Friday, July 28, 2006

Agreement on Justification?

There is much celebration over a new agreement between the Methodists, Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of justification. I haven't read the document but I will make a bold prediction: not one of the groups has moved from their original position. They can't because the Protestant and the Roman Catholic position are mutually exclusive.

Chris Campbell of The Thinking Christian blogged about it and provoked a very loooong discussion thread :-).

tags: theology


  1. Carrie said...
    Is agreeing to disagree considered an agreement?

    I look forward to reading through the comments on the linked articles. Thanks for the heads up.
    michele said...
    Well, it's not an agreement on the doctrine, that's for sure.
    Moonshadow said...
    I haven't read the document

    Read the document, please.
    michele said...
    Don't worry I intend to but you are about to see why I haven't won't have a chance for a little while.
    Moonshadow said...
    I'm relieved!

    You know the value of "primary sources" and the place of "secondary sources" in the life of the student of theology! :-)

    I'm not expecting you to say "Wow" or anything after reading.

    I hope that you came away with the impression that something honest and authentic is expressed in the document.

    Kasper is a great guy, actually, and has probably taught Benedict a thing or two.
    Michael Joseph said...
    You speak of Protestantism as if it is some homogenous entity that has one doctrine of justification. If anything, there is no predictability as to which Protestant denominations will eventually return to the Catholic position on justification. So, no, there is no way to determine that Catholicism and Protestantism are mutually exclusive.

    From a Catholic standpoint, the Joint Declaration on Justification outlines the soteriology of Scripture and finds the convergence between Catholicism and Lutheranism there. That's the nature of the agreement. What the Declaration states is that vocabulary was a bigger obstacle to union than doctrine.

    What I like about the Declaration is that it avoids giving primacy to some later, purely human understandings of justification, such as those that stem from Luther, Cajetan, Calvin, etc. A biblical understanding of justification is the route to union.
    michele said...
    So, Michael Joseph we are closer in doctrine than we thought? Language was just was just holding us back? Than you guys believe that we are saved my faith alone through grace alone apart from works, even grace infused? That we rest on the work of Christ and there is nothing else that a believer needs to do to be saved except to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.
    Michael Joseph said...
    If you mean "Reformed Christianity" by the word "we", then, no, we are not too close, though a recent book by James Akin called The Salvation Controversy shows that T.U.L.I.P., when slightly modified, is compatable with Catholic doctrine. Also, Hans Kungs old book, Justification, attempts to reconcile Karl Barth's soteriology with that of Catholicism.

    If you mean "Protestantism" by the term "we", then I cannot answer your question. Protestantism is not in agreement on the precise nature of justification. Just look at the disputes among the Reformers themselves.

    The Declaration was signed between Catholics and Lutherans, and more recently, some Methodists. That's only a small fraction of fragmented Protestant Christianity.

    As far as justification, "faith alone" is not radical enough. You're still talking from a human/works standpoint. Catholic doctrine has always been justification by grace alone. The question of faith and works is raised only after the free, gratuitous gift of salvation is offered. I'll have a post on the Catholic doctrine of justification on my blog soon.
    Moonshadow said...
    "mutually exclusive" stuck in my craw too.

    There is an area of intersection; we're working at understanding how large.

    "faith alone" ... you're still talking from a human/works standpoint.

    Not at all. Faith is a divine gift, one of the three theological virtues which, popularly --

    "differ from the cardinal virtues in that they can not be obtained by human effort. A person can only receive them by their being 'infused' — through Divine grace." Wiki - theological virtues

    At the risk of boring Michele, don't miss the Scholastic treatment at New Advent:

    Merely natural principles of human action are inadequate to a supernatural end. It is necessary that man be endowed with supernatural powers to enable him to attain his final destiny. These supernatural principles are nothing else than the theological virtues.

    Faith is an infused virtue, by which the intellect is perfected by a supernatural light, in virtue of which, under a supernatural movement of the will, it assents firmly to the supernatural truths of Revelation.
    michele said...
    Historically, they are mutually exclusive, what the heck do you think the reformation was about. If the rank and file are moving toward Luther, hey I'm all for that! But the church has to reject Trent to do so and as far as I've heard, they haven't.

    And of course I'm looking at faith from the human aspect, where else would I look?

    And Michael Joseph, I laughed when I read your comment because of course there are some similarities between the church and Calvinism since we share Augustine.

    Excuse me, but don't you guys still teach that salvation comes through the sacraments. I must have missed something about that in the Catechism.

    And as fractured as the church is, there is still a universally accepted belief that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.
    Moonshadow said...
    still teach that salvation comes through the sacraments

    In rereading Vos's commentary on the WLC (page 460), I think he misses this point:

    "Ex opere operato", i.e. by virtue of the action, means that the efficacy of the action of the sacraments does not depend on anything human, but solely on the will of God as expressed by Christ's institution and promise.

    Protestants cannot in good faith object to the phrase as if it meant that the mere outward ceremony, apart from God's action, causes grace.

    It is well known that Catholics teach that the sacraments are only the instrumental, not the principal, causes of grace. Neither can it be claimed that the phrase adopted by the council does away with all dispositions necessary on the part of the recipient, the sacraments acting like infallible charms causing grace in those who are ill-disposed or in grievous sin.

    The fathers of the council were careful to note that there must be no obstacle to grace on the part of the recipients. Dispositions are required to prepare the subject, but they are a condition (conditio sine qua non), not the causes, of the grace conferred.

    New Advent on "Sacraments".

    There's a lot of philosophical categories in that explanation which you might be better equipped to digest than I. But the upshot is that Vos is a little off in his assessment, not that I blame him for trying.

    BTW, Pastor Shaun's July podcast is up, if you still listen.
    Michael Joseph said...

    The sudden lack of charity on your part in our exchange is disconcerting, to say the least. But I'll quickly reply to some of your points. I'll have an extended post on this on my own blog (

    Historically, they are mutually exclusive, what the heck do you think the reformation was about.

    As a student of theology, you should know better than to assume that the Reformation was a uniform movement. First off, Luther, Calivn, Knox and Zwingli (to mention only a few) were in substantial disagreement on the implications of salvation and the structures of Christianity. Second, having studied this period carefully, the intial movements in the Reformation, with the exception of Zwinglianism, were not at all exclusive of Catholicism. Reading through my editions of Luther and Calvin, I find very few points of immediate disagreement and irreconcilable issues with Catholicism. It was only the later splintering of Lutheranism and the advent of Dutch Calvinism (which lost Calvin along the way) that things became too morphed for any hope of reunion. Third, the Reformation was as political as it was religious. The German nobility and Emperor Charles V had far more to do with the solidification of the Reformation than Luther, Cajetan or Pope Leo X. This is historical fact. Protestantism leaned on politics to get itself going, not the preaching of the Gospel.

    But the church has to reject Trent to do so and as far as I've heard, they haven't.

    Which parts of the Council of Trent? Did you know that the Joint Declaration on Justification touches on Trent? Have you actually read the Decrees of the Coucil of Trent or even the Declaration? Your comments seem to suggest that you are working on stereotypes rather than the documents.

    there are some similarities between the church and Calvinism since we share Augustine.

    I don't know if you can really say we "share" Augustine. Calvinism extracted certain features from Augustine's late works against the Pelagians, but does not respect the whole Augustine. Need I remind you of Augustine's On Faith and Works or his Enchiridion? Also, remember that Augustine was a Catholic bishop, and he understood his office and the sacraments it effects as salvific for Christians.

    Excuse me, but don't you guys still teach that salvation comes through the sacraments.

    Yes, we do, just like Calvin and Luther! But better yet, we don't rely on the Church for that teaching, but on the Petrine and Pauline epistles of the New Testament! Again, check my blog in the coming days for those references.

    And as fractured as the church is, there is still a universally accepted belief that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.

    Perfectly stated. In fact, you nearly quoted Trent verbatim. No Catholic in their right mind would subscribe to justification from works of the law! If justification comes from the Law, then Christ died in vain (St. Paul)!

    It appears you may not know Catholicism as well as you think you do. Start with the Bible, since that's where our teachings spring from. If Catholicism was not biblically AND historically defendable, then I certainly would not be a Catholic.
    michele said...
    "lack of charity"
    I'm sorry that you viewed my response in that light, I didn't intend it that way. I think that if you read my blogs, you'll see that I'm blunt and to the point. And more than a little sarcastic. :-)

    I haven't read the rest of your post yet but I wanted you to know that I'm not being unloving just defending my position with fervor. I guess you could call it tough love :-)
    Moonshadow said...
    "blunt and to the point"

    LOL. All this time, I thought that was your RCB persona and that LUTS was your "kinder, gentler" side.

    But, truth is, LUTS has yet to see its share of give-and-take debate to disclose your "blunt" side.
    michele said...
    Moomshadow, it sounds like you were thinking of me as Jekyll And Hyde (hehehe). No, there is only one of me. Tough but loving.
    michele said...
    I've actually read the justification section in the council of trent. Isn't that good enough, especially since it's still in affect. This is the part that I'm referring to:

    CANON XVI.-If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.
    CANON XVII.-If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.
    CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.
    CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
    CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

    I can't see how you can reconcile this with Calvin or Luther.
    michele said...
    And do you think that Calvin would agree with this:

    The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.51 "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature52 by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.

    I got that here.

    Please show me where Calvin is in agreement with this. Just give me the section number because I have the Institutes.
    michele said...
    And btw, Moonshadow, I've had some heated responses from you in the past :-)
    Michael Joseph said...
    As I metioned before, I'll have a multi-part posting on justification on my own blog. But to satisfy you until then, consult Luther's "Babylon Captivity of the Church" and Calvin's commentaries on Acts and 1 Peter. Also, for a good historical and theological overview of the Reformation and its complexities, see Lindberg's European Reformations. And he's not at all sympathetic towards Catholicism.

    I suppose I could give a lengthy response here, but then again, your post on justification keeps getting pushed further and further down your blog. I'll have the justification posting up soon, so perhaps we can continue this on my blog. Thanks.

    Oh yes, my apologies for taking your sardonic tone for lack of charity.
    michele said...
    What? No, I will not except that response about Calvin. You will have to tell me the passage. I don't have time to read it and you already have. What verse was he dealing with. How is it similar to the Catholic stuff I referenced?
    Michael Joseph said...
    Then how can we dialogue on this if you are unwilling to actually read the materials under discussion? Consult those two commentaries by Calvin when you can. He provides a rich discussion of both Acts and 1 Peter, which must be read in their entirety. I suspected you'd be willing to read them since you are so adament about Reformed soteriology.

    This is my last post on this thread. I'll leave you with some quotes from Augustine, who you claim we "share" in common. Here he discusses the necessity of sacraments for salvation (an issue you have with Catholicism):

    "Anyone who would say that even infants who pass from this life without participation in the Sacrament of Baptism shall be made alive in Christ truly goes counter to the preaching of the Apostle and condemns the whole Church...there is no other way at all in which they can be made alive in Christ" (Letter 166:7.2)

    "When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God, so that you may preserve your Baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. We are cleansed only once by Baptism" (Sermones de symbolo ad catechumenos 7.5).

    "It is an excellent thing that the Punic Christians call Baptism itself nothing else but 'salvation', and the Sacrament of Christ's Body nothing else but 'life'. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient mind, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ hold inherently that without Baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture too" (De peccatorum meritis et remissione et de baptismo parvulorum 1:24.34).

    "If you wish to be Catholic, do not believe, do not say, do not teach that infants who are overtaken by death before they can be baptized are able to come to a forgiveness of original sins" (The Soul and its Origin 3:9.12).

    "Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church, but the dead man cannot be raised to life again except by the Lord's calling him interiorly; for this latter is done by God in a more interior way" (Exposition on the Psalms 101:2.3)

    "Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God is able to forgive all sins. They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they refuse to believe that the keys of the kingdom of heaven, lost from their own hands, have been given to the Church. These are the people who condemn as adulteresses widows who marry, and boast that theirs is a purity superior to the teaching of the Apostles!" (De agone christiano 31:33)

    Just a taste. My suggestion--and I say this only because you seem to possess a great desire for truth--is to return to Augustine, and even to the Christian writers before him, in order to get a sense for how the first Christians understood justification. It makes more sense, at least to me, to trust the Apostolic Fathers and Augustine over and above anyone, Catholic or Protestant, from the 16th century. Not to say 16th century theology is without its worth, but the Reformers and the Counter-Reformers lacked a genuine sense of the historical life of Christianity. Hence, the utter lack of agreement among the Reformers as to how primitive Christianity was lived and as to what "Gospel" Christianity should look like.
    michele said...
    You said this, "by James Akin called The Salvation Controversy shows that T.U.L.I.P., when slightly modified, is compatable with Catholic doctrine"

    I was stating that's funny because of course we would be similar, we share Augustine. I certainly didn't mean in all these and I'm surprised you would think that.

    In regard to TULIP Augustine was helpful but in regard to the sacrements he was not.

    So, if I read Calvin's commentaries on Acts and 1 Peter I will see that Calvin had a purely human understanding of justificaiton. Wouldn't I be better served by reading his commentaries on Galatians and Romans?
    michele said...
    "Not to say 16th century theology is without its worth, but the Reformers and the Counter-Reformers lacked a genuine sense of the historical life of Christianity. Hence, the utter lack of agreement among the Reformers as to how primitive Christianity was lived and as to what "Gospel" Christianity should look like."

    Just because Augustine lived closer to the time of Christ doesn't mean too much, he was hundreds of years out. In fact Calvin was very well versed in the writings of the early church fathers.

    But I think the Scriptures are pretty clear:

    "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."

    And so I think you and I are back to the original point and I think that you really proved my point that salvation by works (sacrament) is not the same as salvation without works. They are mutually exclusive.
    Moonshadow said...
    Moonshadow, I've had some heated responses from you in the past

    Moi? Ça c'est incroyable!

    you really proved my point that salvation by works (sacrament)

    If sacraments are a work, then why did Christ command The Eleven to perform them? Even still, sacraments are not equivalent to "works of the law".
    michele said...
    Did you think that we don't believe that works are important? We believe that they are the evidence of faith. Christ commanding the disciples to eat this in rememberance of me and go out and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are commandments and are the law. But we do not believe that all those who partake of them are saved because:

    Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

    Catholics have to partake of them to be saved, thus salvation by sacraments.
    Moonshadow said...
    I do see how you could not remain a Lutheran:

    (1) "Luther understands 'law' to be the law of the Old Testament, especially the Ten Commandments.

    Preface to St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (first footnote) - Martin Luther (1522)


    "We must needs say that in some way the sacraments of the New Law cause grace. For it is evident that through the sacraments of the New Law man is incorporated with Christ: thus the Apostle says of Baptism (Galatians 3:27): "As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ." And man is made a member of Christ through grace alone."

    Are the sacraments of the New Law the cause of grace? Aquinas' Summa Theologica (lots of philosophy, naturally)


    But, instead of this stuff, what I really wanted to share was this delightful article at The Christian Century which I haven't finished reading but has got me laughing out loud!

    I hope to blog about the funniest bits soon, so you can see exactly what tickles me.

    The overall tone of the journalist strikes me as "oh what have they gone and done now?" - you see.

    You needn't be threatened in reading it because none of the men in question are Reformed. The only convicting part might be the weakness of the via media argument, which I have heard Sproul make for your tradition. Personally, I have always viewed the supposed virtue of via media as compromise, no matter who's claiming it.

    Yet, I'm pretty clear in my opinion that folks oughtn't to switch denominations, so my intention in sharing this article is not to proselytize ... you know me too well for that.

    I mean, if you read my testimony, you'd also know that I am perennially curious about why people switch when they do ... and "trouble at home" is always the least compelling reason, in my book.

    Read as much as you can to get a sense of the humor, at least.
    Moonshadow said...
    OK, my take on The Christian Century article is up, if you want only the highlights.

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