Fr. William Most on Total Depravity

Fr. Most wrote a section in Grace, Predestination, and the Salvific Will of God which I think unintentionally adds to this discussion (I say unintentionally, because his focus wasn’t answering Calvinism or total depravity; it was answering arguments raised by the early Thomists which resemble Calvinism substantially in many features). The section in question is ยง74, from Part I, Chapter 6, “Official teaching on the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart.” In it, Fr. Most describes Pope Pius XII’s teachings on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and specifically, three aspects of the heart of Jesus. He possesses:

1) Divine love “which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
2) Human spiritual love, which resides in the spiritual human soul of Christ: “Furthermore [His Heart] is a symbol of that fiery love which was infused into His soul, and enriches the human will of Christ.”
3) Human sensory love: “And finally-and that, in a more natural and direct way-[His Heart] is also a symbol of sensory affection, for the body of Jesus Christ enjoys a most perfect power of feeling and perceiving, truly more than all other human bodies.”

So just like Jesus Christ Himself, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, and felt the full range of human feelings. One need not be a Catholic to believe this: any Protestant affirming Chalcedon (or affirming the dual natures of Christ) must necessarily come to the same conclusion.

The reason why this is important for yesterday’s discussion is this. If total depravity means that we humans have no idea what good and evil is, because we are so fundamentally warped, it’s easy to say that God’s Goodness is so contrary to our own that it is unrecognizable as Good. But once you add in the fully Human Jesus, the picture changes somewhat. Because if Jesus, in His human form, consistently behaved in a way which was seemingly evil (which is what this theory would necessarily require), He wouldn’t have seemed moral, much less worthy of following. Yet we know from John 6:66 and other places that there were disciples who ceased to follow Him. In other words, there were those who were not finally predestined who were attracted to Christ’s Man and teachings, even if they weren’t willing to put their faith in His Divinity and Messiahship. And in fact, we can see from Jesus’ life and behavior that He behaved in a way that is immediately recognizable to even the most primitive sense of right and wrong.

If we reject this, we must also reject Lewis’ trilemma. That is, Lewis argues:

  1. Jesus must be either Lord (He was God and knew it), Liar (He wasn’t God and knew it), or lunatic (He wasn’t God and thought He was);
  2. The Bible provides a window into the earthly life of a Man who seems so thoroughly moral and humble, and so philosophically insightful, that we immediately recognize in Him the traits opposite of what we should find in a liar or a lunatic.
  3. Therefore, it seems reasonable to accept Jesus Christ’s explanation that He is, indeed, the Christ.

But if the Human, Jesus, has a sense of right and wrong unrecognizable by you or I, we might immediately assume that He was cruel or depraved. In other words, step 2 falls apart.

Finally, Fr. Most says this, which I think summarizes my thoughts on this aspect:

Now, no really human heart wants to permit anyone it loves to suffer without necessity without personal fault. But the Heart of Christ is fully human and is enkindled with great love, even sensory love, for us, so that Pius XII said, as we have already seen:3 “And actually our divine Redeemer was nailed to the cross more by love than by the violence of the executioners; and His voluntary holocaust is the supreme gift that He imparted to each individual man, according to the terse statement of the Apostle: ‘He loved me, and gave Himself up for me.'” Therefore, the Heart of Christ does not want to desert4 anyone without grave and persistent personal demerits. For He who suffered so much for each individual out of love, has proved and demonstrated a most vehement love for each individual.

1 Comment

  1. The problem I have with both Lewis’ and Most’s view is with how they are defining Total Depravity. Both the Augustinian and Reform understanding of Total Depravity had to do with the inability by man to DO anything reaching a degree of perfect good. The definition didn’t have to do with man’s ability to ‘know’ good from evil or recognize God’s goodness. The classical understanding also never meant that a degree of goodness wasn’t attainable…only that the perfect goodness (as represented by God/Christ and required for eternal salvation) was not attainable by man on his own.

    This is why Lewis’ argument falls as does Most’s, in my opinion. Just because I have no ability whatsoever to tune a piano doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize when a piano is in tune or when it has recently been tuned.


    P.S. The comment box seems golden now.

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