…IF faith is not opposed to charity, to love.” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, On St Paul and Justification, November 19, 2008)
Pope Benedict, when he was plain old Cardinal Ratzinger, moved heaven and hell to save the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification ten years ago when it almost came a cropper. This old report by John Allen gives the whole story of the famous meeting that Joseph Ratzinger arranged with the LWF leaders at his brother George’s place in Regensberg at that time. Against claims that he was responsible for unsettling of the agreement in the first place, he protested in a letter to a German Newspaper
“that he had sought closer relations with Lutherans since his days as a seminarian, he said that to scuttle the dialogue would be to “deny myself.”
That demonstrated for Ratzinger, his relationship with Luther has been a life long dialogue.
A few months ago, he quoted Luther approvingly in one of his weekday catecheses on St Paul as follows:
Worth remembering is the comment Martin Luther made, then an Augustinian monk, on these paradoxical words of Paul: “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners, wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is not Christ’s but ours” (Comments on the Psalms of 1513-1515). And thus we are saved.
It has taken me a little while to catch up on his latest comments on Luther, but he gave (an extended treatment of St Paul on Justification on November 19th). First he clarified that for St Paul the word “Law” meant “Torah” (something that is so obvious to us today that it really doesn’t need elaboration), and that there is no way that either Paul or Jesus were releasing Christians from the obligation to lead lives of good works. Then he went on to say:
It is Christ who protects us against polytheism and all its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity in the diversity of cultures; and it is he who makes us just. 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).
I find it sad that, despite the JDDJ, despite clear statements from the Holy Father such as these, the issue of justification should still be wheeled out as a reason for division between Catholics and Lutherans. There are many reasons why we are are still separate today almost 500 years after the first separation occured, but that cannot be one of them.