SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map
SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Section 1. The Heresy of The Protestant Reformers And The Jansenists

Grace Actual And Habitual by Joseph Pohle

Section 1. The Heresy of The Protestant Reformers And The Jansenists

1. THE HERETICAL ERRORS OF LUTHER, CALVIN, AND JANSENIUS CONTRASTED WITH THE ORTHODOX TEACHING OF THE CHURCH. -- Luther and Calvin asserted that the freedom of the will was irretrievably lost by original sin. Jansenius taught that the will is overcome by efficacious grace in exactly the same way as it is overpowered by concupiscence in the absence of grace. Against both these heresies the Church has always maintained that the will remains free under the influence of efficacious grace.

a) Luther taught(681) that original sin has so completely annihilated man's free-will that he resembles a horse compelled to go in whatever direction it is driven (according as |God or the devil rides him|),(682) and that the grace of Christ, far from restoring man's liberty, compels him to act with intestine necessity.

Calvin(683) carried this teaching to its logical conclusions by asserting: (1) that the will of our first parents was free in Paradise, but lost its freedom by original sin; (2) that we cannot be delivered from the slavery of Satan except by the grace of Christ, which does not, however, restore liberty, but simply compels the will to do good; (3) that, though the will under the influence of grace is passive, and must needs follow the impulse to which it is subjected, yet its acts are vital and spontaneous.(684)

Against these heresies the Council of Trent maintained the existence of free-will both in the state of original sin(685) and under the influence of efficacious grace: |If any one saith that man's free-will, moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, ... cannot refuse its consent if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive: let him be anathema.|(686)

b) Jansenius differed from Luther and Calvin mainly in drawing a sharper distinction between freedom from external constraint (libertas a coactione) and freedom from internal compulsion (libertas a necessitate), and maintaining that the will, when under the influence of grace, is exempt from external constraint, though not from interior compulsion, and that the libertas a coactione is entirely sufficient to gain merit or demerit in the fallen state.(687)

The Jansenist teaching on the subject of grace may be outlined as follows: (1) By original sin man lost the moral liberty which he had enjoyed in Paradise and became subject to a twofold delectation -- delectatio coelestis victrix and delectatio terrena sive carnalis victrix. (2) These two delectations are continually contending for the mastery; the stronger always defeats the weaker, (3) and the will, unable to offer resistance, is alternately overpowered now by the one and then by the other.(688) (4) In each case the delectatio coelestis is either stronger than the delectatio terrena, or it is weaker, or it is of equal strength. When it is stronger, the will is overcome by grace, which in that case becomes efficax or irresistibilis. When it is weaker, the will simply must sin, because the delectatio coelestis is too weak to overcome the delectatio terrena. The grace given to a man under such conditions is called by the Jansenists gratia parva sive sufficiens. When the two delectations are equally strong, the will finds itself unable to come to a definite decision.

This false teaching inspired the famous |five propositions| of Jansenius, to-wit: (1) Man is unable to keep some of God's commandments for want of grace; (2) In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace; (3) To merit or demerit in the state of fallen nature it is sufficient to be free from external constraint; (4) The Semipelagian heresy consisted in assuming the existence of a grace which man may either obey or resist; and (5) Christ did not die for all men, but solely for the predestined.

These propositions were condemned as heretical by Pope Innocent X in his dogmatic Bull |Cum occasione,| of May 31, 1653. All five are implicitly contained in the second, viz.: In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace. |If it is true that fallen man never resists interior grace (second proposition), it follows that a just man who violates a commandment of God has not had the grace to observe it, that he therefore transgressed it through inability to fulfil it (first proposition). If, however, he has sinned and thus incurred demerit, it is clear that the liberty of indifference is not a requisite condition of demerit, and what is said of demerit is likewise true of its correlative, merit (third proposition). On the other hand, if grace is wanting to the just whenever they fall, it is wanting still more to sinners; it is therefore impossible to maintain that the death of Jesus Christ assured to every man the graces necessary for salvation (fifth proposition). As a further consequence, the Semipelagians were in error in admitting the universal distribution of a grace which may be resisted (fourth proposition).|(689)

2. THE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH PROVED FROM REVELATION. -- Far from favoring the determinism of the Reformers and of Jansenius, the Bible and Tradition positively contradict the contention that free-will is overpowered by grace.

a) The operation of grace and the liberty of the will never appear in Sacred Scripture as mutually exclusive, but invariably as cooeperating factors, though sometimes the one is emphasized, and sometimes the other, according to the purpose the sacred writer happens to have in view.

The Council of Trent expressly calls attention to this:(690) |When it is said in the sacred writings, 'Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you,'(691) we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer: 'Convert us, O God, to thee, and we shall be converted,'(692) we confess that we are forestalled by the grace of God.|

St. Paul, it is true, asks: |Who resisteth his [God's] will?|(693) But he also admonishes his favorite disciple Timothy: |Exercise thyself unto godliness.|(694) St. Stephen testifies that the grace of the Holy Ghost does not compel the will. |You always resist the Holy Ghost,| he tells the Jews; |as your fathers did, so do you also.|(695) Our Lord Himself teaches that grace exerts no interior compulsion but invites free cooeperation: |If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.|(696) The exhortations, promises, and threats uttered in various portions of Holy Writ would be meaningless if it were true that grace destroys free-will.(697)

b) As regards Tradition, the Greek Fathers who wrote before St. Augustine defended the freedom of the will so energetically that they were subsequently accused of harboring Pelagian and Semipelagian errors.(698) Calvin himself admits that with but one exception the Fathers are unanimously opposed to his teaching.(699)

The one exception noted is St. Augustine, to whom both Calvin and Jansenius appeal with great confidence. It should be noted, however, that the point which chiefly concerned St. Augustine in his controversies with the Pelagians and Semipelagians, was the necessity and gratuity of grace, not its relation to free-will. Where he incidentally touches upon the latter, he shows by the manner in which he formulates his sentences that he regards the relation of grace to free-will as a great mystery. But he does not try to solve this mystery in the manner in which Alexander the Great cut the Gordian knot. He does not declare: Grace is everything, free-will is nothing. If the power of grace destroyed the freedom of the human will, their mutual relation would be no problem.(700) Possibly St. Augustine in the heat of controversy now and then expressed himself in language open to misinterpretation, as when he said: |Therefore aid was brought to the infirmity of the human will, so that it might be unchangeably and invincibly influenced by divine grace.|(701) But this and similar phrases admit of a perfectly orthodox interpretation. As the context shows, Augustine merely wished to assert the hegemony of grace in all things pertaining to salvation, and to emphasize the fact that free-will, strengthened by grace, is able to resist even the most grievous temptations.(702) At no period of his life did the Saint deny the freedom of the will under the influence of grace. We will quote but two out of many available passages in proof of this statement. |To yield consent or to withhold it, whenever God calls, is the function of one's own will.|(703) |For the freedom of the will is not destroyed because the will is aided; but it is aided precisely for the reason that it remains free.|(704) St. Bernard of Clairvaux echoes this teaching when, in his own ingenious way, he summarizes the Catholic dogma as follows: |Take away free will and there will be nothing left to save; take away grace and there will be no means left of salvation.|(705)

READINGS: -- *Bellarmine, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio (Opera Omnia, ed. Fevre, Vols. V and VI, Paris 1873). -- *Dechamps, S. J., De Haeresi Ianseniana, Paris 1645. -- F. Woerter, Die christliche Lehre ueber das Verhaeltnis von Gnade und Freiheit bis auf Augustinus, Freiburg 1856. -- *Palmieri, De Gratia Divina Actuali, thes.39-48, Gulpen 1885. -- S. Schiffini, De Gratia Divina, pp.357 sqq., 377 sqq., Freiburg 1901. -- B. J. Otten, S. J., A Manual of the History of Dogmas, Vol. II, St. Louis 1918, pp.507 sqq.

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2020 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy