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Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick | Mark Brumley | Part Two | Part One
3. Sola Scriptura: Melanchthon, the colleague of Luther, called
justification sola gratia, sola fide the "Material Principle"
of the Reformation. But there was also the Formal Principle, the doctrine
of sola Scriptura or what Bouyer calls the sovereign authority
of Scripture. What of that?
Here, too, says Bouyer, the Reformations core positive principle
is correct. The Word of God, rather than a human word, must govern the
life of the Christian and of the Church. And the Word of God is found
in a unique and supreme form in the Bible, the inspired Word of God. The
inspiration of the Bible means that God is the primary author of Scripture.
Since we can say that about no other writing or formal expression of the
Churchs Faith, not even conciliar or papal definitions of faith,
the Bible alone is the Word of God in this sense and therefore it possesses
a unique authority.
Yet the supremacy of the Bible does not imply an opposition between it
and the authority of the Church or Tradition, as certain negative principles
adopted by the Reformers implied. Furthermore, the biblical spirituality
of Protestantism, properly understood, is in keeping with the best traditions
of Catholic spirituality, especially those of the Fathers and the great
medieval theologians. Through Scripture, God speaks to us today, offering
a living Word to guide our lives in Christ.
Thus, writes Bouyer, "the supreme authority of Scripture, taken in
its positive sense, as gradually drawn out and systematized by Protestants
themselves, far from setting the Church and Protestantism in opposition,
should be the best possible warrant for their return to understanding
The Reformation was Wrong
Where does this leave us? If the Reformation was right about sola gratia
and sola Scriptura, its two key principles, how was it wrong? Bouyer
holds that only the positive elements of these Reformation principles
Unfortunately, these principles were unnecessarily linked by the Reformers
to certain negative elements, which the Catholic Church had to reject.
Here we consider two of those elements: 1) the doctrine of extrinsic justification
and the nature of justifying faith and 2) the authority of the Bible.
1. Extrinsic Justification. Regarding justification by grace alone,
it was the doctrine of extrinsic justification and the rejection of the
Catholic view of faith formed by charity as "saving faith."
Bouyer writes, "The further Luther advanced in his conflict with
other theologians, then with Rome, then with the whole of contemporary
Catholicism and finally with the Catholicism of every age, the more closely
we see him identifying affirmation about sola gratia with a particular
theory, known as extrinsic justification."
Extrinsic justification is the idea that justification occurs outside
of man, rather than within him. Catholicism, as we have seen, holds that
justification is by grace alone. In that sense, it originates outside
of man, with Gods grace. But, according to Catholic teaching, God
justifies man by effecting a change within him, by making him just or
righteous, not merely by saying he is just or righteous or treating him
as if he were. Justification imparts the righteousness of Christ
to man, transforming him by grace into a child of God.
Word, Church and Sacraments in Protestantism and Catholicism by
Rev. Louis Bouyer is a theological classic. Like The Spirit and Forms
of Protestantism, Fr. Bouyer's longer work on the same topic, it seeks
to foster unity and deeper understanding among Christians by comparing
the Catholic and Protestant views of Scripture, Church authority, and
the Sacraments. Bouyer, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century
and a convert from Protestantism, contributed significantly to the movement
out of which came the Second Vatican Council's efforts to promote Christian
unity. In The Word, Church and Sacraments, he shows how Catholic teaching
is often misunderstood by Catholics and Protestants alike, and how this
teaching is fundamentally compatible with key positive elements of Reformation
thought. He also examines the main points of disagreement between Catholicism
and Protestantism, and demonstrates how Catholicism, properly understood,
maintains the theological balance necessary to uphold some of the main
truths on which Catholics and Protestants agree.
The Reformation view was different. The Reformers, like the Catholic Church,
insisted that justification is by grace and therefore originates outside
of man, with God. But they also insisted that when God justifies man, man
is not changed but merely declared just or righteous. God treats man as
if he were just or righteous, imputing to man the righteousness
of Christ, rather than imparting it to him.
The Reformers held this view for two reasons. First, because they came to
think it necessary in order to uphold the gratuitousness of justification.
Second, because they thought the Bible taught it. On both points, argues
Bouyer, the Reformers were mistaken. There is neither a logical nor a biblical
reason why God cannot effect a change in man without undercutting justification
by grace alone. Whatever righteousness comes to be in man as a result of
justification is a gift, as much any other gift God bestows on man. Nor
does the Bibles treatment of "imputed" righteousness imply
that justification is not imparted. On these points, the Reformers
were simply wrong:
"Without the least doubt, grace, for St. Paul, however freely given,
involves what he calls the new creation, the appearance in us
of a new man, created in justice and holiness. So far from suppressing
the efforts of man, or making them a matter of indifference, or at least
irrelevant to salvation, he himself tells us to work out your salvation
with fear and trembling, at the very moment when he affirms that .
. . knowing that it is God who works in you both to will and to accomplish.
These two expressions say better than any other that all is grace in our
salvation, but at the same time grace is not opposed to human acts and endeavor
in order to attain salvation, but arouses them and exacts their performance."
Calvin, notes Bouyer, tried to circumvent the biblical problems of the extrinsic
justification theory by positing a systematic distinction between justification,
which puts us in right relation to God but which, on the Protestant view,
doesnt involve a change in man; and sanctification, which transforms
us. Yet, argues Bouyer, this systematic distinction isnt biblical.
In the Bible, justification and sanctificationas many modern Protestant
exegetes admitare two different terms for the same process. Both occur
by grace through faith and both involve a faith "informed by charity"
or completed by love. As Bouyer contends, faith in the Pauline sense, "supposes
the total abandonment of man to the gift of God"which amounts
to love of God. He argues that it is absurd to think that the man justified
by faith, who calls God "Abba, Father," doesnt love God
or doesnt have to love him in order to be justified.
2. Sola Scriptura vs. Church and Tradition. Bouyer also sees
a negative principle that the Reformation unnecessarily associated with
sola Scriptura or the sovereignty of the Bible. Yes, the Bible alone
is the Word of God in the sense that only the Bible is divinely inspired.
And yes the Bibles authority is supreme in the sense that neither
the Church nor the Churchs Tradition "trumps" Scripture.
But that doesnt mean that the Word of God in an authoritative form
is found only in the Bible, for the Word of God can be communicated in a
non-inspired, yet authoritative form as well. Nor does it mean that there
can be no authoritative interpreter of the Bible (the Magisterium) or authoritative
interpretation of biblical doctrine (Tradition). Repudiation of the Churchs
authority and Tradition simply doesnt follow from the premise of Scriptures
supremacy as the inspired Word of God. Furthermore, the Tradition and authority
of the Church are required to determine the canon of the Bible.
Luther and Calvin did not follow the Radical Reformation in rejecting any
role for Church authority or Tradition altogether. But they radically truncated
such a role. Furthermore, they provided no means by which the Church, as
a community of believers, could determine when the Bible was being authentically
interpreted or who within the community had the right to make such a determination
for the community. In this way, they ultimately undercut the supremacy of
the Bible, for they provided no means by which the supreme authority of
the Bible could, in fact, be exercised in the Church as a whole. The Bibles
authority extended only so far as the individual believers interpretation
of it allowed.
The Catholic Church and Reformation Principles
As we have seen, Bouyer argues for the Reformations "positive
principles" and against its "negative principles." But how
did what was right from one point of view in the Reformation go so wrong
from another point of view? Bouyer argues that the under the influence of
decadent scholasticism, mainly Nominalism, the Reformers unnecessarily inserted
the negative elements into their ideas along with the positive principles.
"Brought up on these lines of thought, identified with them so closely
they could not see beyond them," he writes, "the Reformers could
only systematize their very valuable insights in a vitiated framework."
The irony is profound. The Reformation sought to recover "genuine Christianity"
by hacking through what it regarded as the vast overgrowth of medieval theology.
Yet to do so, the Reformers wielded swords forged in the fires of the worst
of medieval theologythe decadent scholasticism of Nominalism.
The negative principles of the Reformation necessarily led the Catholic
Church to reject the movementthough not, in fact, its fundamental
positive principles, which were essentially Catholic. Eventually, argues
Bouyer, through a complex historical process, these negative elements ate
away at the positive principles as well. The result was liberal Protestantism,
which wound up affirming the very things Protestantism set out to deny (mans
ability to save himself) and denying things Protestantism began by affirming
Bouyer contends that the only way to safeguard the positive principles of
the Reformation is through the Catholic Church. For only in the Catholic
Church are the positive principles the Reformation affirmed found without
the negative elements the Reformers mistakenly affixed to them. But how
to bring this about?
Bouyer says that both Protestants and Catholics have responsibilities here.
Protestants must investigate their roots and consider whether the negative
elements of the Reformation, such as extrinsic justification and the rejection
of a definitive Church teaching authority and Tradition, are necessary to
uphold the positive principles of sola gratia and the supremacy of
Scripture. If not, then how is continued separation from the Catholic Church
justified? Furthermore, if, as Bouyer contends, the negative elements of
the Reformation were drawn from a decadent theology and philosophy of the
Middle Ages and not Christian antiquity, then it is the Catholic Church
that has upheld the true faith and has maintained a balance regarding the
positive principles of the Reformation that Protestantism lacks. In this
way, the Catholic Church is needed for Protestantism to live up to its own
Catholics have responsibilities as well. One major responsibility is to
be sure they have fully embraced their own Churchs teaching on the
gratuitousness of salvation and the supremacy of the Bible. As Bouyer writes,
"Catholics are in fact too prone to forget that, if the Church bears
within herself, and cannot ever lose, the fullness of Gospel truth, its
members, at any given time and place, are always in need of a renewed effort
to apprehend this truth really and not just, as Newman would say, notionally."
"To Catholics, lukewarm and unaware of their responsibilities,"
he adds, the Reformation, properly understood, "recalls the existence
of many of their own treasures which they overlook."
Only if Catholics are fully Catholicwhich includes fully embracing
the positive principles of the Reformation that Bouyer insists are essentially
Catholiccan they "legitimately aspire to show and prepare their
separated brethren the way to a return which would be for them not a denial
but a fulfillment."
Today, as in the sixteenth century, the burden rests with us Catholics.
We must live, by Gods abundant grace, up to our high calling in Christ
Jesus. And in this way, show our Protestant brethren that their own positive
principles are properly expressed only in the Catholic Church.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Has The Reformation Ended? | An Interview with Dr. Mark Noll
Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 1 | Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 2 | Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
Thomas Howard and the Kindly Light | IgnatiusInsight.com
Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: An Interview with J. Budziszewski | IgnatiusInsight.com
Thomas Howard on the Meaning of Tradition | IgnatiusInsight.com
Surprised by Conversion: The Patterns of Faith | Peter E. Martin
Reformation 101: Who's Who in the Protestant Reformation | Geoffrey Saint-Clair
The Tale of Trent: A Council and and Its Legacy | Martha Rasmussen
Brumley is President of Ignatius
Press and associate publisher of IgnatiusInsight.com.
An former staff apologist with Catholic Answers, Mark is the author of How
Not To Share Your Faith (Catholic Answers) and contributor to The
Five Issues That Matter Most. He is a regular contributor to the
InsightScoop web log.
He has written articles for numerous periodicals and has appeared on FOX NEWS, ABC NEWS,
EWTN, PBS's NewsHour, and other television and radio programs.
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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