Sunday, July 19, 2015
Rome concedes Luther was right. . .
Read it here. It is surely true that “the great majority of Catholics have lived their whole lives never having directly heard preaching on the free gift of justification by faith without too many 'buts’ and 'howevers’.” Indeed many might say they don’t believe in justification by faith. With those words Christopher Howse introduces readers to a new book occasioned by the JDDJ and written by Father Father Raniero Cantalamesa, preacher to Pope Benedict XVI. You can order the book, Remember Jesus Christ, and read the sermon for yourself.
Fr Cantalamesa points out that “it was Martin Luther who rediscovered that the 'righteousness of God’ [in St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 3:25] does not point here to God’s punishment or, even worse, his vengeance in relationship with human beings, but means, on the contrary, the action by which God 'justifies’ people.” And you begin to think that Rome has gotten it when you find you are not so sure. "From the moment the Protestants unilaterally emphasised faith, Catholic preaching and spirituality ended up taking on, almost alone, the thankless task of recalling the necessity of good works and of a human being’s personal contribution to salvation.” I am not at all sure that it is accurate to say that Protestant preaching caused Roman Catholic preaching to focus on the necessity of good works and the personal contribution of the saved to their salvation. It would be more accurate to say that this is partially what contributed to Luther's angst and fueled his search for a gracious God. In the end, it would be fair, I believe, to say that Roman Catholic preaching has largely remained unchanged since before the Reformation and this is what people notice when they distinguish Roman and Lutheran parishes (when the ceremonial difference is not or should not necessarily be that distinct).
While it is certainly true that the great majority of Roman Catholics have lived their whole lives in the church without ever having heard a sermon on the free gift of justification by grace through faith, I wonder if it is not also true that a great many Lutherans have lived their whole lives in the church hearing only justification by grace through faith without ever being prodded or directed to manifest in their daily live the good works of Him who called them from darkness into His marvelous light?
Even confessional Lutherans seem nervous on the subject of works of mercy, good works, moral living, and seeking to be righteousness as God has declared us to be. While it might be said that much of Evangelical preaching is only concerned with good lives (not necessarily holy ones but good lives that get us what we want out of life). And it might also be said much of Roman Catholic preaching is merely encouragement to good works (at least that is what some have reported). But it might also be said that Lutherans hear only justification and are not encouraged as they should to live holy lives. Baptismal vocation is good in theory among Lutherans but not universally proclaimed from the pulpit.
Luther was right (and he was also sometimes wrong). Lutherans do not worship Luther or accept uncritically whatever he said. That said, Luther's sermons focused much more on righteous living than the sermons of those who claim his legacy. And that is a distinct problem for us today. The framework of life is sin and righteousness. While no Lutheran would ever claim good works as a contribution to salvation, they are the marks of the saved who live in but not of the world. I would hope that Roman Catholics would learn the joy of Paul's clear proclamation of justification by grace through faith. At the same time I would hope that Lutherans would hear more of living as the justified in the world. If this were to happen, it would be a distinct fruit of the dialogue between us (though I am not at all prepared to concede that JDDJ is the end of our discussion of justification).