Prevenient Grace and Praeparatio Evangelica

My wife is currently going to a Catholic College to finish her degree. She is doing quite well. Listening to her study (which she does verbally to me) has actually taught me some things about Catholic theology in relation to Church History and began to think about how that relates to Protestants.

Praeparatio Evangelica is an old term, used by multiple early Church writers. The term translates to preparation for the gospel. In the early church apologetics, it represented the philosophies of the pagan world and described them as preparation for the Gospel of Christ. One Early writer went as far as to say that the Hebrew prophets were the source for the Greek philosophers a stretch to prove that, but the point is to see Christ revealing himself naturally.

Many years later, John Wesley, an Anglican pastor in England worked with a term called prevenient grace. The term points to the grace God gives us before salvation. Does this sound like the earlier comments? It should. Wesley is repeating the view that God is at work, planting seeds and preparing the world for the full revelation of Christ. Which is a powerful testament to the common thread of belief that God is at work in our history, breaking in and messing with things well before we know of His work.

This a beautiful teaching of the Church, but there is also a deeper truth to be gleaned. The Catholics claim Praeparatio Evangelica and the Protestants tend to claim Prevenient Grace. This a very telling connection between the two traditions. Both say God is at work, even when and despite the fact that we might not be aware of it.

The punch of this truth is that no matter the tradition you’re in, you probably share in the same truth as the other Christian tradition. Sometimes, Christians have a tendency to polarize themselves based on tradition or denomination. Regardless of the reasons, the fact of unity in basic theology is evident.

Whatever your theological persuasion, we have to begin recognize our connections and what makes us brothers and sisters.

I end with a comment by Wesley when commenting on George Whitefield, the Methodist preacher who was Calvinist when Wesley was an Arminian. He said that their theology was a “hairs bredth away.” I only more of us would take such an ecumenical stance in the Church.

What is keeping you from linking hands with those of other traditions? Why? Will be willing to listen to the Church historic in order to be taught unity?

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