From My Book on Lutheran – Catholic Notions of Justification

In my book Engrafted into Christ, I refute the notion that the Catholic Dogma and the official Lutheran notion of justification are compatible. There has to this date been no competent refutation of my refutation. One of the major issues is a question to Lutherans concerning God’s power and goodness. Is or is not God powerful enough to transform us now so that we may obey his laws? Clearly, he is powerful enough. Second, is or is not God willing to do so? Catholic dogma mandates: Indeed, he is. But the Lutheran answer implies that he is not. So, the questions that follow, from the end of Chapter 4 of my book, available on Amazon. I would note that although I cite Balthasar in this passage, I have come, each day more and more, to find grave fault with much of his work. Even his reading of Therese seems to me wanting. However, there is rhetorical usefulness in calling on the Balthasarians to assist in the now seemingly Herculean task of insisting on Catholic dogma:

Finally, I must ask the Finns a question that von Balthasar once posed to Karl Barth. If at the end of time those who truly believe in Christ are transformed into vessels fitted for God’s triune love, could not this transformation take place now, in a satisfactory albeit not yet eschatologically perfected manner?88 Granted that definitive peace shall dawn only after every just person has been raised and all tears have been washed away, granted too that before death even the greatest saint is able to sin (posse peccare) and does sin venially, still, must sinners await until death the reception of the grace that will cleanse them from the inner darkness of damnable sin and constitute them as living branches of the true vine? Must the earthly spouse remain a harlot her life long, chasing after foreign gods? If she with simplicity pines for her divine lover’s glance, can she be said truly to be an adulteress, even though she could await him more steadfastly and vigorously? If in the heavenly kingdom even the most righteous person could not think of boasting in inhering righteousness and if the guarantee of this proper humility is located not in the non-attainment or only partial attainment of righteousness but simply in trusting love of God, in humility, then why must all justified believers be sentenced to labor under the burden of still-remnant, damnable sin? Is it so inconceivable that a saintly person, washed with the blood of Christ, could dedicate herself wholly to God’s glory and, while not guilty of any mortal sin her entire life, could cry out, “It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love”?89 And yet this same saint wished to “give the lie” to those who interpret Jesus’ saying “It is those who are forgiven much who can love much” (Lk 7:47) to mean that one must first sin much in order to love much. She writes, “I have heard it said that one cannot meet a pure soul who loves more than a repentant soul; ah! how I would wish to give the lie to this statement!”90 Hans Urs von Balthasar praised this humbly audacious saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, as the “Catholic answer” to the Lutheran question.91 His prognosis is well-taken, if one consider the genuine piety of Lutherans. Much of her life is readily imbibed by Lutherans. Still, a well-balanced assessment of her “little way” must include her distinctly Catholic exclamation: “Ah! Since the happy day, it seems to me that Love penetrates and surrounds me, that at each moment this Merciful Love renews me, purifying my soul and leaving no trace of sin within it, and I need have no fear of purgatory.”92 Thérèse recognizes her poverty and confesses that she cannot merit anything of herself without God; however, she does not let this inhibit a bold confession of the really efficacious power of God’s sanctifying love.


Peura is right to perceive that the Finnish reading of Luther invites Catholics and Lutherans closer together, but his vehement denial of the Catholic teaching on faith formed by charity exposes the remnant gulf between Catholic and Finnish-Lutheran thought on justification. The Finnish reading has not provided the fundamental breakthrough necessary for Catholics and Lutherans to achieve a consensus, even a legitimately differentiated consensus, in basic truths.

88    See Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation, trans. John Drury (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), esp. pp. 271­76. See the discussion of this work in Hampson, Christian Contradictions, pp. 124­26. Hampson’s incisive critique of Catholic readings of Lutheran theology cannot be easily dismissed. I should like to note that the “already/not-yet” duality that requires the covering of the grace of Christ is not simply a Finnish misreading of Luther. Luther himself in his 1535 (1531) Lectures on Galatians defended the necessity of faith as trust because of which God does not impute still-present sin unto damnation. Luther claims that faith is necessary now because of this still-present sin but that faith will not be necessary in the heavenly kingdom because the saints shall love God purely and perfectly (Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians [1535]: Chapters 5­6, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 27, Luther’s Works, pp. 1­149, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963], p. 64 [LW 27: 64]; see also Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians [1519], trans. Richard Jungkuntz, vol. 27, Luther’s Works, pp. 151­410, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963], p. 363 [LW 27: 363]).

89    St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996), p. 259. See also ibid., pp. 149­50, in which she relates her discovery that she had not committed any mortal sin her entire life.

90    St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p. 84.

91    See Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Thérèse of Lisieux,” trans. Donald Nichols and Anne England Nash, in Two Sisters in the Spirit: Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity, pp. 13­362 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992); see esp. pp. 256, 259, and 283­84.

92    St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p. 181.

3 thoughts on “From My Book on Lutheran – Catholic Notions of Justification

  1. Dr. Malloy,

    Out of curiosity, what do you mean when you say “a legitimately differentiated consensus,” as in the last paragraph? What would that look like, even in principle?

    I suppose I just still have a bad taste in my mouth after reading (most of) Lindbeck’s “The Nature of Doctrine.” (And the fact that his prose is nearly unintelligible in important places doesn’t help. But I suppose that naturally comes with imbibing too much Wittgenstein.)

    Of course, I strongly suspect you don’t like Lindbeck very much at all either — for multiple reasons. So I am curious what you mean.

    1. 1. Lindbeck’s book is very problematic and heretical and represents the worst theological application of Wittgenstein. That is not the only possible application, but perhaps one should enter that task through the mediation of Anscombe.
      2. Almost all uses of “differentiated consensus” these days are highly problematic.
      3. But it is not impossible for there to be a legitimate one. Example: Deification and Justification. So long as one does justice to the legal aspects of God’s dealings with us, one can use the notion of deification to highlight things not explicitly highlighted, nor denied, by justification talk. Conversely, so long as one does justice to the ontological / mystical / participatory aspects of God’s dealings with us, one can use the notion of justification, which does not explicitly highlight, or deny, these aspects.

      ***Truth is one, but our understanding is manifold. Not all different conceptions imply contradictions.

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