Luther and Catholic Faith in Contradiction?

Nowadays, nearly all are aware of numerous claims on sin and justification shared by Luther and Catholics.

Some Common Teachings on Sin and Justification

  • We cannot justify ourselves: neither cause ourselves to be just (efficiently) nor merit that we be justified
  • God is the author of justification, the efficient cause
  • That we be justified is merited by the labor of Christ, who suffered died and rose
  • This merit of Christ must be applied to the individual in order that the individual be justified.
  • Just because Christ died, the human race is not thereby justified. Individuals are, one at a time.
  • It is good to imitate Christ
  • Sanctification begins, with justification, in this life
  • In heaven, all are holy

 

 Sadly, some have forgotten crucial differences between Luther’s views and Catholic doctrine. These differences are so crucial that they even color the agreed points. For example: It is agreed that God is the author of justification. But if we diverge regarding what justification is, then our understanding of God’s causality in the first place is divergent. Below, I list some other teachings on sin and justification. In looking at just about any row in this list, one would be hard pressed not to find significant contradiction.

 Some Other Teachings on Sin and Justification

LUTHER’s POSITION                                            CATHOLIC DOCTRINE

Faith, Hope, Love are part of the natural good condition of man Faith, Hope, Love are supernatural gifts
Corrupt human nature is as such totally depraved Corrupt human nature is as such deprived of all graces but not totally depraved
Without grace, present man cannot know God Without grace, man can know the Creator Exists
Without grace, man cannot know the natural law Man can know the natural law without grace
Without grace, man cannot know the one true faith Natural reason can discern signs of the one true religion
All sins are damnable Venial sins are not damnable
Concupiscence (pre-freely chosen tendency to acts of sin) is a damnable sin Concupiscence is not even a venial sin
Concupiscence is the worst sin in us, worse than actual sins (such as adultery on Tuesday) Actual sins are the worst sins; concupiscence is not even a venial sin
Without grace, we sin in every work Without grace, non-sinful works are possible
Even with grace, we sin in every work With grace, non-sinful works are possible
Justification is by faith alone Justification is not by faith alone, but by faith animated by charity
Faith is firm trust in the promise that I am saved Faith is intellectual assent, at the command of the will, accepting as true all that God reveals
Since along with faith there is always charity, and since one can retain faith while committing an actual mortal sin, therefore one can have charity yet have just committed a mortal sin One who commits a mortal sin loses sanctifying grace and charity
It also follows that charity is compatible with the commission of mortal sin Charity is not compatible with the commission of mortal sin
Christ is not a Lawgiver Christ is a Lawgiver, the New Moses
Adequate obedience to the commandments is not possible Adequate obedience to the commandments is possible
Salvation does not require obedience to the commandments Salvation does require obedience to the commandments
God predestines some to hell, not in light of their foreseen sins but apart from them God predestines no one to hell except in light of their sins that he foresees
Because God has foreknowledge of our future acts, there is no free will God has foreknowledge of our future free acts, and these acts are indeed free
The justice by which we are just before God is extrinsic to us (God attributes it to us) The justice by which we are just before God inheres in us (God infuses it into us)
There is no increase in this justice: It is all or nothing There is an increase in this justice: It varies by degrees according to God’s will and our cooperation
The justified are internally worthy of hell The justified are internally worthy of heaven
Even the justified cannot merit heaven by any theological works they do The justified can truly merit heaven by the good works they do in grace

 

3 thoughts on “Luther and Catholic Faith in Contradiction?

  1. I love these kinds of lists. They’re like academic m&m’s! A couple comments here…

    “Faith, Hope, Love are part of the natural good condition of man”

    Several years ago when I was first beginning to realize systematic theology existed, I read an article about this very topic on Called to Communion. It got me very excited, and thinking that this was *the* silver bullet against a classical Protestant concept of grace. “They don’t actually believe grace is gratuitous and free (on God’s end)!” Conversely, if grace is natural, and grace is supposed to be the proportionate means of attaining beatitude, what exactly is beatitude supposed to be? It’s nominally supernatural at best, just like forensic or imputed righteousness. Thinking about this now, perhaps that is not a watertight conclusion, but I’ll not go deeper into the mire.

    And of course, as we look at the list, these are just corollaries of bigger issues. A silver bullet indeed, but as I say they are coming in magazines.

    “The justified are internally worthy of hell.”

    And then there are the words of St. Paul: “He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things?” (Rom 8:32, Douay-Rheims) Of course that is not a refutation of the above proposition, but it does show the kind of intentionality (to use the Phenomenological terms at our disposal) at odds with it. St. Paul is exceedingly bold, and for good reason. God is far more good than anyone could ever expect. But we should at least try and expect the unexpected, rather than falling into a shallow pessimism. Often, because we dwell in the vale of tears, we have a difficult time seeing that goodness. But the intentionality we are expected to target God with is one who will give us all good things, many graces, and much conversion. That may not involve the Ferrari (!) but the way God ordained things makes prayer such a quick and easy things to do – and in fact it’s one of the quickest and easiest things to do, for we are assured the grace. Such facility is a clear hint about the intention of providence: “I’m preparing to give you MYSELF – I who am the very heart and expanse of reality. There is nothing bigger than that, even in principle. Maybe you should expect me to act consistently in the rest of my dealings with you. Maybe you should take the hint! I am very good!”

    There are so many hidden graces that ordinarily inundate the Christian life which go beyond our ordinary awareness. But among these is the grace of heavenly membership even on earth. The god of Luther hands the elect a voucher. The God of Jesus Christ hands the elect His supernatural riches and indwelling presence immediately. “And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, he saw [Zacheus], and said to him: Zacheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house” (Lk 19:5, DR). That makes for a vast divide between Catholic and Lutheran spiritual practices, detectable even by phenomenological practices. How much greater, then, is the theological divide between the Three Ages of the Interior Life and the various spiritual writings by Luther? Very large indeed, whatever certain theologians may have to say about Banez being nearly a Calvinist/Lutheran.

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