“The Righteousness of God Has Been Manifested”: The Fifth
Centenary of the Protestant Reformation, an Occasion of
Grace and Reconciliation for the Whole Church
Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Volume 53, Number 3, Summer 2018, pp.
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press
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vol. 53, no. 3 (summer 2018) Â© 2018
Explorations And Responses
â€œTh e Righteousness of God Has Been
Manifestedâ€: Th e Fift h Centenary of the
Protestant Reformation, an Occasion of Grace
and Reconciliation for the Whole Church*
I. The Origins of the Protestant Reformation
I believe that trying to shed light on the history and the current state of
the discussion on justifi cation by faith for sinners is the most useful way
to make the anniversary of the fi ft h centenary of the Protestant Reformation an occasion of grace and reconciliation for the whole church. We
cannot dispense with rereading the whole passage from the Lett er to the
Romans (3:21â€“28), on which that discussion is centered.1
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law,
although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness
of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no
distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they
are justifi ed by his grace as a gift , through the redemption which is in
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be
received by faith. Th is was to show Godâ€™s righteousness, because in his
*Th e present text reproduces the fi ft h Lenten Sermon delivered by the author in the
presence of Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, on April 7, 2017. It was published in Stimmen
der Zeit 142 (October, 2017): 669â€“679, as â€œRechtfertigung durch den Glauben an Christus:
Wie die FÃ¼nfh undertjahrfeier der Reformation fÃ¼r di ganze Kirche eine Gelegenheit der
Gnade und der VersÃ¶hnung warden kann.â€ It is here translated from the Italian by Marsha
Daigle- Williamson. 1
Biblical quotations herein are from the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (1965; 2nd ed., 2006).
424 Journal of Ecumenical Studies â€¢ 53:3
divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the
present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifi es him who has
faith in Jesus. Th en what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what
principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For
we hold that a man is justifi ed by faith apart from works of law.
How could it have happened that such a comforting and clear message
became the bone of contention at the heart of Western Christianity, splitting the church and Europe into two diff erent religious continents? Even
today, for the average believer in certain countries in Northern Europe,
that doctrine constitutes the dividing line between Catholicism and Protestantism. I myself have had faithful Lutheran lay people ask me, â€œDo you
believe in justifi cation by faith?â€ as the condition for them to hear what I
had to say. Th is doctrine is defi ned by those who began the Reformation
themselves as â€œthe article by which the Church stands or fallsâ€ (articulus
stantis et cadentis Ecclesiae).
We need to go back to Martin Lutherâ€™s famous â€œtower experienceâ€ that
took place in 1511 or 1512. (It is referred to this way because it is thought to
have occurred in a cell at the Augustinian monastery in Witt enberg called
â€œthe Tower.â€) Luther was in torment, almost to the point of desperation
and resentment toward God, because all his religious and penitential
observances did not succeed in making him feel accepted by God and at
peace with God. It was here that, suddenly, St. Paulâ€™s word in Rom. 1:17
fl ashed through his mind: â€œTh e just shall live by faith.â€ It was a liberating
experience. Recounting this experience himself when he was close to
death, he wrote, â€œWhen I discovered this, I felt I was reborn, and it seemed
that the doors of paradise opened up for me.â€2
Some Lutheran historians rightly go back to this moment some years
before 1517 as the real beginning of the Reformation. What transformed
this inner experience into a real religious chain reaction was the issue of
indulgences, which made Luther decide to send his famous ninety- fi ve theses to Archbishop Albrecht von Magdeburg and to the doctors of the University, on October 31, 1517. It is important to note the historical succession
of these facts. It tells us that the thesis of justifi cation by faith and not by
works was not the result of a polemic with the church of his time but its
Martin Luther, â€œPreface to His Latin Works,â€ Weimar ed., vol. 54, p. 186.
â€¢ Explorations and Responses 425
cause. It was a genuine illumination from above, an â€œexperience,â€ â€œErlebnis,â€ as he described it.
A question immediately arises: How do we explain the earthquake that
was caused by the position Luther took? What was there about it that was
so revolutionary? St. Augustine had given the same explanation for the
expression â€œrighteousness of Godâ€ many centuries earlier. â€œTh e righteousness of God [justitia Dei],â€ he wrote, â€œis the righteousness by which,
through his grace, we become justifi ed, exactly the way that the salvation
of God [salus Dei] (Ps. 3:9) is the salvation by which God saves us.â€3
St. Gregory the Great had said, â€œWe do not att ain faith from virtue but
virtue from faith.â€4
St. Bernard had said, â€œWhat I cannot obtain on my
own, I confi dently appropriate (usurpo!) from the pierced side of the Lord
because he is full of mercy. . . . And what about my righteousness? O Lord, I
will remember only your righteousness. In fact it is also mine because you
became Godâ€™s justifi cation for me (see 1 Cor. 1:30).â€5
St. Th omas Aquinas
went even further. Commenting on the Pauline saying that â€œthe lett er kills,
but the Spirit gives lifeâ€ (see 2 Cor. 3:6), he wrote that the â€œlett erâ€ also
includes the moral precepts of the gospel, so â€œeven the lett er of the gospel
would kill if the grace of faith that heals were not added to it.â€6
Th e Council of Trent, convened in response to the Reformation, did
not have any diffi culty in reaffi rming the primacy of faith and grace, while
still maintaining (as would the branch of the Reformation that followed
John Calvin) the necessity of works and the observance of the laws in the
context of the whole process of salvation, according to the Pauline formula
of â€œfaith working through loveâ€ (â€œfi des quae per caritatem operaturâ€) (Gal.
Th is explains how, in the context of the new climate of ecumenical
dialogue, it was possible for the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World
Federation to arrive at a joint declaration on justifi cation by grace through
faith that was signed on October 31, 1999, which acknowledges a fundamental, if not yet total, agreement on that doctrine.8
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Lett er, 32, 56 (PL 44, 237). 4
Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, 2, 7 (PL 76, 1018). 5
Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the â€œSong of Songs,â€ 61, 4â€“5 (PL 183, 1072). 6
Th omas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1â€“IIae, q. 106, a.2. 7
Council of Trent, â€œDecretum de iustifi catione,â€ 7, in Denziger and Schoenmetzer, Enchridion Symbolorum, ed. 34, n. 1531. 8
Available at htt p://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pccujnt4.htm.
426 Journal of Ecumenical Studies â€¢ 53:3
So, was the Protestant Reformation a case of â€œmuch ado about
nothingâ€â€”the result of a misunderstanding? We need to answer with a
fi rm â€œNoâ€! It is true that the magisterium of the Catholic Church had never
reversed any decisions made by preceding councils (especially against the
Pelagians); it had never forgott en what Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, and
Th omas Aquinas had writt en. Human revolutions do not break out, however, because of ideas or abstract theories but because of concrete historical
situations, and unfortunately for a long time the praxis of the Church was
not truly refl ecting its offi cial doctrine. Church life, catechesis, Christian
piety, spiritual direction, not to mention popular preachingâ€”all these
things seemed to affi rm just the opposite, that what really matt ers is, in
fact, works, human eff ort. In addition, â€œgood worksâ€ were not generally
understood to mean the works listed by Jesus in Matt hew 25, without
which, he says, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, â€œgood
worksâ€ meant pilgrimages, votive candles, novenas, and donations to the
Church, and, as compensation for doing these things, indulgences.
Th e phenomenon had deep roots common to all of Christianity, not
just Latin Christianity. Aft er Christianity became the state religion, faith
was something that was absorbed instinctively through the family, school,
and society. It was not as important to emphasize the moment in which
faith was born and a personâ€™s decision to become a believer as it was to
emphasize the practical requirements of the faithâ€”in other words, morals
One revealing sign of this shift of focus was noted by Henri de Lubac in
his Medieval Exegesis: Th e Four Senses of Scripture. In its most ancient phase,
the sequence of the four senses was the literal historical sense, the christological or faith sense, the moral sense, and the eschatological sense.9
However, that sequence was increaingly substituted by a diff erent one in which
the moral sense came before the christological or the faith sense. â€œWhat to
doâ€ came before â€œwhat to believeâ€; duty came fi rst, before gift . In spiritual
life, people thought, fi rst comes the path of purifi cation, then that of illumination and union.10 Without realizing it, people ended up saying exactly
Th e classical couplet that sets forth this sequence is â€œLitt era gesta docet, quid credas allegoria. / Moralis quid agas; quo tendas anagogiaâ€: â€œTh e literal sense proclaims the events, the allegorical sense what you should believe. / Th e moral sense what you should do, the anagogical
sense where you are going.â€ 10 See Henri de Lubac, Histoire de lâ€™exÃ©gÃ¨se mÃ©diÃ©val: Les quatre sens de lâ€™Ã‰criture (Paris:
Aubier, 1959), vol. 1, 1, pp. 139â€“157.
â€¢ Explorations and Responses 427
the opposite of what Gregory the Great wrote, â€œWe do not att ain faith from
virtue but virtue from faith.â€
II. The Doctrine of Justification by Faith after Luther
Aft er Luther and very soon aft er the two other great reformers, Calvin and
Ulrich Zwigli, the doctrine of the free gift of justifi cation by faith resulted,
for those who lived by it, in an unquestionable improvement in the quality
of Christian life, thanks to the circulation of the word of God in the vernacular, to numerous inspired hymns and songs, and to writt en aids made
accessible to people by the recent invention of the printing press and distribution of printed materials.
On the external front, the thesis of justifi cation only by faith became the
dividing line between Catholicism and Protestantism. Very soon (and in
part with Luther himself) this opposition broadened to become an opposition between Christianity and Judaism as well, with Catholics representing,
according to some, the continuation of the supposed Jewish legalism and
ritualism and Protestants who represented the Christian innovation.
Anti- Catholic polemic was joined to anti- Jewish polemic that, for other
reasons, was no less present in the Catholic world. According to this perspective, Christianity was formed in opposition toâ€”and was not derived
fromâ€”Judaism. Starting with Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792â€“1860), the
theory of two souls in early Christianity increasingly gained ground:
Petrine Christianity as expressed in the so- called â€œproto- catholicismâ€
(FrÃ¼hkatholizismus), and Pauline Christianity that fi nds its more complete
expression in Protestantism.
Th is belief led to distancing the Christian religion as far as possible from
Judaism. Adolf von Harnack went so far as to sympathize with the ancient
gnostic Marcion, who had completely rejected the Hebrew Scriptures as the
work of a God diff erent from the God revealed by Jesus.11 People would try
to explain the doctrines and Christian mysteries (including the title Kyrios,
Lord, and the divine worship owed to Jesus) as the result of contact with
Hellenism. Th e criterion used to judge the authenticity of a saying or a fact
11 Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: Th e Gospel of the Alien God, tr. John E. Steely and Lyle D.
Bierma (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007; orig.: Das Evangelium vom fr emden Gott, Texte
und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 45 [Leipzig: J. C. Hinrich,
428 Journal of Ecumenical Studies â€¢ 53:3
from the gospel was how diff erent it was from what characterized the Jewish
world of that time. Even if that approach was not the main reason for the
tragic Antisemitism that followed, it is certain that, together with the accusation of deicide, it encouraged Antisemitism by giving it a tacit religious
Beginning in the 1970â€™s, there was a radical reversal in this area of biblical studies. It is necessary to say something about it to clarify the current
state of the Pauline and Lutheran doctrine of the free gift of justifi cation
through faith in Christ. Th e nature and the aim of this essay exempt me
from citing the names of the modern writers engaged in this debate. Whoever is versed in this subject will not have diffi culty identifying the authors
of the theories alluded to here; for others, I think it is not the names but the
ideas that are of interest.
Th is reversal involves the so- called â€œthird quest of the historical Jesus.â€
(It is called â€œthirdâ€ aft er the liberal quest of the 1800â€™s and that of Rudolf
Bultmann and his followers in the 1900â€™s.) Th is new perspective recognizes
Judaism as the true matrix within which Christianity was formed, debunking the myth of the irreducible otherness of Christianity with respect to
Judaism. Th e criterion used to assess the major or minor probability that a
saying or fact about Jesusâ€™ life is authentic is its compatibility with the
Judaism of his timeâ€”not its incompatibility, as people once thought.
Certain advantages of this new approach are obvious. Th e continuity of
revelation is recovered, and Jesus is situated within the Jewish world in the
line of biblical prophets. It also does more justice to the Judaism of Jesusâ€™
time, demonstrating its richness and variety. Th e problem is that this
approach went too far, so that this gain was transformed into a loss. In
many representatives of this third quest, Jesus ends up dissolving into the
Jewish world completely, without any longer being distinct except through
a few particular interpretations of the Torah. He is reduced to being one of
the Hebrew prophets, an â€œitinerant charismatic,â€ â€œa Mediterranean Jewish
peasant.â€12 Th e continuity with Judaism has been recovered, but at the
expense of the newness of the Second or New Testament. Th e new historical quest has produced studies on a whole diff erent level (for example,
those of James D. G. Dunn, my favorite New Testament scholar), but what
12 See John Dominic Crossan, Th e Historical Jesus: Th e Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
(New York: HarperCollins, 1992).
â€¢ Explorations and Responses 429
I have sketched here is the version that is most widely circulated on the
popular level and has infl uenced public opinion.
Th e person who shed light on the misleading character of this approach
for the purposes of serious dialogue between Judaism and Christianity was
precisely a Jew, American rabbi Jacob Neusner.13 Whoever has read Pope
Benedict XVIâ€™s book on Jesus of Nazareth14 is already familiar with much
of the thinking of this rabbi with whom he dialogued in one of the most
fascinating chapters of his book. Jesus cannot be considered a Jew like
other Jews, Neusner explained, given that he put himself above Moses and
proclaimed that he is â€œLord also of the Sabbath.â€
However, it is especially in regard to Paul that the â€œnew perspectiveâ€
demonstrates its inadequacy. According to one of its most famous representatives, the religion of works, against which the Apostle railed with such
vehemence in his lett ers, does not exist in real life. Judaism, even in the
time of Jesus, is a â€œcovenantal nomism,â€ that is, a religion based on the free
initiative of God and Godâ€™s love; the observance of Godâ€™s laws is the consequence of a relationship with God, not its cause. Th e law serves to help
people remain in the covenant rather than to enter it. Th e Jewish religion
continues to be that of the patriarchs and prophets, and its center is hesed,
grace and divine benevolence.
Scholars, then, have to look for possible targets of Paulâ€™s polemic: not
the â€œJewsâ€ but the â€œJewish- Christians,â€ or a kind of â€œZealotâ€ Judaism that
feels itself threatened by the pagan world around it and reacts in the manner of the Maccabeesâ€”in brief, the Judaism of Paul prior to his conversion
that led him to persecute such Hellenistic believers as Stephen. However,
these explanations appear immediately unsustainable and result in making
the Apostleâ€™s thinking incomprehensible and contradictory. In the preceding part of his lett er, Paul formulated an indictment as universal as humanity itself: â€œTh ere is no distinction; . . . all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of Godâ€ (Rom. 3:22â€“23). Th ree times in the fi rst three chapters of this
lett er he returned to the wording â€œJews and Greeks alike.â€ How can anyone
think that a remedy aimed at a very limited group of believers corresponds
to such a universal evil?
13 See Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (Montreal: McGill- Queenâ€™s University
Press, 2000). 14 Pope Benedict XVI ( Joseph Ratzinger), Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the
Jordan to the Transfi guration, tr. Adrian J. Walker (New York: Doubleday, 2007).
430 Journal of Ecumenical Studies â€¢ 53:3
III. Justification by Faith: A Doctrine of Paul or of Jesus?
Th e diffi culty comes, in my opinion, from the fact that the exegesis of Paul
is carried on at times as if the doctrine began with him and as if Jesus had
said nothing on this matt er. Th e doctrine of the free gift of justifi cation by
faith is not Paulâ€™s invention but is the central message of the gospel of
Christ, whether it was made known to Paul by a direct revelation from the
Risen One or by the â€œtraditionâ€ that he says he received, which was certainly not limited to a few words about the kerygma (see 1 Cor. 15:3). If this
were not the case, then those who say that Paul, not Jesus, is the real
founder of Christianity would be correct.
However, the core of this doctrine is already found in the word â€œgospel,â€ â€œgood news,â€ that Paul certainly did not invent out of thin air. At the
beginning of his ministry Jesus went around proclaiming, â€œTh e time is fulfi lled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospelâ€
(Mk. 1:15). How could this proclamation be called â€œgood newsâ€ if it were
only an intimidating call to change oneâ€™s life? What Christ included in the
expression â€œkingdom of Godâ€â€”that is, the salvifi c initiative by Godâ€™s off er
of salvation to all humanityâ€”Paul called the â€œrighteousness of God,â€ but it
refers to the same fundamental reality. â€œTh e kingdom of Godâ€ and â€œthe
righteousness of Godâ€ were coupled by Jesus when he said, â€œSeek fi rst his
kingdom and his righteousnessâ€ (Mt. 6:33).
When Jesus said, â€œrepent, and believe the gospel,â€ he was thus already
teaching justifi cation by faith. Before him, â€œto repentâ€ always meant â€œto
turn back,â€ as indicated by the Hebrew word â€œshubâ€; it meant to turn back,
through a renewed observance of the law, to the covenant that had been
broken. â€œTo repent,â€ consequently, had a meaning that was mainly ascetic,
moral, and penitential, and it was implemented by changing oneâ€™s behavior.
Repentance was seen as a condition for salvation; it meant â€œrepent and you
will be saved; repent and salvation will come to you.â€ Th is was the meaning
of â€œrepentâ€ up to this point, including on the lips of John the Baptist.
When Jesus spoke of repentance, metanoia, its moral meaning moves
into second place (at least at the beginning of his preaching) with respect
to a new, previously unknown meaning. Repenting no longer means turning back to the covenant and the observance of the law; rather, it means
taking a leap forward, entering into a new covenant, seizing this â€œkingdomâ€
that has appeared, and entering into itâ€”by faith. â€œRepent and believeâ€
â€¢ Explorations and Responses 431
does not point to two diff erent, successive steps but to the same action:
Repent, that is, believe; repent by believing! Repenting does not signify
â€œmending oneâ€™s waysâ€ as much as â€œperceivingâ€ something new and thinking in a new way. Th e humanist Lorenzo Valla (1405â€“57), in his Annotations
on the New Testament, had already highlighted this new meaning of the
word â€œmetanoiaâ€ in Markâ€™s text.
Innumerable sayings from the gospel, among the ones that most certainly go back to Jesus, confi rm this interpretation. One is Jesusâ€™ insistence
on the necessity of becoming like children to enter the realm of heaven. A
characteristic of children is that they have nothing to give and can only
receive. Th ey do not ask anything from their parents because they have
earned it but simply because they know they are loved. Th ey accept what is
Th e Pauline polemic against the claim to be saved by oneâ€™s own works
also did not begin with him. We would need to exclude an endless number
of texts to remove all the polemic references in the gospel to a number of
â€œscribes, Pharisees, and doctors of the law.â€ We cannot fail to recognize in
the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple the two
types of religiosity that Paul later contrasted: One man trusts in his own
religious performance, and the other trusts in the mercy of God and returns
home â€œjustifi edâ€ (Lk. 18:14).
It is not a temptation present only in one particular religion, but in
every religion, including Christianity. (Th e Evangelists did not relate the
sayings of Jesus to correct the Pharisees, but to warn the Christians!) If
Paul takes aim at Judaism, it is because that is the religious context
in which he and those to whom he is speaking live, but it involves a religious rather than an ethnic category. Jews, in this context, are those who,
unlike the pagans, are in possession of revelation; they know Godâ€™s will
and, emboldened by this fact, feel themselves secure with God and can
judge the rest of humanity. One indication that Paul was designating a
religious category is that Origen was already saying in the third century
that the target of the Apostleâ€™s words are now the â€œheads of the Church:
bishops, presbyters, and deacons,â€ that is, the guides, the teachers of the
15 See Origen, Commentary on the â€œLett er to the Romans,â€ 2, 2 (PG 14, 873).
432 Journal of Ecumenical Studies â€¢ 53:3
Th e diffi culty in reconciling the picture that Paul gives us of the Jewish
religion and what we know about it from other sources is based on a fundamental error in methodology. Jesus and Paul were dealing with life as people lived it, with the heart; scholars deal instead with books and writt en
testimonies. Oral and writt en statements tell us what people know they
should be or would like to be, not necessarily what they are. No one should
be surprised to fi nd in the scriptural and rabbinical sources of the time
moving and sincere affi rmations about grace, mercy, and the prevenient
initiative of God. It is one thing to say what Scripture states and leaders
teach and another thing to say what is in peopleâ€™s hearts and what governs
What happened at the time of the Protestant Reformation helps us to
understand this situation during the time of Jesus and Paul. At the time of
the Reformation, if one looks at the doctrine taught in the schools of theology, at ancient defi nitions that were never disputed, at Augustineâ€™s writings
that were held in great honor, or even only at the Imitation of Christ that
was daily reading for pious souls, one will fi nd there the magnifi cent doctrine of grace and will not understand against whom Luther was fi ghting.
However, if one looks at what was going on in real life in the Church, the
result, as we have seen, is quite diff erent.
IV. How to Preach Justification by Faith Today
What can we conclude from this birdâ€™s- eye view of the fi ve centuries since
the beginning of the Protestant Reformation? It is indeed vital that the
centenary of the Reformation not be wasted, that it not remain a prisoner
of the past, trying to determine rights and wrongs, even if that is done in a
more irenic tone than in the past. Instead, we need to take a leap forward,
the way a ship having arrived at a river lock resumes its course at a higher
Th e situation has changed since then. Th e issues that brought about
the separation between the Church of Rome and the Reformation were,
above all, indulgences and how sinners are justifi ed. Can we say that these
are the problems on which peopleâ€™s faith stands or falls today? I remember
that Cardinal Walter Kasper on one occasion made this observation. For
Luther, the number one existential problem was how to overcome the
sense of guilt and fi nd a gracious God; today, the problem is rather the
â€¢ Explorations and Responses 433
opposite: how to restore to human beings a genuine sense of sin that they
have completely lost. Th is does not mean ignoring the enrichment brought
by the Reformation and wanting to return to the situation before it. It
means, rather, allowing all of Christianity to benefi t from its many important achievements once they are freed from certain distortions and
excesses due to the overheated climate of the moment and the need to
correct major abuses.
Among the negative aspects resulting from the centuries- old emphasis
on the issue of the justifi cation of sinners, it seems to me, one is having made
Western Christianity be a gloomy proclamation, completely focused on sin,
which the secular culture ended up resisting and rejecting. Th e most important thing is not what Jesus, by his death, has removed from human beingsâ€”
sinâ€”but what he has given to them, that is, his Holy Spirit. Many exegetes
today consider the third chapter of the lett er to the Romans on justifi cation
by faith to be inseparable from the eighth chapter on the gift of the Spirit and
to be one piece with it.
Th e worst error one can make with the Lett er to the Romans is not to
separate it from the rest of the New Testament, as we Catholics used to say;
it is to separate its fi rst kerygmatic part from the second parenetic part.
Starting from Romans 12, all kinds of moral duties or fruits of the Spirit,
practically â€œgood works,â€ are mentioned: â€œLet love be genuine. . . . Let
every person be subject to the governing authorities. . . . Let us conduct
ourselves becomingly.â€ Protestants would learn in this way that there is
room according to Paul for both faith and works; Catholics would be
reminded of the proper order of the two: not fi rst the works and then grace
as a reward for them but, rather, fi rst faith and the free grace of God and
then the works as a necessary way to keep faith alive. Th ere is an analogy
between the physical and the spiritual life. Th e child can do nothing to be
conceived in the womb of his or her mother; this is a free and undeserved
gift of love. However, once born, the child needs to put in motion his or her
lungs, breathe, suck milk from the breast of his or her mother. Otherwise,
the life he or she has received dies. Th is, in my opinion, is how we should
interpret the discussed statement of James: â€œFaith, by itself, if it has no
works, is deadâ€ (Jas. 2:17). It was not dead from the start, but it dwindles
litt le by litt le and dies.
Th e free gift of justifi cation through faith in Christ should be preached
today by the whole church and with more vigor than everâ€”not, however,
434 Journal of Ecumenical Studies â€¢ 53:3
in contrast to the â€œworksâ€ whereof the New Testament speaks but in contrast to the claim of postmodern people of being able to save themselves
with their science and technology or with an improvised, comforting spirituality. Th ese are the â€œworksâ€ on which many modern human beings rely. I
am convinced that, if Luther came back to life, this would be the way that
he, too, would preach justifi cation by faith today.
Th ere is another thing that we allâ€”Lutherans and Catholicsâ€”should
learn from the man who initiated the Reformation. As we saw, for Luther
the free gift of justifi cation by faith was, above all, a lived experience and
only later something about which to theorize. Aft er him, justifi cation
though faith increasingly became a theological thesis to defend or to
oppose and less and less a personal, liberating experience to be lived out in
oneâ€™s intimate relationship with God. Th e joint declaration of 1999 very
appropriately points out that the consensus reached by Catholics and
Lutherans on the fundamental truths of the doctrine of justifi cation must
take eff ect and be confi rmedâ€”not just in the teaching of the church but in
peopleâ€™s lives as well (no. 43).
We must never lose sight of the main point of the Pauline message.
What the Apostle wished to affi rm above all in Romans 3 was not that we
are justifi ed by faith but that we are justifi ed by faith in Christ; we are not so
much justifi ed by grace as we are justifi ed by the grace of Christ. Christ is
the heart of the message, more so than grace and faith. Today, he himself is
the article by which the church stands or falls: a person, not a doctrine.
We ought to rejoice because this is what is happening in the churchâ€”and
to a greater extent than commonly realized. In recent months, I att ended two
conferences: one in Switzerland organized by Protestants with the participation of Catholics, and the other in Germany organized by Catholics with the
participation of Protestants. Th e latt er conference, in Augsburg in January,
2017, seemed to me to be truly a sign of the times. Th ere were 6,000 Catholics
and 2,000 Lutherans, the majority of whom were young, who had come from
throughout Germany. Its title was â€œHoly Fascination.â€ What fascinated that
crowd was Jesus of Nazareth, made present and almost tangible by the Holy
Spirit. Behind this eff ort was a community of lay people and a house of prayer
(Gebetshaus), which has been active for years and is in full communion with
the local Catholic Church.
It was not an easy ecumenism. Th ere was a very Catholic Mass with
lots of incense, celebrated once by me and once by the auxiliary bishop of
â€¢ Explorations and Responses 435
Augsburg; on another day, the Lordâ€™s Supper was celebrated by a Lutheran
pastor with full respect for each otherâ€™s liturgies. Worship, teachings,
musicâ€”it was an atmosphere that only young people today are able to create and that could serve as a model for some special event during World
Youth Day. I asked those in charge if they wanted me to speak about Christian unity. Th ey answered, â€œNo. We prefer to live that unity instead of
talking about it.â€ Th ey were right. Th ese are signs of the direction in which
the Spiritâ€”and Pope Francisâ€”invite us to go.
Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcapp
Preacher to the Papal Household
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