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Pro Ecclesia Vol 20-N2: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology

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Pro Ecclesia is a quarterly journal of theology published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It seeks to give contemporary expression to the one apostolic faith and its classic traditions, working for and manifesting the church's unity by research, theological construction, and free exchange of opinion. Members of its advisory council represent communities committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, ecumenical dogmatic teaching and the structural continuity of the church, and are themselves dedicated to maintaining and invigorating these commitments. The journal publishes biblical, liturgical, historical and doctrinal articles that promote or illumine its purposes.

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4 Articles

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The Catholic Calvin

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The Catholic Calvin

J. Todd Billings

In what sense, if any, might John Calvin be considered a catholic theologian? For many, this question is deeply counterintuitive—and for good reason. For much of his life, Calvin was openly and vehemently anti–Roman Catholic. In the Institutes, Calvin calls the Roman Catholic Mass a “sacrilege,” a device of Satan to defile and annihilate the Lord’s sacred Supper. Put into the delicate tone of sixteenth-century polemics, “this Mass . . . however decked in splendor, inflicts signal dishonor upon Christ, buries and oppresses his cross, consigns his death to oblivion, takes away the benefit which came to us from it, and weakens and destroys the Sacrament.”1 Calvin helped to consolidate a movement in Geneva in which the vestiges of Roman Catholic practices were overcome through ecclesial and civil regulation and control.2 In the context of such a movement, there was no room for ambiguity about his differences from the Catholicism of Sadoleto, or of the Council of Trent. Calvin concedes that “we by no means deny that the churches under his [the pope’s] tyranny remain churches,” with “traces of the church” still present.3 Yet, in these churches, “Christ lies hidden, half buried, the gospel overthrown, piety scattered, the worship of God nearly wiped out.”4 Clearly, there is a J. sense in which Calvin was deeply and passionately anti–Roman Catholic.

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Calvin’s Critique of Merit, and Why Aquinas (Mostly) Agrees

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Calvin’s Critique of Merit, and Why Aquinas (Mostly) Agrees

Charles Raith II

Although Calvin addressed a number of aberrations (as he understood them) that had been introduced into the Christian religion, a central component of Calvin’s reformation polemics targets his opponents’ teaching on merit. I have argued elsewhere that the relationship between the role of faith and the role of merit in justification forms the central conflict in Calvin’s commentary on Romans,1 and given the centrality of Romans for Calvin’s theology2 and for the Reformation in general, it is clear that the topic of merit was, and in many ways is, a contentious point between Catholics and Protestants.3 In order to contribute to understanding points of contention and advancing the dialogue particularly on the topic of merit but also with implications for surrounding topics, this essay is designed to accomplish two goals. The first is to pinpoint the primary issues that Calvin takes with his opponents’ teaching on merit. There are three: the first pertains to the relation between merit and justification. Calvin believes that his opponents ultimately assert two bases for justification or salvation: faith and works.4 The second pertains to the competitive-causal schema between human and divine causality that undergirds his opponents’ articulation of merit. Human causality is understood as independent or autonomous from divine causality in the meritorious act, which causes numerous problems for properly conceiving the place of “rewards” in light of God’s salvific economy. The third pertains to the notions of “worth” and “due” as they relate to merit, a topic that is intimately connected with the previous point but also goes beyond it. Even if the proper causal relationship is understood, Calvin denies the act itself has a worth corresponding to the reward. With this analysis in place, I then turn to the thought of Thomas Aquinas, and I argue that Aquinas presents a point of rapprochement on the topic of merit. It has become increasingly recognized that Calvin’s polemics are largely directed toward teachings that are different than, and even in conflict with, Aquinas’s own thought.5 Discovering the precise relationship between Calvin’s theology and Aquinas’s theology requires careful analysis, and although I do not attempt to present a full presentation of Aquinas’s teaching on merit, I do highlight that Aquinas addresses all of Calvin’s concerns and in a way that affirms the problems Calvin perceives in his opponents’ teaching and supports many of Calvin’s positive insights.6 At the same time, there are points of difference that need addressing. Aquinas’s conception of merit differs from Calvin’s due to Aquinas’s more participatory view of human action that enables him to evaluate the worth of the meritorious work in terms of the Spirit as principal cause. Calvin, however, evaluates the worth of the meritorious work solely in terms of its human principle. Different judgments about worth reflect different conceptions of merit within God’s salvific economy. Aquinas and Calvin also differ as it pertains to the graced individual’s ability to fulfill the law. Aquinas affirms while Calvin negates human ability to perform a truly good work. This also contributes to different conceptions of merit and its role in bringing about human salvation. The underlying conviction of this article, however, is that recognizing both points of similarity and points of difference enables genuine dialogue between Reformed and Catholic theology that will bring about a fruitful ecumenical future.

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From the Hidden God to the God of Glory: Barth, Balthasar, and Nominalism

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From the Hidden God to the God of Glory: Barth, Balthasar, and Nominalism

D. Stephen Long

An empty bottle of “Duck Rabbit Beer” sits on my office desk, given to me by a doctoral student. The bottle’s logo is Jastrow’s duck-rabbit, which looked at in one perspective is a duck and in another a rabbit.1 From the exact same shape, a duck or a rabbit can be seen, but not both at the same time. I leave the bottle on my desk as a fitting symbol of my reading of Karl Barth’s theology. The student who gave it to me previously studied at Princeton and was deeply influenced by Bruce McCormack’s interpretation of Barth. I had read McCormack’s Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology and like many others appreciated its careful and convincing historical periodization of Barth’s work, but I didn’t understand the radically innovative doctrine of God McCormack found in Barth until this student explained McCormack’s reading of Church Dogmatics II.2. Once I had that image of Barth’s doctrine of God in mind, I could no longer read II.2 or Barth the same. Where before I had seen a “duck,” now I primarily saw a “rabbit,” even when I wanted to see the duck. This essay attempts to regain the vision of the “duck.”

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Reconsidering Charles Taylor’s Augustine

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Reconsidering Charles Taylor’s Augustine

Thomas Harmon

Part of what is involved in the vaguely defined field of so-called postmodern thought is the attempt to understand the character of modernity as a distinctive epoch. This consists in trying to understand both distinctions and commonalities with prior epochs and an assessment by clarifying contrast of the goods and deficiencies to be found in modernity. Some “postmodern” thinkers genuinely succeed in understanding what modernity is and what it will take in order to move beyond modernity, and some are only capable of a superficial understanding of modernity, succeeding only in radicalizing modernity’s premises in the name of performing a critique. These critics are more properly “hypermodern,” as Peter Augustine Lawler remarks, than postmodern.1 Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self is one such attempt “to articulate and write a history of modern identity.”2 Taylor locates a defining feature of modernity in the development of man’s understanding of himself as a self, which development involves a progressively deepening inward turn. He traces the development of the “self” from Plato through Augustine to Descartes. While he never explicitly states that given Plato’s starting point the Cartesian end point of radical inwardness is a necessary outcome, he presents the development as strongly continuous, with each subsequent thinker staying largely true to his predecessors. On this account, a danger exists of reading Plato and, to an even greater extent, Augustine, as not only Descartes’ intellectual forebears, but proto-Cartesians.

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