Thursday, June 26, 2008

Participants in or Objects of Redemption?

I have believed for many years that Marian doctrines are a major source of Christian disunity. The matter continues to be a challenge to me, and my loved ones believe that Marianism is so clearly wrong that they refuse to see merit in Catholicism's or Orthodoxy's authority claims.

Is it Mary that divides? Today I pondered whether there is a deeper dispute, a deeper presuppositional disagreement, that causes the Marian division. I hint at my hypothesis in my title to this post. Are we participants in, or merely objects of Christ's redemption of Creation?

The monergist of my Reformed upbringing tells me that we are not participants, in an active sense, of redemption. Rather, we are objects and not subjects. We are that upon which the one monergistic force, God the Holy Spirit, acts. The constant danger to the Christian is a pride that says he has some role to play in his salvation, that he 'merits' even an infinitesimal quantum of his justification. Therefore, any claim that we are participants in redemption is a prideful step toward conflating ourselves as creatures with the Divine.

The synergist, or one who believes that Christians co-laborate with Christ in His redemption of Creation, might come to a very different conclusion. Under their paradigm, we are both objects and subjects within the world (I apologize if this is a philosophical error). We are acted upon by God and His grace (so objects), and yet simultaneously called to heal the sick and, clothe the naked (so we are subjects). We are members of the Body, with a role to play. We are to act upon this fallen creation, and through us (though not exclusively through us) God graces other objects.

I should come to my point. If I believe that God is the sole actor within His creation, then teachings of the historical merit of Mary's co-laboration, and of the continuing benefit of Mary's co-redemptive works seem particularly anathema. Since the Marianist has attributed to Mary a portion of what is for God (the monergistic force) alone, he has conflated Mary with the Divine; he has taken to treating Mary as a demigod. On the other hand, if I believe that God uses his faithful creatures to co-redeem His creation, then Mary is not nearly such a problem. Indeed, the unique labor she provided to God's redemptive plan stands out as worthy of special praise. I would then only have to bridge the gap of believing that the faithful departed are not as 'departed' as the Protestant paradigm maintains.

If this is accurate, it would help me to understand why converts to Catholicism who hail from an Anabaptist background have not highlighted Marianism as the challenge it seems to have presented to formerly Reformed converts.

12 comments:

Joseph said...

Thos,

Forgive me for being daft. I'm having trouble understanding your question. Are you suggesting that your postulation is truly a dichotomy? You can either only be a participant in redemption or an object of redemption, but you cannot be both. Also, because one is a participant in redemption, I'm confused how that automatically attributes what is God's only to man.

Under [the "synergist"] paradigm, we are both objects and subjects within the world. We are acted upon by God and His grace (so objects), and yet simultaneously called to heal the sick and, clothe the naked (so we are subjects). We are members of the Body, with a role to play. We are to act upon this fallen creation, and through us (though not exclusively through us) God graces other objects.

Because I'm not sure of my motives whenever I do "good", I'm unsure with just how much I am co-operating with God's grace, and, therefore, exactly how much of a participant I really am. So, for me, the best way to answer this question is not to look in the mirror for the answer, but to look at the Saints, Patriarchs, and Prophets in the Sacred Scripture (since both Catholics and Protestants can agree that Sacred Scripture is infallible).

Could God have redeemed man without the actors he chose throughout the history of redemption as recorded in the Scriptures? Yes, of course. But that isn't what He chose to do. I wanted Noah to co-operate with Him and build the ark. He wanted Abraham to co-operate with Him and depart into unknown territory with His people. I could give even more examples, but you already know them and that would be redundant. Plus, I don't have very much time today.

It can be said, then, that God redeemed fallen man by His work AND the co-operation of His creation because that is the way He wanted it. And that is the way He has always wanted it.

Would you not consider Abraham, or any of the other Saints, Patriarchs, and Prophets of the Old and New Testaments, a participant in the redemption of man? They had free-will, they could've rejected God's plan for them if they wanted, no? But because they didn't reject His will, did they not become participants in redemption as well as objects of (the Patriarchs and Prophets after the Crucifixion became "objects of", since they could not be redeemed until the Sacrifice of the True Passover Lamb).

And if they were participants in redemption, how much more would the Blessed Virgin be, who assented to give birth (and did) to the Redeemer Himself?

I'm not sure if the difficulty you are having arises from the Calvinist perception of free-will and predestination. I suppose that would officially bar any recognition of participation in redemption. I won't attempt to persuade you in any direction on that point of view. I have never ascribed to it, even when I was introduced to TULIP by my family.

Philosophy is not my field and neither is Law, so I don't know how much effect any of my comments have on you. My profession is Systems Analysis and Development, so I don't hail from a school of Liberal Arts. So it may not matter that I have never been able to accept Calvinist teaching. It never seemed logical to me and I could never find any Scriptural basis for it... even as a Protestant. Perhaps that is why I don't quite grasp your position. Are you looking from someone who at one time adhered to the Calvinist system to answer your question? If so, then I apologize that I've spammed your combox on this issue.

God bless.

Principium unitatis said...

Tom,

I agree with you. Monergism is very close to monocausalism, which is very close to what is called 'occasionalism'. The idea, as you pointed out, is an a priori way of trying to give God the most glory, by ascribing all good actions to Him alone. But a priori theologizing is dangerous. What if it gives God more glory to show His generosity and perfections by giving to creatures a real role in the salvation of mankind? Once we grant that humans are real agents, and that we are so wonderfully made that we can be genuine causes, then not only do we see what a privilege it is to participate in redemptive history, but we also see that our lives now have *meaning*, because our actions have real meaning -- they really change the course of events -- they make a difference for all of eternity. And that is sobering, but also uplifting. It shows what a great thing God did when He made man. Humans are real agents in the drama of eternity, not mere puppets on strings.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

George Weis said...

Thos,

Really interesting post as per usual. I am now scratching my head a little more, and even more after Brian's addition there. The strange thing is, I have never thought actions didn't matter for eternity sake. Now, do they matter for salvation sake? Perhaps that was what Brian was saying.

Question, if God GIVES the grace for good works, is not God also the real cause behind the works? What does it come down to... mere accepting the grace in order to do the works?

I'm not sure I am in agreement or not, but I would say, that it is His work within us allowing us to work. I think that is the basis of what Brian responded with.

I am generally rambling, so forgive me it has been a very long week!

God bless you friends, for the sake of Christ.

-g-

Thos said...

Joseph,

Good to hear from you. I didn't mean to set up a strict dichotomy with my title. In my post, I was closer to what I meant: “Are we participants in, or merely objects of Christ's redemption of Creation?”. The addition of “mere” should clear up your confusion. We are either active participant-agents in creation (subjects), who may also be acted upon (objects), OR we are merely objects of God’s activity (so not subjects).

I did not mean to present the view that we were either subjects or objects. I think the Reformed debate with most of the rest of Christianity is whether we are objects only or objects-subjects. I spelled collaborate in a funny way (“co-laborate”) to highlight the subjects-and-objects view; we co-labor, co-work, co-operate with God (when we are doing His will).

And as to your examples, they are fine ones. I would be interested to hear what a strict monergist would say in response. I am not a strict monergist, not a “hyper-Calvinist”, so will abstain. My intent with is post was simply to highlight what might be a deeper source of disunity over Marian doctrines: some of us have a very hard time coming to terms with any Christian (including Mary) having a co-operative duty, the fulfillment of which could bring them merit.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Thos said...

Bryan,

Thank you for your comment. Lord willing, I will address your comments in another post, because the topic of causation is fascinating to me, and I need to sharpen up on it. With this post I meant to highlight the dispute itself (without meaning to take a side), and opine that being on one side of it can make accepting teachings on Mary and the Saints difficult - a source of disunity.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Thos said...

George,

I’m not sure what you mean by “I have never thought actions didn't matter for eternity sake. Now, do they matter for salvation sake?”. Perhaps you can help me understand. I don’t want to speculate that not believing we have a co-operative role means we are in trouble in terms of salvation and eternity. I know strict Monergists who ardently believe that we have a duty to right moral conduct, to acts of mercy, etc. They believe this, and do it, not because they believe they are active participant-agents in redemption, but because the Bible tells them to do so. And they do it joyful, without the expectation of receiving ‘merit’ from God, of receiving some kind of remuneration. I admire these people, and certainly believe that they are Heaven-bound.

You asked about God’s grace, and God being the “real cause” of works. I agree with you, but then my agreement is always conditioned on what you mean by your words. This is what I’ll try to write about next, causation. It’s a fascinating topic, and I’ll have to be careful to limit what I say to the confines of my meager understanding of the theology and philosophy at play.

Don't let any of it get you down! Be encouraged; the Holy Spirit is at work in you. Pray for wisdom.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

George Weis said...

Thos,

I think we are in agreement :D You made clear your position with the monergist being heaven bound.
I suppose my position has always been "Real faith is made obvious by works" However good works can be done without faith. If indeed God is at work in a human heart and has brought them out of the kingdom of darkness, then light should be evident in them... their fruit will be good works. I have not decided weather or not this fits with the Cathoic perspective, as I know that their position is "with faith and works". I often wonder if I think the same thing just with different wording.

I am not at all put down by all of this. however, this pursuit is often tiring, and again, I have not been surrounded by faithful Catholics that strike me as deeply in love with Christ. I know they are out there, and I appreciate people like Bryan for the way in which they operate here on the web. Such people strike me as kind hearted and not seeking to jab at others, but also not keeping from critical analysis.

I appreciate you Tom. Your intellectual and heartfelt approach to these subjects keeps me thinking. I really struggle with this whole thing. There is a strange part of me that would like to find it all true as it provides at least theoretically a way for unity... but something nags at my heart in the opposite direction with a great deal of strength.

-g-

Joseph said...

Thos,

Thanks for the clarification. You're right, I got hung up on the title and trying to work it in to the post.

I don't know how far discussing the only two examples (there are more, obviously) I cited would go with a strict monergist. I have a feeling it would end up in the "Holy Spirit interprets the Scriptures for me" infinite loop.

You confused me again though! So, you'll have to correct me. If I were physically present, I would ask you to fix my glitch with a swift palm to the side of the head.

You said:
I am not a strict monergist, not a “hyper-Calvinist”, so will abstain. My intent with is post was simply to highlight what might be a deeper source of disunity over Marian doctrines: some of us have a very hard time coming to terms with any Christian (including Mary) having a co-operative duty, the fulfillment of which could bring them merit.

Are you including yourself in with "some of us"? Is there a way to be a monergist without being a strict monergist? If you aren't a "strict" monergist, are you a monergist-lite (not trying to be snarky, but I don't know how else to describe it)? A strict monergist would say that in no way can man participate on redemption, so, would a monergist-lite say that it is possible for man to "co-laborate", just not every man? It just seems that if you include yourself in the "some of us" group, you would be a strict monergist based on your statement. I hope I'm not bothering you with my lack of understanding.

Joseph said...

Did you forget about me or was my question as stupid as I thought it was? If it is the latter, don't worry, I won't be offended. Humiliation is often a good medicine.

Thos said...

George,

Excuse my absence. I'm sorry to hear that you haven't been exposed to many solid Catholics in person. It's an ongoing inquiry: if Catholicism is so good and so right, and its graces so manifest, why are there so many bad Catholics? But the more Catholics I've gotten to know in person, and the more involved I've become with their Catholic activities, the more I realize that we have a bit of a skewed perspective. We meet those who have essentially walked away from the Catholic Church, but still identify (by title) with it. I would not want my denomination judged by people who have been through its doors at one time but no longer go to church.

You noted the view that "real faith is made obvious by works". Why the qualification of "real" to the word "faith"? I know this is commonly done, but it cannot mean what it seems to mean, at least if we use faith the way the word is used in James 2. James 2 does not distinguish the Christian's "real" faith from the demons' "fake" or "artificial" faith. I hear "real faith" often, as well as "saving faith", but neither seem satisfactory. These terms just make me want to ask, "well what do you mean by faith then?" I think in defining faith, we end up talking about things that aren't faith (belief in God). We start talking about a state of relationship with God, or a condition of the heart willing to do things like works, as you said. In that case, you're talking about belief + works = "real faith" = salvation, which is a lot like saying faith + works = salvation.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Thos said...

Joseph,

Please excuse my absence. Your questions are not stupid, so in that I apparently disagree with you.

A monergist may not agree with my distinctions, but I believe that there are strict monergists, and what you call “monergists-lite”. I would say that the latter are simply people who consider themselves to be monergists, and tend to view faith and life through that lens, but who are unwilling to press monergism to its natural conclusions. The strict monergist does not make apologies for the full implications of their views when those implications seem unusual or out of the norm to other Christians. For instance, the lite variety may be willing to admit that we do labor with God in a way, but then would simultaneously insist that it’s all “really” God’s labor though.

I did not mean to strictly identify myself with the us in my statement, “some of us have a very hard time coming to terms with any Christian (including Mary) having a co-operative duty, the fulfillment of which could bring them merit.” I meant to use squishy, confusing, vague language. I am almost done law school, so I am trying to refine that ability. Actually, I often don’t know where I stand on these -- I don’t know “converted” I already am, so I choose such wording to leave the matter open for now. Here’s a non-squishy statement for you: I have a hard time accepting that I have cooperative duties, the fulfillment of which bring me salvific merit. But I believe that I will eventually accept the notion without feeling so panicked to qualify this belief with a statement that says my merit is really God’s (even though it is).

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Joseph said...

... I meant to use squishy, confusing, vague language. I am almost done law school, so I am trying to refine that ability.

LOL!!! Brilliant!