Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection

Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, 1995

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

In the magazine 30 Days No. 12, 1994, p. 25, there is an article "Just a Point of Departure" by Harding Meyer, Lutheran theologian, founding member of the International Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Commission, constituted in 1967.

Meyer asks: "Publicly and in binding fashion, can both Churches say and profess: 'Only through grace and in the faith in the salvific action of Christ and not on the basis of our merits are we welcomed by God and receive the Holy Spirit, which renews our hearts and enables and exhorts us to good works'?" -- Farther on Meyer said: "The sentence quoted above is taken from a document of this dialogue. It summarizes the outcome of the present dialogue... ."

It is very notable that the above statement has moved far from Luther. He had said we are totally corrupt, and even that we have no free will: cf. Bondage of the Will, p. 273, edition translated by James I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, published by F. H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, N. J. 1957.

The Council of Trent would agree with Meyer's statement. It distinguishes three steps:

Here are the chief texts of the Council of Trent on these matters:

First Stage: We reach justification with no merit at all (DS 1532, cited below).

Second Stage: The fact that we are thus given the status of being adopted children of God, with a share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1. 4), gives us a claim to be in our Father's house. It is as it were a ticket to Heaven. And a ticket or claim could be called a merit. Yet it is a special kind of claim: it is a ticket we get without having earned it at all (DS 1582, cited below).

Third Stage: One we have the status of children of God and sharers in the divine nature, which we get without earning it, our good works make it suitable that God grant an increase in the capacity to see Him in our Father's house (DS 1582, cited below).

We said "suitable" since in the strict senses, no creature by its own power can generate any claim on God. Yet in His goodness, without merit of ours, He sees fits to give us the status as sons and sharers in the divine nature, which in turn makes it suitable that He increase our ability to see Him face to face in His house.

Texts of The Council of Trent

Capitulum 8 on justification (DS 1532): "... we are said to be justified gratuitously for this reason, because nothing of those things that come before justification, whether faith, or works, earns the grace of justification itself... ."

Canon 32 on Justification (DS 1582): "If any one says that the works of a man who has been justified [has received first grace] are in such a way the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of the one who is justified, or that the one who is justified does not really merit by good works, which are done by him through the grace of God and Jesus Christ [does not really merit] eternal life and the attainment of eternal life itself (if however he dies in grace) and even an increase in glory, let him be anathema."

COMMENT: They are merit in that they are a claim to a reward. The claim is established since first grace, unearned, makes us children of God, who as such have a claim to inherit. And we are brothers of Christ, who did establish a claim albeit on the secondary level. After we are made children of God, this dignity gives a ground for merit of additions to grace.

Added Comments:

1. There is justification by faith, without works. Examine each of the three words:

a) Justification. Means getting right with God. It makes us adopted sons (Rom 8. 17) and sharers in the divine nature (2 Pt. 1. 4) and temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 19). That is not a spatial presence, spirits do not take up space. A spirit is present wherever he causes an effect. What effect? The transformation of the soul making it radically capable of the vision of God in the next life: 1 Cor 13. 12.

2) Faith. It is itself a gift (Eph 2. 8). It includes three things according to Paul: belief in mind, confidence, obedience.

3) Without works. which works? Not just the ceremonial and dietary works for that could imply that other works can justify us. But they cannot do that for no man is just before God by his own power (Rom 3. 24:we are justified gratis). Abraham had works other than those, but they did not earn justification, if they did; he would have a boast, but not before God.

Final salvation is an inheritance: 1 Cor 6. 9-10. We could not earn the inheritance, nor need we do it, but we could earn to lose it: ibid. We are adopted children. But children do not earn their inheritance, though they could earn to lose it: Rom 6. 23. We get a claim not of ourselves, but inasmuch as we are brothers/members of Christ, who did earn, and are like Him in all things, including work of rebalancing the objective order: Rom 8. 17. Yet we do have a claim, inasmuch as first grace, unmerited, makes us children of God, who as such, have a claim to inherit.

2. Why good works? Because faith includes obedience (Romans 1. 5), which calls for them, in obedience. Also, out of gratitude to so good a Father who even gives us by grace an inclination to good works. He, being Holiness, loves all that is good, and so is pleased with our good works. But they do not at all earn salvation in primary sense (Cf. DS 1532 above): if they did, we would have a boast.

3. What of what the OT calls "justifications"? They did not of themselves give this grace, but promised temporal reward: Probably the Jews did not know eternal reward until time of Antiochus IV. -- And no OT sacrifice was provided for sins be yad ramah, but only for sheggagah.



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