Reviewing J. Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism” (Part I)

Gresham Machen is considered one of the greatest theologians in the history of Princeton Theological Seminary. Because of the turn of Princeton in theological stance enforced by the Northern Presbyterian Church (now PCUSA) to liberalism, he led a revolt to form Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. His career is clearly indicative about his theological stance. In 1923, he published the book Christianity and Liberalism to strongly defend the orthodox Reformed Christianity against liberal Christianity at the times. In this paper, the first four chapters of this book are reviewed and discussed.

Machen started out with the meaning of liberalism, and stated its dangers. It has to be careful that this liberalism is theological, while social, political, and economical liberalism carry very different meanings. Liberalism, unlike other cults or religions in the history of Christianity, is dangerous because it is articulated with the traditional Christian terminologies.[1] Liberalism is rooted in naturalism,[2] in the context of the world celebrating the modern success of scientific development.[3] He rightly pointed out that the scientific success led the modern people to be so excessively confident about the pursuit of truth using the scientific method that they abandoned the biblical teachings regarding anything supernatural or metaphysical. The rise of liberalism within the Christian churches also aimed at apologetics, defending Christianity amid the conflicts between science and religion.[4] However, as he rightly asserted, the liberal apologetics removed the very foundation of Christianity. Instead of defending the faith, liberalism can irreversibly destroy the faith.[5] As a work in the 20th century, he strongly criticized liberalism. Liberalism is still influential nowadays, but postmodernism has become prevalent. Liberalism presupposes naturalism: modern people base their thinking on something else other than the biblical point of view; postmodernism appeals to individuals’ existential feeling and rejects any types of authority, that liberalism is no longer as prevalent. Machen did not respond to postmodernism, which is way ahead of his time.

In the second chapter, Machen attacked the teachings or doctrines of liberalism. The first is “Christianity as a life.”[6] He did clarify that Christianity is indeed a way of life,[7] that the early disciples experienced huge life transformation since Christ’s Resurrection or conversion. Liberal preachers probably talk about some sort of piety in this teaching. However, this teaching is due to a sentiment against organized religions or creeds, and an ignorance or disbelief of the fact of the Resurrection. I believe that some previous theological scholars had not communicated clearly about the theology to the lay Christians, who developed a distrust to this apparently purely academic discipline. However, theology is indeed practical. Christianity is rooted in doctrines, the teachings in the Scriptures, proclamation of the gospel… And with these doctrines, the life as a Christian has a substance.[8] He also raised the example of Paul, who tolerated the teaching of the same gospel by others who were hostile to him, arguing that, to Paul, doctrines logically came first.[9] The Christian life found its foundation in Christ’s redemptive work,[10] but the teaching of “Christianity as a life” undermines Christ’s work. Hence, Paul’s criticism on the Judaizers is not simply theological subtlety, but real impact of how Christians should live.[11] Machen strongly crushed the liberal theologians’ attempt to give the false impression that liberalism is a continuity of Apostolic teaching.[12]

The second liberal doctrine Machen tackled is “back to Christ.”[13] This slogan sounds spiritual, but actually void in meaning. The liberal preachers teach to defend “Christianity as a life,” and by proclaiming “back to Christ” the churches would be back to the Early Churches. It is always right to look up to the Early Churches, but the liberal abandonment of doctrines, as he said, actually makes this impossible. In the account of the Four Gospels, Christ taught many things. He proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom.[14] He was not simply a teacher, but also a prophet who was conscious of the turning point of his age.[15] Christ’s teaching presupposes the doctrines found in the Scriptures.[16] And Jesus is the Messiah, and from His Words recorded in the Four Gospels, He was well aware of that.[17] The Sermon of the Mount demonstrated His messianic consciousness. And the first audience of the Sermon were aware of the reality that the guidance given from the Sermon was not enough. And when Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” He indicated He is more than a philosophical teacher but a provider of the divine grace.[18] Therefore, it would be impossible to be “back to Christ” as the liberal preachers teach if doctrines were abandoned. Further elaborating from Machen’s point, the doctrines that we believe in should be based on the Scriptures, as once the Reformers in the Age of Reformation upheld sola scriptura. Nowadays, many cults or alternative teachings abandon or selectively abandon the texts in the Scriptures.

The third point that Machen tackled is the criticism of the liberal theologians on the time gulf between the New Testament period and modern times.[19] It is fair to say that there is a huge gap between the cultures of the first century and 20th century, but the Christian Church history based on the Resurrection makes us in the continuity from the Resurrection. Machen asserted that wiping out all the history and starting fresh, the loss, even if the Bible was retained, is immense.[20] The teachings in the church history are too rich to be ignored. Besides liberals, many contemporary evangelicals should be aware of the danger of ignoring the history.

Machen named the title of the third chapter “God and Man,” on the the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Man. Many of the liberal teachings on theology proper and anthropology are problematic, and make Christianity un-Christian. The first problematic teaching that he attacked is that the knowledge of God can be attained only through Jesus.[21] This statement looks spiritual, but confuses many lay Christians who have been taught about Jesus saying “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In fact, as Machen reminded the readers, Jesus Himself asserted that there are many ways to know God.[22] Liberal preachers also teach “Jesus is God,” but Machen insightfully pointed out this assertion is vain if the liberal theologians have a different knowledge of God.[23] Unlike the liberalism motivated by the obsession with naturalism and the sentiment against institutionalized religions, the orthodox knowledge is very rational. “Rational theism, the knowledge of one Supreme Person, Maker and active Ruler of the world, is at the very root of Christianity.”[24]

Then Machen turned to another liberal teaching that instead of being rationally theistic, Jesus had a very “practical,” not “theoretical,” knowledge of God.[25] Pragmatism is another prevalent worldview of the modern times. But without the objective knowledge that looks “theoretical,” it is impossible to be practical. This might be a sentiment against some orthodox theologians who did not communicate well enough regarding the links between theology and daily life. However, disconnecting practical Christian living and theoretical theology is disastrous. “True religion can make no peace with a false philosophy.”[26] And I believe this false short-sighted pragmatic notion is one of the causes of some Christians using under-verified information for apologetics, or some Christians embracing of “alternative facts” nowadays, although these Christians are self-proclaimed evangelicals.

Another attack Machen fired is on liberal calling God the “Father.”[27] Liberal theologians teach universal fatherhood, but the Scriptures clearly state that God is the Father of the elect, not all people.[28] Like the pragmatism above, this problem is due to an incorrect knowledge of God. He also criticized the liberal teaching that eliminates the “gulf between creature and the Creator,”[29] particularly between God and Man. The liberal preachers are correct that God is immanent, but they ignore the awful transcendence of God.[30]

For the doctrine of man, Machen was upset that liberalism abolished our consciousness of sins. This is appealing to the modern supreme confidence of human goodness.[31] People are tempted to think they are good enough, and need no external agency for salvation. It is refreshing for me to think of it as a substitution of paganism for Christianity, as the author suggested: “Paganism is [the] view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties.”[32] Liberalism indeed undermined the core of Christianity as it denies our status as being sinful and our needs for salvation. Liberal preachers teach about human achievements with Jesus as a good teacher, but true Christian ministers preach about recognizing our sins and brokenness that lead to our need for divine grace.

The fourth chapter is on the doctrine of Scripture. Machen first tackled the question about time gap between the New Testament and modern times again.[33] He reiterated that salvation absolutely depends on what happened during the New Testament period. We did not have salvation if the account of His redemptive work in the Bible were false.[34] If the Scriptures were not correct, the experience that the liberal preachers have been talking about is not Christian experience at all.[35]

Then Machen focused on the doctrine of inspiration,[36] regarding that God is the source of inspiration, so that the Bible is the “infallible rule of faith and practice.”[37] (This infallibility refers to infallibility and inerrancy nowadays.) The Bible contains no errors, but the authors wrote with their own temperament. Machen teased the liberal theologians for committing the straw-man fallacy, by twisting the doctrine as the writers dictating the Holy Spirit’s words.[38] However, he would be also committing the straw-man fallacy if this book were written today: many scholars attacked this doctrine by picking details, or laying out seemingly contradictory verses, or raising examples of “inhumane God,” in an attempt to prove the Word of God wrong. Christians nowadays ought to be more well prepared, especially by studying the Bible more thoroughly.

Lastly, Machen attacked the liberal theologians that they do not accept the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. Instead, they selectively pick Jesus’ Words that conform to their pre-conceived ideas.[39] This actually undermines the liberal claim that they upheld the authority of Christ, as they do not really accept what Jesus taught.[40]

In summary, Machen strongly defended the orthodox teaching of Christianity by disputing the doctrines and claims of the liberal theologians. Liberalism stems from the need of apologetics in the age of reason and science, by sadly by compromising the gospel to the modern worldview. It removed the supernatural component of Christianity, and disastrously abandoned the authority of the Scriptures and the redemptive account of Christ’s work. Although this book was written almost 100 years ago, and the world is becoming more post-modern, the defense laid out by Machen is still relevant nowadays.



[1] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1923), 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Ibid., 5-6.

[5] Ibid., 8-9.

[6] Ibid., 19.

[7] Ibid., 47.

[8] Ibid., 21.

[9] Ibid., 22-23.

[10] Ibid., 24.

[11] Ibid., 25.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 29-30.

[14] Ibid., 31.

[15] Ibid., 32.

[16] Ibid., 33.

[17] Ibid., 35.

[18] Ibid., 38-39.

[19] Ibid., 40.

[20] Ibid., 46.

[21] Ibid., 55.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 56.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 58.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., 62.

[29] Ibid., 64.

[30] Ibid., 62.

[31] Ibid., 64.

[32] Ibid., 65.

[33] Ibid., 70.

[34] Ibid., 71.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., 73.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., 77.

[40] Ibid., 78.

Continue reading “Reviewing J. Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism” (Part I)”

On the Reformation Debate between Jacopo Sadoleto and John Calvin

In 1539, Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, bishop of Carpentras and a Jesuit priest, wrote a letter to the Genevese to urge them to return to the Catholic faith. At that time, John Calvin had been exiled from Geneva, and was then a minister at Strasbourg. The city council of Geneva consulted Calvin regarding Sadoleto’s letter, and Calvin agreed to give a reply. Calvin’s reply strongly defended the viewpoint of the Reformed movement. Both Sadoleto and Calvin were highly educated, and their letters are very valuable for understanding the theological debate at the times of Reformation. This debate was very academic, and apparently did not arouse a public discussion. However, it is undoubtedly an invaluable one because the discussion touched the very essence of the Reformation movement. It touched on various doctrines, but ultimately, the key difference is about the ultimate authority, whether it is the Word of God, or the rich ecclesiastical tradition of the Church.

Sadoleto was a very learned man. In his letter, he first pointed out the doctrines that both the Catholics and the Protestants agreed before discussing the differences. Examples including truth shining in darkness, its perspicuity both to the learned and the unlearned, doctrines’ foundation on humility and obedience towards God,[1] Christ’s work on Earth and His example being our role model,[2] His resurrection, His divine nature, His great work of redemption, salvation through Christ,[3] the significance of piety toward God, and the work of the Holy Spirit.[4] Sadoleto said he also agreed on “justification through faith alone,”[5] but it is definitely one of the biggest discrepancies between Catholic and Reformed teachings. Reformers did not initially sought for schism from the Church but to purify the Church in terms of doctrines, spiritual atmosphere, sacraments, and church polity. However, the differences between the Catholics and the Protestants were, and are, so big that the “unity” which Sadoleto begged for was not a true unity. As Calvin stated in his reply, true unity is not the tranquility inside the church without resolving great disputes and controversies.[6] Sadoleto did not use strong words in his letter. However, Calvin accused Sadoleto in his reply Sadoleto’s craft,[7] twisting of words, defaming the Reformers,[8] maintaining the wrong doctrines while knowing they were wrong,[9] and many other faults. Calvin pointed out the essential differences, and defended the Reformed teachings.

Sadoleto first accused the Protestants of “boasting” of some “hidden interpretation of the Scriptures,”[10] and indulging in certain “dialectics and vain philosophies.”[11] Although he rightly pointed out that it was imperative to approach the Scriptures with humility,[12] he later stressed on the role of Church in instructing the Christians “what to think, what to believe, wherein to place our hope,” and how to live a pious life that leads them to heaven.[13] The Church was also guided by the Spirit of Christ,[14] and hence all Christians should maintain her laws and precepts.[15] This is basically affirming the authority of the Catholic Church to interpret the Scriptures, the Word of God. Not surprisingly, Calvin strongly opposed to this teaching. He inveighed against the corruption of the Church, and the greed and avarice of the ecclesiastical staff.[16] He pointed out other problems of the Church, which I will list later. On the other hand, he asserted the ultimate authority of the Word in various places. While it was important that the Church should have been guided by the Holy Spirit, but the Word should be used to examine the guidance.[17] The Church should have built her foundations on the prophets and the apostles,[18] (Eph. 2:20) not on Peter,[19] who also taught that “people are regenerated by that incorruptible seed,”[20] (1 Pet. 1:23) which is clearly the Word of God according to the context in the quoted verses. He also quoted Apostle Paul that the only sword he possessed was the Word of the Lord.[21] (Eph. 6:17) He asserted that whenever the prophets foretold the renewal of the church, they referred to the Word of God, by citing Isa. 2:3.[22] He pointed out the danger of extravagantly boasting the work of the Holy Spirit by “burying” the Word of God, as it made room for the falsehood of the Church.[23] Calvin also asserted through the person in front of the Eternal Judge that “all controversies should be decided by Thy Word.”[24] In various places, Calvin hailed the ultimate authority of the Word of God, rebuking Sadoleto’s attempt to resort the controversies to the laws and precepts of the Church. He even teased Sadoleto that it was the Catholic Church who preyed upon the pious souls with “vain philosophies,” (Col. 2:8) not the Reformers, when discussing about the preaching sermons.[25]

Sadoleto accused the Reformers of their “pride”,[26] of teaching the “heretical doctrines” out of evil intention that they did it for wealth and ambition,[27] and of justifying themselves the liberty from ecclesiastical laws and their own lusts.[28] However, Calvin defended the Reformers strongly. He used himself as an example: “had I wished to consult my own interest, I would never have left your party.”[29] He said, if the Reformers did it for their own ambition, they would stay in the Catholic Church to rise to a prominent position.[30] As a matter of fact, the Reformers maintained that the pastors should keep the wealth that suffice their own need, and the rest should be dispensed, according to the practice of the early churches. If the Reformers did it for making money, as Calvin pointed out, it would be inexpedient for them to teach this.[31] Instead, Calvin also pointed out that many Reformers were in danger because they did not align themselves with the Catholic Church.[32] He wrote that the pastors were restricted to their own duty, not to govern the Church “with a licentious and lawless authority.”[33]

Sadoleto maintained that in order to “find a place with mercy and pardon with God,” Christians should not go beyond the “opinion and authority of the Church,” set by our ancestors, and guided by the Holy Spirit.[34] In other words, in Sadoleto’s viewpoint, the Church enjoyed the ultimate authority regarding the teachings of the Word and everyone’s salvation because of the Holy Spirit in work. The tradition of the Church was so important that it was where people found salvation. However, by upholding the Word of God, Calvin rejected the ultimate authority of the Church, even though Sadoleto claimed his teachings had been approved for 1,500 years or more.[35] Calvin asserted what he said was in more agreement with ancient church than Sadoleto.[36] Calvin affirmed the honor and rank of ancient Fathers and Councils, given the Word of God was their tool of judgement.[37]

Upholding the ultimate authority of the Word of God and playing down the authority of the church, Calvin attacked a number of Catholic practices and doctrines, and stated the corresponding Protestant positions. There are three things that the safety of the Church is founded, namely, doctrine, discipline, and the sacraments. And the Catholic Church added “ceremonies” to the list.[38] Ceremonies were used to exercise the people to piety, but Calvin complained the Catholic Church used it for her glory, and the ceremonies were vitiated by many forms of superstition,[39] defeating the purpose of piety, like Judaism.[40] What the Reformers tried to do with the sacraments was to restore their native purity, which had been abolished by the ceremonies which were superstitious in nature.[41] Catholic doctrines, as Calvin said, were so “twisted, involved, tortuous, and puzzling” that the scholastic theology itself is a “secret magic” as well.[42] He attacked the emptiness of the sermons preached all around the Western Europe that the first half was usually about the “misty questions” of the schools that scared away the rude populace, and the second half contained some “sweet stories” to keep the hearers alert.[43] He pointed out the Catholic preachers hurt the pious believers with “vain philosophies.” (Col. 2:8)

Calvin defended the Protestant position of “justification by faith alone.” Sadoleto maintained that “justification by faith,” which was “the common faith of the Church.” Sins were washed away by “expiations, penances, and satisfaction.”[44] To him, faith did “not only [include] … credulity and confidence.”[45] Calvin’s and the Reformers’ position is radically different: justification was not through works or merits, but through faith in Christ alone. If a man is convinced about his iniquities, he will humble before God and “[cast] away his self-confidence”[46] He pointed out succinctly that “the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete.”[47] He summarized the hopelessness of all humankind as lost sinners and Christ being their only righteousness: “by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions; by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by His blood, washed away our sins; by His cross, borne our curse; and by His death, made satisfaction for us.”[48] Men are reconciled with God not by merits or works, but by “gratuitous mercy.”[49] Calvin quoted Rom. 4:7 and 2 Cor. 5:19 to further defend the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

In response to the Protestants’ doctrine of justification by faith alone, Catholic theologians accused the Protestants of “[taking] away the desire of well-doing from the Christian life by recommending gratuitous righteousness.”[50] Facing this, Calvin further argued for the doctrine by stating the inseparability of faith and work. Quoting 1 Cor. 1:30, he argued that Christ has been given to us for justification and for sanctification, and wherever there is Christ, there is the Holy Spirit, who regenerates the soul to newness of life.[51] In other words, “Christ regenerates to a blessed life those whom He justifies, and after rescuing them from the dominion of sin, hands them over to the dominion of righteousness, transforms them into the image of God, and so trains them by His Spirit into obedience to His will.”[52] Therefore, responding to Catholics and Sadoleto’s complaints, by this doctrine of justification, “lust is left with loosened reins.”[53] He cited Eph. 1:4 that Christians are elected in Christ before the creation to be holy. In 1 Thess. 4:7, Christians have not been called to impurity but to holiness.[54] These verses are more enough to prove the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which involves regeneration, sanctification, and adoption. The ignorance of this doctrine would lead to the washings of sins by penances and satisfactions, nullifying the utility of the blood of Christ regarding the redemption of man’s sins.[55] Nevertheless, Calvin agreed with Sadoleto that “love is the first and chief cause of our salvation.”[56]

Calvin also defended Reformers’ position of the Eucharist. The Catholics attacked the Protestants for “attempting to confine the Lord of the universe… within the corners of a corporeal nature with its circumscribed boundaries.”[57] Calvin pointed out that Reformers’ position was that the divine power of Christ and His essence is “diffused over all, and defined by no limits.”[58] He insightfully responded that there is a great difference between removing local presence of Christ’s body and restricting His spiritual power within bodily limits. Calvin taught that in the Lord’s Supper, flesh is truly meat and blood is truly drink, but the presence of Christ are not excluded from the Supper. He asserted that there is no transubstantiation, and the bread is not to be worshipped as Christ.[59] He condemned Catholic transubstantiation position of the Eucharist that led to superstition. He referred Sadoleto to Augustine’s Epistle to Dardanus for further elaboration.

Calvin also condemned the Catholic teaching about auricular confession: the law of Innocent, which enjoins every man to pass all his sins in review before his priest annually.[60] He argued that such law has no scriptural proof. While there is an apparent humility, he cited the Apostle Paul’s teaching that “humility only is genuine which is framed in conformity to the Word of God.”[61] (Col. 2:18)

Regarding the intercession of the saints, Calvin urged Sadoleto and other Catholics to neglect this teaching, because superstition had risen from this doctrine that “the intercession of Christ was utterly erased from men’s thoughts, saints were invoked as gods…”[62] leading to the sins of idolatry.[63]

Regarding the teaching of purgatory, Calvin pointed out although ancient churches did mention the dead in their prayers, it was obvious that nothing more is about the passion of the living people felt towards the dead. It is the problem of the Catholic Church that enlarged this to a money-making business that wealth was accumulated by church’s prayer for the dead people.[64]

After disputing all Sadoleto’s accusation and defending the Reformers’ position, Calvin developed his Reformed position to the next step by further denying the ultimate authority of the Church. He accused Sadoleto and the Catholic Church of “overthrowing the ministry.”[65] The Catholic Church was well known to be corrupted in the way that the ecclesiastical staff were “active only in robbing and devouring.”[66] The Lord’s Supper lost its meaning in the mass; the worship of images as a sin of idolatry was prevalent; the sacraments were ruined by weird notions and doctrines; the abusive use of indulgences dishonored the cross of Christ; Christian liberty was crushed by man-made ecclesiastical traditions. With all these listed transgressions, Calvin asserted that the ancient Church was clearly on the Reformers’ side.[67] The Reformers did not initially sought for a revolution, but a reform within the Church. However, the adverse situation within the Catholic Church made them believe that a schism was indeed a necessity. He called the Roman Pontiff “ravening wolves.”[68] Even worse, he semi-directly called the pope the Antichrist, by citing 2 Thess. 2:4 that “the Antichrist would have his seat in no other place than in the midst of God’s sanctuary.”[69] Speaking of the pride and sins of the Catholic Church, he quoted Matt. 14:6: “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.”

According to the Reformers, Calvin yielded respect and honor to the Church, in subordination to Christ the Church’s head, not the pope in Rome.[70] He proclaimed that the Reformed Christians submit to the authority of the Word of God, not the traditions of the Catholic Church.[71] The Church served at the pleasure of the establishment, but a good Christian should “deliver the oracles which they have received at the mouth of the Lord.”[72] In his reply to Sadoleto’s letter to the Genevans, Calvin tore down and condemned the ultimate authority of the Church.

Finally, Calvin discussed about the pastoral office. He agreed with Sadoleto that the pastors should be heard like Christ himself,[73] but he had to perform his own duties as instructed by the Scriptures, according to 1 Thess. 5:21 and 1 John 4:1.[74] They were not to abusively execute their power to govern for their own pleasures.[75] And the pastor holding the office of the teacher should be judged by the congregation, (1 Cor. 14:29) not to let the congregations blindly submit to them.[76] Ultimately, it is not the Church to instruct the believers, but “God alone who enlighten our minds to perceive His truth, who by His Spirit seals it on our hearts, and by His sure attestation to it confirms our conscience.”[77]

At the end of Sadoleto’s letter, he hypothesized two men in front of the dread tribunal of the sovereign Judge, stating whether they believed in Christ (which both would say yes), and what they believed.[78] The man in the Catholic faith said he obeyed the laws and precepts taught by his ancestors.[79] On the other hand, the man in the Protestant faith asserted the Church is “everywhere corrupt,” and he believed he was justified by faith alone, contrary to what the Church proclaimed, because he understood the Scriptures more than the ancient people did.[80] In Calvin’s reply, he “rewrote” the words said by the Protestant man, defending himself against the charges of the Catholics, and upholding the authority of the Word alone, echoing the slogan sola scriptura.[81]

The two letters of Sadoleto and Calvin highlighted the main controversies regarding the doctrines of the Reformation debate. Conclusively speaking, the Catholics maintained the ultimate authority of ecclesiastical tradition that stemmed from antiquity, and the unity of the Church was of utmost importance; the Reformers upheld the ultimate authority of the Word of God, i.e., the Scriptures, and denied the ultimate authority of the ecclesiastical tradition, even though they maintained that the pastors should still be heard like Christ himself, but they were judged by the congregations, with the Word of God as the golden rule. Although the Reformers did not initially intend for the division of the Church, but the corruption of the Church was so severe that they thought a schism was a necessity. Indeed, as they saw it, it was the only way to restore the native purity of the Early Churches.

[1] John C. Olin ed., A Reformation Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1966), 32.

[2] Ibid., 33.

[3] Ibid., 34.

[4] Ibid., 35.

[5] Ibid., 36.

[6] Ibid., 93.

[7] Ibid., 50.

[8] Ibid., 51.

[9] Ibid., 64.

[10] Ibid., 31.

[11] Ibid., 41.

[12] Ibid., 32.

[13] Ibid., 37.

[14] Ibid., 37, 41.

[15] Ibid., 37.

[16] Ibid., 56.

[17] Ibid., 60.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 77.

[20] Ibid., 60.

[21] Ibid., 78.

[22] Ibid., 60-61.

[23] Ibid., 61.

[24] Ibid., 86.

[25] Ibid., 65.

[26] Ibid., 38.

[27] Ibid., 54.

[28] Ibid., 41-42.

[29] Ibid., 54.

[30] Ibid., 56.

[31] Ibid., 56.

[32] Ibid., 80.

[33] Ibid., 76.

[34] Ibid., 37.

[35] Ibid., 62.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., 92.

[38] Ibid., 63.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., 64.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., 64-65.

[43] Ibid., 65.

[44] Ibid., 37.

[45] Ibid., 36.

[46] Ibid., 66.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., 66-67.

[49] Ibid., 67.

[50] Ibid., 68.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid., 68-69.

[54] Ibid., 69.

[55] Ibid., 69-70.

[56] Ibid., 69.

[57] Ibid., 70.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid., 71.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid., 72.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid., 73.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid., 74.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid., 75.

[69] Ibid., 76.

[70] Ibid., 75.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid., 77.

[73] Ibid., 77.

[74] Ibid., 76.

[75] Ibid., 77.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid., 79.

[78] Ibid., 42.

[79] Ibid., 43.

[80] Ibid., 44-45.

[81] Ibid., 82-90.

Continue reading “On the Reformation Debate between Jacopo Sadoleto and John Calvin”

Excerpts of John Calvin’s “Responsio ad Saboletum”

In 1539, Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, a Jesuit monk and the Bishop of Carpentras, France, wrote a letter to the Genevese, urging them to return to the Catholic faith. The city council of Geneva asked John Calvin, who had been exiled from Geneva and was then a minister at Strasbourg, to write a reply, known as Responsio ad Saboletum. This highly academic and polished reply contains a lot of treasures. Here is just some essential excerpts.

On the gospel according to Calvin,

“… a man… when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed by his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to perdition… the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions; by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by His blood, washed away our sins; by His cross, borne our curse; and by His death, made satisfaction for us… in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with Him, this we term… the righteousness of faith.” (pages 66-67)

Continue reading “Excerpts of John Calvin’s “Responsio ad Saboletum””

Reviewing Martin Luther’s “On Christian Liberty”

In October 31, 1517, Martin Luther pinned his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, sparking widespread public reaction in Germany, which eventually led to the permanent schism in the church. However, a split from church was not really what Luther wanted. What he intended was a theological correction of the church. In 1520, suggested by his colleagues, Luther wrote a conciliatory letter to Pope Leo X, which clearly stated that Luther had not been attacking the pope in person,[1] but making an effort to bring the church back to the gospel. Accompanied by this letter Luther included this book, titled On Christian Liberty, arguing for justification by faith alone, not by works or merits. The ideas conveyed in this book are the fundamental doctrines throughout the Reformations, agreed by most of the mainline evangelical Protestant denominations nowadays.

The central idea of On Christian Liberty can be summarized by the following statements: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”[2] The first sentence is about the liberty of Christians, while the second is about the service of Christians. These two theses seemingly contradict with each other, but Luther excellently argued for them with biblical verses throughout the whole book. As the arguments go, Luther showed that the first sentence is about that the justification of a Christian is irrelevant to his merits and works, but solely dependent on his faith. A Christian is free, i.e., “lord[ing] over sin, death, and hell.”[3] However, out of this liberty, a Christian “serves, ministers to, and benefits all men,”[4] as a perfect servant of all people, including Christians and non-Christians.[5]

Luther recognized the two-fold nature of man, namely, a spiritual one and a bodily (fleshly) one.[6] Together with interactions among men, Luther divided the book into three parts: the first concerns the spiritual, or the inner, part of man; the second the bodily, or the outer, part of man; and the third, loving neighbors.

First, Luther discussed about the spiritual nature of man, which is the new, and inner part of man. He argued that “no external thing has any influence in producing Christian righteousness or freedom, or in producing unrighteousness or servitude.”[7] What a body eats, drinks, and does have nothing to do with his soul. It is not uncommon that some very bad people prosper, and that some very godly men suffer from hunger or even imprisonment. What makes one righteous or free is very different from merits or works, in spite of what the Catholic Church had been preaching.[8] How did Luther come up with this idea? He referred to the Scriptures, the Word of God. Before arguing for this idea, he established his arguments by proving the supreme authority of the Word of God. He cited Matt. 4:4, where Christ quoted the Old Testament, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” Luther recognized the power of the Word of God, that incarnates to dwell among the peoples. He identified it as the one and the only one thing necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom.[9] This is sola scriptura, one of the five sola’s in this Reformation movement. This is the logical foundation for the doctrine of justification through faith alone.

Then Luther asserted that “faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God.”[10] He cited Apostle Paul in Rom. 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” and Rom 1:17, “He who through faith is righteousness shall live.” (taken from the English translation of the book) And he quoted Rom. 10:4 as well. By these verses, Luther confidently affirmed that through faith alone one is saved. And the work done by man cannot save him, as in Rom. 3:23, Apostle Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and in Rom. 3:10, “none is righteous; no, not one.” All things in man are damnable, and man cannot be saved through all these outer things. Citing Rom. 10:10, Luther elaborated his point that “since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inner man cannot be justified, freed, or saved by any outer work or action at all, and that all these works, whatever their character, have nothing to do with this inner man.”[11] Therefore, the first concern of all Christians should be to “lay aside all confidence in works,” and “strengthen their faith alone,” and “through faith to grow in knowledge”[12] of Jesus Christ, who suffered and rose for Christians. Luther did not forget to add that Christ also preached faith,[13] as in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Luther also quoted many other verses to argue for the sole dependence and relevance of faith to the salvation of man. It is evident that the teaching of faith is so often reiterated and emphasized in the Scriptures that there should be no doubt about it.

Luther understood people’s possible criticisms that Luther condemned works in spite of the fact that the Scriptures contain many laws that demand people to do something. Luther pointed out that the Scriptures consist of two parts: commandments and promises.[14] He wrote, “the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it,” but “through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own inability.”[15] However, the promises given in the Scriptures provide hopes for those who have faith. As in Rom. 11:32, Apostle Paul wrote, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Luther elaborated, “the promises of God give what the commandments of God demand and fulfill what the law prescribes… He alone commands; he alone fulfills.”[16] In a nutshell, through faith alone the soul are justified by the Word of God, and the soul are sanctified and filled with blessings, as in John 1:12, “but to all who… believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God.”[17] Therefore, while faith does not induce idleness or wickedness, it makes law and works unnecessary for one’s righteousness and salvation.[18]

There are many benefits of faith. First, it honors God.[19] Second, God “does us great honor of considering us truthful and righteous for the sake of our faith.”[20] Third, “it unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom,”[21] as Apostle Paul taught in Eph. 5:31-32. This marriage has great power, that Christ’s possessions are also the faithful man, for example, His righteousness.[22] Moreover, “by the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of health which are the bride’s… He makes them his own and acts as if… he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into the hell that he might overcome them all.”[23] In this process, He washed away the sins of the bride. The bride, through Christ, lord over death, as Luther quoted Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:57, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[24] We also shared the birthright with Christ.[25] This birthright involves a twofold honor: priesthood and kingship.[26] Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Pet. 2:9, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Our priesthood enables us to be “worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another divine things.”[27] This resonates what Heb. 10:18 and 22 teaches. Our kingship makes us to be a “steward of God’s mysteries,”[28] as 1 Cor. 4:1 teaches. Based on these biblical teachings, Luther criticized the teachings of the Catholic Church that only certain “ecclesiastics” could act as priests, contradicting biblical teachings.[29] On the other hand, the stewardship had evolved to be a great “tyranny” in Luther’s times[30] because the Catholic Church gripped the interpreting authority of the Scriptures.

After discussing the spiritual part of man and faith, Luther moved on to the bodily part of man and the sheer irrelevance of works to salvation. Luther pointed out the reality that as long as we live in the flesh, we are far from being perfect, and we have to keep perfecting ourselves for future life.[31] One must control and discipline his own body. Although by faith man is saved, one “cannot be idle, for the need of his body drives him,”[32] and he must do good works to reduce the drive. However, all these good works does not justify him before God, but he does it out of his love towards God. In other words, these good works are done because of man’s sinful nature, and are not done out of obligation but a free choice because he loves God.

These works are meaningless if a man is not a Christian and a believer. Luther explained with an analogy that a bishop performs his duties because he is a bishop, not that he was made a bishop because he performed these duties.[33] “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good work; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.”[34] A Christian does not need works to be justified because he is saved through faith alone. He is free from works and laws, but he does works and obeys laws “out of pure liberty.”[35]

To many people, a person looks good or evil by what he has done, as Christ said in Matt.7:20, “you will recognize them by its fruits.” But the outward appearance can be “deceiving.”[36] Luther suggested we look beyond works about how one is justified, and reminded that we are justified by the Word of God.[37] Luther was not afraid to be annoying to repeatedly reiterate the teaching of justification by faith alone, calling the justification by works a blasphemy, rendering Christ’s works to be pointless.[38]

In spite of the irrelevance of works to the justification, Luther did not reject good works, but suggested they should be taught as much as possible.[39] But because man tends to seek justification through works because of our sinful nature, or Luther said, “[the] perverse notion of works is unconquerable,”[40] both works and God’s grace must be preached at the same time. For example, John the Baptist yelled at the same time “repent!” and “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He preached not only works, but also His mercy and grace. Luther wrote, “we are to bring forth out of our new treasure things new and old, the voice of law as well as the word of grace.”[41] (Matt. 13:52) Therefore, while preaching works as much as possible, “we must also preach the word of grace and the promise of forgiveness by which faith is taught and aroused.”[42] Repentance is from the law of God, but grace and forgiveness come from the promises in His Word.

The third part of the book concerns loving the neighbors. After extensively discussing about faith and works, Luther moved on to the teaching that a Christian does not live for himself in his mortal body, but for others.[43] Even the Apostle Paul wrote this after discussing this central part of Christian teachings in the first part of his Epistles to the Romans, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:7-8) A Christian lives for others freely, with liberty. In everything he does, he should be guided by the thought that he serves and benefits others, i.e., for the welfare and advantages of others instead of his own self-interests.[44] Unlike the “ecclesiastics” who received wages from church, Luther quoted Apostle Paul’s epistles that everyone should work on their own so that they have enough to fund the needy.[45] “… let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph. 4:28) A Christian does all these to his neighbors because of his love towards them. The stronger serves the weaker, bearing each other’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2) Apostle Paul wrote, “faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6)

This is following Christ’s example of humility. As Apostle Paul wrote in Phil. 2:5-8, Christ has the form of God, He does not need works and sufferings to make himself righteous and saved,[46] but He takes the form of a servant to serve the needy and the neighbors.[47] Luther also noted that these neighbors include both Christians and non-Christians: “He does not distinguish friends and enemies or anticipate thankfulness or unthankfulness…”[48] and he also quoted Matt. 5:45: “He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rains on the just and on the unjust.” If we recognize the great and the precious things which are given us, our hearts will be filled with the Holy Spirit.[49] An ignorance of these gifts makes Christ be born in vain. By this token, all Christians ought to serve the others not out of the needs for salvation, but out of liberty and love.

In this book, Luther went over the fundamental teaching about the riches and glory of the Christian life. “It can do all things and has all things and lacks nothing. It is lord over sin, death, and hell, and yet at the same time it serves, ministers to, and benefit all men.”[50] This statement resonates with the central theme introduced by Luther at the beginning of this book, i.e., we lord over all things, but we are also subject to all things. By faith alone we are justified, and we are free to make decisions, not bound by the traditions. Luther raised the example of Timothy and Titus. Timothy was circumcised by the Apostle Paul for the sake of the gospels, but Titus was not circumcised because of the possible messages conveyed to those who were weak in faith. In this example, Christians have the liberty to decide whether to carry out circumcision.[51] Another example is about tax money, that Christ said not to give offense to the authority, and to give the tribute.[52] Apostle Paul gave a similar teaching in Rom. 13:1-7. Even the works encouraged by the church a Christian is free to do, but Luther advised the readers “to be careful not to do it in order to obtain some benefit, whether temporal or eternal, for you would do injury for your faith…”[53]

Luther then concluded this part and also the whole book that “[a Christian] lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends himself into his neighbors.”[54]

However, Luther was not done. He disputed some possible misunderstandings or criticisms stemming out from the teachings in this book. There are two erroneous extremes, one being the abuse of this Christian liberty that all things that satisfy their fleshly desires are allowed, while the other being relying on their salvation solely on their reverent observance of ceremonies.[55] Both extremes are in error, and Luther quoted Apostle Paul who had attacked this kind of erroneous teachings back in the Apostle’s Age in Rom. 14:3, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” However, Luther pointed out that pastors played an important role in guarding the faith of their congregations.[56]

This book written by Luther is so important that it is the cornerstone of Protestantism. In his times, the proclamation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone posed a great challenge to the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church that justification through merits. His emphasis of God’s mercy and grace makes the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, as it is human inability to achieve salvation is the total point of all Christ’s works. He argued all these based on the sole authority of the Scriptures, while in Catholic Church, ecclesiastical traditions played an important role in interpreting the Scriptures. He hailed the Scriptures as the sole authority of all Christian teachings, where all his teachings of faith, works, and loving neighbors were based on what the Scriptures teach. This book and the Reformations brought back the gospel that had been masked by the complex scholastic doctrines in the Middle Ages. The authority of Scripture and Luther’s doctrine of justification are (or, should be) still upheld by evangelical churches nowadays.

From his letter to Pope Leo X, Luther wanted to avoid a split of the church. Clearly, this was a failed attempt as we know from history, but the mere incompatibility between Luther’s teaching and Catholic teaching made a reconciliation very difficult. Of course, it is beyond Luther’s control as the complex political climate of Holy Roman Empire allowed Lutheran Reformation to survive and thrive, unlike previous attempts like Hussites and Waldensians. Reformations happened because of divine providence.

Luther discussed about faith and works in the context of the prevalence of theological teachings that salvation was based on merits. The teaching of Christian liberty freed the fellow Christians from works and merits, or the financial burdens in purchasing indulgences. As the Western societies have become more individualistic, embracing Christian liberty could be misunderstood as freely pursuing lusts and self-centered desires. A reaction of this is the stringent life styles from erroneous organized religious teachings, either it is from Christian heresies or even another religion. While Luther did dispute these two extremes, theologians ought to communicate Luther’s teaching and biblical teaching in a way that speaks to the peoples of this age.


[1] Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty, trans. W. A. Lambert, rev. Harold J. Grimm (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2003), 75-76.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 54.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 53.

[6] Ibid., 3.

[7] Ibid., 4.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 7.

[11] Ibid., 9.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 10.

[14] Ibid., 11.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 13.

[17] Ibid., 14. English translation in the book.

[18] Ibid., 15.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 17.

[21] Ibid., 18.

[22] Ibid., 19.

[23] Ibid., 20.

[24] Ibid., 21.

[25] Ibid., 25.

[26] Ibid., 23.

[27] Ibid., 27.

[28] Ibid., 30.

[29] Ibid., 29.

[30] Ibid., 30.

[31] Ibid., 33.

[32] Ibid., 36.

[33] Ibid., 38-39.

[34] Ibid., 39.

[35] Ibid., 41.

[36] Ibid., 42.

[37] Ibid., 43.

[38] Ibid., 44.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., 45.

[41] Ibid., 45-46.

[42] Ibid., 46.

[43] Ibid., 47.

[44] Ibid., 48.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., 51.

[47] Ibid., 52.

[48] Ibid., 53.

[49] Ibid., 54.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid., 56.

[52] Ibid., 57.

[53] Ibid., 61.

[54] Ibid., 62.

[55] Ibid., 61-62.

[56] Ibid., 67-70.

Continue reading “Reviewing Martin Luther’s “On Christian Liberty””

Reviewing “Why God Became Man” by Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was a Benedictine monk, a philosopher, and a theologian. He served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109 AD. His work Cur Deus Homo, or Why God Became Man, covered Christian teachings of central importance: the incarnation, the sin of men, Christology, redemption by Christ, the doctrine of election etc. It answered the question why God had to become man for the salvation of the elects. The teaching was discussed through the dialogues between Anselm and Boso (one of Anselm’s students). There are two books for this work. While the first answered, with clear logic, how men sin, and why men’s sins are so great that they need Christ’s salvation, the second answered why it is Christ, with a perfect divine nature and a perfect human nature, who carried out the act of redemption of the human race.

In Book 1, Anselm and Boso started their conversations by defining which questions unbelievers have in general, including the irrationality of God descending into a woman’s womb, bearing the life of a man who suffered on earth, and being crucified on the cross. Then Anselm started explaining the necessity of all these for the redemption of the human race by a divine person. He first argued that it is the will of God that the death of a just man, Christ, happened. It is not that God is not omnipotent, as if Christ had to die out of obligation. He died voluntarily although His obedience did not demand it. A few verses were cited. (Phil. 2:8, Phil. 2:9, John 6:38, Rom. 8:32, and Matt. 26:39) Anselm wrote this in response to the Muslims (who believe God can forgive as He wishes), and the Jews (why the incarnation). This work is also believed to be a projection of hierarchical submission in the feudal society in the Middle Ages onto theology.

Then they spent an extended discussion regarding man’s sins and the recompense for them. Anselm defined that “to sin is nothing other than not to give God what is owed to him.” (page 283) And the debt which the human race ought to pay back to God is “all the will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God.” (page 283) Just as men who sinned took away what God deserves, they are “under an obligation to repay to God an honor which he has violently taken from him,” (page 283) which is satisfactory to God. Then can God simply cancel the debt, or forgive the sins, out of mercy alone? Anselm explained that it does not fit God to do that. Canceling sins without any punishments would make sinners and non-sinners before God. This would make sinfulness in a position of greater freedom than righteousness. However, it does not fit God who is righteous and just. (pages 284-285) Hence, there ought to be a punishment for sinners, even though God is willing to forgive the sinners.

Anselm and Boso then turned their discussion about the fallen angels. Some angels fell because of their sins. Fallen angels were unable to reconcile with God because God did not give them perseverance. They came to the conclusions that the places of these bad angels have to be filled up from the human race. They even concluded that the human elect will not be less than the number of fallen angels. Although it is not clear these teachings about angels have scriptural basis, Anselm spent a considerable amount of effort to explain the necessity of electing human elects into the places of bad angels, thus requiring redeeming some people. And as good angels do not sin, the elects who replace the bad angels should be sinless as well. Therefore, the elected men have to be saved for the recompense for sin. (pages 289-301) However, in my opinion, without the angelology, the whole framework of Anselm’s teaching does not fall apart because God is willing to save men to restore the original purpose of creation, which will be covered in Book 2.

To fill the places of fallen angels, or to simply put humans back to the original places, Anselm argued that they have to be sinless. Anselm told an analogy that a rich man holds a precious pearl, which is knocked out of his hand into the mud by some others. Although the man can pick it up, he wants the pearl to be perfectly clean, without dirts. (page 301) It is the case that men needs to be saved before God can restore them into the place. This is another explanation why God cannot simply forgive men out of mercy alone, because it does not fit His characters.

Knowing that the recompense is necessary, it is logical to figure out how much it takes for men to repay God for what they have owed. It is agreed that “the recompense should be proportional to the size of the sin.” (page 303) Moreover, unfortunately, in addition to our own being and all that we are capable of, there are things needed to recompense that we could not pay for because our sins are heavy: we sin as our actions contradict the will of God so seriously that the whole universe needs to perish. The sin started in the Garden, when man was created without sins. He was placed there as God’s deputy (Gen. 1:28-30) and was able to overcome the devil. However, he chose to commit sin, despite his greater strength and his immortality. As a result, he is weak and mortal. He is responsible for the sin committed, and “needs to conquer the devil through the difficulty of sin.” (page 308) From many perspectives, it is concluded that the human race is unable to restore to the state of pure righteousness.

Then, it is tempting to say, “a merciful God remits the debt of anyone who begs forgiveness on the ground that he is incapable of making repayment,” (page 311) but this kind of mercy contradicts God’s justice, as Anselm argued. However, given that God is willing to forgive men, it follows as a necessary consequence that mankind is saved by Christ, which is the main theme of Book 2.

In Book 2, Anselm and Boso continued the conversation, but turned their focus on biblical theology. Anselm recalled the creation of man at the beginning that “the nature of rational beings was created by God righteous in order that, through rejoicing in him, it might be blessedly happy… It is rational… in order that it may distinguish between right and wrong, and between the greater good and the lesser good.” (page 315) And man was so perfect that “if he had not sinned, he would never die… If man is to be restored in perfection, he ought to be reconstituted as the sort of being he would have been if he had not sinned.” (page 316) For this, God has two options: completing what God has begun, and destroying the current sinful human race to raise a new one. However, it has to be the former because among His creation, there is nothing more precious than man. Therefore, a redemption of the human race is needed.

The next question becomes how this redemption is brought about, and why it has to be acted by someone who is God and man. Anselm argued that it has to be God because to pay back the property of God, it has to be God himself; and it has to be man, because it is man who ought to repay the debt that he owed. (page 320) This person has to be perfect God and perfect Man, with two distinct natures in one Person, unlike what the Nestorians or the Monophysites claimed. This God-man came from God who assumed a human nature from the race of Adam and from a virgin woman. This man belongs to the race of Adam, instead of a newly created sinless man, so that it is appropriate for this man to pay recompense for the race of Adam. And why it is from a virgin woman? Anselm raised two points: first, to show God’s competence, as He had not made a man from a woman without a man (but He did from a man and a woman together as in usual practice, from neither a man nor a woman as in Adam’s creation, and from a man without a woman as in Eve’s creation); and second, the cause of human’s first sin originated from a woman, so that it is appropriate that “the medicine of sin and the cause of salvation should be born of a woman.” (page 323)

Another question is why it has to be the Second Person of the Trinity to incarnate. Anselm pointed out that it is more appropriate for the Son to make supplication to the Father than other Persons. And the Son, as the Person of the Word, is the Person that the men had sinned most specifically against.

Then Anselm and Boso returned back to the question whether Christ died voluntarily. The discussion brought about the important idea that Christ, as a perfect man, is immortal, but capable of committing sin just like Adam. However, He maintained righteousness while “being capable of abandoning it.” (page 327) Anselm eloquently stated “all capability is consequent upon will.” (page 326) Christ was capable of not dying (because of His righteousness), but He chose to die. His volunteer to do this is undoubtable. He died out of His own free will. And it is of His own power that He died, and rose again, as he is omnipotent, an attribute of His divine nature.

Christ assumed a human nature from the race of Adam and a virgin, He shared our discomforts and other weaknesses. However, out of the weaknesses we have, He did not take ignorance because ignorance is “never useful, always detrimental.” (page 333) Being the God-man, even though He took up the human nature, He is still fully divine: He still possesses the identity of God.

The human race had to die because of our sins, as Anselm and Boso had already argued earlier. And now they argued how Christ’s death is sufficient to outweigh the magnitude of all sins of the human race, committed both in the past and the future. As the sins of the human race have been directed against the Son, it is the Son, who need to be paid in order to pay for the debt due to our sins. It is the death of the Word through whom the Universe was created that the created Universe can be restored. If it were not this man dying, the whole Universe would be cursed to perish. And it is worth noting that this same death destroyed the sins of those who put Christ to death, because, as Apostle Paul wrote, that if they knew it, they would not crucify their God. (1 Cor. 2:8) Their sins were committed out of ignorance.

It is worth noting that the God-man was produced sinless out of the sinful human race in order to restore the creation. This restoration of creation is more miraculous than the creation itself. (page 337) Boso mentioned that it is undoubtable that Adam and Eve had a connection with the act of redemption although the Bible is not clear about it, (page 340) but this statement cannot be easily discerned.

At this point, it has been proved that man’s sins are so great that man cannot repay it themselves, and God cannot forgive man without recompense due to its righteousness, but God is willing to restore the human race back to the originally perfect human nature by redemption, by becoming man, assuming human nature in the same race of Adam, and giving himself to God to pay recompense to God Himself for the sin of the human race. While it does not fit God to simply cancel our debts without any punishment, God shows His mercy by becoming man to save us. This way of redemption does not make mercy and just mutually exclusive, but come together as God’s attributes in harmony.

As God adopt the human nature of Adam to carry out the redemption, devil, the fallen angel, cannot be saved through this way because there is no angel-God that is like man-God to perform this. (page 354-355) Anselm concluded by saying that all these are scriptural based.

Continue reading “Reviewing “Why God Became Man” by Anselm of Canterbury”

Thomas Aquinas on Original Sin

Thomas Aquinas was an Italian friar, a Catholic priest, and the Doctor of the Church in the 13th century. He was one of the best theologians in Western Europe in the Medieval Ages. His work titled Summa Theologiae highlighted the accomplishment of theology of the period. A lot of his teachings, especially sacraments and grace, are controversial, but on original sin, it is good. His answer to Question 82, Prima Secundæ Partis (First Part of the Second Part), Summa Theologiae, concerning the original sin, is summarized.

Question 1: Is original sin a habit?

According to Aquinas, original sin is a habit.

He explained that habit is two-fold. The first kind of habit is one’s inclination to act, like our framework of knowledge or worldview (“science”) and virtues are habits. Original sin, as a lack of original righteousness, is not a habit in this sense. The second kind is “the disposition of a complex nature.” Original sins, as the lack of original justice, means the souls have been spiritually corrupted, and being impossible not to sin. This impossibility not to sin is the disposition of the corrupted souls, and from this point of view, original sin is a habit. This answered the Objection 1 he listed.

It is true that with the definition of the first kind, evil habits have to be acquired through a wicked act. It contradicts that the original sin is not something we acquire. However, using the definition of the second kind of habit, we are inborn with evil habits because of the original sins. Aquinas thus disputed the Objection 3.

Then Aquinas discussed about the Objection 2 regarding the original sin and the actual sin. While an actual sin is an act beyond a permissible limit, the original sin is basically a disposition, passed on from Adam and Eve, to perform an actual sin. Even if one is asleep, he is regarded as being sinful, unlike what the Objection 2 claims.

Question 2: Are there several original sins in one man? How does Aquinas defend himself?

According to Aquinas, there is only one, instead of many, original sin in one man.

Aquinas cited from John 1:29, where John the Baptist said, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The “sin” here refers to the original sin, and it is clearly singular, not plural. Objection 1 quoted a verse in Psalm: “Behold I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother conceive me.” But these sins are actual sins like pride, disobedience etc., instead of the original sin. He thus disputed Objection 1.

Aquinas explained it with the cause and essence of it. The cause of the original sin is the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, and the sinful state was then passed on to us. Therefore, there is only one original sin. For the essence of it, the original sin refers to the disposition of a corrupted human nature. This disposition is numerically one. He illustrated with the sickness analogy: the original sin is like the cause of of the sickness, and various symptoms like the various actual sins. In this way, he disputed Objection 2, because the various sins in one man stem from one original sin; and he also replied to Objection 3, because it is this numerically one original sin infects different parts of the soul, which does not make this original sin to be plural.

Question 3: Is original sin the same thing as concupiscence?

According to Aquinas, the original sin is materially concupiscence, but formally the lack of original justice. Given that the original sin is the lack of original justice, man is no longer submitting to the will of God, but pursue the cause of things other than God, or “mutable good” according to him. This desire for other things other than God is concupiscence, or spiritual lust. This makes the original sin materially concupiscence. From the context, Aquinas’ concupiscence is not limited to inappropriate sexual desires.

Objection 1 argued that concupiscence is natural to man so that it cannot be of the original sin which is contrary to the human nature. But Aquinas stated that the act of concupiscence is beyond the permissible boundary, as in the corrupted human nature, and thus it is of the original sin.

Objection 2 argued that the sins are of a wide diversity besides concupiscence, but Aquinas added that these sins stem all from concupiscence, the pursuit of things other than God. The original sin, as the misplaced passion because of the lack of original justice, is therefore concupiscence.

Aquinas argued in a previous question (Question 77) that man is motivated by a strong passion instead of intellect. The corrupted nature of human being made man pursue inappropriate passion, even though his intellect should not have led him to. Original sin is thus concupiscence, although it comprises of ignorance. Hence, he disputed Objection 3.

Question 4: Is original sin equally in all of us?

According to Aquinas, original sin is equally in all of us.

Aquinas explained that as the original sin is simply the lack of original justice, there is no degree of it, as it is just the entire righteousness was removed. In addition, since all of our original sin is equally related to the sin of Adam and Eve, it is evident that no one’s original sin is greater than the other. This disputed Objection 1, which argued acts of concupiscence can be of various degrees, that this concupiscence is not something of continuous degree, but simply the lack of righteousness (a value of a binary variable). It similarly disputed Objection 2, because as in the sickness analogy, while the severity of the sickness is continuous, the cause of sickness is one.

Objection 3 cited Augustine’s quote: “lust transmits the original sin to the child.” And this lust, believably sexual in nature, is of various degrees, implying that the original sin is not equal in all of us. However, Aquinas disputed this objection that the original sin is transmitted to children even without lust.

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Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople and one of the most significant figures in Early Church History, wrote On the Priesthood which covers the pastoral theology proper in terms of articles and dialogues. A number of points covered in this work are still very relevant nowadays.

Book II was about the shepherd’s love of a minister towards the congregation that Christ entrusted to him, just as Christ ordered Apostle Peter to minister Christ’s followers after Christ asked him whether he love Christ. (John 21:15-17) A minister was given a congregation, as he loves Christ, however imperfect the love is. It is still true today that the love for Christ of ministers is essential for the church.

Book III stresses the solemnity of pastoral prayers, quoting an analogy from Elijah’s prayer for the fire from Heaven in front of the hundreds of Baal prophets. This is a prestigious authority that God gives, not to angels or archangels, but to men. Pastoral prayers are no casual things; they have to be taken seriously. Even nowadays, for the sake of Christ and His church, ministers ought to practice consistent and regular prayers, for it is solemn and necessary. A sign of lack of prayers can be easily seen.

In addition, Book III details some of the pastors’ emotional challenges in face of oppositions from within the church and the secular world. Ministers are often accused of vainglory and pride by people out of evil purposes or envy. Priests in the time of John Chrysostom had to deal with various secular affairs, such as discerning justice, adding to his emotional stress. This is not easy, because it is not finishing a project but caring for souls, as “souls are more precious than bodies.” Pastors and ministers nowadays have less civil responsibilities, but they still have to provide counselling to people in need. They, especially the famous ones, are still attacked by accusations of vanity and arrogance.

Book IV states the need for ministers to diligently study the Word of God, and attain a thorough understanding of theology, in order to be faced with unpredictable spiritual warfare. The Word was described by Apostle Paul as the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. (Eph. 6:16-17) The study of Scripture is not only beneficial for ministers themselves, but it prepares them to tackle the attack of wrong theologies, heresies, or worldly philosophies. Apostle Peter urged all Christians to be ready to answer questions for their reasons for the hope. (1 Pet. 3:15) Because of the variety of the types of warfare, John Chrysostom said ministers must “understand all forms of arts” of the devil, and be “well-guarded in all parts.” He pointed out the distinction between ordinary warfare and spiritual warfare, where the former has a point of victory or defeat, but the latter does not. Hence ministers have to be watchful. The Word has not changed for the past two thousand years, and it will not change. The study of Word is still essential nowadays in face of spiritual warfare in the postmodern world, which is more diverse and full of temptation.

Book V points out that preachers have to be eloquent in preaching, and indifferent to others’ praise. Lacking the former and having the latter means the preachers be despised by the congregations; having the former and lacking the latter feeds preachers’ pride, and makes him deliver messages pleasing to the congregations instead of God; lacking both renders the preaching useless as it does not yield to the pleasure of the congregations, and the sermons are not helpful to the audience. Even nowadays, good speakers help a lot of listeners grow in faith; ignoring others’ flattery prevents the preachers from speaking like those prosperity gospel preachers.

Book VI reiterates the responsibilities of pastors in Book II, the solemnity of ministerial tasks in Book III, and the necessity to be equipped to fight spiritual battles in Book IV. Despite these challenges and the emotional stresses the pastors are faced with, John Chrysostom said he found joy in serving. Today’s pastors should be joyful in serving the congregations Christ entrusted to them despite the hardships.

Continue reading “Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom”