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.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Posted by WM Cwirla at 4:41 PM