On April 16 I asked if the Pope would agree with a given statement on the doctrine of Justification. Instead of being from the actual Catechism of the Catholic Church, the quote comes from Compendium: Catechism of the Catholic Church (2005), an epitome of the fuller version from 1994. Pr. May and Pr. Weedon, I guess I couldn’t fool you. (Not that I really thought I would! ☺) So, yes, I too presume the Pope would agree with the statement, especially since he wrote the “Motu Proprio” and said that the Compendium “faithfully reflects the Catechism of the Catholic Church and will thus assist in making the Catechism more widely known and more deeply understood” (p. xii).
I thank those who commented, in one way or another. Joe simply said, “Nope,” but I’m not sure if he meant “Nope” to the Pope agreeing or to agreeing with the statement himself. Someone named “Anonymous” said, “Classic B16. So close, and yet so far.” I’m not sure what exactly that’s supposed to mean. Another “Anonymous” made reference to Pres. Kieschnick, but I’m not sure what he really has to do with the real life Pope and this quote.
The more detailed comments intrigue me. Mary said she thought the Pope would agree, but that she would not. She cited the phrases about “the beginning of the free response” and “cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then she posed the question: “can a dead man respond or cooperate?” Good question, and right on, as far as one being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) goes. But I have a follow up question.
Why assume that this statement on Justification, especially in the latter phrases, refers to the “dead man” of the unbelieving sinner responding or cooperating before he/she is converted? What if it refers to the sinner who has been justified and thus converted and brought to life by God’s grace? That would seem to be the actual train of thought in the quote. First comes justification; then comes the “…free response of man, that is, faith in Christ….”
How is this really that much different from what we Lutherans say in Augsburg Confession IV, V, and VI? First, AC IV says, “People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake” (Concordia, 33). Certainly, we would not assume that the “dead man” of the sinner first has faith and then ushers himself/herself into justification! Then AC V says, “Through the Word and Sacraments…the Holy Spirit is given” and “works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake” (Concordia, 33). And, finally, AC VI says, “this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit” (Concordia, 33).
It seems to me that in both the Compendium statement and the Augsburg Confession we have justification taught as: (1) God’s work of love (2) because of Christ (3) effected in the individual by the Holy Spirit, and (4) this divine work enlivens the person to respond in faith and life.
On the matter of the Compendium’s phrase “of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” don’t we Lutherans also say that? Of course, we do not refer to the “dead man” of the sinner cooperating. Instead, we refer to the person who has been justified (a.k.a. converted, forgiven) as cooperating. Is it possible that this is how the Compendium understands it in the given quote as well?
Check out this quote from the Formula of Concord: “as soon as the Holy Spirit has begun His work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy Sacraments, we can and should cooperate through His power, although still in great weakness. This cooperation does not come from our fleshly natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts that the Holy Spirit has begun in us in conversion” (Solid Declaration II:65; Concordia, 532).
Here we Lutherans say, essentially, that once we are converted we do begin cooperating with the Holy Spirit, however imperfectly and weakly it truly is. This seems to be the same thing that the Compendium says: “Justification is the beginning of the free response of man, that is, faith in Christ and of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Holy Scripture certainly speaks of “cooperation” too. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 says, “Working together with him [God], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (Formula of Concord cites these verses.) And Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (My addition here.) So, we can indeed speak of cooperating with the Holy Spirit, as long as we are referring to the person justified and enlivened by the Holy Trinity’s work in justification.
Even Franz Pieper could say this: “In conversion man merely experiences the working of God…, but in sanctification the Christian plays an active role; he co-operates” (Christian Dogmatics, vol. III, p. 14).
I also appreciate Pr. May’s comment: “[The Pope’s] quote, ‘Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love’ is a great quote and one that should certainly catch the attention of those who belong to the Church of the Augsburg Confession.” That’s exactly why I posted the quote: it caught my attention, as it does appear to give a clear statement of God’s work—Divine monergism—in Justification.
It also appears that Pr. May would agree with the Compendium’s statement that justification “is given to us in Baptism.” I would also concur. After all, as Titus 3:5, also cited in the Small Catechism on Baptism, says, “he [God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Yes, as Pr. May points out, the Sacraments—especially Baptism in this discussion—actually deliver something: the Holy Trinity’s work in Justification!
In her comments, Anastasia questioned the whole notion of “merit” as mentioned in the Compendium quote. She is exactly right: “Salvation can’t BE merited. Doesn’t need to be. It isn’t for sale in exchange for merit. It’s GIVEN away, rather than sold. Because it’s from God’s radically non-self-seeking love.” That’s exactly the point that the Lutheran Confessions make over and over too.
Pr. May then responded by acknowledging that “merit” is indeed “traditional Western theological language.” The crux of the matter at the time of the Reformation was where to place that “merit.” At the time of the Reformation Rome had wanted to place the “merit” on the shoulders of the believer (via pilgrimages, indulgences, etc.), whereas the Reformers wanted to place it squarely on Christ’s cross-bearing shoulders. Even the new Orthodox Study Bible can say this: “In Western Europe during the sixteenth century and before, however, justifiable concern arose among the Reformers over a prevailing understanding that salvation depended on human works of merit, and not on the grace and mercy of God” (p. 1529).
It sure looks like the Compendium quote places the “merit” of justification on Christ’s shoulders instead of man’s. Although, I wonder if we might be better served to restrain the “merit” language, as “theological language,” that is, and use language such as “because of Christ” or simply justified and saved “by Jesus Christ.”
So, yes, the Pope would certainly agree with what amounts to “his own” statement. I’d also say that his statement at least catches our attention and may even reveal some addressing of concerns that sparked the Reformation.