Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Seed and Water, Word and Sacrament

One of the disagreements between the Reformed and Catholics has been about baptismal regeneration. Catholics affirm it, the Reformed, including most Evangelicals, effectively seem to deny it. Instead, they say that any adult brought to baptism should already have been justified and regenerated or “born again”. And that baptised infants are not necessarily regenerated ever unless part of the Elect, whereas they are (it is common but not universal among Calvinists to say) regenerated when they come to faith and not, properly speaking, before then. I drew out the differences at length here in sections M to R.

When I was in the process of becoming a Franciscan Tertiary, back in 2001, I had to make a regular report on the lessons I was being sent. They were largely based on Carleton's book, The King's Highway. This is what I wrote in response to one section:

One fact about “the necessity of baptism for salvation” that it seems to me should be kept in mind is that it is not absolute in the way that salvation’s dependence on living faith is absolute for one having reached the age of reason. St Thomas Aquinas, following a number of the Fathers, teaches that

"a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of ‘faith that worketh by charity,’ whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly"

and that, because God looks on the heart,

"a man who desires to be ‘born again of water and the Holy Ghost’ by Baptism, is regenerated in heart though not in body. Thus the Apostle says (Romans 2:29) that ‘the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God.’"

(S.T., P3, Q68, A2)

The seemingly unavoidable consequence of this is that the majority of people who have undergone a conversion experience, given that their heart reached out to Jesus in penitent, “God-hungry” faith, receive the grace of baptism before their reception of the sacrament. As long as we remember that the grace still belongs properly to the sacrament and that, in particular, the covenanted guaranteeing of grace and thus its secure “sealing” require the sacrament, such an admission should do no harm. It may be a Catholic way of expressing true Evangelical insights based on passages such as Romans 10:9-13. Since in the sacraments time kisses eternity, the solid connection of justification and sanctification with baptism does not seem to necessitate simultaneity.

This is similar, in its approach to temporality, to something Ed has posted recently regarding the Eucharist. I was also pleased to discover the following a number of years later in a Roman Catholic manual, Moral Theology (Jone & Adelman, 1947, 3rd Edition, p. 341): “Baptism of desire consists in an act of perfect contrition or perfect love, which acts somehow include a desire for baptism – Neither the Baptism of desire nor of blood imprint an indelible character.” Perfect contrition does not mean flawless repentance but sorrow for having offended against God and his grace based on love of Him rather than fear or some other motive. The “somehow” probably refers to the possibility that a desire for baptism can be implicit in a person who desires to fulfill whatever God commands, even if they are not fully informed of it. The point is that there is traditional recognition of the priority of living faith as the instrumental “cause” of salvation, with even physical baptism not having the same level of absolute necessity for those at or beyond the age of reason. Of course, it has “necessity of precept”, since saving faith is incompatible with then refusing to be baptised in obedience to Christ. But it also has another kind of necessity as noted above in that it may be said to seal, solidify or secure as a “possession” that regeneration already received inwardly. And, if we really are dealing with a trans-temporal reality, it seems not unreasonable that the baptismal event act as a “cause” for the prior regeneration in two respects. One, in that its invocation of God's grace, since it is drawing on the eternal Redemption wrought in the past at the Cross (Romans 6:3), can have an effect that temporally precedes it but comes after the Archetypal Baptism of Calvary. Two, and in a less mysterious fashion, in that the faith that saves prior to baptism is in some sense focussed upon it and the Covenant promise it makes concrete.

How can this concept of baptismal “sealing” (Romans 4:11 cf. Colossians 2:11-12), though present by implication in the Pauline comparison of circumcision (called a seal of faith) with baptism, be understood in other Scriptural terms? And what of the Fathers?

Scripture includes phraseology such as the following:

In the Parable of the Sower, the seed is the word of God (Mark 4:14).

“[B]orn of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

John 12:24 has Jesus comparing the seed planted (and thus “dying” as seed to “rise” as a new, fruitful plant) to humanity's need to die to self and live to God by following Christ.

“[W]ashing of the water of the word” (Ephesians 5:26)

“[W]ashing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5).

“[B]orn again of imperishable seed” (1 Peter 1:23).

“[B]orn of God, ... God's seed remains in him” (1 John 3:9).

(NB: Not all the words translated as “seed” above have the same Greek original, however, they can all possess the connotation of seed in the agricultural sense, and some are probably related etymologically as well (e.g., sporas, sperma). Interestingly, there is no word for “seed” in the Parable of the Sower, the verb “sowed” (Gk: speirein) implying its object throughout the passage.)

So, although baptism is never directly compared to the seed in Scripture, they are intimately connected via their common association with the word of God and the death and resurrection of Christ and their common signification of regeneration. Indeed, regeneration is being born again spiritually through divine “application” and human “reception” of the powerful word of God (as the instrument of grace) and through Christ's death and resurrection (as the fount of grace). In other words, it is the planting and germination of “the seed”, the inward grace of “burial” and “rising again” from the waters of baptism.

Do the Fathers and the Church compare baptism to planting seed and see it as dependent on the word of God? Do they acknowledge the necessity of faith in the Gospel to fruitful reception among those capable of such faith, and that it is the action of the Holy Spirit that matters? Yes. Four excerpts will suffice, I think.

The Apostolic Constitutions have, in section III on preparing Catechumens for Baptism, the following: “He must beforehand purify his heart from all wickedness of disposition, from all spot and wrinkle, and then partake of the holy things; for as the skilfullest husbandman does first purge his ground of the thorns which are grown up therein, and does then sow his wheat, so ought you also to take away all impiety from them, and then to sow the seeds of piety in them, and vouchsafe them baptism.”

St Ambrose in his On the Mysteries says (3:14-15) “For water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no avail for future salvation, ... You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes; that which is not seen is more really seen, for the object of sight is temporal, but that other eternal, which is not apprehended by the eye, but is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (4:19,23) “By this you may recognize that water does not cleanse without the Spirit. ... The baptism of unbelievers heals not but pollutes”.

St Augustine, in a sermon to the newly baptised says: “I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following in section 1228: 'Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the "imperishable seed" of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect. St. Augustine says of Baptism: "The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament."'

So, Holy Tradition encourages us to make the link as well. Now, if baptism is thus justifiably linked with the image or symbol of the seed, it would seem appropriate to explore ways this image can have its rich potentialities used to better understand the various ways baptism operates, depending on circumstances.

In the case of Infant Baptism, we can say the seed of new life is always genuinely planted, and regeneration in this sense genuinely occurs. However, in those unfortunately all too frequent circumstances where the family does not continue to bring the child up in the faith, and the child does not naturally come to an incipient faith as he or she comes to the age of reason, we might say that the new life given does not become an experiential reality, almost as if the seed did not germinate, or if we consider it to be initially “watered” and invariably germinating, did not “break the surface of the ground”, but remained a seed effectively buried, dormant. On the other hand, if the vows are kept by parents and godparents, the seed which was genuinely and objectively given at baptism, becomes a subjective, experienced participation in the life of God.

In the case of Adult Baptism, if the word has already been received and the new life has begun, the baptism waters this seed, and may have already functioned, as I discussed above, the mysterious causal role in the initial salvation preceding the outward sign. But it might also be thought to first press it more firmly into the soil, so to speak, or to allow it to better “take root”. The latter is my attempt at an anaolgy for the “sealing” role abovementioned. For those who come to baptism in sincerity, desire and belief, but without yet possessing the assurance of living faith, the seed is properly implanted, watered and germinated. In this case the very objectivity and physicality of the rite helps the soul to take hold of the Covenant promise. For insincere receivers of baptism, the seed is still “there”, still delivered or at least promised to faith in potentia, but is neither properly implanted nor in any way germinated. Its rests “at the surface”, a visible word of challenge and rebuke in its “standing apart”, so to speak. The person is "marked", and does not need re-baptism if faith comes later, but they have not received the grace of the sacrament.

I admit that it is possible I have taken these analogies too far, and not made due allowance for the fact that all metaphors have a limited range of similtude to those realities they represent. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that a bold exploration of biblical imagery such as this can help us sythesise Evangelical and Catholic concerns better than sole reliance on customary abstractions and scholasticisms. And so I leave it to our readers. Does the above theological speculation help integrate the priority and intrinsic saving instrumentality of Gospel-faith with the doctrine that baptism effects regeneration?


poetreader said...

Having been brought up to believe in infant Baptism and Baptismal regeneration, I came to believe with the fellowship in which I found myself pn a baptism of believers only, who had made sincere profession of faith. On returning to the Catholic tradition, I had a lot of working out of all these concepts to do. I arrived at thoughts not much different from Fr. Kirby's. It is good to see someone wrestling with the same questions.


poetreader said...

(Jakian Thomist.

We have several threads going that deal with the Apostolic Constitution and related matters. This is not one of them. I've moved your comment to the previous thread where it fits better, thinking that's what you may have intended)


Anonymous said...

Rev. Hart has observed that what passes for Reformed these days is often far from its own Confession, and this is the case with baptism. Modern Reformed churches are effectively baptistic, in direct violation of the Articles and the Westminster Confession.

The central issue of justification by faith alone for Luther, Calvin, Cranmer etc was the low (yes, low) RC view of baptism that led to the abuse of indulgences, pilgrimages etc.

In baptism, rightly received, we are fully forgiven and restored to God's favour for the WHOLE of our lives. In RC theology you are forgiven until you commit a mortal sin, and then you start again with works and other sacraments.

The point is that according to Reformation teaching we are fully forgiven for all time in baptism, unless we apostatise. When we confess our sins we are not doing so as lapsed Christians, but as sinful Christians, not from outside of God's grace, but from within it. We confess as sinful sons, not as aliens and strangers to the covenant.

It was this understanding of justification and baptism that opened Luther's eyes to the wickedness of indulgences. They effectively denied the efficacy of baptism in justification, and turned grace into work.

Anonymous said...

"I am persuaded that a bold exploration of biblical imagery such as this can help us synthesise Evangelical and Catholic concerns better than sole reliance on customary abstractions and scholasticisms."

I could not agree more! Well said, Fr Kirby!

When the debate over Baptismal Regeneration comes up, the missing piece is usually a clear or common understanding of what regeneration is anyway. In the 19th century debates which led to the REC schism, regeneration was frequently confused with the subjective experience of conversion, or merely an intense "decision for Christ." Baptismal regeneration seemed to suggest magic, substituted for personal faith, repentance and commitment. That was inevitable in a Church which had almost forgotten the "Divine Initiative" in the gift of New Life in the New Creation.

A more Biblical understanding of regeneration could have saved us from much unnecessary debate.

On the other hand, I fail to understand the great consternation over the "Calvinist" teaching that Baptism regenerates the Elect but not the Reprobate. If the necessary distinction between the Sign and Thing Signified is kept in view, this does not seem to be a problem. This parallels the distinction between the Invisible and Visible Church (to which Apostolorum coetibus happily alludes).

What drives that anxiety is a false assumption that "only a few will be saved," that the Elect are only a remnant. That is neither Biblcal or Reformational. The Elect are "a multitude which no man can number." A Calvinist CAN (and should) say that when a child or person is providentially brought to the waters of Baptism, this is a Sign that he is truly among the Elect. After all, why would God permit a reprobate person to be baptized?

When I say "Seeing now that this child is regenerate and grafted into the body..." I do not have my fingers crossed. The Calvinist Baptismal liturgies of the 16th century contain equally vigorous language.

But I am wandering away from Fr Kirby's final point, quoted above, which delights me very much.
I also appreciate his linking to the Reformed discussion of Cornelius Burges, which is precisely the position I hold and argue for.

Anonymous said...

"The point is that according to Reformation teaching we are fully forgiven for all time in baptism, unless we apostatise"

"A Calvinist CAN (and should) say that when a child or person is providentially brought to the waters of Baptism, this is a Sign that he is truly among the Elect. After all, why would God permit a reprobate person to be baptized?"

Isn't it true however, that one may truly be baptized (whether as an infant or as an repentant adult), show genuine signs of growth and later ultimately fall away, not only through willful apostasy, but persistent neglect and impenitence? From what I've read, St Augustine, among many others, believed one could be truly regenerated yet later fall away, not being ultimately part of the elect. Also, all the early fathers I've read (who commented on the matter) seemed to have taken it for granted that one needed to continue in the faith to finally be saved, and warned that if one did not, one's prior life in that faith would ultimately avail for nothing.

Doubting Thomas
(ACC layman)

Anonymous said...

One excellent discussion of Regeneration is found in Alan Richardson's "Introduction to the Theology of the NT"
(1958). Bear with me while I quote at length (pp34ff).

Richardson wrote:

In later Judaism there had arisen a strong expectation of a second or new birth for Israel as a nation (Ezek 37, etc)....The NT claims this might act of new creation, or of cosmic regeneration, has been accomplished by God in Jesus Christ, though this truth is perceived as yet only by the eye of faith; the time was shortly coming when it would be revealed to all men, at the parousia or apocalypse of Christ.

The coming of Christ at his birth in the flesh was the inauguration of the new creation, and his death was potentially the dying of the whole human race, just as his resurrection was potentially the re-creation of all mankind.......

But the sense of having been re-made in Christ pervades the NT writings. The Christian is a new creation, he walks in newness of life, and serves in newness of spirit; his inward man is renewed day by day, his mind is renewed, in short, he is re-created in the original image of the Creator....

The basic reality about being a Christian is not a moral but an eschatological truth. It concerns one's relationship to the sphere of regeneration [i. e., the New Creation].
So Christians pray, "Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace may dauly be renewed by thy Holy Spirit."

The connection between the eschatological conception of regeneration and Christian Baptism is obvious, since baptism is the sacrament of the 'birth from above', of entry into the Kingdom of God, and into th sphere of the operation of the Holy Spirit.

End of quotation. Richard writes at great length on both regeneration and baptism, exploring the Biblical riches of these ideas. As Fr Kirby has pointed out, when we clear our heads aabout what regeneration really means, Baptismal Regeneration should fall into place perfectly.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Someone asked if baptism itself is always absolutely necessary for salvation, but when I published his question it went to whatever he was reading, apparently from the archives.

1.My answer to that question is covered in the essay at this link:

2. If commenting on an old post, if you want an answer, I suggest that you name the post by its title. That way we can find it. To date we have 1250 posts.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't it true however, that one may truly be baptized (whether as an infant or as an repentant adult), show genuine signs of growth and later ultimately fall away, not only through willful apostasy, but persistent neglect and impenitence?"

Alan Richardson says (p. 347) that for the NT this question simply does not arise. Now why are you at such pains to show that sin can triumph over grace? Screwtape would be a better pseudonym than Doubting Thomas to such an inquiry.

As is well known, the standard Reformed answer is that in the case of apostasy, the "genuine signs of faith" were illusory rather than real.

Mercifully, we are not able to be certain of the apostate's spiritual condition (any more than we can be sure of a suicide's mental state), and such cases would surely seem to be rare.
Screwtape, however, takes much pleasure in them.

The parable of the good seed which falls on the stoney ground, etc, is also helpful here. The good seed is the Gospel and its sacraments. The good ground (carefully prepared by the husbandman) is the Elect, for whom the seed is intended; the way-side, the thorns, the rocky ground are the reprobate. The point of the parable is NOT "Now you decide which sort of ground you wish to be," but the inevitable triumph of the Gospel in "they, which in an honest and true heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience."

Will said...

I would say Hooker would have agreed with Fr. Wells. This comes from a post I wrote on Thoughts on Baptism:

For one thing, it is possible to say that at baptism we are regenerated, and made members of the Church, sharing in the covenant between God and His people. All who are baptized partake of the grace of God. But it is clear from Paul’s writings such as 1 Corinthians 10 that not all who enter into the covenant will enter the Kingdom:

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Note that the Apostle says that ALL of the fathers of Israel were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea.” Yet he also says that “with most of them God was not pleased.” Clearly baptism does not irrevocably guarantee entry into the Kingdom. I begin to think that the answer to this lies in the concepts of baptismal efficacy, predestination, and “the invisible church.”

Part of this lies in the great Richard Hooker’s position on baptismal efficacy: that it is efficacious for those who are members of the “mystical church” (what I suppose I have heard called the “invisible church”). There would be those who are in the “visible church” that DO partake of the grace of God to some extent, like the Hebrews who are mentioned in Paul’s writings, but fall away and never come into the Kingdom. This also allows a doctrine of predestination and election that harmonizes very well with the Thirty-Nine Articles, specifically Article XVII. If I am reading Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book III, correctly, this is what he is saying in those pages, although I will quote T.P. Boultbee’s summary of Hooker’s position:

It is known to God alone who are indeed His elect. He has not permitted us to judge. Hence we may, by the rule of charity, presume that any particular infant is one of the elect, and speak of it accordingly. If it be one of the elect (and not otherwise), it is in Baptism made a participant of Christ and receives the first fruits of the Spirit, from which all needful graces, and ultimately the glorified state, will in due time “infallibly ensue;” and it will be preserved from final apostasy as long as it lives by the eternal life of Christ, the Head.

Boultbee goes on to note about Hooker:

In his language about the sacraments it will be found, on a careful consideration, that this distinction is always tacitly assumed: the Church visible owes the duty of careful administration, the members of the Church mystical (and these alone) receive, and “infallibly receive,” all the grace which Sacraments are meant to convey. (Boultbee quotes come from page 246 of his Commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles.)

Anonymous said...

Wow...didn't realize that 5 point Calvinism was a viable position within the Continuum...nor that I'd be called 'Screwtape' for pointing out that: (1) Augustine seemed to think that some of the regenerated would not be part of the elect; and (2) the earliest fathers took it for granted that believers could fall from grace if they didn't continue in the faith.

Indeed Paul warned the Gentile believers who were currently standing by faith that if they didn't continue in God's goodness, they too would be 'cut off' and thus share the same fate as the unbelieving Jews (Romans 11:18-22). Paul nowhere implied that those so warned, if they fell, would only have proven they merely had some sort of fake or illusory faith. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, he took it for granted that they were actually 'standing by faith'.

Likewise, to the Corinthians Paul said they were saved by the Gospel in which they were presently standing, IF they held fast to it, unless they believed in vain (1 Cor 15:1-2)--he didn't imply there present stance in the Gospel would only have been illusory if they subsequently neglected to 'hold fast'. (In this 2nd epistle to them he admonished them not to receive the grace of God in vain (6:1), the implication that such a thing is indeed possible--perhaps Paul is another 'Screwtape' for implying that folks could vainly receive grace). Again, to the Galatians who were at that point attempting to be justified by the law, Paul states such had 'become estranged from Christ' and had 'fallen from grace' (5:4)--the implication being they were in Christ and in grace prior to that (or else they couldn't have fallen from it).

The writer of Hebrews, addressing his 'HOLY brethren', warned THEM to beware lest there be in any of THEM an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God (3:1,12) by becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (3:13)

Space doesn't permit consideration of many other Scriptures. At any rate, I suppose if I'm considered to be 'Screwtape' for questioning some of the assumptions of Calvinism, then perhaps folks like Paul, the writer of Hebrews, the church fathers, and others like John Wesley would have to share that moniker as well. The irony is that C.S.Lewis himself would also apparently receive such a designation, considering he wasn't a Calvinist.

Doubting Thomas aka 'Screwtape'

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Anglican position is, as usual, reasonable and safe from extreme positions.

"Article XVI. Of Sin after Baptism.
NOT every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent."

emphases mine

Fr. Robert Hart said...


A good look at Article XVII is very much like I John chpater 2.

"As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feeling in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God..." Art. XVII

"And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." I John 2:3

In other words, for those who press on to know the Lord. It is almost nothing more but what is self-evident.

On the other hand:

"so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation." Art. XVII

" He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him...They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." I John 2:4,19

The mystery is how even the baptized believer "may depart from grace given and fall into sin..." that is, willful sin, the kind also called mortal.

"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." I John 5:16

Anonymous said...

Concerning the real possibility of a regenerated believer falling away, the English Delegation to Dort made this representation.

BOQ: We ourselves think that this doctrine is contrary to Holy Scriptures, but whether it is expedient to condemn it in these our canons needs great deliberation. On the contrary, it would appear:

1. That Augustine, Prosper and the other Fathers who propounded the doctrine of absolute predestination and who opposed the Pelagians, seem to have conceded that certain of those who are not predestinated can attain the state of regeneration and justification. Indeed, they use this very argument as an illustration of the deep mystery of predestination; which cannot be unknown to those who have even a modest acquaintance with their writings.

2. That we ought not without grave cause to give offence to the Lutheran churches, who in this matter, it is clear, think differently.

3. That (which is of greater significance) in the Reformed churches themselves, many learned and saintly men who are at one with us in defending absolute predestination, nevertheless think that certain of those who are truly regenerated and justified, are able to fall from that state and to perish and that this happens eventually to all those, whom God has not ordained in the decree of election infallibly to eternal life. Finally we cannot deny that there are some places in Scripture which apparently support this opinion, and which have persuaded learned and pious men, not without great probability.


Will said...

Fr. Hart,

Thanks for the thoughts on 1 John 2 and Article XVII. I'll think about those over the Thanksgiving holiday, and give thanks as well for all you folks on this blog.

Jerry said...

The line of comments above shows that it is useful when considering baptismal grace in the concrete context of the life of an individual believer to consider also sacramental confession. Since sacramental confession restores us to the state of baptismal grace, all who have recourse to it in faith are in the process of becoming one of the Elect, a process begun at baptism and completed in Heaven. Because the sacraments and faith are a free gift to all, all are potentially among the Elect.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart and Curate,

I appreciate your comments. I'm sorry if I sidetracked this thread about baptism/regeneration into a discussion about Calvinism/predesination, eternal security. (Perhaps another thread would have been more appropriate)

Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving. :-)

Jay "Doubting" Thomas
--apparently known in some necks of the woods as 'Screwtape :-)

Jerry said...

Dear Moderators: sorry for sending a post twice. I'm using my phone and obviously don't have the hang of it.

Anonymous said...

Doubting Thomas: In your long answer, I find no answer to my question:

"Now why are you at such pains to show that sin can triumph over grace? "

Exactly what is driving your passionate concern? And as a second quesion,

What is regeneration anyway? Is it an act of God? Does it have permanent and lasting effect? Can a person who is born again become Unborn again? Does regeneration bestow the gift of eternal life as the Prayer Book says on page 276? If so, how long does eternal life continue?

And if regeneration gives only a temporary gift, why can Baptism not be repeated? Is there an implicit dctrine, "One baptized, always baptized?" Why deny a second baptism to apostates?

Yes, I wonder about people who are take pleasure in the thought of believers falling from grace.

Anonymous said...

Some time ago I had the experience of baptizing a mature man who made an impressive and convincing profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For some while (at least a year) he was quite dutiful in church attendance and use of the sacraments. But after a while, personal matters began to go badly for him, his marriage fell apart, he returned to former profligate lifestyle, and he drifted away totally from the church.

Of the many baptisms I have administered, I would point out that this one is exceptional in its apparent outcome.

Now Screwtape would pounce with great gloating on such a sad case. A tragic situation seems to help him score a major point. "Now see there, he was validly baptized, truly regenerate, but we got him back in the end. Maybe the whole thing is a sham. Maybe this so-called grace is only an opportunity. Maybe these mortals have to rely on their own works righteousness. And if so, we are bound to win!"

Personally, I am disposed to take aa very different view. In the first place, we are not competent to judge the sincerity, or faith, or spiritual state. Some conversions are indeed illusory. But in the second place, we have not seen the end of this story yet. I still see the unhappy man fairly frequently in contexts other thn church. He is reasonably well disposed to the Church and to the Faith. He is still in my prayers. As far as I am concerned, he is still covered by Paul's affirmation, "He who hath begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
I do not believe that sin can overwhelm the power of a persistent God.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Yes, I wonder about people who are take pleasure in the thought of believers falling from grace.

But, we must also take warning from Scripture not to presume on God's grace by living in sin. Article XVII and St. John's first Epistle certainly help us stay balanced in our thinking, if we read them aright.

Anonymous said...

"But, we must also take warning from Scripture not to presume on God's grace by living in sin."

Have I written anything which suggests such presumpton, or which requires such a corrective? This is precisely what Paul's Judaizing oppoents accused him of teaching, which he deal with rather effectively in Romans 6.

Still waiting for a definition of regeneration.

Anonymous said...

"Doubting Thomas: In your long answer, I find no answer to my question:

"Now why are you at such pains to show that sin can triumph over grace? "

--Really? You couldn't find an 'answer' to that 'question' in my post? The answer is there, but you may want to rethink both the assumption behind your 'question' and the particular manner in which you worded the question. Otherwise, as I pointed out, many other folks, including the apostles and church fathers, could also in like manner be asked the same thing.

LKW: "Exactly what is driving your passionate concern? "

--Concern for the Truth.

LKW: "And as a second quesion,
What is regeneration anyway? Is it an act of God?"

--Yes, regeneration, the new birth in which one is born from above by water and the Spirit, is an act of God.

LKW: "Can a person who is born again become Unborn again?"

--Nope, but if he doesn't continue in the faith, he can can DIE again spiritually. Unless he continues to abide in Christ he can become fruitless and then finally cut off and burned if he thus remains unrepentant (John 15:1-6; cf. Rom 11:18-22)

LKW: "Does regeneration bestow the gift of eternal life as the Prayer Book says on page 276? If so, how long does eternal life continue?"

--Eternal life is IN CHRIST. "He that hath [present tense] the Son, hath [present tense] life; he that hath not the Son, hath not life" (1 John 5:11-12). Eternal Life is that Person "which was with the Father and was manifested to us" (1 John 1:2), Who has no beginning nor end (ie, is ETERNAL).

Our POSSESSION of that Eternal Life is another story. In our baptism/regeneration we are given the gift of Eternal life since we are baptized into Christ (Rom 6), buried and risen with Christ (Col 2:12) and have put on Christ (Gal 3:27), and that Eternal Life (Christ) remains our possession as long as we abide in Him (John 15:1-10). But regardless of whether one possesses it or not, Eternal Life remains eternal since that Life is in the Son.

LKW: "Yes, I wonder about people who are take pleasure in the thought of believers falling from grace."

--Where in the world did I indicate that I took "pleasure" in the thought of believers falling from grace--is it simply because I noted that both the apostles and church fathers soberly and solemnly warned about the possibility that believers could in fact fall from grace? I in no way take pleasure in such a thing, and I think you owe me an apology for such an outrageous accusation. This forum is supposed to be a place for "robust and polite" discussion--I don't think it's polite to falsely accuse a fellow Christian of "taking pleasure" in the serious matter of others potentially falling from grace.

"Doubting" Thomas

Anonymous said...

So now we have the interesting situation of temporary possession of eternal life.This reduces the Gospel to something like the offer of $1,000,000 in a piece of junk mail, all contingent on some impossible requirement.

So when the priest says "Seeing now this person is regenerate," he should lean over and whisper sotto voce "But in the end, my dear, it is all up to you."

I was glad to see your effort to support your position exegetically. Here is another text for you to think about, from I John 1:19-20.

"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they were not of us....and this is what he has promised to us, eternal life."

Do you have an answer to the question why is baptism administered only once, if it only confers a temporary gift?


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I must abide by Article XVI.

"After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives."

The word is "may." "We may arise again..."

Temporary possession of eternal life may sound absurd, but "Doubting Thomas" has presented a reasonable position about the need to abide in Christ, The Lord Himself being that Eternal Life. Personally, I cannot dismiss the implications so readily. Of course, I have never thought of myself as a Calvinist, nor even necessarily an Augustinian. There remains much to weigh and consider in light of Universal Consensus and Antiquity.

From I John, those who "went out from us" presumably were baptized, inasmuch as the Church did not ignore this requirement for its members. May not it have been that other essential component of salvation, justification by grace through faith, that governs someone's life and brings forth fruit, that was lacking in those who went out?

welshmann said...

To all:

I've never satisfactorily accounted for the apparent tension between those verses which clearly warn against the real danger of apostasy, versus those which seem to be equally clear that we are kept by the grace of God to the end. Even if you are careful to read these passages in context, etc., there does seem to be a real tension there.

The best I've done so far is to put the issue of apostasy v. security into the same category as divine sovereignty v. free will, i.e., a biblical paradox that cannot be easily reduced to human categories. That's not very satisfying, but it's better than collapsing either of the poles into the other. Without the danger of apostasy, grace becomes license to sin; without security, we are ultimately hopeless anyway.


Jerry said...

Baptism confers an indelible character to the soul. To say that the person is regenerate is to say that he is now, by virtue of the new life within him, capable of cooperating with and growing in grace, an act of which he was incapable prior to baptism. The ability to cooperate with and grow in grace doesn't go away simply because one ceases so to cooperate; that is why the sacrament of confession is efficacious, and also why it is only available to the baptized. The new life implanted at baptism is capable of being snuffed out, but how often it actually is snuffed out by the will of the recipient is a question to which no one has the answer. I suspect that God is rather more tenacious than we give him credit for, and gives the soul chance after chance after chance. But in the end, even the baptized soul may say to God, as did Bendrix at the conclusion of Greene's "The End of the Affair", "Leave me alone".

Anonymous said...

I do not dispute that Doubting Thomas presents a "reasonable" position or even that it is the majority position today. The question for me is whether this "reasonable" majority position is a truly Biblical one.

Whereas Doubting Thomas (whose definition of regeneration is actually pretty good, by the way) and Fr Hart set up all manner of caveats and conditions around the gifts given in Baptism (you must abide, you must persevere, you must strive, you must, you must, etc, etc), this moralistic and legalistic note is strangely absent in the Prayer Book Baptismal office. The formulae on page 280 ("We receive this child....to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end," and "We give thee hearty thanks that it hath pleased thee to regenerate..." ) sound a hopeful, confident and triumphant note.

As for Article XVI, I simply point out:
(1) it is inadmissible to counter Biblical evidence with Confessional statements. You could prove anything in the world that way.
(2) Article XVI neither denies or affirms the point at issue. It states what is obvious, that the regenerate can backslide. Spiritual regress is not necessarily complete apostasy. This passage in Art. XVI dodges the bullet between a clearly Calvinist or clearly Arminian position. Bicknell (p.253) tries to build an argument on the difference between "may" and "must" here, but his argument collapses if he original Latin text of the Article is studied. Instead of "we may," we find "possumus + infinitive," a rather different construction. What the Article condemns is the doctrine of perfectionism, that we can no sin after baptism. That is not at issue here.

In summary, we have here a debate between two slightly different concepts of regeneration. In one, all who are baptized are regenerated, but this is only a temporary gift and nothing permanent is effected. In the other, perhaps not all baptized are truly regenerated, but for those who are, the gift of New Life in Christ is permanent, final and eschatological.
As St John wrote, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." (The love of the brethren is the basis for the knowledge, not a condition for the truth of the assertion.)

DT writes, answering my question can the one born again become Unborn again, "--Nope, but if he doesn't continue in the faith, he can can DIE again spiritually."

So I have to ask, how is his position improved through the new birth? He has only gained one small step on a moralistic treadmill. This is no Gospel at all, just a nice religion for nice people.

And I still ask, Why can baptism not be repeated, if its spiritual gift is not permanent and irreversible?

Anonymous said...

Jerry's position is very close to mine, but I cannot reconcile these two statements:

"Baptism confers an indelible character to the soul."

"The new life implanted at baptism is capable of being snuffed out"

He backs away from the full import of the latter statement, and to his credit he seems to grasp the impotance of asserting the sovereignty of God. I would amend his second statement as follows:

Because of indwelling sin in the regenerate, they are prone to resist and strugggle against the new life bestowed in Baptism.

Will also gets the point.

Fr. John said...

Fr. Wells,

I like what you write about baptism and the saving grace of God. Faith in that saving grace is a mystery because of our weakness.

C.H. Spurgeon said in a sermon on 1 Cor. ix.7 if we are ever to be conquerors at last, we must fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil. But if we thus fight we hope to conquer, for others have done so before us. But let us remember that some have been defeated. There will be charges in this life battle. It is not to be won without pain and cost. If any man get to heaven, what a demand of courage he will have to meet. If a man get to heaven what a charge of patience he will be at. If any man get to heaven what an amount of perseverance he will require to hold on and hold out. What watchful strength, wisdom are all needed.

continued on next post

Fr. John said...

But, "Who goeth a warfare anytime at his own charges?"

You may reckon upon God's watchful providence. You shall have the Lord Jesus Christ to help you. A soldier of the Cross shall have the divine power of God--the blessed Spirit.

Let me urge upon those beginning the battle of life these cautions and counsels.

Behold the wisdom of faith.
Be thoroughly alive to the importance of prayer.
Consider, too, the necessity of holiness."

Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells,

The Calvinistic framework is very unsatisfying when it comes to this issue. It's wholly unnecessary, and one can still retain a completely Augustinian outlook on salvation without it. Luther was confronted in his day with certain Anabaptist claims of never being able to lose salvation, and his response was that such a thing was never heard of since the beginning of the Church. Luther was right on about the possibility of losing what was obtained in Baptism through subsequent unbelief.

Pastorally, Paul and Peter's avalanche of warnings make no sense if someone cannot tragically miss the very prize he set out to obtain. The most one can say about the lapsed is that their fall was no fall at all, just a revelation that they never were saved. That explanation rings hollow against Scripture and the near-universal testimony of the Church.

I'll stick with Augustine and Aquinas and Luther on this (and pretty much all of Christendom) -- the warnings are real for people who really have been rescued from sin.

Your Sincere Augustinian ACC Layman,

St. Worm

Fr. Robert Hart said...

If confessional statements are inadmissible, so is a Prayer Book Rite. No one ever claimed the BCP to be equal to scripture, or that any one Rite declares the full spectrum of revelation. The issue is not losing an indelible gift, but building a barrier of willful sin against God. Perhaps the question here has a lot to do with the basic theory in The Great Divorce. That, rather than Screwtape, is the C.S. Lewis image under discussion.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

One thing I also forgot to mention, in light of "As St John wrote, 'We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren,'" is that the word ἀγάπη (agape) appears in that verse (I John 3:14), but also is the word used in Rom. 5:5: "And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

But, that is also the word used in Matt. 24:12: "And because iniquity shall abound, the love (ἀγάπη) of many shall wax cold." This is followed immediately by v.13, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."

The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:17), and therefore the people who are of the world cannot have ἀγάπη. Putting all of these passages together leads us to this conclusion: There is good reason for the Scriptural warnings addressed to believers.

Anonymous said...

"If confessional statements are inadmissible, so is a Prayer Book Rite."

But you were pitting Article XVI against Scriptural texts whereas I was contrasting the PB rite against your writing. Unless you elevate your own remarks to canonical status (!), your argument here does not work.

"From I John, those who "went out from us" presumably were baptized, inasmuch as the Church did not ignore this requirement for its members."

OF COURSE those "going out" were baptized! An unbaptized church-member was utterly unthinkable in the NT context. The point of the text is that some of those baptized were not "of us," i. e., they were not truly regenerate because they were not elect.
Those "going out" were those "condemned already," the reprobate.

Several comments have attempted to appeal to an "ecumenical consensus." I find this to be a question-begging argument since it assumes something that may not exist. Whereas we do have a strong ecumenical consensus on certain things (Trinity and Incarnation), a Consensus is lacking on other things, such as Original Sin, Marian dogmas or even the OT Canon (Just compare the Orthodox Study Bible to the New Jerusalem Bible). I seriously doubt there really is a consensus on the question at hand.

In debates between Calvinists and Arminians, the inevitable pattern is that Arminians argue basically along philosophical lines (free will, free agency, moral resposibility, universal love, etc) whereas Calvinists argue mostly on exegetical lines, even at great philosophical risk of apparent inconsistencies.

To throw out another exegetical point, let us remember that both the NT and the Fathers were fond of referring to Baptism/Confirmation as a "seal" (sphragis). Calvinist scholastics sometimes expounded the phrase "sign and seal" as "a sign to all, a seal to the elect." But the point of the "seal" metaphor is its unalterable character. The seal of a king on a document cannot be tampered with, save by the king himself.

And why is no one responding to my question on the finality of Baptism? If the gifts of Baptism are reversible, why can Baptism not be repeated? If there is anything like an "ecumenical consensus," it is in the principle "Once baptized, always baptized." From which I can only infer, "Once truly and inwardly regenerate, always truly and inwardly regenerate."

Anonymous said...

I have not yet addressed the argument that the warnings against apostasy and infidelity running through the NT (Paul being no exception) are some kind of evidence against the indefectibility of the regenerate.

There are no stronger or more vehement warnings against apostasy and sin than in the prophets of rhe Old Testament. And the prophets were speaking of no hpothetical possibility, but of a horrible reality before their own eyes. But there is not a single line of the OT which does not resuppose God's sovereign unconditional election of Israel. And at the end of trhe day, he prophets were certain that this Election was expressed in an unbreakable covenant, to which God had bound Himself. "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6).

True enough, the Sinai covenant was conditional ("Do these things, and thou shalt live") but it was grounded in the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, "I will be your God and ye shall be my people....and I will dwell with you."
The tension between those two OT covenants foreshadows a long debate in Christian theology, which we are now reviewing. The OT resolution of this dilemma was in the faithful remnant, "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them shall be saved."

Paul and the other NT writers warned against apostasy because they knew that
in the New Israel as in the Old, "Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants" (Romans 9:6b-7a). There are in the Church "false brethren crept in unawares," because the Church is the field where wheat and tares grow together until the end. The Church is the place where all share in the outward and visible means of grace, but not all partake of the Spiritual reality. And only God will make the final separation. But we can be sure that the wheat do not transmute into tares.

Yes, warnings against apostasy and sin are perfectly in order, because the regenerate are still not perfect in holiness, the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and our enemy the devil still seeketh whom he may devour. But for all that, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Not even our own sin.

poetreader said...

If there is anything like an "ecumenical consensus," it is in the principle "Once baptized, always baptized." From which I can only infer, "Once truly and inwardly regenerate, always truly and inwardly regenerate."

In this, as in a number of other matters, I find there to be indeed an ecumenical consensus: that such matters are not authoritatively decided, and therefore that differing opinions may be held. There certainly is a consensus that Baptism is once and for all. There is no such consensus on the inferred corollary, as is witnessed in the very nature of this current discussion. Much ink has been used on this question over the course of two millennia, and no generally accepted conclusion has been reached. To some Fr. Wells' conclusion appears obvious. To others it appears to be a non sequitur. My own fairly settled opinion of the matter is that we hereby find that our logical facility is simply not able to plumb the infinite depths of the mind of God, and that both expressions of the matter, as attempts to express the unfathomable, contain much of truth and much of inadequacy. It is not a bad thing to be reaching for more understanding. That is, after all, what our human minds were designed for, But it is not a good thing if I declare with certainty that I have solved a problem the Church has been wrestling with from the beginning, and that I therefore can declare everyone else to be plain wrong. It is precisely in the interaction of various differing views that our understanding of God and His workings can grow.


Jerry said...

Baptism cannot be repeated because the indelible character of soul imparted in it is, well, indelible. An analogy might be man's rational nature, which is an indelible character of human nature. Still, man may neglect his rational nature and live like an animal. What he needs in such a case is not another rational nature, but a restoration of his proper disposition toward it and a healing of the irrationality which has become habitual (but not, strictly speaking, characteristic). In the Chrisian life, we don't re-baptize- we use sacramental confession. There is complete consensus about this in the Undivided Church.

Fr. John said...

Fr. Wells,

I think you may be going into one of those areas that T.S. Eliot describes as, "These things that I discuss too much with myself."

Jesus made it clear that he chooses us, not we him. He chose Judas Iscariot also.

There is an urgency to the Savior's message, he warns continually that the way of the Cross is a hard one. We must be careful to always encourage those who travel with us on the way. I grieve for those who quit. Now they are indelibly marked with baptism. Should they wind up in Hell by some perversion of their free will, they will be mocked for all eternity, even worse for those who are marked with the sacrament of holy orders.

The Christian life is a warfare and a hard lot. God has given us all the equipment we need to conduct this warfare successfully, but along the way there is always the temptation to go a.w.o.l.,or desert, or even to go over to the enemy camp.

In God's graciousness to me, and ultimately that is our most powerful argument, what God has done for each of us personally, I feel, and also believe, that I am saved. Without going into details, the Lord went to great trouble (is anything really a great trouble to Him?) and condescended to make me aware of my own election. But there is always the troubling figure of Lucifer before me, who beholding the beatific vision, and having great understanding of the nature and attributes of God went into open rebellion against his Lord.

I sit at God's Holy Table as an invited guest, and remain of my own free will and pleasure, but nevertheless, God has me in His firm grip, and will in no wise cast me out, even if I should be tempted to leave the safety of His house, He will not allow it, this I know, but I also know that if I really insist, I can leave. "Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Ps. 85

The real mystery is why would anyone ever want to leave the presence of God? The implication in Holy Scripture is that many will side with Satan. I can hear Lucifer now at the judgment day, "God made me this way, and God don't make no junk."

But it won't wash. Everyone is called, but not all will receive election. The true puzzle is why so many refuse the call to be elected. And for those who accept baptism, but seem to fall away, well...God will know His own and receive them, if they will receive Him. Remember that God keeps all of His promises, even when we don't keep ours.

Yes, baptism indelibly marks the recipient, but it is also an act of obedience to God. Those baptized as infants are not exempt from the lasting effect. Apparently family matters to God, and one person's faith can stand for another.

God has declared a general amnesty through Jesus Christ, who would refuse it?

veriword: mullu

RC Cola said...

I always thought it was amusing that protestants call sacraments "human works" and yet they think it is important to be adult and be able to make a decision to get baptized. I consider that thinly veiled Pelagianism. The sacrament has the power, not the human decision to receive the sacrament. Calvinist would claim that the human decision is really an effect of irresistable grace, but that is tautological or circular reasoning.
Baptism has nothing to do with human reason, rationality, decision science, or what have you, it is all about the sacrament, which is to say that it is all about the power of God.
Article XVI that Fr. Hart is brilliant. For all of Calvinists insistence that salvation has nothing to do with the human, they seem to put an awful lot of emphasis on the human choice. It's one of many inherent contradictions that I see in Calvinism.
Thank God for Anglicanism, which has legitimate paradoxes, not contradictions.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Baptism is the reality for which circumcision was a type (Col. 2:11,12). One does not repeat entering into the Covenant. The man in Old Covenant nation had been circumcised once as a child of Abraham; afterward, as needed, he brought his offerings of atonement and made confession of sin before the priest.

In the OT a covenant has both blessings and curses (Deut. 11:29, 27:4ff). The sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20ff) demonstrates the maledictions and benedictions in OT style, but with stronger and eternal meaning. The sermon on the Mount has its benedictions (the Beatitudes, Matt. 5:3f), and a more subtle kind of maledictions at the end (7:21-27).

It is inconsistent with the Bible as a whole to discuss election apart from covenantal meaning; and it is inconsistent with the Bible as a whole to miss the Divine requirement of fidelity and obedience. The NT, as opposed to the OT, reveals much more about grace. Even so, the prophetic language of warning to the unfaithful and disobedient are in some ways much more clear.

Therefore, we should caution against two attitudes of the heart toward God and the subject of election.

1. Presuming on God's grace by assuming security while in an unrepentant state of mortal sin ("a sin unto death").

2. Presuming the opposite, being discouraged as in the warning of Article XVI.

(My only caveat is that we avoid these two dangers in what we believe and communicate to others.) But, if we take the kind of holy comfort we see in Article XVI, that is comfort because we see the grace of God working in our lives, then we are on the safest ground.

This is not an easy subject, and I suppose it was not meant to be.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

Excellent analysis and eminently biblical.

The substance of assurance can never be "you are regenerate, ergo you can never fall away" -- the existential crisis is thrown upon exactly what does it "feel" like to be regenerate? Excepting the crassest antinomian systems (none here is an antinomian I know) we all have to walk with a degree of introspection. I have a reformed friend at this very moment wondering if he's even really saved. The 5-point paradigm isn't assisting him any more than when I knew him to be an Arminian.

The better answer is: God has drawn you and marked you with His Name, and you're safe from the world, the flesh, and the devil -- continue in that grace. "Make your calling and election sure," is no Pelagian measure; it's the life we have in Christ. We live in perpetual battle, we screw up sometimes, and we have a loving Father who patiently leads us. When we cast off the yoke of Jesus we put our souls in objective mortal danger. All the rhetoric about never having REALLY loved Christ or saved by Him rings hallow (1 John 2:19 notwithstanding considering its context).

We have been given everything needful to avoid shipwreck. But this business about a regenerate soul unable to shipwreck his faith is just not biblically vindicated. Again, the Church overwhelmingly testifies against this belief.

One last note. I know Fr. Wells believes deeply and passionately the Calvinistic paradigm (from everything I've read) -- and I truly appreciate those convictions (I was a 5-pointer myself for many years), so my responses aren't as an outsider or someone who has no appreciation for Calvinism. I think it's healthy to debate these important pastoral matters.

In Jesus,
St. Worm

Happy Advent!

Anonymous said...

I thought I had written my last word in this thread until this appeared:

"1. Presuming on God's grace by assuming security while in an unrepentant state of mortal sin ("a sin unto death").

If anyone has every read Pilgrim's Progress, or the works of Nathanael Hawthorne, or spent a Sabbath-day afternoon in a Scotch-Irish home, he will surely see how odd a criticism of "Calvinism" this is. As strange as telling Orthodox Jews about the dangers of eating shrimp raw.

It should be pointed out that "security" is a Baptistic term, rather different in its import from the Calvinistic "perseverance."

This statement is highly commendable:

"It is inconsistent with the Bible as a whole to discuss election apart from covenantal meaning; and it is inconsistent with the Bible as a whole to miss the Divine requirement of fidelity and obedience."

This is a reminder that Covenant theology was worked out long ago by Dutch and Scottish Calvinists. A fine introduction to the whole subject is Michael Horton's 200 page book "God of Promise."

Perhaps in charity I should not comment on the following quote from St Worm, but perhaps in a deeper form of charity I must.

"The substance of assurance can never be "you are regenerate, ergo you can never fall away" -- the existential crisis is thrown upon exactly what does it "feel" like to be regenerate?

If I thought that was "the Calvinist paradigm," then I too would become an Arminian. Perseverance and assurance are never based on religious feelings. That was an error originated by Jonathan Edwards.

Will said...

Fr. Wells, as usual, is "spot on". "Feeling" regenerate or not is not really the heart of the matter. We are called to examine ourselves and be sure that we are bearing fruit for the King - to make our calling and election sure. But then we must simply trust that God will do what he has promised He will do, regardless of how we feel, and that He will do the right thing by us, no matter what that may be.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

St. Worm wrote:

...the existential crisis is thrown upon exactly what does it "feel" like to be regenerate?

I believe that this comment has been misunderstood. Basing confidence on feeling is the very "existential crisis" that he attributed to erroneous thinking.

Fr. John said...


Your words are the words of a soldier. All of us are Christian soldiers. A soldiers life is a hard life, and remains so until his warfare is accomplished.

Let's assume that baptism and election are sure, and guaranteed to all who actually have them in an unfailing manner. The warfare required between baptism and death will still make you feel as though you might break. Scripture tells us that when Anti-Christ appears the very elect will almost be deceived.

Yet God has not sent me to war at my own cost, nevertheless, I still must perform the duties of a soldier, and that is hard, dangerous work. I may get killed, or wounded (think of Fr. Daniil shot in his Moscow Church last weekend)and the knowledge of God's promise and his gift of faith are what help me persevere.

Intellectually I know the reward at the end is not due to any merit of mine, but while I am fighting the battle I am praying, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!"

The connection between God and each of us, while certainly corporate, is also uniquely personal and intimate. While I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling, I contemplate my fate if I should fail, and pray not to be put to the test.

I think the central question here is: "Do those who receive the sacrament of baptism gain eternal life with Christ come what so ever?" We pray so. Our human life experiences tell us to expect the worst from humans though.

There will be a resurrection of the damned.Will there be baptized people among them? We won't know til the day of doom.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

Thank you for clarifying that for me. I put "feeling" in quotes precisely because I wanted to show that a doctrine of assurance must be placed outside of ourselves. I think in some ways the Lutherans do this better than the Reformed. A doctrine of "perseverance of the saints" doesn't provide any more assurance than the converse view simply for the reason that the objective signs of our assurance are within the context of faith, not apostasy. There is after all an infinite chasm between a man weak in faith and a man strong in unbelief.

I believe a thoroughly catholic and robust theology of assurance need not be informed by very peculiar Reformed sub-categories from a counter-Remonstrant context. Way before October 31st, 1517 Herr Luther was receiving wise consolation from his confessor Johann Von Staupitz (and Luther said he would be a thankless, papistical ass if he were not grateful to him) to look to the wounds of Christ for his security amid his doubts. All good Augustinian Catholics knew a regenerate man could finally cast off the grace of Jesus (save for the secret number of the elect) through mortal sin, but the wise ones (like Staupitz) saw the value of the theology of Christus Extra Nos. Luther carried that into his reforms. Calvin shines when his theology intersects with Luther's on this, but Anglicans needn't be overly-enamored with that great man's systematization or conclusions.

I do thank you, Fr. Wells, for this friendly exchange. It's been most engaging.

In Jesus,
St. Worm

Anonymous said...

For those whose interest has not been exhausted, permit me to recommend an article by the RC apologist James Akin, "A Tiptoe Through Tulip," in the EWTN website. Just google in "James Akin Tulip" and you are there.

Akin argues that the infamous five points (Total Depravity, etc) are patient of a Thomistic interpretation and are not contrary to Catholic teaching. His interpretation of "Perseverance" is not identical with mine, principally because he does not distinguish clearly between the sign and thing signified in Baptism.
But his essay is still informative.
Nimis scripsi.

Will said...

Fr. John,

I can tell by your words that you have the heart of a true pastor and shepherd. I do agree with you that in the final analysis we will not know if there are baptized among the damned until that final Day. But if "by their fruit you shall know them", I can only fear that it can indeed happen. After all, even Josef Stalin was baptized, and actually enrolled in a seminary, although he never took his final exams. But I realize we do not need to go off on this tangent, for some will say he fell from grace, and some that he never had that grace in the beginning.

As you say, a soldier's life is a hard life, and we are, after all, aliens sojourning in this world. But I take tremendous comfort that the Lord has empowered us with His Spirit, and that he has blessed us with the fellowship of others who serve him.

Thank you for your pastoral heart!

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

As has already been mentioned above, the Consensus Patrum regarding the salvation of Christians in one important respect is quite clear, even in the most predestinarian of the Fathers. And it is that Christians may lose their salvation by abusing the grace they really receive. None of the Fathers affirmed the absolute irresistibility of all justifying/sanctifying grace in this life. As a purportedly binding doctrine of the Church, this particular element of Calvinism was a genuine novum in the Church.

All the Fathers affirmed the necessity of remaining in grace by free will. However, they also agreed that that will becomes free and enabled to choose God in a way not possible before grace precisely through grace. Enabled and moved, but not absolutely compelled. The only way that grace could be lost was mortal sin. (The foreknown/predestined Elect either would not fall away or would be restored if they did, but not all who received grace initially were believed to be necessarily in the Elect.) It was not a matter of thinking sin could be more powerful than grace, as if it was simply a competition between the two with us as passive bystanders awaiting the inevitable outcome. The graced will remained imperfect and could still choose the darkness finally. That the New Testament authors treated this as a genuine possibility that had to be warned against is absolutely undeniable: E.g., Matthew 5:13, 1 Corinthians 11:22, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2 Peter 2:20.

So, to characterise the belief that it is possible for real Christians to fall away and lose salvation as heretical, opposed to the Gospel or a denial of the Church's Faith is to condemn the Scriptures and the Consensus Patrum regarding their interpretation. It is therefore utterly impermissible for Catholics.

Does this mean that the Calvinist opinion that all who receive saving grace will in fact be finally saved and reach heaven simply cannot be maintained by a Catholic? No. How can I say this and be consistent? Let me explain.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

The hope that all might be saved has been a minority opinion in the Church from very early days. While the position that all must be saved has been condemned insofar as it purports to be a dogma and effectively denies God's free will of grace and human free will as well, the hope or belief that all may or will be saved has not. Bp Kallistos Ware has made this point from the Eastern Orthodox perspective. We find this opinion in, among others, Origen, St Clement of Alexandria and St Gregory of Nyssa of the Fathers and Barth and von Balthasar of modern theologians. If this has always been a permissible opinion, as Farrar demonstrated in his work on the “larger hope” in the 19th Century, then it could hardly be impermissible to claim that all those who begin on the path of salvation in this life will be finally saved. In this case the Scriptural warnings spoken of above would be seen as a means for avoiding the actualisation of what remains a theoretical possibility, but one that will not, in the end, come to pass due to God's persistent love.

But this opinion cannot be a binding doctrine of the Church, disallowing or anathematising the contrary opinion, without dogmatically excluding the soteriology of the vast majority of the Fathers and fellow Catholics and therefore being intrinsically sectarian. In other words, an intention to break communion over this opinion would be schismatic and possibly heretical. I do not believe, however, that Fr Wells, for example, has such an intention. Neither did the Calvinist Anglicans at the Synod of Dort, as has been noted above in Curate's comments.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

On the other hand, I fail to understand the great consternation over the "Calvinist" teaching that Baptism regenerates the Elect but not the Reprobate. ...

So now we have the interesting situation of temporary possession of eternal life.This reduces the Gospel to something like the offer of $1,000,000 in a piece of junk mail, all contingent on some impossible requirement.

So when the priest says "Seeing now this person is regenerate," he should lean over and whisper sotto voce "But in the end, my dear, it is all up to you." ...

So I have to ask, how is his position improved through the new birth? He has only gained one small step on a moralistic treadmill. This is no Gospel at all, just a nice religion for nice people.

And I still ask, Why can baptism not be repeated, if its spiritual gift is not permanent and irreversible?

Fr Wells,

The great consternation is over the corollaries that Calvinists commonly propose to this opinion. For example, when they say that, insofar as baptism regenerates infants, it only regenerates a certain proportion of them (whether large or small), this cuts across the consensual patristic and Catholic teaching (and that of the Book of Common Prayer) that all baptised infants are regenerated. The only baptised not regenerated according to this same consensus, are those who receive the sacrament insincerely or in unbelief, which only those over the age of reason can do. Since you do not appear to follow this version of Calvinism, our consternation is not with you here. Instead, your version of Calvinism appears to accept that all baptised infants and believers are regenerated and are part of the salvifically predestined Elect.

As for the middle three paragraphs quoted above, I think you are seriously misrepresenting the opposing view through false analogies. Nobody claims that “it is all up to” the Christian whether they persevere, but the Church has always taught that we do have a role in perseverance, and most Christian teachers have accepted that we can fail to persevere through abandoning that role. An analogy that is closer to the opposing view is as follows. Imagine that a man has a very bad accident, becomes unconscious, but is rescued by ambulance officers and healed by surgeons and other doctors, all the while remaining unconscious. He has been physically saved and renewed, so to speak. If we see him a week after he has woken up, does he have the right to say that he has had a part in saving himself because he has so far refrained from jumping off the third story hospital balcony outside his room and undoing all the good work of the medicos? Would we not tell him he was fooling himself to think this way? Similarly, the fact that remaining in grace is dependent on not committing mortal sin, spiritual suicide, does not mean that grace is earned or that salvation is won by works.

Given that this view, which accepts that some Christians will depart permanently from grace through unrepented and willful mortal sin, is the much more common one within the Catholic Church through all ages, your description of it as “no Gospel” is an implicit, though unintentional, denial of Catholic principles. It would mean that the Gospel was virtually lost throughout the Church between St Paul and Calvin.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Regarding the non-repetition of baptism, as implied by my essay on baptism above, it is due to the fact that by it every person is permanently “marked” by the “seed” delivered to their “soil”. This occurs even for those who receive it in unbelief, which is why they are not re-baptised if they later come to faith. That this is the same practice for Catholics and the Reformed, neither of whom claim regeneration happens in this case till after baptism, shows that both accept there is a “permanence” to the effect of Baptism distinct from regeneration.

Your claim that Calvinists rely mainly on exegesis, Arminians mainly on philosophy, is a serious oversimplification. On the contrary, I have seen how Calvinists deal with the Scriptures that, if Scripture is as “perspicuous” on essentials as they say, give an excellent impression of denying various aspects of Calvinist soteriology. One method is to say that the ones they claim clearly teach Calvinism are more frequent and significant than the others, so that the “weight” of Scriptural teaching tells for Divine Sovereignty and against human responsibility as determinative. The problem with this is that while there are multitudinous verses very clearly asserting human responsibility and warning against losing grace or salvation, those verses upon which Calvinists rely usually do not even seem to promise final salvation unconditionally and manifestly to all those who have received grace, but promise things like God never leaving us or never being “snatched” away from him if we are his sheep (e.g., John 10:28, where comparison with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats would imply he is speaking only of the Elect anyway), but saying nothing about whether Christians can leave him voluntarily. A second method of dealing with the difficult verses is to claim that the warnings are motivational in character and based on a fearful hypothesis that the authors knew to be absolutely impossible, strictly speaking, but used for educational purposes with immature Christians. The problem with this is that it appears to impugn the honesty of the New Testament writers.

I am glad that you have noted Akin's Aquinas cf. Calvin link. I have given it on this 'blog myself before. Given what it reveals and what I have said above, the following summary may be helpful. Dogmatic Calvinist soteriology concerning the irresistibility of grace and the perseverance/preservation of those receiving saving grace is excluded on Catholic principles, but a qualified or “modest” Calvinism in these areas (the I and P of the acronym TULIP), which is equivalent to a Semi-Universalist version of Thomism, may be held as a pious opinion, it seems. Regarding Total Depravity (T) and Unconditional Election (U), each may be held as pious opinions since they are merely the Augustinianism of the Council of Orange, but cannot be considered dogma at all, since they are contrary to common permissible opinions in the West and the general view of the Eastern Fathers, so do not have ecumenical authority. (I think you have noted the same thing in the past.) Limited Atonement (L) is only permissible if the consensual Scriptural, patristic and Catholic doctrine that Christ died for the sins of all, in a fundamental sense, is accepted. In other words, while it can be said that Christ offered himself knowing (in his Divine Nature) who he would call to faith in order that they could receive forgiveness, so that this knowledge unavoidably “informed” his sacrificial intention, it must also be affirmed that at a “prior” level in thought he willed to atone for all human sins and forgive all sins. That he knew not all would accept the benefits of this, thus restricting the scope of Atonement's “destination” (including in God's foreknowledge), does not change the universal scope of Redemption at its “origin”.

Pax et Bonum,


Fr Matthew Kirby said...

P.S. I have another thought on what post-baptismal faith does to "activate" further the earlier regeneration for those baptised as infants. The Scriptures usually have the word as the seed, but sometimes we ourselves are the seed or plant. Perhaps the implanting of the seed within at baptism, when followed by an "appropriation" by faith, identifies the baptised person himself more fully with the seed?

poetreader said...

Thank you, Fr. Kirby.

I'm much more sympathetic to Calvinist views than I generally show in my comments, and was, at one point, almost a consistent TULIPer. There's a certain appeal to such a set of ideas -- As opposed to the radical fearfulness of extreme Arminianism (which I had previously taught, as a Holiness/Pentecostal preacher) there's a certain bold comfort which well complements the core of the Gospel.

However, as in all things, an insistence on taking such a notion to its logical end is, not sometimes, but always, the gateway to heresies and sectarianism. You presented that danger far better than I have heretofore managed. I see via media as certainly not a compromise between differing viewpoints, but rather as inhabiting the point at which apparent contradictions balance one another, and lead to a truth just a bit beyond fully rational comprehension. I thus take both predestination and free will as absolute teachings of the Scriptures (and of the Fathers), with the realization that I'm not going to be able to sort out how that actually works.

When either side of this 'debate' forthrightly expresses its positive views, I come very close to applause, but when either side begins to condemn apparently opposing viewpoints, I become appalled and tend to withdraw from the discussion.