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.