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In spite of the fact that the depiction of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification appears implicitly (if not explicitly) to amount to universalism—that all people will ultimately be saved—Barth himself denied that he ever taught any such a doctrine: “I do not teach it (universalism), but I also do not teach it.” Barth did not deny that the logic of his position appears to lead to universalism. In fact, he makes several comments on the issue that appear to indicate that he was acutely aware of this dilemma but insisted that the freedom of God prohibits this conclusion.
As in many other cases, theology must here refrain from drawing logically consistent conclusions from its premises for the sake of its own subject matter.
Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in this direction [that is, the direction of universalism], we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift.
[Because God controls grace and he is free] we cannot venture the statement that it (the circle [of the redeemed]) must and will finally be coincident with the world of man as such.
Many, therefore, attempt to interpret Barth in a way consistent with his denial. Geoffrey W. Bromiley concludes:
At this point Barth bluntly rejects any necessary universalism as “historical metaphysics.” On the other hand, since all is by grace, he will not rule out the possibility of this final enlargement [of the circle of redemption] in Jesus Christ. … Nevertheless, it is not apparent why, in his view, the Holy Spirit in his ministry of calling should not positively fulfil in all individuals the one eternal will of the triune God. A gap arises here which Barth can finally fill only by an appeal to the divine freedom.
John Colwell defends the same position with more feisty remarks: “[I]f some of Barth’s critics refuse to take this divine freedom seriously with respect (especially) to Barth’s doctrine of election and consequently suspect him of implicit universalism then that is their problem rather than his and probably says more about them than it says about him.”
Others, however, are not convinced that Barth can be let off the horns of the dilemma so easily. Hans Ur von Balthasar, for example, thinks Barth is kidding himself.
Nonetheless, despite these demurrals, Barth’s doctrine of election does not leave much room open for possibility. There is something inevitable and necessary in his views. What is definitive in Barth’s thought is grace and blessing, and all reprobation and judgment are merely provisional. … Actually, given his premises, Barth really cannot discuss this issue in any other way. True, he gives lip service to our inability to survey the full implications of the activity of the Word of God. He speaks of a healthy “inconsistency” in dogmatics. But these are mere words, because he has already immured the idea of an all-encompassing redemption in the very groundwork and foundation of his doctrine of creation.”
Perhaps the most thorough consideration of potential ways Barth’s doctrine might escape the apparent inevitability is found in Oliver Crisp’s article, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism.” He makes several observations about Barth’s position. For example, Barth is not arguing (like traditional Arminianism) for an atonement universal in scope, not effectiveness, nor is he arguing that Christ’s atonement is only potentially effective for all. Barth argues that the atonement is actually effective for all human agents. Also, a well recognized point, Barth emphasizes salvation as “knowledge” (through faith) that one is already saved rather than a means by which salvation is appropriated (as in the tradition Reformation formulas). Whereas the Reformers would say “If you believe [and repent] you will be saved,” Barth is saying, “You are saved, therefore, believe and repent!” Much of Barth’s writing appears to demonstrate that the free will of man as a potential loop hole in Barth’s thought is not a logical option. Crisp offers the following remarks from Barth.
[O]n the basis of this decree of His the only truly rejected man is His own Son … so that it can no longer fall on other men or be their concern. … Their concern is still the suffering of the existence which they have prepared for themselves by their godlessness (in the shadow of that which the One has suffered from them) – and it is bitter enough to have to suffer this existence. Their concern is still to be aware of the threat of their rejection. But it cannot now be their concern to suffer the execution of this threat, to suffer the eternal damnation which their godlessness deserves. Their desire and their undertaking are pointless in so far as their only end can be to make them rejected. And this is the very goal which the godless cannot reach, because it has already been taken away by the eternally decreed offering of the Son of God to suffer in place of the godless, and cannot any longer be their goal. [italics mine]
After concluding that neither a compatibilist nor libertarian view of the free will of man could unloose Barth from this predicament, Crisp specifically addresses the arguments above concerning Barth’s denial on the basis of God’s freedom.
Barth, however, is happy to withhold this requirement of theological consistency, because he deems that such a move would compromise divine freedom … Bettis is even willing to go as far as to say, “Barth does not reject universalism because the future of the pagan is uncertain. He rejects universalism because the future of all men is uncertain.” But if this [is] true, then Barth’s attempted way out, via divine freedom, yields a contradiction. We can express this as follows, using the i-iii propositions stated earlier:
i. Christ’s atonement is universal in scope and efficacy …
ii. Christ is the Elect One and therefore the sole member of the set ‘elect’, in whom all human agents are elected …
iii. Christ is the Elect One whose atonement for the sin of human agents is universal in scope and efficacy, and all human agents are members of the set ‘elect in Christ’.
But what Barth is claiming at this juncture in his argument is something like:
iv. Because God is free, the eschatological destiny of all humanity is uncertain.
The problem is that iv simply does not appear to be consistent with i-iii. In fact, it seems to contradict i-iii. One cannot consistently hold both that all humanity have been (derivatively) elected, so that all their sin has been efficaciously atoned for by Christ, and that the soteriological status of all humanity is uncertain.
Thus Crisp concludes that either Barth’s claim to not teach universalism is “disingenuous (he was a universalist), or just plain muddled (his position is not coherent).” He also dismisses a third option—that Barth was unaware that his position logically entailed some form of universalism—the grounds that is seems “unlikely.” Crisp could have easily argued also on the basis of Barth’s own understanding of God’s freedom, for it is Barth himself who poses the question: “Where do we see the freedom of God more clearly than in the justification of sinful man?” For these reasons, while some theologians attempt to allow Barth’s denials of teaching universalism to play the decisive role in categorizing his thought (i.e. in answering the question, “Was Barth a universalist?”), others give more weight to the nuances of his actual position in concluding that he was, in fact, a universalist.
 Karl Barth. Cited in Eberhard Jüngel, Karl Barth, A Theological Legacy, trans. Garrett E. Paul (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1986), 44-45.
 Crisp humorously coins this as the universal dilemma. Oliver Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” in Themelios, vol 29 no 1 (2003): 26.
 Karl Barth. Cited in Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, trans. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1992), 186.
 Karl Barth. Cited in Oliver Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 28. cf. CD IV/3: 477.
 Karl Barth. Cited in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 95.
 Geoffrey W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth, 95.
 Jon Colwell. Cited in Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 18.
 Hans Ur von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, 186. cf. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, 138.
 Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 18-29.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 21.
 Karl Barth. Cited in Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 22. cf. CD II/2: 318-19.
 Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” 23-25.
 Ibid., 28-29.
 Ibid., 19.
 CD IV/1: 529. The confusion about Barth’s position can be seen in the field of systematics. In Erickson’s treatment, for example, he seems to contradict himself about whether or not Barth answers the question of whether all persons are saved. “This is not to say that Barth holds to universal salvation, a subject he deals with very cautiously without ever really committing himself. … There is no absolute difference between the elect and the rejected, the believers and unbelievers, according to Barth, for all have been elected. … Christians from a traditional background might wish to pray open the question of whether the rejected ones who are actually elect are also saved, but Barth will not open that tangled issue. The church should not take too seriously the unbelief of the rejected ones. In the ultimate sense, there is no rejection of humanity by God. God has in Christ chosen rejection for himself, but election for humanity.” Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), 936. cf. Geisler, who simply places Barth as “one of the most famous theologians in modern times to embrace universalism” without any hesitancy or clarification. Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin and Salvation (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 389.
Barth’s understanding of the nature of justification is easy enough to understand—it is nothing more than God’s pardon of man based on Christ’s substituionary work on his behalf. However, to grasp the unique complexity and idiosyncrasy of his doctrine of justification, one must first understand the broader soteriological context seen in Barth’s doctrine of election. Barth’s soteriology holds much in common with typical Christian theologies in key respects. For example, for Barth, the climax of human history is the Christ event—the incarnation, substitutionary death, burial and resurrection of Christ. This event is both the execution and the revelation of the eternal sentence of God on all mankind in which God establishes his right over against man’s wrong. However, whereas the early church and Reformation eras largely understood election and reprobation as dividing humanity into two separate groups of people, the reprobate who are eternally damned and the elect who are eternally saved, Barth reduces the sum total of all elect and all reprobate members down to one person: Jesus Christ. From all eternity, Christ is both the only one who elects and the only one who is elected; he is also the only one chosen for the full measure of the wrath of God against sin and yet, at the same time, he is the only one elected for eternal salvation. Whatever blessings of election and horrors of reprobation apply to men and women in general, then, must be understood only as derivative in this sense: in this same twofold eternal sentence of God, Christ’s history becomes our own from all eternity. It is in light of the temporal execution of the divine eternal sentence of Christ as the elect and reprobate one that man’s own justification can be seen like a shadow behind the Christ event.
Pardon—by God and therefore unconditionally pronounced and unconditionally valid—that is man’s justification. In the judgment of God, according to His election and rejection, there is made in the midst of time, and as the central event of all human history, referring to all the men who live both before and after, a decision, a divisive sentence. Its result—expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is the pardon of man. And this as such is man’s justification, this alone, but with unconditional truth and efficacy, so that apart from it there is no justification, but in it there is the total justification of man. Whether man hears it, whether he accepts it and lives as one who is pardoned is another question.
Pardon, then, is not conditional upon one’s response to the Christ event (i.e. faith). Rather, total pardon is objectively accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of man. But this rendering of the doctrine of justification does not mean that Barth has no place for the wrath of God in his soteriology. Although pardon, and all that it accomplishes, should be considered the positive aspect of the divine sentence executed in God’s judgment, the negative aspect of this sentence must always be kept in view, for the two belong together since the one (“the divine election of rejected man”) implies the other (“the divine rejection of the elected man”). The positive side of this sentence is “goodness, mercy and grace; His decision and pronouncement in man’s favour,” and this is “the work of his redemption.” The negative side of the sentence is God’s judgment “that we are these proud creatures, that I am the man of sin, and that this man of sin and therefore I myself am nailed to the cross and crucified (in the power of the sacrifice and obedience of Jesus Christ in my place), that I am therefore destroyed and replaced, that as the one who has turned to nothingness I am done away in the death of Jesus Christ.”
In God’s eternal counsel the election of rejected man did not take place without the rejection of elected man: the election of Jesus Christ as our Head and Representative, and therefore our election as those who are represented by Him. Therefore the positive sense of the sentence executed in that judgment belongs together with the negative. If Jesus the Crucified lives, and we live in Him and with Him, the sentence of God revealed in His resurrection is valid in Him and therefore us, in that negative sense. Therefore the knowledge of the grace of God and the comfort which flows from it in this sentence, the knowledge therefore, of its positive sense, is bound up with the fact that in it we do not cease to see ourselves as those who are condemned.
In Christ man is not merely pardoned; he is also condemned and destroyed. Barth therefore often refers to this divine sentence as including both the Yes and the No of God. Furthermore, even though both aspects of this sentence apply only to Christ, since Christ was “in our place” on our behalf they also apply derivatively for all mankind. The scope of Christ’s substitutionary work is universal.
There is not one for whose sin and death He did not die, whose sin and death He did not remove and obliterate on the cross, for whom He did not positively do the right, whose right He has not established. There is not one to whom this was not addressed as his justification in His resurrection from the dead. There is not one whose man He is not, who is not justified in Him. There is not one who is justified in any other way than in Him—because it is in Him and only in Him that an end, a bonfire, is made of man’s sin and death, … Again, there is not one who is not adequately and perfectly and finally justified in Him. There is not one whose sin is not forgiven sin in Him. … There is not one whose peace with God has not been made and does not continue in Him. [italics mine]
Although it might sound impossible that either Christ or (derivatively) mankind could be at the same time and in the same senses elect and reprobate, enjoying both the utmost blessings of grace and utmost furies of wrath, Barth understands God’s wrath as a subset of his grace in such a way that the two notions are not contradictory. Indeed, in the end, the Yes of God is louder than the No of God, for the No of God is only part of the “transition” of man to the Yes of God. On the one hand, “the righteousness of God means God’s negating and overcoming and taking away and destroying wrong and man as the doer of it.” On the other hand, because Barth understands the destruction of man taking place in Christ, it does not follow that all of sinful mankind must be eternally damned, for he does not understand this divine retribution the way classical Christian theologies comprehend it.
Do we not have to say that even in the non-willing, the wrath of God expressed in this conflict, even in the terrible “Away with thee” which is pronounced upon the wrong of man and therefore upon man as the doer of it, what rules finally and properly is grace, the divine Yes deeply buried under the divine No, in so far as God’s free address to man is operative even in the No? … [E]ven in the judgment which comes upon man and his wrong God is gracious to man. The crisis which comes upon man when he encounters the righteousness of God, but in which the grace of God is secretly present and operative, is frequently described in the Bible as chastisement.
Two things are important to note about how Barth understands God’s destroying wrath. First, it only applies to mankind in general inasmuch as Christ’s history (in which he bore the fury of God’s wrath in our place) becomes our own by the unconditional sentence of God. This understanding of God’s wrath might be called the imputation of Christ’s damnation to the sinner. Christ’s destruction, as representing mankind, is our destruction. For Barth, Christ’s death is the most revealing display of just how serious God’s hatred of sin actually is. Second, as we have noted, God’s wrath is not what “rules finally and properly,” but it is a means to a greater end—that of God’s grace. Even in God’s wrath his grace is “secretly present” like the chastisement of a loving father. Wrath is a form of grace that sustains fellowship with man. Although the reasoning of Barth is unclear in the matter, he is convinced that if the wrath of God was given full exercise to any given individual without the grace of God as its ultimate end, God would not be truly righteous.
To put it in another way, on the left hand man is the one who because of His wrong is condemned and rejected and abandoned by God, and on the right hand he is the same man as the one who even in his condemnation and rejection and abandonment is still pardoned and maintained by God, being kept for the fulfillment of His will and plan. … And God is righteous in this distinction as such: for satisfaction would not be done to His right if He could only chide on the left hand or only pardon on the right, if He accepted the identification of man with wrong, and was content simply to banish from the world both wrong and the wrongdoer, or if in spite of the wrong which man has done and his identification with it he allowed him to live at the price of not destroying the wrong which man has committed, of recognizing de facto its right to exist. The righteousness of God would not be God’s righteousness and therefore it would not be true righteousness if it did not proceed on both sides.
Since “even that which God does on the left hand is grace,” wrath must be considered penultimate at most, otherwise the very righteousness of God would be in question.
Barth is not content to think of justified man as living a dual existence of two mutually exclusive influences—one of sin and one of grace-wrought obedience, for “how then can both be real? … This state of dualism, this static co-existence of two quite different men, can only be the result of a misunderstanding.” Barth proposes an alternative (which he thinks is the only alternative): rather than understanding man as a mix between the former man and the new man, justified man in the present must be understood as wholly both, but in the future only the latter. “I was and still am the former man: man as wrongdoer … but I am already and will be the latter man: the man whom God has elected and created for himself … the man who is not unrighteous but righteous before God.” The conviction that apparently underlies Barth’s insistence that we must never understand justified man to have a dual existence is that “the justification of man by God is an event between God and man, not the static relationship of their being.” Rather than elucidating what he means by this denial of dual existence, however, Barth’s explanation only seems to further obscure his intentions (at least to this author):
The justification of man by God belongs neither to the empirical nor to the ideal world, for God who is at work in it is one God and the Creator of all the visible and invisible reality distinct from Himself which is beyond this contrast. … Again, the justification of man … [is] the being of God and man in a definite movement which cannot be reproduced in two pictures which can be placed alongside and studied together. … As this history the justification of man is a genuine puzzle, unlike that of the dualism which can be caught in that picture. The justification of man cannot be caught in any picture, not even in moving pictures. The reason for this is that the man who lives in this history of God with him is not in any sense perceptible to himself. … [W]e cannot put this too strongly—there can be no self-experience of this drama. The fact that it is our history which is in train, that we participate in this drama, is something which must be true and actual quite otherwise than in some depth of our own self, and recognizable as the truth quite otherwise than in the contemplation of one of the phenomena which meet us in these depths.
Is Barth saying that justification does not happen to man but only for him? Is he saying that the objective reality of justification is never actually subjectively experienced? Does this quotation mean that man never perceives Christ’s history as his own in the depths of his own self? Answers to these questions do not seem obvious. What is obvious, however, is that by considering Christ as the only true elect and reprobate one, Barth has abandoned the traditional framework of both doctrines (election and reprobation) and argues for a highly eccentric view as the alternative.
 The exception to this would be the view that God elected a way of salvation, not an actual people, and that people should only be considered elect inasmuch as they follow God’s plan of salvation in Christ.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956-1985), vol. IV, part 1, 514.
 CD IV/1: 568.
 The last statement in the above quotation portrays a way of thinking that will be examined in more detail later in this treatment as we consider the question of whether or not Karl Barth’s doctrine of election and justification imply a doctrine of universal salvation.
 Ibid., 515.
 Ibid., 514.
 Ibid., 514.
 Ibid., 630.
 Ibid., 516. “There is no doubt that the unusual difficulty of the doctrine of justification is an indication of its special function. In it we have to do with the turning, the movement, the transition of the existence of man without God and dead into the existence of man living for God, and therefore before Him and with Him and for Him.” Ibid., 520.
 Ibid., 537. Barth appears to marshal all the biblical texts on the loving nature of discipline in this passage (e.g. Job 5:17; Ps 62:12; Rev 3:19; Prov 3:11; Heb 12:7ff; 2 Sam 7:14, and many passages from the psalms).
 “It is not too small a thing for God actually to continue His fellowship with man in the form of wrath which consumes man because of his wrong.” Ibid., 542.
 Ibid., 541.
 Ibid., 544.
 Ibid., 545-46.
 It is no surprise to this author that the foremost interpreter of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification entitled his first chapter, “An Alien Language: Is Barth incomprehensible?—Problem of the thought form—Holy Scripture.” Hans Kung, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 3-5.
 Oliver Crisp distinguishes Barth sharply from the Augustinian tradition. Oliver Crisp, “Augustinian Universalism,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol 53 no 3 (2003): 139.
If not the most important theologian of the 20th century, the case could be made that Karl Barth was at least one of the foremost Christian theologians of modern times. His attitude toward scripture and scathing critiques of the classical liberal tradition “marked a watershed in twentieth-century theology.” His first publication, a commentary on the book of Romans, functioned somewhat like a bombshell on the theological playground of his contemporaries. His decisive break from the school of classical liberal theology spawned an entirely new school of thought: postliberalism. Although Barth is criticized as never having actually escaped the Enlightenment framework, the Christomonism (or “Christological concentration”) that makes possible a Christian appreciation of the Barthian tradition argued that the truths revealed in Christ were not merely truths ascertainable through general revelation and therefore Christ reveals new and indispensible truth. Barth in particular took a Christ-centered approach to theology to such extremes he has been criticized for turning “the whole of theology into Christology.” Nowhere is this Christocentrism more evident than in Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification.
This blog series is an attempt to highlight accurately some of the unique aspects of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification. Because Barth himself warns that the theology represented in his Romans commentary is only “the beginning of a development,” while his Church Dogmatics is considered his most mature thought, this study will give its attention to the latter. The study will be at least 6 posts long, and will attempt to show 1) how Barth’s distinctive doctrine of election informs his articulation of his doctrine of justification, 2) how Barth’s Christocentric outlook enables him to see the wrath of God as only a phase or form of the grace of God, 3) why differences of opinion exist on whether or not he held to a position of ultimate universal salvation, 4) what various arguments Barth employs to defend his position that sola fide is not the articulus stantis et cadentis acclesia [“the doctrine by which the church stands or falls”], 5) in what ways Barth’s version of sola fide is similar to classic Protestant positions and in what ways it is dissimilar, and 6) that Barth’s doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics.
Next Post :: How Barth’s Doctrine of Election Bears on His Doctrine of Justification
 “Karl Barth was without doubt the most important Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 362. Alister E. McGrath is more reserved: “Barth is unquestionably one of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century” [italics mine]. Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1984), 123.
 W. S. Johnson, “Barth, Karl (1886-1968)” in Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters, ed. Donald K. McKim (Downers Grive, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 433.
 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1968).
 B. E. Benson, “Postliberal Theology,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, second edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 937. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition, 123-152, 220.
 “Barth’s own theology may be regarded, at least in part, as a reaction against the anthropocentricity of the liberal school – a reaction particularly evident in his inversion of the liberal understanding of God and humanity as epistemic object and subject respectively. Yet Barth has essentially inverted the liberal theology without fundamentally altering its frame of reference. As such, he may be regarded as indirectly – perhaps even unintentionally – perpetuating the theological interests and concerns of the liberal school, particularly the question of how God may be known.” Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, third edition (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 398.
 McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition, 131, 220.
 McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 401.
 Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, vi. Barth even goes so far as to say, “When, however, I look back at the book, it seems to have been written by another man to meet a situation belonging to a past epoch.” Ibid.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. Bromiley et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956-75).
 David Ford even considers Volume IV of Church Dogmatics in particular—the volume we will be focusing on—as “the crowning achievement of Barth’s mature theology.” David Ford, “Barth, Karl (1886-1968)” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, ed. Alister McGrath (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1993), 32.
(And before you think I’m theologically naive, make sure you read my comments that follow the quotation)
The following excerpts come from the lips of Pope Ratzinger himself, spoken Nov. 19th 2008.
On the journey we have undertaken under the guidance of St. Paul, we now wish to reflect on a topic that is at the center of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the issue of justification.
To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary.
That is why Luther’s expression “sola fide” is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf. Galatians 5:14).
Paul knows that in the double love of God and neighbor the whole law is fulfilled. Thus the whole law is observed in communion with Christ, in faith that creates charity. We are just when we enter into communion with Christ, who is love. We will see the same in next Sunday’s Gospel for the solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What I ask is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you feed me when I was hungry, clothe me when I was naked? So justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel, we can say: love alone, charity alone. However, there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St. Paul. It is the same vision, the one according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the realization of communion with Christ. Thus, being united to him we are just, and in no other way.
Paul’s experience of the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus led him to see that it is only by faith in Christ, and not by any merit of our own, that we are made righteous before God. Our justification in Christ is thus God’s gracious gift, revealed in the mystery of the Cross. Christ died in order to become our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30), and we in turn, justified by faith, have become in him the very righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). In the light of the Cross and its gifts of reconciliation and new life in the Spirit, Paul rejected a righteousness based on the Law and its works.
Actually, in droves Catholics have come around to basically granting a doctrine of justification by faith.
If your reaction is, “Yeah … but they don’t mean by faith alone,” you probably have been too influenced by uninformed Protestant rhetoric and haven’t been following the ecumenical discussion carefully enough. If you say, “Yeah but when Catholics affirm justification by faith alone or by grace alone, they don’t mean the same thing the Reformers did,” well … The Reformers themselves didn’t mean the same thing by “justification by faith alone.”
There is no single doctrine of justification in the Reformation.
To this very day Protestants understand the doctrine differently (nothwithstanding much overlap between their views, and between their views and Catholic views). Thus, Martin Luther taught a sola fide, Calvin taught a sola fide, and Catholics also teach a sola fide, yet each are different in significant ways I do not have time to fully develop here. They all have one thing in common: they all affirm that justifying righteousness originates outside of us in God himself (extra nos) and justifies us by grace alone (sola gratia), and the faith by which we are justified is a free gift of God—-notwithstanding the fact that all language of “free gift” and “sola gratia” are going to be understood differently by Arminians and Calvinists/Augustinians. (It is the latter point of difference that caused a great deal of the tension between Luther and the Catholic Church).
If you still think I’m theologically naive, leave comments in the thread. It may be because I can’t say everything in one post.
Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification is all too often assumed to be the same doctrine that later wound up in the Reformed Orthodox creeds. This sola fide (the one of Reformed Orthodoxy) tends to be read back into the magisterial Reformers, and in this manner the nuances of the original Reformation sola fide are missed.
The excerpts below come from Martin Luther’s introduction and summary of the book of Romans. Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Kregel Classic, Zondervan, 1954).
Notice that Luther’s notion of justifying righteousness is faith itself because faith satisfies the law. Luther’s notion of justifying righteousness, then, was not Christ’s active and passive obedience, as in much of the Reformed versions of the doctrine of imputation. (more…)