Semper Reformanda Pt.3

In March, I introduced a correspondence written to a dear friend of mine in which I labor to lovingly but biblically explain why my conscience prohibited me from attending his ordination to the Catholic priesthood. In light of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I hope to serve you all by way of a comparative analysis between the Biblical and Roman Catholic doctrines of man and justification. For the first two installments, see:


          The horrid inheritance of Adam’s fall does not end with merely a corrupt and dead spiritual condition.  All men inherit from Adam not only a depraved nature but also the guilt of Adam’s first transgression as if they themselves had personally perpetrated the crime!  Paul established the connection arguing, “as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).  Verses 15 and 17 of the same chapter, however establish the connection between universal death and Adam’s original sin, “many died through one man's trespass” (Rom 5:15). “We are compelled to infer,” argued John Murray, “that when Paul says ‘all sinned’ (v.12) and when he speaks of the one trespass of the one man he must be referring to the same fact or event, that the one event or fact can be expressed in terms of both singularity and universality.”[1]  Therefore, Adam’s first sin and the sin of all men are one and the same sin in which all men stand guilty. 

            It is because all men bear the personal guilt of Adam’s first sin that the Lord’s justice is vindicated in the transmission of the sinful nature from sire to son; for how could it be right or just for God to curse an innocent soul with corruption, sin, death, and condemnation unless he or she were truly guilty of sin?  Your own Catholic Catechism articulates aspects of the doctrine of original sin well, saying, “Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination toward evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the ‘death of the soul’”(CCC.403). 

            Despite the numerous aforementioned Biblical references showing forth the radical corruption and total depravity of human nature after the fall, your Catechism errantly asserts,   

“Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405). [Emphasis mine]

            Rome rejects the notion of the imputation of the guilt of Adam’s first sin to his progeny and reduces the corruption of the fall to a mere inclination to sin, called concupiscence, not all-encompassing bondage to sin and spiritual death described in the Word of God.  If man is only inclined towards sin his will is left untethered and at least partially free, naturally able to prepare for and cooperate with the saving grace of God.  This view of free will and human nature is the great fracture in the foundation of the Roman Catholic view of man that leaves the whole theological structure condemned and powerless to save. 

            My friend, is this partial corruption the actual portrait of human nature that the Bible paints?  Certainly not!  Man after the fall is has lost any and all ability to turn to God in faith and love.  The prophet reasoned, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer 13:23).  Again, Paul explained natural man’s total inability to turn to God, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).  Not only is our spiritual ability bound shackled by our sin nature, but also our affections are warped and perverted so that the natural man is unable to love God and is in fact at enmity with him (Rom 5:10, 1 John 4:19).  Paul explained, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:7-8).  In the same way, the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6). Don’t you see, X?  As a misdiagnosed cancer treatment leads to death so too a misdiagnosis of the terminal spiritual illness of fallen man will lead to the wrong treatment and death!  Someone who isn’t totally depraved doesn’t need to be totally redeemed.   

            And yet, in the face of these Scriptures and the God who inspired them, the Council of Trent ruled that man, in his fallen state, actively cooperates with God in justification: “If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema” [emphasis mine].[2]                    

            Furthermore, the Council insisted that man’s free will has not been completely spoiled and lost by Adam’s fall and he, in his fallen condition, is able to choose to cooperate with prevenient grace, “If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema” [emphasis mine].[3]

            Lastly, and most grievously, Trent insisted that fallen man is able to merit the love, favor, and grace of God by his own works and earnest striving, “If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.”[4]  Now, X, does Trent promote a gospel of God’s amazing and saving grace or one that the spirals around man’s own effort and decision to draw near to God “to convert themselves to their own justification.”[5]  Does “salvation belong to the Lord (Ps 3:8)” or to man?    

            If man’s whole nature has been thoroughly marinated in and tainted by sin and he is averse to anything resembling godliness, a wretched slave to sin (John 8:34), how then can he be saved?  What hope does he have?  Jesus explained the answer to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Jn. 3:5-6)”  The cure for man’s depravity and enmity with God is Spirit wrought rebirth and regeneration!  He needs to be given a totally new heart (Ez. 11:19) and to be made a totally new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) despite his own animosity towards God!  Christ must subdue man to himself (WSC 26). We will never be able to grasp the amazingness of God’s grace until we grasp the wretchedness of man’s sin. 

-To Be Continued-



[1] John Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1959), 21.

[2] A. Nampon Rev., Catholic Doctrine as Defined by the Council of Trent: Expounded in a Series of Conferences Delivered in Geneva (Philadelphia: Peter F. Cunningham, Catholic Bookseller, 1869), 301.

[3] Nampon. Catholic Doctrine, 310.

[4] Ibid,.

[5] Ibid, 283.