Saturday, July 19, 2014

BeggersAll - Catholicism and Semi-Pelagianism per Sproul

In a blog comment at BeggarsAll, Ken Temple states:
R. C. Sproul demonstrates the contradiction in Roman Catholic Theology, when it claims it agrees with Augustine against Pelagius and the Semi-Pelagians (Provincial Synod of Orange in 529 AD), but later re-affirms Semi-Pelagianism by the decrees of Trent (1545-1563) and then, later, arguably, it approves of even Pelagianism by the condemnation of the Jansenists (roughly, 1638-1713) and the modern Roman Catholic Catechism of 1994.  Sproul calls it an "ambiguity".  Indeed, it is more than that; it is a real contradiction.  It also shows the Roman Catholic Church to be fallible; thus bringing down the whole system of its claim to be infallible.
Embedded Ken has a video with Dr. RC Sproul wherein Sproul makes the statement that the Catholic Church has theological hemophilia, and if you scratch her, she bleeds to death.  That is, since the Catholic Church claims to be infallible, if one can demonstrate a contradiction in infallible teachings - then infallibility is destroyed - "she bleeds to death."  In the video Sproul deals with the matter of Free Will and Original Sin.  

Sproul starts by explaining (briefly) what Pelagianism is and how St. Augustine opposed it.  He also explains what Jansenism is, and how the Catholic Church opposed it.  For a bit more clarity, let's explain those a bit more here:
Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam's sinoriginal sintotal depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).
Jansenism was a Christian theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity ofdivine grace, and predestination
St. Augustine opposed Pelagianism in this respect:
These men are such opponents of the grace of God . . . that without it, as they believe, man can do all the commandments of God.

They confess in this way there is given to us divine knowledge whereby ignorance is dispelled, but they deny that love is given to us whereby we may lead a religious life: so that whereas knowledge, which, without love puffeth up, is the gift of God, love itself, which edifieth so that knowledge should not puff up, is not the gift of God. They empty of their meaning the prayers which the Church makes: whether for the unbelieving and those that refused the doctrine of God, that they may return to God; or for the faithful, that faith may be increased in them and that they may persevere therein.

They even go so far as to say that the life of the righteous in this world has no sin, and thus the Church of Christ in this mortal state is so perfected as to be altogether “without spot or wrinkle. ” As if it were not the Church of Christ throughout the world which cries to God, “Forgive us our trespasses.” They also deny that infants, born according to Adam after the flesh, contract by their first [sc. Natural] birth the infection of the ancient death. So they assert that they are born without any bond of original sin: with the result, of course, that there is in them nothing that has to be released at their Second [or New] Birth. The reason why they are baptized is that by their New Birth they be adopted and admitted into the kingdom of God, carried from good to better—not, by that renewal, delivered from any evil of ancient entail. For even if they are not baptized, they promise them eternal life and bliss of a sort, though not within the kingdom of God. Adam also himself, they say, even if he had not sinned, would have undergone bodily death; though, if he so died, it would have been due not to the deserts of his guilt, but to the conditions of his nature. Several other things are charged against them. But these are especially the points on which it may be understood how all, or nearly all, the rest depend.
So in summary, St. Augustine supports that in order for men to fulfill the commandments of God they must have His grace in them; that love (grace) is the gift of God; that the Church of Christ does have blemishes and cries out to God "Forgive us our trespasses;" that Original Sin does exist and we must be regenerated through baptism; and that the sin of Adam indeed brought about his death.  These things the Pelagians denied - and these things the Catholic Church taught and continues to teach (to this day!).

The "critical point" according to Dr. Sproul is that he states man still has the ability to choose evil or good, even after the fall.  He goes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and while he does not cite the paragraph, I have it here for you:
1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.
1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.
Two things here in answering Dr. Sproul: 
a) The CCC is not an infallible document/book/teaching from the Church - NO catechism is!  
b) Paragraph 1732 is saying that men who are not bound definitively to God can still choose to do good things.  There is nothing wrong with that statement!  It is not saying that such men are doing salvific things, only that they are still free to choose to do good things over doing evil things.  Many "unregenerate" people do many good things - there just is no "good" for them in God's eyes, outside of His grace.

So, even if Paragraph 1732 were in error here (and it is not) it would not be valid ammunition against the Church's teaching (really Christ's teaching, Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18) because NO catechism has ever been promulgated as an infallible document.  Again, there is no contradiction between what St. Augustine said and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says - if anything, the CCC is saying that when one binds himself to God that his will is no longer "free" - that he is now bound to do good, and the choice to do evil would separate him from the love (grace) of God.  This is consistent Catholic teaching throughout the ages.

I have one more thing for Dr. Sproul and Mr. Temple in this regard...


  1. Hello Scott,

    I have responded at length to Sproul's (and Ken's) misrepresentations concerning semi-Pelagianism (especially his distortion of what semi-Pelagianism actually is) in the following threads:

    Hope you are able to look into those threads and then share a few a your reflections with me...

    Grace and peace,


  2. Thanks David, and as I commented on your blog - the fact that they are wrong about what Semi-Pelagianism is and even wrong about how their own source feels about the Catholic position on the matter - it's a wonder they have any credibility at all.



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