Still Protesting: the Donum Superadditum

“Why can’t you get past the objections of Luther and his progeny?” That was the question that came plaintively from the man who sat opposite the pastor in the coffee house. The Pastor, whose name was Peter, looked at him as if to say, “Haven’t I already explained?” I could see his frustration as I sat across from them. Peter was a Protestant minister and a regular in the brewing establishment.  The other man spied him reading a tell tale book that marked him as religious and that was the start of the assault. The aggressor, Joe, was a Roman Catholic who wasn’t by nature combative but seemed to move in that direction when talking to Protestants about their need to return to what he called Mother Church. 

Peter decided to take another route. He said, “Joe, it’s not one thing that separates us. It’s not simply faith alone that divides us – though it most certainly does.  But it’s the web of other doctrines that make agreement impossible unless one side is willing to abandon their entire position. Since Protestants are committed to the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church is committed to the Magisterium it is unlikely that anything will change.” Peter knew that last statement was true but probably not charitable.

Joe asked for an explanation and Peter obliged.  He continued, “Let’s think about Adam in the Garden of Eden prior to his fall into sin. I believe, as a Protestant, that when Adam sinned he lost original righteousness. However, the Roman church believes that, in addition to losing original holiness, he lost the donum superadditum or the super added gift. As I understand it, the donum superadditum was the grace of God that would bring harmony to Adam’s basic bodily appetites and the mind with its capacity for moral virtue.  In other words, so long as Adam made use of the donum superadditum he was able to bring the appetites of the lower nature under the higher nature and thus Adam would be righteous.  However, in the fall Adam lost the super added gift that would enable righteousness.” 

Joe said, “I understand.  But how does that disagree with what you believe as a Protestant?”

Peter was more than happy to answer, “Joe, according to Roman Catholic theology when a baby is presented for baptism the water becomes the agent whereby grace is infused into the baby.[1] This infused grace replaces the donum superadditum. In other words, infused grace places the baptized person in the place of Adam prior to the Fall.[2]  Through this provision of grace the baptized person is now able to merit or earn righteousness and a final verdict of justification on the last great Day.”

Joe looked as if to say, “Go on.”

Peter said, “Joe, the Protestant believes that the Bible teaches something far different. The Bible does not teach that in Christ we have an opportunity to redo what Adam failed to do.  We believe that Christ did what Adam failed to do and he even took the penalty for Adam’s failure.[3]  He obeyed God and was justified on the basis of His obedience.[4]  As we stand in Christ, this justification is imputed or reckoned ours by faith, which itself is a gift.[5] Joe, I am still protesting and until you recognize that salvation is the work of Christ alone from beginning to end you’ll never understand why. May God grant you eyes to see.”

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

[1] An agent produces an effect by its own power whereas an instrument is merely a tool in the hand of the one who holds the power. In Romans Catholicism the sacraments are agents constituted as such by the priests.

[2] To be clear, infused grace is bestowed by the priest performing the work of the sacrament, which is the meaning of the phrase ex opera operato meaning “from the work worked”.

[3] Romans 3:19-26; 5:12-21 Philippians 2:9

[4] I Timothy 3:16

[5] Romans 4:1-12; II Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8


Jeffrey Stivason