Man’s end according to Protestants and Mormons

Pater Edmund points his readers to an essay from The Calvinist International on the difference between Catholicism and Calvinism.  I take this to be the key paragraph:

The evangelical position is that man has only one end, but that this end is not supernature, but rather, restored nature: original integrity renovated and confirmed in what Van Ruler called a “fireproof” or æveternal state. Further, the gate of this destination is justification by faith alone; since evangelicals deny that nature is being “perfected” by a different nature, and deny that God’s favor is any way earned by works, in temporal politics we do not accept the subordination of the “secular” to the “religious.” The universal priesthood exists in and as all the worldly callings, and the gift of provisional restoration destined for eschatological completion comes at the cost of no ascetic amputations. Proleptically full participation in the final state is the spiritual kingdom, and provisional and progressive participation of it is the worldly kingdom, in the classical two-kingdoms doctrine of the Reformers. This is, of course, a far cry from the papalist two-ends theory.

Most intriguing.  Several thoughts come to mind.

  1. As the good father points out, most Catholics (including me) have been completely misunderstanding Calvinism.  I suspect I still don’t understand it very well, since the concept of “nature” must mean something different without the contrast of an order of grace.
  2. I expect this connects to the Calvinists’ relative devaluation of the sacraments, as there would be no need for the distinct power of symbols to transcend our nature powers of signification.
  3. The New Theologians, in attacking the two-ends theory, are basically Calvinists.  I look forward to telling them this.  (Then I hope Catholics can stop with the silly habit of using “Calvinist” as a general purpose insult.)
  4. Can we perhaps now understand Mormon doctrine (in so far as I understand it from a few of their blogs) as an outgrowth of Protestantism, in particular its seemingly blasphemous claims that man and God share a single nature?  Mormonism is what Protestantism must become if it is to take the promise of theosis seriously while maintaining that God only restores our own human nature, that there is nothing properly speaking supernatural about our beatitude.

7 Responses

  1. There was no stauncher opponent of the two-ends theory than St Thomas.

    “[T]he beatitude of any rational creature whatsoever consists in seeing God by his essence” [In IV Sent, d. 49, q. 2, a. 7:] and that “one has not attained to one’s last end until the natural desire is at rest. Therefore the knowledge of any intelligible object is not enough for man’s happiness, which is his last end, unless he know God also, which knowledge terminates his natural desire, as his last end. Therefore this very knowledge of God is man’s last end.” [SCG III, c. 50.] This is also the teaching of St Augustine, when he says, in the first line of the Confessions, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

    St Thomas rejects the notion that natural desire cannot extend beyond natural capacity. “The nature that can attain perfect good, although it needs help from without in order to attain it, is of more noble condition than a nature which cannot attain perfect good, but attains some imperfect good, although it need no help from without in order to attain it.” [ST I-II, q. 5, a. 5 ad 2] and he quotes Aristotle as saying “that which we are able to do through friends we can in a certain way do on our own.” Perhaps, the clincher is this: “even though by his nature man is inclined to his ultimate end, he cannot reach it by nature but only by grace, and this owing to the loftiness of that end.” [In Boethius de Trinitate, q. 6, a. 4 ad 5.]

    It was the Thomists of the 16th century who, in the controversy with Baius invented the notion of “natura pura” out of whole cloth, believing that a “desiderium naturale,” which points in nature beyond nature, would make salvation a right, and grace would cease to be a gift. This involved arguing that the passages to the contrary in St Thomas (and St Augustine) referred to nature elevated by grace – of which there is not a shred of evidence in the texts. All they could offer as a fig-leaf was a dictum of Aristotle – “If nature had given the heavenly bodies the inclination to linear motion, she would also have given them the means for it.” [De Caelo, II, 290a]

  2. Mormonism literalizes theosis, but I don’t think that a necessary implication of either Calvinism or the New Theology. To have a nature aimed at God is not the same thing as having a nature that is destined to be God.

  3. As a Calvinist, and an occasional peruser of both The Calvinist International (TCI) and this blog, I’d just like to go through your points.

    1. In my experience, very few non-Calvinists know what Calvinists actually believe. The use as a general purpose insult is a case-in-point. The people many are thinking of when they use the term Calvinist is really a hard-nosed predestinarian Baptist with a penchant for making outlandish theological statements, or, perhaps, some Cromwellian Puritan nutcase. Now, to be fair, in the United States, that probably describes most ordinary people that call themselves Calvinists. However, it has little relationship with historic Calvinist doctrine.

    2. I suppose this depends on where you are coming at it from, but myself and the folks at The Calvinist International are coming from a place where Calvinists have a particularly high view of the sacraments. The sacraments are an afterthought in most Evangelicalism, but Calvinists at least give them importance, and those of us on the “High Church” (especially Anglican) end of Calvinism can sound like borderline Roman Catholics, to the point of being accused of “Crypto-Catholicism” or “Crypto-Lutheranism” if they are trying to be nice.

    4. I think this is solved by a proper emphasis on the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, we have the union of God with Man in a single person. Because we commune with Christ, we are partakers in the divine nature in that sense, but not in the sense we are magnified beyond natural humanity. None of those change that we are still, essentially, man and nothing more.

    To Calvinists, man is an essential whole. There is no nature/supernature distinction in man, only nature, which has been corrupted. To some extent on this front, I think Catholics and Calvinists are simply speaking foreign languages to each other.

    Furthermore, I don’t think Mormonism is a logical consequence of anything in particular. Mormonism doesn’t argue for its position really, other than to say that they have really nice people and like family a lot. Really, it’s the perfect religion if you’re a generic traditional American, but it isn’t really founded on anything but Joseph Smith’s concoction of Americanism with the archaeology and “revival” fads of his time period.

  4. Nathan Evan’s response here reminds of my recent (though incomplete) reading of Karl Adam’s Spirit of Catholicism. I found that a lot of the distinctive “Catholic” things he was talking about were just as often found in traditional Anglican and Reformed churches. For example, Adam needed to explain more how the collective, church based, non-individualist nature of Christianity has to be instantiated in one particular institution with a pope at its head. Not that you can’t make such arguments, but they were, I thought, rather underdeveloped in Adam. So, while his vision of Catholicism clearly differentiated itself from more individualist versions of Protestantism, it didn’t seem that different from more traditional forms of Reformed and Anglican faith. Much the same on many other issues.

  5. @ Michael Paterson-Seymour

    The thesis about St. Thomas, Thomists and “natura pura” you cite can be disputed, to say the least.
    Obviously, that’s not a debate one can have in a combox.

    An excellent work by Ralph McInerny on the subject (if you’re not familiar with it, of course).

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