Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Roundtable 19: Free Will

Article XVIII:
Our churches teach that a person’s will has some freedom to choose civil righteousness and to do things subject to reason. It has no power, without the Holy Spirit, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness....

Our churches condemn the Pelagians and others who teach that without the Holy Spirit, by natural power alone, we are able to love God above all things and do God’s commandments according to the letter....


Article XVIII flows out of Articles IV and V and really presents nothing substantially new. If justification is entirely by grace through faith for Christ’s sake, then the will of man contributes nothing in the way of spiritual righteousness that avails before God. To guard against determinism, Melanchthon introduces the distinction of civil/spiritual righteousness. Civil righteousness is before men (coram hominibus) and is concerned with temporal, earthly matters. In this sense, man possesses “some liberty” to do those things subject to reason. However (the disjunction sed/aber is absent in the Concordia edition), without the Holy Spirit, there is no power in man to work spiritual righteousness, that is, the righteousness that avails before God (coram Deo).

Melanchthon quotes from Book III of Hypognosticon, wrongly attributed to Augustine in support. Did Augustine actually teach this? In his anti-Pelagian writings, Augustine certainly emphasizes divine monergism over and against the will of man, even to the point of double predestination and God acting even when men are inclined to do evil. Clearly, Melanchthon does not wish to run this far with Augustine. Perhaps this explains his citing of the pseudop-Augustinian work.

A great deal hinges on the phrase “without the Holy Spirit.” This might be construed to imply cooperation in salvation between the person and God. In the Variata of 1540, the sentence was changed to read, “but spiritual righteousness is effected in us when we are helped by the Holy Spirit.” Clearly, after 1535, Melancththon maintains that the will cooperates in salvation and works together with the Word and the Spirit. Here Melanchthon parts with Luther.

The unnamed opponent is Gabriel Biel and the school of Ockhamism, the via moderna of medieval theology which states that man is able to merit saving grace by doing the good that is in him which is then rewarded by God with grace enabling man to do more of the same. According to Biel, free will, quite apart from God’s grace in Christ, can do that which is good and so fulfill, at least in part, the divine commandments. Further, one is able by one’s own power to dispose oneself to grace, since the intellect can acknowledge the good and the will can freely subscribe to it. (see Grane, 181-189)

Surprisingly, the Confutation approves of this article without reservation, stating that it befits Catholics to pursue the middle way between Pelagianism and Manichaeism. This is followed by a long series of Scriptures which supposedly support this view. Melanchthon is uneasy with the response and the citations, and argues that there is little difference between the Pelagians and his own opponents, since both believe that natural man is able to love God, do good works, and merit justification without the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of Article XVIII is what we confess in the small catechism when we say under the 3rd article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” The Holy Spirit must intervene, for by nature we are, in ourselves, spiritually dead. This has great implications for our preaching and the proclamation of Christ in the world. We do not speak of salvation in Christ in such a way that it implies a decision or choice on the part of the hearer (”Christ died for you if you believe in Him,”), but as an accomplished fact in Christ with an imperative to believe (”Christ died for you; believe it.”) There is no neutral place between sin and righteousness, hell and heaven, the devil and Christ. One is not born into freedom to decide one way or the other, nor is one fated one way or the other. Obviously the mystery of election lies close at hand, and many a theologian has been crucified on the crux theologorum. Article XVIII leaves to God what is God’s without abrogating responsibility for man’s actions.

As I indicated, this is a tricky article, juggling the dynamic paradox of divine monergism and man’s will. Attempts to reconcile the paradox will invariably lead to deterministic double predestination on the one hand or semi-Pelagian synergism on the other. Hardly a "middle way," Article XVIII pursues the paradoxical way of the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel.

4 comments:

William Weedon said...

When Jacob's treats this, he says the following:

As it was God's will that humanity should persevere in its concreated holiness only so far as man's exercise of his free will towards the offered good and evil would not be interfered with, so it was God's purpose that all should enjoy redemption, provided the power of the decision of man's free will against the offered good be not destroyed. Grace has to do with persons, and their very personality implies, along with self-consciousness, self-determination. While man is helpless to deliver himself, or to prepare to receive divine grace, or even to respond to this grace as it approaches him, and thus his acceptance of God's grace comes from new powers which grace has brought, nevertheless, the freedom of the will is still preserved in man's ability to resist God's grace. All man's help must thus come from God; all his ruin comes from himself. (Elements of Religion, p. 67)

It reminded me so much of a certain beloved Doctor saying: "For a gift to be a gift it must be rejectable."

William Weedon said...

Oh, another writer I appreciate on this topic is Urbanus Rhegius, Confessor at Smalcald and Reformer of Luneburg. In his splendid little Fomulae quaedam caute (which used to be THE text book for teaching preachers how to speak correctly about the faith in the 16th century), he says:

Human beings have free will in matters which pertain to this transitory life. They can choose to eat or not, to do this or that, or not to do it. For they have a natural light and freedom to live in some degree honorably in the world, just as many pagans have led respectable lives. But we have said above that all human powers have been so damaged by original sin that it would be impossible through a corrupt nature to fulfil the law of God. For the law of God is spiritual, and it requires more than the appearance of works. By nature people neither understand nor care about it. Our natural birth, therefore, does not produce a free will to live piously before God and to do good works, but it comes from the grace of Christ according to John 8: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." That is, if Christ has forgiven your sins and snatched you from the power of the devil and given you his Spirit, then you are not slaves, but you are free children and you will be able to live justly, that is, to believe in Christ and show forth your faith in good works.

Summary:

We are by nature children of wrath and slaves of sin, and we cannot in and of ourselves do what is good. But when Christ regenerates us and gives us faith and the Spirit, then we are free and can do good through the Holy Spirit. Without grace and the Spirit of Christ, however, we ponder, desire, and do only what is evil just as the evil spirit intends. And the evil we do is our fault; God is not to blame. He forbids evildoing and rewards it with temporal and eternal punishment. The cause and agents of all our sin are the devil and our perverted will.

It is necessarly for these things to be rightly known, so that we are aware of the misery that results from our first birth; through it we are servants of sin and slaves of Satan, who holds us captive on account of sin to do his will. We are not able to escape from his hands unless our champion Christ conquers the fully armed guard in his court and by the finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit, casts out the evil spirit.

Once we know this, we will recognize more clearly the unsearchable riches of the grace of God which we have in Christ. For Christ alone conquers and expels the devil, liberates and illuminates us by his Spirit, so that we are free to live according to the will of God. The kingdom of the devil is indeed secure, because as long as he guards his court, that is, the ungodly, everything he has is safe, that is, none of them are able to escape. But the kingdom of Christ is more secure and powerful yet, because he casts out the devil, takes away all his weapons, and grants eternal security in his own kingdom. (*Preaching the Reformation* pp. 63-65)

wm cwirla said...

These are all very fine quotes, and quite faithful to the biblical paradox. Your quote of the esteemed Dr. Nagel reminds me that another way of looking at this paradox of free will is that the freedom in one way: While we are not free to accept (rather we receive in the passive way of faith, that is, trust), nonetheless we are free to reject. This assymmetry causes the mathematical mind to have a case of the hiccups.

William Weedon said...

Came across this in reading St. Augustine this morning:

But this part of the human race to which God has promised pardon and a share in His eternal kingdom, can they be restored through the merit of their own works? God forbid. For what good work can a lost man perform, except so far as he has been delivered from perdition? Can they do anything by the free determination of their own will? Again I say, God forbid. For it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost. "For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." This is the judgment of the Apostle Peter. And as it is certainly true, what kind of liberty, I ask, can the bond-slave possess, except when it pleases him to sin? For he is freely in bondage who does with pleasure the will of his master. Accordingly, he who is the servant of sin is free to sin. And hence he will not be free to do right, until, being freed from sin, he shall begin to be the servant of righteousness. And this is true liberty, for he has pleasure in the righteous deed; and it is at the same time a holy bondage, for he is obedient to the will of God. But whence comes this liberty to do right to the man who is in bondage and sold under sin, except he be redeemed by Him who has said, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed?" And before this redemption is wrought in a man, when he is not yet free to do what is right, how can he talk of the freedom of his will and his good works, except he be inflated by that foolish pride of boasting which the apostle restrains when he says, "By grace are you saved, through faith." Enchiridion 30