SW: I wrote: "Our God is not the god of Calvinism."(1) To which John Lollard wrote:
JL: I think that's a strange thing to hear you say. How seriously do you believe that Calvinists worship a false god of their own construction?
SW: I am quite serious about this. They have taken a few verses from the context of Scripture as a whole and portray God as an unloving, arbitrary and unjust god. I know, they reject this portrayal, but truly they can't get around it. A favorite cited in response to Catholics is Romans 9:18, "Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will, he hardeneth." This is not saying that God has already decided, in our view of time, whom He will have mercy upon or whom He will harden, only that in specific cases, such as Pharoah (v. 17) where He has singled out someone to demonstrate His power, "To this purpose have I raised thee, that I may shew my power in thee, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth." Consider why God would want to "show His power" - that His Name may be declared throughout the earth... not just "the Elect" - but the entire earth. Why would God need to have His Name declared throughout the earth if He's already decided whom He will save and whom He will condemn? Calvinist logic is severely lacking here!
The context continues on:
19Thou wilt say therefore to me: Why doth he then find fault? for who resisteth his will? 20O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: Why hast thou made me thus? 21Or hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, 23That he might shew the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory?The Calvinist would compare the Catholic position to the clay complaining to the Potter, however, again, the context is NOT about everyone in general being created for mercy or hardening, but for specific cases, like Pharoah. Again, it makes no sense that God would need or want to proclaim His power to the earth if He's already made up His mind.
JL: For instance, if Calvinists worship a different (and hence false) god, then are they Christians?
SW: That would depend on how hard you want to draw the line of defining "Christian." If that line is drawn at "one who believes in Jesus Christ," then I would say they are Christian. Likewise, I would say Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are Christian by that standard. If the line is drawn at "one who believes Jesus Christ is True God and True Man, who gives Himself freely to ALL who will accept Him as their Lord and Savior," that pretty much eliminates the LDS, JWs AND Calvinists. So, when I speak "seriously" about this matter of a "different gospel" and/or the "false god of Calvinism," it is this higher view of God, not the overly simplified "one who believes in Jesus Christ."
JL: If so, then in what sense?
SW: Well, I have pretty much answered that above. To reiterate, if one is taking this higher view of God as One who "freely gives" Himself to ALL who will accept Him, then we (Catholics v. Calvinists) don't have the same deity.
JL: In worshipping their false Calvinist deity, are they guilty of idolatry?
SW: Idolatry implies the worship of an actual object, like a statue or a mountain or a tree, so no, I would not call their worship "idolatry."
SW: The above answers the direct questions Mr. Lollard asked, but how about some more details?
What is the god of Calvinism?
Calvinism adheres to a strict concept of predestination where by they believe that God has already predestined everyone to Heaven or Hell. Let us look at Calvin's own words:
In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them. (emphasis mine).(2)Now, while I agree with Calvin that for those who are saved this is founded/based on His gratuitous mercy and is totally irrespective of human merit. No one "earns" salvation, but that is not what Calvinists of today focus on here! They focus on the bolded text above and have developed an ungodly (from the perspective of the True God) concept of predestination. I have recently had a discussion on "foreknowledge" with Barry Hofstetter(3) and I believe it is this concept of foreknowledge or "prescience" where Calvinism goes awry.
A proper sense of this foreknowledge or "prescience" would be based in the fact that from God's perspective there is no past or future. God is outside of our concept of time. RC Sproul explains it this way, separating foreknowledge from what God foreordains:
If God foreordains anything, it is absolutely certain that what He foreordains will come to pass. The purpose of God can never be frustrated. Even God's foreknowledge or prescience makes future events certain with respect to time. That is to say, if God knows on Tuesday that I will drive to Pittsburgh on Friday, then there is no doubt that, come Friday, I will drive to Pittsburgh. Otherwise God's knowledge would have been in error. Yet, there is a significant difference between God's knowing that I would drive to Pittsburgh and God's ordaining that I would do so. Theoretically He could know of a future act without ordaining it, but He could not ordain it without knowing what it is that He is ordaining. But in either case, the future event would be certain with respect to time and the knowledge of God.(4)This brings us back to the so-called "Golden Chain of Redemption" discussion:
29For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren.30And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30God does not predestine those whom He has not first foreknown! Therein lies the fatal flaw of Calvinism's view on predestination! Sproul (whom I often disagree with) has it right when he said, "He could not ordain it without knowing what it is that He is ordaining." So those whom He has foreknown to make the right decisions and to persevere until the end of the race, it is those whom God has foreordained and calls "the elect." If it were not so then Scripture itself would not make sense where it tells us to "persevere" and "run to win the race" or to "buffet (our) body" as St. Paul Himself said:
27But I chastise (buffet) my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27If St. Paul himself worries about losing his own soul and becoming a "castaway" - how much more should the rest of us be concerned? God does already know where we'll be at the "end of the race" - but from OUR PERSPECTIVE we cannot and do not KNOW this. We can have confidence in the fact that by His Grace He has given us the strength to accomplish the desired end(5) and that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist the temptation(6). These scriptural concepts make no sense if God foreordains WITHOUT foreknowledge of the outcomes of our temptations and/or perseverance.
Sometimes called the "classicus locus"(7) regarding Calvinism's predestination is Ephesians 1:3-11:
3Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ:Now, keep in mind, the person writing this also wrote what we read above in 1 Corinthians 9:27! So, either we have a contradiction of thought in St. Paul of 1 Corinthians v. St. Paul of Ephesians or this concept of predestination is based in foreknowledge - that God has foreknown the acts of men and therefore based upon this knowledge He predestines some to Heaven and others to Hell. Rather than assent to a scriptural contradiction here, logic would side with the latter rather than the former. If we read Ephesians 1 from the perspective that God already knows then it is not difficult to accept that He has also predestined those who will, in our perspective of time, persevere to the end and receive the prize which awaits the winner of the race.
4As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.
5Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will:
6Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved son.
7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace,
8Which hath superabounded in us in all wisdom and prudence,
9That he might make known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in him,
10In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in him.
11In whom we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.
The god of Calvinism is a "sovereign god" who will not have his will dictated by the acts of men. This god has created men for salvation and others for damnation - simply because he desires some to live eternally with him and at the same time wishes some to perish in everlasting fire. When one points out the unlovingness or unfairness of such a god - the Calvinist will be quick to throw Romans 9:18ff into the argument. As we have already seen, Romans 9 is not about mankind in general, but about specific individuals whom God has used to show His power and might.
Catholicism does not deny the sovereignty of God - we accept that it is PART OF GOD'S FREE WILL(8) that God GAVE men FREE WILL. God ALLOWS for men to freely choose or reject Him (except in specific cases, as pointed out in Romans 9, where God uses individuals for His Own purpose). That ALLOWS for men to truly LOVE Him, for God IS Love(9). Love is not something forced upon another, no true love is something GIVEN and GIVEN FREELY by the lover(10). Therefore it is illogical to think that God chose "the elect" without their consent and through some "Irresistible Grace" (the "I" in TULIP) God has forced "the elect" into obedience and a warped concept of "love." It is God's Will that we love Him, TRULY love Him - and those outside of His Will will suffer the ultimate - an eternity without God.
I hope this discussion has helped you, and if it has - I invite your comments. As always, I also invite those critical of what I have said to comment.
(1) Windsor, Scott earlier on the CathApol Blog.
(2) Calvin, John, Institutes, Book III, Chapter 21.7 - qtd. from here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/calvin-predestin2.asp full source and context available here: http://www.reformed.org/books/institutes/books/book3/bk3ch21.html
(3) Catholic Debate Forum discussion started here and continues here then the concept is further challenged here.
(4) Sproul, R.C. qtd. from here: http://www.the-highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html
(5) Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me."
(6) 1 Corinthians 10:13 - "Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it."
(7) White, James R. from debate: Does the Bible Teach Predestination?
(8) CCC 295 We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God's free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness: "For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." Therefore the Psalmist exclaims: "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all"; and "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made."
(9) CCC 257 "O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!" God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of his blessed life. Such is the "plan of his loving kindness", conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in his beloved Son: "He destined us in love to be his sons" and "to be conformed to the image of his Son", through "the spirit of sonship". This plan is a "grace [which] was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began", stemming immediately from Trinitarian love. It unfolds in the work of creation, the whole history of salvation after the fall, and the missions of the Son and the Spirit, which are continued in the mission of the Church.
(10) CCC 2002 God's free initiative demands man's free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy. The promises of "eternal life" respond, beyond all hope, to this desire:
If at the end of your very good works . . ., you rested on the seventh day, it was to foretell by the voice of your book that at the end of our works, which are indeed "very good" since you have given them to us, we shall also rest in you on the sabbath of eternal life.