To counter Andrew, I would say that even if 16th-century Thomas-experts like Cardinal Cajetan (who said the devout are those who doubt whether they are in a state of grace) got the Angelic Doctor wrong (perhaps under the influence of men like William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel?), we still have issues. The way I understand most all Roman Catholic apologist’s current take on this issue (though interestingly, I cannot find it in the new Catechism), we can only conclude we are in a state of grace in part because of a positive evaluation of our own moral character and conduct – and this relates to what some Catholic theologians have only very recently (as best I can tell) begun to describe as a “moral certainty”. After all, when it comes to looking at evidences within to determine whether or not one is in a state of grace , St. Thomas said that one could consider, for example, one’s conscious experiences of “delight in the things of God” (strictly speaking, this would be “conjectural knowledge” and hence “imperfect” knowledge, i.e. guesswork based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence).
What would these “things of God” include? To be sure, it would include what Andrew notes, namely one’s experience of “enjoy[ing] God as an end in himself”. In addition, I think Andrew’s colleague at the Called to Communion blog, Bryan Cross, can help us here, as he expounds on St. Augustine:
“The New Testament is the ‘ministry of righteousness’ because through the Spirit we work righteousness, and thereby are delivered from the condemnation due to transgression. Our deliverance is not that Christ fulfills the law in our place and then imputes His obedience to us, but that by His work He merited for us the grace of the Spirit whereby we are empowered through agape to work righteousness and so no longer fear the condemnation of the law.”
This may not sound bad at first (sometimes I do sense God’s grace in me, making me love Him and neighbor) – but what about what Catholics have called the “dark night of the soul”? What about those times when we sense that, in reality, we are truly sinners who don’t work righteousness through agape – whose perseverance in good works seems to fail miserably? When all our good actions seem tainted by motivations not from God? Perhaps due to the failures we sense, we question not the Object of our faith or hope – but rather the genuineness of these things in our own lives. Maybe we thought we had been in a state of grace but now wonder if we’ve lost it (as the Scriptures say can occur) – or ever really had it to begin with! Perhaps our faith is not actually alive – “formed in charity”, as Roman Catholics would put it – but dead?* Perhaps we have only been fooling ourselves that we are enjoying God as an end in Himself?**
Perhaps Andrew might offer such a person hope here. After all, as he clearly says, God, not the state of one’s own soul, is “the direct object of the assurance of hope” (in his original post ; but also note ***)
An excellent answer – but we still must ask whether one can know this to be true in one’s own case – and if we can know the way it is true as well. Should we simply avoid reflecting on any troublesome internal matters like those described above – considering ourselves overly scrupulous – and hence suppress such unwelcome thoughts? Or, as regards being confident of one’s state of grace, perhaps someone with a view akin to Andrew’s might distinguish between one’s delight in receiving the gracious, salvation-giving promises of God on the one hand, and one’s delight in performing the commands of God to love Him and neighbor on the other hand? Or, given that Andrew, like Luther, certainly wants to focus us outside of ourselves in the act of absolution, perhaps he might suggest putting it like this: are we looking to God for the grace sufficient to give real eternal life/salvation in the present (this would mean that the Roman Catholic, in the midst of the dark night of the soul, could receive real peace with God though “faith/hope alone”) – or are we looking for the grace that we can only activate and preserve via our present and future love of God and neighbor? – in other words, eternal life/salvation wrought only through the loving cooperation of our wills? (a key?: does grace transform because it forgives sins via words that are Spirit and Life? Or does grace forgive sins because it transforms via an infusion that does not come via hearing only? See here)
The issue here is that even if Andrew would rightly say the first is the way to go (this would mean that due to our own honest evaluation of our sinful state, the issue of “moral certainty” here would really be about an evaluation of the character of God’s faithfulness in the relationship and not our own), Thomas never seems to consider any thoughts similar to these – and evidently felt no need to do so ***. Even Pfurtner, the author of Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, also never takes this route – as he, unlike Andrew, never focuses on absolution as being God’s final judgment of us rendered now, nor uses words like “know” when it comes to one’s “state of grace” (on the contrary, see pages 101, 102, 110, 132, 133, and 157 ; also, again note part V here from Aquinas****).
Recently, I said this to Andrew:
“It seems rather clear to me that in Rome the emphasis is almost always on [the work that remains to be done] and not where you think it should be. Of course you are right. From where I sit, that’s why your article stands out like a bright shining light in a sea of darkness.”
I repeat, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that I have produced which I think clearly demonstrate that Rome teaches differently (see here, here to start and read the whole conversation for more detail), Andrew insists that Roman Catholic teaching must be what he says it is – that knowledge that one is in a state of grace is both desirable and possible.
Again, unlike Andrew, I’m quite sure that right now this is not the Roman teaching, of course – but I am also confident that God desires Rome to go this way (strengthening what good remains), and I see persons like Andrew as reasons for having hope.
May those who cannot imagine how their church could mitigate Romans 5:1 (peace with God is attainable) and I John 5 (knowledge of our eternal life is attainable) continue to grow in their conviction of God’s desire to give His children – even His failing children – peace! May this man and others like him determine and bend the doctrine to their will – for it is God’s will! Whether this comes about in Rome as a whole as a conscious realization of those within it (accompanied by the necessary repentance for false past teaching) – or more unconsciously – may this come indeed!
Some may consider Andrew naïve, and express concern that he is putting his soul in quite a bit of danger by remaining in a church that actually is at odds with him. On the other hand, I don’t want to downplay the true power of the actual word of forgiveness that creates and preserves forgiveness, life and salvation! As Luther says, this word becomes the all-encompassing word that dares to die a thousand deaths!*****
If Andrew really can cling to the promise of absolution that Christ offers penitent sinners and be utterly confident in his salvation – and also forcefully articulate a case for why he believes all Roman Catholics should do the same – it gives me that much more hope than not that one day our Churches might see eye to eye. For I suspect that when a church freely gives to broken sinners the forgiveness, life, and salvation found in Christ – that is, true peace with God and knowledge of eternal life in His Son – then all the other errant teachings that they might have must be overshadowed with this bright light – as they eventually fade into the background and lose their power to keep sinners from the light which saves (that said, the spirit of antichrist is clearly not without influence, and he will do all that he can to destroy that which gives life – eternal life – to the world… perhaps even trying to use such openness to the Gospel in Rome to his ultimate advantage)
The transformation of the world seen first in Christ’s resurrection is grounded in the individual sinner’s imputation. Truly, there is nothing more powerful in this world than the simple Gospel of God’s forgiveness of penitent sinners in the simple and humble forms of God’s Word…. through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.
Note: This message cannot be stopped.
*-I note that in Roman Catholic theology, being a true believer and being one who has “justifying faith” are not necessarily synonymous (see Pfurtner, 132, 133). Also, Pfurtner says “As long as we remain on this earth, we are never certain of possessing faith and hope in the way that God calls us to possess them…” (p. 135) – of course this is precisely why Luther spoke of the doctrine of justification as he did (see here again) – to take our focus off of ourselves, and put it on Christ. We do not look to our faith or have faith in it, but to Christ!
**-note that for Thomas, is it imperfect love, or love that intends to obtain possession of something for one’s self, that pertains to hope. Perfect love pertains to charity, which adheres to God for His own sake (see II.II 17, 8)
*** Thomas does not, as Andrew claims, say we can enjoy the “certainty of eternal life”, but essentially that we can enjoy the certainty of the hope of eternal life. See part V here from Aquinas – where he uses Psalm 18:13 (“Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare Thy servant.”) and Ecclesiastes 9:1 (“Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred”) to lead persons into doubt over whether one really has God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation. On the other hand, note that Luther, in focusing on receiving God’s promise of forgiveness, does not even put our focus on our delight or confidence we feel as a result of the absolving word, but rather the actual absolving word itself (which certainly creates delight and confidence – see here for more). And yet, Luther, like Thomas, realized that self-evaluation – and hence introspection – on the basis of God’s law (commands about what we are to do) was a critical part of the Christian life. And for consciences very sensitive to God’s law (and commands given in the church), he insisted that questions similar to the following would arise in many: “How do I know for sure that sins I might convince myself are venial are not really things that I have actually done with ‘full knowledge and consent’”? “Aren’t small sins big sins when they are considered small?” “If I am told that ‘confession of forgotten and unknown sins is beyond human ability’, but that I should confess all sins as lie within my human abilities, how do I know whether I have not forgotten some sins because of more sin and not innocent forgetfulness?” Also key to penance of course: not coming to communion if you’ve committed a mortal sin, fully trusting that the particular works of penance prescribed to you will do the job (in spite of the fact that they are not found in God’s Word!), fully trusting that one was in the right state of mind when doing what was required in the sacrament: i.e. that an accurate description of the circumstances of all mortal sins was given so that the pastor’s evaluation would be accurate…, and finally, trusting that the penitence performed was done in sufficiently pure love for God…
**** – Saying that we can have a “moral certainty” that we are in a state of grace is not something that Thomas ever said. In fact, on the basis of article V regarding “the cause of grace”, I would argue it is quite clear that he would have rejected such language (something Roman Catholics previous to our time would concur with). I would put it this way: for Thomas, although we can’t have knowledge, or certainty, that we are in a state of grace – by divine revelation *or otherwise* – we can have knowledge, or certainty, about the hope we have of eternal life. This is the contrast that he wishes to bring to our attention. Thomas specifically says one may *know conjecturally* – that is that is by one’s personal experience and guesswork regarding it – that he has grace, but that this *knowledge* is imperfect (i.e. it is not really knowledge, but “opinion”) – and it seems clear from the verses he quotes in this section that he wishes to discourage one from coming to a positive conclusion (see above note for more). As best I can tell, Roman Catholics theologians seem to have unanimously realized this up until more recent, “ecumenical” times. I wonder when it was first claimed that Luther had misunderstood Thomas…
***** – please note that I don’t think Andrew’s teachings would be good for those not already in the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, a lack of pure doctrine is still a big problem here, and I would be concerned to have him teach my own children, for example (so much of what Rome teaches takes us away from the Biblical emphases, and binds consciences where it ought not ; in addition, I suspect that certain persons with highly sensitive consciences about the sins they know remain will not be helped by Andrews message – Luther’s full theology [with the doctrine of original sin] is still key). Further, I think the ideal is for churches to have clarity about – and be honest about – the things they believe, teach, and confess (i.e. “pattern of sound words”)