Monday, October 30, 2017

No, the "Justification" Argument Is NOT Settled

There's a fair amount of flapjaw coming from Catholic prelates --who ought to know better-- to the effect that the "justification" argument is settled, and that Lutherans and Catholics should move on.


...The historic debate over justification is commonly stated in terms of faith alone, the Protestant position, and faith plus good works, the alleged Catholic doctrine. This dichotomy plays into a Protestant narrative that Catholics believe that our salvation involves a combination of faith in God and hard “work” on our part. The obvious worry here is that our good works diminish the efficacy of the cross and give us cause to glory in ourselves rather than in Christ.....

That word, "alleged" is red for a reason.

...I gradually came to the realization that the true dichotomy is not one of faith alone versus faith and good works but faith alone versus faith and love....

Umnnhhh...yah.  Remember yesterday's Gospel??

...Good works, of course, still belong to the economy of salvation. But they are not ‘signs’ of faith, as Protestants today claim. Instead they are expressions of charity....

Citing Galatians 5:6, where St. Paul declares that faith works through love, Augustine elaborates, “Wherefore there is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither love nor hope without faith.” (Note that as Augustine indicates here hope plays a role in justification as well.) As Aquinas after him, Augustine associates good works with love...

The happy-talk often revolves around a 1994 document signed by Lut'rans and Catholics.  Unfortunately, the key text of that document is interpreted VERY differently by those two denominations.  The Prots state that love is a product of faith; the Catholic position is the reverse in the order of perfectionBig difference.

The author cites Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, then goes for the kill-shot:

...This teaching merely restates in distinctly Thomistic terms what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 in which Paul enumerates spiritual gifts that are “nothing” without love. Significantly, this includes “faith that could move mountains.” Paul spells out all that love does winding up to this pronouncement: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

This statement presents obvious difficulties for Protestant interpreters who would make love a mere “tool” or byproduct of faith. Calvin resolves this by simply imposing a completely contrary meaning on the text: “For if we single out the particular effects of faith, and compare them, faith will be found to be in many respects superior. Nay, even love itself, according to the testimony of the same Apostle, (1 Thessalonians 1:3), is an effect of faith. Now the effect is, undoubtedly, inferior to its cause.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, by the way, does not at all say what Calvin claims it does.)

Luther likewise struggles mightily with the passage. “How is it, then, Paul speaks as if faith without love were possible? We reply, this one text cannot be understood as subverting and militating against all those texts which ascribe justification to faith alone,” Luther declares in a sermon. He then muddles his way through three possible explanations—Paul is not talking about true Christian faith, or he is talking about true Christian faith but has in mind those who lost it, or he is postulating an impossible scenario to highlight the inseparability of love and faith. In the latter Luther comes closest to the Catholic doctrine, but remember, he considers love to be a “tool” of faith that has no power of its own—a position that completely misses the whole point of 1 Corinthians 13.

Luther alludes to “all those texts” which limit justification to faith. But the word “alone” is in none of the verses he cites. Luther had to add it. The only place ‘faith alone’ appears in the New Testament is in James 2, where it is described as dead if it lacks “good works” (the expression of charity). Catholics can welcome any verse on justification by faith, because we absolutely hold that faith is essential to justification. But Protestants will struggle with any verse that insists on the primacy and power of love. And there are many more than the few that are identified above (omitted due to space constraints). One thinks especially of 1 John 4:8, which declares that those who do not love do not know God....

So after all that--and it is subtle and somewhat intricate--we still love (most of) our Lutheran friends.  But they're not getting saved by faith alone.

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