Pelagianism: A Conversation I Had With Two Roman Catholic Friends

Discussion in 'Cults & World Religions' started by cloudman, Feb 25, 2017.

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  1. cloudman

    cloudman Puritan Board Freshman

    So, recently I had a conversation with two Roman Catholic friends, a man and a woman. Both are well educated in the Catholic tradition. Both are conservative, pro-life, and completely committed to following the teaching of the Roman magisterium. Particularly, I overheard four comments that led to our conversation:

    1. When posed a question about whether people are good or not, the man said that he believes people are good and that people tend towards good.
    2. He said that Hitler was a good person.
    3. He told me that God could not have poured out his wrath on Jesus when he was on the cross because that would mean that God hates sinners. He said that Catholics do not use the word wrath when talking about God.
    4. He said that heaven for him would be drinking scotch, smoking a cigar, and talking about theology.

    So, I decided based on those 4 comments to strike up a conversation with my friend. I told him I overheard the first two comments, and I thought it could lead to an interesting theological conversation since we do not see eye to eye on the goodness of man.

    His defense for statement #2 was two-fold. He said the goodness of humanity is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. He said logically this has to be true based on the fact that Hitler is created in the image of God. I said I disagreed based on Luke 18:19 and Psalm 53:3. He accused me of taking these passages out of context, and said that the logic of his argument still holds. He still pressed me on the point that if man is created in God's image, then man must be good. I was stumped by this argument, and I still am. He seemed to make a distinction between a man's righteousness and his goodness. Is this a valid distinction?

    Then the woman entered in and gave her opinion. She said that everything that is created strives to be the best thing that it can be. And she mentioned that plants are created by God and they are good and beautiful and strive to be the best thing they can be. The man then commended her use of Aristotle in rebutting my view. At this point I was a little confused. I know that imbibing the doctrine of the goodness of man leads to a higher view of philosophy. I also learned from the man that Aquinas had a high view of Aristotle. I would love to know if there is anything out there that would help me understand the ways in which ancient philosophy affects RC teaching. This is a blind spot for me, and I was not ready to answer the Aristotelian arguments.

    The conversation then took another turn. The conversation turned to the ability of non-believers to please God. I quoted Hebrews 11:9, which he said was "a little extreme." When I revealed this was a direct quote from scripture he said I was taking it out of context.

    Then he wanted to know if I believed that man chooses God or if God chooses man. I said that God chooses man for salvation. He responded that my view was the gnostic heresy. I was unsure how to give a sufficient rebuttal for this.

    The last part of our conversation I asked him what he thought about Pelagius and Augustine. He said he had never heard of Pelagius, but he had heard of St. Augustine. I explained the history of the controversy, and he said that he is not Pelagian because he believes that God helps him to overcome his sinful temptations and to do his will by God's grace, but he still maintained that all people are able to either choose or not to choose to obey the law of God. At this point the conversation ended. I would love to pick up the conversation again, but I'd like to hammer some things out before doing so:

    1. How should I answer the goodness (being created in the image of God) vs. righteousness (doing what God commands) distinction? Or is this just a game of semantics not to waste my time on?

    2. How should I answer the accusation of gnosticism? I think I need to offer an explanation of what gnosticism historically is. Any resources you recommend that I read?

    3. Is the position advanced by my two friends Pelagianism or Semi-pelagianism? I know the RCC still condemns pelagianism as a heresy, but I am a little confused about where the line between pelagianism and semi-pelagianism is.

    4. From this point where should I go? Should I try to keep the conversation centered on scripture? Are there any other really applicable verses that I should bring up? Or should I turn the conversation in the direction of church history and talk more about Pelagius and Augustine and the Councils of Ephesus and Carthage? Or a little of both?
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2017
  2. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable


    See also my response here:

    We all possess the image of God, yet that image has been marred, yet not obliterated, by the fall of Adam. Unfortunately, Romanists, Arminians, and others assume that marring of the image of God merely wounded all of Adam's progeny, hence the notion of prevenient grace. Simply stated, prevenient grace assumes that fallen man possesses some minute seed of righteousness—justifiable moral rectitude—such that fallen man possesses the moral ability to choose wisely on matters of the faith. Per this view, fallen man in Adam is not really spiritually dead, able only to sin more or sin less, but rather fallen man is presumed to be able to choose wisely upon hearing of the Good News.

    Now contrast the Roman Catholic's or Arminian's notion of fallen man's moral ability with what Scripture actually teaches, for example, Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; Eph. 2:2; Eph. 2:4-5; Titus 3:5; John 3:19; Rom. 3:10-12; 5:6; 6:16-20; Eph. 2:1,3;1 Cor. 2:14.

    In other words, the non-believer is deceitful and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9), full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), not able to come to Jesus unless given to by God (Eph. 2:2), must be quickened by God (Eph. 2:4-5), cannot choose righteousness until regenerated (Titus 3:5), loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), is unrighteous, does not understand, does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12), is helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2-1), is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2-3), cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14), and is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:15-20). Clearly, nothing in this small, didactic, sampling from Holy Writ gives warrant to the notion that the non-believer possesses a moral ability to choose of his own power to believe and be saved.

    We Reformed hold that fallen men in Adam possess no moral ability to choose wisely on matters of the faith. Rather, we maintain that if and until God regenerates the non-believer (Eze. 36:26), the non-believer possesses total inability to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.

    The short answer is that Gnosticism is a view that there are special, secret, aspects of knowledge, given only to a select few persons, that a demiurge rules our world, that Our Lord is the emissary of this ruling god, of whom specialized knowledge gives the person the ability to be saved. If one has a solid grasp of Roman Catholic dogma, the irony of the charge of Gnosticism by a Roman Catholic would not go unnoticed, given the claims of Rome.

    As to the Romanist's response to your "God chooses man" as being Gnostic, I suspect he intended to indicate that you could not possibly know this about without some secret knowledge of God, hence Gnosticism. Yet, as my sampling of passages cited above indicate, God has perspicuously revealed His will on the matter of one's redemption.

    Rather than make this response even more lengthy, let me point you to a good starting point:

    How we all wish that merely citing a verse here and there would settle matters of disagreement. ;) Not knowing your background, or what exactly leads you to think that your are able and called to consider Roman Catholics your personal mission field, it is difficult for me to provide an adequate response. You will have to provide more information about your background, training, self-study, etc., for a more reasoned response.

    Unfortunately, not a few newcomers to Reformed theology, or even the seasoned Reformed believer, assume that they are equipped to tackle a self-proclaimed monolithic Romanism, despite all its nuanced doctrinal views. They are soon disabused of their bravado when they discover that the typical tactics of citing verses with accompanied interpretation, explaining Roman doctrine, etc., is met with whimsical metaphysical rebuttals that leave the unprepared stumped. Nailing Jello to the wall, is an accurate summary of the experience when it comes to discussing many matters of doctrine with the Roman Catholic.

    From what you have provided in your introductory post here at PB (cited earlier above), and this post, I recommend you first steep yourself in matters of what Roman Catholicism actually teaches, as I think you have waded dangerously into the deeper end of the pool. If you have not already done so, you will have to become very fluent with Rome's published catechism, the historical development of Roman Catholicism, as well as what Roman Catholic "church Doctors" have written in support of Rome's de fide. Our site here has many threads related to Roman Catholicism, too, and they are worth reviewing.
  3. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable


    All the above notwithstanding, at the most fundamental level, it likely is better to focus your future discussions upon the monergistic, punctiliar justification of the believer and its causes: the efficient cause, God's mercy, the material cause, the reconciling work of Jesus Christ upon the cross, the instrumental cause, faith, given by the Holy Spirit, all for the glory of God. Comparing these Scriptural truths to what Rome claims is required upon its sacramental treadmill: will provide much fodder for discussion.
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  4. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    Good counsel from AMR. As to the idea that man is basically good: ask them what the official teaching of their church is on the efficacy of baptism.........
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
  5. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Gregg Allison's book on Roman Catholicism is quite simply the best Protestant examination of the subject. He writes from a Reformed Baptist perspective, and (fortunately) bases his work on Leonardo di Chirico's seminal work exposing the two basic pillars of Romanism (the church as an extension of the incarnation of Christ, and grace perfecting nature), and how the whole system of RC is built on those two pillars. My advice to you is to read Allison's work in tandem with the 1995 Catechism of the RCC to seek to understand what they believe. You have to understand RC as a whole system before you critique it in any of its parts. The RCC Catechism will give you the Magisterium's interpretation of what Rome believes. However, if you want a less stodgy introduction to Rome from a Romanist point of view, then I recommend Robert Barron's book on Catholicism. He writes well, and is rather honest about Catholicism.
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  6. cloudman

    cloudman Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks. This is very helpful. Unbelievable that people actually believe that.
  7. joebonni63

    joebonni63 Puritan Board Freshman

    RCC says that Jesus dying for our sins was plan b and that His real mission was that He wanted to come down and hang out with His creation. This comes from Duns Scotus philosopher and who wrote a lot of the RCC doctrine. They get away with this saying that the Bible is incomplete. I said Jesus lived by the Old Testament wonder if he thought it was incomplete. Of course their heads go down.
  8. cloudman

    cloudman Puritan Board Freshman

    Just got Allison's book in the mail.
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