Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Roman Catholic Teaching on Predestination, and Luther's Spiritual anguish

“The doctrine of Predestination was a further cause of much affliction and anguish of soul to Luther. The Nominalist teachers at Erfurt, following Gabriel Biel, taught that the salvation or perdition of man depends entirely upon the divine decree of predestination, which no man can change. On the other hand, however, the declared that the basis of election is the merit of man forseen from eternity (propter meritum praevisum). By meriting the divine grace man merits his own election. This peculiar contradiction in the Nominalistic doctrine of election created in Luther an uncertainty which caused him to waver between hope and despair. Regardless of how he sought to merit grace and election, he could never attain certainty, since the final determining factor was the arbitrary decree of God.” (Uuraas Saarnivaara, “Luther Discovers the Gospel” (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1951) Pg. 30
Recently my college mentor, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, had a book by Uuraas Saarnivaara “Scriptural Baptism” republished with a forward written by him. You can order that here. It is a great book on Baptism, and shows a Lutheran how to debate with a Baptist and figuratively at least give the guy a swirly.
However, I didn’t buy my mentors book with the forward, because I already inherited in prodigal fashion an earlier edition of this book in the “Concordia Heritage Series” which should be reprinted, talk about an essential Lutheran Library! The added benefit of this edition was a second book by Uuraas. (Finns don’t have enough consonants, because the Poles stole them all. That’s my theory.) This second book is “Luther Discovers the Gospel” and what a wonderful book it is.
What grabbed me about this is that predestination was the source of Luther’s anguish. Lutheran’s of course have a doctrine of predestination, but it is a different doctrine than the one explained above. It also marvels me how persistent this false doctrine of predestination is! This is precisely the intuitu fidei controversy that racked the Missouri Synod, and American Lutheranism in the 19th century! And this idea of intuitu fidei (in view of faith) has its roots in the same false view of predestination that Calvin also espoused. That is a view of predestination and election that is divorced from the means of grace, and is dependent on a decree not really made in eternity, but just a long long time ago before God even created the earth. Eternity is like another dimension of time, it is not just time going on forever, if it was God would be bound to time. God is outside of time. Perhaps String theory can sort all that out. But it is a skewed view of what is meant by eternity that give rise to this nonsense that tortures souls. God from eternity elects people to salvation now in time through the means of grace. Baptism is an act of election, for instance. In Baptism God elects the baptized to salvation, he grabs hold of them and makes them his own.
I think this also explains why there seems to be such an affinity in the reformed world for Roman Catholics, when you get done bouncing back and forth between Arminianism and Calvinism you can find a compromise in Catholic Nominalism. Predestination didn’t get its start with Calvin. Indeed one wonders if he might have first got his feet wet with this doctrine when he was studying to be a Priest in Paris.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know I always wondered if Calvin didn’t get his start in Rome. I was ignorant of the Biel concept though. I always linked him to Bucer, mostly on his doctrine of the “Lord’s Supper”. Perhaps Lutherans ought to turn the table on the Reformed and Baptist, especially the later who always say (usually debating the sacraments), “Luther didn’t go far enough from Rome”. Perhaps it is more true to say, “Calvin and the Baptist didn’t go far enough from Rome, in fact they really never left”. That ought to get head turn or two.

Calvin just exchanged the idea of merit into faith as kind of the “coin” given. In my Calvinist circles when I was in that false opinion one would never say “merit” but one would say, “God gives the faith to believe…”. Now on the face of that statement that can seem to align with Luther, of course faith is needed. But in Calvinist circles it’s a kind of “infused faith” or “power to believe” that God “kind of gives some” to the side of, before, behind, above or below the Word itself (sacraments do nothing like the Word) in order to actually believe what the Word says. Its kind of like God slip the “coin of faith” into your pocket unbeknownst to you and you are suppose to “find it” and then believe. It’s very subtle in Calvinism and very tricky and extremely slippery thus hard to nail down and say, “AhhhhhHA, you mean merit and works”. It plays word games to slip out of such an accusation if fingered for it.

That’s different than Luther’s necessity of faith that is a pure shear gift that comes with the Word and Sacrament. I would dare say, and I could be wrong, the Word of the Gospel in Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and absolution is or contains inherently faith itself and it plants itself by the very message of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life through these. The seed of the Word contains all that grows and produces what we call faith. From germination to full blown plant. That seems to be the meaning of Jesus parable on the soil. In Calvinism however that parable takes on a new interpretation. Namely the other two faiths found in the ground that gets baked and among the weeds is interpreted as false or spurious faith that was never ever truly true and real saving faith. So you begin to search, “what kind of faith is mine”. That’s how Calvinism works itself out from its doctrines.

“Eternity is like another dimension of time, it is not just time going on forever, if it was God would be bound to time. God is outside of time.”

This reminds me of something that dawned on me about two months ago regarding Calvin’s famous or infamous “the finite cannot contain the infinite”, which he used mostly against the LS. The irony is that THAT statement of human reason (a creature itself, reason) is finite and by its very nature seeks to contain the infinite it says it cannot. Namely that God is constrained by “the finite cannot contain the infinite”. It dies on its own epistemological sword so to speak.


Larry

Bror Erickson said...

Yes Larry Calvin did get his start in Rome, and Lutherans have always realized that. Lutherans won't say that Calvinists didn't leave Rome, we just say they went full circle. They have much more in common with Rome than the realize. Calvin fundamentally misunderstood Luther, or what the reformation was about. And yes the "finite cannot contain the infinite" is one of the silliest statements ever made illogical to the core. But that is what happens when you make the illogical step of trying to apply finite logic to the infinite.

Jonathan said...

If the finite can't hold the infinite, then what does that say about Calvin's Christology and in particular the mystery of the incarnation?

Bror Erickson said...

Jonathan,
It says nothing good about Calvin's Christology, and in particular his faith in the incarnation. Nothing Good. In fact one might even come to the conclusion that he wasn't Christian.
Philip Nicholai, Author of "Wie Schoen es leuchtet" or "O Morning Star Fair and Bright" came to the conclusion upon investigation, even writing in print, that Calvin's god was the Devil. Now there was a man with balls.

Anonymous said...

It was our good brother Steve (Old Adam Lives) that turned me on to a quote/discussion between Ds. Rod Rosenbladt and RC Sproul. Dr. Sproul asked Dr. Rosenbladt, “You don’t really believe the finite can contain the infinite”. To which Dr. Rosenbladt replied in his Gospel power packed succinct way, “Of course, the incarnation”.

Larry

PS: You will note, if you read Calvin enough a reoccurring gnostic like phrase he repeats a lot. Especially when speaking of the Lord's Supper. It varies slightly here and there but it goes something like this (usually around a mystery he's trying to resolve via reason), "...here we have to lift/elevate our minds/thoughts higher...into that heavenly realm...etc...etc...". That's a perfectly gnostic statement.

Anonymous said...

Now that is ballsy! Where are the guys like him today!

Bror Erickson said...

Larry,
I took a course on Calvin in Seminary, every night I go to bed praying that will be all the more I ever have to read of that man. Gnostic and Platonic through and through.
Dr. Rosenbladt knows how to get to the punch and quick.
And whoever Anon is, Dr. Rosenbladt is still around, and I know a few other ballsy guys like him.

Lithopetros said...

Gnostic and platonic. That's something I saw too without being told that, having read Calvin and Calvinism a fair amount. At first I thought I was loosing my mind but then I had some Lutheran guys say, "yep...been there read that to" and that confirmed what I was thinking.

The anonym. was me, I forgot to sign it. I need to figure out how to get my account to come up so I don't have to sign in anon all the time. I'm not as cpu savvy as I once was a decade ago! Sorry about that. I was being kind of tongue in cheek.

Larry

Lithopetros said...

I think I got the account to work this time!! No more anon.

Larry

Snafu said...

Hi, I posted this on Cranach blog comments as well, but it's such an old discussion that you might read this more likely, if you have comments alarm function activated:

Did you know that our newly consecrated (confessional) bishop Matti Väisänen wrote his doctoral thesis on Uuras’ baptismal theology a few years ago? Abstract in English (scroll the page down): https://oa.doria.fi/handle/10024/27259

It seems that Uuras changed his view twice. During his stay in the US, he held a quite traditional Lutheran stand, but before and after that period his view was inclined to Reformed position, where a child does not receive faith through baptism but through a later conversion experience. Too bad, it would have saved Finnish Christians from a lot of troubles if his Lutheran position had lasted.

Bror Erickson said...

Snafu,
Actually I had learned all of that quite recently through Ssalt And
Discussions with Tampani. It is a shame that Uuras waffled the way he did. But what a blessing you have in your new bishop. I hope to see his works on baptism published in English soon, they are sorely needed.
By the way, do you know what Snafu means in English military jargon?

Snafu said...

Yes, Matti is truly a blessing. It would be great if his books were translated in English some day. I haven't read them all but browsed through and I think they're a good mixture of academical preciseness and practical pastoral touch.

I know the meaning of Snafu ;). The story behind the nick is that a friend came up with it many many years ago - it doesn't mean anything in Finnish - and I have been using it since as my internet name. Hard to change it anymore. Only recently I've com to know the abbreviation...(Situation Normal All F****d Up, isn't it?).

You learned the Uuras stuff through Tampani what? Haven't heard of that before.

Bror Erickson said...

Tapani Simojoki,
Sorry misspelled his name trying to post from my phone while suffering a bout of insomnia at 2:30 in the morning.
Well as long as you know the acronym... I like the name, but then I'm prior military.
I have perused some of Matti's stuff in English translation. It just needs to be published. We need that, Lutherans need it. And we are an international fellowship. But it is too much to ask for us to all learn Finnish. Sorry. I thought about it at one time, then Learned that Uuraas was a turncoat, and his best stuff was in English.

Snafu said...

Oh, you meant Tapani. I know who he is, but not personally. First I thought you were talking about some discussion forum "Tampani":D

Yeah, Finnish wold be a bit too tough part for all the Lutherans to learn, we're not that big a language. Matti hardly has time to translate the works himself, bishop as he is nowadays, but maybe some day som other able theologian could do it. Maybe if CTS still takes in some Finnish student, they could grant some credits for translating a book? Just a thought.