Common Grace, 2.6

Common Grace, 2.6 October 20, 2020

This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.

Continuing the discussion of ‘the problem,’ i.e. that nonbelievers aren’t as bad as the doctrine of original sin (to say nothing of total depravity) would have us believe, while believers aren’t as good as the Biblical description of sanctification makes us sound, in this chapter Kuyper turns us to the response given to the problem by the Roman Catholic Church.

Kuyper begins by noting that while we may not agree with Roman Catholicism, we must present their doctrine as they believe it without creating straw men or needlessly vilifying them. This means taking their view at its best, rather than as it might exist in the extremes of the RCC. For our own time, we’d also have to add that Kuyper is writing pre-Vatican II as well.

To help with this, Kuyper is going to draw extensively from the great Catholic theologian Bellarmine. And though the Church has changed from Bellarmine’s time, he remains a fair general representative (even though Bellarmine’s writings are not ex cathedra).

The Roman Catholic (specifically, a writer to Kuyper’s newspaper) argues that we can’t say that sin left man’s essence uncorrupted in the ruin of our nature; and instead we should have said that our essential selves are unfallen, only our accidental aspects are ruined.

In response, Kuyper argues that our essence (being) and nature (action) bust be kept distinct, rather than confused (as even some Roman Catholic theologians admit). Roman Catholic distinctions are made between righteousness, extra-natural righteousness, and supernatural righteousness. We reject the idea of an ethical holiness alien to human nature–at least pre-fall. We do see a dualism and an external intervention, but only post-sin. In creation, our nature was tied to God in itself. Post-glorification, we will shine as we were made to in our own natures. We must not add an extra layer of grace to original creation. This leaves an artificial unity in our past and in our future, with external grace latched on mechanically, rather than an organic restoration of our true selves.

More on this elsewhere, here we need only note that Roman Catholicism teaches a weakened nature, albeit one still capable of producing a civic (but non-saving) good. We say such good comes only from common grace–though Roman Catholicism admits a vague and general ‘divine assistance’ in this civic good.

So the problem is explained by recourse to a dualism in human nature working with ‘divine help.’ This elevates worldly society alongside the Church, and brings much of it into the Church in a higher form.

By contrast, we hold the world and the church together with grace–albeit separately in meaning and ultimate destination. Consequently we must reject all dualism–even that of the Roman Catholicism (and especially that of the anabaptists).

Kuyper will continue this discussion in the next chapter.


Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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