Does the Pope “allow the gospel”?

Philip Melanchton famously signed the Smalcald Articles with a proviso:

I, Philip Melanchthon, also regard the above articles as true and Christian. However, concerning the pope I maintain that if he would allow the gospel, we, too, may (for the sake of peace and general unity among those Christians who are now under him and might be in the future) grant to him his superiority over the bishops which he has “by human right.”

This is not official Lutheran doctrine, but many Lutherans would agree with him.

One such Lutheran is our own Pastor Mark, who wrote on a post below:

Lutherans regard the primacy of the Pope – his headship of the college of bishops – as existing by human rather than divine ordering, but nevertheless we would – for the most part – be willing to accord him that position of honour and service, in the Western church at least
(bearing in mind that the nature of the Pope’s primacy is also an issue for the Eastern Orthodox), if he would accept that the Gospel is the good news that we are saved through faith in Christ, and that this salvation is entiurely a gift from God, and thus we are not saved by our works and nor do our works contribute to our salvation, and if he would subsequently permit the Roman church’s doctrine and practice to be reformed according to this great scriptural truth.

I have posted a number of times on this page passages from Pope Benedict’s magisterium in which he undoubtedly “that the Gospel is the good news that we are saved through faith in Christ, and that this salvation is entiurely a gift from God, and thus we are not saved by our works”. Where we part company (and the reason why there has not been a subsequent ““top down” review of doctrine in light of the Gospel, from the claims about the Papacy, to Mariology, the nature of sainthood, right down to the question of the indulgences” is that we do believe that “our works contribute to our salvation”. This is the real nub of the matter. I don’t know whether Melanchthon would have insisted on that last phrase if, in negotiations with Rome, he had received a complete assurance of the rest, but that is beside the point. I believe the difference between what we Catholics call “the gospel” and what Lutherans call “the gospel” is not unrelated to the fact that while we affirm that salvation is entirely a gift from God, given by grace through faith in Christ, we uphold what we believe to be a Scriptural understanding of the participation of the saved in their salvation.

Another Lutheran theologian who shared Melanchthon’s point of view, and who acted upon it in 2005 by “allowing the papacy”, is now-Catholic Bruce Marshall. I am much aided by his First Things article “Treasures in Heaven”. HT to Michael Root for this one. Michael had linked to this article from his blog “Lutherans Persisting” (which he runs with David Yeago and some others), saying:

If one wants to see an important element missing in contemporary Lutheran theololgy (or in Lutheran theology simpliciter), see the reflections of Bruce Marshall in the most recent issue of First Things, especially the final paragraphs. …There is not a direct conceptual connection between his reflections and the present plight of Lutheranism, but the indirect connection is of profound significance.

[Addition in response to comment. I think the ‘profound significance’ relates most closely to whether and how we understand the gospel as a call into a specific form of life. If the gospel is a call into a specific form of life, then some agreement on the shape of that life is inherent to the gospel. And, in that case, the assertion of the Sexuality Social Statement that agreement in the doctrine of justification is all that the church needs must be wrong.
More distantly, but more importantly, there is the question of how we are called and graced to participate in Christ and Christ’s saving action. That we are called to participate is clear: our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is our salvation. But do we participate in the way Marshall describes? I increasingly think that Marshall (and behind him, Aquinas) is correct.]

Marshall says that the idea of debt and merit is in fact a very valid Scriptural approach to the question of sin, as evidenced by the use of “debts” and “debtors” in the Lord’s Prayer, of all places! Those “last paragraphs” to which Michael refers read:

Jesus makes the definitive thank-offering of the creature to God for all his gifts, an offering whose value reaches even beyond satisfaction for sin.

But this return of gift is our doing, too. In Christ’s Church and through his sacraments—not least through the giving of alms as a penitential satisfaction—we come to share in our own small way in the one great redemptive act accomplished by Jesus Christ. When he joins our modest efforts to his own supreme gift, he graciously allows the salvation he has accomplished for us to come, in some small way, from us as well. United to him, our salvation is not simply an event that happens to us but includes our own grateful gift of self—our merit.

In Christ, then, none of us is a spectator to our salvation; we are all, painfully and joyfully, full participants in it. Far from lowering God to an unworthy economy of self-interested exchange, Thomas Aquinas and others argue that God’s willingness to accept payment for our sins is a sheer gift from God to us, an act of greater mercy and generosity than any forgiveness by fiat would be, because God allows each of us to claim nothing less than a place in his salvation of the world in Christ. And for this the appropriate creaturely response, as to all God’s gifts, is not a sense of burdened obligation but an ever-greater gratitude.

So it may indeed not be the case that “the gospel” excludes the fact that “our works contribute to our salvation”. In the light of Bruce’s article, it appears that the Papacy does indeed “allow the Gospel”, nay more, the Pope has preserved elements of the Gospel which the Lutherans have forgotten.

I look forward to your entry into full communion with the Bishop of Rome, Pastor Mark! Let me know the time and the place and I will be there with bells on. Ribbons too, if you like!

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46 Comments

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46 responses to “Does the Pope “allow the gospel”?

  1. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    “In the light of Bruce’s article, it appears that the Papacy does indeed “allow the Gospel”, nay more, the Pope has preversed elements of the Gospel which the Lutherans have forgotten.”

    OMG, so a Methodist theologian proves that the Pope is right and we Lutherans have left out part of the Gospel. Welcome to the Brave New Church.

    Rather, an advocate of one form of works righteousness “proves” that an advocate of another form of works righteousness is right about — works righteousness per se! Now all we gotta do is “dialogue” about the form of works righteousness. Apostates agreeing in apostacy. Welcome to communion with the bishop of Rome.

    • Have you read what Bruce wrote, PE? He does have very good biblical and theological support for his case. He doesn’t start from a preconceived notion of what “the gospel” is, so he is more able to see what is actually there before his nose.

  2. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    I read what both of them wrote. Thanks for reminding me — I forgot to add the E?CA to the list of apostates. Or rather, since their last convention, the ??CA.

  3. Michael Root

    There is no way to know this from the various websites, but Bruce Marshall, although he teaches at Southern Methodist, is (since 2005) Catholic. Prior to that, he was Lutheran.

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Well I’ll be dipped. Did a little Google thing, and came up with a hell of an article on Marshall http://www2.luthersem.edu/ctrf/JCTR/Vol10/Vidu.pdf. Took a little Pepto-Bismol, dusted off my doctor’s hat, and read the bleeder.

    It’s really quite good sui generis IMHO. I just have a problem with the genus. Academic writing is pretty much a Jerry Springer show, who said what about who and why they’re a jerkweed or not for so doing, but with a highly stylised tribal language over things nobody would watch on TV.

    It may not be the best for general reading though. The “Springer Show” always gets underway in exactly the same fashion as the Springer Show, but this is called a review of the literature rather than introducing the day’s guests, who speak for themselves and thus are more immediately understood than the literature which is reviewed for an audience that presumably knows it.

    Ah yes, the Pepto lasted long enough to finish it. As Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, said — Scholars, they no longer think themselves, but only think about what others have thought.

    I did have to wonder though if anyone there ever heard of Moderate Realism for God’s sake, not just Realism overall.

    • a highly stylised tribal language

      You’re not wrong, PE I don’t consider myself a dunce in philosophical matters, but I had real difficulty with that article. Never before had I heard of “quotationalism”…

      I did have to wonder though if anyone there ever heard of Moderate Realism for God’s sake, not just Realism overall.

      And maybe you need to explain it to me a bit more, but I was wondering about Critical Realism, which seems pretty attractive as a Christian approach before to me. I wonder to about the overall criticism that one should start with “orthodox” theology rather than an overall “alien” philosophy – as if theology were not just one part (even the most important part) of the knowledge of reality as a whole. I was surprised to see the name of Millbank among the “anti-realists”. I have never read any of him but I had gathered otherwise from “our local Thomistress” Tracey Rowland.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        Realism per se as a philosophical term is not at all the everyday meaning, but the idea than only the Ideal, or universals, are real, and everything else is a veil over them full of illusion, like our everyday world of experience, from which we seek to free ourselves by this or that means (unfortunately Christianity has been made over into such a means, thanks in large part to bloody Augustine). Think Plato.

        Nominalism on the other hand denies that Ideals or universals exist at all, that they are simply names (nomines, hence the name) for human categories of thought, and the apparent world is the only one known to us beyond which we should posit as little as possible. Think Occam (a damn friar, not a monk, Franciscan to be exact, even worse) and pretty much everybody now.

        Moderate realism says that while universals do not exist in some ideal realm beyond, among whose shadows we stumble around, contra flat out Realism, but they do in fact exist, contra Nominalism, within their individual instances, for which reason it is sometimes called immanent realism. Think Aristotle, or that doctor of doctors, Aquinas, who really is a Benedictine in the mind of God.

        Critical realism I am not surprised you mention, as your man NT Wright, not to mention ruddy Jebbie Lonergan, is representative of it, which like any school of realism holds the objective existence of universals, with varying ideas of how the input from our experience attains to a correct if not full understanding of them.

  5. Fr Alvin Kimel

    As I read Dr Marshall’s blog post, these biblical verses came to mind:

    “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12).

    “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15).

    One notes that our Lord does not hesitate to speak of our forgiveness of those who have hurt or wounded us, of those who have indebted themselves to us, as a condition for divine forgiveness. Does this mean, therefore, that God’s mercy is conditional, as we fear, in those dark moments when we are alone with our despair? Why is it that Jesus and the Apostles, and following them the entire ascetical tradition of East and West, so often speak of the necessity of repentance and good works?

    During the past year I have been reading a lot of Eastern Orthodox literature on these themes. As you are aware, the Orthodox never tire of speaking of synergism, of the necessity for us to respond to God’s grace and struggle for our salvation. To Western ears it sounds all so very Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian. Yet no where does one find the saints and fathers boasting of their good works–such boasting is vehemently condemned as the sin of the Pharisee. We are exhorted, rather, to emulate the Publican: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” If one would enter into the salvation of God, one must become humble and generous and merciful–not because God is a harsh taskmaster but because salvation is really about becoming a different kind of person, about becoming a person fit for the Kingdom of God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” There simply is no other way. Jesus does not allow us to sit nice and cozy with easy assurance. He knows that we too often take the divine word of absolution and use it to build even higher our walls against God. Life is more than theological formulae. Our egos need to be broken. Our self-will needs to be healed. There is no escape from the daily and painful struggle to work out one’s salvation through prayer and fasting and repentance and the love of neighbor. Salvation is not a spectator sport. Jesus wants us to be involved. Is this not what we mean when we speak of our good works as contributing to our salvation?

    I am convinced that what is missing in the Catholic-Protestant debate on justification is the ascetical life. It is the ascetical life that keeps us from falling into either destructive antinomianism or self-righteous moralism.

    I have found particularly helpful the wisdom of St Silouan the Athonite. Love of enemies, he says, is the key:

    “The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.”

    “The Lord taught me to love my enemies. Without the grace of God we cannot love our enemies. Only the Holy Spirit teaches love, and then even devils arouse our pity because they have fallen from good, and lost humility in God.”

    “I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: ‘O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,’ and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God.”

    “If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you; but when you can love your enemies – know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation. Whereas if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil spirit living in you and bringing evil thoughts into your heart, for, in the words of the Lord, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts – or good thoughts.”

    I know how these sayings might get parsed in the Catholic-Protestant debate, yet I think that they provide a way for us to transcend the debate and return to what is real and true and absolutely necessary.

  6. A thoughtful and well-written response to my reply to Anne, David, and I’ve appreciated Fr Kimel’s comments, too. I’ll let you know when I’ve got my goggles and ‘togs’ on (Queensland dialect for bathers)!

  7. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    There is no difference between a man who eats little and sees God and a man who drinks much and sees snakes.

    There is no value whatsoever in the thoughts of a man who turns his back on life, refuses to go down into Jerusalem as it were but seeks to construct a mount of his own making where in total self-obsession he can grovel around about whether he is good enough for God yet.

    Unbridled spiritual autism.

    It’s not about doing or not doing good works at all.

    It’s about insofar as one is doing good works to be saved or as “part of his salvation” rather than because he is saved, one has no clue whatever of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    • I think that what Fr Alvin was getting at is that one’s way of life as a justied believer is an integral part of the “gospel” – whether or not ascetism is taken as a normative model for that way of life.

    • Once the blessed Anthony was praying in his cell. A voice came to him, saying: “Anthony! You have not yet attained the measure of the tanner who lives in Alexandria.” On hearing this, the elder got up early in the morning and hastened to Alexandria. When he came to the tanner, the latter was extremely surprised to see him. The elder said to him: “Tell me of your feats, because it is for this that I have come all the way from the desert.” The tanner answered: “I don’t remember the least good that I could have done at any time; that is why, when I get up early from my bed, before starting with my work, I tell myself: ‘All the inhabitants of this city, from the small to the great, will enter the Kingdom for their virtues, and I alone will go to eternal fire for my sins.’ I repeat the same words in my heart before I go to sleep.” Hearing this, the blessed Anthony replied: “Indeed, my son, you, as a skilled artisan, sitting in your home, have acquired the Kingdom; while I, although I’m spending all my life in the desert, have not gathered the spiritual wisdom, nor reached the state of mind that you have shown with your words.”

      • Excellent example, Father. Just what I thought you meant!

        • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

          Oh barf, retch, then fall down the stairs. Somebody needs to proclaim the Gospel to both of these clowns and break them out of their self-obsession with their works and status before God. But such needless pagan self-torture is common among those who trust in their works, even in part, for their own salvation, and even worse theologise it into trust in Christ’s works or part thereof.

          We do good works, there is no dispute about that, but we do them because we are saved and not in order to be saved or as part of our salvation.

          Just as I am, without one plea,
          Except Thy blood was shed for me.

      • I must say that I find this story disturbing. Perhaps I am missing context?

        The artisan begins and ends each day thinking of himself and comparing himself to others. He appears extremely self-centered to me.

        I’d think it would be better to say “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” than to say “I’m the worst sinner of the lot.” Even if the latter were true, so what?

        • Mary, to appreciate this story one needs to read a bunch of the stories of the desert fathers. One cannot draw out from them general principles or practices that are universally applicable. God works in each of us differently. Salvation is something that needs to be lived–I think that is one of the points. Reading the desert fathers is akin to reading Zen Buddhists. Their aphorisms and stories are intended to provoke us into seeing God in fresh ways and lead us into the way of humility and faith. This, by the way, is also how I think Luther should be read.

          If you are interested in the desert fathers, I commend to you In the Heart of the Desert by John Chryssavgis.

        • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

          I find the story disturbing too, in exactly the way you say, Mary. Reading the “desert fathers” is indeed akin to reading Zen Buddhists — unrelated to the Gospel.

          • My goodness, I didn’t know the Lutherans disavowed the desert fathers. But apparently, there are many things I don’t know about Lutherans. Are we both talking about the same “desert fathers”?

          • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

            It would not be right to say Lutherans disavow the desert fathers, or the fathers generally, desert or not. Rather we say, the “fathers” are not normative or prescriptive or some sort of key to the secret code of Scripture or the past, but are put to the same test as everything else, which is, not as the evangelicals in the American sense say is it stated in Scripture, but does it square with what is stated in Scripture, or not. Insofar as they do, fine, but one ought not assume they do and then form an understanding of Scripture or church or liturgy based on them.

            As to fasting, I am atypical of confessional Lutherans. Most hold that fasting is a part of Christian life that Jesus assumes we will do — when, not if, you fast etc. In fact my most recent butt kicking from Paul McCain was over just that — and I might add, he is a publisher at Concordia Publishing House which recently produced the finest English version of the Book of Concord there is, a revision of the one available online with many helps for study, all outstanding as has been characteristic of Pastor McCain’s work for CPH.

            • Paul McCain kicked PE’s butt? Hey, you the dude, Pastor Paul! (I think that is the mode of expression one employs for these circumstances. Some good fellow on this blog will correct me if I am mistaken…)

              • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

                The best time was when I criticised a phrase in the CPH BOC, of which he was general editor, and chose among the many arguments why one in which I misremembered a verb from the German original, which he caught right away and promptly kicked my butt, and he was right, I had the verb wrong.

                I don’t get into Lutheran intramurals much here, but I thought you might enjoy that one, being not only that I got my butt kicked but rightly so.

  8. PE: I’ve read the First Things article referenced above, and you haven’t answered a single one of the claims or interpretations in that article.

    So basically what I get from you is:
    ‘insofar as one is doing good works to be saved or as “part of his salvation” rather than because he is saved, one has no clue whatever of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”‘
    because Terry Maher (Past Elder) says so.

    I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but you give me nothing else to go on.

    Please explain or provide a reference why the First Things article is wrong. And I need a little more than — “because the guy who wrote it is a Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, whatever.” Truth should be truth, no matter who says it.

    • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

      It was not my intention to address the First Things article per se.

      The intention was to address its use in the blog post’s characteristically Roman Catholic confusion of justification and sanctifiction.

      It is not so because I say so; nothing is. The something else you have to go on is Holy Scripture, which the church says you can rely on. So rely on it. Minus the Catholic Church saying But only we can tell you what it REALLY means. Hell, they can’t even tell you what they really mean.

      • “It was not my intention to address the First Things article per se.
        “The intention was to address its use in the blog post’s characteristically Roman Catholic confusion of justification and sanctification.”

        I’m trying to understand this.

        So your argument in these posts is not with the article per se, but with the fact that David is using it in this blog to show support for the RC position on works and salvation? If so, does that mean you automatically discount any article that purports to show a biblical basis for the RC understanding?

        I could understand why you would automatically consider such an article to be incorrect. But if you don’t address the error in the reasoning or biblical interpretation, don’t you let the error stand?

        Since I’ve read the rules on being nice, please allow me to introduce myself. I am a midwestern USA RC who was raised RC, vaguely remembers the pre-VII days, and went through a couple of other Christian denominations before returning to my original faith. I’m reasonably conversant with the bible, with what my church teaches, and with what some other non-Catholic Christian churches teach.

        • I agree, Mary. To me, it seems as if Bruce has put forward a perfectly scriptural defence of the Catholic doctrine of justification and sanctification.

          The plain fact is that PE and his church is doing just what he accuses me and my Church of doing: He is relying on what the Lutheran Church says that scripture “REALLY” means. Neither he nor I are reading scipture without an hermeneutic bias. I doubt if it can in fact be done. However, it should be noted that when I first read Bruce’s article, I thought he was a Methodist (on the basis of his employer), so I wasn’t reading what I thought was a Catholic hermeneutic at all.

          • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

            The difference is, that the “Lutheran Church” (strictly speaking there is no such thing) consistently referred me to Scripture and not themselves for a “hermeneutic”.

            Another difference is — and perhaps, Mary being new here, it may serve by way of introduction as well as an “it should be noted” — I am a midwestern USA Lutheran who was raised RC, vividly remembers the pre-VII days and was leaning toward the priesthood, who went through the re-invention of Catholicism into what was once dissent from it thinking since Catholicism was the true faith there is no point in bothering with other Christian denominations since they could not possibly have it right except for those aspects of Catholicism they did not deny and concluded I must indeed wait for another, as it were, and for twenty three years was a Gentile follower of Orthodox Judaism (which is to say, Judaism), who only because he had married an LCMS woman and we were about to have kids and did not want to inflict our respective religious burnouts on them, Seminex having been for her much like Vatican II for me, began to read Luther’s essays of 1520, took and information class and read the BOC starting out thinking it all has to be wrong because Christianity is wrong and this is wrong Christianity and to my utter amazement found it right on all counts in 1996.

            So don’t take my word, the RCC’s word, the “Lutheran Church’s” word for a damn thing but test it by Scripture itself.

            • But what is the “Law/Gospel” dichotomy if not a “Lutheran Hermeneutic”?

              • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

                Apparently the Apostles knew it quite well, otherwise they would not have had to settle how it could be that people not under the Law, the Gentiles, could be saved by the Gospel or even have it preached to them unless they first be brought under the Law of Moses.

              • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

                It never ceases to amaze me how Catholics always respond to things with some sort of imputation of what was not said into what was.

                I am in no way suggesting that Catholics have not read the Bible or have not reached their own conclusions, those of the RCC, which I at one time shared. I am saying, not suggesting, that those conclusions are wrong.

                Nor am I suggesting that anyone reading the Bible will automatically up and become Lutheran. In fact, among the many formerly characteristically Catholic things either absent or not emphasised in postconciliar newspeak is that the very fact of the many understandings out there from reading the Bible points to the necessity of an authority to determine what is correct and what is not.

                I would suggest, as it were, that matters are significantly less complex and confusing than the RCC presents them. That is why God became incarnate as the son of a carpenter, not a scholar, and called fishermen, not scholars.

                Yet our scholars, from the “fathers” on, turn their backs on the apostolic resolve that out faith not rest on human wisdom and know nothing but Christ and him crucified, and insinuate Platonism, Aristotelianism, rationalism, existentialism, phenomenology, whatever.

                Yet as damn near the only theologian worth reading, Aquinas, admonishes in contra gentiles I.9 our theology is only for the edification of fellow believers in the same thing, not to counter adversaries lest they come away thinking we believe on the basis of such flimsy argumentation, and also because Scripture’s authority is the only one capable of revealing God’s truth and we cannot attain to it except by that revelation.

                Who cares about the history of the phrase “forensic justification” or “the distinction between Law an Gospel”? The words to care about are three in English (two in Latin), It is finished. And what must we then do, enter into a regimen taking its place among all the other regimens offered to get right with God, no, repent and be baptised in the name of Christ for the remission of sins.

                Any “gospel” that our works have even the least part in his salvation, or that therefore one is excused from good works, is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

                • “So don’t take my word, the RCC’s word, the “Lutheran Church’s” word for a damn thing but test it by Scripture itself.”

                  That statement seems pretty clear to me. You don’t normally tell someone to test something according to a certain standard if you think they have already done so.

                  Really, PE, if we can’t agree on simple conversational English, what’s the point of discussing the bible?

                  • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

                    The context was, David’s assertion that a hermenetic is inescapable, that I, he, and everyone reads a hermeneutic into what he reads, except those who come away agreeing with The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church, not in that they too haven’t assumed a hermeneutic but in that they have assumed the4 correct one.

                    • Yes, where the RC hermeneutic differs from the Lutheran (and anyone else’s) hermeneutic, I think the RC is right and the others are wrong. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be a RC.

                      By the way, I’ve started reading through the BOC http://www.bookofconcord.org/ (the internet is wonderful – please tell me if you think a different site is better). So far I’ve gotten thru the Preface to the Book of Concord, The Ecumenical Creeds, and The Augsburg Confession.

                    • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

                      That site is the best one there is for reading the BOC online. There are better translations than that, but not online.

                    • except those who come away agreeing with The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church

                      No, I was including those who agree with “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church.”

                • “Who cares about the history of the phrase “forensic justification” or “the distinction between Law an Gospel”? The words to care about are three in English (two in Latin), It is finished. And what must we then do, enter into a regimen taking its place among all the other regimens offered to get right with God, no, repent and be baptised in the name of Christ for the remission of sins.

                  “Any “gospel” that our works have even the least part in his salvation, or that therefore one is excused from good works, is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

                  If only everything was so simple as merely proclaiming “It is finished.”

                  Apparently, even for you, Mr. Maher, matters are not finished, as you immediately qualify the Christ’s finished atoning work by the necessity of repentance and baptism. Are these necessary for salvation or not? Upon hearing the gospel, do I have the freedom to refuse faith and baptism? Am I damned if I do so refuse? And if they are necessary, then how are they not precisely works in the Lutheran sense?

                  Perhaps “It is finished” is not quite so simple to interpret as you suppose.

                  Let me offer you a simpler alternative: Because Christ has died for the sins of all, because he has accomplished everything needed, every human being, without exception, will be saved. Christ has done everything and will do everything. We are saved by grace, not by works, not even by the work of faith. Christ has conquered and will conquer all sin and disbelief. He will turn all hearts to him. He will turn your heart to him. He will turn my heart to him. “It is finished!” The only thing left for us to do is to celebrate and rejoice!

                  Why is this not a legitimate interpretation of the three essential words?

                  • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

                    It is finished was good enough for Christ, and that is good enough for me.

                    Repentance and baptism are works, but not of mine. They are entirely the works and gifts of the Holt Ghost. And if you refuse them, yes you are damned. Whether you (or more properly, one) has refused them or not with what we used to call full animadversion is not mine to say.

                    This is why both the RC on the one hand and the “decision theology” on the other are wrong. You can no more repent and be baptised as your own work than you can wake yourself from the dead. The whole thing, from start to finish, is a work, but God’s, not ours. There is no such thing as a work of faith, except the work of God within us.

                    I am not sure whether you offer your “simpler alternative” as a “legitimate interpretation” or as more Catholic word-play wherein what one did not say is drawn from what one did .

            • Mr Maher, may I respectfully suggest that matters are significantly more complex and confusing than you are presenting them. Even among Protestant biblical scholars, who are typically committed to a critical-historical hermeneutic, the exegesis of Scripture on the question of justification is much debated. It simply is NOT the case that a neutral observer who picks up the New Testament will discover a clean and sharp distinction, e.g., between justification and sanctification. Nor does one find a sharp distinction between justification and sanctification in the Church Fathers. Even Alister McGrath, a great supporter of Luther’s construal of justification, was forced by the historical facts to admit that the Lutheran notion of forensic justification was a “genuine theological novum” (see his book Iustitia Dei).

              Please give those of us who disagree with the Lutheran construal of justification as actually having read the Bible and reached our own conclusions. Thank you.

            • I must point out that, although it was apparently not the norm when I was growing up, I did grow up in an RC home where the bible was read. I have read the Bible twice through (one of the those times with both a fundamentalist and an atheist commentary by my side). One of these days, I suppose I should re-read the Bible with an actual Catholic commentary. And of course, I have read and studied many parts of the bible over the years.

              I do think, on this forum at least, it would make more sense to assume that the posters have actually read the bible and been able to come to their own conclusions, as Fr Kimel notes below.

  9. Fr Ronan Kilgannon Erem.Dio.

    I was under the impression that this disputed question was dealt with in the Common Declaration on Justification. Am I mistaken?

    • You are not mistaken, father, except in the belief that the JDDJ actually solved any of these disputes. The opposite is rather the case. It did show what we agreed on – and also, I believe, that “the pope” indeed does “allow the gospel” – but also that much is left to be done in this field.

      • If justification by faith is understood as a meta-linguistic or meta-theological rule, as formulated by Jenson and Lindbeck, then it must said that the Catholic preacher is free to preach the gospel–at least I haven’t run into any authoritative obstacles to such preaching.

  10. Perhaps of interest to this discussion is Christopher Malloy’s article on justification and Pope Benedict’s recent comments about Luther:

    http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2009/0909fea4.asp