Saturday, May 03, 2008

Stirring Pastor Weedon

I found this written by our friend, Pastor Weedon, in a long, long, long string in this combox on Lito's blog:
Just to clarify: as a Lutheran Christian I do believe that the office of the papacy is the antichrist, and as such the single greatest barrier to unity in the Church.
Is that true, Pastor Bill? From my perspective, it is the office of the papacy that has managed to preserve the Unity of the Church. Certainly there is greater unity in the Catholic Church WITH the papacy than there is in the Lutheran Church WITHOUT the papacy.

Do you really believe that the office of the Papacy is "ANTI-Christ"? Can you demonstrate to me how Pope Benedict (the current embodiment of this office) is "ANTI-Christ"? Did you pay attention when he called on you recently there in the States?

It is true, and even the previous pope acknowledged (in Ut Unum Sint), that his office was, in effect, the most contentious issue in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church. But I don't think he was suggesting for a moment that the Church would be MORE united if the papacy was to be abolished tomorrow.

And don't forget that in the same Encyclical Pope John Paul II actually asked other Christians to weigh in wich suggestions for how, without denying any aspect of the essential nature of the office, the Papacy could be re-modelled to promote even greater unity among Christians.

Can you, in fact, envision a future in which there is "full, visible unity" of the Church which does not include, in some form or other, communion with the bishop of Rome?

And finally, does your Lutheranism REALLY require you to hold that the office of the papacy is "ANTI-Christ"?

Would it not be more true to say that any office of authority in the Church (including your own, I might add, dear Pastor) might be abused in such a way as to become "ANTI-Christ", but that no authentic authority in the Church can be said to be, of itself, "ANTI-Christ". Rather it is precisely as a "called and ordained servant of the word" that the Pope exercises his office.

Or are you asserting that his office is in some sense inferior in authority to your own?

I just ask.

In any case, tomorrow we begin the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity here downunder. And so maybe a short snippet from JPII's great ecumenical encyclical might not be out of place:
4. This is a specific duty of the Bishop of Rome as the Successor of the Apostle Peter. I carry out this duty with the profound conviction that I am obeying the Lord, and with a clear sense of my own human frailty. Indeed, if Christ himself gave Peter this special mission in the Church and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, he also made clear to him his human weakness and his special need of conversion: "And when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:32). It is precisely in Peter's human weakness that it becomes fully clear that the Pope, in order to carry out this special ministry in the Church, depends totally on the Lord's grace and prayer: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk 22:32). The conversion of Peter and that of his Successors is upheld by the very prayer of the Redeemer, and the Church constantly makes this petition her own. In our ecumenical age, marked by the Second Vatican Council, the mission of the Bishop of Rome is particularly directed to recalling the need for full communion among Christ's disciples.

The Bishop of Rome himself must fervently make his own Christ's prayer for that conversion which is indispensable for "Peter" to be able to serve his brethren. I earnestly invite the faithful of the Catholic Church and all Christians to share in this prayer. May all join me in praying for this conversion!


At Sunday, May 04, 2008 12:45:00 am , Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

Well if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck than its a duck.

If a position blocks the preaching of the Gospel (through teaching false doctrine such as the idolatrous Mariolatry) than it is an anti-Christ.

Nothing has essentially changed in Catholic dogma or in the grandiose Papal claims since the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope was written in 1537. What was correct then is correct now.

At Sunday, May 04, 2008 8:24:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Of course no authentic authority in the church can be said to be anti-Christ of itself.

The point is, the papacy is not an authentic authority in the church, and it can be said to be anti-Christ of itself. The office derives not from "thou art Peter" but the pontifex maximus of Roman Imperial state religion.

Called? By whom? The board of directors of a multi-national corporation -- just men, with funny hats to boot. Then again, even that is an improvement over the days when the office was bought and sold like cattle feed.

At Sunday, May 04, 2008 4:56:00 pm , Blogger L P Cruz said...


Ditto to what the Colonial Boy said.

And finally, does your Lutheranism REALLY require you to hold that the office of the papacy is "ANTI-Christ"?

Mine does. Scripture says there are many anti-christs, he the Pope/Papacy is just one of them. True, a pastor might well be an anti-Christ, be Lutheran or what not.

But the question is also not what Pr. Weedon will confess, but how he behaves towards the Pope too.


At Sunday, May 04, 2008 5:02:00 pm , Blogger L P Cruz said...

BTW, ditto also as to what P.E. said.

An anti-Christ is not someone who denies Christ. Actually it is the reverse, he is one who in the face affirms Christ but in practice, he chops Christ off from the heart of Christ's people i.e. behind the scenes he tares Christ off his thrown, in practice.


At Sunday, May 04, 2008 9:04:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Well that drew a pack of scorpions, didn't it? (I take it Pastor Weedon is busy with his Sunday duties--I really wanted his response).

So, to sum up your points, gentlemen, the Papacy is "Anti-Christ" because it:

1) blocks the preaching of the Gospel
2) is not an authentic authority in the church
3) denies Christ, chops Christ off from the heart of Christ's people, and "tares Christ off his thrown".

I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. I don't see how you can say these things of either the office of the papacy or its specific current incumbent.

Because the Pope I know, and the office of the Papacy I know, exists only for the purpose of the propogation of the Gospel. Both Popes of whom I have had experience, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have dedicated their entire lives to the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.

Secondly, the authority of the pope as a called and ordained servant of the Word is just the same in nature as that of any other called and ordained servant of the Word. If you deny him a valid authority (eg. on the basis that he was called by "just men") you must deny the validity of any ordained pastor. At least you must concede that he has authentic authority of the pastor of the Church in Rome. If then, other Churches throughout the world chose to associate themselves with him (in a universal synod, as it were), then surely the Pope has at least as much authentic authority in these churches as a Lutheran President has in the congregations of his Synod. You might not grant him more authority than that, but you must at least grant him that much.

And finally, what can one say to the charge that the Holy Father "denies Christ, chops Christ off from the heart of Christ's people, and tears Christ from his throne"? I have no idea. I can make no more sense of these assertions than I can of someone who insists that black is white.

What I am saying is this--whether you can hear me or not: The picture you paint of the Papacy as "Anti-Christ" is in profound contradiction of my experience. I don't deny that you believe it, but simple assertion of your belief in the face of evidence to the contrary simply won't stack up.

At Sunday, May 04, 2008 10:17:00 pm , Blogger L P Cruz said...

But Dave, surely you have read the charges in Smalcald articles being a Lutheran pastor once.

It is because of the Gospel. In the end the charge is that the Pope denies the Gospel when it preaches faith in Christ + works of merit.

Make a study of the word "anti" in Greek.

I think you are not taking seriously Trent. The council did understand the Reformers, despite that their teaching was declared anathema.

I am interested in what Pr. Will's answer. We will wait. I am curious too

At Monday, May 05, 2008 2:24:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

I'm on my sixth pope now, and were I still Catholic I would count only the first (Pius XII) as anything but a flaming disgrace.

Once again, Catholic argumentation runs in circles. I did not say the pope has no authority period, or no authority as a pastor, or anything like that. He is a called and ordained minister within his own, shall we say, ecclesial union.

But, this is no parish priest's call. The office of the papacy -- not "bishop of Rome", which would be fine, but what the RCC believes that entails -- does not exist in the church of Christ, therefore no call can be extended to fill it. And those who do that step outside the faith and practice of Christ and his Church and thereby to that extent, even when their preaching and teaching contains other truths, deny Christ and hinder the preaching of the Gospel, hence bear the marks of Anti-Christ.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 8:25:00 am , Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

To quote the Statement of Faith of the Australian Evangelical Lutheran Church:

"The Antichrist
The Scripture speaks of forces that are actively hostile to Christ and His church, and uses the term “antichrist” with reference to some of them. Scripture, however, speaks also of a particular, personal embodiment of such antichristian power, which it calls the “man of sin”, and “the son of perdition” or “antichrist”.

The scriptural marks of this antichrist are that he is involved in a falling away from the faith, that he sits in the temple of God, or the Christian church, and acts as if he were God Himself, claiming to be superior to all authorities in the world. His coming is the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and he will remain until judgment day.

We believe that the antichristian power of our time most closely fitting these descriptions of the antichrist in Scripture is still the Roman papacy, whose blasphemous errors, such as the anathema against justification by faith alone without works of love, the sacrifice of the mass, and the dogma of papal infallibility, represent a fearful “falling away” from the Christian faith. In the papacy this takes place not outside but within the church or “the temple of God”. In a unique way the papacy acts as if it were God Himself and exalts itself above every other authority in the world and the church. The papacy still today is attended by many lying signs and wonders, so that, with the church of the Reformation, we cannot but see the antichrist of 2 Thessalonians 2, as embodied in the Roman papacy. The errors and abuses of Antichrist may well take on other forms than what have so far appeared, and may well be identified with other antichristian powers within the church as circumstances change.

All of this neither means nor implies a blanket condemnation of all members of the Roman Catholic Church, for despite all its errors the Word of God is still heard in that church, baptism is still administered in that church, the real presence of Christ’s body and blood is still affirmed in that church, and the absolution is still pronounced in that church. Since the Word of God is effective, we believe that there will be many faithful and devoted children of God in its midst."

At Monday, May 05, 2008 10:36:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

I need to point our for our readers, that that AELC is a tiny splinter Lutheran Church here in Australia.

The Lutheran Church of Australia, which encompasses such a vast majority of Australian Lutherans that few are aware that there are any others, has substantially retracted the ancient position regarding the Papacy as the Anti-Christ.

They have done so precisely because they realise that we are not living in the 16th Century any more, and we have a little more experience and perspective after 450 years of growth and development on both sides.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 10:38:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

In fact, here is the link to the LCA statement on the matter:

The conclusion is:

"The Lutheran Church of Australia cannot continue to affirm at this time that the Roman papacy bears the distinguishing features of the Antichrist. We dialogue with Roman Catholics as with brothers and sisters in the faith; we certainly do not regard them as people under the authority and spirit of Antichrist."

At Monday, May 05, 2008 10:49:00 am , Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

To my Lutheran brethren: my understanding of what you've written (and the position generally held by many confessional Lutherans) is that if you disagree with the Lutheran position on authority in the Church and on justification, you are anti-Christ. If this is not a correct reading, what have I missed?

At Monday, May 05, 2008 11:28:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

Dear David,

I've been doing a conference and so been away this weekend (16+ hours of driving). Yes, of course I believe that the papacy in its current configuration is the office of the antichrist. I do not have anyway of knowing if it will continue in that form, or if further and different shapes of antichrist will arise yet. That says nothing about the personal faith of the man holding the office (certainly I hold the Bishop of Rome in great respect and I pray that the office he serves in now doesn't devour him). The papal pretensions remain THE stumbling block. If you think of it objectively - they are the chief barrier to union with the East; they are certainly A chief barrier to any hope of reconciliation among the Protestants.

As for my own take on the question, though, I'd simply refer to you to Hermann Sasse's little piece "Last Things: Church and Antichrist" Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 24, March 1952. It's published in the "We Confess" series from CPH. You might have a copy, and if not, perhaps your friend Pr. Frazier (did I spell that right?) would have a copy?

I'd be curious of your thoughts after reading it.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 12:01:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...


It is a bit more than "disagreeing with" the Scriptural doctrine of justification; it is putting that teaching and those who hold it under the anathema (Trent) that leads one to confess this of the papacy, together with the claims the papacy has made of its own infallibility and authority. As a Lutheran I have no problem with recognizing Benedict XVI as the God-appointed bishop of the Church of Rome; I just can't acknowledge him as the God-appointed bishop of the entire world and as being divinely appointed to superintend the whole of Christ's Church. The Church doesn't need a universal pastor as if our One and Only Universal Pastor were not present, on the scene, and providing His sheep with everything they need for time and eternity through His precious Word and life-giving Sacraments.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 12:49:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Thanks, Pastor Bill. Thought you might have been caught up. Yes, I do have a copy of the Sasse book somewhere (or maybe I have given it to Fraser--that could be too), so I will look it up.

Mind you, sometimes Sasse, from whom I learnt a great deal and for whose opinions I generally had great respect, could sometimes be a little off key in these matters (eg. his assertion in one essay that the veneration of Mary in Orthodox and Catholic Churches was a continuation of the Goddess cult of Ephesus).

Taking your own defense, rather than that of the other erstwhile Lutheran battlers who have commented thus far, I would need to modify the three reasons given above to be:

1) Condemns the teaching of "Justification by Faith Alone" (= "blocks the preaching of the Gospel" in earlier paradigm)
2) Claims infallibility and universal jurisdiction (= "is not an authentic authority in the church" in earlier paradigm)

But I take it you would stop short of claiming that the papacy "denies Christ, chops Christ off from the heart of Christ's people, and tears Christ off his throne" (as your confreres have above).

I do find your arguement that "The Church doesn't need a universal pastor as if our One and Only Universal Pastor were not present, on the scene, and providing His sheep with everything they need for time and eternity through His precious Word and life-giving Sacraments" a bit odd, because really you could use this to argue against the need for a pastor even of the local congregation. Why do we need a physical human pastor when we have Jesus present in his word and sacraments?

For that matter, why do Lutheran Churches throughout the world (I know LCMS is a little more congregationalist about this) have superintendant pastors or presidents who have pastoral oversight of regions or districts? Are these not also "unnecessary" because you have Christ?

The fact is, as once Carl Braaten argued in an article somewhere, when it comes to the visible unity of the Church, every Christian community requires an incarnate embodiment of Christ's pastoral authority as a sign of that communion. Eg. A congregation has a pastor, a district has a president/bishop, a national Church has a national president/bishop etc. etc. It is the "etc. etc." bit that is interesting in this regard. Even Luther in the Smalcald Articles realised that without a single locus of authority, there would be no chance of unity between the bishops of the local Churches throughout the world.

As such, we have the strange conundrum of a situation where the Papacy is SIMULTANEOUSLY the greatest obstacle for the full visible unity of all Christians, and the greatest necessity for that very same goal!

In the meantime, it understandable that if you think the whole and heart of the gospel is sewn up in the slogan "justification by faith alone", then you have every right to use the tag "Anti-Christ" of the brother who denies this.

However, two things must be born in mind before charging such a brother in Christ with such a terrible and appalling epithet.

First: What does your brother really teach what you think he teaches about your doctrine? I know the LCMS types have given precious little time to the JDDJ, but Christian charity might just suggest that a certain moderation (not to say charity) may be called for with respect to your brother in the light of this document.

Second: Is your slogan really the same thing as "the Gospel"? Is denying "justification by faith alone" really "anti-Christ"? If so, you charge as "anti-Christ" not only your Catholic brothers, but also your Orthodox brothers. And a good many other Christians. And at least some doubt ought to be sown in your mind when it is recalled that "justification by faith" in Paul is the way a person is known as a Christian; the "Gospel" is the proclamation of the Resurrection and Lordship of Christ.

Keep in mind that when you call our Pope "Anti-Christ", we hear you saying that he denies the Gospel precisely in this Pauline sense: ie. that he denies that Christ is Lord, that Christ is Risen from the dead, etc. etc.

And THAT we find extremely offensive.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 1:39:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...

Just briefly - it's late here and I'm headed to bed. I do NOT mean that the Bishop of Rome denies that Christ is truly the Son of God, who was given to death for our offenses and raised for our justification. Remember how the Smalcald Articles (arguably the harshest of the Lutheran Symbols in dealing with the papacy) begin: acknowledging that together we confess the sublime articles of the divine majesty. For that we give thanks to God! Another point to bear in mind: the antichrist, for Lutherans, always takes his seat *in the church!* - Not a political figure per se, but one in the Church itself. Now I will add that what happened at Assisi under John Paul II certainly was as appalling to Lutherans as the name "antichrist" is appalling to Roman Christians (and remember, I do not mean Roman as pejorative, but just descriptive: obedient to the Roman see).

At Monday, May 05, 2008 2:31:00 pm , Blogger Chris Jones said...

Mr Schütz,

Is your slogan really the same thing as "the Gospel"?

I hardly think that it is fair to treat the Lutheran doctrine of justification as if it were no more than a "slogan." The "slogan" as you call it is simply a reference to the full teaching of the Lutheran Confessions on justification. And if you consider that full teaching, then yes, we do believe that it is the heart of the Gospel. Not that the Gospel does not contain other articles of faith, but that if you get justification wrong, everything else is compromised.

If so, you charge as "anti-Christ" not only your Catholic brothers, but also your Orthodox brothers.

Not so. The Orthodox do not teach justification the same way that the Romans do. The difficulty with the RC teaching on justification is that it teaches that we receive grace in order that we may merit our salvation (see canon 32 of the Tridentine decree on justification). This is a view of synergy that makes the earning of our salvation a shared thing between the work of Christ and our good works. No Orthodox would ever teach that. The Orthodox view of synergy is that God conforms us to the image of Christ (post-baptism) through our works, but the basis of our salvation is always and only the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Saviour. There is no earning and no merit involved. Orthodox synergism, unlike Catholic synergism, is consistent with the teaching of article II of the Formula of Concord.

As Lutherans, we believe that the teaching of Rome, as dogmatized at Trent, is heterodox. But it is not simply the heterodoxy that merits the title "anti-Christ". Heterodoxy is nothing new; it has always plagued the Church and always will. No, it is the setting up of an office as the ruler of the Church, whose public confession is heterodox. It is bad enough that the Pope teaches (as we believe) falsely; but he tries to use the supposed power of his office to drive orthodox teaching out of the Church. That is what we are so upset about.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 3:42:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Well, Chris, that is about the strangest argument I have ever heard. And goes to show yer that my wife was right. Ignorance.

Do you honestly believe that Catholics teach that anything other than the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour--his saving grace given to us through his incarnation, death and resurrection--are the basis of our salvation? If so, you are terribly, terribly, terribly ignorant of the Catholic faith.

The pope is not the "ruler of the Church", he is the SERVANT of the servants of God. We believe his office of service to be ordained and instituted by Christ himself and therefore the Pope in carrying out this service (and the Church in recognising this service) are acting in what they believe to be full fidelity to the call of Christ.

How can it be "anti-Christ" to carry out a ministry that you are sincerely and totally convinced is the very command of Christ himself? A non-Catholic might say it is against what he thinks he knows of Christ, but you can hardly lay that charge at the feet of the Pope and our Church. For we are being PRO-Christ in our defence of the papal office, not ANTI-Christ.

And to say that the Pope seeks to use "the supposed power of his office to drive orthodox teaching out of the Church"! Where does one start? What is the entire mission of the papacy except to guard the deposit of faith? Judge him by his works!

Even Pastor Weedon has had to admit that, on the basis of his writings and actions, he has respect for Benedict XVI. How can you say you respect someone who hold an "Anti-Christian" office? Pastor Weedon grants that we uphold, not just the orthodox doctrine of God and Christ, but the doctrines of the paschal mystery, resurrection and Lordship of Christ. How can someone say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit? How can the Anti-Christ HAVE the Holy Spirit?

And on what basis are you judging the orthodoxy of the teaching of the Church? Your own infallible judgement?

Seriously, I have to wonder sometimes...

If Luther had never used the epithet "Anti-Christ" for the pope of his day, would anyone in the early 21st Century seriously be suggesting that the Papacy is the Anti-Christ? Or is this not rather a case of "Lutheran Tradition" trumping the clear witness of Scripture (and for that matter, reality)? At least the LCA was able to say "This was a time conditioned judgement which we cannot hold today", without blunting its objections to what it sees as Rome's "false teachings".

Of course we don't agree on all points of theology, but to call the Papacy the "Anti-Christ" is about tantamount to calling Catholics "non-Christians". And yes, I know there are some out there who think exactly that.

When "the Gospel" is so narrowly defined as to cut out about 80% of those who believe in it, and when "a Christian" is so narrowly defined as to cut out about 95% of those who have been baptised, you are getting very, very close to defining "true Christainity" as a sect.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 4:50:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

David, it can be "anti-Christ" to carry out a ministry that you are sincerely and totally convinced is the very command of Christ himself if that conviction is dead wrong and Christ himself commands no such thing.

This is the thing that is strangely absent in your arguments on so many things -- well, apart from a recognition that the church you have joined rejects the Roman Catholic Church, but for once I leave that aside -- namely, and despite all protestations (excuse me a little Nietzschean dance with that one!) to the contrary, the concept of truth.

No doubt the present pope considers it his job to defend the deposit of faith. Bully for him, and he seems to be off to a much better start at that than his wretched rock star predecessor -- whom I personally heard say in English on a hillside outside of Des Moines "Come to Christ, and you will never be hungry again."

But what if that deposit he defends contains things that are not in the deposit? His sincerity in defending what he believes to be the deposit of faith does not make the deposit of faith what he believes it to be.

If it is true that he defends a deposit that is a grab bag of the Apostolic Deposit and other things, then to seek recognition as the servant of the servants of God while defending a deposit that is not the Apostolic Deposit in a position that was not ordained and instituted by Christ hinders Christ and His Gospel and is rightly described as Anti-Christ.

Which, we continue, is in no way nearly tantamount to calling Catholic non-Christian. Some are. So are some Lutherans. But this does not derive from being Catholic (or Lutheran). The catholic church can be found in the Catholic Church, and we rejoice in the Baptism and Eucharist found in it, the Scriptures read, und so weiter, even as we call to task the overlays overlaid on them to the confusion of the faithful.

It takes more than taking the appelation Christian to make one Christian. You call Pastor Weedon to task for lack of charity toward brothers in Christ without the least examination as to whether they are brothers in Christ. It may be that one holds positions which in fact preclude brotherhood.

May, not does. My point being, various things travel under the name Christian, and their differences are not simply matters of terminology or history, always. The Joint Declaration is a case in point. No Catholic or Lutheran in his right mind could sign it, and no unity is served in such efforts.

Even when those factors that do result from misunderstood terminology and history are cleared up, at the end of the day, somebody is right and somebody is wrong. It is not that we are all Christians and so now we must find a way to be one. Some of us are wrong, not necessarily on everything, but on some things, and things that matter and cannot be maintained in Christianity.

Zum B, one may indeed respect the current pope for many of his stands as a pastor -- and I do -- but it cannot be that the office the man holds is both established and ordained by Christ and foreign to anything Christ established and ordained and therby a scandal and a hinderance to what He has established and ordained. One of us is simply wrong. Either I though not wishing to reject a consituent element in that which Christ has endowed His church, or you though not wishing to add to those elements something entirely foreign to them.

Likewise other things which separate Roman from Lutheran belief, or for that matter other Protestant belief from Lutheran belief. And this is not overcome by seeking some sort of wording broad enough to admit of yet different beliefs united only by a common wording.

Frankly, I like much better Benedict's clear words that we are not truly church because we do not have and do not believe exist essential elements Christ gave to his church than this insipid ecumenism which a priori decides we are all brothers now let's find a way to get to-gether. We'll get to-gether when whichever of us is wrong drops it and changes to what is right, not when we agree to mean different things by the same words or think that using the same words means we do not mean different things.

And if that makes one not a brother, then one can not call him brother but must call him to repentance. If that leaves one a brother but even so caught up in serious error then one must call his brother to repentance.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 5:27:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

All who have been baptised into Christ and share faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour with me are my brothers (and sisters--I use the biblical term here) in Christ. Period.

Some of my brothers in Christ teach falsehood--even about the Trinity. I know that.

Some teach falsehood in regard to Christ himself. Some in regard to the Church. Some in regard to the Eucharist. I know all this.

But they are and always will be my brothers. This gets back to the whole "pure doctrine" thing. A person is not my brother in Christ because he teaches pure doctrine. He is my brother in Christ because by baptism he has become and by faith is known to be a member of the body of Christ.

If it were not so, I could happily wash my hands of a great many my separated brethren--and even of some of my full communion brethren for that matter. But I cannot. I am bound in the Spirit to the lot of you for better or for worse and for all eternity.

For that reason, when one of my brothers in Christ calls my father in Christ the "Anti-Christ", it causes me great, great pain.

I hope that it is clear that my ranting in this column is not because I do not love and value and cherish each of you as my true brothers, but presicely because I do love you deeply in the bonds of faith and baptism.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 8:35:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Why do Lutherans always go on and on about justification, why is it that justification is called by Lutherans the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls, when the clear witness of Scripture (I Cor. xv, 14) is that the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls is the Resurrection?

I have never understood this.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 9:47:00 pm , Blogger L P Cruz said...


You and Chris J would be surprized that I am with him (CJ) on this one.

You obviously believe Rome has reformed already but I do not see this on the ground.

I think you should catechize some RC priests and tell them the right way to understand RC theology.

I was catechized under the Baltimore Catechism though I have in my library the new RC Catechism, it is still the same to me as I understood the Baltimore when I was a kid. It is somewhat smoother but at the core, still Trentian.


Dave can answer your question since he has been there, done that and spat the dummy (;-)


At Monday, May 05, 2008 10:40:00 pm , Blogger Chris Jones said...

Do you honestly believe that Catholics teach that anything other than the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour--his saving grace given to us through his incarnation, death and resurrection--are the basis of our salvation?

If the Council of Trent is still authoritative, then yes, I do honestly believe that. Here is what Trent had to say (sixth session, decree on justification, canon 32):

If anyone says that the good works of a justified person are the gifts of God in such a way that they are not also the good merits of the person justified; or, that the justified person does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life and also an increase of glory (provided that he depart in grace), by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ(whose living member he is) let him be anathema.

The ordo salutis laid out in this canon is: God gives his grace; aided by this grace, we perform good works; and then by these good works we merit eternal life. The third element of this order is the problem, because at the end of the process we are said to have "merited" eternal life. But we never "merit" or deserve eternal life. No one, not even the all-holy Mother of God, "merits" salvation, even in part. It is always, and entirely, the gift of God (Ro 6.23). The problem with the Tridentine teaching that I cited is that it denies that it is entirely the gift of God. It says that we have, in part, come to deserve eternal life as a reward.

And no, the Orthodox do not teach what Trent teaches:

To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema! (Synodikon of Orthodoxy)

At Monday, May 05, 2008 10:42:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Yes, there has been reform in "Rome", but somewhat indirectly on this issue, and not in the sense of retracting previous teaching, but contextualising it. Something that was not in your Baltimore Catechism is the teaching of the 2nd Vatican Council on the episcopate (a topic neither Vat I nor Trent actually defined) and the related issue of ecclesiology in terms of the local/universal church. Vatican I treated the Papacy, but was interupted before it got to the topic of the episcopate in which the doctrine of the papacy must be read. Probably in God's providence, since at the time they would almost certainly have defined the Pope as an "uber-bischof", whereas a few more decades reflection gave them room to develop the ecclesiology of communion, and the role of the pope as the "prius" among equals.

The declarations of Vatican II therefore must be seen as a completion of the work of Vatican I. Interpretations of Vatican I in the period between the two Councils are therefore rightly considered to be revised and qualified in the light of Vatican II.

Re: the issue of Justification as "the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls", sorry LP, I'm going to let you down on this. I never got it myself. To me this very claim was proof of the narrowness of the Lutheran vision.

The doctrine of justification (understood in more scholastic terms than biblical terms--although Luther himself did not realise the degree to which his understanding of justification was dominated by 1000 years of discussion since Augustine and Pelagius) was one of the central aspects of Luther's personal spirituality.

Later Lutheran divines placed it solely at the centre (although the phrase about it being "the article on which the church stands or falls" comes from Luther himself, he was not such a single issue fellow as this slogan would make him seem--his spirituality included much concerning the Incarnation and the Cross that is not included in the doctrine of "justification by faith alone").

It may have been that if the Reformation had been fought over the issue of whether women should wear hats in Church, THAT would have been chosen as the "article on which the Church stands or falls."

Okay, but to be fair, the Lutheran concern is whether we give due glory to God by ascribing salvation entirely to his grace through the work of Christ, or whether in some way or other we contribute to our salvation by our own works quite apart from this grace.

They say that we are saved completely by God's grace through faith in Christ apart from works of the law.

Oddly enough, we say the same thing, but they don't believe us when we say it. No matter how many times we say it. Or how many ways we say it. Frustrating, isn't it?

At the same time, we are continually growing in our understanding of St Paul's doctrine of the "righteousness of God" and the "righteousness that comes from faith apart from works of the Law". Both Lutherans and Catholics need to revisit the doctrine in the light of recent biblical scholarship.

Perhaps this was the greatest weakness of the JDDJ. It read the scriptures in terms of and through the lens of the Augustinian/Pelagian and 16th Century controversies. I think as Christians of all confessions we owe it to ourselves to take a good look once again at New Testament theology. We may find that while we disagree on the various developed doctrines of justification as we have them in b9th our Church traditions (and Lutherans have these traditions as surely as Catholics do--the claim to pure scriptural objectivity is pure mythology) we find that we can agree on St Paul's original use of the terminology of righteousness and justification.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 10:55:00 pm , Blogger Chris Jones said...


Why do Lutherans always go on and on about justification ...

Because that is the teaching that was most at risk at the time of the Reformation, and remains an issue that undermines other aspects of the Gospel if you get it wrong.

... when the clear witness of Scripture (I Cor. xv, 14) is that the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls is the Resurrection?

This difference is more apparent than real. Ask yourself why the Resurrection is so important. St Paul tells us that our Lord was raised again for our justification (Ro 4.25); and in the passage you cited (1 Co 15) St Paul tells us that the reason that the Resurrection is so important is that if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. In other words, if Christ is not risen then there is no justification ("ye are yet in your sins"). So to say "justification is the central article of the Gospel" and "the Resurrection is the central article of the Gospel" amounts to saying the same thing; because if the Resurrection is not true, it is justification that is undermined.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 12:02:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

But thus, by your arguement, Justification depends upon the Resurrection, not the other way around.

Surely that means that Joshua is right: Resurrection is the chief article, not justification (which is derivative of the article on the Resurrection).

And in case you haven't noticed, we Catholics are rather hot on the resurrection!

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 12:37:00 am , Blogger Chris Jones said...

Mr Schütz,

Justification is "derivative" of the Resurrection in the same sense that it is "derivative" of the Incarnation. That is, in both cases it is the purpose for which those mighty acts of God took place: this is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

The reason why the orthodox Fathers in the conciliar period laboured so greatly to defend the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation was precisely because of its soteriological implications. If Christ were not true God and true Man, two natures in one divine hypostasis, with both a divine and a human natural will and both divine and human activity, it would not be possible for us to be saved (that which is not assumed is not healed).

In the same way St Paul in 1 Co 15 defends the truth of the Resurrection because of its soteriological implications: if Christ be not raised, we are still in our sins. As it is with the Incarnation and the Resurrection, so with all aspects of the Gospel: they are all centered in, point to, and support the good news of our salvation.

The truth our Lutheran fathers were so concerned (and rightly so) to defend is that it is God Who saves, and none other. The very name Jesus teaches us this, for it means "Yawheh saves."

Of course the Roman Catholic Church also teaches that it is God Who saves us. But by teaching that He gives us His grace in order that we may work to "merit" our salvation (as Trent clearly does teach), the RCC compromises the principle that it is God alone Who saves us.

That is not to say that our good works do not have their role to play in our sanctification. But those works are God at work within us, and for this reason there can be no "merit" attached to them. If Rome would only take away the notion of merit from our works, there would be no more trouble from us about "synergy"; for as soon as the Holy Ghost (as has been said) through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 1:23:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Fascinating discussion! The Easter readings in the Office of Readings have been revolving around the letters of John, to wit:

Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh be longs to God,

and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus 2 does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world.

The gnostics heresies were already making themselves known.

That some popes were moral reprobates is without question but the Papacy always defended the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ was true God and true man. Last I looked, the Catholic Church is still a stalwart defender of the Resurrection and the Trinity.

As for identifying the Pope with the "man of lawlessness" sitting in the Temple -- that's some pretty poor exegesis in my book.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 1:51:00 am , Blogger Joshua said...

Ah, so the real point of disagreement is about whether my works have merit!

It's the old Catholic "both/and" (kath' holos) versus the Protestant "either/or" (the very definition of hairesis, of vaunting one opinion overmuch, of lapsing into heresy).

Well, two ways to look at it:

1. Any good we do may be either merely naturally meritorious, that is, deserving of some due earthly reward - as, for instance, breathing, which is good for me, and so to speak deserves a merely natural reward, viz., continuance in earthly life ("Thanks, lungs, keep up the good work!") but does not advance my salvation - or supernaturally meritorious, that is, deserving of a celestial reward.

Now, no merely human act can possibly be meritorious of itself, the very concept is both repugnant and a very madness (as if anything I do of myself without God could be salvific!) - but, if God Almighty grants His grace to elevate it, then that merely natural good work is able truly to merit supernaturally.

Now God can do so and has actually chosen to do so.

This is a completely gratuitous gift on God's part, which He makes by reason of the Incarnation and Passion of His Son, Christ the Lord.

These are not, mark well, a mere naming of undeserving works to be said to be deserving (forensically, as if they really remain undeserving), but, since God effects what He works by His Word, He truly makes mere human acts to be supernaturally meritorious, precisely by uniting them to the work of Christ in His Mystical Body.

As Augustine says somewhere, regarding the saints, In crowning their merits, Thou dost crown Thy gifts.

So these merits of men are not the merits of unaided men, but are entirely God's gift to us in Christ.

2. Behind this concept is the very important principle of Aquinas (and ultimately of the Philosopher), that both God (as First Cause) and also secondary causes (e.g. me in my actions) are each truly the cause of some result - in this case, my (hoped-for) salvation.

Of course my actions apart from God merit nothing; but, by God's own gift of His grace through Christ, by giving me supernatural life in baptism, by ingrafting me into the Living Vine, by making me part of the Body of Christ, by burying me and raising me up and making me to sit with Christ in heavenly places, by making Christ my whole life, by imparting to me the Holy Spirit as Lord and Lifegiver and Sanctifier, I am truly made holy, truly made a Christian, and thus am raised up to a supernatural level, so that my actions become truly pleasing to God, since He is truly working them in me by reason of all this, seeing in me (however poorly and still sin-beset) a real image of His Christ, and yet by reason of my free will I am also myself carrying out these good works; and since they belong to me, and are blessed by God, they are truly meritorious.

"The whole reason for our glory, is in Thee, O Christ, in whom we live, in whom we merit, in whom we make satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance, which, deriving their value from Thee, are offered to the Father by Thee, and aceepted by Him through Thee" - says our holy Mother the Church at the Council of Trent.


At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 2:21:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

Note that Lutherans do not deny that our works have merit:

"We teach that good works have merit, not for forgiveness of sins, for grace, or for justification (for these we receive only through faith), but for other rewards, bodily and spiritual, in this life and after this life." (Ap V:73)

The correct both/and is to exclude the concept of our merits from the free gift of justification. Christ's resurrection AS and FOR our justification was not a thing that we merited at all, but wholly a gift of God to us.

As to the earlier question about why Lutherans make such a big deal out of justification, recognize that we mean by justification the gift of the salvation that is given us in and through Christ - forgiveness, life, and salvation. Hence to stress justification is to stress that this IS gift, a promise that we can believe and trust and be certain of. Read through the homilies of the apostles in the Acts and see how often they end with proclaiming that the whole point of Scripture's teaching is that we receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus' name!

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 11:08:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Very simply, on the merit issue (which is a red herring from the central discussion re AntiChrist), if all sanctifying works that I do come from God, have their origins in God, and are only done in the power of God's grace (which is what we Catholics teach), if none of the sanctifying works I do comes from me, has its origin in me, or is done in my own power apart from the grace of God, in what sense does our doctrine teach that anyone other than God is the one who saves me?

If we use terminology of merit, this is because the scriptures themselves speak of rewards for good works. But we, with our protestant brothers and sisters, confess that the merits involved in this scriptural narrative of reward for good works are ours only in the sense that they are given as a gift to us from God.

When a gift is given to me, it becomes mine, but I would be mad to boast of the gift as if it were my own attainment.

But regarding the ANTICHRIST, thank you very much Christine for bringing the actual scriptures into the discussion. I was going to do that as my next step, and should have done it as my first step.

Can our Lutheran brethren who believe the Pope is the Antichrist explain how they justify this on the basis of SCRIPTURE ALONE?

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 11:50:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Well, David, once again, you assume baptism is baptism therefore all baptism make us brothers. I don't know and could care less how the miserable RCIA, whose fruits it has been my miserable fate to have witnessed, handles this, but in the Roman Catholic faith the validity of a person's Baptism is the first thing to be determined in the manner of his reception in the church, because until that is resolved one does not know whether he is "brother" or not, and is administered conditionally where it cannot be determined clearly.

So no, that someone has passed through a ritual called Baptism does not automatically make him a brother.

And for those who are brothers, to call a mere man his father in Christ when he is no such thing, and if he is taken to be it is a great delusion, does not cause me any pain at all but I do regret that this brother operates with such a serious delusion alongside the Gospel.

Both/and has nothing to do with katholike. What it has to do with the Roman capacity to mean whatever it needs to mean, for a thing and its opposite to be developments of each other, for various meanings to be allowed as long as the same words are used, and other such devices to admit of anything -- in that way as in so many others, the true successor to the Roman Imperial state religion which too always allowed the local gods along with the official ones.

The second beast worst than the first.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 12:09:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...


Did you get a chance to read the Sasse essay yet?

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 12:14:00 pm , Blogger Chris Jones said...

Mr Schütz,

If all sanctifying works that you do come from God, have their origins in God, and are only done in the power of God's grace, if none of the sanctifying works you do comes from you, has its origin in you, or is done in your own power apart from the grace of God, then how in heaven's name can you merit anything on the basis of those works? If you do not merit anything on the basis of those works, then we Lutherans have no quarrel with you on this issue. But the Council of Trent clearly teaches otherwise; that is the problem.

I would like to believe that the Roman Catholic Church teaches as you say she does, and I would like to believe that I have got this "merit" issue wrong. But with all due respect, in all of your comments on this issue you have not once engaged the text of the Tridentine decree, to which as a Roman Catholic you are committed, since it is a doctrinal definition which your Church teaches is ecumenical and infallible.

What part of "if anyone says ... that the justified person does not truly merit ... eternal life ... through the good works that he does ... let him be anathema" do you not understand?

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 1:23:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I understand it perfectly, it is you yourself who are misreading it. Joshua has made an excellent defence of the language of merit already (see above). The language of merit cannot be ruled out because the scriptures themselves use such language (or at least the language of reward for good works, which amounts to the same thing). The Catholic Church is very aware that scripture also teaches that all merit in the matter of salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone, so how does she reconcile the scriptural teaching?

She does so with the doctrine of grace. All good works we do are the result of the grace of God through faith by which the merits of Christ are applied to the sinner. Thus, as Joshua quoted Augustine above "In crowning their merits, Thou dost crown Thy gifts." I am rewarded for the good works that I do (as the scriptures clearly witness) but not because the good works have their origins in me but in the grace and merits of Jesus Christ.

The Council of Trent anathematised the teaching that "the justified person does not truly merit ... eternal life ... through the good works that he does", because, according to the scriptures, eternal life IS given on the basis of merit. Not MY merit, but CHRIST's merit applied to me so that it truly COUNTS as my merit (in a somewhat forensic manner which you, Chris, should be familiar with).

The Council of Trent was defending the scriptural doctrine that God does not reward wickedness. He rewards goodness/merit. But if I have no merit of my own, if I am all wickedness, how am I to be justified? The answer is that by faith I receive the merits of Jesus Christ as my "foster-merits" (so to speak), and that I offer these "foster-merits" (which are entirely the merits of Christ which he gave to me) to the Father in the place of my own non-existent merits.

I beg you to follow your heart, which wishes to believe us when we, your Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, tell you in all good faith (and not in order to deceive you in any way) that you and your Lutheran brothers and sisters have indeed got this "merit" issue wrong.

We are not lying and we were not lying when we said in the JDDJ with Lutherans throughout the world "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."

As the JDDJ itself declares, the Catholic Church interprets the doctrines of the Council of Trent in accordance with this joint declaration. Any interpretation of Trent which contradicts this simple declaration is to be rejected. IT IS WRONG. NOT TRUE. NOT TO BE BELIEVED!! AGAINST THE GOSPEL.

Is that clear enough?

AND may I just add, that the JDDJ comes with the highest papal approval. The pope himself approved the statement "not because of any merit on our part". Got it?

How then can you say that the Papacy is Anti-Christ because he teaches that we are saved because of our own merit and not the merits of Jesus Christ only?

It is beyond me that this arguement is continuing in the face of such clear evidence to the contrary.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 1:29:00 pm , Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

Methinks, David, that it is sometimes difficult (and I honestly speak with myself in mind, too) to recognize that you (generically speaking) have misunderstood what someone means. I think that's the case re: merit and justification; perhaps because of the connotations of the term, other Christians seem to have a hard time grasping what we mean by it. But I applaud you for giving a clarification a good go.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 1:57:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I beg you to follow your heart, which wishes to believe us when we, your Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, tell you in all good faith (and not in order to deceive you in any way) that you and your Lutheran brothers and sisters have indeed got this 'merit' issue wrong."

Would you say that Lutherans have the "justification" issue correct?

Dan Pharr

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 2:23:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Reality check. The Roman Church did not sign the JDDJ along with Lutherans throughout the world.

You may read a short Lutheran exposition of the gross deficiencies of the JDDJ, including an unflinching recognition that the Roman Church has always taught that salvation is by grace alone, here:

and a longer and official one here:

and for that matter here:

For a Roman Catholic refutation, here:

which could not be more to the point, unless geography overrules faith.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 3:37:00 pm , Blogger Chris Jones said...

Mr Schütz,

If what you say is true, then no one would rejoice more than I. But then let the anathema of canon 32 of Trent be withdrawn.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 5:06:00 pm , Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

To quote Charles Porterfield Krauth:

"Theses on the Galesburg Declaration on Pulpit and Altar Fellowship,” Part III, in Lutheran Church Review XXVII:1 (January 1908):

There is no sufficient bulwark against Rome but the doctrine of justification by faith, with all it involves. The struggle for the possession of the future is between Romanism, Protestantism, and Atheism; and Protestantism, robbed of its great material principle, will be absorbed into Romanism or Atheism. A Bible unbelieved will not save us. A Rule of Faith which we will not allow to make our faith, will not help us. The decline of the power of the great doctrine of justification by faith is the result of the decline of faith itself. Men have less and less confidence and interest in justification by faith, because they have less and less of the faith which justifies. As faith is regarded after the Romish fashion as an intellectual assent, and intellectual assent to divine truth dwindles more and more in the sectarian construction into individual notions and opinions, all of equal validity, the great New Testament doctrine of faith and of justification by faith, is fading more and more out of sight.
That faith which is a divinely wrought and transforming conviction, involving absolute trust, and distinct from mere opinion, however strong or plausible, involves pure doctrine and is inseparable from it. It spreads its roots in the whole soil, and draws its life from every part. The faith subjective, our faith, must derive its life from the faith objective, the faith, the great system of Christian doctrine. (p. 128)

The obligation to stand by truth is not conditioned by the human probabilities of its triumph. While there may be again, as there has been in the past, a relative advance of truth, error will abide upon the earth, and we know not in what proportions, while the earth stands. The harvest will open on tares and wheat together. The Church may have relative rest, but she will have no absolute rest; but will bear the cross till she is lifted to her crown in heaven. We do not stake the great principle, nor the right of our Church to abide by it, on any prophetic pretense of its earthly triumph or of hers. (p. 135)".

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 9:32:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

In fact, the anathemas of Trent against the Lutheran doctrine of Justification by faith alone HAVE BEEN WITHDRAWN. What on earth do you think the JDDJ was about? Why do you think we keep going on about it?

It doesn't mean that the Catholic Church has herself adopted the doctrine of "justification by faith alone", but it does mean that she does not condemn the Lutherans who teach it. It says as much in the JDDJ.

Have the Lutherans got the Justification doctrine correct? Well, I think we are a little way from saying whether any of us have actually got exactly to where we should be on the matter yet. It is easy to say "Such and such is not the case", but harder to say "such and such is the case". Part of the difficulty is that we use words to mean different things theologically. The other part of the difficulty is that the argument has, over 2000 years, drifted somewhat from the original meaning of what Paul meant by the term "justification".

But look, the Lutherans are right, completely right, when they try to say that salvation comes completely from God and cannot be achieved by our own efforts. The whole Church proclaimed that years ago during the Pelagian controversy. The Catholic Church condemned Pelagius, OK?

If Lutherans have understood Catholics to say that we are saved to any degree by our own efforts, they have heard us WRONG. Just as we have heard the Lutherans WRONGLY if we have heard them to say that we are saved by Faith apart from Love.

Given that we are both trying to say the same thing, namely that God alone saves us, I think we can leave the question of the actually way the theology of justification works as an open matter between us to be solved together. But there is not going to be any chance of a solution until we back away from the fight, have a little bit of quiet time apart, and then come together to revisit the idea as brothers in the faith.

I do hope we are getting somewhere with this discussion and that at least some of you are beginning to hear what I am getting at.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 9:36:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Oh, and by the way, Krauth was probably right, MCB. Protestantism doesn't stand a chance against Romanism or Atheism, although I am being a little naughty in saying so. I say so on the basis of the fact that there really isn't any middle ground (as Newman discovered). Everyone, if they were to live long enough, would eventually become either a Catholic or an Atheist.

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 11:05:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Will no one debate my above argument re: merits? Then I must assume it has driven my noble opponents from the field...

At Tuesday, May 06, 2008 11:48:00 pm , Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

It might be more precise, David, to say that with the JDDJ the Holy See officially recognizes that the anathemas of Trent -- while still "in force" -- do not obtain (as opposed to "have been withdrawn") with regard to the Lutheran understanding of justification.

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 4:20:00 am , Anonymous M. M. Regan said...

David, to say that "the anathemas of Trent against the Lutheran doctrine of Justification by faith alone HAVE BEEN WITHDRAWN" is false, indeed an impossibility; see, third bullet point down. (Thanks, Past Elder, for introducing me to an excellent website.)

David, I think that you offered the beginning of a defence of the true Catholic doctrine on meriting eternal beatitude when you said that "The Council of Trent was defending the scriptural doctrine that God does not reward wickedness. He rewards goodness/merit." Once one is baptised, one may spend one's life either sinning or doing good works. If it is to be (mortal) sin, then one merits Hell. If it is to be good works, then one merits Heaven. It is impossible to debate Catholic teaching on good works without reference to the alternative to good works, namely sin. (And of course, all this comes back to the fact that "justification and sanctification are only two aspects of the same thing"--Catholic Encyclopedia, 'Salvation',

That's my understanding, at least.

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 4:23:00 am , Blogger Chris Jones said...


Will no one debate my above argument re: merits?

You've provided a useful clarification of what Catholics (present-day ones, anyway) mean when they speak of our works being meritorious. The only actual argument, however, is this paragraph:

Of course my actions apart from God merit nothing; but, by God's own gift of His grace through Christ, by giving me supernatural life in baptism ... I am truly made holy, truly made a Christian, and thus am raised up to a supernatural level, so that my actions become truly pleasing to God ... by reason of my free will I am also myself carrying out these good works; and since they belong to me, and are blessed by God, they are truly meritorious.

I can come close to agreeing with this, but not all the way; and I think that you still do not understand the essence of the problem that Lutherans have with this.

I can agree that good works, done after baptism, by grace, and grounded in our union with Christ are both truly ours, and truly good. I can agree that such works are effectual and instrumental in our sanctification. But what I cannot agree with is that we come to deserve our salvation by such works. There is nothing that we can do that makes our salvation a reward that is owed to us; it is always an undeserved gift which proceeds from God's love towards us, not from our love towards him.

The most that your argument can really support is that our good works done by grace are effectual in our sanctification. Your argument does not show (nor can it be shown) that our justification is, even in part, a reward owed to us for our works. Even with your clarification, that remains what Trent teaches, and it is an error.

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 8:45:00 am , Blogger Joshua said...

Well, of course we don't deserve our salvation - God elects the saints to glory before any consideration of their works, whereas those are damned who deserve such on account of their sins. This is the Catholic (at least, the Thomistic) understanding of predestination. Obviously, to square this with the idea of our merits winning us heaven, it must again be confessed that God, in crowning the merits of his saints, crowns His own gifts to them. The crux of the issue: both/and. God graces us so that our good deeds become truly meritorious, and deserving of heavenly reward: but all this is His gift.

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 12:40:00 pm , Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

Like others, it seems to me that the crux of the problem is one's understanding of the relation between human and divine action. Charles Journet -- a Thomist from the early and mid-20th century -- has a nice little book entitled "The Meaning of Grace", in the course of which he addresses the issue. I'd recommend this text to anyone interested a deeper exploration of the Catholic understanding of grace, divine-human actions & their relations, and (implicitly) merit. You can find the text online and the link below, and the most relevant section for this discussion the second chapter, "Actual Grace".

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 8:48:00 pm , Blogger Fraser Pearce said...

I just want to be the 48th comment.

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 8:51:00 pm , Blogger Fraser Pearce said...

Why not the 49th too?
What's the record on this blog?
My comments could be the radio tower on top of the building.

At Wednesday, May 07, 2008 11:29:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...


I'll hit the 50th, but don't really have time to comment at the moment - and am not sure when I will be able to get back to this fascinating discussion. Christopher Jones, however, has expressed my concern exactly. The crux of the matter is ultimately Romans 4:16 - at least for Lutherans - and I wonder if our RC friends would comment upon their understanding of that passage?

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 12:11:00 am , Blogger Joshua said...

"Therefore is it of faith, that according to grace the promise might be firm to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all," (Rom. iv, 16)

- I don't quite see the relevance; how about Ecclesiasticus xvi, 15:

"All mercy shall make a place for every man according to the merit of his works, and according to the wisdom of his sojournment."

Or perhaps Romans ii, 6; or, II Corinthians v, 10:

"For we must all be manifested before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil."

If God render due punishment unto sin, and if likewise He render due reward unto good deeds, then are not such deeds indeed supernaturally meritorious? For - to repeat - "All mercy shall make a place for every man according to the merit of his works..."

Of course, such good deeds can only be made truly deserving of supernatural reward if they are acts of one elevated by grace to a new and supernatural life: thus safeguarding the gratuity of the Divine bestowal - In crowning the merits of Thy Saints, Thou dost crown Thine own gifts (St Augustine).

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 12:20:00 am , Blogger Joshua said...

P.S. Here is the chapter and verse for my quotations from both the great Augustine and the Sacred Synod of Trent:

"Non Dens coronat merita tua tanquam merita tua, sed tanquam dona sua" (De grat. et lib. arbitrio, xv)

"Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ, in whom we live, move, and make satisfaction, bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from Him have their efficacy, are by Him offered to the Father, and through Him find with the Father acceptance" (Sess. XIV, cap. viii)

And, as someone queried, all this meriting of course excludes every Pelagian fantasy of somehow meriting justification:

"None of those things, which precede justification — whether faith or works — merit the grace itself of justification" (Sess. VI, cap. viii)

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 12:56:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

ergo, Justification by grace alone through faith alone is condemened. Ergo, faith plus works equal justification.

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 4:30:00 am , Blogger Chris Jones said...


I hope that my friend Fr Weedon will forgive me for replying to your comment which was addressed to him.

You wrote I don't quite see the relevance [of Rom 4.16]. If we draw back a bit from the verse itself, the context becomes clear. In this chapter St Paul is discussing the relationship among faith, works, and grace as they relate to justification. He assumes as a given that justification is by grace (that is, entirely as a gift). He then asks, in effect, whether justification by works can ever be said to be "by grace".

The key contrast is introduced in vv. 4-5: Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. If it were possible to justify ourselves by our works, we would be putting God in our debt, such that he would owe us justification as the just reward for our works. In that case it would not be a gift (not reckoned of grace). St Paul is saying that our justification may either be by works or by grace, but not both.

It is to defend the truth that justification is by grace alone that St Paul insists that justification is by faith; for to the extent that justification is by works, it cannot be by grace. Having presented this contrast in vv. 4-5, he underscores it in verse 16: Therefore it [viz. justification] is of faith, that it might be by grace.

Given the contrast which St Paul presents between "by grace" and "by works" I honestly think he would be puzzled by the notion that grace somehow gives our works "merit" for justification. That is not the role of good works in St Paul's teaching on salvation. The picture given by Trent is that we cannot earn our salvation apart from grace, so God gives us grace which enables us to earn our salvation. But in the picture given us by St Paul in Romans 4, salvation is never earned, for if it earned it cannot be by grace. Grace is not given so that we may justify ourselves, it is given because we cannot justify ourselves.

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 4:55:00 am , Blogger Chris Burgwald said...

Isn't Paul talking about works prior to coming to faith, i.e. (I can safely say this in this convo) prior to baptism? In fact, let's make this concrete around that sacrament.

Both of our communions agree that baptism is the sacrament of faith, and it is at baptism that we are initially justified. The Catholic teaching is that absolutely nothing prior to baptism is meritorious, in agreement (naturally) with what Paul says in Romans and elsewhere.

The disagreement between our confessions is found when it comes to *growth* in justification (what is also called by some sanctification)... once we have been baptized, can can our grace-powered acts of love be termed meritorious with regard to deeper justification? Romans doesn't address this, because Paul is talking about the initial justification that comes with baptism.

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 5:56:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

I was particularly wanting comment upon:

"it is of faith, that it might be by grace; *to the end the promise may be sure* to all the seed."

That the promise may be sure to all the seed - all who share Abraham's faith - it is of faith and by grace. He excludes human works from the promise - it comes as sheer grace and since it is received by faith it comes as certain - not the hopeful wish that our sins might be remitted but the joy of knowing that in Christ they have been.

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 8:13:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Okay, very quickly, I am convinced that Tom Wright's work on Paul's idea of Justification is helpful here. Wright reads Paul's use of the term "to be justified" as to be declared by God to be a member of the Abrahamic Covenant family. Once the badge of such membership was the works of the Torah, now it is faith in Christ--therefore the promise of the Abrahamic covenant is accessibly by grace (because it is faith, not works of the Torah that mark a person as a member of the covenant), and open to all, Jew and GEntile. Wright stresses, however, that this is how one is reckoned to be a member of the Covenant, not how one becomes a Christian. One becomes a Christian through Baptism and being joined to the Covenantal community through the usual stages of Initiation (as Paul's own writings attest).

This explanation of justification poses no difficulty to the Catholic faith.

This is what I mean when I say that by advancing in our understanding of what "justification" actually means we might actually realise we agree with eachother.

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 8:50:00 am , Blogger Joshua said...

Chris Jones,

I think you may have misread me: note in the P.S. to my comment I said, quoting Trent -

'And, as someone queried, all this meriting of course excludes every Pelagian fantasy of somehow meriting justification:

"None of those things, which precede justification — whether faith or works — merit the grace itself of justification" (Sess. VI, cap. viii)'

So I was certainly not speaking of merit prior to justification!

Only in Christ - after justification (accomplished through the application of His saving Passion to us, effected via baptism) - are our works given supernatural value.


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