Sunday, April 6, 2008

Baptismal Regeneration Revisited

I posted previously on Baptismal Regeneration here, noting the tension in the Reformed view between recognizing Baptism as a sign and seal of the believer's entrance into the Body of Christ and forgiveness of sins, and denying its inherent regenerative power.

When defending paedobaptism (i.e., infant baptism) to those of an anti-paedobaptist bent, the Reformed are accused of retaining the Catholic-like belief that the act of sprinkling water can regenerate, can make a damned baby right with God (i.e., justified). The Reformed do not believe that the infant has his debt from Adam wiped clean at the Baptismal font by that mechanical act. But we do say that the act is a sign and seal of regeneration (WCOF 28.1). The Heidelberg Catechism makes clear that the external baptism washes no sins at all, but is to assure us that as water washes exterior filth, so Christ's blood washes the interior (see Q&A 72 and 73).

I wonder if different understandings of original sin badly widen the gulf in the disparate beliefs on baptism (as acutely seen when discussing infant baptism) held by Reformed and Catholic Christians.

A Reformed expression of the doctrine of original sin stresses the complete depravity it works in its victims (which is all of us), "It is a corruption of all nature-- an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God's sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring." (Belgic Confession, Art. 15, emphasis added).

The Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church contrarily maintains that "It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle" (at para. 406, emphasis added and internal citations omitted).

My wife and I chose years ago not to go to a Reformed Anglican denomination because they believed in baptismal regeneration. To us, this position was untenable because we knew that those baptized retained a "corrupt nature". But the Catholic position (and probably that of this Anglican group as well) says that the corrupt nature is not what is washed away, but rather our deprivation of original holiness and justice.

Baptismal regeneration v1.0 and v2.0 will not reconcile so long as they each use the language "original sin" in two mutually exclusive ways.

23 comments:

andrew said...

good post. seems like the centuries-old question:

is concupiscence itself sinful, or is it, in the baptized, a non-culpable effect of original sin?

I wonder:

in Reformed thought, does concupiscence (tendencies of the lower appetites which are contrary to reason) belong to the essence of original sin?

If so, then it seems that not only does original sin remain after baptism, if remains after regeneration itself (whenever and however that should occur).

Does, therefore, the stain of original sin, qua sin, remain with us throughout our Christian lives? It seems that it does (since concupiscence remains).

Finally:

If so, what is the meaning of "the washing of regeneration" and other biblical references to salvation as cleansing? (assuming, as the reformers did, that regeneration and justification are at least notionally distinct, such that the former is not only a forensic affair). is the washing of regeneration a kind of cleansing, just not quite thorough?

Thos said...

Andrew,

Thanks. I think your level of sophistication in this matter may exceed my own, but here's my little effort:

"in Reformed thought, does concupiscence... belong to the essence of original sin?"

I think that in Reformed thought, concupiscence is a description of an ongoing effect of original sin, which is with us for life. We are totally depraved by our original sin in Adam, and after "salvation", we are given the Grace to at times do good and at times overcome the lead of our sinful (concupiscent) nature. FYI, a small group of a dozen or so from my Reformed church recently came across the word "concupiscence" in study, and none but me (from my Catholic-ey readings) had heard the word before. This simply to say that it's a foreign concept.

"If so, then it seems that not only does original sin remain after baptism, if remains after regeneration itself (whenever and however that should occur)."

Yes, yes, the Belgic was clear on this point, that what the Reformed call "original sin" definitely remains after baptism, after being saved, etc.

"Does, therefore, the stain of original sin, qua sin, remain with us throughout our Christian lives? It seems that it does (since concupiscence remains)."

I think again, yes, the stain and its inclinations remain, but have been forgiven in the "true believer" at the cross, or once our life is over or in same way when we are saved. But whenever one sees it as having occurred, salvation is 'once and for all', so there is no need for forgiveness at baptism, then again later upon the commission or omission of later sins.

"If so, what is the meaning of "the washing of regeneration" and other biblical references to salvation as cleansing?"

What I understand from the Reformed confessional standards and my own instruction is that the washing of baptism is an assurance, a sign and seal, by use of analogy to outward washing with water, of what actually is accomplished by Christ on the inside. So I think the texts on it are read as figures of what is actually accomplished. So baptism does not forgive sins qua sins, but signifies and seals Christ's actual forgiveness with His blood.

I would enjoy hearing your reaction to this.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

andrew said...

appreciate the answers. my last question was trying to get at: regardless of whether or not baptism effects spiritual regeneration, the Reformed believe in such a thing as spiritual regeneration, in the sense of inward renewal (although it is carefully distinguished from justification).

So, even if baptism does not regenerate, when and if regeneration occurs, how can sin remain, at that moment, in the regenerate? Its like God gives us a bath, and after the bath, we are still kind of dirty.

I recognize that, given Reformed premises, one can be justified and yet sinful. I am wondering how one can be regenerate and yet sinful (at least, at the moment of regeneration). Anyway, I am trying to work this one out. Let me consult my Turretin....

andrew said...

it just occured to me that I am on a little rabbit trail off of your post. you posed the dilemma of two different understandings of original sin and the impact of that vis-a-vis baptism. I started thinking about: are there two different understandings of regeneration, irregardless of whether or not we are regenerated by baptism or something else. oh well: you post, you wait, and then someone pops up and starts rambling about something else.

Thos said...

Andrew,

If this is a rabbit trail, it doesn't bother me any. I enjoy the discussion. This stuff is probably far beyond me, but here's a stab at it:

"So, even if baptism does not regenerate, when and if regeneration occurs, how can sin remain, at that moment, in the regenerate?"

I wonder if we're using "sin" in several ways, and actually tend to think theologians do too (Catholic, Reformed or other). The Catholic says we are fully washed at Baptism, but concupiscence remains. I think where the Reformed says that sin remains during and after baptism or during and after the time when the Holy Spirit makes us regenerate, he is saying largely the same thing. Sin "constantly boils forth", as it were. The Catholic view seems to look at one point in time in isolation from another, so that you may be washed pure now, then commit a mortal sin in five minutes, so again be filthy from it. The Reformed would say our sinful nature keeps us impure always (sin constantly being in our heart, bubbling up with every thought, every glance of the eye). Yet we are pure by Christ's bearing our punishment once and for all (because we are of the elect, if indeed we are).

"I recognize that, given Reformed premises, one can be justified and yet sinful. I am wondering how one can be regenerate and yet sinful (at least, at the moment of regeneration)."

You note the Reformed view keeps justification and regeneration separate. I'm not super smart about the distinction between regeneration and justification (read: you may know better than I do). But I think in either case we remain sinful through the process. Justification doesn't occur at a point in our life, as I understand the Reformed teaching to hold, as it was predestined. I just read a little JI Packer describe it as the last judgment "brought forward" (to before all time, in Calvinistic predestination terms). I understand regeneration as one step on the road, so to speak of God's ultimately accomplishing our predestined justification. I think I would be wrong to overly separate baptism and regeneration (the Westminster Confession describes baptism as, inter alia, a sign and seal of regeneration). But alas, the Reformed view is that sin remains temporally through it all, and our only true washing is the once for all washing by Christ's blood.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

andrew said...

"our only true washing is the once for all washing by Christ's blood"

such that "true washing" is a metaphor for imputation? Since, I suppose, a true once and for all washing would not leave traces of any weakness vis-a-via sin and death, which traces obviously persist in the believer; hence, the reformed emphasis upon matters not in the believer: the a-temporal and forensic.

I also think that different notions of sin might be in play here. All kinds of difficult and important metaphysical points are wrapped up in the doctrines of sin and salvation.

I will try to illustrate some of my thoughts about this:

Suppose that a soldier cut off his own right hand in direct defiance of his king, rendering himself incapable of discharging his duties. Now suppose that the law of the land called for the death of that soldier. Suppose further that the king did not execute strict justice but instead forgave the soldier, healed his wound, and gave him personal training in the art of soldiery, such as he was never privy to before. Thus the soldier did not die, either through execution or loss of blood/infection, and he became strangely adept at fighting left-handed. Yet his right hand did not grow back.

Now, is the one-handed soldier, henceforth and per se, in a state of rebellion towards his king?

Obviously, whenever he avoids his duty, or does what is contrary to his duty, he acts against the king. It is also obvious that, despite his excellent training at the hands of the king, the soldier's one-handedness makes certain maneuvers difficult, and may also be used as a pretext for vice (say, cowardice).

Yet it is not obvious that he must, by virtue of his weakness, be ever opposed in some way to the will of the king and/or incapable of doing the king's will.

And it is, in my view, failure to do the King's will, not difficulty in so doing, that makes a sinner.

Gil Garza said...

I understand the Protestant position regarding Original Sin is that it is Adam's actual sin and guilt inherited and passed down from our first parents. An "inherited depravity" that even "infects" infants and completely destroys the soul's capacity to love God.

The Catholic Church has understood Original Sin to be the transmission of the fallen state and not a personal sin or guilt. Our first parents could not transmit what they could not bestow, that is original justice and holiness. The lack of Divine Justice in our soul weakens it and wounds it's power. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about this state in pps 404-406.

Since the Reformed position is that the Sacraments are signs only and are empty of the grace that they signify, Reformed baptism can not wash away this guilt and stain of sin that come from Adam to the infant. By the performance of this work of the law, God is bound to view not the guilt and sin of Adam that lives on in the infant's soul, but rather the glorious sacrifice of Christ.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Sacraments are filled with the grace that they signify and not empty works of the law. Therefore, Baptism fills the infant with the Grace of Christ won from the Cross. This grace of Baptism fills the void of Original Sin and restores the Life of God to the soul as God had intended. Once filled with Divine Life, this grace continues to transform the infant into a living image of Christ.

Thos said...

Andrew,

I think you're right that even the definition of "sin" may be different between the two parties we've been discussing. As I'm not in a position to defend the Reformed view to a Catholic, I'm happy if this is the only point achieved by my post. Different definitions of the foundational terms of art make ecumenicity on a given point of doctrine exceedingly hard to attain. I think the only hope is to have these conversations, where we hammer out what we specifically mean by all these terms (where it seems we don't mean the same thing).

I think it is right to say that the Reformed view is, in the sense of this discussion, a-temporal.

Gil,

Yes, we say that we've inherited Adam's guilt. I'm interested to learn that this is different from the Catholic understanding (and that the Catholic does not believe this, yet still believes in some definition of original sin-original guilt). I've had a hard time about the Reformed (Protestant) position for some time. Specifically, I knew of the O.T. passages that forbade punishing a son for the sins of his father. Seemed odd that God did precisely that.

I do see some seeming conflicts, or perhaps I'll call it 'surface tension' in the Catholic position that says that with original sin we're not right with God so deserving of damnation (apart from Grace), and yet we're done inheritors of Adam's sin-guilt. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying I have more to learn.

"the Reformed position is that the Sacraments are signs only and are empty of the grace that they signify"

I have to say "not exactly" about this. "There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified" and "The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments..." says the Westminster Confession. I will not press the argument, because many (most) people with whom I commune would not say that grace is actually conferred in the sacraments. And we certainly cannot say so the way a Catholic can (for instance, we don't not, of course, say that grace inheres in the elements per se)...

So I would reform your statement to something like "The Sacraments are signs and seals that are somehow a means of the Grace signified.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

Original Sin is a state in which the soul lacks divine life or divine justice. It is not an inheritance of Adam's personal sin guilt. This proper understanding of Original Sin is shared with the Orthodox as well.

Let me ask a bit more about the sign value of the Sacraments in the Reformed view. Of course there is a relationship between the grace that God gives and the sign of the Sacrament in the Reformed view. God does not give grace through or by the Sacraments, however. They are signs only for the Reformed. How then is this different from the Temple worship of the Old Law? If the Sacraments do not confer the grace that they signify, aren't they "empty works of the Law?"

If the Sacraments of the New Covenant do not confer the grace of Christ that they signify are they any diffent from the Temple worship of the Old Law?

Thos said...

Gil,

It's interesting to think about sin in these terms. The word's natural connotation to me has been something like 'an act or omission that is offensive to (contrary to) God's law.' This is the sense, I think, in which the Reformed mean the word in both terms: Original Sin and Actual Sin. Sin is sin, always resulting in guilt, and the former type precedes our existence, while the latter carries on throughout our existence.

In your definition, Original Sin is a state. I would have used the word “sinfulness” to refer to a state, such that we would have Original Sinfulness, and Actual Sin or Sinning.

Maybe my fault is in my comparisons to secular penal (criminal) law. A citizen is either right with their society (not guilty), or they deserve punishment from society. We deserve punishment only when we are guilty of a crime. Guilt follows crime. I take your definition of sin, this idea that we can lack divine life, to be a way of saying that we deserve punishment, without having first committed the crime (if indeed the original sinner is due damnation on account of that state – he certainly is not due Heaven or else Original Sin has little to no meaning). But then again, I suppose theological constructions like the Limbo show that Catholic scholars have for a long time been wrestling with the full implications of a doctrine of original sin. Limbo, as I understand it (or any other construct trying to address the same problem), is a way of saying that one lacks divine life, but is not guilty because they have not committed the crime. I’m straining to think of a secular penal analogy, but here’s a shot: you’re a resident alien, so not entitled to the privileges and protections of full citizenship, but you also do not have a penalty coming to you.

Re: Reformed Sacramentology.

First, it would be inaccurate for me to claim that there is a unified front of belief on the matter. There are those who have a higher view of the sacraments (this view being presently on the ascendency in my own circle), and those who have a more Baptistic, Zwinglian view (memorial-only, in the case of communion). I read our Confessions as leaning to the former, but they are ambiguous enough where it counts to allow some room for the lower view (at least, by implication).

You have said twice now that they are “signs only”, but the Reformed Confessions at the least do stress that they (our 2) are signs *and seals*: they somehow seal the thing signified. Whatever else we may be saying, we certainly must be saying more than that they are mere symbology, as this is the Baptistic position with which Calvin and Luther were at as great odds as the view of Catholicism.

So I’m happy to discuss the faults of this view, but I think it’s important not to characterize the Reformed view as sign-only (or mere symbology). The rub, you might be inclined to note, seems to be whether there is any meaning beyond that there is a relationship between the sign and the thing signified. The Reformed of a sacramental persuasion would say that there is more than a relationship, that the thing signified is made present, though spiritually only, to the participant. In this way, God does indeed give us graces through the sacraments, but not in a physical conveyance. Where this is right, it evades your critique that we are just perpetuating the temple requirements of the Old Law, which was fulfilled in Christ.

What you’re getting at is what got me in a spat a few months ago with a Reformed fellow who takes a high sacramental view. I felt that there was a problem in the construct of saying that Christ is conveyed to us in His fullness (which, to avoid heresy, has to include His body and spirit, as they are inseparable), and yet also saying that we receive Christ spiritually only (i.e., in our souls, not in our bodies), when we participate in Communion. To me, it was roughly akin to saying that we can watch TV and listen to it, all through our telephone speaker. Or maybe that I achieve physical and spiritual sexual intimacy with my wife by drawing a picture of the coital act and having a conversation about how meaningful that covenant renewal is in our marriage.

But at any rate, the Reformed high sacramental position is there, that we receive Christ through the Sacraments, by some mystical work of the Holy Spirit, and that they are nor mere symbology.

I appreciate your conversationalism, and the giving of your time.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

Thomas describes Original Sin as the privation of the gift of original justice (Q.82 Art. 4 Responsio): a darkness of the soul caused by our first parents.

Original Sin is a condition whereby our heavenly Father is a stranger to our soul. He is the ultimate "other" that is yearned for and yet unknown. Baptism bestows intimacy with God with the gift of divine life. It is this intimacy that transforms us, makes us holy and prepares us for eternal intimacy with God in heaven.

God would be unjust if He held Adam's children guilty for Adam's sin. One may not be held responsible for an act committed by another. Furthermore, it would be unjust to punish a person for another's act.

Your comments on Reformed high sacramentality are appreciated. It seems to me that this view tries to have a thing and not have a thing at the same time. It seems to me that the Sacraments may be many things (ie, signs, seals, etc), but they either convey divine life or they don't. What are your thoughts?

Thos said...

Gil,

"Original Sin is a condition whereby our heavenly Father is a stranger to our soul... Baptism bestows intimacy..."

Would you be comfortable adding that it is a condition whereby we are lost in our perdition, rightly considered damned (or damnable) in God's divine justice? Otherwise, if Original Sin is a mere lack of intimacy, in what was does Baptism "wash away" our sins? There is no guilt to was away. What is it washing? Sins foreseen?

"God would be unjust if He held Adam's children guilty for Adam's sin. One may not be held responsible for an act committed by another. Furthermore, it would be unjust to punish a person for another's act."

Can I press you a little on this? A Reformed theologian wouldn't accept this statement, so I'd like to consider which conclusions aren't universally accepted conclusions.

You have here two Rules of the natural law, I think. I think the first admits to more criticism. In our lives, I can think of instances where one is held responsible for another's acts (in cases of agency and subordination). A ship's captain is responsible for his crewmember's negligence, even if he had no warning that the person would act negligently. A principle is responsible if his agents act wrongfully too. I think one Reformed position is that Adam is our "Federal head" and we are responsible for his representative act.

Indeed, we are all certainly under the curse, condemned to death (at least physical), and this is a punishment for another's act.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

Through Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin, all personal sins, as well as the punishment for sin.

An infant, however, has no personal sins and has not incurred punishment for actual sin. The infant is separated from God. Should God punish this infant for not having the grace which is unavailable to her?

You address the matter of agency in an interesting way. A greater authority, the head, accepts agency for those for whom he is responsible. A ship's captain, the head, accepts agency for his subordinates.

If Adam is our "Federal Head," how are we accepting agency for him? We are his children and his subordinates. We do not have greater authority. He should be accepting agency for us, not us for him, in this analogy.

Finally, our conversation on the imputation of sin and guilt must finally come to Scripture. The clear and unequivocal teaching of Scripture is that "a son is not to bear his father's guilt, nor a father his son's guilt (Eze 18:20)." God proclaimed this law with Moses in Deut 24:16. Jesus affirms this teaching in Matt 16:27.

We haven't yet dealt with the final destination of our infant should she die prematurely. She certainly is not condemned for the actions of Adam. She has not committed any sins. She certainly lacks divine grace and justice. Her soul is wounded, she is subject to ignorance, suffering, death and the inclination to choose evil.

Ignorance, suffering, death and the inclination to choose evil are not punishments but rather the effects of the deprivation of original grace and justice.

Thos said...

Gil,

Thanks for this exchange; I find it edifying. You’ve been patient with me - - I have a newborn in the home, so am a bit tired. I’m certain that has translated into some less than cogent writing on my part. I’ll try to go in some order:

1) if original sin does not consist of some type of guilt, how do the waters of baptism “forgive” it? That’s not a challenge. I genuinely am missing something. To me, forgiveness implies something that needs forgiving. The word is, to me, loaded with an implication of prior guilt that is “forgiven” in opposition to receiving a deserved punishment. If it means something else, I would enjoy hearing your understanding. This is all I was getting at with my discussion of baptism needing to wash something. In my framework, it’s hard to separate the idea of the whatever it is that needs washing from guilt.

2) “Should God punish this infant for not having the grace which is unavailable to her?” This question implicates the whole Catholic-Augustine vs. Reformed-Augustine original sin enchilada. The way I read your question though, I wonder if you’re not saying more than the Catholic Church has concluded itself. Are you saying that all Babies go to heaven? Or all babies, at least, don’t go to Hell (if we permit a third possibility)? I thought it was clear that this question has not been answered; is still open for conjecture.

I’ve gone further into the matter than perhaps I’m equipped. So it may be unwise to go this further step. (But here I go). My point is something like this (though saying it well eludes me): I believe you may be applying a human understanding of fairness and justice to a very complex matter of God's operation. Romans 9:13-16ff. warns me how complex this all is:

“Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.”

And vv. 19-20, say to me that, since we are all under God’s sovereign Will, the distinction between infants and adults is not necessarily as dramatic as our sense of justice might suppose, “One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” This is obviously the predestination argument boiling up. An infant may be innocent of actual sin, but in a sense, if I cannot resist God's Will, maybe I should be too (and we know that's not so, so...)?

I really don’t know what Adam’s sin did to the members of the human race, but I know it was dramatic, and God’s reaction was severe (though Just, by definition). If God patiently bears objects for His wrath, I must be cautious before applying my notion of justice to His decrees.

I was not addressing Agency to defend the proposition that we are guilty on account of agent-Adam’s sin (or I didn’t mean to, at least). I was making an observation about a premise of yours: “One may not be held responsible for an act committed by another.” Agency was an example I thought of that made this premise facially invalid.

“A greater authority, the head, accepts agency for those for whom he is responsible. A ship's captain, the head, accepts agency for his subordinates. // If Adam is our "Federal Head," how are we accepting agency for him?”

I didn’t mean to confuse agency and subordination, but meant them as two examples of one person being held responsible for acts committed by another. An employee of a company, as the company's agent, can make them responsible by his acts. That’s agency. A captain is responsible for his subordinates (not agency, but authority-subordination). I agree that the Captain-crew example is not an analogy to Adam and the human race. It was just an example to show that one may be held responsible for an act committed by another. So there is some idea of this in our imperfect understanding of natural justice.

A captain is responsible for his crew, so he could rightly (justly) be punished. A crew is not similarly punished for their Captain's acts, but certainly stands to bear the consequences of their captain’s failings. This seems like a possible analogy to Adam and the human race. Same, perhaps, with ancient tribes and tribal leaders who wrap their people up in wars and the like. Wicked rulers of God’s people brought judgment and wrath upon them all, even if the individuals weren’t being punished as individuals for their individuals failings.

I agree with your view of the scriptures which tell us a son is not to be punished for the sins of the father. I do not know if there’s a third way (like that those under the curse, apart from Christ's grace, can be separated from God (in hell) without active (further?) punishment).

I’m still not sure, then, what this lack of divine justice means, if it doesn’t mean that an unbaptized infant is in a state worthy of serious concern. I’ve been told by another carefully studied Catholic that not to baptize an infant at the first opportunity is a grave matter, because they could end up in hell if they die in the interim. I’m not sure I agree with that position, or your position, but the two positions seem at least a little out of synch. With this other view though, it raises (in me) the odd thought that we should baptize infants in utero (somehow), since they are at the medically most dangerous stage of life. Your view (if I read you right) raises the odd issue (in me) that we should, in some sense, hope an infant dies before they get to the point of accountability, as their judgment would go better for them. Does it not awkwardly distinguish an infants need for Christ’s sacrifice from our own? I see a works-righteousness salvation framework interwoven with the rule that “Infants can’t be punished because they have not sinned.” If we can be punished (damned) only because we have actively (actually) sinned, then we only needed Christ at some point in our life later than at conception and birth?

I’m *not* trying to defeat your views in argument. My highest hope is that you can see where I’m stumbling with the Catholic teaching, so that you can help me resolve any false discrepancies I've imagined. Thank you.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

1) Original Sin does consist in a type of guilt. It is not the type of guilt that is associated with actual sin. Justification floods the lifeless desert soul with the waters of divine life. In the case of actual sin, justification washes away sin and the punishments for sin.

2) My question isn’t meant to draw a positive conclusion, rather it is meant to exclude the Reformed position. Where do unbaptized infants go when they die prematurely? I don’t know. Christ gave us the imperative to baptize. Certainly God isn’t bound by the Sacraments and may extend his grace and mercy in any way He wishes. His Church is, however, bound by the sacramental imperative to go, baptize and teach.

Your analogy regarding agency relies upon the greater being held responsible for the lesser (in the case of company managers or executives and in the case of the ship’s captain). I can’t think of an analogy were a lesser is held responsible for the actions of a greater. I also can’t think of an analogy were agency is involuntary. In our case, the infant is the lesser, involuntary agent for Adam.

For our sake of discussion let’s agree that God is indeed sovereign and does what he wills. He is, however, all just and does not act in opposition to His nature. He certainly does not act in opposition to Scripture.

Regarding the wicked ruler analogy I suppose we come back to Abraham and Lot. God doesn’t want to punish the innocent. Certainly many innocent do feel the effects of wicked rulers. But theirs isn’t a punishment by proxy. Original Sin is the effect of Adam’s personal sin. The effects in the soul are: deprivation of divine justice, ignorance, suffering, death and the tendency to choose evil.

To deny an infant the inestimable grace of divine justice would indeed be a grave decision on the part of the parents. This would be a decision to deprive their child the occasion to become an adopted child of God and a member of the New Covenant. Baptism is the door from which one enters the Sheepfold of Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that it does not know the destiny of unbaptized infants who die prematurely (CCC #1261). We must trust in God’s mercy that he provides a way, unknown to us, for their salvation.

Do infants merit hell? No. None may be punished for the sin of another. This is a clear teaching of Scripture. Neither do they merit heaven for they do not know the Savior. The imperative of infant baptism is to have the infinite merits of Christ infused into the soul of the child so that she may become a citizen of heaven.

Thos said...

Gil,

I think I’ve said this recently, but it’s a marvel to me how little of soteriology I feel like I know. Maybe I’ll post on some of this soon (if I find time, with finals on my plate) to try and work some of it out.

Maybe to try and tie some things together, I’ll note two extremes that seem like they are unacceptable to Catholic thought.

Extreme A) Original Sin consists of a sin-guilt deserving of punishment (such that all of us, being born with original sin, are justly damned by God on its account).

Extreme B) (opposite) Original Sin refers to a mere lack of entitlement to enter God’s presence.

I’m still confused when you say that “Original Sin does consist in a type of guilt” and note it’s a different “type” of guilt than what is associated with actual sin. It may be more profitable for our edification if I stop and read more about this aspect of Catholicism instead of taking up your time…

What I like of Extreme A (besides that it’s familiar to my upbringing and Reformed perspectives) is that it reinforces the Truth (as I understand it) that we all completely depend on Grace first and before all else to have salvation. What I dislike of it is that, as you’ve noted, it seems to violate the moral law revealed by God in the Old Testament, that one cannot punish a son for the sins of his father.

What I like of Extreme B is that it avoids the problem of A (the punishment of the son for the sins of the father). What I dislike is that it seems to deflate Original Sin, to the point that you shouldn’t even use the term Original Sin but should use something more like Original Separation. Along that same line, the meaning of the Water in Baptism seems lost if there is no washing of guilt (which you say there is, but again, I don’t know what guilt is if not something demanding punishment). I should recognize though that there’s the burial with Christ meaning of the water (the immersion, even though we don’t generally immerse), and there’s also possibly the “flooded with justification” aspect you noted.

“Where do unbaptized infants go when they die prematurely?” The Reformed position, as best I understand it, is that we don’t know (which, in that sense, is the same as the Catholic position). The Reformed doctor of theology would probably note that the infant born to Christian parents was either elect or not elect (i.e., reprobate), and only God can know this. The infant born to non-believing parents would not be saved/elect, because not born part of the church visible.

In other words, in Venn Diagram terms. The outer, greater circle is the church “visible”, and the inner, circumscribed, smaller circle is the church invisible (i.e., the elect, the saved-from-all-eternity). So the infant born to church members is church visible, so may or may not be elect. The Reformed would not, I imagine, attach so much to Baptism as to say that it is necessary for legal entrance to the church. This would get ugly in a discussion with other Reformed though. What would we say to the Baptist who does not even intend to baptize their children??? I’d love to have that talk with a Baptist. But I digress.

Again, my agency mention was just an example to show that the broad general statement ‘one cannot be held responsible for another’ is not facially valid. I agree with you that if you modify that general statement to exclude Agency situations, it is no longer a valid example. Here’s one I can think of, but you won’t like it, and it still involves culpability (but a lesser culpability than the sentence meted out): Felony Murder. Under this situation, when several people are engaged in the commission of a felony, and a death results in the process (even if only one person in the group used lethal force), the whole group is equally culpable for the murder. These has even been the case where a co-felon gets killed in their conspiracy. So a henchman can be in the get-away car for a bank robbery where everyone assured him no real weapons would be used, and no one would get hurt, but if a guard pulls a gun in the bank and someone dies, the driver is guilty of murder.

This doesn’t speak to infants either, I realize, but another example of the broad general statement being facially invalid, and also an instance where a lesser (co-conspirator) can be guilty for the actions of another actor.

I agree God is sovereign, and agree that my bad-leader example only shows lessers experiencing consequences for his failures, and not direct, personal guilt.

We must trust God’s mercy with the ultimate state of prematurely dead infants, you say (and I agree). I wonder why the Catholic Church did not take this somewhat deferential approach to non-Christians (or even non-Catholics like me!).

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

You'll of course note that the term "Original Sin" doesn’t occur anywhere in the Bible. It is a term of the Catholic Church.

The Church’s doctrine of Original Sin was rejected by the Gnostics, Manichaeans, Origenists, Priscillianists and Pelagians. These errors were combated by Augustine and by Church Synods at Mileve (416), Carthage (418) and Orange (529).

Abelard also rejected the Church’s teaching regarding Original Sin and was opposed by the Synod of Sens (1141). The Reformers, Baians and the Jansenists also rejected the Church’s teaching and were opposed by the Council of Trent.

Michel de Bay (Michael Baius) first formulated the teaching that Original Sin consisted in the total corruption of human nature caused by the inheritance of actual sin apart from any action of the will. This error was taken up by many Reformers and opposed by Trent.

The Catholic Church has always taught that Original Sin consists in the privation of original supernatural gifts and the resulting consequences for human nature. In as much as this privation has the same consequence as the personal voluntary turning from God, this consequence may be described as guilt.

You write eloquently about our total dependence on grace for salvation. As you note, the Reformed position on Original Sin violates Scripture. It is interesting that the Greeks still use the term, “baptized” to describe sunken ship. This gives us an insight into Christian Baptism. In this Sacrament, we are flooded inside and out with supernatural grace.

I am fascinated by what seems to be a genetic view of election regarding infants born either inside or outside the circle of the church visible. Perhaps we might discuss this further in the future.

You’re right regarding your example of culpability. I don’t like it because it involves willing actors who may participate in an unintended evil consequence. I still can’t think of an example of culpability that involves non-actors or innocents.

Please expand on your comments regarding the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christians. You appear to be dissatisfied with your position. I’m interested in knowing why.

Thos said...

Gil,

Original Sin is a term of art belonging to the church, and only belongs to the Catholic Church proper only insofar as one agrees with the Catholic Church’s definition of the Catholic Church. The Calvinist would dutifully note Augustine’s use of it, and then commandeer Augustine to his own (Calvinist, Reformed) camp.

“Original Sin consists in the privation of original supernatural gifts and the resulting consequences for human nature. In as much as this privation has the same consequence as the personal voluntary turning from God, this consequence may be described as guilt.”

This is an odd use of the word “guilt”. I don’t mean to argue the underlying principles. I do mean to note that it seems odd to say that the consequences of a condition can be called guilt insofar as they match other guilt. Are you saying that 1) X (actual sin) yields guilt, 2) Y (original sin) yields consequences similar to or matching those of X, 3) therefore, Y involves guilt?

I used Felony Murder as an example from the secular criminal law, but full disclosure would inform you (if you are not familiar with the criminal law) that this is an extremely controversial area, precisely because it involves conviction for a crime without the requisite culpable state of mind (i.e., “mens rea”). So insofar as that critique is valid, my use of this crime as an example is further invalid.

You asked me to expand on my comments regarding the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christians. Were you referring to this statement of mine: “We must trust God’s mercy with the ultimate state of prematurely dead infants, you say (and I agree). I wonder why the Catholic Church did not take this somewhat deferential approach to non-Christians (or even non-Catholics like me!).”? If you did, I’ll say this. Instead of defining how the Agnostic with a well-intentioned-heart that his heard but refused the Gospel of Christ could still get into Heaven, it seems that it would be easiest to say that he, for all his “good heart” is entrusted to God’s divine mercy. I (personally) prefer this deference to God, accepting that He applies His standard of Justice to the situation. This avoids filtering what we imagine God to do through our own imperfect sense of what is and is not Just. Same would go for the Protestant, I suppose.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

I point out that the doctrine of Original Sin as taught and defended by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries has been consistent. I suppose it would be possible to hijack Augustine for Reformed purposes but one could only get away with it inasmuch as one's audience was unfamiliar with Augustine.

The opposition to the Catholic understanding of Original Sin by the Reformers was no different than the opposition of Abelard, Mani, Origen, or Pelagius. Only the material reasons changed.

One certainly doesn't have to agree with the Catholic understanding of Original Sin. You seem to be more uncomfortable with opposing your new Reformed tradition than you do opposing Scripture and the ancient and consistent Christian tradition. Does this bother you?

Guilt is a state of being. This state consists in being estranged from God's friendship. The modern connotation of guilt involves feelings of remorse or internal condemnation. This is a purely modern concern.

Regarding your understanding of the "good heart," Protestants and their eternal destiny in Catholic understanding, do you think that your formulation is opposed to Catholic teaching? I'm reading some disdain you have with the Catholic Church in this regard but I'm missing the source.

Thos said...

“You seem to be more uncomfortable with opposing your new Reformed tradition than you do opposing Scripture and the ancient and consistent Christian tradition. Does this bother you?”

I think you misread me, though if that’s the case, the fault is undoubtedly entirely or almost entirely my own. I am more than halfway through law school, and the experience has impacted my writing and communicative skills in as many negative ways as positive. Let me give you some personal narrative that may help color the words I have used in our wonderful exchange: I have been pondering whether Catholicism’s claims are true for about 4 years now, I am closer than not to accepting those claims, but, in an effort to remain intellectual honest with myself, I am reluctant to dismiss the Reformed arguments that have been part of me for over three decades. Particularly noteworthy, I will a lot of ‘mail’ to answer, and only to Reformed friends and family, if I convert. I try very hard to ensure that I have given their arguments and views a fair shake on my own, before I decide to convert and then insist to all of them that they are mistaken.

Let me take, then, one little exchange and give my own description of what was happening in my head (briefly):

You said, “You'll of course note that the term "Original Sin" doesn’t occur anywhere in the Bible. It is a term of the Catholic Church.”

In my head went something like this, “yup, Gil’s right. It was a term developed in the Church, particularly in the West, and I think it was good ol’ Augustine who coined it, or at least ran with it. But, what would the Reformed say in response?...

Then I replied, “Original Sin is a term of art belonging to the church, and only belongs to the Catholic Church proper only insofar as one agrees with the Catholic Church’s definition of the Catholic Church.” Note that here (and I think throughout our conversation), I said “one”. I really meant that sentence in its literal sense. Maybe the “one” is an idiot for not agreeing with the Church’s definition of Church (my jury’s out). But the point still stands, that one who believes one has the liberty to take a theological term like “original sin” (or, no less, “trinity”, or “justification”) will not accede to the definition of such a term (of art) given it by the Catholic Church. That theological libertarian will be willing to craft another or a new definition (which makes ecumenical dialogue, of course, inordinately cumbersome).

All this to say that your sense, that I “seem” more uncomfortable opposing Reformed faith than Scripture, is incorrect, even if I foolishly led you to that conclusion. Therefore, it can’t bother me. Really, and to the contrary, my entire confidence in Reformed (or any other systematic) theology collapsed when I realized it quite probably lacks the authority to articulate a doctrine on Scripture, on Canon, etc.

“Guilt is a state of being. This state consists in being estranged from God's friendship. The modern connotation of guilt involves feelings of remorse or internal condemnation. This is a purely modern concern.”

This was extremely helpful in my understanding. Thank you. You’re right that I give this modern connotation to the word, and will try to understand it better. I think at some intuitive level, I understand that when a child is “in trouble” with their father, or a person with the law, their guilt has the element needing punishment, but also the element of not being whole, of needing remedy (not necessarily through punishment alone). We could be abused by our father by his anger (in a way different from just punishment), but that does not alone make us whole again.

If I expressed hostility at the Church on justification, it was at theologians who seem to express too detailed an opinion on (mechanically) how non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians could enter Salvation. (I did not mean to sound hostile). The Catholic system makes sense to my limited understanding where is says something like “We know we’re the boat to salvation, and for others not on board, pray God to have mercy on them!” If this is all the Catholic Church holds officially, I’m a happy camper. If it says otherwise, officially, I’m happy to try harder to understand its Wisdom.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

Thank you for your recent comments. You do have a rhetorical command of the arguement. I appreciate that.

I'm glad that we can see the how the Reformed position on Original Sin and guilt isn't in harmony with Scripture and historic Christian teaching. The Reformed position may have good arguements, but these are novel and represent a breach with historic Christianity.

I'd be interested in knowing which Catholic theologians have detailed the mechanics of just how Protestants aren't going to heaven. My concern is not just my eternal destination in the hereafter but my sanctification and happiness here.

I enjoy our conversation and hope that you find it useful.

Thos said...

Gil,

You said, "I'm glad that we can see the how the Reformed position on Original Sin and guilt isn't in harmony with Scripture and historic Christian teaching."

Again, I am struck by a certain internal tension. A good part of me responds with a "yup." But then I realize that's not 100% of me (for if it were, I would probably be morally obligated to "pope" right now). So I will give the intellectual response: I believe the Reformed position on Original sin is (indeed) not in harmony with historic Christian teaching, and it *seems* to me to not be in harmony with Scripture (though I do not foreclose the possibility that theologians wiser than I have plausible ways to resolve the apparent textual conflict - I'll have to study more).

"I'd be interested in knowing which Catholic theologians have detailed the mechanics of just how Protestants aren't going to heaven." I meant to express the opposite, that some Catholic theologians have detailed the mechanics of just how Protestants, Agnostics, and the like CAN go to Heaven. I can think of Cardinal Dulles in a recent First Things article (which received reasonable critique in the following edition). I can cite to anyone else momentarily, but I know I've come across the sentiment often.

I absolutely find out conversation helpful. I am trying to put together a new post to address some aspects of infant salvation we covered earlier. I hope you will contribute there if I ever get it finished to my satisfaction.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gary said...

I Corinthians 15:29

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?


This is a very odd passage of Scripture. The Mormons use this passage as the basis for their belief in Baptism for the Dead. I will present the orthodox Christian/Lutheran view of this passage below, but first I would like us to look at something else in this passage that is odd:

If the Church in Corinth had been taught by the Apostle Paul that the manner in which one is saved is to pray (verbally or nonverbally) a sincere, penitent, prayer/petition to God, such as a version of the Sinner's Prayer, why does this passage of God's Holy Word discuss baptisms for the dead and not "prayers for the dead", specifically, praying a version of the Sinner's Prayer for the dead?

Isn't that really odd? No matter what activity was actually going on in the Corinthian church regarding "the dead", why is the discussion/controversy about baptism and not the "true" means of salvation according to Baptists and evangelicals: an internal belief in Christ; an internal "decision" for Christ?

And even more odd...why didn't Paul scold the Corinthians for focusing so much on baptism which he had surely taught them (according to Baptists and evangelicals) was nothing other than an act of obedience; a public profession of faith??

Why so much emphasis on baptism?

Is it possible that the reason that the Corinthians were so concerned about baptism is that they had been taught by the Apostle Paul and other Christian evangelists that salvation and the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life are received in Baptism, just as orthodox Christians, including Lutherans, have been teaching for almost 2,000 years??

Gary
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals