Saturday, September 17, 2011

Grace or Free Will?: Trent's Logical Morass.

In the sixth secession of the Council of Trent, (the one dealing with Justification) the Tridentine Father attempted to come up with a reconciliation between two competing views of conversion.  The first the the Thomistic/Augustinian view, which was that free will was prompted by previent grace before it was capable of acting.  The second was the Scotistic/Ockhamistic view, which was that free will was competent to cooperate with grace apart from a prior act of previent grace.  

The ultimate solution?  There was none.  The Fathers simply laid down both position and more or less pretended that they hadn't made a contradictory statement.  So, Trent tells us that grace is necessary for free will to act, but then it turns around and says that free will has to actively cooperate with grace or refuse it- otherwise previent grace is ineffective.  

This brings about a logical problem at the heart of the Roman Catholic attempt to balance out free will and grace.  If free will acts first, and cooperates with grace, then grace is unnecessary to start the process of salvation.  Consequently, free will rules the roast.  If one says that grace is first necessary for free will to act, then there logically was a point at which grace was acting and free will wasn't acting.  Grace had to act first and the human will had to be passively acted upon.    

The problem with either of these solutions for Roman Catholics is that they want to claim both/and.  We, Catholics say, affirm both free will and grace.  Both are balanced out.  If one isn't present and active, then the other is ineffective and salvation doesn't come about.  But here's where it all breaks down.  It is simply logically impossible that both act at once to begin the process of salvation.  Either one starts the process of salvation or the other does.  There's no balancing them out as I showed above.  Consequently, they are left with an utterly incoherent position.  This is the main reason why they have never stopped arguing about this issue since Trent and they probably never will.


  1. The ancient church held and the Eastern church still does that I am saved, I will be saved and I am in the process of being saved, which is part of the argument you are making.

    I am reading a book by Tuomo Mannermaa and there is a current of this in his writing as well and found it interesting as I read this article.

  2. Doesn't this relate the same way to the Roman disagreements about election, the Thomists saying the elect are chosen by God, the molinists saying the elect are chosen in light of their exercise of free will?

    Ultimately, it seems to me Thomists don't have any room for free will in receiving grace. The attempt to preserve it seems like a lot of hand waving. Which then logically proceeds to justification by faith, no? I can't get any of my catholic friends to agree to that for some reason.

  3. Andrew,

    Have you read this book?

    It's by a LCMS theologian showing the difference between the confessional Lutheran position and that of the Eastern church and Tuomo Mannermaa ...

  4. Augustinian Successor, As of yet no I have not. I noticed a similarity to what Dr. Kilcrease wrote about and what I am currently reading.

  5. Unfortunately Andrew, saying that we are in the "process of being saved" suggests to me that salvation is a process. I should direct you to the last post. Salvation happens all at once in the Word of justification. Moreover, the Finns want to make salvation an ontological transformation and it's not, it's a forensic word outside of us. This of course not mean that we do not enter into mystical union with God in Christ, but it does mean that this is not salvation but rather an effect of salvation.