Christ, the Justice of God

It is interesting, from the point of view of Catholic/Lutheran dialogue, to see that the Holy Father has based his Lenten Message for 2010 around Romans 3:21-25.

Also interesting is that he does so in the context of a discussion of “justice”, and never once uses the word “righteousness”, even in quoting the scripture passage. Lutherans are very accustomed to hearing the phrase “Christ, the Righteousness of God”, but of course, the greek word Paul uses can be just as validly translated as “justice”, which, in the context in which the Holy Father discusses the passage, does give the text a different flavour.

It is also notable that the Holy Father does not simply address the New Testament doctrine of God’s Justice/Righteousness, but also has in mind, and directly discusses, the Hebrew understanding of Sedaqah (perhaps he is still thinking of his recent visit to the Roman Synagogue?).

Still, this message is also proof once again that this Pope understands the Lutheran concerns. I don’t think even Dr Martin could quibble with this statement, as he addresses “the Great Exchange”:

What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others. The fact that “expiation” flows from the “blood” of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the “curse” due to man so as to give in return the “blessing” due to God (cf. Gal 3, 13-14). But this raises an immediate objection: what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his “due”? In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart. God has paid for us the price of the exchange in His Son, a price that is truly exorbitant. Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is His.” This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected.

The connection then to “justice” in his message is in the next paragraph:

Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.

I commend the Message to you all.

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33 Comments

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33 responses to “Christ, the Justice of God

  1. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Realise himself fully? One’s own need? Creating just societies? Dignity proper to the human person?

    Not a bleeding word about sin and repentance.

    What Dr Martin would not object to this, Marty?

    • Not a bleeding word about sin and repentance.

      1) In the section of the document quoted above:

      “sin” = “the weight of his faults”, the guilty”, “man may rebel”, “a debtor”

      “repentance” =”Conversion to Christ”, “believing in the Gospel”, “to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need”, “the need of His forgiveness and His friendship”

      2) In the rest of the document:

      In citation of the Psalm: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51,7).

      “this is egoism, the result of original sin

      In the citation of the Romans passage: “For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

      “this penitential season be for every Christian a time of authentic conversion

  2. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Interesting that when the quoted Scripture speaks of sin, it says sin, but elsewhere we get words and phrases that are “like” sin, which also have meanings in which sin plays no part.

  3. Tom

    That’s a little disingenuous. The Church has always used terms like debt, iniquity etc. to describe sin – which is not just The Church, but also Scripture which uses these terms. Psalm 51 uses a raft of terms for sin..

    Transgressions, Iniquity, Sin, Evil, Dirt are the ones that I could see off a quick glance.

    It seems it is an entirely Scriptural practice that The Church has no reason to discontinue.

  4. Yes, insisting sometimes on oiur own pet words is no way to foster unity. For eg. there is no reason why we Catholics should insist that our Orthodox brethren should use the term ‘transubstantiation’ when they teach the same doctrine without using the word. For the same reason the pope’s message should not be rejected by protestants just because he uses ‘justice’ instead of ‘righteousness’.

  5. Kiran

    At the moment, I am reading Jesus of Nazareth, some of which this echoes

  6. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    What the passage echoes is existentialism and phenomenology. For those who already see things in terms of one or the other or both, there is little need to apply a Christian veneer to it.

    These schools of thought may be closer to the general mindset of people to-day, being more recent than Plato and Aristotle, and on that basis theologians may seek to express Christianity in those terms rather than the traditional scholastic ones.

    The problem is, while Platonic and Aristotelian schools of thought contain a concept and language for an objectively true and existing order beyond Man, existentialism and phenomenology do not and are Man-centred.

    That is why, in brief, they will ultimately be inadequate as philosophical tools to express Christian revelation. That is why, in brief, the passage quoted is entirely inadequate, however eloquent if one must have one’s existentialism and phenomenology with a Christian veneer.

    Separate but related, the EO do not at all teach transubstantiation but without using the word. That is a Western fiction the East rightly resists. They teach that it is a revealed mystery which the philosophy of Man could not figure out, that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and regard transubstantiation as a clanking mechanistic way of expressing and explaining how this happens which diminishes the depth of the Mystery, not only in its application but in the very effort to find such explanations, and abstain from making a divinely revealed mystery the subject of explanation by human philosophy.

    An example with much to commend it.

    • An interesting comment, PE, and clarifies your reaction to the piece.

      Two observations:

      1) Luther himself is often called “the Father of Modern Existentialism”. He rejected the Platonic and Aristotelian approaches to theology in favour of a theology that was rather more centred on the individual believer. Just look at the way in which the explanation of the Creed works in the Small Catechism: “Fist Article: What does this mean: I believe that God has created ME and all that exists, that he has given ME my body etc.; Second Article: What does this mean: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, son of the Father from all eternity, and true man, son of the Virgin Mary, IS MY LORD.” Very existential and phenomenlogical.

      2) It depends on what you mean by “adequate”. The adequacy of any piece of writing must be judged according to its success in achieving what it is attempting to do. I believe the Holy Father was attempting to relate the doctrine of the grace and free initiative of God in Christ to the Church’s teaching on social justice. This is a valid thing to do, and I believe he does it well. Is it “adequate” as a complete dogmatic statement? No, but that wasn’t what he was attempting. In any case, I drew attention to the piece for the reason that it emphasised the intiative of God and the human need for that initiative – which I think it states very well.

      3) Following from this, one can also say that existentialism and phenomenologicalism are not “wrong” as philosophical systems, even if they are not “adequate” systems to provide a framework for a complete dogmatic theology. They can, and in fact have, produced good fruits in theological reflection. They are only problematic when absolutised. I would suggest the same is also the case for Aristotelianism, or any branch of philosophy.

      4) which brings me to Transubstantiation. I fully agree that it is ” a clanking mechanistic way of expressing and explaining how this happens” even if I do not agree that it “diminishes the depth of the Mystery”. A minute ago you were saying that the “Platonic and Aristotelian schools of thought contain a concept and language for an objectively true and existing order beyond Man”, and hence it does not seem to me wrong to apply our thinking of the Eucharist – which has precisely an “objectively true and existing order beyond Man”, as you say. Indeed, “transubstantiation” is not an “adequate” statement of the revealed mystery, but it does safeguard certain attacks against the objective reality of the Real Presence. It is a way of thinking about the Eucharist – it is not the full doctrine of the Real Presence itself. Our doctrine on the real presence is exactly that of the Eastern Church, but we chose to say that an “appropriate” (even if not an entirely “adequate”) way of speaking about it is in terms of “transubstantiation”.

      You sometimes are just a little to querulous, ol’ chap. Sometimes, you might be able to phrase your comments in such a way as to say “I wonder if…” or “Maybe it would be worth reflecting…” or some such – rather than stating “Thus spake Zaratustra” as if we may not have some point of agreement.

  7. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    You know what Dave-o? I’m wondering — since you seem to have thought I’d jump all over the indulgence thing and I didn’t and ain’t a-gonna, and since we’re talking philosophy and theology and all, and since you have become accustomed to my “the only philosopher worth reading” thing, who do you think is my “only theologian worth reading”?

  8. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    1. I once so argued that about Luther, in my dissertation I am ashamed to say. I thought he had done in religion what Descartes had done in philosophy, namely, turn from the objective wrt which one understands oneself, to the subjective, literally, the subject, myself. You might say a credo ergo sum as a counterpart to cogito ergo sum. To do so however misunderstands existentialism totally. Is is not just a shift in focus. There is no objective, there is no “meaning” etc except insofar as we create it for ourselves in authentic living. To think that turning back to mediaeval superstition with simply a focus on me and my part of it, it to be thoroughly inauthentic. Now, I am not an existentialist, I am not saying they are right, but what I am saying is that modern systems of philosophy do not have a point of reference beyond Man, so that whereas Plato and Aristotle did, when the language of existentialism is appropriated to explain Christianity it cannot allow an adequate explanation of that part of it beyond Man because the system itself has no language for it.

    2. I look in vain for a single instance of the Apostles issuing statements on just societies and what, for example, the Roman Empire must do or ought not do, or what Christians must do within their societies to make them just according to Christian definitions thereof.

    3. I agree any system of philosophy is incapable of fully expressing the content of Revelation; I am just saying that some systems are more capable than others, and a system that no objective order outside of that created my Man will be more limited than others.

    4. EO so far as I can tell does a much better job of simply allowing the fact that Divine Revelation says Christ is really present in the Eucharist defend itself on the grounds that God has so revealed it, rather than worry to much about how to explain that it still looks like bread and wine. Although Transubstantiation does not fully endorse the substance/accident paradigm, it is clearly an echo of it with “species” etc, which opens a can of worms best not opened.

    5. There ain’t no 5, but if I simply wonder something or think maybe it might be worth reflecting, I ain’t gonna say bupkis about until I no longer wonder or think maybe and have something to say, which I will just say rather than pussyfoot with “I wonder” when I don’t wonder or “Maybe” when I don’t think maybe at all.

    • 1. I agree that Luther was not, what in modern terms would be called, an existentialist. However, his rejection of both Plato and Aristotle and his emphasis on the place of the individual experience of God’s grace still represented an important shift in the focus of theology (and indeed the whole general Weltanshauung) towards existentialism.

      2. I look in vain for a single instance of the Apostles issuing statements on just societies and what, for example, the Roman Empire must do or ought not do, or what Christians must do within their societies to make them just according to Christian definitions thereof.

      I am at a loss to understand what you mean by this. Granted, as Pope Benedict writes in Deus Caritas Est, charity comes before justice in the Christian Dictionary (as indeed in all dictionaries!), and that the Apostles would hardly have believed it possible that the Church would ever have such an influence in society so as to be able to shape it according to the teaching of Christ, but does that mean that we are to conclude from this that justice is not an important part of Christian teaching and practice?

      Justice was certainly a part of God’s plan for his own particular chosen society of Israel, as the law and the prophets attest. Does the fact that we are Gentiles in a Gentile world abrogate the law and the prophets?

      And did not Christ come to proclaim “good news to the poor…, release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, …liberty to those who are oppressed, [and] the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19)? If these are the signs of the Messianic Age, are these not also what the Church is to proclaim and enact in her mission?

      And part of the very reason why you fail to see how often the Apostles spoke of justice is the protestant propensity to translate “dikaiosyne” and the words related to it as “righteousness” (construed as private godliness) rather than “justice”. Sediqah in the Old Testament had both meanings, and we should always see both meanings in the New Testament equivalent as well.

      3. Righto. We are on the same level here. However, there is something to be said for being able to harness the philosophical language of the world for the sake of evangelising the world. Pope John Paul II was a master of this.

      4. The EO still uses language of change and speaks of the bread “becoming” the body of the Lord. I would be perfectly satisfied if modern day Lutherans were, like their founder, able to affirm thus much.

      5. There are ways of engaging in dialogue which are more fruitful and often lead to more successful persuasion toward the truth than simply and boldly proclaiming of another person’s ideas that they are wrong.

  9. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    The Law is a covenant between God and Israel, not God and Man. That is why it prescribes ceremonial and civil things as well as moral. That covenant is over; its purpose served, fulfilled in the Gospel. All of that covenant that applies to Gentiles is all that ever did, the Seven Noahide Laws, which the Apostles retained exactly in Acts. By “applies” I mean as covenant, as Law; the rest remains indeed, but as a curb, mirror and guide, not covenant or Law.

    The US Conference of Catholic Bishops — generally known as “the Democratic Party at prayer” — has as much business making pronouncements on the “morality” or whatever of government programmes as the Pentagon does issuing a paper on the realpolitik of East-West reunion.

    JPII did a great job inventing a fifth Gospel, that according to Max Scheler. From the world’s point of view, what’s not to love?

    Who said we were in a dialogue? Pigs. Dialogue is Vatican II newspeak for, if we talk long enough you’ll be Catholic. There is no dialogue whatever in that.

    • Well, there I can’t agree with you, PE. It seems to me that the “sin of Israel”, was if anything that it kept the law for itself, instead of bringing it, as a light to the nations, to the whole world. Papa B. was at the Roman Synagogue recently, and he precisely said them that the moral code of the Sinai Covenant (aka the 10 commandments) applied to the whole human race – certainly it binds Jews and Christians together under a common moral code to act for the good of the world. You have swallowed a little too much of the “kingdom of the left/right” dichotomy, me thinks.

      And even if it is not “a law” or “a covenant” for all, as you say, even if it is only a “curb, mirror and guide”, what is it a curb from if not injustice; what is it a mirror of, if not our injustice; and what is it a guide to if not how to live justly before God and one’s fellow human beings?

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        Benedict is flatly wrong about that, but it is a common error. Who was summoned to Sinai, the whole world? No, Israel. And why were they told to seek their release from slavery, because it offends the dignity of the human person etc? No, that they may worship their God. Read the book — the covenant partners are God and Israel at Sinai. Why would the first Christians, all Jews, have struggled so mightily with the concept of fulfillment of the Law for Gentiles, wondering if first they must be brought under it, if not the realisation that Gentiles are not under the Law of Moses — even the stranger within the gate is not held to full observance of the Law. And why then, when the issue was resolved at the Council in Acts, was it not the “ten commandments” that were cited, but the Noahide commandments, traditionally numbered at seven? Because that is the covenant in the Law between God and all Man (Noe was not a Jew, there weren’t any yet).

        And when the bishops, acting in a shadow of their former political importance, begin to issue statements on political matters such as legislation, they simply muddy, not clarify, the waters. Is it “justice” for example to encourage passage of a tax-funded government programme of some kind of aid to the poor, or do such ventures at least at some point guarantee there will be poor because they retard the economic growth from which even the taxes come, there by being not justice at all? Such a measure may be either supported or opposed on precisely Christian grounds, the one arguing that any help is short-term and in fact long-term is harmful, the other arguing that it is following the example of Christ. These are political and economic questions, which are the business of politicians and economists, about which the “Bishops” have neither call nor competence.

  10. Terry, just in case anyone else might be listening in to this seemingly private conversation of ours, may I just say how tempting your theology sounds, and what a complete apostacy it is from the Christian Gospel as it has been understood throughout the centuries. That the proclamation of the Gospel could in any way be divorced from the proclamation of the dignity of the human person and the demands of God’s justice that follow upon that is to reject the entire prophetic tradition of the People of God.

    Sorry, ol’ boy, I’m not buying this rubbish, which seems to me to be born more of some kind of redneck capitalism than of the one who said “Love one another”.

    • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

      The same book says, we don’t even know what love is apart from the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, not a metaphor or a principle but an event and a reality in which one believes or does not.

      The Christian Church, which for about 3/4 of its elapsed history so far in its visible form has been the Catholic Church, has for most of that seen itself as having from God the right to involve itself and even direct affairs of state, states of which it was the official church. Establishment of modern democracy came only with the prying, generally forcibly, of the hands of the Catholic Church from the state and ousting it from what it thought was its divinely mandated role therein.

      So much for the “understood through the centuries”. As to the entire prophetic tradition, the Prophets worked in a context we do not, wherein the Law was not just moral but ceremonial and civic too, for a particular nation and people.

      I do not subscribe to any particular political or economic theory. Fundamentally, I am a theorist. And I am aware that equally consistent and arguable models can be drawn as to what does and does not work, say, economically, and emotional appeals to what is “loving” are of utterly no avail in avoiding something that appears economically helpful but in fact is not, whether that something is drawn from the left or the right politically. That is a matter of economics, not the Gospel.

      And economics, like philosophy we have discussed above, being human, there is no system immune from the effects of the Fall: any of them, not just capitalism as the left urges, or socialism as the right urges, can be a short route to despotism.

  11. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    From another angle:

    I see as little support in the Gospel for the idea that I am entitled to have the government appropriate for my use some of the fruit of another’s productivity as I do for the idea that I should take the fruit of my productivity as my gift from God to use with no thought of or action toward my less fortunate or less able brother.

  12. Christine

    Establishment of modern democracy came only with the prying, generally forcibly, of the hands of the Catholic Church from the state and ousting it from what it thought was its divinely mandated role therein.

    From John Paul II:

    “There have been times when Christians added page after page to the history of intolerance. In not following the great commandment of love they have distorted the face of the church . . . Christians have often betrayed the gospel and yielded to the rule of force. They have trampled the rights of peoples and nations, with contempt for their culture and religious traditions.”

    To quote Luther, this is most certainly true. It happened before, during and after the Reformation. Thankfully, most churches now recognize the value of God-given freedom. Our challenge in the West now is to return to a living faith in the face of a growing and militant secularism that wants to entirely remove faith from the public and private arena.

    Christine

  13. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    There’s no Reply link under your guess — bleeding WordPress anyway — so I’m replying here.

    Yes, Teilhard, nobody else even comes close.

    I just thought it would be fun, because Teilhard is usually not who comes to mind in cases like mine.

    If it helps you any, miserable de Lubac liked him. Last year Benedict spoke well of him, your man John Allen reports (NCR 28 July 2009). Oh well it took centuries for the RCC to admit they blew it re Galileo.

    Still, it moves. And converges!

    • Maybe, as in all these cases, the original thinker is maligned by his erstwhile disciples. Damned more by association than first hand knowledge.

      Still, I think it goes too far to say he is “the only theologian worth reading”. You would learn precious little about the Christian faith from an exclusive reading of de Chardin.

      BTW, you can continue a reply chain after the “reply to” options run out by going back to the last time in the string that option appears. Your reply at that point will follow the last reply in the string.

      I’m not going back to Blogspot because I couldn’t regulate commentators there.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        Followers are the worst thing ever. Look what happened to Aquinas (who btw runs a damn close second IMHO) as distinct from the Thomists, miserable lot of mental wheel chair cases that they are! Teilhard has been appropriated by all sorts of schools of thought as a prototype of — themselves! Judas, as Neitzsche, the only philosopher worth reading and majorly afflicted by the same phenomenon, said about Reichsdeutsch admiration for Wagner, the honour him by finding him similar to themselves.

        The same phenomenon kept me from reading Bonhoeffer for years — all I heard was what a prototypical Liberation Theologian he was! That was from Catholics, when I used to be one.

        I think Blogspot offers comment moderation as an option, at least now.

        • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

          PS — I may not have paid Teilhard much attention at all, were it not for a telecast on him by Fulton Sheen. I never missed Sheen, but that telecast in particular blew me away and changed my life!