[T]hough he [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth. (cf. Phil 2:6-11)
To begin this next post, I want to start by reiterating a passage from the writings of Saint Gregory the Great. He is meditating on Saint Paul’s reflection of what love is (cf. 1 Cor 13:4-6; ‘love is patient, love is kind’ etc.), and uses it to identify the Christian, namely, as one who
shows his patience by bearing wrongs with equanimity; his kindness by generously repaying good for evil. Jealously is foreign to him…His conduct is blameless…He is not ambitious…He is not quick to take offense…He harbors no evil thoughts.
“[B]eing a Christian…is to be transformed”, writes Joseph Ratzinger, “it must involve repentance and not just some embellishment added onto the rest of one’s life. It reaches down into our depths and renews us from those very depths”. There is something in the life of the Christian that is unique; how one lives—ultimately in relationship with God—is the message of Christianity. Love is the atomical unit of what it means to be Christian. Jesus Christ is Love victorious. In the Roman culture of Jesus’ time, “Victory” itself was beginning to appear as a deity. In fact, the emperor’s identification with “Victory” would be the rule of measure for future emperors. The life of Jesus of Nazareth shows us the true personification of victory, and it is He, and He is Love. Christ shows us that the true victory-deity is the God of Love, and He is “Victory” because He conquered death through love. The reason why I bring this up is because it is imperative to understand that love is stronger than death. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, and as such a genuine transformation of the human heart is possible: holiness is possible, happiness is possible, life is possible! Christianity is not just a cover-up in the person of Jesus, but an actual transformation of the self, a legitimate participation in the “divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4) because of Jesus Christ. To understand justification, we must understand how Christianity is about transformation: hence justification cannot be separated from sanctification.
Though the previous post did not directly mention it, as soon as one discusses justification, it is almost certain that a few matters of history and doctrine will come to light: justification by faith, and justification by faith and works. Generally, it is thought that Martin Luther (as well as Protestantism as a whole) and the Catholic position completely disagree—Luther is pro-faith, and Catholicism pro-faith-and-works, or in some minds just pro-works. However, if one looks at the texts of the Catholic Council of Trent, it appears that the general accepted understanding of this soteriological matter may be inaccurate. For-instance, the Council declares: “If anyone says that a person can be justified before God by his own works…apart from divine grace through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema”. I think that most Protestants would appreciate such a statement. Both the Catholic and the Protestant can agree that salvation occurs only through the gratuity of God. It is through grace that man has and receives eternal life. No one can earn salvation—that is heresy. However, and as we will examine further throughout this series, where a much greater distinction exists between the Catholic and Protestant doctrine is in the understanding of grace itself.
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.
Saint Claude la Colombiére is a 17th century Jesuit saint. It is unfortunate that there are not more of his writings in English translation, yet. However, of what we have, a small book of excerpts, there is a great deal of spiritual wisdom and depth to be found. In this post, I would like to highlight and briefly examine a few of the beautiful passages of such a reverent and intelligent servant.
In an excerpt of some retreat notes, the Saint writes on the power and beauty of prayer:
[Prayer] is the only means of purifying us, of uniting us to God, and of allowing God to unite himself to us and be glorified in us. We must pray to obtain the apostolic virtues; pray that we may use them to help others, and pray also that we may not lose them while serving others.
In the Second Reading of the Divine Office for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the excerpt is from a homily on the Gospels by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. It is a beautiful passage about love, coming to know Jesus Christ, and eschatological joy. The aim of this post is to focus primarily on Gregory’s emphasis on love as read in this selection from the Liturgy of the Hours.
The primary Gospel message that Gregory is preaching on is Christ the Good Shepherd (Jn 10). He is speaking to encourage the flock to truly be flock, and by that he means true followers of the Heavenly Shepherd: “Ask yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love”. To be a sheep of the Good Shepherd is if to, not surprisingly, follow Him—and this requires love.
At the end of part I of this two-part post, we ended with Benedict drawing the synthesis of hope and joy in their inner-relationship with the Easter message and its significance. He then quotes a passage from the Second Reading, which illustrates the relationship beautifully, first quoting from St. Peter in the Second Reading: “‘by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. And he adds: ‘In this you rejoice…’ (1 Pt 1:3, 6). Here too, the fact that hope and joy are theological realities which radiate from the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and from the gift of his Spirit clearly emerges. We could say that the Holy Spirit takes them from the Heart of the Risen Christ and transfuses them in the hearts of his friends”.
At this point, Benedict clearly introduces into his preaching the image of the heart. On Cardinal Spidlík’s coat of arms, there is the motto: “ex toto corde” (“with all your heart”). Biblically, this phrase is founded in the instruction of how Israel must love her God: “Hear, O Israel…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (cf. Dt 6:4-5). The heart as the nucleus of man is clear. Hence, the whole human person is called to love, and this is what is meant when the term “repent” is found in the Bible, as in the words of St. John the Baptist. To repent is to re-orient one’s heart—one’s soul, might, personality, attitude, sight—toward the Kingdom of God.
Last Tuesday, April 20th, Pope Benedict XVI delivered the homily at the funeral Mass for Cardinal Spidlík. As always, the words of the Holy Father are touching and practical; yet, at the same time, they are filled with great theological depth. In this particular homily, Benedict introduces themes of theology that appear consistently in his thought: hope, joy, and the significance of the heart. In this two-part post, I want to examine the homily of Benedict through the lens of these three theological subjects.
The Pope opens the homily with some of the Cardinal’s last words before his death. They are beautiful, and in themselves, a reflection could be written: “Throughout my life I have sought the Face of Jesus and I am now happy and at peace because I am about to go and see him”. In a recent post, we have already reflected—briefly—over the theological understanding of death, especially through the thought of Benedict. Not surprising, then, the Holy Father is drawing the same conclusion as before—this time, through the words of another Christian. In the person of Jesus Christ, the dark, unknown abyss has been opened, has been walked through; and not just that, but the abyss itself has been conquered. Love has defeated that sting of death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54-55 ); love has given birth to a hope, rooted in the supernatural, that grants man true life, thereby making it possible to overcome the burden of death.
In the history of religious thought, from the primitive times until now, a consistent theme has breeched the thought of every sort of believer: death. Is this all life is? Is death really the end? Does my existence take me, in the final stage, to nothing? Without a doubt, death has been a subject of intense inquiry from the earliest times of religious and philosophical, indeed human, thought.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily given on Easter Vigil, confronts this question, and does so positively. The Bishop opens his homily with a brief summary of an ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book The Life of Adam and Eve, in which Adam, “in his final illness…sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be…healed”. Eventually, after some time searching and prayer, the Archangel Michael appears to them and explains that they will be unable to obtain “the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die”. Such a myth “lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere—people have constantly thought—there must be some cure for death”.