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Was The Joint Declaration Truly Justified? | An Interview with Dr. Christopher Malloy | Carl E. Olson | Part Two | Part One
have been broaching an issue that touches on my initial question. I was asking
about what you make of the many claims emerging recently that justification is
no longer a church-dividing doctrine. But you have been noting that there are
different traditions in Lutheranism. How does this affect my question and your
Dr. Malloy: Yes, to get an accurate answer to your question--do
we agree on sola fide?--we need
more than my initial response, which included attention to the Catholic meaning of sola fide. We need to pay attention to the following question:
"Which Lutheranism? Whose Luther?"
Perhaps there are so many
stripes of Lutheranism because of Luther's tendency to "weave" together sundry
lines of thought that are to some extent distinguishable and separable, though
he marshals them together to a certain end. Let me note, briefly, a few
wonderful lines of Luther's thought. He wishes to emphasize God's grace. He
wishes to take sin seriously. He wishes pastorally to steer a middle course
between presumption and despair--this is the path of true faith that works
through love. He wishes to focus on Christ, not on the self. At times--and this
I find quite Catholic on a point disputed for centuries--he argues that if a
believer does not consent to some inclination to sin, then he has not sinned. The implication would appear to be (if we
isolate this strand of thought) that no repentance of this occasion is
necessary or fitting. These and other concerns of his are in themselves quite
amenable to Catholic faith and to Catholic pastoral practice. Notwithstanding,
a reader may easily take from him other lines of thought quite at odds with
Catholic faith. I have noted some already and will note others below.
Leaving Catholic Lutherans
aside for the moment, I am not certain that most Lutherans mean by sola fide what Catholics have to mean if they employ this
phrase. In fact, I am quite concerned that many people--even many Catholics and
perhaps some of those who have recently become Catholic--are under the
misimpression that, since the JD, Catholicism now holds that humans stand just before God by
"faith" apart from charity and apart from observance of the commandments. Many
high-caliber theologians have contended that Catholicism has changed some of
its dogmas on justification. Catholics are rightly horrified to think that some
have gotten this impression. Indeed, some theologians imply by their work that
Catholicism now holds that if a man were to commit what orthodox moral
theologians identify as a "mortal sin" (objectively grave matter, with
knowledge and full assent of the will), he would not necessarily lose the grace
by which he is considered just. Such an implication is most certainly contrary
to the dogma and to the entire tradition of Catholicism. Somehow, these people
have gotten the misimpression that Catholic faith has altered. My book is, in
large part, intended to correct such misimpressions. Catholic faith cannot be
altered--not even by the Pope--though it can develop.
IgnatiusInsight.com: A Catholic theologian whose doctoral dissertation was
on Lutheranism told me that one of the challenges is that when we speak of Lutheran
theology or doctrine, we are faced with several possibilities, including what
Luther wrote, what his immediate followers believed, what traditional Lutheran
statements of faith have said, and what Lutherans today believe. How much of an
issue is that? Is there a contemporary "Lutheran position of
justification"? If so, what is it? Does it differ from what Martin Luther
Dr. Malloy: That
theologian is right on the money, and the issue is very important. When the JD
states that the Catholic presentation of justification in the JD does not
conflict with the Lutheran teachings of the Reformation era, the reader may
ask, "Which teachings, according to which readings?" This question has not been
faced with sufficient rigor. The "Official Catholic Response" makes note of it;
the JD attends to the issue in its third endnote; still, serious discussion has
yet to take place.
There are Lutherans who
criticize some of the traditional teachings of the Lutheran confessions. The
Finns and the great Lutheran theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, are foremost
examples. Unfortunately, the JD does not acknowledge this intra-Lutheran
situation. Nor are these contemporary Lutherans peripheral to the
dialogue--they are some of its central proponents! Does this imply that many
Lutheran proponents of the JD would reject some of the traditional teachings of
Lutheranism? If so, do they agree with the JD in its implicit claim not to
contradict any of those traditional teachings?
Moreover, when one dialogues
with Lutherans who accept "all" of the traditional teachings--the various texts
enshrined in the Book of Concord--one
encounters many different points of view. Some claim to read these texts in
ways that accord with what I have outlined of the Catholic teaching. Others
read these texts as diametrically opposed to the Catholic faith. Others fall
somewhere in between, noting a number of real and substantial disagreements.
The upshot is this: We do
not have a consensus of interpretation on the very identity of Lutheranism. Therefore,
the JD's claim to reconcile Lutheran and Catholic positions on justification
begs the question: Which Lutheranism?
One of the chief arguments
of my book is to show, according to a somewhat straightforward reading of these
texts, a reading that has not been absent among Lutherans over the centuries,
that the Lutheran communions and Catholicism originally taught contradictory
theses on justification. If my contention is true, then the Catholic Church and
those Lutheran communions following such a reaching of these texts can never
come to full communion on this issue unless one or the other changes its
doctrine. By "change" I mean "alteration" and not organic development. Yet, the
JD implicitly excludes the need for any alteration, any retraction of past doctrines. This is one of
the chief difficulties I raise in my book. So far, the only incisive response
to my argument is but a question: "Which Lutheranism?" Now, if that question is
raised in earnest, I will have succeeded with one of my intentions--to foster a
fruitfully critical reflection on the truth of the ecumenical situation.
Indeed, I hoped my book would elicit just such a question.
the Council of Trent, in its decrees on justification, most concerned with
Luther's ideas, or did it address a range of Protestant teachings?
Dr. Malloy: The Decree on Justification deals with many issues.
We find condemnations of Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, mindless Epicureans,
etc. Catholics and Lutherans were at one in fighting such aberrations.
Despite a lamentable lack of
reformation texts at the Council, Trent enjoyed the presence of many very
competent thinkers conversant with the issues, thinkers who could understand a
body of thought and its implications. Contemporary historicists have attempted
to corner the market on truth, thereby depriving theology of the transcendence
of thought. I believe John Paul II and Paul VI--by no means "ahistorical"
thinkers--give theologians solid grounds to fight such historicism and relativism.
In any case, what is
noteworthy is that at the Council of Trent, a number of theologians present
held views that can readily be discerned to be "compromise" positions between
a) what became Tridentine Catholic teaching and b) common elements of certain
Lutheranisms--I will call the latter "traditional Lutheran teaching". By
"traditional Lutheran teaching" I use a place-holder to designate one way of
reading the Lutheran heritage, granting of course that many scholars argue that
there are sundry and contradictory ways of reading that same heritage, some
going all the way back.
Foremost among the
theologians seeking a compromise at Trent was Seripando, a papal legate. At the
Council, he put forth a view on justification that has been called "double
justice". His position implied two formal causes of justification. He argued that the human person
stands "just" before God both by his interior, infused righteousness and by Christ's own righteousness attributed to him
through the acquitting favor of God. Seripando's position had the following
logical correlate: The justified person cannot truly merit eternal life and is
not therefore worthy of heaven--even though God has begun to renovate him
interiorly. The implication is clear: The justified person would, if judged by
God, be worthy of hell. Only a few outstanding saints might be exceptions to
the rule. Hence, the justified person needs yet another justice by which to be
considered just--the justice of Christ, imputed to him.
The Council of Trent
decidedly rejected this theory of double justice. The interior justice infused
by God, together with the obedience issuing therefrom, suffice the Christian
before the judgment seat of God. Of course, one may have to atone for venial
sins and outstanding debt in Purgatory, but such atonement is not at all akin
to the non-imputation of still present, damnable sins. Since a number of
readings of Lutheranism are even further from Catholicism than is double
justice, therefore, the Council of Trent also anathematized the positions found
in such readings. To demonstrate this point was yet another aim of my book.
Of course, the issue "Which
Lutheranism?" returns. If there are readings of Lutheranism--and of the
Lutheran confessions--that do not conflict with Trent, these readings escape
the bite of that argument. I would rejoice to see such readings of Lutheranism
clearly put forth. This would forward the ongoing ecumenical dialogue, to which
we are all committed.
IgnatiusInsight.com: If you had to put it as concisely as possible, what do
you think are the incompatible elements between Catholic and Lutheran
understandings of justification?
Dr. Malloy: Again: Which Lutheranism? If there is a Lutheranism
that does not conflict with the full substance of Trent's teachings on
justification, I rejoice with all my heart. Such a Lutheranism would give
grounds for escaping one of my critiques of the JD. My book raises other
questions regarding the contents of the JD itself, which I see as quite
ambiguous. Given the non-binding character of the document, Avery Cardinal
Dulles and the late great Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk contend that Catholic
theologians are free to critique the document. Many Catholics of various
perspectives agree that the document has weaknesses; some have argued that the
document has basic flaws.
It is my hope that the
critical questions that others and I have raised will be addressed. In a sense, however, these ambiguities and flaws would be
of much less importance to me and other critics if a clearly identifiable
Lutheranism that is compatible with Trent could come into focus. For instance,
if (as one of my Lutheran interlocutors contends) the metaphysical teachings of
Trent are held by many Lutherans, then one need not worry much about any flaws
of the JD except insofar as they might issue in ambiguity and confusion.
Perhaps one could clear up such matters with another document that is carefully
question is about the remaining incompatibilities. I can address this question
by rephrasing it: What are the incompatible elements between Catholicism and
the "other Lutheranisms" that do conflict with Trent?
First of all,
other Lutheranisms--as would be clear if they were asked to express themselves
metaphysically--hold that Jesus Christ's own righteousness justifies us
"formally" by being imputed to us. That is, God "legally declares" that Jesus'
righteousness is ours, even though, metaphysically speaking, his righteousness
remains alien to us, outside of us.
therefore, such Lutheranisms hold that there still remains within us true sin.
This "true sin" can be any of the following: a will bent on mortal sin (in
Catholic terms), venial sins, and even the mere inclination to sin that
precedes free will assent. Each of these sins is labeled "true sin". Further,
each of these is considered to be "per se damnable". That is, God could damn us
because of these sins. That means that in my own interior being, I am a mortal
sinner before God, even if one considers only my "inclination to sin", concupiscence
(Rom 7). Yet, despite this still present damnable sin, I escape punishment
because this sin is not "charged" against me. Instead, Christ's own
righteousness is declared to be mine.
therefore, I cannot truly merit eternal life. Even "after" being justified, I
cannot, in a good work wrought in true charity, merit eternal life. To the
contrary, even my good works are condemnable as sins truly mortal in their
These are three
massive points of disagreement between some Lutheranisms and Trent. Such
Lutheranisms, of course, also hold many things in common with Trent, such as a
rejection of Pelagianism, the primacy of God, the centrality of Christ, the
beginnings of sanctification, the importance of God's will. That is, even these
Lutheranisms truly hold that the justified person is "also" and "at the same
time" sanctified. However, such Lutheranisms emphatically distinguish the
"formal cause" of justification (Christ's own righteousness) and the "formal
cause" of sanctification (sanctifying grace). Moreover, such Lutheranisms also
hold that this sanctification is insufficient. They would radically disagree
with the following beautiful statement of Trent on Baptism: "In those reborn, God hates nothing because there
is nothing damnable in those who
have truly been buried with Christ by baptism.... They are made innocent,
spotless, pure, blameless and beloved sons of God" (Fifth Session). Seripando
fought that statement mightily, but he lost the battle, and he dutifully
acquiesced to the Church.
Let me close with an
observation about a wider but related issue. What did Christ do for our
salvation? Some Lutheranisms espouse a theory of "penal substitution". Jesus
truly became sin itself so that
we would no longer be legally charged with sin, if we have faith (itself a
gift). Such Lutheranisms take 2 Cor 5:21 as a critical text: "For our sake
[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the
righteousness of God" (see also Gal 3:13). Of course, Catholic tradition denies
that Paul is using the "proper literal sense" here. Rather, Paul is speaking by
"metonymy", signifying the effect by way of the cause. That is, Paul says that
God made Jesus to be "sin" not to
mean that Jesus became sin itself but to mean that Jesus took on a number of
the effects (curses) of sin--suffering and death (see, e.g., Augustine, Contra
Faustum, XIV). After all, Paul is
also speaking by metonymy at the end of this verse, for we humans do not become
the very righteousness of God himself. Paul speaks of the effect by way of the
cause--the righteousness of God that causes our own created righteousness (see,
again, Augustine, Conf, XII,
#20). We become a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17), not the very essence of God,
though we are being divinized, made like him, for he shall appear to us (1 Jn
3:2). Against certain proto-gnostics (see Raymond Brown's commentary), this is
the reason we purify ourselves (1 Jn 3:3), for one cannot see the Thrice Holy
God without spotless holiness (Heb 12:14). Hence the eschatological urgency in
Paul's exhortations to us to be blameless at Christ's coming (Phil 1:10 and
2:15; Eph 1:4; Col 1:22f; 1 Thess 5:23); his insistence that those who violate
the law will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Cor 6:9-11); his
reminder that we shall be judged by our works (2 Cor 5:10). Although without
grace such works cannot make us just (Rom 3-4), yet with such grace, we are
healed and we can walk.
Christ became sin itself;
Christ became human, bearing suffering and death for us. These are two very
different and incompatible ways
of reading Paul on atonement. So, too, there have been very different and
incompatible readings of "by faith" in Rom 3:28. Whereas Catholic tradition
sees "by faith" as synecdoche for "faith, hope, love, and grace" (Rom 5 and 1
Cor 13 parceling out what is compact in Rom 3), some Lutheranisms see "by
faith" as meaning "by this trusting faith alone" to the exclusion of the
charity by which we love God above all and satisfy the demands of the law (and
Thanks much for your interview. God bless you richly.
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