Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Really, the Pope still isn't Protestant

A friend sent me the following:
"You will delighted to know that the pope now preaches justification by faith, ... [in] this sermon."

I'd seen about this a while ago, but thought it'd probably go unnoticed. However, given that it has been noticed, here's what I replied:

Thanks for sending on that link, it's certainly good to keep abreast of what's happening in Rome, though it must be said that the Pope's sermons have little effect to the System on the ground.

I must reply though, because although I know it's fuzzy in that sermon, and lines of it can be read in a Protestant way if we look with hope, Ratzinger does not teach the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone - in that sermon he uses those words in a context which redefines them to fit Roman doctrine. I don't want us to have a false hope [about Rome] when witnessing to Roman Catholics we meet or get to know - nor encourage them to get this truth from their Church, because it's not in the system, even if you think this sermon sounds like it in bits.

While Ratzinger is the most theologically astute Pope there's been in a long while, he has not departed from the Council of Trent where Rome anathematised Justification by grace alone through faith alone. He's a stalwart conservative in that field, but as a German theologian, he can say things subtley enough to sound [to so many evangelicals] like it fits Protestant doctrine, if you interpret one-off sentences in a Protestant way. After all, Rome has never been Pelagian in doctrine (only practice, as with many 'Protestant' churches!). Rome does not teach 'salvation by works'. (That's merely the impression you get in the System.) The actual difference is that Rome says that justification is a process of trust in Christ involving living as Christ did, whereas we protest that justification is an act of God's free grace, through trust in Christ alone, from which the life of the Spirit springs as fruit, after God's act of justification. But this is the difference between life & death, between joyful confidence in Christ & endless striving to fulfil it yourself.

In Ratzinger's words from that sermon:
"Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love."
R Scott Clark says:
"We agree that being just means being “with Christ” and “in Christ” by faith alone, i.e., by a “certain knowledge and a hearty trust,” by “resting and receiving” Christ and his perfect righteousness imputed by the unmerited favor of God alone. This is not what Benedict means.

We agree that “observances are no longer necessary.” We agree that faith is “looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ” but that’s not all Benedict says. He adds the qualifier, “conformed to Christ, to his life.” Oops. Justification by faith alone absolutely results in becoming gradually conformed to Christ, but the supreme pontiff has it that justification is predicated upon our being “conformed to Christ.” There’s more. “And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love.”
You could say that it's a bit confused, and could be read either way. I'd say that's the problem - Rome confuses justification and sanctification and so undermines hope and confidence in the cross (in fact, anathematises such confidence). If my justification is based, in any way, on my love - I have no hope. (If you want to make more sense of that specific sermon, read the rest of Scott Clark's article.)

I'm saying this with tears, because it's only through God's mercy that we see the light of the gospel at all; but the Pope has not gone Protestant. He's not Pelagian, either, but that doesn't do much good for those in the system on the ground. If I sound negative or nit-picking in this, no problem: I cry over this - Life hangs on this - that justification is an act of God's free grace whereby he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, received by faith alone. Otherwise you get what Ratzinger ended with:
"And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbour, we can truly be just in God’s eyes."
That is no hope to those who hang on his words, and no good news. It's no good news to all those RC friends I have and those students I meet.

Sorry. Still praying for reformation of grace in all churches, only hope is the active righteousness of Christ.

In Him,



adrian reynolds said...

v.v. good response. Confirmed to me what I have just read: this week finished reading the Catholic Catechism (!)alongside "Evangelicals and Catholics together" (particularly appropriate in the week Neuhaus died). Thanks.

Paul said...

Justification by faith, grace and Christ alone is great doctrine.The Catholic church is in serious error and many, many of her people arenot saved.

But the very fact that the protestant doctrine is right here means that we can expect to see Catholics in heaven because faith in Christ does not equal "a correct understanding of justification".

étrangère said...

Thanks Adrian. The RC catechism is a worthwhile read, certainly - and then for those who don't already know it, I'd recommend following it up with some WSC :) I was always baffled by ECT that it seemed so naïve, not appreciating that a) they were using the same words to mean completely different things and b) this was so blatant if you just looked at the effect on the ground: how come supposedly teaching the same thing could produce such different faiths in practice?

Thanks Paul, indeed that's true - just as Jean Cauvin said there were some true churches in the Church of his day, while the Papal church as a whole was not a true Church. But I won't let that hope hold me back in proclaiming the truth to my RC friends, as the system points them not to faith in Christ alone but to the value of being in the Church; not to faith in the finished work of Christ but in ongoing receipt of grace infused from the Church. I don't deny that some RCs will be trusting in Christ for salvation despite the system - and I get the impression that some English RCism is more studied and less Pelagian in its theology than one experiences on the ground certainly in Ireland, Belgium, France, Spain, etc. But it continues to be despite the system, not because of it - so I'm not leaving them to it.

Paul said...

Absolutely. We proclaim the gospel to ourselves, we proclaim it to Christians, Catholics and non-Christians.

Nicky said...

Hi, thanks for an interesting read!