Human agency?

No, not some new federal department or bureau. Rather, the way some things get done in the here and now with the help of the Holy Spirit. The context is the assembly of cardinals whose task is to select the next Pope. As usual, Michael Novak at NRO has as good a take on this very Catholic event as any writer.

The key quotation from his piece is advice given to him some years ago:

“The Holy Spirit will do nothing except through human agency and human work. So somebody better get busy and start organizing things.”

A fuller explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit at the conclave is provided by this paragraph by Mr. Novak:

And so, when Catholics speak of the “Holy Spirit” playing a role in the conclave, don’t try to imagine a puppeteer pulling strings. The better image is that of the novelist, creating free, living, breathing, conflicted characters who make choices, and in doing so tell with these choices a magnificent story of liberty. The novelist who plays puppeteer convinces few readers that his characters are real. Real artistry lies in creating characters who are free, and who act from within the depths of their own liberty. So it is with the Artistry of the Holy Spirit in the theater of the conclaves down the centuries — a free God, Who chooses to be honored by the flawed efforts of free humans to respond to Him in their own liberty.

The notion of human free agency can be a very difficult concept for Calvinists, and requires us to mentally separate the gift of God’s grace and salvation from strictly human events. This is what I say is the reality. The Catholics, when they choose a leader, are neither more or less under the wings of the Holy Spirit than any assembly of men engaged in what they believe to be God’s business here on earth.

One of my problems with the Catholic faith is that it places far too much emphasis on human agency. And far too little on the supreme sovereignty of God. The conclave of cardinals likely includes many who “act justly and [to] love mercy and [to] walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). But that does not change their status with respect to He Who Is. They are fallen sinners, just as I am. And you.

God works His will through us 24/7, we never close, all the time, everywhere, on everyone. Just that, as with all such things, our human agency is limited to things of this world. Which the selection of the next pope most assuredly is — God is watching, and for certain knows the outcome. And, for His own reasons, unknown to us, which He will not explain to us. For now.

So, you ask, what is the Calvinist take on free will? Quite different from the Catholics as regards salvation. Quite similar on worldly matters. The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 says it about as well as it can be said. On wfree will, here is what we hold true:

I. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God; but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutable free to good alone, in the state of glory only.

As for how many of the cardinals are in that state of glory, it’s not for me, or any human, to say. That’s strictly God’s business. For the sake of my brother Christians, I hope it is a sufficiency to elect a pope such as John Paul.

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