19 April 2008

Yes, the Pope Agrees. Might We?

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.


  1. Naw, it won't fly. The pope still is Catholic, not Lutheran.

    As for whether dead men can respond, well, in about 20 seconds from now it will be Lazarus Saturday for the Orthodox. Lazarus did.

  2. Randy,

    This looks like a well-thought out post. Since it is late I look forward to taking a closer look at it tomorrow.

  3. All your Lutheran apologetics here is too sophisticated for me to understand. Can't we talk about Jello recipes or something?

  4. Tim,

    I look forward to your equally well thought out comments and critique.


    Nah, I don't do "Jello," at least in trading recipes over it. I'm sure there must be a "Jello blog" somewhere! :-)

  5. Check "The Afternoon show" on KFUO. They might be able to help.

  6. The difference is Catholics subsume sanctification under justification, in the narrow sense. Lutherans don't. In the Catholic view, man is justfied, that is reckoned righteous, not solely by grace through faith in Christ, but also through the inner renewal (sanctification in the narrow sense) that occurs after Baptism.
    That is why and where we disagree, and why an honest Lutheran could not agree with the Compendium.

  7. Still looking forward to responding but after a full day it would be too much for me tonight. So, I am still around and hope to write soon!

  8. Randy,

    I've got to stop reading your blog so early in the morning. After reading the doctrine again, I'm not sure why i said "nope". Not enough coffee yet I suppose.

  9. Yep, Joe, you better get that morning cup of java! :-)

  10. Fr. May,

    That's alright; I completely understand. I still look forward to your thoughtful response.

  11. Rev. Robert MayesApril 21, 2008 at 2:00 PM

    Randy: Interesting posts and feedback. I find it unique to engage in a theological conversation with you about this, given our mutual history. But here goes...

    I don't have a copy of the Compendium or the Catholic Catechism, so I must rely on the quotations you have given. (I know, I should probably invest in this). Regardless, red flags rise when 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.”

    My understanding of this - and correct me if I'm wrong - is that faith is not a free response of man. Faith in Christ is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). To say it is man's response is to put our certainty in man's reaction instead of God's action. This statement from the Compendium troubles me because it seems to mix justification with sanctification. Look what the Compendium in this place says justification is: "the beginning of the free response of man." This is a world of difference from seeing that justification is the declaration of the sinner as right with God on account of Christ (grace), which is then credited to the individual sinner through faith.

    Secondly, I understood that there is also a huge difference between sanctification and the good works that proceed from sanctification. Again, correct me if I'm wrong. Aren't good works what the redeemed and sanctified people co-operate with the Holy Spirit, but not quite sanctification in the narrow sense?

    The last thing that I wanted to bring up was how Rome and the Confessions differ as to how this grace applies to the Christian in regards to justification. My understanding of Rome's view of grace was that it is an infused habitas that gets lodged in the heart and jump-starts a sinner to start doing good works, by which he is saved. Roman grace is intra nos, equivalent to heavenly jumper cables or a divine nudge. That's how I understood Rome to speak of as co-operation with grace.

    The Confessions, as you know, speak of grace as extra nos, outside of us. It is not chiefly an inner nudge to get the human heart to do good works, by which he can become right with God. Grace is rather an external gift of forgiveness and pardon on account of Christ's innocent suffering and death in the sinner's place. And from this justified existence that we have through faith, Christians then render genuine good works in co-operation with the Holy Spirit.

    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church
    Fullerton, NE

  12. Well, Pastor Mayes, one thing I'm sure about, and that is, you are right and wise to parse these words.

    Roman words always need parsing. The reason is, one of Rome's tactics vis-a-vis others is to word things as vaguely as possible so as to come up with a verbal formula as many people as possible can agree with. And then to say, "You see? You believe the same things we do!" when that isn't even close to being so.

  13. Randy, et al,
    I have added another response to this discussion here. In short, it may seem somewhat tangential to this discussion but is related in that it is a caution from making too big a distinction between "justification" and "sanctification", between "extra nos" and "intra nos", between "saint" and "sinner", etc.

  14. Not necessarily. I would say that man's reaction to God's action of justification is precisely to cling to that mercy and life, as Luther often says, even in the Large Catehism. By "cling," of course, Luther refers to faith..

    And what exactly does that faith do with God's declaration that the sinner is right with God?

    So is faith a *response* to justification, or is justification *by* faith? In Lutheranism, hich comes first, the chicken or the egg? the justification, or the faith?

  15. I fully realize that, in Lutheran circles, it's not "popular" to point out certain areas of common ground that we may have with other communions. We do seem to find much of our meaning and purpose in showing the differences. Yes, there are differences, to be sure, but I think it only healthy to admit the common ground as well. After all, we Lutherans to claim to be part of the "Church catholic" and even confess the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" along with others.

    Thanks, Pastor. How could Lutherans and Catholics not have common ground -- we are both grounded in the Western Church, Luther's Augustinian roots are honored by both as are the priorities of Word and Sacrament which simply doesn't exist in the free church traditions.

    There is a new appreciation in Catholic circles of Luther's genius. I have lived with both traditions from my Lutheran and Catholic parents from birth on and there has been much progress.

    This Catholic will always be blessed by the baptismal bonds we share. May we continue to walk together in the Name of Jesus who alone is our hope.