Friday, October 12, 2012

Total Depravity: Are the Non-Elect Continually Evil? (vs. John Calvin)


By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong


[from my book, A Biblical Critique of Calvinism]

[my Bible citations: RSV]

Of how little value it is in the sight of God, in regard to all the parts of life, Paul shows, when he says, that we are not “sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves,” (2 Cor. 3:5). He is not speaking of the will or affection; he denies us the power of thinking aright how any thing cam be duly performed. Is it, indeed, true, that all thought, intelligence, discernment, and industry, are so defective, that, in the sight of the Lord, we cannot think or aim at any thing that is right? To us, who can scarcely bear to part with acuteness of intellect (in our estimation a most precious endowment), it seems hard to admit this, whereas it is regarded as most just by the Holy Spirit, who “knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity,” (Ps. 94:11), and distinctly declares, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). If every thing which our mind conceives, meditates plans, and resolves, is always evil, how can it ever think of doing what is pleasing to God, to whom righteousness and holiness alone are acceptable? (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, 2:25)

 . . . such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil. (II, 3:5) 

Calvin interprets these passages in hyper-literalistic fashion. The language of the Psalms is often proverbial (in other words, it makes general observations, which admit of exceptions: sometimes very many). Elsewhere, Scripture indicates that things are not nearly so dire and hopeless as Calvin makes out, regarding “the thoughts of men”:

Proverbs 12:5 The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are treacherous.

Proverbs 15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, the words of the pure are pleasing to him. 

Using Genesis 6:5 as a pretext for asserting universal evil thoughts of all men is rather silly, as plainly seen in the passage’s context. Three verses later it is shown that the statement was not an absolute universal: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Likewise, Genesis 6:9 asserts: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.”

God adds seven more people (Noah’s wife and his three sons and their wives: see 6:10; 7:7) to His roster of exceptions to Calvin’s alleged universal state of mankind in Genesis 7:1: “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.”

Moreover, the following two verses clearly prove that the language cannot be interpreted literally, since if so, the second would contradict the first (and the second is one of Calvin’s “prooftexts” for total depravity):

Genesis 8:20-21 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. [21] And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 

The same dynamic applies to other passages classically used by Calvinists and other Protestants in order to claim that everyone was absolutely evil and could do no good. Context shows that the passages utilized were never intended in the first place to teach such things.

But as I study brevity, I will be satisfied with a single passage, one, however, in which as in a bright mirror, we may behold a complete image of our nature. The Apostle, when he would humble man’s pride, uses these words: “There is none righteous no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Rom. 3:10–18). Thus he thunders not against certain individuals, but against the whole posterity of Adam—not against the depraved manners of any single age, but the perpetual corruption of nature. His object in the passage is not merely to upbraid men in order that they may repent, but to teach that all are overwhelmed with inevitable calamity, and can be delivered from it only by the mercy of God. As this could not be proved without previously proving the overthrow and destruction of nature, he produced those passages to show that its ruin is complete. (II, 3:2) 

This is a prime example of what I just described. Romans 3 is often cited by Calvinists, following Calvin (above). It’s one of their favorite prooftexts. Romans 3:10-12 is itself a citation that St. Paul took from the Psalms:

Psalm 14:1-3 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. [2] The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one. 

The very next Psalm is (amazingly enough) entirely devoted to “good people”:

Psalm 15:1-5 O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? [2] He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart; [3] who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; [4] in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; [5] who does not put out his money at interest, and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. 

Even two verses after Psalms 14:3, King David writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous” (14:5). In the very next verse (14:4) David refers to “the evildoers who eat up my people.” Now, if he is contrasting the evildoers with His people, then obviously, he can’t possibly be implying that everyone is evil, so that there are no righteous folks at all to be found.

The anonymous psalmist in 112:5 refers to a good man (Hebrew, tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly (11:23, 12:2, 13:22, 14:14, 19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Psalm 14:2-3. References to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9; 22:19; Ps 5:12; 32:11; 34:15; 37:16, 32; Mt 9:13; 13:17; 25:37, 46; Rom 5:19; Heb 11:4; Jas 5;16; 1 Pet 3:12; 4:18; etc., etc.).

Jewish idiom and hyperbole of this sort appears in many other similar passages. For example, Jesus says:

Luke 18:19 No one is good but God alone. (cf. Mt 19:17)

Yet He also said:

Matthew 12:35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure. . . . (cf. 5:45; 7:17-20; 22:10) 

Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense. Psalm 53:1-3 provides a similar example, almost identical to Psalm 14. Again, we see other proximate Psalms refer to the “righteous” or “godly” (e.g., 52:1, 6, 9; 53:4; 55:22; 58:10-11).

Romans 3:11 states, “no one seeks for God,” and in Psalms 14:2, God looks “to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.” This is again hyperbolic language, and we know this because many passages teach us that many men did seek after God (e.g., Deut 4:29; 1 Chr 16:10-11; 22:19; 2 Chr 11:16; 15:12-13; 30:19; Ps 34:10; 69:32; Prov 28:5; Is 51:1; 55:6; Jer 50:4; Hos 3:5; Amos 5:6; Zeph 2:3; Zech 8:21-22; Acts 17:27).

Quite obviously, then, it is not the case that “no one” whatsoever seeks God. Passages that seem to be utterly sweeping need to be understood in terms of literary genre, immediate context, and in light of other relevant and related Bible verses.

The Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word. It is completely self-consistent and always harmonious with itself. But Calvin’s prior theological system that he brings to Scripture would cause it to massively self-contradict. Since we believe in faith that this isn’t possible, false tenets of Calvin’s system need to be discarded, in cases where it causes this unworthy result.

The above illustrative example shows how Calvin’s exegetical reasoning fails, and does violence to Holy Scripture, rightly understood. Once again, the Catholic understanding is demonstrated to be far more in line with the Bible.


*****


30 comments:

Adomnan said...

What Calvin says:

"If every thing which our mind conceives, meditates, plans, and resolves, is always evil, how can it ever think of doing what is pleasing to God, to whom righteousness and holiness alone are acceptable?"

What St. Paul says:

Romans 7:21-23: "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me."

Direct contradiction between Calvin and Paul, both of whom are speaking of unrighteous persons in these passages: On the one hand, Paul says that in all people, even before justification, the law of sin is "waging war against the law of (their) mind" and "in (their) inner being (they) delight in God's law." Calvin calls Paul a liar, writing, "Every thing which our mind conceives, meditates, plans, and resolves, is always evil."

Paul: The mind delights in God's law. Calvin: Everything the mind conceives is always evil. Take your pick.

Forget Calvin. He just made up his stuff as he went along. What is hard to conceive is why anyone deferred to his opinions at all. He was just some slippery French lawyer who decided to appoint himself an expert on things biblical. His opinions have no more weight than those of any other 16th-century Humanist intellectual, which is what Calvin was. He had only one mediocre and tedious commentary on Seneca to his name before he figured out that he could make a bigger splash (and a better living) by applying his second-rate Humanistic literary training to commentary on religious texts.

Calvin got all his key religious ideas from Luther, who was the only truly creative heretic of that era. He tweaked them with a little pagan Stoicism (e.g., Seneca) to appeal to a French aristocratic audience, who naturally felt superior to everyone else and liked to put on airs (thus, "the Elect" or "Elite," as the French say).

Dave Armstrong said...

This is a very excellent point. It may not fully work as a critique, though, because I think Calvin applies Romans 7 to a regenerated Paul, in which case he would claim that he could still have to war against the world, the flesh, and the devil (and no glaring self-contradiction would exist).

If Calvin thought he was not regenerate when he wrote this, it would indeed pose a huge problem in his unbiblical soteriology.

I'll have to look into it more deeply. But I routinely find deep contradictions in his thinking, as one also frequently does with Luther.

Dave Armstrong said...

Calvin indeed applies Romans 7:21-23 to a regenerate Christian, in Institutes II, 2:27. This takes away considerable force in your argument because he doesn't (could hardly!) deny that evil forces and inclinations can still exist in the Christian.

Adomnan said...

Dave: Calvin indeed applies Romans 7:21-23 to a regenerate Christian, in Institutes II, 2:27. This takes away considerable force in your argument because he doesn't (could hardly!) deny that evil forces and inclinations can still exist in the Christian.

Adomnan: I figured he applied Romans 7 to a regenerate person, but that doesn't undermine my argument because Romans 7 is in fact about what a person is like before justification. Paul contrasts the state of a person before justification (Romans 7) with the new creation that comes with justification (Romans 8).

An unjustified person is not totally depraved. Rather, he is someone whose passions (the flesh, the "lsw in my members") have the upper hand over reason (the mind, the inner self). In the justified person, thanks to God's grace, reason rules the passions, the higher rules the lower. That's what virtue consists of. The point of Romans 7-8 is to show that justification entails a life of virtue, a conversion from vice to virtue.

Romans 7:21-23 objectively contradicts Calvin, and that's not changed by Calvin's misinterpretation of the passage.

I never suggested that Calvin knew he was contradicting himself.

Adomnan said...

Here's the situation of the unjustified person, recapitulated by Paul at the end of Romans 7:

"So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my flesh a slave to the law of sin."

Here's the situation of the justified person, in clear contrast to the verse cited above, from Romans 8:3-4:

"And so (God) condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

In Romans 7, one is a slave to the law of sin in one's flesh. In Romans 8, one lives not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Thus, unjustified versus justified.

Note that the unjustified person nevertheless is a slave to God's law "in his mind." Thus, the mind is not depraved, even in the unjustified, and Calvin contradicts Paul.

Chances are you don't disagree with me on this, Dave, but I want to spell it out for anyone who might be reading.

Dave Armstrong said...

The problem is not only that Calvin was wrong about what Paul was talking about (wrt justified vs. unjustified). Good catholic exegetes also contend that Romans 7:14-25 applies to regenerate man. E.g., Navarre Bible:

14–25. As can be seen from the use of the present tense, the “I” in vv. 14–25 is no longer Paul before his conversion, but rather after it: and it also stands for all mankind redeemed by Christ’s grace. Here we have a vivid description of the interior struggle which everyone experiences, Christians included. These words are in line with something we are all well aware of: in our bodies there is a “law,” an inclination, which fights against the law of our spirit (cf. v. 23), that is, against the spiritual good which God’s grace causes us to desire. The very expression “the law of sin which dwells in my members” emphasizes how strenuously our senses, appetites and passions try to reject the dictates of the spirit; however, the spirit can gain the upper hand. The Church’s teaching is that Baptism does not take away a person’s inclination to sin (fomes peccati), concupiscence: he or she still experiences a strong desire for earthly or sensual pleasure. “Since it [concupiscence] is left to provide a trial, it has no power to injure those who do not consent and who, by the grace of Christ Jesus, manfully resist” (Council of Trent, De peccato originali, can. 5).

The Jews were able to keep the Law of Moses only through the help of divine grace granted them in anticipation of the merits of Christ. Without grace they were like slaves, “sold under sin” (v. 14). After Christ, a person who rejects the Redemption is in a similar position, for “in the state of corrupt nature man needs grace to heal his nature and enable him to avoid sin entirely. In this present life this healing is brought about in his mind [the spiritual part of man]: the carnal appetite is not completely healed. Hence the Apostle (Rom 7:25) says of the person healed by grace, ‘I serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’ In this state a person can avoid mortal sin […] but he cannot avoid all venial sin, due to the corruption of his sensual appetite” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 109, a. 8).

Dave Armstrong said...

[cont.]

Hence our need for God’s help if we are to persevere in virtue; hence also our need to make a genuine personal effort to be faithful. The St. Pius V Catechism, when dealing with the fact that even after Baptism man is subject to various disabilities, including concupiscence, explains that God has willed that death and suffering, which originate in sin, remain part of our lot, thereby enabling us to attain mystical and real union with Christ, who chose to undergo suffering and death; and, likewise, we still have concupiscence, and experience bodily weakness etc. “that in them we may have the seed and material of virtue from which we shall hereafter receive a more abundant harvest of glory and more ample rewards” (II, 2, 48). ‘“Infelix ego homo!, quis me liberabit de corpore mortis huius? Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ The cry is Saint Paul’s. — Courage: he too had to fight” (St. J. Escrivá, The Way, 138).

14. After original sin, man was subject to his passions and exposed to the continuous assault of concupiscence — “sold under sin.” Healed by Christ’s grace in Baptism, he is free of this slavery, but not totally so: there is still this inclination to sin, and his enslavement grows the more he sins. On the other hand, if he responds to grace, he becomes ever more free. “Just think: the Almighty, who through his providence rules the whole universe, does not want the forced service of slaves; he prefers to have children who are free. Although we are born proni ad peccatum, inclined to sin, due to the fall of our first parents, he has placed in the soul of each and every one of us a spark of infinite intelligence, an attraction towards the good, a yearning for everlasting peace. And he brings us to understand that we will attain truth, happiness and freedom if we strive to make this seed of eternal life grow in our hearts” (St. J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 33).

Dave Armstrong said...

Bernard Orchard's 1953 Catholic Commentary, OTOH, agrees with your interpretation:

Modern commentators agree that both context and contents point decisively to the time before conversion. It is the characteristic experience of the soul before conversion to the Christian faith to be ‘sold under sin’, 14, and to be unable to carry out its higher aspirations,
15, 18, 23, 25b. To regard this experience as remaining after conversion is against the whole line of the argument, cf. 6:6, 9, 12-14, 17, 22; 7:6; 8; and also against all the moral exhortations in St Paul’s epistle. Nor is it
necessary to understand the picture as a reflexion of the
Apostle’s own state of soul when writing because he uses the present tense. There is no reason against taking this as an historic or graphic present to denote what
is past, so that there is no real change of tense between 7-12 and 13-25. However, the Latin commentators of earlier centuries did commonly refer 13-25 to the time after conversion and baptism. This was due to the influence
of St Augustine who used this passage in the Pelagian controversies as an illustration and proof-text for the Christian struggle towards perfection.

Dave Armstrong said...

Also, the Protestant-published Ancient Christian Commentary states about Romans 7:14-25:

"Most of the Fathers believed that here Paul was adopting the persona of an unregenerate man, not describing his own struggles as a Christian."

(Vol. VI, "Romans," p. 189)

Dave Armstrong said...

I thought seriously of making an argument against total depravity from Romans 7, but I have discovered that there is too much disagreement among commentators. It's not just Calvinists who take the "regenerate" position (because their presuppositions don't allow them to do otherwise).

Even St. Thomas Aquinas thinks the regenerate position is the more plausible of the two:

http://nvjournal.net/files/Aquinas_on_Romans.pdf

[see #558 ff.]

Two orthodox Catholic commentaries that I have in my collection disagreed on this (as shown above). I thought of making a "tentative" presentation, but with Aquinas against me (agreeing with Calvin on this point), I think it's best to desist, however interesting it may have been to explore the lines of argument and to construct a case against total depravity from the one line.

Adomnan said...

Fr. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, probably the premier contemporary Catholic Pauline scholar (in English, at least), takes the position that Romans 7 is speaking of a person before justification and Romans 8 is describing the effects of justification. It's a contrast.

For example, he writes in his commentary on Romans: "What (Paul) says in vv. 7-25 is undoubtedly the experience of many Christians faced with divine, ecclesiastical, or civil law; when these verses are read in such a light, few will fail to appreciate their significance. (My note: This is Fitzmyer's nod to the Augustinian/Lutheran interpretation.) But in attempting to understand what Paul meant, it is important to keep HIS perspective in mind, which is that of unregenerate humanity faced with the Mosaic Law -- but as seen by a Christian."

And Fr. Fitzmyer says about Rom 7:22: "'in my inmost self I delight in God's law:' This may seem like the Christian speaking, but, as the following verses make clear, the mind 'mind' (nous) of unregenerate humanity utters this conviction. Though dominated by sin when considered as 'flesh,' the Ego still experiences that it desires what God desires. The mind or reason recognizes the ideal proposed by the law, God's will expressed in Mosaic legislation."

Thus, in Fr. Fitzmyer's estimation (and I concur), far from being "depraved," both the inner man and the mind of the unregenerate person recognize God's ideal and desire what God desires. In fact, these aspects of human nature cannot be described as "fallen" at all. It is the "ego" and the "flesh" that are fallen, but not the mind or the inmost self.

St. Paul would not have thanked God for a state in which he remained "a slave to sin in the flesh."

The interpretation of the Navarre commentary was derived from St. Augustine via St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Augustine was simply wrong about this. Still, his view was apparently not widely shared in the ancient church, because, to cite again the observation that you supplied from the Ancient Christian Commentary: "Most of the Fathers believed that here Paul was adopting the persona of an unregenerate man, not describing his own struggles as a Christian."

I might add that I also disagree with Augustine and the Navarre Commentary that Paul was speaking of himself in Romans 7. The "I" or "ego" of this chapter refers to a non-Jewish person faced with the explicitly revealed ideals of the Mosaic Law before Christian justification. It is part of the overall argument that Paul is making in Romans against the Judaizers, pointing out in yet another way that the Mosaic Law has nothing to offer Gentiles (that is, as a way of life or a religion).

Dave: I thought seriously of making an argument against total depravity from Romans 7, but I have discovered that there is too much disagreement among commentators.

Adomnan: That might well make sense in terms of practical apologetics.

However, I think it is quite possible to ascertain what Paul actually meant in Romans 7 and not remain unsure or agnostic about his meaning, although that would entail setting aside Augustine's misinterpretation (and that of St. Thomas, who was merely following Augustine).

I am not indicting St. Augustine as unorthodox, of course. I am only saying that he was mistaken in some of his biblical exegesis. Unfortunately, those mistakes led to a lot of grief (e.g., Luther and Calvin). But that's hardly the saint's fault.

Adomnan said...

It's interesting to note that Fr. Escriva in the Navarre Commentary recognizes that there is an aspect of every person that is unfallen (from your quoted passage above):

"Although we are born proni ad peccatum, inclined to sin, due to the fall of our first parents, he has placed in the soul of each and every one of us a spark of infinite intelligence, an attraction towards the good, a yearning for everlasting peace. And he brings us to understand that we will attain truth, happiness and freedom if we strive to make this seed of eternal life grow in our hearts.”

This seed of eternal life, this divine spark or spark of infinite intelligence, which is in every person, is the unfallen aspect of every soul. Certainly, it is what St. Paul calls the "mind" or "inmost self" in Rom 7. I'm rather surprised that Fr. Escriva, who acknowledges this reality, doesn't fully realize Paul's meaning in Romans 7 (i.e., that he is speaking of people in general and not the regenerate as such). This seems to be a case where Fr. Escriva's Christian intuition was better than his formal exegesis.

Jay Kay said...

According to Calvinists the non-elect are always evil because "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." They, of course, haven't the brains to realize that what Paul means by that phrase is simply that if you violate your conscience it is a sin, for the full quote is "To he who eats with doubt it is sin, for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." In other words, he doesn't mean every act performed by someone without faith in Christ is sin but rather that if you do something without being sure (having faith) that it is right to do, then to you it is sin (even if it isn't actually wrong) because you did it without being sure whether it was right or wrong.

Maroun said...

I humbly believe that both interpretations are correct , whether before being regenerate or after , we still need God`s grace , because without Him there is nothing we can do . In fact also Adam before the fall had the grace of God to help him .
So Adam needed God`s grace for not falling into temptation and for obeying God , and humanity (unregenerate ) needs God`s grace as you quoted Dave from saint Thomas :The Jews were able to keep the Law of Moses only through the help of divine grace granted them in anticipation of the merits of Christ. Without grace they were like slaves, “sold under sin” (v. 14). After Christ, a person who rejects the Redemption is in a similar position, for “in the state of corrupt nature man needs grace to heal his nature and enable him to avoid sin entirely. In this present life this healing is brought about in his mind [the spiritual part of man]: the carnal appetite is not completely healed. Hence the Apostle (Rom 7:25) says of the person healed by grace, ‘I serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’ In this state a person can avoid mortal sin […] but he cannot avoid all venial sin, due to the corruption of his sensual appetite” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 109, a. 8).
And also after we are regeneration , we still need God`s grace , again because without Him there is nothing we can do . All these things of course are for obeying God , but does this mean that fallen men before regeneration is only evil and thinks only evil , then i humbly disagree ,because saint Paul said :Romans 7:21-23: "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me."
Now before i comment or say anything about saint Augustine (interpretation or misinterpretation ) of Romans 7 , i have to check exactly what saint Augustine said . One think for sure is , that saint Augustine always insisted on our need of God`s grace , and i mean always , whether as i said before , before the fall,after the fall and after regeneration , because as our Lord Jesus Christ who is the truth and never lies said : without Me (Jesus ) there is nothing you can do . GBU

Maroun said...

Adomnan . Hi . You said this : And Fr. Fitzmyer says about Rom 7:22: "'in my inmost self I delight in God's law:' This may seem like the Christian speaking, but, as the following verses make clear, the mind 'mind' (nous) of unregenerate humanity utters this conviction. Though dominated by sin when considered as 'flesh,' the Ego still experiences that it desires what God desires. The mind or reason recognizes the ideal proposed by the law, God's will expressed in Mosaic legislation."
But this is exactly what saint Augustine also said : Unfortunatly i can only quote what he said in Latin or Italian , and i hope that you can understand or interpret it . Home EXPOSITIO QUARUMDAM PROPOSITIONUM EX EPISTOLA AD ROMANOS. Quod autem ait: Video aliam legem in membris meis repugnantem legi mentis meae et captivantem me sub lege peccati, quae est in membris meis, legem peccati dicit, qua quisque carnali consuetudine implicatus astringitur. Hanc repugnare ait legi mentis suae et se captivare sub lege peccati, unde intellegitur ille homo describi, qui nondum est sub gratia . (Cf. Retract. 1, 22, 2).Also saint Augustine said very specifically like fr. Fitzmyer that these words are about the unregenerate and not the Christian . GBU

Maroun said...

I would like to share with you saint John Chrysostom`s homely on Romans 7:
Ver 17, 18. "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing."

On this text, those who find fault with the flesh, and contend it was no part of God's creation, attack us. What are we to say then? Just what we did before, when discusssing the Law: that as there he makes sin answerable for everything so here also. For he does not say, that the flesh works it, but just the contrary, "it is not I that do it, but sin that dwells in me." But if he does say that "there dwells no good thing in it," still this is no charge against the flesh. For the fact that "no good thing dwells in it," does not show that it is evil itself. Now we admit, that the flesh is not so great as the soul, and is inferior to it, yet not contrary, or opposed to it, or evil; but that it is beneath the soul, as a harp beneath a harper, and as a ship under the pilot. And these are not contrary to those who guide and use them, but go with them entirely, yet are not of the same honor with the artist. As then a person who says, that the art resides not in the harp or the ship, but in the pilot or harper, is not finding fault with the instruments, but pointing out the great difference between them and the artist; so Paul in saying, that "in my flesh dwells no good thing," is not finding fault with the body, but pointing out the soul's superiority. For this it is that has the whole duty or pilotage put into its hands, and that of playing. And this Paul here points out, giving the governing power to the soul, and after dividing man into these two things, the soul and the body, he says, that the flesh has less of reason, and is destitute of discretion, and ranks among things to be led, not among things that lead. But the soul has more wisdom, and can see what is to be done and what not, yet is not equal to pulling in the horse as it wishes. And this would be a charge not against the flesh only, but against the soul also, which knows indeed what it ought to do, but still does not carry out in practice what seems best to it. "For to will," he says, "is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not." Here again in the words, "I find not," he does not speak of any ignorance or perplexity, but a kind of thwarting and crafty assault made by sin, which he therefore points more clearly out in the next words.

Ver. 19, 20. "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it but sin that dwells in me."

Do you see, how he acquits the essence of the soul, as well as the essence of the flesh, from accusation, and removes it entirely to sinful actions? For if the soul wills not the evil, it is cleared: and if he does not work it himself, the body too is set free, and the whole may be charged upon the evil moral choice. Now the essence of the soul and body and of that choice are not the same, for the two first are God's works, and the other is a motion from ourselves towards whatever we please to direct it. For willing is indeed natural (ἕ μφυτον), and is from God: but willing on this wise is our own, and from our own mind.
I will continue in part two .

Maroun said...

Part two : Ver. 21. "I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me."

What he says is not very clear. What then is it that is said? I praise the law, he says, in my conscience, and I find it pleads on my side so far as I am desirous of doing what is right, and that it invigorates this wish. For as I feel a pleasure in it, so does it yield praise to my decision. Do you see how he shows, that the knowledge of what is good and what is not such is an original and fundamental part of our nature, and that the Law of Moses praises it, and gets praise from it? For above he did not say so much as I get taught by the Law, but "I consent to the Law;" nor further on that I get instructed by it, but "I delight in" it. Now what is "I delight?" It is, I agree with it as right, as it does with me when wishing to do what is good. And so the willing what is good and the not willing what is evil was made a fundamental part of us from the first. But the Law, when it came, was made at once a stronger accuser in what was bad, and a greater praiser in what was good. Do you observe that in every place he bears witness to its having a kind of intensitiveness and additional advantage, yet nothing further? For though it praises and I delight in it, and wish what is good the "evil is" still "present with me," and the agency of it has not been abolished. And thus the Law, with a man who determines upon doing anything good, only acts so far as auxiliary to him, as that it has the same wish as himself. Then since he had stated it indistinctly, as he goes on he gives a yet more distinct interpretation, by showing how the evil is present, how too the Law is a law to such a person only who has a mind to do what is good.

Ver. 22. "For I delight," he says, "in the law of God after the inward man."

He means, for I knew even before this what was good, but when I find it set down in writing, I praise it.


I will continue in part three .

Maroun said...

part three :Ver. 23. "But I see another law warring against the law of my mind."

Here again he calls sin a law warring against the other, not in respect of good order, but from the strict obedience yielded to it by those who comply with it. As then it gives the name of master κύριον Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13 to Mammon, and of god Philippians 3:19 to the belly, not because of their intrinsically deserving it, but because of the extreme obsequiousness of their subjects; so here he calls sin a law, owing to those who are so obsequious to it, and are afraid to leave it, just as those who have received the Law dread leaving the Law. This then, he means, is opposed to the law of nature; for this is what is meant by "the law of my mind." And he next represents an array and battle, and refers the whole struggle to the law of nature. For that of Moses was subsequently added over and above: yet still both the one and the other, the one as teaching, the other as praising what was right, wrought no great effects in this battle; so great was the thraldom of sin, overcoming and getting the upper hand as it did. And this Paul setting forth, and showing the decided (κατὰ κράτος) victory it had, says, "I see another law warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity." He does not use the word conquering only, but "bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." He does not say the bent of the flesh, or the nature of the flesh, but "the law of sin." That is, the thrall, the power. In what sense then does he say, "Which is in my members?" Now what is this? Surely it does not make the members to be sin, but makes them as distinct from sin as possible. For that which is in a thing is diverse from that wherein it is. As then the commandment also is not evil, because by it sin took occasion, so neither is the nature of the flesh, even if sin subdues us by means of it. For in this way the soul will be evil, and much more so too, since it has authority in matters of action. But these things are not so, certainly they are not. Since neither if a tyrant and a robber were to take possession of a splendid mansion and a king's court, would the circumstance be any discredit to the house, inasmuch as the entire blame would come on those who contrived such an act. But the enemies of the truth, along with their impiety, fall unawares also into great unreasonableness. For they do not accuse the flesh only, but they also disparage the Law. And yet if the flesh were evil, the Law would be good. For it wars against the Law, and opposes it. If, however, the Law be not good, then the flesh is good. For it wars and fights against it even by their own account. How come they then to assert that both belong to the devil, putting things opposed to each other before us? Do you see, along with their impiety, how great is their unreasonableness also? But such doctrines as these are not the Church's, for it is the sin only that she condemns; and both the Laws which God has given, both that of nature and that of Moses, she says are hostile to this, and not to the flesh; for the flesh she denies to be sin, for it is a work of God's, and one very useful too in order to virtue, if we live soberly.
I will continue in part four .

Maroun said...

Part four :Ver. 24. "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Do you notice what a great thraldom that of vice is, in that it overcomes even a mind that delighted in the Law? For no one can rejoin, he means, that I hate the Law and abhor it, and so sin overcomes me. For "I delight in it, and consent to it," and flee for refuge to it, yet still it had not the power of saving one who had fled to it. But Christ saved even one that fled from Him. See what a vast advantage grace has! Yet the Apostle has not stated it thus; but with a sigh only, and a great lamentation, as if devoid of any to help him, he points out by his perplexity the might of Christ, and says, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The Law has not been able: conscience has proved unequal to it, though it praised what was good, and did not praise it only, but even fought against the contrary of it. For by the very words "wars against" he shows that he was marshalled against it for his part. From what quarter then is one to hope for salvation?

i will continue in part five.

Maroun said...

part five : Ver. 25. "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Observe how he shows the necessity of having grace present with us, and that the well-doings herein belong alike to the Father and the Son. For if it is the Father Whom he thanks, still the Son is the cause of this thanksgiving. But when you hear him say, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" do not suppose him to be accusing the flesh. For he does not say "body of sin," but "body of death:" that is, the mortal body— that which has been overcome by death, not that which gendered death. And this is no proof of the evil of the flesh, but of the marring (ἐ πηρείας, thwarting) it has undergone. As if any one who was take captive by the savages were to be said to belong to the savages, not as being a savage, but as being detained by them: so the body is said to be of death, as being held down thereby, not as producing it. Wherefore also it is not the body that he himself wishes to be delivered from, but the mortal body, hinting, as I have often said, that from its becoming subject to suffering, it also became an easy prey to sin. Why then, it may be said, the thraldom of sin being so great before the times of grace, were men punished for sinning? Because they had such commands given them as might even under sin's dominion be accomplished. For he did not draw them to the highest kind of conversation, but allowed them to enjoy wealth, and did not forbid having several wives, and to gratify anger in a just cause, and to make use of luxury within bounds. Matthew 5:38 And so great was this condescension, that the written Law even required less than the law of nature. For the law of nature ordered one man to associate with one woman throughout. And this Christ shows in the words, "He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female." Matthew 19:4 But the Law of Moses neither forbade the putting away of one and the taking in of another, nor prohibited the having of two at once! Matthew 5:31 And besides this there are also many other ordinances of the Law, that one might see those who were before its day fully performing, being instructed by the law of nature. They therefore who lived under the old dispensation had no hardship done them by so moderate a system of laws being imposed upon them. But if they were not, on these terms, able to get the upper hand, the charge is against their own listlessness. Wherefore Paul gives thanks, because Christ, without any rigorousness about these things, not only demanded no account of this moderate amount, but even made us able to have a greater race set before us. And therefore he says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ." And letting the salvation which all agreed about pass, he goes from the points he had already made good, to another further point, in which he states that it was not our former sins only that we were freed from, but we were also made invincible for the future. For "there is," he says, "now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh." Yet he did not say it before he had first recalled to mind our former condition again in the words, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks for all your contributions here, Maroun.

GUE Grue said...

Yah, I'm with Augustine on this one. I know when I was a Calvinist the understanding is that Total Depravity means that every part (the Totality) of our being is tainted with sin (mind, will, emotions, etc) ... but we are not thoroughly evil (as bad as we could be in every part).

Here the Reformers would distinguish between goodness, naturally speaking (things earthly); and goodness, supernaturally speaking. Virtuous pagans like Vergil (Dante, anyone?) were not supernaturally just or good as Christians are (though Zwingli was hated by Luther for, among other things, thinking Socrates would be in heaven).

With that said, Anglo-Catholicism cured me of my crazy Calvinism... I like to think of myself as a classical Augustinian now. :)

Blessings all!

GUE Grue said...

Yah, I'm with Augustine on this one. I know when I was a Calvinist the understanding is that Total Depravity means that every part (the Totality) of our being is tainted with sin (mind, will, emotions, etc) ... but we are not thoroughly evil (as bad as we could be in every part).

Here the Reformers would distinguish between goodness, naturally speaking (things earthly); and goodness, supernaturally speaking. Virtuous pagans like Vergil (Dante, anyone?) were not supernaturally just or good as Christians are (though Zwingli was hated by Luther for, among other things, thinking Socrates would be in heaven).

With that said, Anglo-Catholicism cured me of my crazy Calvinism... I like to think of myself as a classical Augustinian now. :)

Blessings all!

GUE Grue said...

Sorry about the double post ... not sure how that happened. I think I pressed the back button on my browser.

Adomnan said...

Thank you, Maroun.

In the excerpt you provided from St. Augustine, he is in fact asserting that the "I" of Romans 7 is an unjustified person. Here is my translation (from the Latin):

"DISCUSSION OF CERTAIN PROPOSITIONS FROM THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS: What he then says: I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind and taking me captive under the law of sin that is in my members. He calls 'the law of sin' that by which everyone entangled in fleshly habit is bound. He says this fights against the law of his mind and takes him captive under the law of sin, whence that man is understood to be described who is not yet under grace.

Thus, as you point out, Augustine is indeed stating in this passage that the person described in Romans 7:22-23 is not a Christian, but rather someone who is still unjustified ("not yet under grace").

Now, Augustine may have departed from this view in other writings. I don't know. I classed Augustine together with those who saw the "I" of Romans 7 as a Christian based on what Fr. Fitzmyer wrote: "(By some,) the ego (the "I" of Romans 7) is understood to mean Paul's own experience as a Christian believer faced with new obligations in his life as a convert. So Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Althaus, Barth, Giese, Nygren, to an extent Cranfield, Packer, and seemingly Dunn. But then one must ask, Why all the references to the Mosaic law? Such an interpretation tends to make of Paul a young Luther. Moreover, it is clear that in chap. 8 Paul speaks of the Christian living the life of the Spirit; here it is far from clear that he is speaking of the same person. The discussion is more generic."

So, while he disagreed with the view that Rom 7 was speaking of a Christian, Fr. Fitzmyer ascribed that view to Augustine (as did Dave). Given the citation you provided, however, I can see that it is possible that Fitzmyer and others are wrong about that, or perhaps that Augustine's interpretation changed over time.

In any event, whatever Augustine's ultimate take on the matter was, it is certain that the "I" of Romans 7 is NOT a Christian, but rather a person not yet justified. We both agree on that, Maroun.

And thanks again for finding a passage in which Augustine takes a position that is consistent with ours.

Adomnan said...

Thanks also for that illuminating commentary by St. John Chrysostom, Maroun.

St. John interpreted the "I" of Romans 7 as an unjustified person, as shown, for example in the following excerpt:

For "there is," he says, "now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh." Yet he did not say it before he had first recalled to mind our former condition again in the words, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."

Adomnan: Thus, the person who says, "with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" reflects "our former condition" -- before the condemnation was lifted; that is, the condition of the unjustified person.

Adomnan said...

Thanks also for that illuminating commentary by St. John Chrysostom, Maroun.

St. John interpreted the "I" of Romans 7 as an unjustified person, as shown, for example in the following excerpt:

For "there is," he says, "now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh." Yet he did not say it before he had first recalled to mind our former condition again in the words, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."

Adomnan: Thus, the person who says, "with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" reflects "our former condition" -- before the condemnation was lifted; that is, the condition of the unjustified person.

Adomnan said...

Sorry for the double post. Like GUE grue, I'm not sure how that happened.

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