Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calvinism is still Gnosticism

You know what's interesting? When I first started pointing out that Calvinism is essentially a redux of Gnosticism it was entirely due to my own observations; I had never heard anybody say anything like that previously. I was reading St. Irenaeus of Lyon's Against Heresies at the time and as I went on I realized more and more that what he was describing about the Gnostics matches exactly the beliefs of Calvinists, sometimes even with the same terminology. Since that "discovery," though, I've been surprised by the great amount of people I've come across who have reached the exact same conclusion independently. Even Bishop Julian of Eclanum, one of St. Augustine's chief opponents within his own lifetime, noted that Augustine seemed to be carrying a lot of Gnostic baggage into his Christianity.

Whenever I raise this point to Calvinists, their only defense seems to be to deny Gnostic terminology. "The elect aren't saved by nature as the Gnostics say; the elect are saved by grace." Terminology aside, Calvinists and Gnostics are saying the exact same thing; the Gnostics are just being more honest about it. The elect are born to be saved and so, for all practical purposes, are born saved irregardless of anything they may or may not do (just as the non-elect are born damned irregardless of anything they may or may not do). You don't have to say it's part of your "nature" to be saved, but if salvation is something that you are born into or born to do -- it's part of your nature, simple as that. The Gnostics said it was because of the "divine spark," and the Calvinists say it's because of "grace." Different terminology, same soteriology.

I want to recommend that everyone take a listen to this excellent audio lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald (an expert in early Christian history and a member of my former parish) in which he discusses St. Augustine's unique theology and the overwhelming influence it has had on the West, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. He also briefly touches on the Gnostic influence that led Augustine to some of his erroneous conclusions. The most interesting aspect, for me, is the look that Dr. Macdonald takes at the reaction amongst other Christian Fathers, such as Ss. John Cassian and Vincent of Lerins, to Augustine's theology.

By the way, his whole series of lectures is great. Apparently, he gave them at the parish he attends (and I used to attend and hope to get back to once the Army days are over), St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church in Cedar Park, Texas; I wasn't around when he gave any of them, though, so they're all new (and very exciting) to me.

6 comments:

  1. The lectures are good, though some of the audio quality is fuzzy.

    I recently read Fr Seraphim Rose's book on Blessed Augustine. He does a good job explaining St John Cassian's response to St Augustine.

    Sometimes Calvinists will point out the early church did believe in the gospel of sovereign grace because, "Look at Augustine." Two problems with that:

    1) Augustine is still going to hell by Calvinist standards.
    http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/no-gospel-for-augustine/

    2) In any case, the early Church quickly rejected his soteriology, even if acknowledging the points against Pelagius.

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  2. their only defense seems to be to deny Gnostic terminology

    Wow, that's a big lie. Really big. I'm disappointed in you.

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  3. David, I am curious does anyone actually know Augustine's actual beliefs at the END of this life. It seems like his earlier works and later works contradict each other, as he defiantly abandoned some Neo-Platonism beliefs in favor of scripture. I like Augustine and realize his "influence" and his bad theology in the west. But I want to know his actual beliefs, instead of what became "Augustinanism".

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  4. Legion,

    I'm going to get that book eventually! I'm still working on Fr. Bingham's book on Epiphanius that you recommended (as well as his "Early Christian Attitudes toward Images") -- gave them each a read through, now I'm taking it a little slower and reading the context of the statements he addresses as I go along.


    Rhology:

    Actually, I was talking about you. That's exactly what you did in your posts when it came to actually addressing Calvinism/Gnosticism connection -- you denied the terminology and never addressed the theology.


    Jeremy: Sadly, it was near the end of his life that most of his errors popped up. Earlier in his Christian career, he was very Orthodox. He seems to have moved away from some of what he learned from his catechist (St. Ambrose of Milan) as time went on. I think that much of this had to do with the influence of heretical sects in North Africa at the time -- much the same as Origen did when trying to refute the Gnostics, he may have picked up some of the very heretical ideas he was trying to refute. A further obvious problem was his flawed Latin translation of the Scriptures -- perhaps most notoriously his version's horrible mistranslation of Romans 5:12.

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  5. Smith is an interesting read, but be forewarned: he is a postmodernist in the real sense of the word. He can't escape the charge of epistemological relativism.

    I've another thought on the discussion between Rho and myself:

    Let's say it is a "tie:" Church fathers versus Rho's interpretatin of SCripture.

    It's philosophically allowable to believe something to be true without knowing why you know it is true. I can believe the ECF is correct, even if I don't know what makes a council an ecumenical council. Likewise, Rho can believe the Scriptures are authoritative without being able to explain how the church functioned without a Canon for 3 centuries and without a Protestant canon for 16 centuries.

    At this point in the argument we introduce the concept of "defeaters." If I can show that one of Rho's beliefs is false with another of his beliefs, or at least casts doubt on that.

    I might do that later.

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  6. LotG,

    And there you go AGAIN. I canNOT believe you aren't getting this. I have reason to blv you are not stupid, so I have every reason to blv you are doing this self-obfuscation deliberately, and it's really pathetic.

    The issue is NOT:
    Church fathers versus Rho's interpretatin of SCripture.

    The issue IS:
    LotG's **interp** of **certain** **early church writers whom he accepts** versus Rho's interpretation of Scripture.

    You need to get this, you need to get it now. It's beyond ridiculous at this point, that 'tis only I who am subject to the problem of individual interpretation of text, and fallibility.

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