Wednesday, September 02, 2015

John of Damascus Interpreting James 2:26

It was interesting to read a late patristic-era author (his death is sometimes used as the end of the patristic era) interpreting James 2:26. In An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, vol. 4, chapter 9, "Concerning Faith and Baptism," (PG 94:1121-22) John of Damascus writes (translation available here, emphasis mine):
It behooves us, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit [2 Peter 2:22], make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. [James 2:26] For the true faith is attested by works.
It's particularly interesting to note that the Damascene correctly ascertains that James' point is that works testify to true faith.

For those who like the original Greek or the Latin translation in Migne:
The key word there is δοϰιμάζεται (comprobatur), which is accurately translated as "is attested by" as in the translation provided.

10 comments:

Godith said...

As the WCF says works are "fruits and evidences". I agree with John of D.

Keith Patton said...

I'm sensing another straw-man argument here. You seem to be saying that the "true position" is that good works are merely the example of our faith, and are implying here and elsewhere that the opposition believes good works come before faith?

The Catholic position is not that good works come before faith. The Council of Trent Session 6 canons 1-3 state that we can have neither faith nor good works on our own, but that both are given to us as gifts of God. Let me restate that again: neither faith nor good works come from ourselves, but both are a gift of God. We have to assent to the grace given to us.

(I know the Reformed response is that, if this is true, then we can boast in our ability to respond to God's grace. And since we can't boast about anything, that therefore means we must have never really had the ability to accept or reject, lest we boast of our acceptance of grace. The problem there is that our brains/souls are also gifts of God's grace. You can't boast about the abilities of your brain/soul when the brain/soul was also a gift in the first place.)

Keith Patton said...

Actually, let me ask for clarity. Hopefully you'll answer:

1) is it your understanding that the Catholic Church teaches that good works come BEFORE faith? Similarly, do you believe the Church teaches good works come BEFORE grace?

2) Is it your understanding that the Catholic Church teaches that there are any good works that come from ourselves and not from God's grace?

3) If one uses their free will to cooperate with God's grace, is this something they can boast about?

4) How could one boast about using their mind to accept God's grace, when their mind was also a gift of God in the first place?

I hope to hear clear, direct answers that don't go off onto other topics, rather than addressing the questions asked. Thanks.

Jack Lake said...

J.M.J.

Mr. TurretinFan,

Is this really the best argumentation that Calvinist polemicists have to offer today? Appealing to St. John Damascene?

As Dr. James White famously states in nearly every debate which he has ever had with a Mohammedan, he who is consistent is he who will come out on top. I think such a statement is especially true in the particular case before us. Catholics such as myself have no problems engaging with the statements of the Damascene. Nowhere in the quotation which you have provided does he contradict Catholic teaching.

Individuals such as yourself, on the other hand, have a very large problem when appealing to the Damascene. I can guarantee you that you flatly ignore and/or reject the rest of his theology. I could adduce a plethora of clear statements from throughout his works which you would deem "heretical," "idolatrous," and "unbiblical." However, doing so in unnecessary. One simply has to look at what the Damascene teaches in the rest of lib. 4 of "De Orthodoxa Fide." In the context surrounding the quotation which you have adduced (cap. 9), it is clear that the Damascene believes in baptismal regeneration. In cap. 14, he refers to Mary as being "ever-virgin" and "God's Mother and Lady and Queen over all created things." He also argues against your heretical eisegeis of Matt. 1:25, among other things. In cap. 15 and 16, he defends the intercession, invocation, and veneration of the saints, as well as the possession and veneration of their images/icons. And at the end of cap. 16, he appeals to 2 Thess. 2:15[14] and 1 Cor. 11:2 as evidence for Oral Apostolic Tradition, just as modern "Romanists" do.

When will you recognize that history is against you? When will you repent of your heresy? The Reformation is dead, Mr. Turretinfan, and it was killed long ago by the Mother of God, whom you still obstinately blaspheme and hate.

Jack Lake
Salve Regina Apologetics

Keith Patton said...

Jack,

Aren't you aware that the best way to prove that the early church was [insert whichever of 30,000 denominations you belong to] is to take, say, 40 pages of an early church father, ignore 39.5 pages that teach catholicism, and uplift half a page that you think contradicts catholic teaching (but doesn't even do that)?

I remember when I was a protestant and I loved people like james white and John macarthur. They told me what catholics believed, and gave me cherry picked quotes from church fathers to show me they were really calvinist and not catholics.

Then I decided to actually read the church fathers myself. I read the entire books, not just what protestant pastors would tell me.

I realized they weren't calvinist and I also couldn't ignore the aforementioned endless pages of catholicism.

And then, shocked that they weren't calvinist and sounded pretty catholic, I researched to find out what catholics *actually* believed. I realized white and others completely misrepresented catholicism to me, just as james white's own sister has said about james.

I had to bend the knee to god and admit I was wrong. The supposed evil whore of babylon was actually the bride of christ.

Turretinfan said...

Keith and Jack,

Thanks for your comments! I definitely appreciate this opportunity to engage in dialog with you.

I've often noted that the Early Church Fathers weren't Reformed Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, or any other modern denomination - if by that you mean that they agree 100% with what any of those groups teach today.

On the other hand, applying that same standard (not a double standard) they weren't "Catholics" since they didn't agree 100% with what Pope Francis teaches today.

I know that according to modern RC views, the church fathers didn't have to believe in things like papal infallibility, because those weren't defined dogmas yet. But that's missing the point - both Roman Catholics and "Protestants" have developments in doctrine over the years. We're both ok with not looking like the fathers, to some extent.

And it's not really a question of "who is closer." If you pick up the writings of von Döllinger, and you carefully study them, you'll find that he's not a Protestant. In fact, he looks and sounds very "Catholic" except for the rejection of Vatican I. But that rejection of Vatican I is enough to label him as "Old Catholic" instead of "Catholic." He's a lot "closer" to being on the side of Pope Francis on most doctrines, but he's still not "Catholic."

It is sad to read about former Protestants who had been given the mistaken impression that everyone from the time of their current pastor back to the apostles all taught and worshiped the exact same thing. When people who are misled in that way read the fathers, they are definitely going to be in for a surprise.

On the other hand, the bishop of Rome (and various councils endorsed by that bishop) has repeatedly claimed to be teaching the same thing that was believed from the beginning. That can put a serious strain on history, because history doesn't substantiate those kinds of claims - particularly about things like papal infallibility.

As for this particular post, actually the point is not that John of Damascus was a Presbyterian - he definitely wasn't. There are a oodles of important disagreement he and I would have, if someone could sit us down in a room to have a dialogue about our differences.

That actually just makes the force of this post stronger. John of Damascus is free from any Presbyterian prejudices. When he mentions what James 2 means, maybe our friends will listen and understand that this is not simply a self-serving attempt to escape the meaning of the text, but instead a natural understanding that was seen half a millennium before the Reformation.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Keith:

You asked some questions, I'll re-post your question and then provide my response. I'm not sure how the formatting will work, but your question should be in bold, followed by my response in plain text:

1) is it your understanding that the Catholic Church teaches that good works come BEFORE faith? Similarly, do you believe the Church teaches good works come BEFORE grace?

Trent leaves open the possibility that there can be good works prior to justification. For example, Trent states: "we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification." (Session 6, Chapter 8)

Trent does not specify whether any good works can be done apart from prevenient grace, but as far as those leading to justification, it insists that such are the (partial) result of prevenient grace.

2) Is it your understanding that the Catholic Church teaches that there are any good works that come from ourselves and not from God's grace?

This seems to be related to the point above. I would be interested to see some official teaching that says we can't do any good works at all apart from grace, but that seems to be the predominant view.

3) If one uses their free will to cooperate with God's grace, is this something they can boast about?

Is that use of the will what distinguishes one person from another? Is the same grace given to all, but some make better use of it? If so, then that better use seems to be something not given and the basis upon which boasting could be based. On the other hand, if even our faith is a gift of God, then we have nothing to boast about.

4) How could one boast about using their mind to accept God's grace, when their mind was also a gift of God in the first place?

If you make better investments in the stock market because you're wiser in your investment strategy, does the fact that your initial stake was a gift mean you can't boast about your success?

Do you really think that what distinguishes the saved from the lost is the right use of the mind? Are the saved the smart ones and the lost the dumb ones?

-TurretinFan

Cletus Van Damme said...

"Is that use of the will what distinguishes one person from another? Is the same grace given to all, but some make better use of it?"

RCism does not teach the same grace is given to all. Sufficient grace is given to all, but that does not mean all receive the same level or types of graces. A Thomist certainly has no room to boast, but neither does a Molinist, which seems to be the assumption.
Thomist: Can’t boast because the intrinsically efficacious grace conferred not only the power, but also my act of cooperation
Molinist: Can’t boast because I received greater/different graces than my neighbor who resisted, and resisted many graces that had they been offered to my gravely sinning neighbor, he would put me to shame.
Both: Can’t boast because even my desire to cooperate is itself an effect of operative grace preparing my will.

"On the other hand, if even our faith is a gift of God, then we have nothing to boast about."

RCs agree faith is a gift of God. So they have nothing to boast about.

Eli X said...

"Thomist: Can’t boast because the intrinsically efficacious grace conferred not only the power, but also my act of cooperation" - I'm sorry, but how is this formulation of Thomism functionally different from the Reformed view?
Also, your explanation of the Molinist view was confusing. I can't boast because I've had different 'graces' given to me? What if I came from a terrible background, and somehow I turn my life around and find Christ? How could I not boast? Because I've had a particular grace given to me that wasn't given to others and hence I can't boast about it? But if I accepted the free gift of grace, and someone else from a similar position as I was in resisted it, how is there no grounds to boast? It seems to me a rather ad-hoc and artificial argument.
"RCs agree faith is a gift of God. So they have nothing to boast about"
If the determining factor for accepting the gift is man's will, then there is still grounds for boastingm

Cletus Van Damme said...

Eli,

Thomism is close to Calvinism in some regards (Calvinists actually approvingly cited Thomists during their disputes with Arminians), but not in others. Jimmy Akin has a decent article "Tiptoe through TULIP" that is online, or you can read Garrigou-Lagrange's - a Thomist - very full treatment at http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/gracegarrlagr.HTM to better understand the nuances of the Thomist view. The notion of intrinsically efficacious grace does not entail TULIP or Jansenism.

As to Molinism and unequal graces, Molina made the point that of two people, one who received a lesser grace may be converted while the one who received greater grace did not (Judas being an obvious example). This is one of the reasons why the Molinist position does not entail boasting – if I know I have resisted so many graces in my sin, I should always look at my neighbor as better than me, for if they had received the abundant graces I resisted, they would put me to shame (Woe to you, Chorazin!). Francis of Assisi was known for saying he was the worst person on earth because he resisted so many graces and if murderers and blasphemers had received such graces, they would shame him.

So the person who resisted received sufficient grace, but he did not receive the same or equal graces as you did (so you have no reason to boast over him - you received greater graces), and you resisted other graces that had they been given to him, he would put you to shame (so you again have no reason to boast over him).

"If the determining factor for accepting the gift is man's will, then there is still grounds for boasting"

Only nowhere in Scripture is boasting tied to determinism/non-determinism or exercise of will but rather to the nature of saving faith itself which precludes pride by definition:
“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
“If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God”
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”
“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
The parable of the Pharisee and the publican.

There is nothing about determinism or exercise of will in any of these passages – boasting is contrasted with saving faith which by its nature precludes pride and self-esteem. Who boasts when crying “God have mercy on me, a sinner”? Who boasts by renouncing any claim to self-righteousness, or recognizing what a miserable broken sinner he is whose only hope is Christ? It’s a silly charge.