Justification: Where’s the Beef?

“For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).

“Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and neighbor the whole of the Law is present and carried out. Thus in communion with Christ, in a faith that creates charity, the entire Law is fulfilled. We become just by entering into communion with Christ who is Love. We shall see the same thing in the Gospel next Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What he asks is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you give me food to eat when I was hungry, did you clothe me when I was naked? And thus justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel we can almost say: love alone, charity alone. But there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St Paul. It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the fulfillment of communion with Christ. Thus, we are just by being united with him and in no other way.

“At the end, we can only pray the Lord that he help us to believe; really believe. Believing thus becomes life, unity with Christ, the transformation of our life. And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbor, we can truly be just in God’s eyes.”  – Benedict XVI

Justification is the classical issue of the Reformation, and much ink and blood has been spilled over what the correct doctrine is, really.  Some will accuse the Council of Trent of “anathamizing the Gospel”, but a careful reading of Pope Benedict’s statement above and the Councils decree shows that they are the same as that espoused in the Bible.  Paul tells us in Romans and Galatians that Justification comes through faith rather than the works of the Law, but James tells us in his epistle that “faith without works is dead” and that “man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”.  Jesus himself, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, seems to lay the works of love springing from true faith as a standard for our justification before God, the standard that the Holy Father echoes in the above quote.  Once you peel away 500-year old rhetoric, the truth remains: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27)


My friend Kevin asks:  “So you agree that doing good works does not get you into heaven?”

I respond:

It is not a strict dichotomy of either faith or works, because “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). It is a both/and, a favorite Catholic theology catchphrase. Brownie points will not earn salvation, but “the devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19). One cannot exist authentically without the other.

“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

“Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name?’ And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.

“Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock.

“And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.”   (Matthew 7: 21-27)


~ by Sam Urfer on January 12, 2010.

8 Responses to “Justification: Where’s the Beef?”

  1. Interesting point of view. As a Catholic, I think Christians in general overstate the importance of the ‘doctrine’ of justification, as salvation is a lifelong process. To say “I am justified in the Lord Jesus Christ” is both reductive and arrogant, since our salvation requires a lifelong effort, participation in the sacraments, cooperation in grace, and the discipline to know what the Lord’s will is on a daily basis.


  2. (NOTE: this is written in response to a troll whose posts have been deleted)

    The seven sacraments all have their origin in Scripture. What bible do you use?

    By your stubbornness and impertinent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor and immortality through perseverance and good works, but wrath and fury for those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. Romans 2: 5-8

  3. The doctrine comes from the Bible, actually. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+6&version=DRA

  4. “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” – Fulton J. Sheen

  5. Glad to see you’re blogging again, Sam.

  6. Hi, I am from Australia.

    What if none of it is just plain old NOT true?


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