Thursday, April 18, 2002

Grace and Free Will

The Gospel readings for this week have been from John 6, and Peter Nixon has been providing some wonderful reflections on these readings. His reflections, in turn, are prompting me to reflect on various aspects of salvation and its process.

Today's reflection by Peter points out the tension that exists between faith as a gift of God and as a work of man. As Peter says, both things are true. Apart from God's grace, we cannot have faith; it is a gift from God. At the same time, faith (once given) is a virtue, an act on our part. In order to remain true to Jesus' words, we must hold both truths at once, never allowing one to gain at the expense of the other. As Peter indicates, this balance was crucial during the Reformation.

Many Catholic scholars in the last 40 years have noted that the doctrine which Luther was rebelling against -- the idea that man can justify himself, or even prepare for that justification, on his own -- derived from the teaching of William of Ockham, and that in fact it did not represent authentic Catholic teaching. (Luther was educated in the school of Gabriel Biel, who was orthodox, yet nonetheless was an Ockhamist.) One of these scholars, Fr. Joseph Lortz, even stated that the Catholicism that Luther rejected was not Catholicism. In other words, Luther threw off a decadent scholastic theory, not true Catholicism. Unfortunately, certain vestiges of Luther's Ockhamist education remained, and prevented him from discovering the authentic Catholic doctrine on salation, e.g. in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. On this, I would highly recommend Fr. Louis Bouyer's wonderful book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, in which Fr. Bouyer first points out the many wonderful truths which the first Reformers proclaimed, and then shows out these truths were prevented from achieving the fruit they ought to have because of the latent Ockhamism in much Reformation thought; according to Fr. Bouyer (himself a convert), this Ockhamism in a sense choked off the positives, resulting in teachings which the Magisterium judged heretical.

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