The Pope Says Luther Was Right, but…..only if…..
So, the Bishop of Rome has stated, in the remarks reproduced below, that "Luther's expression 'sola fide' is true." But, dear reader, please note very carefully how finely nuanced the Pope's remarks are. He says Luther's statement is true "if." If what? If faith is understood to be our activity as well as as the receiving instrument by which we are given salvation. This is the nothing other than the classic Roman Catholic error in regard to salvation by grace alone, through faith alone.
While I appreciate some aspects of the Pope's remarks, we still have, at the end of his remarks, a view of faith that is not the Biblical understanding of faith as "trust" but rather faith defined as activity, yes, activity made possible only by God's grace, but nonetheless same view of faith as Rome has held since Trent. Hence, the Pope concludes: "by love of God and neighbor, we can be truly just in the
eyes of God."
The Lutheran Confessions explicitly, clearly and specifically reject this view of faith as for example:
"The adversaries are in no way moved by so many passages of Scripture, which clearly credit justification to faith. Indeed, Scripture denies this ability to works. Do they think that the same point is repeated often for no purpose? Do they think that these words fell thoughtlessly from the Holy Spirit? . . . They say that these passages of Scripture (that speak of faith) ought to be received as referring to faith that has been formed (fides formata). This means they do not credit justification to faith in any way, but only to love. . . if faith receives forgiveness because of love, forgiveness of sins will always be uncertain, because we never love as much as we ought to. Indeed, we do not love unless our hearts are firmly convinced that forgiveness of sisn has been granted to us. . . We also say that love ought to follow faith . . . yet, we must not think that by confidence in this love, or because of this love, we receive forgiveness of sins and reconciliation, just as we do not receive forgiveness of sins because of other works that follow. But forgivenss is received by faith alone." (Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV.110ff; Conocrdia, p. 100).
On Wednesday morning, Pope Benedict XVI continued his weekly teachings
on St. Paul while speaking to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St.
Peter’s Square. The Pontiff further explained the apostle's teaching
that believers are justified by faith in Christ and by the acts that
flow out of love for him.
When Paul met the Risen One on the
road to Damascus, the Pope began, "he was a successful man: blameless
as to righteousness under the Law." Yet "the conversion of Damascus
radically changed his life, and he began to consider all the gains of
his honest religious career as 'rubbish' in the face of the sublimity
of his knowledge of Jesus Christ."
Turning to St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Pope Benedict found
that "Paul understood that until then, what seemed to him a gain, in
reality, in front of God was a loss. He decided, therefore, to bet all
his being on Jesus Christ." In other words, "The Risen Lord became the
beginning and end of Paul's existence," the Pope taught.
this understanding of Christ’s resurrection in mind, Pope Benedict
turned to the two possible ways of being made new in Christ.
"The Letter to the Philippians," the Pope said, "provides moving
testimony of Paul's shift from a justice founded on the Law and
achieved by observing certain prescribed actions, to a justice based
upon faith in Jesus Christ. … It is because of this personal
experience of the relationship with Jesus Christ that Paul focuses his
Gospel on a steadfast contrast between two alternative paths to
justice: one based on the works of the Law, the other founded on the
grace of faith in Christ."
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul
further explains that even Jews who have believed in Christ Jesus have
done so because it is through faith in Christ and not by works of the
law that they can be justified. As St. Paul states, “by works of the
law no one will be justified."
Pope Benedict then addressed
the interpretation of this passage by Martin Luther, who translated it
as “justified by faith alone.”
“Before returning to this point it is necessary to clarify which is
the 'Law' from which we have been freed and what are the works that do
not justify us,” Benedict XVI said.
“In the community of Corinth,” the Holy Father explained, “there
already existed an opinion, that crops up again throughout history, to
the effect that it is the moral law, and that hence Christian freedom
means freedom from ethics. … Obviously this is an incorrect
interpretation. Christian freedom is not debauchery, … it is not
freedom from doing good."
"For St. Paul, as for his contemporaries, the word Law meant the
Torah in its entirety, … which imposed … a series of actions
ranging from an ethical core to ritual observances … and
substantially defined the identity of the just man, … such as
circumcision, dietary laws, etc. … All these precepts – expressive of
a social, cultural and religious identity – were very important" in the
Hellenistic age when polytheism was rife and Israel felt threatened in
its identity and feared "the loss of faith in the One God and in His
At the moment of his encounter with the Risen Lord, Paul understood
that "with Christ, the God of Israel, the one true God, became the God
of all nations. The wall -so he says in the Letter to the Ephesians-
between Israel and the pagans was no longer necessary: it is Christ who
protects us against polytheism and all its deviations; it is Christ who
unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true
identity in the diversity of cultures. The wall is no longer necessary,
our common identity in the diversity of cultures is Christ, and it is
he who makes us just,” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict then
offered the interesting insight that “Being just simply means being
with Christ, being in Christ, that is all. The other precepts are no
longer necessary. Luther's expression 'sola fide' is true, if faith is
not against charity, against love. To believe is to see Christ, to
trust in Christ, to become attached to Christ, to conform to Christ, to
"Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and
neighbor the Law is present and fulfilled. So in communion with Christ,
in faith, which creates charity, the Law is realized. We become just by
entering into communion with Christ, who is love. We will see the same
thing in the Gospel of next Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Love is the only criteria of the Gospel of the judge," the Pope
In closing, the Pope invited the faithful to "ask
the Lord to help us believe, to truly believe, so belief becomes life,
unity with Christ, a transformation of our lives. And so, transformed
by his love, by love of God and neighbor, we can be truly just in the
eyes of God."