Irish With A Tan

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The Great Divorce: Grace & Works


The following is a conversation I had with a Protestant (I believe he was Reformed) about the relationship of grace to works. I think it highlights why it is we (Catholic and Orthodox Christians) don’t separate the two when it comes to our justification.

I thought it was best not to ruin the flow of the dialogue. So I’m keeping the original format of how the responses where made. So for part 1, the guy’s words are in brackets and bold, and I’m responding. Whereas in part 2 the distinction is better laid out. For part 3 I respond directly without quoting him.


Part 1


<<Wouldn’t you say as a Catholic that faith vs work is a false dichotomy?>>

Yes faith and works is a false dichotomy, in the case of works per se. However we say it is faith vs works of the flesh. Which are works sans grace. That’s the issue. Not works totally.

<<Why isn’t that the case for prelapsarian Adam?>>

It is, that’s the point, Adam was under works of grace.

<<Wouldn’t being and obedience be inseparable within a creation made for and through Christ Jesus? When God said let us make man in our Image, wouldn’t Triune relationship be at the top of what is required to be made “in Image”? >>

The image is the telos or end, which is conformity to the image of Christ, both in nature and person, and thus Triune relationship. It exists objectively as a capacity in all human. But can only be actualized by co-operation with grace. This is why Adam needed grace, and all humans need it. Since we deny that man left without grace can fulfill the image.

<<What works of the flesh existed before Fall?>>


<<Isn’t works sans grace a false dilemma for Adam’s state of innocence? As if God could even let that happen? There is only death without Him. There’s no such thing as nature working sans grace, nature without God can only die.>>

This is a false understanding of grace. Nature and grace are not one, nor are they inseparable. Saying they are so is part of the pelagian dilemma. Since if nature cannot be without grace, the only way to get to total depravity then is have a change in nature. Which some will go on to say thus nature became sin. Which is to confuse personal moral qualifications of goodness, with natural ontological and functional qualifications. Grace is God’s activity in the human by which they are made capable of partaking in the divine life. As such it affects both the nature and the person. We see in scripture God giving grace at various times, and grace ultimately coming in a permanent way with Christ, in a way it was not with Adam. Grace is not simply the general sustaining activity of God in nature. However nature without grace *begins* to decay. Ergo death.

Also per John 1 we are made Sons of God by grace. If grace and nature are one or inseperable, the Adam was a Son of God by nature. And this would imply that all humans are Sons of God by nature and not grace contra John 1. So to avoid that conclusion, one must then make fallen man of a different nature to Adam’s. Hence why we say it is pelagian. For confusing nature and grace the first time, and then changing nature to avoid Pelagius’ conclusion. Where Pelagius conflates nature and grace, and since this nature is the image of God, and the image of God he argued doesn’t change, man even post the fall doesn’t need an addition of internal grace. He already has it. The alternative is to bit the bullet and say the nature did change. This also brings issues about the incarnation and Christ’s consubstantiality with ourselves.

The other option, is to make the distinction between nature and grace. Which means that the dichotomy is not Adam/Works vs Christ/Grace. Since that is the usual schema, “Remain in Adam and be under law, or come to Christ and be under Grace.” Rather it is about being in fallen Adam vs being in the Risen Christ. Which means it is not works vs grace, but works of the flesh vs Grace.

<<This is really mistaken so asking questions will be hard. Can you explain to me your understanding of Total Depravity? Isn’t the spiritual death of Total Depravity a separation of mankind from the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit? Do you see how that makes no sense?>>

Grace is a divine activity, not simply the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit is ever present, that doesn’t mean everywhere experienced Pentecost. God is always present, that doesn’t mean the Glory cloud and presence didn’t descend on Solomon’s temple. There are various divine activities, grace is one of them. The sustaining in existence of all things may be termed “gracious” perhaps, but the activity of grace by which humans are made capable of partaking in the divine life, is different than the mere keeping in existence (though not unrelated).

We don’t hold to the notion of total depravity. Spiritual death is separation from the divine life, grace. Since death is fundamentally separation. Everything else is a consequence of this. What has being can only be good qua being. Meaning evil has no positive existence. It is a personal property not a natural one. Which means human nature is not evil. It can’t be. Nature’s aren’t evil, only persons can be. The fall was a loss of a particular relationship with God, which meant that nature no longer functions as it ought. So it becomes corrupt. Not morally, but functionally. This functional disorder and death is what leads to sin.

<<So, on one hand, we’re Pelagian, because no grace. On the other hand, we’re big meanies because Total Depravity says mankind deprived of the Holy Spirit is substantially less-human??? How does that make sense? You have to pick one. We can’t be guilty of both.>>

It’s not no grace just a particular idea which is rejected. And on said assumption, total depravity would only follow given a substantial change. At least we argue that is the logical out working.

<<) Nope. No need to say more. 🙂 The one obedience of Christ has become, and is becoming, our every obedience.>>

That’s not the issue I was hinting at. Rather I reject the notion of imputation since it is fundamentally nominalist. And not rooted in any ontological basis other than the will of God (at least that’s how I see it). Make it rather voluntaristic. And the implications it has for the notion of God’s justice as it relates to the atonement, is in my opinion repugnant. And not in keeping with what I’d argue is the character of God.


Part 2

“Adam was under works of grace.”

To merit eternal life? Catholics, how is this not a Covenant of Works? Because it is still the same today so it needs to be called grace? And how is this a covenant of Being?

“The image is telos or end, which is conformity to the image of Christ, both in nature and person, and thus Triune relationship. It exists objectively as a capacity in all human. But can only be actualized by co-operation with grace. This is why Adam needed grace, and all humans need it. Since we deny that man left without grace can fulfil the image.”

Again, Catholics, this is a Covenant of Works. Why are you liking his [my] comment?? Sorry, Yoshua Scribes. 🙂

So the first humans were not entirely human? This is confusion. Our natures were complete, and the eternal life offered to us was the intended outcome of God’s good creation. Lack of conformity is unnatural. Expanding revelation and participation? Yes. Lack of conformity? No. Why is sanctifying grace separate from the imago dei?

“This is a false understanding of grace.”

What is? The Creator/creature distinction? Do you mean human nature and supernatural grace through faith, when you say nature and grace?

“Nature and grace are not one, nor are they inseparable. “

This is exactly what Reformed say about the imago dei. This conversation is frustrating when ideas I already agree with are used in rebuttal to me. I’m gonna take a break and return later.


Part 3

How is this not the Covenant of Works? Because the Reformed, famous for the Adam/Law vs Christ/Grace distinction by very nature make the dichotomy that what is of works is not of grace and they count *all* works on the law side. Not an iota of our own righteousness counts in our standing before God. Because the Covenant of Works is primarily about earning the status of having kept the law. This is precisely why yous require imputation. And that faith cannot be intrinsically good and pleasing to God but is only an instrumental means in order to be credited the righteousness of Christ. God requires that the forensic righteousness of Christ be imputed and that it alone counts. This is the created grace of forensic righteousness, which is supposed to bridge the human/divine gap given the Covenant established the terms. That is, God meeting man in a Covenant, but man being distanced by not being able to meet its conditions. So the status of this covenants righteousness, the created active obedience of Christ, needs to be given him. This is supposed to be the grace that saves us, by faith as opposed to any works. This grace is a fundamentally extrinsic relationship/union to God via a created intermediary: imputed righteousness.

That grace is being opposed to any human work at all. Which by definition if you make the law/grace dichotomy puts grace on one side, and Adam on the other.

It puts both Adam and Christ under law as federal heads and the personal properties (righteousness and guilt) are attributed to those they represent by imputation.

This is fundamentally different than saying grace is the deifying power of God. The telos of humanity, the imago dei, is deification/theosis/glorification. As such, no natural human effort, be it observing the feasts, circumcision or trying to be virtuous could ever attain it. One has to receive God’s grace, the activity by which he defies by allowing participation in the divine, and co-operate with it, in order to actualize the divine image. No forensic imputation of righteousness will do. It not the point, nor necessary. But the ontological conformity of the human to the divine image. Since as Orthodox we hold to the essence/energies distinction, we don’t speak primarily in terms of supernatural vs natural. But rather created and uncreated. Since the goal is participation in the divine, and grace is an uncreated divine energy, the gulf between God and man is bridged via participation made possible in a non contingent manner, due to the incarnation.

So on the one side you have the gulf between Creator and creature, bridge by a Covenant, given to a human who could by nature fulfil it. They cannot, so another must do so and have their human works be forensically imputed to those that cannot uphold the Covenant. The covenant is created, it can be fulfilled by a creature in their natural state, it is later satisfied by the created human works of Christ in the form of forensic righteousness. The basis of our relationship to God is creaturly. It is essentially a form of soteriological Arianism. And as per pelagius, man in their natural state is capable do so without “grace”, since the grace that saves is said to come after the fall and is primarily forensic. The sanctifying grace playing no role in their justification, forensic status.

On the other hand you have participation in the uncreated divine energies of God, particularly his activity by which he allows the human to be deified, grace. Which of necessity since the goal is conformity, requires the human co-operation. Grace not only allows this to be possible, but also covers and pardons faults when humans fall, given they repent. They are not under a strict law basis, that requires 100% perfect human effort on their part *OR* pardon, mercy and forensic righteousness by imputation of another’s forensic righteousness on the other hand.

So I think it should be clear how what I’m saying differs to the Covenant of Works fundamentally.

I don’t see how it follows that the first humans were not fully human? It is the Reformed who have that problem. Here again you have the issue of saying the nature was complete and had sanctifying grace de facto. Which is what I and the article have been saying. This means that you and Pelagius both start with the same assumption. And now given that sanctifying grace = imago dei, you then are left with saying either human beings post fall, having kept the imago dei already have sanctifying grace, and as such only need the forensic righteousness of Christ (which is what Pelagius believed). Or you need to posit that man no longer fundamentally has the same nature as when he did post fall. The imago dei, which was equivocated with grace that they no longer have must be destroyed. Or as you put it, totally depraved. Regardless, having conflated sanctifying grace and nature, you now make man sans this sanctifying grace a fundamentally different creature, whether you admit it or not. This is why salvation per the human will is said to be monergistic, since nature having become the opposite of grace, sin, has nothing in it by which the human would ever gravitate to God. It also brings up the question of Christ’s consubstantiality with us, since if he didn’t inherent this “sin nature” (a notion we reject btw), then he didn’t become consubstantial with us, anymore than he did with the angels and so didn’t save us. But if he did inherit a sin nature, well, the issue should be obvious.

The problem is that you and pelagius both see the imago dei as fully actualized from the get go. Whereas we see the imago dei, being the telos of humanity as existing in an unactualized state. And since the end is of it is deification, it can only be attained by ontological union and co-operation with the divine.

So it is not that nature is incomplete. But just as the telos of a fish cannot be actualized without water, so too we don’t start with an actualized image but need the divine increated grace to fulfil it.

You say nature and grace are not one and you’re frustrated, even though you’ve already said sanctifying grace is the imago dei, and we have the Reformers arguing similarly about pre-lapsarian Adam. Which is precisely what we are saying you’re saying and we are calling you on the Pelagian assumption. Saying that whereas he continues with the implication of what keeping the imago dei post-fall would mean; not needing an internal addition of grace, and man being able to come to God on his own. With grace only needing to be an external and forensic relation, of *faith alone* in the merits of Christ. The Reformed bite the bullet and teach total depravity, leading to monergism of the divine will to the human per salvation + forensic righteousness.



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This entry was posted on January 8, 2017 by in Theology and tagged , , , , .
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