Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415): Christ alone is the head of the church

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Tomorrow is Reformation Day, in which we commemorate the traditional start of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. However, it is crucial to note that there were forerunners of the Reformation in the late Middle Ages who to an extent laid a foundation from which the 16th Reformation built on. While there are quite a number of these forerunners, the two most well-known are John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus of Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic).

Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) would end up being burned at the stake for his ideas, which countered the ecclesiology and sacramentology (among other theological issues) of the Roman Church. Hus took up many of Wycliffe’s ideas and in the excerpt below, from his work De Ecclesia (On the Church) argues that Christ (and not the Pope) is the true and only head of the Church. The final condemnation of Hus on 6 July 1415 was based primarily on propositions derived from the aforementioned work. The same morning that Hus was burned at the stake a copy of this work was symbolically destroyed by fire. Martin Luther would later say of Hus, specifically in light of his opposition to the authority of extrascriptural canon law: “I have taught and held all the teachings of Jan Hus, but thus far did not know it. Johann von Staupitz [I’ll get to this guy in my next post] has taught it in the same unintentional way. In short we are all Hussites and did not know it. Even Paul and Augustine…”

The excerpt below is quite long (read it with patience) – it is the entire chapter 7 of Hus’ De Ecclesia:

CHAPTER VII

THE ROMAN PONTIFF AND THE CARDINALS NOT THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH

It has been said that Christ is the sole Head of the holy universal church and all the predestinate, past and future, are his mystical body and every one of them members of that body. It remains now briefly to examine whether the Roman church is that holy universal church, the bride of Christ. This seems to be the case because the holy catholic apostolic church is one, and this is none other than the Roman church. What seemed a matter of question is therefore true. The first part of the statement appears from Pope Boniface’s bull: “By the urgency of faith we are compelled to believe and hold that the holy catholic apostolic church is one.” Likewise, the second statement appears from the same decretal, which says: “Of the one and only church there is one body, one head, and not two heads like a monster, namely, Christ and Christ’s vicar, Peter, and Peter’s successors, even as, when the Lord said to Peter himself, ‘Feed my sheep,’ he spoke in a general sense, not of individuals, of these or those sheep. It is plain that he regarded all the sheep as committed to him. Therefore, if the Greeks and others say that they were not committed to Peter and his successors, they thereby confess that it is not necessary to be of Christ’s sheep; for did not the Lord say, in John: ‘They shall become one fold and one shepherd’?” Is it not evident, therefore, that the holy Roman church is that holy universal church, because all are Christ’s sheep, and the one fold is of one shepherd? This is the meaning of the aforesaid decretal of Boniface, which closes with these words: “Further we declare, say and determine that to be subject to the Roman pontiff is for every human being altogether necessary for salvation”—subesse Romano pontifici omni humanæ creaturæ . . . omnino esse de necessitate salutis. If, therefore, every man is of necessity subjected by this declaration to the Roman pontiff, the aforesaid proposition will follow as true, and, on the other hand, the proposition that the Roman church is the church, whose head is the pope and whose body the cardinals, and these together constitute that church. But that church is not the holy catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, what seemed a matter of doubt is false. The first proposition is made out by the statements of certain doctors—among the statements being that the pope is the head of the Roman church and the body is the college of cardinals. The second is manifest from the fact that the pope with the cardinals is not the totality of all the elect.

For the understanding of this subject the notable passage of the Gospel must be meditated upon, namely, Matt. 16:16-19: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In this passage are designated Christ’s church, its faith, the foundation, and the authority. In these words Christ’s church is designated, “I will build my church”; in these Peter’s faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”; in these the foundation, “on this rock I will build”; and in these the authority, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” These four are to be touched upon briefly, namely, the church, faith, the foundation, the church’s power.

As for the first point, in view of the things set forth above the proposition is to be laid down that, if we put aside the church, nominally so called and as she is generally esteemed to be, then the church is said to be threefold. In one sense it is the congregation or company of the faithful in respect to what is for a time or in respect to present righteousness alone, and in this sense the reprobate are of the church for the time in which they are in grace. But this church is not Christ’s mystical body nor the holy catholic church nor any part of it. In the second sense the church is taken to be the admixture of the predestinate and the reprobate while they are in grace in respect to present righteousness. And this church is in part but not in whole identical with God’s holy church. And this church is called mixed in character—grain and chaff, wheat and tares—the kingdom of heaven like unto a net cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind and the kingdom of heaven like unto ten virgins, of whom five were foolish and five wise, as was said above. This church, Tychonius falsely called the bipartite body of the Lord, as appears in de doct. Christi, 3:32 [Nic. Fathers, 2:569]. For the reprobate are not the body of the Lord or any part of it.

In the third sense the church is taken for the company of the predestinate, whether they are in grace in respect to present righteousness or not. In this sense the church is an article of faith, about which the apostle was speaking when he said, Eph. 5:26: “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, cleansing it by the washing of water in the word of life, that he might present it to himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it might be holy and without spot.”

This church the Saviour calls his church in the Gospel quoted, when he said: “On this rock I will build my church.” And that he means this church is plain from the words which follow: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” For seeing that Christ is the rock of that church and also the foundation on whom she is builded in respect to predestination, she cannot finally be overthrown by the gates of hell, that is, by the power and the assaults of tyrants who persecute her or the assaults of wicked spirits. For mightier is Christ the king of heaven, the bridegroom of the church, than the prince of this world. Therefore, in order to show his power and foreknowledge and the predestination wherewith he builds, protects, foreknows, and predestinates his church, and to give persevering hope to his church, he added: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here Lyra says: “From this it appears that the church is not composed of men by virtue of any power of ecclesiastical and secular dignity, because there are many princes and high priests and others of lower degree who have been found apostates from the faith.” This comment has its proof, in part, in the case of Judas Iscariot, both apostle and bishop, who was present when Christ said: “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But he himself was not built upon the rock in respect of predestination and therefore the gates of hell prevailed against him.

From the aforesaid words of Christ it is evident that the church is taken to mean all, in a special sense, who after his resurrection were to be built upon him and in him by faith and perfecting grace. For Christ commended Peter, who bore [represented] the person of the universal church and confessed his faith in the words: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Christ said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah.” This commendation befits Peter and the whole church, which from the beginning was blessed in the way, by confessing humbly, obediently, heartily, and constantly that Christ is the Son of the living God. This faith in regard to that most hidden article, the flesh—that is, the wisdom of the world—does not reveal; nor does blood reveal it, that is, pure philosophical science—but alone God, the Father. And because the confession was so clear and positive, the Rock—Petra—said to Peter—the rock: “And I say unto thee that thou art Peter,” that is, the confessor of the true Rock—Petra—who is Christ, and “on this Rock,” which thou hast confessed—that is, upon me—“I will build” by strong faith and perfecting grace “my church”—that is, the company of the predestinate who, the probation being over, are appointed to glory. Wherefore, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Up to this point it has been deduced from the Saviour’s words that there is (1) one church—namely, from the very word “church”; (2) that it is Christ’s church—from the word “my”; (3) that it is holy—from the words, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The conclusion, therefore, is that there is one holy church of Christ, which in Greek is katholike and in Latin universalis. She is also called apostolic, apostolike, because she was established by the words and deeds of the apostles and founded upon the Rock, Christ, as Jerome says in the Prologue to his Commentary on the Apocalypse.

Hence I lay it down that it is to be called the holy Roman church, for the Decretum, Dist. 21 [Friedberg, 1:70], says that “although there is only one bridal couch of the universal catholic church of Christ throughout the world, nevertheless the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church is by the decisions of no synods set above the other churches.” This it proves by the passage already cited, Matt. 16—namely: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” And a little later it calls this church “the Roman church, the primal seat of the apostle, which has neither spot nor wrinkle.” This church, however, cannot be understood to mean the pope with his cardinals and his household, for they alike come and go. Therefore, the Gloss on this text has this to say: “The argument is, that wherever the good are, there is the Roman church.” And so the Decretum, 24:1 [Friedberg 1:970]: a recta is to be understood. Where the canon on the Roman church speaks in this way: “This is the holy and apostolic mother church of all the churches of Christ, which by God’s omnipotent grace is proved never to have erred from the path of apostolic tradition, nor has ever been corrupted by or succumbed to heretical novelties.” This, it must here be noted, cannot be understood of any pope or the members of his household, on which point the Gloss also says: “I ask, therefore, of which church do you understand that it cannot err?” But it is certain that the pope can err. See Decretum, Anastasius, 19, and Si papa, 40 [Friedberg, 1:64, 146]. Therefore, neither the pope himself nor his family is that church of which it is here said, she cannot err. Hence the Gloss says: “The company of the faithful itself is called this church.” So also is to be understood St. Jerome’s statement, Dist. 25:1,Hæc est fides [Friedberg 1:970]: “The Roman church is holy, which always has remained thoroughly unspotted, will in the future by the Lord’s providence and the blessed Apostle Peter’s care remain without any dent from heretics and abide unmoved and unmovable for all time.” Here no pope with his college of cardinals can be understood. For often these are as soiled with wicked, deceitful depravity and sin, as at the time of pope Joanna, the Englishwoman, who was called Agnes. How, therefore, did that Roman church—that Agnes, pope Joanna with college—remain always unspotted, seeing she bore? And the same is true of other popes who were heretics and deposed on account of their manifold enormities.

Since, therefore, according to the Decretals, the Roman church has the primacy and the dignity, so far as God is concerned, over all other churches, it is evident that she is the whole militant church, which God loves more than any of its parts. And so it is evidently of faith that not that college [of the cardinals] but the whole mother dispersed among all peoples and tongues is that holy Roman church of which the laws [the canon law] accord in speaking with the holy doctors. Hence, in order to impress upon us this judgment by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, the hymn is ordained for the church, “The holy church throughout the world doth acknowledge thee.” And in the canon of the mass, first and chiefly, we offer prayer for the holy catholic church, that God would condescend to give her peace, to keep her, and to grant her unity in all the world. Hence prayer is undoubtedly offered for the principal—principalissima—militant church, which, I lay down, is the Roman church. And truly among its parts, when we compare in the matter of greatness, the pope and his college are in dignity its chief part, so long as they follow Christ closely and, putting away the pomp and ambition of the primacy, serve their mother diligently and humbly. For in doing the opposite they are turned into the desolation of abomination—into a college at direct variance with the humble college of the apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is to be noted that the Roman church was properly called a company of Christ’s faithful, living under the obedience of the Roman bishop, just as the Antiochian church was called the company of Christ’s faithful, under the bishop of Antioch. The same also was true of the faithful in Alexandria and Constantinople. And in this way Peter, Christ’s apostle and Roman bishop, speaks of the church when, addressing the faithful in Christ in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, he says: “The church which is gathered together1in Babylon saluteth you,” I Peter 5:13. Is not the church here taken to mean the faithful of Christ who were at Rome with St. Peter? After the same manner also, the apostle designated particular churches when he wrote from Corinth to the Romans, “all the churches of Christ salute you,” and a little further on: “I, Tertius, salute you, who wrote the epistle in the Lord. Gaius my host and the whole church saluteth you.” Romans 16:16, 23. Here the whole church is taken for all Christ’s faithful, who with Paul were waging warfare in Corinth. Likewise we have the words: “To the church of God which is in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus,” I Cor. 1:2, and “Paul and Sylvanus and Timotheus to the church of the Thessalonians,” I Thess. 1:2. We have the same often in other places, so that those are properly called particular churches which separately are parts of the universal church, which is the church of Jesus Christ.

But the Christian church had its beginning in Judea and was first called the church of Jerusalem, as it is said: “In that day there arose a great persecution in the church which was in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” Acts 8:1. The second church was the Antiochian, in which Peter, the apostle, resided, and there, for the first time, the name Christian was employed. Hence, the faithful were first called disciples and brethren, and later Christians, for we read: “The apostles and brethren which were in Judea,” and at the close of the chapter it is stated how Barnabas led Paul to Antioch and they were together for a whole year in the church and taught great multitudes, so that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch,” Acts 11:1, 26.

In the second sense, the Roman church is taken to mean any pope together with any cardinals, wherever they may happen to reside, whether their lives are good or evil. And in the third sense, it is taken for the pope. These two last senses are wrested by scholars. For there is no good reason for calling the Roman church our mother either (1) on account of its pride or (2) on account of the emperor’s element goodness in endowing the church or on account of the pope’s haughtiness and self-assertion because of imperial rule drawn from the pope’s primacy or dominion, (3) or, again, is this a good reason that men should believe that it is incumbent upon every Christian to have recourse to the pope and that it is of necessity for salvation to recognize him as the head and as the most holy father, but for other reasons than this. For since the term Roman church was established aside from any foundation in sacred Scripture, it is enough to give a probable reason. For the holy church of Christ flourished first in Jerusalem during the days of the apostles, who companied with Christ, and afterwards in Antioch at the time of Peter’s incumbence as bishop—cathedrationis—and afterwards in Rome at the time of the preaching and martyrdom of Peter and Paul. And so is to be understood the Saviour’s saying, Matt. 12:28, “Finally is the kingdom of God come unto you,” and also Luke 17:21, 37, “The kingdom of God is within you . . . for where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.” For, although the Christian church began in Judea and Christ suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem, nevertheless with reason Christ’s church is called the Roman church in view of a certain pre-eminence and for three causes: (1) Christ knew that the peoples under the Roman empire would be brought in in the place of the unbelieving Jews, as the apostle says, Romans 11:2, 12. (2) A larger multitude of martyrs triumphed there than in any other city, for so, where a man is born from the womb and triumphs gloriously, from that place he takes his name. Inasmuch, therefore, as holy church, so far as many of its parts go, was born in Rome, having been gathered out of the womb of the synagogue, and there triumphed, growing among the nations, so it was thought proper that she should take her name from the metropolitan city which is Rome. Hence Dist. 22 [Friedberg, 1:74] runs: “She is called most holy, because Peter and Paul on the same day and at one and the same time consecrated the whole Roman church and exalted her above all other cities in the whole world by their presence and by their glorious triumph.” (3) Not the locality or the antiquity, but the formulated faith establishes the church of Christ, for, both as regards personalities and time, Christ’s church had existed before in its earlier seats. And in this sense it is said: “The Lord did not choose people on account of the place, but the place on account of the people,” II Macc. 5:19. For this cause, I believe it is permitted to name Christ’s church from any locality which the righteous faithful inhabit, just as Christ was called the Nazarene on account of his conception which occurred in Nazareth, and as he may be called a Bethlehemite from the place of his nativity, and a Capernaumite from Capernaum where he worked miracles, and a Jerusalemite from his most glorious passion in Jerusalem.

In view of these things it is plain what ought to be said with regard to the doubtful statement made at the beginning of this chapter. For it should be granted that the Roman church is the holy mother, the catholic church, the bride of Christ. To the argument in favor of the opposite, by which it is argued that the Roman church is the church of which the pope is the head and the cardinals the body—this is said by way of concession and by defining the church in the second way, that is, as the pope—whoever he may be—in conjunction with the cardinals—whoever they may be and wheresoever they may live. But it is denied that this church is the holy, catholic and apostolic church. And so both parts of the argument are granted, but the conclusion is denied. But if this be said, namely, “I lay down that the pope is holy together with all the twelve cardinals living with him,” this being laid down and admitted as highly possible, it follows that the pope himself in conjunction with the cardinals is the holy, catholic and apostolic church. This conclusion is denied, but it follows well that a holy pope in conjunction with holy cardinals are a holy church which is a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic church. Therefore Christ’s faithful must hold firmly as a matter of faith to the first conclusion and not to the second; for the first is confirmed by Christ’s words: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But the second is a matter of doubt to me and to every other pilgrim, unless a divine revelation makes it plain. Hence neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church, and his predestinate are the body and each one is a member, because his bride is one person with Jesus Christ.

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Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) on God’s omnipotence and inability to sin

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The excerpt below includes Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-1274) discussion of the question: “can God sin?” At first sight, it might seem that the suggestion that “God cannot sin” amounts to a denial of his omnipotence. However, Thomas argues that sin is a defect, and is therefore inconsistent with the idea of God as a perfect Being. God cannot sin, because it is not in his nature to be deficient:

“It is commonly said that God is almighty. Yet it seems difficult to understand the reason for this, on account of the doubt about what is meant when it is said that ‘God can do everything’… If it is said that God is omnipotent because he can do everything possible to his power, the understanding of omnipotence is circular, doing nothing more than saying that God is omnipotent because he can do everything that he can do… To sin is to fall short of a perfect action. Hence to be able to sin is to be able to be deficient in relation to an action, which cannot be reconciled with omnipotence. It is because God is omnipotent that he cannot sin… Anything that implies a contradiction does not relate to the omnipotence of God.”

– Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 25, aa. 3-4

Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) on God foreseeing the fall of Adam, and the felix culpa

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The logic of the Reformed doctrine of election left theologians with the obligation to show that God did not cause the fall. Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) states below the standard position that God foresaw humanity’s fall in Adam but did not cause it to occur. Adam had been created good but fell into sin of his own accord. Hence humanity has only itself – not God – to blame for its predicament.

Musculus was professor of theology at Bern, Switzerland, from 1559 until his death, having previously been converted to the Reformation faith through reading Luther and spending time in both Augsburg and Strasbourg. This excerpt is from his Loci communes sacrae theologiae:

“God’s ways are not like men’s ways, so that it must be thought that it happened to im, as it usually comes to us every day: our plans and acts promptly fall out far otherwise than we had intended. He created man in His image, upright and unimpaired. Who [is] so senseless as to say that He had not foreseen what would happen to man by the serpent’s persuasion? All therefore generally agree, and rightly, in this, that Adam’s sin had been foreseen and foreknown from eternity. Thus the lapse of the human race did not so occur as to be beyond the mind and intention of the Creator: which means that He is a sham creator in His work, as though the thing happened otherwise than He resolved…

[I]t is I think pretty clear that God refused to establish man’s felicity and salvation upon his first state and constitution such as it was, but established it on his (man’s) restoration predestined in Christ the Son, and He so arranged, that he should be redeemed and preserved neither by his knowledge of Himself (whence He even forbade him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) nor by the worthiness and merits of his own righteousness, but by the sole grace and mercy of his free election, when otherwise ready to perish, by the intervention of His Son. The universal fall of the human race served to illustrate this grace of election. By the fall, before he had acquired any offspring, Adam fell into sin; and the result is that no mortal can be saved except by God’s mercy. In the next place also the wretchedness, corruption and perdition, which overtaking this lapse of our first parents now holds the whole human race, renders the power and might of divine providence much more splendid, while through Christ we are more happily restored after the fall than we had been when created, before we fell: just as on the day of resurrection, when we shall be raised from the dust of the earth and the corruptible shall put on incorruption and the mortal immortality, the might of God’s power will be declared much more gloriously, than if we were living for ever in this life devoid of corruption and death.”

– Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563), Loci communes sacrae theologiae, p. 620-621

Musculus’ assertion that God having permitted the fall means that “we are more happily restored after the fall than we had been when created”, is no novelty of the 16th century. This idea is apprehended in the Latin phrase felix culpa, which can more or less be translated as “fortunate fall”. It can be traced back to Augustine (354-430), who in his Enchridion, viii, said  “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” (in Latin: Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere). Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397) also spoke of the fortunate ruin of Adam in the Garden of Eden in that his sin brought more good to humanity (i.e. the grace of God in Christ, and the new creation) than if he had stayed perfectly innocent. This was picked up in the Middle Ages by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who in his Summa Theologica, III, 3, ad 3, said “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom”, which underlines the causal relation between original sin and the Christ our Redeemer’s Incarnation.

Furthermore, we see in the Bible itself that in a number of places, though not a “fall”, God employed evil (which He himself did not cause, but were caused by men) for the greater good, such as, to give but two examples, with Joseph in Genesis, and most staggeringly of all, the pernicious murder of Christ on the cross, which was for the redemption of the world.

Gottschalk of Orbais (c. 804-869): An important link between Augustine and Calvin

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Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) was in the Augustinian tradition, but his Augustinianism was somewhat attenuated. He taught that through the sin of the first man all men became sinners and as such all are subject to condemnation. This sounds rather Augustinian, but Gregory did not carry these ideas through consistently. He regarded sin as a weakness or disease rather than as guilt, and taught that man had not lost the freedom but only the goodness of the will. At the same time he stressed the fact that without grace there can be no salvation nor any human merits. The work of redemption is begun by the grace of God. Prevenient grace causes man to will the good, and subsequent grace enables him to do it. The change in man is begun in baptism, which works faith and cancels the guilt of past sins. The will is renewed and the heart is filled with the love of God, and thus man is enabled to merit something with God.

Gregory thus retained the Augustinian doctrine of predestination only in a modified form. While he speaks of the irresistibility of grace, and of predestination as the secret counsel of God respecting the certain and definite number of the elect, this is after all only a predestination based on foreknowledge. God appoints a certain definite number unto salvation, since He knows that they will accept the Gospel. But no one can be certain of his own election or of that of anyone else.

Augustine (354-430) had occasionally spoken of a double predestination, and Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) still wrote of it as being twofold. But many of the Augustinians in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries lost sight of this double character of predestination, and interpreted it as Gregory had done. Then came Gottschalk of Orbais (c. 804-869), who found rest for his soul only in the Augustinian doctrine of election (as we Reformed Protestants still do today), and contended earnestly for a double predestination, that is, a predestination of the lost as well as of the saved. He was careful, however, to limit the divine efficiency to the redemptive line and the production of holiness, and to regard sin merely as the object of a permissive decree which nevertheless rendered it on foreknowledge, since this makes the divine decree dependent on the acts of man. Prescience merely accompanies predestination and attests to the justice thereof.

Gottschalk met a great deal of unwarranted opposition. His opponents did not understand him and lodged against him the familiar accusation that his teachings made God the author of sin. At the Synod of Mainz in 849, he was condemned as a heretic and disturber of the public peace, deposed, beaten, obliged to burn his confession of faith (posted below) and detained in a monastery at Hautvillers. A debate ensued, in which several influential theologians, such as Prudentius of Troyes, Ratramnus of Corbie, Remigius, and others, defended the doctrine of double predestination as Augustinian, while especially Rabanus and Hincmar of Rheims opposed it. The Church itself was split: The Council of Quiercy (853) stood behind the views of the opponents, the Council of Valence (855) stood behind the views of the defenders. The statement at the Council of Valence reads as follows:

“We confess a predestination of the elect to life, and a predestination of the wicked to death; but that, in the election of those who are saved, the mercy of God precedes good merit, and in the condemnation of those who will perish, evil merit precedes the righteous judgment of God. But that in predestination God has determined only those things which He Himself would do, either from gratuitous mercy or in righteous judgment… But that in the wicked He foreknew the wickedness because it comes from them; and does not predestinate it, because it does not come from Him.”

Below is Gottschalk’s confession which he presented in his defence at the Synod of Mainz in 849. I have put the sources he quoted in bold to show clearly where he was drawing from Augustine and other early church leaders (which the Reformers also did):

“I believe and confess that God, omnipotently and unchangeably, has graciously foreknown and predestined holy angels and elect men to eternal life, but that He like manner (pariter) has, by his most just judgment, predestined head of all the demons, with all his apostate angels and also with reprobate men, who are his members, on account of their foreknown particular future evil deeds, to merited eternal death: this the Lord Himself affirms in His Gospel: ‘The prince of this world is already judged’ (John 14:11).

Augustine, beautifully explaining these words to the people (Augustine on John, tract. 95), has spoken as follows: ‘That is, he has been irrevocably destined to the judgment of eternal fire.’ Likewise concerning the reprobate, the same is true: ‘Who then believeth not is already judged’ (John 3:18), that is (as the aforesaid author explains), (tract. xii), already is damned: ‘Not that judgment now is manifest, but that judgment is already wrought.’ Likewise explaining these words of John the Baptist: ‘man has received’ (John 3:32), he speaks in this wise (tract. xiv): ‘is a certain people prepared to wrath by God, damned with the Devil.’ ‘Those dead scorners, predestinated to eternal death.’ Again (tract. xlviii): Why did the Lord say to the Jews: (John 10:26), ‘Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep’ (John 10:26), unless he saw that they were predestinated to everlasting destruction and not to life eternal by the price of his own blood. Also, explaining these words of the Lord (ibid): ‘My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand: My Father who gave them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand’ (John 10:27-29), and he says this: ‘What can the wolf do? What can the thief and robber do? They destroy none, except those predestined to destruction.’ Speaking in like manner concerning the two worlds (tract. lxxxvii) he says: ‘The whole world is the church, and the whole world hates the church; the world, therefore, hates the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the damned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.’ Likewise (tract. cx) he says: ‘There is a world concerning which the Apostle says: ‘that we should not be condemned with this world’ (1 Cor 11:32). For that world that the Lord does not pray, for he certainly cannot ignore that for which it is predestinated. Likewise (tract cvii): ‘Judas the betrayer of Christ is called the son of perdition as the one predestinated to be the betrayer.’ Likewise in Enchiridion (cap. 100): ‘To their damnation whom he has justly predestinated to punishment.’ Likewise in the book On Manichaeus’ Perfection in Righteousness he says (cap. 13): ‘This good, which is required, there is not anyone who does it, not even one; but this refers to that class of men who have been predestinated to destruction: indeed, upon those the foreknowledge of God looks down and pronounces sentence.’ Likewise in the books de Civitate Dei (lib. xxii, c. 24): ‘Which is given to those who have been predestinated to death.’ Likewise blessed Gregory the Pope (Moral. lib. xxxiv, c.2): ‘Leviathan with all his members has been cut off for eternal torment.’ Likewise holy Fulgentius in the third book Concerning the Truth of Predestination and Grace (lib. iii, c. 5) says: ‘God has prepared punishment for those sinners (at least) who have been justly predestinated to the suffering of punishment.’ And blessed Fulgentius has composed one whole book for his friend Monimus concerning this tantamount question, that is: Concerning the Predestination of the Reprobate to Destruction, (lib. i).

Whence also holy Isidore says (Sentent. 2. cap. 6): ‘Predestination is double (gemina) whether of election to peace, or of reprobation to death.’ The same thing, therefore, (with others) I believe and confess, though whatever may happen, with those who are the elect of God and true Catholics, according as I am helped by divine inspiration, encouragement and provision. Amen.

False, indeed, is the witness, who in speaking of any aspect of those things, corrupts them either superficially or with respect to their essential sense.”

– Gottschalk of Orbais (c. 804-869), Confessio Brevior (Shorter Confession)

We see therefore that Gottschalk is an important Medieval witness of the fact that double predestination was not an invention of John Calvin in the 16th century. Indeed, Gottschalk turned to Augustine’s strong anti-Pelagian and ant-Semi-Pelagian views, which was a foreshadowing of the Neo-Augustinian renaissance which began before the Reformation and included a number of outstanding late Medieval theologians including Gregory of Rimini, from whom some of the Protestants also drew their doctrine of predestination.

Peter Lombard (1096-1164) and Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) on the continuity between circumcision and baptism

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Peter Lombard (1096-1164) was a medieval scholastic theologian, one of the most prominent figures of the Middle Ages, and famous for his Four Books of Sentences (Libri Quatuor Sententiarum), which became the standard textbook of theology at the medieval universities. From the 1220s until the 16th century, no work of Christian literature, except for the Bible itself, was commented upon more frequently. All the major medieval thinkers, from Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas to William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel, were influenced by it. Even the young Martin Luther still wrote glosses on the Sentences, and John Calvin quoted from it over 100 times in his Institutes. Every theologian read it, and many wrote commentaries on it. So we can see that it is a very significant text in the history of theology. Here Lombard writes on the continuity between circumcision and baptism. Before reading this however, this topic has also been discussed in two previous posts, which can be accessed here:

Jake Griesel on the biblical rationale behind infant baptism:

https://deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/jake-griesel-on-the-biblical-rationale-behind-infant-baptism/

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) on infant baptism and circumcision:

https://deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/zacharias-ursinus-1534-1583-on-infant-baptism-and-circumcision/

But back to Peter Lombard. This comes from his Sentences, Book IV, chapters 7-8:

Chapter VII: ON CIRCUMCISION

Nevertheless there was among them a certain sacrament, namely, circumcision, conferring the same remedy against sin which baptism now does.

Thus Augustine says: ‘From the time that circumcision was instituted among the people of God it was ‘a seal of the righteousness of faith’ and availed for old and young for the purging of original and former sin; just as baptism began to avail for the restoration of man from the time it was instituted.

Again Bede says: ‘Circumcision in the law effected the same means of healthful cure against the wound of original sin which baptism customarily effects in the time of revealed grace, with the exception that they were not able yet to enter the doorway of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, after death, consoled in the bosom of Abraham in blessed rest, they waited with the joyful hope for the beginning of celestial peace.’

In these words it is clearly conveyed that through circumcision, from the time of its institution, the remission of original and actual sin for young and old was offered by God, just as now it is given in baptism.

CHAPTER VIII: WHAT REMEDY THOSE WHO WERE BEFORE CIRCUMCISION HAD

… From this Gregory concludes: ‘What the water of baptism has the power to do among us was done among the ancients in various ways: for children by faith alone, for adults by the virtue of sacrifice, and for those who sprang from the descendants of Abraham by the mystery of circumcision.’

To be sure, there is much in the passage cited that Reformed Christians would reject (ex opere operato sacramental efficacy, the nature of sin and grace, limbus patrum, etc.) and yet clearly this passage shows that neither Calvin nor Zwingli had invented the idea that there is significant continuity between the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision and the New Testament sacrament of Baptism. Lombard’s Sentences had already recognized such continuity much earlier in the history of Christian dogma (as had Augustine, Bede the Venerable, and Gregory the Great).

The Reformed view that there is, indeed, significant continuity between circumcision and Baptism was not a theological novum when it was articulated by Calvin and the Reformed Scholastics. Rather, it reveals how deeply they were drinking from the wells of historic Christian theology, ancient and medieval.

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Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) shows the same continuity. These are from Summa Theologica, Part 3, Question 62, Article 6 and Question 66, Article 2 respectively:

“Further, Bede says in a homily on the Circumcision: ‘Under the Law circumcision provided the same health-giving balm against the wound of original sin, as baptism in the time of revealed grace.’ But Baptism confers grace now. Therefore circumcision conferred grace; and in like manner, the other sacraments of the Law; for just as Baptism is the door of the sacraments of the New Law, so was circumcision the door of the sacraments of the Old Law: hence the Apostle says (Galatians 5:3): ‘I testify to every man circumcising himself, that he is a debtor to the whole law.’”

Note that Thomas here cites the same passage in Bede that Peter Lombard cites in his Sentences.

“Further, Baptism  is a necessary sacrament, as stated above: wherefore, seemingly, it must have been binding on man as soon as it was instituted. But before Christ’s Passion men were not bound to be baptized: for Circumcision was still in force, which was supplanted by Baptism. Therefore it seems that Baptism was not instituted before Christ’s Passion.”

Happiness as the end of man: Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and the Beatific vision

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1. Why Are We Here?

This life often does not make sense to us. It can seem like a wildly fun ride one moment, and a terrifying roller coaster the next. Undeserving people often seem to have it easy, while “the really good ones” can get thrown to the ground over and over again.

So what gives? I think that a lot of our issues derive from misguided expectations. We (rightly) desire happiness, and it seems like life is kind of pointless if we can’t get it. It’s easy enough for a Christian to say, “Oh but we have heaven to look forward to!”, but in the face of real suffering, especially when it seems pointless, that can ring rather hollow. As has often been pointed out, suffering can prepare us for something better.

But what is this “something better”?

For the answer to this question, we can learn from Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), whose answer was (ultimate) happiness.

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2. Thomas Aquinas: “Treatise on Happiness”

Thomas’ magnum opus, Summa Theologica, has three major sections: (1) God and his Creatures, (2) Man’s Happiness in General and Particular Virtues & Vices, and (3) Jesus Christ (who can account for 1 and 2). Sections I-II, q. 1-5 are known collectively as The Treatise on Happiness. Here Thomas deals with the subject of what mankind is “here for.” After this, Thomas considers things in which man’s happiness consists. This will be briefly summarized below.

2.1. Acting Toward “Ends”

“Now the end is the principle in human operations, as the Philosopher states. Therefore it belongs to man to do everything for an end.”  Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

 

All people are moved by their will toward some goal. If this were not true, then we would not do one thing rather than another. We could not make choices if we had no means of doing so, nor any standard by which to know which choices to make.

Our wills have an “appetite” for goodness. Whenever we choose to do something, we are always doing so for some good that our mind apprehends. Even if what we do is a bad thing, we still do it for some good that we wish to obtain (e.g. stealing to obtain money). That’s just how the will is, I don’t think any elaboration is necessary here.

“According as their end is worthy of blame or praise so are our deeds worthy of blame or praise.” – Augustine (354–430), De Mor. Eccl. et Manich. ii, 13

 

Our acts are considered human acts (not just acts of humans – like sleeping or breathing), when they proceed from a deliberate will. The principle of human acts is the end. This is to say that human acts are judged according to their goals. For example, if I drown trying to save a drowning child it is not considered suicide and punished, but rather heroic and rewarded. Thus, whenever we do something we:

  1. have a reason for doing so
  2. that reason is for some good (N.B. – not necessarily a moral good)
  3. our acts are judged based on the reason for doing them (their end)

2.2. An Ultimate “End”

If we try to trace out the good our wills seek, we must realize that it is not possible to proceed indefinitely in the matter of ends. If there were no last end (intent), nothing would be desired, nor would any action have its goal, nor would we ever come to see an act as truly finished.

This is exemplified well when toddlers keep asking why something is the case. At some point you just have to say “because.” It cannot go on ad infinitum, or there would be no reason at all.

Further, this ultimate end must be one. The will cannot be directed to many things at the same time if all of them are ultimate. Chaos would ensue, decisions could not be made. It would be intolerable, for our will’s appetite would never really be satisfied. It may seem like this is the case anyway, but keep reading – this is actually part of the evidence for Thomas’ ultimate conclusion.

Finally, the ultimate good presupposes intermediate goods. Our wills can tend toward these as well, for we desire all under the aspect of good even if it is not the perfect good, and therefore it follows that one need not always be thinking of the last end.

2.3. Identifying the Ultimate End

“All men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness.” – Augustine (354–430), De Trin. xiii, 3

 

It might not seem like everyone could agree on an ultimate end. Different people have different desires. However, they all desire those different things for the same reason – the thing in which the last end is realized. In other words – everyone wants what they want because it is good, and possessing good things makes us happy.

Thomas notes that Aristotle (384–322 BC) says, “man’s ultimate happiness consists in his most perfect contemplation.” (Ethic. x) But above this happiness there is still another, which we look forward to in the future. This is perfect happiness, what Thomas calls Beatitude, or the Beatific vision. It is the ultimate perfection of our intellect and will – full knowledge and full goodness, leaving behind no remainder for these appetites to “hunger” for. All other things that people might consider as their ultimate end turn out to be means they use to attempt to attain this true end. Let us then look at these “other things” and finally at the Beatific vision.

External Goods

For example – what about external goods?

  • Wealth? No. Our ultimate happiness cannot consist in material wealth because money is only sought for the sake of acquiring something else,
  • Honour? No. Honour is given to a person because of some excellence that is in the person honoured. Being excellent certainly makes one happy, but if such an excellence is already possessed, honour does not add to it.
  • Fame? No. Man’s happiness cannot consist in human fame or glory because in order to attain it, others must know of that which would give one fame. Because knowledge often fails, human glory is frequently deceptive.  As Boethius (c. 480–524) puts it, “Many owe their renown to the lying reports spread among the people. Can anything be more shameful?” (De Consol, iii).
  • Power? No. It is impossible for ultimate happiness to consist in power because power can be used for both good and evil, and evil, by definition, cannot be the ultimate good.

Happiness is man’s supreme good, it is incompatible with any evil, but all the above (and others alleged ultimate goods) can be found both in good and in evil people. Further, ultimate happiness cannot lack any needful good, but after acquiring any one of the foregoing, one may still lack many goods that are necessary to him. Furthermore, one could lose wealth, honour, fame and power – which causes fear of loss. Thus none can bring ultimate happiness.

Bodily Goods

Perhaps once external goods are eliminated as being truly ultimate, personal goods such as the body itself may be considered. After all, the external goods are mostly means to attaining goods for the body, right?

No, Thomas says this will not do either!

It is impossible for man’s happiness to consist in the goods of the body, because while humans surpasses all other animals in regard to happiness, in bodily goods we are surpassed by many animals. This is not usually considered a problem, for things differ in what is good for them depending on what they are. It would not be considered a good, for example, for a human to wallow in the mud, but it is a good for a pig.

Now, humans are composed of soul and body (some would argue for a trichotomy of body, soul and spirit, which is another discussion altogether, but this dichotomy of soul and body will suffice ad hoc). While the body depends on the soul, the soul does not depend on the body. Thus, the soul has a primacy for us that it does not for animals, which cease to exist upon death. Because bodily delights require a body, and the body is not the highest principle of a human person, no goods for the body can be the human being’s ultimate good.

The Good of the Soul

It might seem like we have now reached the end of our quest for the ultimate end. If not in our own soul, then where? Thomas does not think so, though, because the soul is made for other things. We attain happiness through our souls, but not because of them (otherwise simply being a human would be perfect happiness, as being human requires having a soul). Thus Thomas concludes that, ”happiness is something belonging to the soul; but that which constitutes happiness is something outside the soul.”

Uncreated Goodness

If nothing external, nor internal, to us can be the ultimate good that will make us ultimately happy, then what is left? Those two categories cover all of creation! It must not, then, be something that is created.

Here is Thomas’ step-by-step explanation:

  1. Happiness is the perfect good, which would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired.
  2. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true.
  3. Hence it is evident that naught can satisfy man’s will, save the universal good.
  4. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. God is goodness per se.
  5. Therefore, God alone can satisfy the will of man.

3. The Ultimate End: Happiness in God

God alone constitutes man’s happiness. God is the ultimate end of man and, indeed, of all other things. Eternal life is said to be the last end, as is clear from John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God.”

Because humans have the two appetites of the intellect and will – truth and goodness – God, who alone is infinite truth and goodness, alone can perfectly satisfy man’s intellect and will. Therefore, if we are to attain our last end and ultimate happiness, we must know and love God, thereby satisfying both the intellect and the will.

But love is the desiring of good as well as unity with the good sought. Man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek, and while on earth we can only attain the finite goods offered to us by creation (one reason why idolatry is so tempting – cf. Romans 1:18-23). But “When He shall appear, we shall be like to Him; and we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence – which we will get in heaven. And this is the Beatific vision.

Thus can Thomas conclude:

“Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man’s happiness consists.” – Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

Augustine (354–430) stated it so memorably in his Confessions, I.i:

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

And lest we forget, the answer was in the Bible all the time:

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4

John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384) on the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

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I have placed John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384) under the category of Medieval Theologians, despite him often being called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”, simply because Wycliffe both lived during the Middle Ages and his theology mostly still reflected the tenets of Medieval theology. He lived two centuries prior to the Reformation proper (of the 16th century). Below, he explains the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. I could have put in some effort to change the 14th century English to modern English, but thought it may be interesting for the readers to see for themselves how the English language has changed since then, and thus left it unaltered:

“The first parable stondith in a question of Crist [Christ]; he axith [asked] which man of hem [them] hadde an hundrid shepe to kepe, and he were nedid [needed] to save hem [them] ech on, and he hadde lost oon [one] of hem [them]; ne wolde he not leeve fourescore and nyntene in a sikir deserte and go and seke pis lost sheep til pat he fond it ; and when he haddefounden it, wolde leien it on his shuldris wip joie and whanne he comep hoom, he clepep [called] togidre his frendis and neigboris, and seith to hem, Be ye gladde and panke me, for Y [I] have founde my sheep that was perishid. Certis [Certain] Y [I] seie to you that there shal be joie in hevene upon oon [one] synful man pat doith penaunce, he tho more than upon foure score and nyntene rigt-wise that have no nede of penaunce. This man is Jesus Crist that was of the Jewis, and he was herty [hearty] and wyse and hadde in his kepynge the aungelis confirmed in hevene, and with hem [them] mankynde. Nynty and nyne bitokeneth thes aungelis, for thes nyne ordres that ben knytted in Crist; and this oo [one] sheep is mankynde, that acordith more to-gider than these nyne ordres of aungels. This oo [one] sheep that was lost perishide by synne of Adam, as the psalme seith. Hevene is clepid [called] disert by many enchesouns, for it is selde visited of men, that slowly comen thidir, and it is not tilid as is erthe here with us, and it is florishid with goostly trees that evermore ben grene, for grenesse in virtues may nevere faile in hevene. And this is a sykyr place; for fendis tempten men not there. Crist lefte this aungel kynde dwellyng in hevene; for Crist toke not angels kynde but toke here mannis kynde, and bi his greet virtue he suffride peyne as other men thre and thitty [thirty] yeer [year], and brougt mankynde to hevene, and bade the aungelis his frendis, and man next him in manhede, rejoyeshe hem [them] with him, for he hadde saved mankynde that was perishide. And bi this aungels in hevene, mankynde, and feendis, shulde be gladde bi resoun [reason]; for the more that ben dampned the more is fendis peyne, and thus is more joie in hevene of this oo [one] sheep, than of nyne ordris of aungels that neden noo penaunce, for the synneden nevere.

This o [one] sheep that is mankynde synede for the more parte, and was quykid [quickened] bi Crist, that was oon [one] with his bretheren; and he, algif he mygte not synnen, suffride peyne for his sheep. And more joie is in hevene of him and his membris than of nyne ordris of angelis, for thei ben beter and lyveden more medefully as trewe knygts of God.

The seconde parable of Crist stondith in this, that a wyse womman that hadde ten dragmes, if she hadde lost oon [one], she wolde Iigtne her lanterne, turne up hir house to seke this lost dragme, and whan she hadde founden it, she wolde make joie as it was seid bifore of him that lost th sheep.

This womman is Jesus Crist, wysdom of the fadir [Father]; these ten dragmes ben his resonable creaturis, for thei ben maid alle to ymage and licnesse of the Trinite. The tenthe dragme that was lost is mankynde, the lanterne that was ligtid [lit] is the manhede [manhood] of Crist, the turning up of this house is changinge of statis that ben maid in this world by manhede of Crist. For the angel wolde not suffren [suffer] Joon [John] to knele and worshipe him, for his lord was Joones [John’s] brothir, and the aungelis weren hise servauntis; and so many thingis of this world weren turnid [turned] up so down, sith evry parte of this worlde was beterid [bettered] bi Cristis [Christ’s] manhede.

We may touche in this gospel what spedith men and what thing lettith [prevents] men for to be saved, for men mote [must] nede do penaunce in berynge of this sheep, and have ligt of this lanterne for to fynde this lost dragme.”

– John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384), Select English Works, 1:8-9