[@] Who does Paul anathematize (1)

This is a very interesting topic because it is the basis of a very broad set of conflicts involving the relationship of Roman Catholic theology to Protestant theology. Particularly, it has to do with whether there is a basis to disqualify the RC church as an entity which possesses the Gospel and is rightly called Christian.

There is a fellow who finds himself embroiled in this controversy. His name is Dr. Paul Owen. Dr. Owen is an interesting individual because he is actually a pretty smart guy, but he is also a very, um, challenging fellow when it comes to the definition of orthodoxy. (see? You thought I was using that series as a filler)

Dr. Owen takes a pretty broad view of orthodoxy – except, unfortunately, when he is discussing the topic with Baptists. Apparently, because we take a more radical view of the Gospel than he does (and in many respects, the Baptist view of the Gospel is both radical and narrow; for example, we do not accept infant baptisms {that’s “paedobaptism” for you n00bs}), we are schismatics and antagonists. He has gone so far as to suggest from time to time that we are not Christians at all from a confessional standpoint, but he’s not consistent on that point; we can chalk those few moments up to energetic polemics and not hold it against him.

At any rate, he has posted, over at societaschristiana.com a 5-point “response” to the assertion that the Galatian Anthemas do not apply to Roman Catholics. Well, that’s a great topic, and it is interesting reading even if we (you and me) do not agree with him.

For me, the most interesting point he makes is this:
1) The profile of Paul’s opponents in Galatia is a highly contested issue in biblical scholarship. Based upon textual, cultural and historical data, various reconstructions of these opponents have been suggested. They have been viewed as non-Christian Jews, as Judaizing Gentile converts, as Jewish-Christian Gnostics, as politically motivated Jewish Christians from Judea who were bending to Zealot pressures, and as Jewish-Christian nomists. The answer to the question is by no means viewed as settled. This is precisely the sort of situation where new hypotheses are welcomed and to be expected.
See: the interesting thing about this response to an anticipated objection is this: why would Paul say, “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed {grk: anathema estw}” to any of or about any of the 4 groups Dr. Owen lists here? I think there’s a good reason to accurse anyone from the last 3 groups – because they are apparently inside the church but are teaching something which Paul calls “another gospel”. Paul’s strong language says to cast them out, to let them be doomed to destruction.

But let’s think on it a minute: why cast “anathema” on non-Christians – especially Jews? The first class of people Dr. Owen lists are not Christians – and are a group which Paul says elsewhere he would himself be accursed for in order to save them, if it were possible. In Romans Paul says they are blinded to the truth – so if he is here cursing them for teaching in their blindness, why does he have so much sympathy for them when writing in Romans?

So my objection to the first group is simple: it doesn’t make any sense for Paul to anathematize the “false brothers” in the midst of the Galatians if they are Jews – it would be internally inconsistent of Paul to anathematize Jews.

So what about the other 3 groups? I would agree with Dr. Owen that there is a basis to anathematize them. However, there is a greater problem to overcome in dealing with these groups: they are all baptized men and women. They all accepted a Trinitarian baptism, and in that are covenant members – if I understand Dr. Owen’s position on the nature of baptism correctly.

So it doesn’t really matter what “new hypotheses” are proffered if they include those bearing the covenant sign: unless they actively reject proper Christology or proper Trinitarian theology (which seem to be the only bases for rejecting someone as “Christian” in Dr. Owen’s view) – and that in itself is a problematic statement given the epistemological state of both Christology and Trinitarian theology in the Apostolic generation – then they cannot be rightly rejected as Christians. Paul has not basis to anathematize these folks, apparently, if they have not rejected Christ or the Trinitarian Godhead.

Well, the retort might come: of course they reject Christ! Have you not read Gal 5:4, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace”? That is actually an interesting question as Dr. Owen himself makes that claim. Consider his first reason in his brief essay:
1. The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified by faith in Christ (CCC 1991, 1993), and not by the works of the Law (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I, and Canon I).
There are two points to be made in this respect, and the first has to do with what the CCC teaches and Trent both teach. To be clear, Trent itself certainly says this about the matter of faith and works:
CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.
CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
But Trent also says this:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
CANON X.-If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.
CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.
Thanks to The History Dept @ Hanover College for listing all the sessions of Trent, btw. By looking at all the canons of Trent, we see that Trent anathematized the view that faith alone justifies, and that “nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification”. Moreover, the CCC says this about justification and “merit”:
2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
With those statements clearly in mind, one has to wonder what point Dr. Owen is trying to make about RC teaching – because if his point is that the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism is very narrow, or very esoteric, then he is simply wrong. He has overlooked the qualifications Rome itself has placed on its view of God’s grace – the qualifications which follow the citations he uses to come to his claim.

Be that as it may, the question is also whether “The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16).” Well, certainly Gal 2:16 says, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ”. But why does Paul say that?

More on that in the next update.