This series of posts will examine the Christian doctrine of justification, a subject that has been brought up in the dialogue of this blog more than once. As such, I hope to address this topic and try to outline the Catholic understanding. In addition, I also want to compare the Catholic doctrine with the Protestant stance on the subject. It would be incredibly inefficient to take the Catholic position and compare it with the thousands of individual Protestant denominations; for this reason, I have chosen to consider primarily Martin Luther himself to be the most adequate and efficient method to compare and contrast the Catholic and Protestant positions. Let us begin.
“[I]f I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing”, writes the Great Apostle (1 Cor 13:2). Saint Paul, in multiple passages of his writings, exhorts the greatness of love. Ultimately, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10). When we talk about justification, then, a proper hermeneutic of the subject must stem from love, which is the greatest of the three theological virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13). Moreover, it is important to see that love, which is the principle of holiness, denotes something about justification: that justification is intimitely tied up with becoming holy, i.e., sanctification.
In the Judaic tradition, the law was directed toward living a just and pious life. Thus, the fulfillment of the law, which Saint Paul identifies as love, is about justification and sanctification. So, justification and sanctification both require Love as the atomical unit. Moreover, the redemptive message of Jesus Christ is that He has brought God: following the path of life toward God, in Jesus Christ, is opened to a totally new level that supercedes the Judaic Law. In that sense is His teaching the fulfillment of the law: the object of the Law—God—is shown to the eyes of the disciple in a new light and closeness in Jesus Christ. Additionally, the awaited Messiah of the Hebrew Testament was to bring a new Torah. The Torah of Jesus Christ is Himself: He is the Word. Now, the Torah was perhaps the greatest medium into God; hence, in Jesus Christ—the New Torah, the Word of God in person—a central component of living justly and piously is the Word of God Himself, who, in Jesus Christ is Love incarnate. Consequently—and this is of no surprise—Jesus Himself preaches that the road to perfection lies in following him (cf. Mt 19:21): “Perfection, the state of being holy as God is holy, as demanded by the Torah, now consists in following Jesus.” And what this means is that Love is the “true morality of the Christian”, the “fire that purifies and unifies…making man one with himself, inasmuch as it makes him one in God’s eyes…This is how man enters God’s dwelling place and becomes able to see him. And that is just what it means for him to be ‘blessed’”.
There is a further implication if love is the center of this theological structure: precisely because it is love that is the principle ingredient of justification, sanctification, and salvation, it is true and necessary that an orthodox understanding of soteriology stems from the gratuity of God. In the descent of God to the Cross, He opens up a bridge into Himself; He gives that we may give; it is by His grace that man ascends into the Divine (cf. Rom 3:24). And, moreover, just as God reaches man through a humble descent, so man reaches God through that same path: through the Spirit, in Christ, to the Father. Here it cannot be stressed enough: the ascent into God is a path. It is a journey, an adventure, and it requires one’s life. Simultaneously, it is clear that Christianity is about an authentic relationship with the other, namely, God, and precisely because of that, Christianity is also about genuine transformation, renewal, and the elevation of being to a supernatural level within the heart of God Himself.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007) 105
 Ibid., 99
 Ibid., 95-ff.
 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 1994