by an anonymous South Bend Professor
First, V.C. Kitchen had to surrender his will to God, before God would reveal His will for him. Kitchen had to commit himself by first doing his best to mend some of those parts of his life which he already knew were grossly contrary to the will of God, even if it was just on the surface, with his mind still partially rebelling inside, and even if he was only partially successful in accomplishing this. And he had to commit himself in advance to doing whatever God revealed to him next. Then God would tell him what he wanted him to do next, and would also give him the power to do it.
As we saw in John Wesley’s account of his Aldersgate experience, the founders of the modern evangelical movement had rediscovered the principle that divine grace gives power to human souls. God’s Grace brings not just forgiveness and insight, but also enormous power. The Catholic tradition also understood this phenomenon that power comes from grace. This central Catholic doctrine went all the way back to St. Augustine, the great African Saint who had lived in the beginning of the middle ages. Augustine said that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had been posse non peccare, “able not to sin.” They actually fell into sin, he said, in his book, City of God, before they even ate the forbidden fruit. The talking snake told them that, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). That was the root cause of all human sinfulness, the desire to be like God, and to be our own gods. That was what St. Augustine called Pride (superbia) in the evil sense. Adam and Eve fell into sin the minute they decided that playing God themselves sounded much more attractive than following someone else’s directions. Eating the forbidden fruit was simply the secondary consequence of the primary underlying sin; the desire to be their own god.
In the story, after Adam and Eve, had been expelled from the Garden, they and all their descendants found themselves in a situation where, having turned away from the primordial un-fallen vision of God, they found that it was impossible to recapture it by their own finite human efforts alone, so that they were now left non posse non peccare, “not able not to sin.” Good Catholic doctrine, from St. Augustine in the fifth century to St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, had been the same as that of the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century, and said that no human being had the power to escape the dark pit without a direct gift of divine grace. Once having descended into that deep hole where the sunlight no longer shone, we could no longer find our way back to the light by our own unaided efforts. All we could do was blunder about in the darkness, and act from sinful motives in all our words and deeds, for we had lost the light which enabled us to tell right from wrong. Even with the power of grace of course, we would still retain the ability to fall back into sin again. We could decide to try to take the reins back into our own hands again, and go back to running our own lives purely on the basis of self-centered decisions. It would not be until our souls reached the world to come that it would ever be possible for us to become non posse peccare, “not able to sin.” The Oxford Group had rediscovered the original evangelical message; that we received this power to resist our own self-destructiveness through developing an immediate personal contact with God. Kitchen said, what sounded paradoxical: we must surrender to obtain power; A.A.’s today, say: “we must surrender to win.” To be continued…
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