Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sungenis Defeats White in the Debate on Predestination

I finished listening to the debate on Predestination between Robert Sungenis and James White. I must say it was a rather subdued debate compared to those of the past. The debate ran about two hours, and both presented their positions quite well, yet as you may have guessed, Robert was able to make a much better case for the Catholic position than James was able to make for his Reformed position.

White spent quite a bit of time misrepresenting the Catholic position on predestination, making false accusations and labeling the Catholic position as synergistic, when in reality this is not the case. Robert was able to demonstrate that Catholics also accept God's predestination of the elect, while also allowing for man's freewill to exist along with it. This is not synergistic, because although we believe that both predestination and freewill are realities, we do not claim to know exactly how they reconcile with one another. We know that men cannot claim to be better than one another based on his or her own goodness, and yet in God's grace, there is a mystery as to how man lives and acts freely with God. Some of the greatest theologians like St. Augustine, St. Prosper and St. Thomas have tried to reconcile these two realities, and they all admit that it is quite simply a mystery. Clearly, as Robert pointed out well in the debate, Scripture reveals both to be divinely revealed realities. The Church in her councils and declarations has always recognized these two realities as well. Robert mentioned the Council or Orange for example. In order for White's Calvinistic position of strict predestination to hold, he had to either misinterpret or ignore many passages of the New Testament that plainly speak of the choices men will have to make concerning their salvation. The Catholic however can rest knowing that none of the New Testament will have to explained away or ignored. The Catholic simply accepts both truths that are revealed by God. Robert's closing statement summed up the entire debate quite well demonstrating how easy it is to either emphasize one side or the other, hence we see the division in Protestantism from the very beginning.

Garrigou Lagrange gives us a summary of the Catholic position in his book titled, 'Reality.'

Against all deviations in this matter, toward predestinationism, Protestantism, and Jansenism, on the one hand, and, on the other, toward Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, we must hold fast these two truths, central and mutually complementary: first, "God never commands the impossible," and second, "No one would be better than another were he not loved more by God." Guided by these truths we can begin to see where the mystery lies. Infinite justice, infinite mercy, sovereign liberty are all united, are even identified, in the Deity's transcendent pre-eminence, which remains hidden from us as long as we do not have the beatific vision.

If you are interested in studying this subject in more detail, I would suggest you that you pick up a copy of Garrigou Lagrange's book called 'Predestination'. He also recognizes that there is a mystery that we will never understand in accepting these divinely revealed truths, much like the mysteries of the Holy Trinity or the Incarnation of Our Lord. Robert also pointed this out in his closing statement. Below is a brief yet elegant summary given by Lagrange regarding both of these realities, that is taken from his book, 'Predestination.' We can see clearly how James White, and those like him have fallen into heretical positions concerning this doctrine. If only White would quit relying on his own abilities to determine what Scripture teaches, and instead rely on Jesus Christ, and those whom He has given charge to hand on His Gospel. If ever there was a clear example of why the privatization of the Scriptures has failed, it is demonstrated here.

Thus we see the whole difficulty of the problem, and consequently how easily we may be deceived unless we follow faithfully the teaching of Holy Scripture, the councils, and the great doctors of the Church. It is easy to favor one or other of the contrary heresies, for instance, by speaking of the will to save mankind in a manner that savors of Semipelagianism, which denies the dogma of predestination; or, on the other hand, we may speak of predestination in a manner and tone that savors of predestinarianism, which denies the will to save mankind. A slight exaggeration, by the addition of some adverb, suffices to incline one toward either of the opposing heresies, just as the introduction of a single note suffices to modify one of Beethoven's symphonies, so as to destroy its harmony.


Alexander Greco said...

Even with all the technological goodies White had at his disposal he still could not defeat Sungenis.

Matthew Bellisario said...

With or without technology, White has never won a debate against Robert. Listen to the Assumption debate as well.

pilgrim said...

I think RCC participant become calvinist gradually. And begin accept predestination step by step because heroic Reformer defense of their theology. The conclusion always be with God's side, so it is predestination because God's mercy to the elected.

@And for Alexander Greco : Why did you think that "sorry for silence" means White lost ? It is because He will face debate from point he wrote the article in his blog, and set his ipad and electronic tool.

Matthew Bellisario said...

"I think RCC participant become calvinist gradually. And begin accept predestination step by step "

Do you understand that the Catholic Church teaches predestination? It however does not teach the Calvinist version of it which denied man's freewill. It is the Calvinist version that is a later perversion of the orthodox teaching of it.

Matthew Bellisario said...

To make it simple, Scripture teaches both doctrines, that of God's predestination of the elect, and man's freewill. They do not oppose one another.

Nick said...

The debate really was pretty soft, nothing really happened. I think one of the big problems was the format, since the timing seemed to be badly planned. And whatever the agreed upon thesis was, it apparently didn't allow for that much ground to be covered.

Was there a clear "winner" to this debate, not really. There was more rhetoric than substantial arguments being made, and both sides made substandard arguments at times, as well as some lousy exegesis. I will say that White is a slightly better orator, at least in this debate.

If I had to say who proved their thesis better, I'd say Sungenis did based on his cross examination at 1hr:32min. Here it was made clear that Adam was not subject to sin, yet chose to disobey God. At this point, it's proven that free will and predestination can co-exist. White recognize this 'problem', and had to be as vague about Adam's will as possible. If White would have denied Adam's free will, then he would be saying "sin" and the fall have nothing really to do with this subject.

From there, Sungenis *SHOULD HAVE* gone Christological on White, and asked if Jesus had free will. White couldn't say no to that, and thus the door would be slammed shut, since Jesus is the synthesis of freewill and predestination. Sungenis and White didn't seem to be aware of how to go about discussing this issue, especially the notion of "human nature" since "human nature" must be what Jesus took on and which Adam and we all possess as well. And since the heresy that Jesus only had one will was condemned by an Ecumenical Council (since will is a function of *nature*, and Jesus had two natures), Sungenis should have emphasized this as well.

Lastly, on this line of thought, Sungenis should have asked White how Christians were able to still sin if they had no free will. This would have stumped White since if God is monergistically controlling them, they couldn't sin.

Sungenis made the better case that the "warning" passages in Scripture are really warnings, where as White had no good answer.

I hold off saying Sungnis "won" (at least decisively), because he didn't hammer away at the Adam issue like he could have. He really didn't have a good way of asking the questions, even if he was onto something. For example, free will should have been defined as something akin to "the ability to obey and disobey, rather than one or the other".

Sáo Ray said...

All in all, Sungenis utterly defeated White. There were many times it was obvious that White couldn't argue with Sungenis' exegesis.
The only errors I saw from Sungenis was calling White "Dr."

Some comments to Nick:

"asked if Jesus had free will."

White would have probably gone to the texts where Jesus says he only does what the Father tells him to do or that he has no will but the Father's.

"how Christians were able to still sin if they had no free will. This would have stumped White since if God is monergistically controlling them, they couldn't sin."

thats not true. Christians CAN sin under monergism. Monergism only deals with regeneration. though after that, God does all the work to SANCTIFY (a life progression) them.