early Celtic church, of an independent church considering itself to be its own head and acknowledging no authority outside of itself or in the Bishop of Rome--which is what the modern Anglican Church is.  The Celtic churches, like the English church, considered themselves to be parts of the larger, worldwide Catholic Church and subject to the decisions of the larger church (such as in its ecumenical councils), and subject in particular to the Apostolic See of Rome.

It is true that the Celtic churches were intransigent for many years over the question of the date upon which Easter should be celebrated, and over a few other unique practices.  This controversy is discussed here and here.  St. Bede discusses it at length in his Ecclesiastical History.  The Celtic churches of Britain did not want to conform to the rest of the Catholic churches of the world over the dating of Easter and a few other customs, and this was a cause of great contention between the Celtic and the English churches for many years.  (You can tell from Bede's writing that it absolutely drove him nuts!)  Sometimes this controversy is alleged as evidence that the Celtic church was an independent church, rejecting submission to the broader church and to Rome.  In practice, at least on the matters controverted, the Celtic churches, for a time (for they all eventually gave in, various churches at various times, hundreds of years before Henry VIII), did resist what the broader Church was trying to get them to do.  But there is no indication, and every indication otherwise, that there was any kind of theory held by the Celtic churches that involved repudiation of the authority of Rome or of the broader Church.  It might be argued that their stance was inconsistent with how they ought to have acted if they truly accepted the authority of the broader Church.  That may be true, but only a person ignorant of human nature would argue that people's practices always match their own theories and ideals.  It is therefore very tenuous to argue from lack of practical perfect adherence to an ideal to the theoretical, conscious repudiation of that ideal.  More on this just below, however.

2. The English Church (and the Celtic Church) did not always obey the commands of the pope.  This shows that, at some points in her history, she rejected the authority of the papacy and held to something like the modern Anglican view of ecclesiastical authority.

It is true that various Catholics and Catholic leaders in England, as well as elsewhere in Europe and in all the world, refused to engage in proper (from a Catholic point of view) submission to the Apostolic See at various times during the past two thousand years.  Some of the most noteworthy examples of this have been political rulers who have tried to play the game of preserving their Catholic fidelity while also preserving their political ambitions, with varying degrees of success.  Some instances of this in England in particular are discussed here.  The Celtic churches' intransigence on the Easter question provides another example.

But what is the argument here?  That these instances prove that all of these people rejected the claims of the popes regarding their authority as the successors of St. Peter?  This is too great a leap.  For one thing, as I said earlier, it is all too painfully obvious from an observation of human history that people are quite capable of acting inconsistently with their own avowed ideals in certain circumstances.  Sometimes this is due to self-interested or political calculation; sometimes it may be owing to confusion; sometimes, as seems to have been the case with the Celtic churches, the inconsistency results from a desire to hold on to customs one has become used to and which one believes to be important.  To prove that any of these people or groups held to some Anglican-like theory involving rejection of the authority of Rome, it is therefore insufficient to simply point to examples of apparently inconsistent or incongruous behavior, especially when the persons or groups themselves strongly insist that they hold the very views they are alleged to reject.

Of course, one can find plenty of parallels of blatant inconsistency of practice in the modern Catholic world as well.  For an extreme example, take the SSPX (the Society of Saint Pius X).  Here is an organized society of substantial size whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is an attempt to be faithful to the Catholic Church and Catholic tradition by refusing to follow the commands and teaching of that Church regarding the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which the Catholic Church (of course) holds to be authoritative but a substantial portion of which the SSPX rejects.  The popes (at least since Vatican II) and the Church just haven't been Catholic enough for them.  (Here is a recent article on the SSPX website that will give you a taste of their ways of reasoning.)  The case of the SSPX reminds me of the earlier case of the Jansenists, who basically spent over a century refusing to admit that the Catholic Church had really rejected their theology despite the Church formally telling them so numerous times.  The SSPX is in serious error from an orthodox Catholic point of view, and yet they fully claim to accept the teaching of Vatican I regarding the authority and infallibility of the pope.  They do not reject that teaching and hold to some kind of Anglican-like theory instead.

Or one can look to more common examples in more mainstream portions of the Church today, such as Catholics who, while claiming to be faithful Catholics and to accept the teaching of the Church, in practice refuse to accept that teaching when it comes to certain counter-cultural positions such as the rejection of women's ordination or artificial contraception.

It must also be pointed out that the Catholic Church has never claimed that the pope is perfect.  He is held to be unable to err when defining doctrine for the entire Church, and his official teaching is authoritative, but he is not given a gift of moral infallibility.  He is a sinner like everyone else, and some popes have earned that label more dramatically than others!  The pope is capable of failing to stand up for the truth (consider the case of Pope Honorius, for example), or of scandalizing the Church by immoral living.  In these cases, Catholics may justly remonstrate with him.  Sometimes in Church history, various political rulers believed the pope to be overstepping his political authority, and resisted him in that capacity, even while they fully accepted his ecclesiastical authority as the successor of St. Peter.  There are Catholics at the time of my writing this who believe the current pope, Francis, needs to be formally corrected for aiding false teaching in the Church by his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  (Here is an example.)  I am not among their number.  But whether or not one agrees with them, it would be absurd to argue that they don't hold to the Catholic theory of the authority of the Apostolic See but instead advocate some Anglican-like position.

3. The Anglican Church was right to split from the pope and the rest of the Catholic world in the sixteenth century, since the Catholic world had gone astray from the purity of the faith of the primitive Church.  Since the Anglican split was justified, it was not schismatic, but a continuation of the English church's fidelity to the true Catholic faith.

Even if it were granted that the Anglican split was justified, it would be, to a great extent at least, beside the point.  My argument in this article has not been so much to show that the English church did wrong to separate itself from Rome in the sixteenth century, but to show that its separation from Rome was a reversal of its historic position and a repudiation of the previously-acknowledged foundation of its own authority.  Even if the English Reformation was justified, it would still be a fundamental change from the English church's previous constitution and identity.  What we would say in that case is that the previous, historic English church's constitution had been corrupt in some ways, and that it was necessary in the sixteenth century to change it to conform to what is truly right.  If a local branch of Walmart becomes convinced that some of Walmart's policies are inherently unethical, and on that ground decides to break with Walmart and become an independent store, its actions may be justified, but the rightness of its actions do not make the new, independent store to be rightly considered to be a continuation of its previous identity as a branch of Walmart.

On the other hand, assuming its break with Rome to be justified, the Anglican Church could argue that, although it had to break with the previous constitution of the English church, it was really only restoring the true constitution of the Catholic Church as that had been founded by Christ and reforming it from the corruptions added later.  This could be a way of arguing that the Anglican Church is a continuation of the Church founded by Christ, if not an unbroken continuation of all the fundamentals of what the English church had previously been.

But, of course, I would go further here and argue that the Anglican Church's break with Rome was, in fact, not justified.  It was schismatic, because there was not an adequate basis for it.  The English Church had been under the authority of Rome since its foundation.  She acknowledged the legitimacy of that authority from the beginning.  If she chose to rebel against that authority, the burden of proof was upon her to justify that rebellion.  Without such a positive justification, her act was schismatic.  The Anglican Church came into existence by breaking off from the existing Catholic Church and forming a new body.  The historic Catholic Church, the Church that evolved organically from the Church founded by Christ and from the Church of the apostles and the early Fathers, acknowledged the authority of the pope.  What justification did the Anglican Church have to cease to hold to that position and to embrace an opposite position?  Without such justification, this act of reversal was schismatic, for it broke the unity and rebelled against the authority of the Church founded by Christ without adequate cause.  (This is what I call the "default argument".  The default in on the side of not breaking the unity and obedience of the Church, and so some adequate justification must be presented to legitimize doing so.)  In this article, I provide a brief analysis of the arguments in support of the Anglican Church's separate existence, and I find them wanting.  If the Anglican Church's separation from Rome cannot be justified, and it cannot be proved by the Anglican Church that she is doing what Christ intended the Church to do, then she cannot claim to be restoring an original constitution, but must be considered as having broken off from the original, historic constitution of the Catholic Church founded by Christ in order to establish a new, independent body.  And, as I said before, even if the Anglican Church's separate existence could be justified, it would still remain the case that the Anglican Church is not following in unbroken continuity from the earlier English Catholic church, for she had to fundamentally revise the constitution of that church and repudiate its earlier allegiances in order to maintain her new, separate existence.

Published on the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great