Friday, May 18, 2007

Did Luther's idea of "justification by faith alone" exist in the Church before his day?

A dyspepsic fellow with the handle "Vermigli" (naming himself I think after the Deformer Peter Martyr Vermigli) has thrown down the gauntlet. In a comment made to my first posting on this blog he has claimed that Luther's doctrine was not new at all:

Not exactly, Mr. Sippo. As the noted Church history scholar Harold O.J. Brown (Ph.D., Harvard University) observed:
"The concept of justification by faith alone was by no means new with Luther. Indeed, the ecumenically minded Roman Catholic scholar Hans Küng has in effect contended that Luther's doctrine really was fully and satisfactorily Catholic, but of course Küng himself has been rebuked by the pope".

Well, first of all it is DOCTOR Sippo. Mr. Sippo was my grandfather. But don't be so formal. On my blog you can call me Art.

Secondly, "noted" historian Brown is fibbing....badly. Let us set the record straight.

First of all, the Scriptures themselves CONDEMN the Lutheran idea of "justification by faith alone" in no uncertain terms:

James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Luther himself admitted that St. James' views were incompatible with his system, but instead of submitting to the Word of God, he tried to have James removed from the Canon! So much for Sola Scriptura! But in any case, Luther was far more honest than his spiritual spawn down through the centuries. They have tried every tactic possible to prove that the Bible does not mean what is says but that it actually means the complete opposite of what it says. None of it is either convincing or edifying.

James 2:24 stands as a Scriptural refutation of all that Protestantism stands for. St. James makes it clear that good works COMPLETE a saving faith and are and integral part of justification, not a mere by product of "being saved" (James 2:22). And it is very clear that St. James is not talking about being "justified before men" as opposed to being "justified before God". He is addressing specifically the questions:

James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

The answer he gives under Divine Inspiration is a resounding "NO!" and it is high time that Protestants admitted that.

But it is true that the term "justified by faith alone" WAS used in the Patristic and Scholastic literature prior to Luther. But not in the way that Luther used it and consequently, not in the manner that St. James condemned it.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church long before Luther recognized that no one could stand before God in righteousness apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ. No human effort alone could possibly gain any merit before. And so, quite rightly they taught that being justified before God could be achieved by Christian Faith ALONE.

But these Fathers and Doctors were Realists, not Nominalists. They comprehended that being justified before God was an ontological reality, not a mere external imputation of an "alien" righteousness belonging properly to someone else. In support of this they once again had the Scriptures:

Rom 6:1
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
Rom 6:2
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Rom 6:3
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Rom 6:4
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:5
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Rom 6:6
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
Rom 6:7
For he who has died is freed from sin.
Rom 6:8
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.
Rom 6:9
For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
Rom 6:10
The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
Rom 6:11
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Rom 6:12
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

Rom 6:13
Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
Rom 6:14
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Rom 6:15
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Rom 6:16
Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Rom 6:17
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
Rom 6:18
and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Rom 6:19
I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.
Rom 6:20
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Rom 6:21
But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.
Rom 6:22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.
Rom 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here St. Paul teaches that in Baptism were are regenerated. We die to sin and rise to a new life in Christ Jesus in which we cease being slaves of sin and become instead the slaves of righteousness. We now yield our members to righteousness in order to be sanctified and the end of that SANCTIFICATION is ETERNAL LIFE.

It can clearly be seen that in St. Paul's view, justification per se was more than merely some forensic declaration. It was a state of being that began with Baptism and came to its full fruition in righteous living (sanctification) which was the basis for our hope in eternal life with God.

The Catholic Tradition taught this quite clearly. It was recognized by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Commentary on Romans that justification was a product of a saving faith composed of three elements:

1) Believing about Christ - Faith properly so-called

2) Believing in Christ - Hope

3) Believing into Christ - Charity

He saw this as the natural progression from a mere intellectual belief , to a heartfelt personal understanding, and finally a life commitment. Note that these are the Three Theological Virtues from 1Corinthians 13 understood as the logical progression of an ever deepening act of faith.

(H. Richard Neibhur would label these three elements of a saving faith as Fides, Fiducia, and Fidelius. I like these labels because they emphasize that the Theological virtues can only be properly understood as types of of faith.)

So for the Fathers and Doctors a saving Christan faith had three elements: intellectual, affective, and volitional. But this was ONE act of faith taken to its logical conclusion. If one really believes the promises of God, he not only trusts in them but acts in light of them. So good works are the result of volitional acts of faith and a true saving faith is incomplete without them (See James 2:22).

Luther would have none of it. For him, the act of faith was a trusting belief in God's promises of forgiveness alone without any volitional component. Any "good works" which resulted were the external by-product of the internal "saving" faith. In essence, salvation became intensely subjective and personal to the exclusion of any objective or interpersonal elements. And internal moral regeneration as the foundation of righteousness was excluded. Sanctification was a process that followed after forensic justification and contributed nothing to salvation.

Recognizing this, evangelical Anglican and Oxford Professor Alister McGrath wrote at the conclusion of his book IUSTITIA DEI: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge Univ Press, 1986), Volume 1, Chapter 5, Section 19 --

"The significance of the Protestant distinction between -iustificatio- and -regeneratio- is that a FUNDAMENTAL DISCONTINUITY has been introduced into the western theological tradition WHERE NONE HAD EXISTED BEFORE [emphasis by McGrath]."

"However, it will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it."

"The essential feature of the Reformation doctrines of justification is that a deliberate and systematic distinction is made between JUSTIFICATION and REGENERATION. Although it must be emphasised that this distinction is purely notional, in that it is impossible to separate the two within the context of the -ordo salutis- [the order of salvation], the essential point is that a notional distinction is made where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine."

"A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed or ever been contemplated before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification -- as opposed to its mode -- must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum."

So I am afraid that your "noted" scholar got it wrong. Luther's doctrine was not known or taught prior to his time. It was entirely new: unbiblical, untraditional, and thereby heretical.

As to the Hans Küng business, Brown is lying there as well. Küng wrote a book "Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection". In it, he showed that the basic elements of justification in the theology of Karl Barth were also present in Catholic teaching from Trent onwards. Barth was rather impressed and in a foreword to the book opined that if Küng was right, there was no further need for a Reformation. The book has been criticized by both Catholics and Protestants, but frankly, I read it and I think Küng did a reasonably good job. In one short book he summed up what the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialog would take over 20 years to do. He did NOT show that Luther was orthodox in Catholic terms. What he did who was that both Catholics and Protestants had shown due diligence with regard to the threat of Pelagianism and that despite Protestant misrepresentations, Catholics were not "Semi-Pelagian". IMHO, the book is accessible to the intelligent layman and worth reading. The scholarship is a bit dated but this is a classic that anyone interested in this question ought to take it into account.

The one criticism I have of Küng's book is that it does not take into account the importance of the difference in the formal cause of Justification as understood by Catholics and Protestants. Dr. Brown has no excuse for his ignornace of this particular problem since a student in his class 20 years ago, Richard White, wrote a discerning paper demonstrating this. White later expanded this paper into a dissertation at Marquette:

R. A. White, Justification in Ecumenical Dialogue:An Assessment of the Catholic Contribution (dissertation, Marquette University, 1995) 229.

But contra Brown, Küng was never censured by anyone for the Justification book. He wrote other books denying Papal Infallibility and describing the act of faith in increasingly subjectivist and Lutheran terms. He also has abandoned the Christology of the early councils and is postulating a modalist/monarchian view of the Trinity that most Protestants (including Karl Barth) would find unacceptable.

Brown compounds his lies with this real whopper:

"From the early Middle Ages onward, the doctrine of the merits of Christ's work
underwent a decisive change...It was not justification by faith that was the
innovation and therefore the heresy; transubstantiation was the innovation that
made the orthodoxy of the past into the heresy of the present."

Brown - on his own authority - attacks Transubstantiation as a "medieval innovation". Do you know why? Because Transubstantiation is about an ONTOLOGICAL change in the nature of the Eucharistic elements which parallels the Biblical and Traditional Patristic/Scholastic doctrine of an ontological change in Justification at baptism! He attacks the one to attack the other. But he is wrong about both of them.

So that you will know Brown is a liar, here area few quotations for you:

"For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."
Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (A.D. 110-165), in ANF,I:185

"He acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as his own blood, from which he bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of creation) he affirmed to be his own body, from which he gives increase to our bodies."
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V:2,2 (c.A.D. 200), in NE, 119

"He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood?"
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXII:4 (c.A.D. 350), in NPNF2, VII:152

"Having learn these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ; and that of this David sung of old, saying, And bread strengtheneth man's heart, to make his face to shine with oil, 'strengthen thou thine heart,' by partaking thereof as spiritual, and "make the face of thy soul to shine."
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXII:8 (c.A.D. 350), in NPNF2, VII:152

"Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed."
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXIII:7 (c.A.D. 350), in NPNF2, VII:154

There are many more similar quotations here:

So yes, Brown is a damnable liar who misrepresents Christian history in the service of his man-made religious cult. Anathema Sit!

As for the oxford lectures of Colet, they are not as clear cut as you misrepresent them to be. For a detailed discussion of Colet and Luther, I recommend the article John Colet on Justification by C. A. L. Jarrott , Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Apr., 1976), pp. 59-72. Colet was not an advocate of external forensic justification but of internal illumination and perfection by traditional devotions and the sacraments. He clearly had a transformational understanding of grace that was theologically Catholic, not Protestant. His views are not easily classifiable since he was an original thinker who left no movement after him. He was a good friend of St. Thomas More and Erasmus and like them remained in the Catholic Church for his entire life. He wanted to correct abuses in the Church but did not follow the Reformers out of it. His views were eventually superseded by the theological consensus that proceeded from the Council of Trent among Catholics and replaced among the Anglican Protestants by the ideas of Calvin and the Caroline Divines.

So, Vermigli, I am afraid that it is YOU who does not know what he is talking about.


4 comments: said...

Hi Art-

Why are you quoting from the RSV Bible version? Isn't the Catholic Bible good enough (Douay-Rheims)? Why do Protestants have the best Bible, or don't you like the Catholic version? Isn't the Catholic church capable of translating the Bible into English? Why do they rely so much on the work of Protestants?

Even the RSV-CE (Catholic Edition) is based on the work of the RSV, see:


Art Sippo said...

Hey Bernie!

I use the RSV because it is textually more modern and a more literal translation of the original Greek. The DRV is a fine devotional translation but it uses outmoded word forms and word order. It also is not based upon the most current Biblical texts. The best translation using modern textual criticism is the NRSV for may technical reasons. Sadly it uses "inclusive language" at several points which IMHO does obscure the original text in places.

In any case, no one translation is perfect. I often "tweak" my quotations with reference to the original Greek text.

Art said...

Hi Art-

I still don't understand. If the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church and all others have errors, then why can't the Catholic Church produce the best Bible translation? This is just "judging the tree by its fruit," isn't it? Does this imply that Protestants have a higher regard for Scripture, since the Protestant versions are the best modern versions in your opinion?


Art Sippo said...

I see, Bernie. Read my new posting.