T - Total Depravity: The First Point of Calvinism


The Catholic Church holds that
"Man, having been wounded in his nature by original sin, is subject to error and inclined to evil in exercising his freedom." (CCC 1714)

Calvinists, like myself, hold that man is completely sinful. The word we use is “Depraved.” This belief is that there is nothing good about a natural person (in the divine sense), that there is nothing they can do to honor god, nor anything they can do towards their own salvation. In short, they stand condemned and there is nothing they can do about it

The scripture we use to support our position is:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks god” (Romans 3:10-11)

“you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature” (Col. 2:13)

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”(Ephesians 2:12)

“the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7)

"If God places no trust in his holy ones,
if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes,

how much less man, who is vile and corrupt,
who drinks up evil like water! " (Job 15:15-16)

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
(1 Cor 2:14)

and on and on and on, I could list at least another 10, but you get the point.

I do not know how the Catholics support their idea of a “wounded” nature, opposed to “depraved,” so I am looking for someone to try and prove the point.

I wish to limit this discussion just to the nature of man before salvation, not how someone is saved, not Apostolic Succession, or Sola Scriptura, or anything else. Specifically, I wish to address the nature of man in his natural state. Scripture seems emphatically to state that man can do nothing to save himself, but that every step along the way is a miracle of God.

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."
Romans 8:29-30

PLEASE do not discuss election, atonement, resistibility of grace, or perseverance, each of these will have its own thread in the following days, I intend to work all the way through TULIP, but for those unfamiliar with the five points, or who wish to gear up for coming debates, the points are:

T - Total Depravity
U - Undeserved Election
L - Limited Atonement
I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of the Saints

Please keep your answers based in scripture, even if you feel the need to dabble in tradition BASED in scripture, and please stay on topic.


Catholics believe that salvation is by grace alone–the initiative is all God’s.

But we do not believe in the total depravity of human nature.

And we believe that the grace of God can effect actual sanctification in us, not just cover up the sight of a depraved nature, hiding it from the view of the Father.

We believe that sanctification can be effected by uniting ourselves to Christ.


Actually, to be logical about all of this, the TULIP should actually be addressed in this order:


The primary starting point, then, is the total sovereignty of God, as expressed in unconditional election doctrine.


Well, I see your point, and its perfectly valid, and if you were starting the series, I would not object to your order, but the way I see it, the reason why Election is important is because we cannot save ourselves, hence, depravity should go first.


This could be an interesting discussion and I look forward to it, although I’m not sure which direction it will go.

Although Catholics wouldn’t use the descriptive term “Total Depravity”, your definition of it doesn’t seem, at first glance, to be very different than the Catholic view of orginal sin.



If Calvinists really believed in total depravity, the lack of any goodness in humanity whatsoever, then they wouldn’t even missionize. Since Calvinists do missionize, Calvinists don’t believe in total depravity, and they might as well become Catholics.:slight_smile:

Heck, some of my Calvinist friends tell me that Calvin didn’t really believe in total depravity.


Human nature is fallen, not totally depraved. Satan is totally depraved.


Just a thought,

Using Calvins premise, if we are totally depraved, do we really have a need for “Free will”… for being totally depraved means we cannot see any need or reason to be “good” even if it be altruistic.

I think if you look at “Fallen Nature”… we then at least have a choice of to “Sin or Not to Sin”. We have a “way out” to salvation. IMHO

  1. The most ardent Calvinists fully believe in Total Depravity, as I do, it in no way conflicts with the command to be a missional disciple of Christ, in fact, Total Depravity is the basis for the most effective Evangelism, but this will be covered in the following points, bear with me

  2. Please stay on topic, don’t post personal opinions, start trying to prove something. Apologetics is about evidence and logic, not personal opinion. Don’t say something you can’t back up!


This covers the whole TULIP!



Thanks, thats an awesome resource!

I don’t quite agree with all of it (i don’t suppose you thought I would) but thanks for contributing. I would like to continue the conversation though, but maybe in a new direction. Do any of y’all see a difference in Total Depravity and Catholic Teaching, and if so, please explain!


:amen: :blessyou:

:clapping: :clapping: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:


Why don’t you quote Calvin directly?


[quote=Afterburned6387] I would like to continue the conversation though, but maybe in a new direction. Do any of y’all see a difference in Total Depravity and Catholic Teaching, and if so, please explain!

That is the direction that I thought this thread might go :thumbsup: . (See my post #5 above). Your description of “Total Depravity” seems similar to Catholic teaching, aside from the rather unfortunate name you give it. (Which I will address in a moment).

To make myself more explicit here are my thoughts on your orginal post.

Catholic teaching would disagree here, both with the phraseology “Total Depravity” and with your use of “completely” sinful, IF you mean by that there is nothing good at all about man. Man certainly has and does various goods: natural goods of existence, body, intellect, will, natural virtues, a conscience, etc.

[quote=Afterburned6387]This belief is that there is nothing good about a natural person (in the divine sense),

This would be objectionable if we were to remove your parenthetical. I assume you mean by your parenthetical that there is nothing about man, in his natural state, which is meritorious in God’s view. That would agree with Catholic teaching.

[quote=Afterburned6387][nothing] they can do to honor god,

Yes, perhaps in a strict sense. Because you focus here primarily on our actions in relation to God, this doesn’t seem objectionable in this limited sense, if we mean by honoring God something meritorious. However, there are certainly ways to honor God (from our point of view) in our natural state. Furthermore, all creatures give honor to God, in that all creation proclaims His glory.

[quote=Afterburned6387]nor anything they can do towards their own salvation.

I would agree that grace is the first mover, and that we cannot do anything for salvation prior to it.

The only potential difficulty as I see it would be regarding whether or not a man can perform a morally good action without grace. The Church teaches that it is possible for a man, unaided by grace, to perform a morally good action. However, He cannot perform all morally good actions, and he cannot perservere in morally good actions for long. Furthermore, and most importantly, none of these morally good actions, unvivified by grace, are meritorious – they do not relate to eternal life.

So, if “Total Depravity” means that even good actions before grace are sins, then we disagree. But if “Total Depravity” means that no actions before grace are meritorious then we agree (and lament your unfortunate choice of terminology.):thumbsup:

What do you think?



Okay Afterburned,

You have my full attention. Now why not start at the book of Genesis and work your way through the whole Bible, exploring the nature of man before salvation.

I have heard so many definitions of the nature of man, from man. Not exactly the most objective way of getting an accurate reflection. I might be better to ask and earthworm what it feels like to be snake. Ultimately, to get a comprehensive definition of the nature of man, would require one to secure an outsider opinion, and to be quite frank I do not see many people agreeing with it. We just prefer to get an opinion that suits our own particular comfort zone.

If I said that the nature of man was, ‘vile and depraved, and wickedly deceiptful above all things,’ it would not be before long that someone would say the opposite, and then another would try for a synthesis. The truth is that if you work you way through every book in the Bible and with a very objective, non emotional manner…could that be possible ask, ‘What is the nature of man?’ you would probably find yourself drifting away from traditional creeds very quickly. The cherry picking tradition of so many would be students is what confuses everyone. I might take a passage here, and you take one there and we are sort of tugging at opposite ends, and then somone says it has to be a synthesis and on and on the ridiculous thoughts go.

Take for example Paul’s expression, ‘O wretched man, who will deliver me from this body of death…then he describes what is chomping him so much about the body of death…it has a conscience, that cannot cause him to do what he knows is right, but instead of the things he wants to do, he does the opposite…then he talks about the Spirit that gives can change all that.’ Now I am not saying I disagree with the apostle’s doctrine, but one needs to really get the context of his thinking and so we zoom off to Romans 1 and find a debate that has include some of the greatest philosophical and theological minds in Christendom…and I mean Catholic, Protestant and other.

Yet, I maintain to understand the nature of man, you are going to have to start off in Genesis and be very, very real. You are going to have to forget all your Calvinistic learning, anti Arminian etc. If you end up becoming a Semi Pelagian, or you are called a Heretic by friends, it is better to have the whole picture, than the Systematic Theology of Clark, Luther, Calvin, Van Till, Anselm, Augustine…even the good old Church Fathers have rotted their brains arguing with each other, and the truth is there for us to read.

If you read through Genesis you are going to find stuff that is going rip up the 500 years and older ideas…we are not the first to look at this stuff, but if we open up to the author and let His spirit teach, we might find out that instead of starting with the nature of man, we will be confronted by the nature of God.

Just a passing thought of someone trapped in his own personal reformation…viva Jerome, Erasmus, Athanasius, Jacobus, Ausgustine, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Fox, Gill, Cheung, Piper, me and you…

I have often wondered how fallen beings could talk to their Creator after they had been given the boot…oh yes and they heard him too…pretty fine fallen being ?


There have been a number of threads in this forum on Election. I know because I was an active participant in them. Here are a couple:



God Bless,


Two points: “there is nothing they can do to honor God” Why does it not honor God if a non-Christian does any of those things which, if a Christian did them, would be considered to honor God?

And “nor anything they can do towards their own salvation” The Church will disagree with you on this.


I have had them say that they must evangelize so that other elect can hear the gospel. But if they’re the elect, they don’t need to hear the gospel, do they? That’s one of those very interesting questions: do the elect need to hear the gospel, and if so, why?


Well put. And even Satan still possesses the good of existence.

Not that I’m, you know, sticking up for Satan or anything. :whistle:


The key is that you can’t do anything without God’s grace.

Total Depravity does not teach that man is as sinful as he could be. It essentially teaches that man is wounded by original sin throughout his entire being; his physical body, his intellect, his soul…all of it is corrupted by original sin.

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