Monday, November 11, 2002

No Cooperation with Grace?

There are a couple of blogs that are discussing the question of cooperation with grace. Of course, Catholics affirm this, while most Protestants do not.

All I want to do for now is point to people's experience. I'll save the theological monograph for another time.

Essentially, the argument is that -- because of the "total depravity" of the human person -- we are unable to turn to God or "heavenly things" without grace (no problem here), and that God must turn us to him, without our cooperation. And there's the rub. Do we convert to God solely by His effort, or is there some way in which we cooperate with Him in the process?

Catholicism argues the latter. Without denying the necessity of grace before, during, and after our conversion, the Catholic Church teaches that the converting sinner in fact cooperates with God in the process. God does not violate the nature of His creation in His dealings with it, and our nature is a free one, meaning that God saves us, but with our involvement. To roughly quote St. Augustine, "He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent."

Isn't this the theory that coincides with the human experience of conversion to Our Lord? When an adult converts, do they ever experience any stage of conversion as one in which they are compelled against (or even without) their will to act in a particular way? No. Their experience is one of choosing, not passive compulsion. This in and of itself points to our cooperation with grace.

I want to point out one last thing: the Catholic teaching in no way is synergistic; that is, it does not conceive of salvation as one part God, one part man. It is all due to God's grace, but that grace acts in such a way that it does not violate our freedom, but rather involves it. To use an example given by theologian and cardinal Charles Journet, who responsible for the rose, the rose bush or God? The answer, of course, is both, but not in equal ways: God's causality is superior and all-embracing, the creature's causality is subordinate. Yet the creature retains causality, in some way -- and this gives greater glory to God.

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