Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Francis Beckwith Begins to Give His Reasons (#3)
06/07/2007 - James WhiteBeckwith then begins to recount, briefly, his steps back into full communion with Rome, which included David Currie's book, Born Fundamentalist, Born-Again Catholic. The time-frame is also interesting. His reading of "the Early Church Fathers" and the Catholic Catechism began long, long ago...in January. Given I blogged his conversion in early May, which went back to late April, not even four months passed by. Just how much of the patristic corpus can one tackle in that time period, I wonder? Very little, of course. I have a feeling, given the comments I have seen so far, that we have another "Jurgens Conversion" here when it comes to patristic materials. That is, quote books, like Jurgen's collection, are the main-stay of those who claim that they have "read the early Church Fathers." What they have read are selections, carefully chosen, but not the actual sources themselves. That is how they can glibly speak of unity and harmony and the like while passing over all the contradictory evidence.
Likewise during this time Beckwith notes he read Noll's Is the Reformation Over? a particularly bad book I reviewed for the CRI Journal. This then leads to this very telling statement:
This led me to read the “Joint Declaration on Justification” by Lutheran and Catholic scholars. While consulting these sources, I read portions of a book by my friends Norm Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences. It is a fair-minded book.Yes, I'm sure Geisler's work has functioned that way for more than one person, as I warned when it first came out long ago. That's what happens when your primary author is Jesuit trained, and you run it by Jimmy Akin for editorial suggestions and corrections. Nothing shocking here, to be sure.
But some of the points that Norm and Ralph made really shook me up and were instrumental in facilitating my return to the Church.
In this long, in-depth and intensive study of patristic sources, Beckwith concludes, "Then when I read the Fathers, those closest to the Apostles, the Reformation doctrine was just not there." Really? Maybe it was next to the discussion of purgatory, indulgences, the treasury of merit, transubstantiation, Papal infallibility, the immaculate conception of Mary, and the bodily assumption of Mary, which are all not to be found in any reading of the early writings of the Christian faith? I wonder why those facts would not keep Beckwith from Rome, while this other alleged "fact" would? Truly hard to say, isn't it? But I wonder, did Dr. Beckwith find the following in his patristic sources, or was time just too pressed to notice it in passing?
This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life... (Mathetes to Diognetius, Chapter 9).
That sure sounds like what I believe! But, it must not be, for we have Rome assurance that it is not! But then again, let's say I could not find texts like this. What did Augustine teach me?
What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought....Therefore, I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher. (Augustine, De bono viduitatis, 2, NPNF Series I, III:442; Migne PL 40:431. Note especially the phrase, "Scriptura nostrae doctrinae regulam figit," that is, "Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine.")
You ought to notice particularly and store in your memory that God wanted to lay a firm foundation in the Scriptures against treacherous errors, a foundation against which no one dares to speak who would in any way be considered a Christian. For when He offered Himself to them to touch, this did not suffice Him unless He also confirmed the heart of the believers from the Scriptures, for He foresaw that the time would come when we would not have anything to touch but would have something to read" (In Epistolam Johannis tractus, 2).
Let us not hear: This I say, this you say; but, thus says the Lord. Surely it is the books of the Lord on whose authority we both agree and which we both believe. There let us seek the church, there let us discuss our case. (Augustine, De unitate ecclesiae, 3)
Let those things be removed from our midst which we quote against each other not from divine canonical books but from elsewhere. Someone may perhaps ask: Why do you want to remove these things from the midst? Because I do not want the holy church proved by human documents but by divine oracles (Augustine, De unitate ecclesiae 3).
Whatever they may adduce, and wherever they may quote from, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore let us search for the church in the sacred canonical Scriptures (Augustine, De unitate ecclesiae 3).
And just one more for now,
Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-95): "..we make the Holy Scriptures the canon and the rule of every dogma; we of necessity look upon that, and receive alone that which may be made conformable to the intention of those writings. (On the Soul and Resurrection).
Were these texts missing from Dr. Beckwith's 100 day examination of patristic writings, or were they simply missing from Jurgens or such secondary sources?
To be sure, salvation by grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there. And to be sure, our works apart from God’s grace was decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Wednesday,” to quote a famous Gospel song, but that it was the grace of God working through me as I acquiesced to God’s spirit to allow his grace to shape and mold my character so that I may be conformed to the image of Christ. I also found it in the Catechism.
Of course salvation by grace was there. Here we see the impact of inconsistent "Protestantism." I have repeated, more times than I can count, the following statement: the issue at the Reformation was not the necessity of grace. Everyone says grace is necessary, even the Mormons (2 Nephi 25:23, Moroni 10:32). That has never been the issue, and when "evangelicals" go all ga-ga over Roman Catholics who speak of grace, they are only demonstrating that they, like Beckwith, have not done their homework on Rome's teachings. Rome anathematized anyone who would say you could be saved apart from grace. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of Rome knows that. The issue then, and today, is not the necessity of grace, it is the sufficiency of grace! Is grace merely an aid, a helper, that can be frustrated by the mighty will of man (Rome and many today, historic Arminians, most evangelicals such as Geisler, Craig, etc., all agree), or is God's grace powerful, purposeful, sovereign, and all-sufficient?
But what does Beckwith mean in his description of the Roman Catholic view of synergism? Since Rome confuses justification and sanctification, evidently, this is the philosophical restructuring of the concept that appeals to Beckwith (note the lack of Scriptural references). There is little enough in the wording to raise a red flag, until you examine the words in a meaningful biblical and historical context, and realize that "acquiesce" here means "grace tries, but is dependent upon me," and "shape and mold my character" is not merely a statement about experiential sanctification but, due to Rome's confusion of this with justification, destroys the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to the believer as their sole standing before a just and holy God. While this phraseology sounds very pious and ecumenical, never forget that what is being promoted is Rome's synergistic theology that results in a mixed merit before God made up of the merits of Christ, Mary, and the saints. Note Beckwith's words:
There was an aesthetic aspect to this well: The Catholic view of justification elegantly tied together James and Paul and the teachings of Jesus that put a premium on a believer’s faithful practice of Christian charity.
Catholicism does not teach “works righteousness.” It teaches faith in action as a manifestation of God’s grace in one’s life. That’s why Abraham’s faith results in righteousness only when he attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.
Really? Not works righteousness? Clearly, Beckwith is suffering from "recent conversion memory trauma syndrome," a very common ailment I have discovered. Either that, or he never read Calvin or Luther's polemic works from the time of the Reformation anyway (a very strong possibility as well). The mere band-aid of "grace" does not fix the problem of Rome's mixed-merit salvation system, for no serious Reformed writer has ever ignored this very distinction made in their own writings. But we recognize the whole spectrum of Roman teachings, not just the nuanced, modernized, Hahnitized ones. We still read this kind of verbiage coming from Rome, even post-Vatican II:
1. The doctrine and practice of indulgences which have been in force for many centuries in the Catholic Church have a solid foundation in divine revelation which comes from the Apostles and "develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit," while "as the centuries succeed one another the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her."
For an exact understanding of this doctrine and of its beneficial use it is necessary, however, to remember truths which the entire Church illumined by the Word of God has always believed and which the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, and first and foremost among them the Roman Pontiffs, the successors of Peter, have taught by means of pastoral practice as well as doctrinal documents throughout the course of centuries to this day.
2. It is a divinely revealed truth that sins bring punishments inflicted by God's sanctity and justice. These must be expiated either on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and calamities of this life and above all through death, or else in the life beyond through fire and torments or "purifying" punishments. Therefore it has always been the conviction of the faithful that the paths of evil are fraught with many stumbling blocks and bring adversities, bitterness and harm to those who follow them.
These punishments are imposed by the just and merciful judgment of God for the purification of souls, the defense of the sanctity of the moral order and the restoration of the glory of God to its full majesty. Every sin in fact causes a perturbation in the universal order established by God in His ineffable wisdom and infinite charity, and the destruction of immense values with respect to the sinner himself and to the human community. Christians throughout history have always regarded sin not only as a transgression of divine law but also -- though not always in a direct and evident way -- as contempt for or disregard of the friendship between God and man, just as they have regarded it as a real and unfathomable offense against God and indeed an ungrateful rejection of the love of God shown us through Jesus Christ, who called His disciples friends and not servants.
3. It is therefore necessary for the full remission and -- as it is called -- reparation of sins not only that friendship with God be reestablished by a sincere conversion of the mind and amends made for the offense against His wisdom and goodness, but also that all the personal as well as social values and those of the universal order itself, which have been diminished or destroyed by sin, be fully reintegrated whether through voluntary reparation which will involve punishment or through acceptance of the punishments established by the just and most holy wisdom of God, from which there will shine forth throughout the world the sanctity and the splendor of His glory. The very existence and the gravity of the punishment enable us to understand the foolishness and malice of sin and its harmful consequences.
That punishment or the vestiges of sin may remain to be expiated or cleansed and that they in fact frequently do even after the remission of guilt is clearly demonstrated by the doctrine on purgatory. In purgatory, in fact, the souls of those "who died in the charity of God and truly repentant, but before satisfying with worthy fruits of penance for sins committed and for omissions" are cleansed after death with purgatorial punishments. This is also clearly evidenced in the liturgical prayers with which the Christian community admitted to Holy Communion has addressed God since most ancient times: "that we, who are justly subjected to afflictions because of our sins, may be mercifully set free from them for the glory of thy name."
Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Christian faithful have always endeavored to help one another on the path leading to the heavenly Father through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervor of charity, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings, carrying their crosses in expiation for their own sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God the Father of mercies. This is the very ancient dogma of the Communion of the Saints, whereby the life of each individual son of God in Christ and through Christ is joined by a wonderful link to the life of all his other Christian brothers in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ till, as it were, a single mystical person is formed.
Thus is explained the "treasury of the Church" which should certainly not be imagined as the sum total of material goods accumulated in the course of the centuries, but the infinite and inexhaustible value the expiation and the merits of Christ Our Lord have before God, offered as they were so that all of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. It is Christ the Redeemer Himself in whom the satisfactions and merits of His redemption exist and find their force. This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by His grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body. (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, found here.
I feel like reading some Edwards or Spurgeon or something just to wash my mental mouth out after reading about "carrying their crosses in expiation for their sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God the Father of mercies" and the like. You can try to "biblicize" Rome's soteriology by ignoring her history and her own practices, illustrated for centuries on end (that's the methodology of certain men in the US today), but facts remain facts, and such a process will always leave you with an empty bag at the end of the day.
Finally, I would challenge Beckwith to put his final statement to the test of sacred Scripture. If Beckwith is right, and "Abraham’s faith results in righteousness only when he attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God" then I submit that Paul's argument in Romans 4:9ff is thereby refuted. And if your understanding of the biblical text turns the authors upon themselves, well, you've obviously gone astray.