Pope says: "Luther’s expression "sola fide" is true…

…IF faith is not opposed to charity, to love.” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, On St Paul and Justification, November 19, 2008)

Pope Benedict, when he was plain old Cardinal Ratzinger, moved heaven and hell to save the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification ten years ago when it almost came a cropper. This old report by John Allen gives the whole story of the famous meeting that Joseph Ratzinger arranged with the LWF leaders at his brother George’s place in Regensberg at that time. Against claims that he was responsible for unsettling of the agreement in the first place, he protested in a letter to a German Newspaper

“that he had sought closer relations with Lutherans since his days as a seminarian, he said that to scuttle the dialogue would be to “deny myself.”

That demonstrated for Ratzinger, his relationship with Luther has been a life long dialogue.

A few months ago, he quoted Luther approvingly in one of his weekday catecheses on St Paul as follows:

Worth remembering is the comment Martin Luther made, then an Augustinian monk, on these paradoxical words of Paul: “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners, wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is not Christ’s but ours” (Comments on the Psalms of 1513-1515). And thus we are saved.

It has taken me a little while to catch up on his latest comments on Luther, but he gave (an extended treatment of St Paul on Justification on November 19th). First he clarified that for St Paul the word “Law” meant “Torah” (something that is so obvious to us today that it really doesn’t need elaboration), and that there is no way that either Paul or Jesus were releasing Christians from the obligation to lead lives of good works. Then he went on to say:

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).

I find it sad that, despite the JDDJ, despite clear statements from the Holy Father such as these, the issue of justification should still be wheeled out as a reason for division between Catholics and Lutherans. There are many reasons why we are are still separate today almost 500 years after the first separation occured, but that cannot be one of them.

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5 responses to “Pope says: "Luther’s expression "sola fide" is true…

  1. Past Elder

    You may read a 69 page exposition on why the JDDJ is false to Lutheran understanding here:

    http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/CTCR/justclp.pdf

    You may read a 1 page exposition on why the JDDJ is false to Catholic understanding here:

    http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/on_the_joint_declaration_fr_scott_oct_98.htm

    An agreement to mean different things by the same terms. What else would one expect from a “Lutheran” body (LWF) that does not confess Lutheranism and a “Catholic” body (the post-conciliar RCC) that does not confess Catholicism?

    But as the Whore of Babylon gathers her brothels for the last stand, what else would one expect?

    “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins.”

  2. Anonymous

    A nice Thomistic flourish – ‘And the form, the life of Christ, is love.’ As Thomas put it, charity is the form of all the virtues, including faith. And that is no accident. If we take off the spectacles of Counter-Reformation scholasticism, we will find in Thomas a determined anti-Pelagian who insists that we are saved by grace alone – but who also explores the moral life in great detail. Benedict is in some ways a medieval (and indeed patristic) rhater than a Counter-Reformation theologian.

    As Garrigou-Lagrange used to point out, Thomas’s simultaneous anti-Pelagianism and atention to morals are not a contradiction – but we need to resolve the apprarent paradox by enlarging our view of God as Thomas did. A more recent student of Thomas, Herbert McCabe, suggests drawng the same lesson form Thomas on ecumenism, seeking to resolve differences by putting them in a larger context.

  3. Schütz

    “enlarging our view of God as Thomas did” – “seeking to resolve differences by putting them in a larger context”

    I see what you mean, Anon. Because certainly – as PE’s post above shows – the discussion of Justification has taken place within terms that are so restrictive, there could never be any agreement between Lutherans and Lutherans or Catholics and Catholics let alone between Lutherans and Catholics on this one. The articles he cites, for instance, end up defining the issues so very narrowly as to preclude apriori any possible agreement simply on the grounds that agreement would mean denial of the truth.

    This is, of course, rubbish. Listen to what the Pope says:

    “It is Christ… It is Christ… It is Christ… and it is HE who makes us just.”

    “Faith is to look at Christ… [Faith is] to entrust oneself to Christ… [Faith is] to be united to Christ… [Faith is] to be conformed to Christ, to his life.”

    For goodness sake, that might very well have been Luther himself preaching. If this had been said by a dogmatician of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod rather than by the Pope, there would be no argument from the Lutherans that what is being expounded if pure, confessional Lutheran Doctrine.

    Of course, there is that all important “Thomistic” flourish at the end (“And the form, the life of Christ, is love”). That certainly would have sounded odd in Luther’s mouth. But it would not sound so odd in the mouths of the Fathers of Lutheran Orthodoxy, who would have been quite at home with exactly that way of framing the issue.

    Ah well, as today’s gospel says, “I played the flute and you would not dance…”

  4. Past Elder

    The only a priori here is We’ve been right all along, you got it wrong, now come home to Rome. Whatever serves that is allowed, whatever does not, is “restrictive”, “narrow” etc.

    You are not even playing the flute.

    You can hear “what the Pope says” from about any pulpit in town on any given Sunday (or Saturday for “Catholics” and wannabes) except the UU and maybe the UCC. Well, hell, let’s go home to Rome then.

    Of course, once “home” we will, as in the discussion of Quanta cura, immediately begin applying “restrictions” as to where, when, and under what circumstances statements mean what they say, or appear to say, say, what did they REALLY say, oh, when they said that, it was really this, no wait, this is actually that too.

    The only thing restrictive about Dr Barry’s article it that is does not allow a “larger context” in which something can mean anything, that it “restricts” the something to what it is rather than what you wish it to be.

    At no point ever did I hear anything when the RCC taught Catholicism that said anything other than justification is by faith. That is not news. Poor Luther’s education failed to distinguish a Nominalism tainted heterodoxy from the real thing, the lack of which led him to mistake what the real thing is, which is more our fault than his for the laxity we allowed in preaching and teaching. Oops, we don’t say that any more.

    Instead we have travesties such as the JDDJ, which was signed by no Lutheran body holding to confessional Lutheranism instead of a Lutheran revisionism of itself similar to the Catholic revisionism of the other party.

    They say Truth is the first casualty in war. In matters such as these, it’s not even part of the engagement to become a casualty. It is a shame and a scandal to all who participated, and from the Catholic side puts the RCC close to if not under its own anathemas. Now cue the post conciliar cup bearers to apply the restrictions as to the anathemas and you’re home free — not home to Rome though.

  5. Schütz

    PE, as my daughter would say:
    Whatever.

    Just proves my point, really.