Monday, November 24, 2008

The Pope on Justification

More from the writings of St. Paul at the Pope's weekly audience. I'm calling this one "Newsflash: Pope says Luther was right!" in honor of all those out of context headlines the media likes to run.

From the English part of the address: In our continuing catechesis on St. Paul, we now consider his teaching on our justification. Paul’s experience of the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus led him to see that it is only by faith in Christ, and not by any merit of our own, that we are made righteous before God. Our justification in Christ is thus God’s gracious gift, revealed in the mystery of the Cross. Christ died in order to become our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30), and we in turn, justified by faith, have become in him the very righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). In the light of the Cross and its gifts of reconciliation and new life in the Spirit, Paul rejected a righteousness based on the Law and its works.

For the Apostle, the Mosaic Law, as an irrevocable gift of God to Israel, is not abrogated but relativized, since it is only by faith in God’s promises to Abraham, now fulfilled in Christ, that we receive the grace of justification and new life. The Law finds its end in Christ (cf. Rom 10:4) and its fulfilment in the new commandment of love. With Paul, then, let us make the Cross of Christ our only boast (cf. Gal 6:14), and give thanks for the grace which has made us members of Christ’s Body, which is the Church.

In the longer, Italian portion:
On the journey we have undertaken under the guidance of St. Paul, we now wish to reflect on a topic that is at the center of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the issue of justification. How is a man just in the eyes of God? When Paul met the Risen One on the road to Damascus he was a fulfilled man: irreproachable in regard to justice derived from the law (cf. Philippians 3:6); he surpassed many of his contemporaries in the observance of the Mosaic prescriptions and was zealous in upholding the traditions of his forefathers (cf. Galatians 1:14). . .

The wall -- so says the Letter to the Ephesians -- between Israel and the pagans was no longer necessary: It is Christ who protects us against polytheism and all its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity in the diversity of cultures; and it is he who makes us just. To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary.

That is why Luther's expression "sola fide" is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf. Galatians 5:14).

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sara said...

Kelly, I wonder about this. This almost seems to reduce the differences between protestants and Catholics to mere semantics. Certainly I know of no protestant who would claim that sola fide means opposition to charity or love.

We've talked before about how most Christians in general believe faith and works to go hand in hand and it is only the order or priority which is disputed. By my understanding, Catholics seem to say that works are in partnership with faith to produce salvation while protestants claim that faith is a necessary sign of faith. Either way, works are necessarily present.

I, for one, am grateful for any common ground between us.

sara said...

Excuse me, I meant the protestants claim that works are a necessary sign of faith.

sara said...

and I guess I ought to have said that both believe that faith AND works are necessarily present.

Kelly said...

It's only a five minute address, so I think some oversimplification is to be expected.

While this isn't my best area, I my understanding is that we all agree now that we're saved by grace, though faith as is manifest by works, but we disagree on how that works out in practice. I think we also might define words such as "justification" differently.

Maybe the Lutheran ladies will chime in here. Although, they're mostly Missouri Synod, and I don't think they signed the Joint Declaration.

Jennie said...

you said: 'my understanding is that we all agree now that we're saved by grace, though faith as is manifest by works, but we disagree on how that works out in practice.'
Did you mean, when you said 'we all agree now' that the catholic church has changed its teaching on justification?
I read these recently from William Webster who is a former catholic. I don't know if you agree on his explanation of what the Catholic church teaches, but maybe it would help explain what protestants believe:

Elena said...

Webster says that Catholics don't believe in "faith alone" and he says it is unbiblical. Yet, I cannot find the words "faith alone" in the scriptures anywhere except James 2:24, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for sola fide.

Kelly said...

Did you mean, when you said 'we all agree now' that the catholic church has changed its teaching on justification?

No. The Catholic Church has always taught that salvation is through God's grace. Webster frequently references the council of Trent, which condemns the idea of salvation by faith alone. However, the very first canon of Trent on justification is this:

CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

The idea of salvation by faith alone was condemned because it excluded God's grace.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

Webster also doesn't differentiate between sanctifying and actual grace, which is important when you are discussing Catholic doctrine. Here is an article discussing the difference:

The sources which Webster quotes are good ones, but he has a lot of . . . in his quotes, which makes me think he is selectively editing. I'll have to see if I have a copy of any of the books to compare.