Friday, January 23, 2009

Here was an interesting exchange by Jimmy Akin and Scott Windsor on how to deal with Calvinists that swim the Tiber.

Jimmy Akin proposes Calvinists converting to Rome can keep "TULIP" if they understand it this way:

A Thomistic TULIP

In view of this all, we might propose a Thomist version of TULIP
T = Total inability (to please God without special grace)
U = Unconditional election
L = Limited intent (for the atonement's efficacy)
I = Intrinsically efficacious grace (for salvation)
P = Perseverance of the elect (until the end of life).

There are other ways to construct a Thomist version of TULIP, of course, but the fact there is even one way demonstrates that a Calvinist would not have to repudiate his understanding of predestination and grace to become Catholic. He simply would have to do greater justice to the teaching of Scripture and would have to refine his understanding of perseverance.

Scott Windsor's approach:

That is well and good, but the criticism of using their terminology still exists (as with my initial article which did much the same as Akin's here does). If one is to convert to the True Church, then why hang on to errors of the past at all? When one converts, they need to RENOUNCE their past - and EMBRACE that which they now KNOW to be the Truth. Let's not "tiptoe through TULIP," let's just crush the TULIP so they can move on and know the Truth.

Hmm... let's see...which one is the correct approach?


Matt said...

The correct approach is the one "laid out" by the Magisterium in the seventeenth century. The Scripture, of which the Magisterium is "merely" the guardian, is not entirely clear about these rather technical, though important, details of how to reconcile God's grace and human free will. Therefore, it was not seen to be appropriate for the Church to declare as heretics the Molinists, even though their doctrines do not accord with St. Augustine. Disagreement on this matter can co-exist with communion. I can worship next to someone who is a Molinist. We live in a fallen world. Even for those with a strong conviction about the extension of the Magisterium, they would never say that that means there is perfect uniformity on every single issue.

It's sort of like adiaphora.

Anyway, why would we want to crush the Calvinist TULIP if it is understood in a way which is in accord with St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Domingo Banez...

Daniel Montoro said...

That's right Matt. If the idea is in accordance with the truth, it might be a good teaching tool.

john said...

Are you talking about methodology or content? If methodology then I see nothing wrong with James Aikens approach. I happen to be a Thomist so I can see a lot of similarities between the Reformed/Calvinist 5 Points and Thomistic Theology. I have read Jimmy Aikens version of Tulip and personally I feel he is not Thomistic enough. Maybe James is more of a neo-Thmist, I don't know, I haven't read too much of his stuff. I stick with more formal Theology, not the "pop" apologetics.

Matt said...


Is your question directed at me? If so, I agree that the actual "content" of Akins' TULIP can be even brought MORE in line with Calvinism's Five Points and remain orthodox. Indeed, Calvinists in the seventeenth century would frequently cite contemporary Thomists from Spain in their controversies with the Arminians.

But the purpose of my post was to try to destabilize the view of Scott Windsor and explain briefly the ecclesial principles which allow for this sort of disagreement between Thomists, Molinists, etc.

Daniel Montoro said...

L = Limited intent (for the atonement's efficacy)

I don't like the use of the word "intent" here. It should be "application" or something similar. Everyone knows that God desires the salvation of all he has created.

john said...

Matt: No my comment was just an observation and rhetorical. BTW I have no idea who Scott Windsor is.

Rhology said...

What I'd like to see in this combox is a lot less Roman Catholic individual hypothesising and a lot more quoting of ex cathedra Magisterial proclamations, so we can all be sure that we're getting the right stuff.

Nick said...

"Hmm... let's see...which one is the correct approach?"

The "tag" of this says "blueprint for anarchy," so I assume your intent with this post is to show some kind of doctrinal conflict/anarchy in this situation.

The problem with this is your use of the word "approach," as if there was only one valid approach. You can approach a problem multiple different ways, without the result being doctrinal anarchy. The KEY to realize is that there are dogmatic parameters Catholics must stay within. As long as they stay within the parameters of teachings like Trent, they can "approach" the problem however they want.

It's only doctrinal anarchy when there are no parameters, or, more precisely, the inability to set parameters. This is due to Sola Scriptura, because without a Church to infallibly interpret, you cannot set down parameters of orthodoxy.

The closest thing Protestantism has are the classical Confessions (eg Westminster), which do a decent job of establishing Reformed parameters, but the layman Protestant never actually has to submit to them (making such Confessions of ultimately no value).

Rhology said...


So the RCC hasn't clarified this problem?
Is the teaching "there are dogmatic parameters Catholics must stay within. As long as they stay within the parameters of teachings like Trent, they can 'approach' the problem however they want" an infallible teaching? Or could it be subject to variance within certain parameters?
Either way you answer, how do you know that?


Nick said...

Rhology: So the RCC hasn't clarified this problem?

Nick: I'm not sure what you are asking. Soteriology covers a very broad spectrum, it cannot be narrowly defined in an exhaustive manner and in a finite amount of space.

Think about what would be required to formulate a single, perfect and exhaustive definition of the Trinity, there is only so much we can say in a finite amount of space. Instead of spending time writing huge texts on a ultra precise definition, parameters are set up saying what can and cannot be believed when the individual is formulating ways of understanding such a complex and ultimately ineffable issue.

Rho: Is the teaching "there are dogmatic parameters Catholics must stay within. As long as they stay within the parameters of teachings like Trent, they can 'approach' the problem however they want" an infallible teaching?

Nick: Yes it is an infallible teaching, because the parameters are dogmas. For example, it is a dogma that salvation can be lost, thus however you choose to understand issues like Perseverance and Predestination, it must include (and not contradict) the fact salvation can be lost. So if a Catholic formulated a teaching in which Once Saved Always Saved was the conclusion, he would not be within the parameters of Trent.

Rho: Or could it be subject to variance within certain parameters?

Nick: I don't understand this question. If you are asking whether the Church has or can further clarify an issue in the future, the answer is yes.

Rho: Either way you answer, how do you know that?

Nick: Because when the Church attaches an anathema to something, you cannot willfully disregard it. Instead, you must embrace it.

Rhology said...

What I'm saying is, you deny that there are precise formulations of these dogmas. But then you present a precise formulation, specifically that one must stay within certain parameters. I'm wondering if that has been infallibly defined. If so, where? How do you know it's infallible?

Matt said...


As my quotations from Gaudium et Spes elsewhere showed, there is a proper autonomy/integrity for scholars, historians, and theologians working on the Catholic tradition.

But here is the essay (even with an "imprimatur" that you often care deeply about) from the Catholic Encyclopedia relevant to the point:

Here is probably the most relevant quotation to your query:

"The pope's decree communicated (5 September, 1607) to both Dominicans and Jesuits, allowed each party to defend its own doctrine, enjoined each from censoring or condemning the opposite opinion, and commanded them to await, as loyal sons of the Church, the final decision of the Apostolic See. That decision, however, has not been reached, and both orders, consequently, maintain their respective theories, just as any other theological opinion is held."

So if your question is about the authority of the acceptability of Thomism and Molinism, there is your answer.

If you are asking about whether Akins's five point fall within this limits, then you'll have to be more specific. In this format, I don't think it's necessary for me to show you whether these "five points" fit within Thomism (since that would take a lot of work) in answer to your short questions.

As for "infallibility," you really need to read Avery Dulles or someone. You seem to think that something cannot be erroneous theologically unless it contradicts ex cathedra statements of the popes on faith and morals. That is just patently false.

So...anyway...the specifics of Molinism and Thomism and the acceptability of each may not fall under the specific charism of infallibility, but the fact that neither is a heresy is an authoritatively stated reality. Remember: there is such a thing as an "ordinary" magisterium...

Nick said...

Rho: What I'm saying is, you deny that there are precise formulations of these dogmas.

Nick: Yes, because there can be no end to describing each and every aspect of many theological issues. Setting up parameters is the most logical option. It is similar to apophasis, which is zeroing in on the Truth by saying what it cannot be.

Rho: But then you present a precise formulation, specifically that one must stay within certain parameters.
I'm wondering if that has been infallibly defined. If so, where? How do you know it's infallible?

Nick: It is infallible by the fact Trent was teaching infallibly, hence the anathemas. All Catholics are bound to believe what has been infallibly defined, and what has not been infallibly defined is given room for personal freedom. You are over-thinking all of this.

Take an example from Sola Scriptura. Protestants admit that Scripture doesn't give an exhaustive account of all things, so there is room for personal opinion to be included in your theological theories. However, those theories must remain within the clear parameters of what Scripture has laid out. So, lets say the issue of baptism by pouring vs by immersion comes up. Scripture doesn't speak on this issue, thus you have some freedom to go either way. However, your overall view on Baptism must remain within Scriptural parameters on Baptism (eg using water instead of milk and using a Trinitarian formula).

Matthew Bellisario said...

It is important to determine whether something is taught infallibly or not in order to then determine how something can be explained or approached. As Nick pointed out one must stay in the bounds of what has been infallibly defined. These statements are pretty clear to determine, such as when something is proclaimed with an anathema, or directly from the Pope within the confines of his Chair, or a document stating something to be unchangeable, definitive and the like that is approved by the Magisterium. This infallible teaching can be of the Ordinary fashion as well, that is it has been proclaimed in general throughout the Church by the bishops as being unchangeable. As long as one assents to these teachings as they are explicitly defined then you are fine and you can outside of those parameters further expound on the subject. You can use a Thomistic approach to explain it or whatever.

Finally we have a teaching of the Ordinary type which is not infallible and can be further expounded upon with undefined parameters as long as one still assents to the general teaching. Just because something is not infallibly taught does not mean that one can choose not accept it. Bu there is more room to expound upon the subject because there is not enough solemnly defined statements on the teaching to define a tight parameter on it.

The Catechism defines the ordinary fallible teaching here as,

"892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. "

In this case it seems on a surface level that James Akin is just choosing to name infallible teachings a new name in order to make it more palatable for Calvinists to digest. To my knowledge there is no crime in that. I don't personally operate in that fashion, but each to his own.

Matt said...

The accounts of how all this works with infallibility have been very helpful. I just wanted to make a note that Akin's "five points" are not really new ways of saying things. Perserverance of the elect, intrinsically efficacious grace, unconditional election, etc., were widely used in Catholic theology since the thirteenth century (and long before, of course). Just for sake of clarification...

beowulf2k8 said...

Calvinism came from Augustine the Baby Damner, so duh. All this tripe about Calvinism and Catholicism being different is a smokescreen. They're the same.

beowulf2k8 said...

BTW, why no titles on the new posts? Posts without titles are kinda annoying.

James Swan said...

BTW, why no titles on the new posts? Posts without titles are kinda annoying.

Well, rumor has it, I'm a mean anti-Catholic.

Daniel Montoro said...

"Well, rumor has it, I'm a mean anti-Catholic."

James, what did this have to do with the question? I'm not connecting the dots.

Dozie said...
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Dozie said...
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beowulf2k8 said...
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Tim Enloe said...

Not to defend Akin, but it seems that the quality of his view is far greater than that of Windsor. I've seen other Catholics, far removed from the street fighting lunacy of Internet apologetics, argue that Aquinas has significant overlaps with Calvin. This has been recognized in an important study by Arvin Vos, Aquinas, Calvin, & Contemporary Protestant Thought, which, alas, I don't have at hand to refer to. But Vos' book was endorsed by the prominent Thomist scholar Ralph McInerny as a very useful work.

Windsor has never struck me as a particularly informed apologist, and you can see this in the way he presents himself in the citation. Whatever Akin's flaws may be, he a least offers a constructive possibility for discussion. It certainly couldn't hurt Calvinists to have more familiarity with Aquinas, and Scholastic theology in general. It has such great relevance for the shape of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation debates, after all.

James Swan said...

Not to defend Akin, but it seems that the quality of his view is far greater than that of Windsor.

I've listened to a lot of Akin. He's the brightest of the CA Live gang.

Tim Enloe said...

Of course, on the other hand there's no particular reason to suppose that if Aquinas and Calvin can be somehow harmonized, this means one has to become Catholic. Aquinas was primarily an expositor of Scripture, so there would be no harm - and certainly no concession to the Catholicism of the apologists - in coming to see him as having held certain views that were pretty close to later Reformation ones.

Matt said...

Seeing the basic compatibility of Aquinas and Calvin would not necessarily mean that one would have to or even that one _should_ become Catholic. But it might have certain implications for thinking about what it means to be Reformed. It would mean that, instead of certain elements of a Reformed doctrine of predestination--which are, at least in the popular imagination, what define Calvinism--being markers which set it apart from Catholics, it would mean that these supposed "distinctives" actually were in harmony with many of the greatest Western theologians, not just Augustine, but Prosper, Aquinas, Bradwardine, Gregory of Rimini, Cajetan, Banez, and so on, who are certainly (to say the least!) within the range of orthodoxy.

Again, if the view of God's grace which flows from this view of predestination were in fact central to one's vision of the Gospel (which it certainly is for many Reformed Christians, as it is for me as a Thomist), I would think that this would lead to a different attitude towards our "separated brethren." As I deepened in my Thomism, for instance, I assumed a much, much more favorable attitude towards the Reformed theological heritage.

It might also mean that some of the "anathemas" of the Reformation (on both sides) do not (and did not) apply in the same way as we have often thought. One example of this is free will. For Banez (the greatest post-Tridentine Thomist), his only major objection to the Calvinist view of predestination is that it denies free will. Now, he doesn't mean the moral ability to chose or reject this grace, nor did he mean the ability to do good which was pleasing to God. All he means is that God communicates his grace (though it is infallibly efficacious) in a way suitable to humanity's nature as a rational animal in contrast to a beast or a rock. Anyway, he offers certain quotations from Calvin which seem to compare the irrestibility of God's grace to how He would interact with a beast.

It is interesting that later Calvinists would often say that Calvin was exaggerating on these points or something to that effect. In that way, the key problem that Banez saw in Calvin, if it was ever really key to Calvin's theology in the first place, was explicitly set aside by many in the Calvinist tradition.

That seems to have some ecumenical implications, though (as you say) it doesn't necessarily lead to a conversion...

What do you think of this?

Tim Enloe said...

Something else this conflict shows is that, to borrow from Mark Shea, in Catholicism there is no "Vatican mind control satellite" beaming Truth into individual Catholics' brains inexorably so that they all agree with each other on everything. As Chesterton put it, "Catholics agree on everything. It's everything else they disagree on."

But the unrecognized flipside of this rhetoric is precisely that for Protestants there is no "Sola Scriptura mind control satellite," beaming Truth into individual Protestants' brains inexorably so that they all agree with each other on everything. Understanding Scripture, just like understanding the Catholic Magisterium, often takes hard work and may lead people through winding paths of argument and debate.

This is just the human condition. Disagreement doesn't entail the insufficiency of the standard of truth. The problem with the apologists' argument is that they simply assume the Catholic definition of "ecclesiastical unity" (outward, hierarchical and political unity), and read it into the Protestant situation. But Protestants don't define "unity" in primarily outward, political terms. It's not so much a double standard in the apologists as it is a begged question.

Nick said...


I agree with the general thrust of your claims, but the fact is issues like Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are the real barriers in our way.

The general doctrines behind TULIP are not compatible with Catholicism and I think if people are not careful it can be misleading to make people think Catholicism (esp Trent and St Thomas) and Calvinism are pretty close.

For example:

1) The notion of Total Depravity is not merely 'inability', it is far deeper than that and hits at the heart of Original Sin. Catholics and Reformed have RADICALLY different views of Original Sin.
See my apologetics article, chapter 1, for more info:

2)Limited Atonement is downright incompatible with Catholicism because Catholicism has a radically different understanding of the atonement than the Reformed.
See chapter 2 of my article for more info on that, or my blog posts on Penal Substitution. Saying it was "sufficient" for all but "efficient" for some is grossly misleading to the Reformed because of our radically different understanding of the Atonement than the Reformed. In the Reformed camp, the Atonement was not sufficient for all, it was sufficient AND efficient ONLY for the elect. It certainly COULD HAVE been sufficient for all, if God wanted to save all, but it was not. So us Catholics should be careful not to blur the lines.

3)The Reformed stole the term "Perseverance" and redefined it. Perseverance, in the traditional and Catholic understanding, means the possibility of falling EXISTS but that the Christian will either avoid sin until death or repent before death if they fall into sin. In Calvinism, the notion of falling does NOT EXIST, the Christian is Eternally Secure at all times. This ties into their understanding of justification and atonement, which are seen very differently by us Catholics.

As for the 'U' and 'I', those can and do have a genuinely Catholic understanding, so long as they are within the parameters of Trent and such.

Matt said...


As for sola fide and sola scriptura, I wasn't addressing those questions, although I think that, to some extent, these questions are subject to similar sorts of queries. The Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, although dismissed by certain elements from both sides, have produced a great deal of incredibly detailed and sophisticated historical and theological scholarship on both sides. Unfortunately, we only read the final declarations which often lose those nuances, as most documents of that sort do.

Anyway, on issues like Limited Atonement, Total Depravity, and even falling way, I'd be more inclined to let the Reformed tradition define itself. I also would want us to allow for the diversity within the Reformed camp, where certain positions would fall within the range of Catholic orthodoxy and other, arguably, would not.

Some seventeenth-century Calvinists were uncomfortable with the language of limited atonement (believing it to be a formulation imposed upon them by the other side). They set themselves within the languages of Peter Lombard and Aquinas, saying that Christ's death was of infinite merit before God but that it was only intended to be actually efficacious for the elect. That is an acceptable point of view.

Debates raged within the Reformed tradition about the possibility of falling away and how to interpret those Scripture passages, though we all agree that the Elect will always persevere and that the gift of perseverance is (at least in the Thomist understanding) an altogether unmerited gift of God.

Total depravity is a bit messier. Some Catholic theologians (like Gregory of Rimini and John Capreolus) said that an unbeliever could not do anything morally good at all. Most Catholic theologians said that unbelievers could do morally good acts (but not for a long period of time or not those where there is a strong temptation to evil, etc., etc.), but that the unbeliever could not, without God's prevenient grace, do anything which is even remotely pleasing to God. Where Catholics and certain formulations of Luther part ways (though I'm not sure about the Reformed tradition on this one) is the idea that, because of the survival of concupiscence after justification, even the good deeds of the believer, done through the work of the Holy Spirit, are tainted with sin. And it is simply that this sinfulness is not imputed to those acts because of the merits of Christ. If total depravity is even that total such that even the work of Christ cannot remedy it, then a Thomist would certainly dissent.

Anyway...I just don't think things are as pat as all that. Both sides are very complex traditions. Different languages are being used when dealing with many of these matters. I don't want to be quick in rushing to say that a certain position is outside of the fold, until I've heard it explained by a proponent and until they embrace the "conclusions" which make these positions truly heretical (such as that God is the author of sin, or that God does not take away our sins, etc.)

Dozie said...

"The problem with the apologists' argument is that they simply assume the Catholic definition of "ecclesiastical unity" (outward, hierarchical and political unity), and read it into the Protestant situation. But Protestants don't define "unity" in primarily outward, political terms. It's not so much a double standard in the apologists as it is a begged question".

How then do Protestants define unity? How do we sense or measure the kind of unity Protestants define and claim for themselves? Do they even make the claim for unity? More importantly, how should unity be defined - Protestant way or the Catholic way or no way at all? Is it better to contnually beg the question of Protestant unity with itself and with the one Church of Christ?

PaulSceptic said...
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The Dude said...

Quick question for you - I posted this a while back in a previous thread where Trent/grace came up and think you might have missed it - you said:
"So, if this is the case, how can Banez square his position with Trent, which says that the will is involved because it can resist grace. Well, more research is needed, but, as far as I have seen thus far, Banez says that God's grace, while intrinsically efficacious and infallible in its effect, works with/upon human beings in a way suitable to them."

Matt, I'm guessing you've read Predestination by Garrigou-Lagrange? IIRC does he not mention that the Thomist view of intrinsically efficacious grace holds that the will *could* and does have the power to resist it, but it infallibly will not and infallibly will freely consent (hence it is intrinsically efficacious and consonant with Thomas' view of predilection) and thus still falls within parameters of Trent? I believe he uses the example of a seated man retaining real power to rise, distinguishing between power to resist and actual resistance. I am not sure if that is what you might have been getting at with your second sentence, or maybe I'm misremembering what GL said and you disagree and think there's a better synthesis from what you've read of the Thomists/Dominicans.

Interestingly, canon 4 of the sixth session was prepared by Soto, a Thomist, fwiw.

-end copied post-

Also, curious about your reference to 17th century calvinists citing Thomists approvingly in their disputations - any works or names (primary or secondary) you can recommend?

Limited atonement is not a cut-and-dry concept in the Reformed camp, as Matt alluded to - look here for interesting citations continually updated from Calvinists throughout the centuries.

I do agree that the stark contrast between Reformed and Catholics on the nature of concupiscence and original sin has ramifications everywhere and might be a strong obstacle to any type of true ecumenism.

Matt said...

First of all, sorry for not responding to your previous comment. Garrigou-Lagrance has been very helpful to me and really got me thinking in some of these directions.

Banez certainly would want to preserve free will, though as you suggest, he thinks about it in different ways than modern discussions of free will. He understands it as the faculty to chose an end proposed by the intellect to pursue the end (the good in common) which is necessarily desired by the will (or the rational appetite). He does not define it as an ability to sin or not to sin or the ability to please God or not to please God (in other words, indifference). Part of the reason for this is that he wants a general definition of free will which can also include, however imperfectly, other "intellectual beings" like God Himself and angels. God cannot sin, and, in Banez's view, his will is supremely more free than the human will.

But Banez is even pretty comfortable talking about intrinsically efficacious grace as, in a certain sense, irresistable. He has a very long discussion of the part in Trent which seems (NB) in tension with this way of talking, which is really fascinating, by the way.

I'm sorry if that's not a direct answer to your question. Maybe it would be possible for us to correspond more about this by E-mail or something?

As for Calvinists who cite Thomas as well as Domingo Banez on the issue of predestination, see William Whitaker, Samuel Ward, and John Davenant (the last two were at Dordt), among others. For general discussion about the use of the scholastics in the Reformed tradition, I have found Richard Muller the most helpful, along with John Patrick Donnelly.

Again, sorry about answering the question indirectly. I hope it helps somewhat. Thanks for bringing up Garrigou-Lagrance, who (by the way) John Paul II said to be the most helpful for him in thinking about predestination. So Thomist views on these matters are far from absent from the "Magisterium".

Matt said...

Sorry...I meant to say "means"...not "end" twice.

Tim Enloe said...

As Matt said, it is a good idea to both let the Reformed define their own positions and to allow for diversity within the camp. "Reformed" is not a monolithic thing. An ongoing matter of serious dispute among some parties is, in fact, whether the TULIP adequately summarizes "the Reformed Faith," or if there is more (e.g., classical covenant theology). But Reformed people are also all over the map on eschatology - the default position is amillennialism, but a growing number these days are postmillennialists. Some groups stake their whole "Reformed" identity - and how they treat others who claim to be "Reformed" but who disagree with them - on a particular interpretation of certain disputed passages of the Westminster Confession. Many Reformed people hold that a particular type of apologetic method is essential to being "consistently" Reformed. Others allow for more diversity on that issue.

Just as it doesn't help to flatten Catholicism, as if all Catholics everywhere must believe exactly the same thing on all issues, so it doesn't help to flatten "Reformed."

Dozie said...

"Just as it doesn't help to flatten Catholicism, as if all Catholics everywhere must believe exactly the same thing on all issues..."

To the contrary, all Catholics everywhere must believe exactly the same thing on all issues where the Church has defined what must be believed. This is what it means to be Catholic. On everything else, charity prevails.

This is another attempt to level the playing ground - to suggest that all systems are alike. This, we must reject.

Scott said...

I had not seen this posting until now, and have responded on my blog:

I have essentially reaffirmed my original statements.