Category Archives: Luther / Lutheranism

Should Any Catholic Praise Luther?

We praise someone who fundamentally deserves praise. No one is without fault, and no one without some merit. But only those are worthy of praise who fundamentally deserve praise, whose pith and marrow is good.

Now, Luther certainly saw some things in the Church as evil that were evil. No one can say that his vision was totally corrupted. But was his vision fundamentally worthy of praise? We must, of course, distinguish contemporary Lutherans from Luther. Here, we are interested in the founder, in the foundation he laid.

What should be the matter upon which we judge this case? Luther’s own texts, of course.

So, in this post, we will cite Luther at length in one of his key contributions. Granted, this key contribution he did not continue explicitly to lay out. However, he never retracted it. In another post, we can lay out the theses he continued explicitly to hold.

In reading the below, ask yourself these questions: Could a saint utter the words below? Could a holy man write the following? Could a true lover of God, one in the state of grace, write the following?

First Thesis of Luther. For Luther, Divine Foreknowledge means that there is No Contingency, and that means that there is No Freedom. This thesis he lays down, so he asserts, to protect God’s foreknowledge so as to protect his promise so as to protect our confidence in salvation by faith alone. Indeed, here we see the connection between this foundation and the explicit teaching of his that endures and which will be treated in a future post. The connection: If future events are contingent, God’s promise is not as trustworthy as we need it to be. Hence, future events are not contingent.

For Luther, there is either grace or freedom (Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, from Luther’s Works vol. 33, p. 126; hereafter, LW 33:126). There is either freedom or Christ (LW 33:279).

(Regarding Pharaoh), Luther writes: “If there had been any flexibility or freedom of choice in Pharaoh, which could have turned either way, God would not have been able so certainly to predict his hardening. Since, however, the Giver of the promise is one who can neither be mistaken nor tell a lie, it was necessarily and most certainly bound to come about that Pharaoh should be hardened; which would not be the case unless the hardening were entirely beyond the capacity of man and within the power of God alone” (LW 33:183).


If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas necessarily became a traitor, and it was not in the power of Judas or ay creature to do differently or to change his will, though he did what he did willingly and not under compulsion, but that act of will was a work of God, which he set in motion by his omnipotence, like everything else” (LW 33:185).



It is not in our power to change, much less to resist, his will, which wants us hardened and by which we are forced to be hardened, whether we like it or not” (LW 33:187).


“I admit that the question is difficult, and indeed impossible, if you wish to maintain at the same time both God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom. What could be more difficult, nay more impossible, than to insist that contradictories or contraries are not opposed, or to find a number that was at the same time both ten and nine?…. Paul is thus putting a check on the ungodly, who are offended by this very plain speaking when they gather from it that the divine will is fulfilled by necessity on our part, and that very definitely nothing of freedom or free choice remains for them, but everything depends on the will of God alone…. Not that any injustice is done to us, since God owes us nothing, has received nothing from us, and has promised us nothing but what suits his will and pleasure” (LW 33:188).


“God’s foreknowledge and omnipotence are diametrically opposed to our free choice” (LW 33:189).


“Here, then, is something fundamentally necessary and salutary for a Christian, to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that he foresees and purposes and does all things by his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. Here is a thunderbolt by which free choice is completely prostrated and shattered…” (Bondage [LW 33:37]).

Luther presents as his evidence that God is unchanging. So, he concludes, is God’s will. So far, so good. But from these he deduces that therefore, nothing is contingent. Again,

“From this it follows irrefutably that everything we do, everything that happens, even if it seems to us to happen mutably and contingently, happens in fact nonetheless necessarily and immutably, if you have regard to the will of God” (Bondage [LW 33:37f]).

What have real saints said about this thesis? Well, St. Thomas More labelled Luther’s thesis on absolute determination to be:


AMEN to St. Thomas More. How can we contradict St. Thomas More here? Should we, out of human respect and errant versions of ecumenism, lose our theological heads, not in service of martyrdom, but rather in praise of such execrable doctrine? 

Let us continue the citations.

For Luther, the thesis of absolute determinism is necessary in order to Protect Faith’s Certainty. No faith is possible unless one already “knows” that because God wills all things, nothing is contingent (LW 33:42).

“For if you doubt or disdain to know that God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe his promises and place a sure trust and reliance on them? For when he promises anything, you ought to be certain that he knows and is able and willing to perform what he promises; otherwise, you will regard him as neither truthful nor faithful, and that is impiety and a denial of the Most High God. But how will you be certain and sure unless you know that he knows and wills and will do what he promises, certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily?” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, LW 33:42)

Now, this reason for humility is utterly false, since it contradicts Catholic Dogma. But St. Bernard said that giving false reasons for humility is in fact pride. Hence, Luther also takes one of the steps of pride in contending that this thesis Benefits Humility.

Luther recognizes that the notion of absolute determinism seems to make God utterly evil and perverse. Instead, then, of rejecting it as blasphemous and fideistic, he embraces it as lifting up Faith and Revelation, since it is so contrary to all reason:

“This is the highest degree of faith, to believe him merciful when he saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable, so that he seems, according to Erasmus, to delight in the torments of the wretched and to be worthy of hatred rather than of love” (LW 33:62f).

Luther’s own words are the evidence. This is the testimony of his own mouth. Let the honest and decent reader judge the case.

Before the bar of every rational and decent person, does Luther not convict himself of utter inhumanity?

Before the bar of all that is reasonable in moral exhortation – from parental to educational to civil and criminal, does he not convict himself of a crime against all law? Is he, therefore, anarchical?

Before the bar of Catholic Dogma, supreme criterion on earth of what we know is and is not part of and/or in harmony with the Deposit of Faith, does he not convict himself of heresy?

Before the God whom we ought to honor, to whom we ought to ascribe only what is good and true and fitting, does he not convict himself of great blasphemies, greater even than the Gnostics who first attempted to ruin the Church? For the Gnostics distinguished two gods, one good and one evil. Does not Luther add to the evil by subtracting from the number of Gods, folding that Evil, which all right reason and right faith and common decency vomit out as execrable, into the one God?

Indeed, DOES NOT ALL OF MODERN THOUGHT — which, incidentally, is not entirely corrupt, though it is by and large no friend of Christ — REJECT SUCH VILE THOUGHT? If we, then, accept what is good and decent in Modernity – as it rebels against fideism and voluntaristic notions of God and absurd notions of justification and divine predetermination and the destruction of all legitimate autonomy of man – must we not therefore reject this foundational thesis of Luther? Finally, does this predetermination to evil harmonize with the errant notion of a mercy shorn of justice, so popular these days?

Thomas More Critiques Martin Luther

My article on Thomas More’s critique of Luther on justification is now available electronically, courtesy of the Thomas More Studies website.

You may link to it here.

In a nutshell, it investigates More’s treatment of Luther’s notion of justification by faith alone. Scholars for the past 80 years have contended that Catholic Reformers, such as More, misunderstood their opponents (Luther, Calvin, et alia). I examine More’s treatment and contend that More indeed correctly targets Luther. I make one chief correction of More’s analysis, but this correction only returns to another criticism of Luther, and this quite incisive and confirmatory of More.

A takeaway line from More, on the ultimate doctrine of Luther et alia:

[Their ultimate position is] that everything depends only upon destiny, and that the liberty of the human will serves absolutely no purpose, nor do people’s deeds, good or bad, make any difference before God, but in his chosen people nothing displeases him, be it no matter how bad, and in the other group nothing pleases him, be it no matter how good—the very worst and most harmful heresy that ever was thought up; and, on top of that, the most insane (§11, p. 453 – from More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies; Scepter 2006).

Justification (Part V) – Also, its Relevance for the Synod on the Family

Now that we have laid out some of the basics, we need to dig a little deeper regarding justification. We need to ask the question “Why?” Why did Luther hold what he held? Of course there are many reasons. We can only offer some.

The usual narrative that he presents is that he had tried to do everything right as a Catholic monk. But nothing was good enough. The Law was too much to bear. He fasted, prayed, kept vigil, etc. But he still was sinning. He still did not feel God’s love. Trying to “earn” God’s love was futile. Suddenly, he discovered what he took to be the real meaning of “the righteousness of God”. This sudden experience is referred to as his “tower experience”. It has recently come under question just what and how influential this event was. At any rate, that is the usual narrative. And it rings with many Protestants. They consider that Catholics are guilt-ridden servants of the Law. Whereas God wants free sons who approach him in love.

Another reason for Luther’s position can be found in his own writings. We see, especially in the early Luther (1515-1521) a deep desire to love God for his own sake. He held as ideal a love of God which excluded every motive for his own gain. We see something resembling this (I do not say identical) with the great saints. Thus, this core desire had something deeply correct about it.

And something deeply flawed. Quite flawed. And that is the root of the trouble.

Luther thought that true love of God required the absolute absence of self-interest. Therefore, any motive other than perfect love of God for his own sake spoiled true love of God and was imperfect. And here is the second flaw: Any imperfection in the moral order is sin. And the third flaw: Every sin is a mortal sin. Thus, Luther conceived the law of love as exacting a love practically impossible for mortal man. It echoes of a certain voice long ago, which asked us in Eve, “Did God say that you cannot eat of any of these tasty trees? Is he that kind of a Master? They do look good to eat.”

Confusion concerning the content of the law. This was the root of Luther’s problem. Add to that a pessimistic theory of what man can accomplish, and you get a nearly impossible situation. Thus, it is as though he thought, “The Law is impossible of obedience. There must be some way to God that totally excludes any condition of Law. There must be some way by which God will not issue the Law, or count the Law, or count transgressions. That must be the way. That must be what “righteousness of God” means. It must mean that God will justify us by faith alone and save us by faith alone, regardless of what we do or do not do. Faith is the only criterion. Faith merely as trust in God’s promise. That is all that he requires. And he gives what he requires. Well, then, once God has given us all good, we do not need to labor to get it. What should we do then? Give gratitude to God. We should love him. Love neighbor. And none of this counts for heaven. It is all totally free. It is our pure gift to God. That is how God creates true lovers. If he ignores all their faults, then everything they actually do, they do out of free love. Therefore, God has found his true lovers.” So, Luther.

This was Luther’s solution to the problem he say. It was his “tower” experience. From despair to presumption. I will unpack what this means in the post to come. After that, I will show that how it fails to work on its own terms.

But before closing, we should contrast Luther’s understanding with the Catholic understanding, implicit in the Prayer for the Memorial of St. Patrick today: “O God, Who didst send forth thy Blessed Confessor and Bishop Patrick to preach thy glory among the Gentiles, mercifully grant unto us, for his sake and at his petition, whatsoever Thou commandest us to do, to have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.” For the conviction of the Church is that God does not command what is impossible to do, since He providentially bestows the sufficient grace for salvation.

Sufficient grace. Sufficient grace. Sufficient grace. For holy, holy, holy is the Lord who works to make man holy. Sufficient grace! This is the ingredient to which the Synod on the Family must pay heed, what it must praise, what it must proclaim to the nations. God gives us his grace! He commands not the impossible. No burden to heavy for him to lift in your heart. For when he lifts this burden, not by denying the burden, denying the Cross but by enabling you to bear it, when he lifts it, the Law of God is fulfilled in us (Rom 8) so that we can now walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. For life according to the flesh is sin, and the end of sin is eternal death; whereas life according to the Spirit is sanctification, and its end is eternal life (Rom 6). Mortal man has not the power to proclaim that sin is not sin. And mortal man ought not indirectly imply that sin is no longer sin.

What then, about the Synod? Let us not despair of God’s grace! Two roads of despair: a “faith alone” doctrine of justification, and a re-writing of the Law a-la liberalism. Both roads are false. Neither road leads to life. For the roads that lead to perdition are broad, and many choose them. But the road that leads to life is hard, and few find it. But there is one who can enable us to bear his burden sweetly, who addresses us with forgiveness, if we let him enter our hearts. Let us then hope on God. This was John Paul II’s tireless message in Veritatis splendor, par. 112:

“In fact, while the behavioural sciences, like all experimental sciences, develop an empirical and statistical concept of “normality”, faith teaches that this normality itself bears the traces of a fall from man’s original situation — in other words, it is affected by sin. Only Christian faith points out to man the way to return to “the beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8), a way which is often quite different from that of empirical normality. Hence the behavioural sciences, despite the great value of the information which they provide, cannot be considered decisive indications of moral norms. It is the Gospel which reveals the full truth about man and his moral journey, and thus enlightens and admonishes sinners; it proclaims to them God’s mercy, which is constantly at work to preserve them both from despair at their inability fully to know and keep God’s law and from the presumption that they can be saved without merit. God also reminds sinners of the joy of forgiveness, which alone grants the strength to see in the moral law a liberating truth, a grace-filled source of hope, a path of life.”

Deliberately did John Paul II refer to Mt 19. The very text on the abolition of divorce. Divorce is a pure chimera, a phantom of man’s imagination. As is bigamy. Therefore, there can be no recognition of “remarriage” in the face of a first marriage.

Let us follow John Paul’s courageous hope. Be not afraid, ye Christians. O sacred pastors, from whose hands we feed, please, be not afraid. Be not afraid. We all know: Man must not water down the Law, directly or indirectly, so as to save man. Such would be rebellion. (Directly, i.e., presuming to change the Law. Indirectly, i.e., changing crucial practices that announce the Law, crucial practices that indicate an objective compass for the lost, crucial practices that are part and parcel of an embodied existence, crucial practices part and parcel of an incarnational ecomony of salvation, crucial practices the denial of which would be Gnosticism! For by changes of such crucial practices, the Law would cease to be announced; even its opposite would become the impression in the heart of man. By such changes the objective compass would be obscured, and one would readily pronounce innocent those engaging objectively evil acts. Thus would be endorsed a Gnostic Morality: Appearances deceive, the body lies, it is the mind alone that matters, the interior alone that matters.) An indirect change of doctrine would be its own form of presumptuous Pelagianism. For it would be man trying to make it so that man is saved. It would be salvation by the work of merely human hands. But man cannot save man. Only God can save man. Thus, to tinker with the Law, directly or indirectly, bespeaks the presumption that man can save. This is totally false. This would be deception. We must trust not in horses, much less in a Change in the Law.

Is it not a worse thing for man not even to know of the sin he commits than to weep endlessly for mercy from God? Of course, at all times, he can know that sin is sin, for it is of this that his own heart speaks (Rom 1-2; Wis 11-13; Gaudium et spes). Yet, when voices seemingly pious cloud over this delicate speech of conscience, they steer a man astray. They crowd out the solid rule by which conscience acts. For the supreme rule of conscience is not the product of human engineering. It is not the product of some kind of “core energetics” by which I can “retool” the universal law of moral action. (That would be New Age Gnosticism.) The supreme rule springs forth from the Unchanging Being of God and directs man’s mind along the path he should trod.

Yes, sufficient grace is the answer which the Catholic Church herself proclaims through the ages. God has not left us orphans. Let us not think that he would. So, let no one falsely tickle ears with an attempt at an indirect, much less direct, change in Law. For if someone close to us is living by standards of Ba’al, even unknowingly, our answer is not to deny that these standards are Ba’al’s. Our answer is spending the time in ministerial love, the way the good Samaritan did, so that the sick and beaten can make it to the hospital (= Church), receive the anointing balm (= Reconciliation), and thus begin to eat (= Eucharist), and thus begin to recover that vigor ravaged by sin. Let us be servants taking people to the hospital of life. Triage does not mean bypassing objective moral discernment. It means precisely issuing this in the proper order. But in this proper order, we must remember that health is not produced by a declaration of health. For mere declarations, “You are ok; it is not a sin” accomplish nothing but confusion and pain. For if I am lying wounded in the field and told, “You are not wounded,” I wait with my wound and wail. The declaration was false and did not lead to life.

The hospital is the Church and her sacraments. And these are dispensed to “adults”. Even six year old “adults”. Yes. To free human beings. Who make consciously determinate choices. And know of them. Who take responsibility for them, regrettably or no. For our audience is not infants. Our audience is adults. Let us respect them. Let us honor their freedom, their dignity. All the while, let us speak sweetly of the Savior. And not omit his Law. For: No Law, No Savior. “I came not to call the righteous” that is, “not to call those who call themselves or are called by others, falsely, already righteous”. For he came for what Luther called – so rightly! – “real sinners” not “sham sinners”. (I like that line.)  An attempt to change the Law, directly or indirectly, — should we think this through earnestly — would also be deeply offensive to Lutheran – Catholic ecumenical dialogue. For it would represent a strategy of salvation opposite the Incarnation.

All pastoral directives must take their cue from this truth of faith. If we cloud it over by attempting to change law or practice, we tell the sinner, “You are not capable of action. You are infantile. We must protect you from your infancy. Nor does it seem — if we measure you as an instance of a statistical frequency gathered by the sociologists of the day — that God will help you bear that burden. Yes, if you are another instance of a statistic (!), then you will probably never be helped so as to bear your responsibility well. Well, then, … God did not say, “Do not eat of the tree of knowledge.” That was a mis-impression. I am clearing that up for you. Rest. Rest. Rest. You are immaculate.” Manifestly opposite the salutary Angelic Cry: Penance! Penance! Penance! Is this whitewashing of the tombs not the other extreme in the perils opposite the Catholic truth? Yes, justification sola fide is one extreme error. The liberal annihilation of law is the other, and a worse perversion. For this latter is the antithesis of the very foundation of all religion.

On that — Read Newman, Grammar, chap. 10, on Natural Religion. What would Newman call such an attempt? An unholy alliance with religion of civilization, which so-called religion he decried as a banal falsity that utterly perverts man’s most native instincts regarding his well being and future.

On Justification (Part IV)

This final post is lengthy. Since it will the reader some time, the next several days will consist in brief posts of collects and antiphons of the new and old liturgy side by side.

The topic today is Paul’s teaching concerning our final judgment. It will be shown that Paul teaches that a key criterion for our being judged righteous and so, finally saved, is our obedience to the commandments, our good works, our avoidance of wicked sins. Therefore, Paul does not teach that salvation is by faith alone.

Rather noteworthy in this regard, although too little noticed, is Chris VanLandingham’s book Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. It is a significant book in exegesis. Perhaps a reason it is too little noticed is an unfortunate, and needless, flaw in VanLandingham’s theology. And quite an unfortunate flaw it is, for it casts a shadow on the text precisely for those readers who would most benefit from his exegetical insights. That flaw is semi-Pelagianism. He thinks that if man works, that work is as it were “in addition” to God’s work. Thus, insofar as man must work, God must not work. “Christians themselves do these things [i.e. good works necessary for salvation], not God” (VanLandingham, 186).

VanLandingham, a Protestant (though he attempted to perform his exegesis outside of any doctrinal tradition [another questionable element in his theology]), thus succumbs to the flaw in many a Protestant theology: Man’s action and God’s action is a zero sum game. The more you ascribe to one, the more you take away from the other. That flawed view must end, for any pious man, in the denial that any human work is good. For all must confess, “Non nobis, non nobis, Domine, sed Nomini tuo da gloria” = “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to Your Name, give the glory” (Ps 113:9). And, it is alleged, did not Jesus teach as much: The flesh is of no avail (Jn 6). And, it is alleged, did not Paul teach as much: Not I, but Christ in me (Gal 2)?

Let us follow this flaw out to the dregs of its absurdity. Since action follows being, since being is for action, the negation of human work implies the negation of human being. Thus, the ultimate outcome of this flawed view is the denial of man. And if man is denied, so is the Son of Man. Therefore, the ultimate logic of this flawed zero sum game is the negation of the Incarnation. And, finally, of creation. And we arrive at what Erich Przywara called the Protestant pan-theism. God alone is. Nothing else is.

Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that this result is false. And its logic is absurd. The ultimate flaw in the logic is that the creature and the Creator are conceived as though “on the same plane”. They are conceived with a monolithic notion of “being”. With this monolithic notion of being, both are placed as it were on the same footing. Then, since God is pretty big, man must be pretty small. Since God must not lack anything, he had better fill up the “space”. But if he fills up the space, where stands man? This is a flawed view of Being, and it is a large part of the flaw in the entire Protestant outlook, insofar as that outlook departs from Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The solution is the Analogy of Being, about which more in some other post.

But back to basics, for this was meant to be a set of basic posts about justification.

If we thus lay aside the important weaknesses in VanLandingham’s theology, we can take away the golden treasures of his work. His overarching thesis is that Paul presents us with two teachings. The first teaching regards justification, which is not the product of human hands but the free gift of God in Jesus Christ. Note that this is exactly Tridentine dogma. See the most glorious magisterial text ever produced, Session VI of that most glorious council Trent. The efficient cause – the agent – of justification is God himself; the meritorious cause – the one who paid the agent to act, so to speak – is Christ in his passion on the cross. (Of course, this payment must be carefully understood. It means that Almighty God willed that a contingent event, the Passion, be the reason that he would offer grace to sinful man. But note, since God himself put forward his Son, his eternal love is the cause of the entire process. But that his eternal and uncaused love is the cause of the entire process does not negate the fact that he ordained that the dispensation of grace be dependent upon a contingent event. It is by the wood of the cross that we are healed [Isa 53]. Thus we see the total falsity and utterly misleading guise of the claim of Karl Rahner that the cross is not a cause of the offer of grace. Here, he negates revelation itself though in so subtle [and, we hope, for him, unwitting] a fashion that few discern it!) So far, Catholic doctrine matches what VanLandingham finds in Paul. And in fact, it matches what Luther taught as well. (With the important exception that Luther and Catholic doctrine utterly diverge regarding what it is that God does in this event. Thus, the agreement ends up being the introit to a disagreement.) That is Paul’s first teaching, that justification is free.

Paul’s second teaching is that salvation is dependent upon fidelity to the precepts of the covenant. In Catholic phraseology, salvation is dependent upon obedience to the Law of nature and of the covenant which ratifies and expands and deepens this law. VanLandingham observes that Paul does not speak of salvation by faith alone. He does not speak of a final judgment by faith alone. Rather, he speaks of obedience to the commandments. Those who obey inherit eternal life. Those who do not do not. We can give some examples.


“Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom 2:4-8).

Now, sadly, some simply read Rom 2 as a statement of the “Law”. They say that that is true “under the law” but false “under the Gospel of Grace”. They think that Paul is merely equipping his reader to hear the condemnation in Rom 3, so that, humbled, the reader can receive justification and salvation by faith alone.

Such a reading contradicts Catholic dogma, so the Catholic knows that it is false immediately, since Christ instituted the Holy Catholic Church to know and teach His Mind and Paul’s. But, thankfully, even those who reject what Christ instituted and wish to go it alone in exegesis, as though a mere man could discern the Spirit of God adequately in all cases and fathom the depth of Paul’s teaching, Paul left a hint that his teaching in Rom 2 pertains not only to the Law but also to the Gospel: “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature hat the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them ON THAT DAY WHEN, ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL, GOD JUDGES THE SECRETS OF MEN BY JESUS CHRIST” (Rom 2:13-16).

We see the same teaching in 2 Cor 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.”


Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

1 Cor 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

Col 3:23-25: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

Gal 6:7-9 “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”


We have already seen the very important 1 Cor 13.

We have also seen the important Jn 12:41ff. There were others who believed in Jesus but loved the praise of man more than that of God. (This is a condemnation.)

1 Tim 5:8: If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

This verse shows that the person is a believer, for he is worse than an unbeliever, but he has disowned his faith, made shipwreck of it. How? By not doing what is required by the commandment of God. He has infringed justice. Therefore, once again we see that one can be a believer while not doing the requisite works of justice and charity by which one is to maintain covenant status.

I conclude with a remark about VanLandingham’s fine work.

“Widespread, though not unanimous, support persists for the view that justification refers to an acquittal at the Last Judgment that is pronounced proleptically at the time of faith in Christ. Such an understanding cannot be sustained if at the Last Judgment God recompenses each one’s eternal destiny according to behavior” (p. 176). It is VanLandingham’s thesis that Paul correlates the final judgment solely with behavior. This conclusion corresponds exactly to Catholic doctrine, PROVIDED we add that it is behavior wrought in grace that avails. VanLandingham is conceptually weak on the relation between grace and works, as Alan Mitchel of Georgetown noted a while ago and as I pointed out above.

Notwithstanding, his point that the final judgment is based on works, on “love” as Catholics believe, and his anchoring this in Paul himself, is a service to the scholarly discussion of Paul. For this reason, his work is must reading for the Pauline scholar (as writes Bruce Shields).

Finally, I would note that a significant line of expression in VanLandingham indicates the contrary of Pelagianism. He does observe that the gift of the Spirit and the remission of sins past are necessary for one to stand just. He frequently speaks of the Spirit as the one who “catalyzes the obedience necessary” (VL, p. 232). Thus, I believe that he simply is poorly trained as a theologian, though he does exhibit some skill in working with biblical and extrabiblical texts. VL’s reading of Rom 6 is splendid, solidly critiquing Fitzmeyer as well as traditional Reformation readings (see VL, pp. 232-36). We can say the same of his treatment of Rom 8 (esp. v. 4). He contends, in short, that the purpose of God’s work in Christ was that the law might be fulfilled in those who are justified. That the passive here (in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us) is not simply the divine passive, as though it meant the exclusion of human free will by which law is fulfilled (for it is not God who fulfills, but God who gives the law for creatures, and note that Paul continues “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirig”), VL demonstrates by what follows in vv. 6ff. For it is those who set their minds on the flesh that do not and cannot fulfill God’s law, but these are opposed to those who set their minds on the Spirit.

I would like to cite the closing passage from VL’s book: “At the time of faith, a person who has been “made righteous” is forgiven of past sins (which then become a dead issue), cleansed from the guilt and impurity of sin, freed from the human propensity to sin, and then given the ability to obey. The Last Judgment will then determine whether a person, as an act of the will, has followed through with these benefits of Christ’s death. If so, eternal life will be the reward; if not, damnation” (VL, 335).

This statement, although it might benefit from trained theological precision (actual grace; habitual grace) could not be more in harmony with Catholic doctrine.

On Justification (Part I)

Today’s Office of Matins begins with a reading from Augustine on Faith and Works. Augustine writes, “Some would say that by faith alone — which, remember, without works is lifeless — you can gain eternal life, even if you fail to keep the commandments. But how can this be reconciled with what our Lord is going to tell those whom He sets off to the left, “Go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his Angels,” and with His reason for condemning them, not any want of belief in Him but their failure to do good works? He wanted to make sure that no one would expect to win eternal life by faith alone, which is dead without works.”

Augustine is the Doctor of Grace. He taught a Catholic doctrine of justification, not a Lutheran doctrine.

What is the Catholic Doctrine of Justification? What did Luther hold? What do the official documents of the Lutheran confessions hold? We will get into these matters slowly.

In a nutshell, the Catholic doctrine is this: No one can get themselves into grace. That anyone enters the state of grace requires God’s work. No human labor can produce that state. For several reasons. 1) That state is supernatural. And none of our natural works is oriented to the supernatural.

2) We are presently in a state of corruption, until healed by grace. That means that our wills do not have as their final end God as intimate friend. Rather, we set our final end on anything but God. (Unless we are healed.) Now, all our choices, our free choices, are made with regard to a pre-established end. I choose to eat sushi rather than steak (choice) because I wish to eat. I choose to eat rather than do homework (choice) because presently this option meets my desire for a balanced life. I choose a balanced life over an imbalanced life (choice) because …. Ultimately, there is some end that I simply wish and which I cannot “choose”. For, every choice requires a pre-established end. Now, if all ends were chosen, we would have an infinite regress right now in the here and now. Observe this infinite regress: Any particular choice can be made only in light of an end. But if every end is itself chosen, then there is no anchoring end by which any lower choice can be made. Therefore, I could not choose anything.

What is that end which is not chosen? Most theorists propose it is this: Happiness. We all desire our crowning completion. We all desire happiness. We do not choose to desire it. We just desire it. This is a natural desire. And this desire is in fact good. However, in what does happiness consist? Where shall I find it? All of us lay down for ourselves our idea of what constitutes this happiness. Some think it is in a pleasant life. Some in honors. Some in intellectual pursuits. We do freely choose this ultimate option (on the basis of the desire for happiness, which we do not choose). Call this our ultimate option. It is really our “first” option. We might not think about it, because we are caught up in the means to obtain that first option. But upon reflection we can discover that this indeed is what I want: To play tennis at the club, drink a drink, have the bill sent to me account, make some money, travel, etc. That is my end. I call that the spend-the-money-on-pleasantries option.

So, you could say, “Why can’t someone want to be ‘good for God’ as an option? Why can’t someone choose religion as their ultimate option?” If God wanted merely good “natural men” then perhaps that would be an option. But here’s the hitch. God wants more of you than that! He wants your devotion, your love, your sonship! So, God is calling us to an end that surpasses natural desire. God is calling us to intimacy with him. But such acts of intimacy with God are supernatural. Thus, we again come to #1. If I do not have loving God as intimate friend as my ultimate option, no subsequent / lower option will ever be oriented to that. Recall, every option is for the end. It makes sense only in light of a higher end. Now, if my ultimate option is not for God as intimate friend, no choice I make will ever be a means of approaching God’s intimacy. My options might not be sins (contra Luther). I might choose to help someone change his tire. Why? Because that is what a decent man does. It is cold, and he cannot speak English. And his tire is flat. That is a deed that is decent and necessary. It would be indecent not to do it, if it were in my power (Prov 3:27). But that does not make it an act of love for neighbor rooted precisely in love of God for his own sake as intimate friend. No, it makes it merely a decent human act. But God wants sons and daughters. Thus, he knocks on hearts to give them the wherewithal to make Him their ultimate option. So, we must simply accept God’s calling, surrender to it, be caught up in it.

Thus we see, Catholic doctrine of justification does not involve man working his way to God. It involves receiving God’s healing surgery on the heart, removal of the heart of stone and replacing it with the heart of flesh (Ezek 37). It involves God circumcising the heart, so that we may (freely) do good, so that we may inherit the land (beatitude) (Deut 30). And this is Paul’s teaching: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22).