Pope Benedict cites Luther in Weekly Audience: "And thus we are saved"

Okay, here is one that everyone seems to have missed (or have I just not been listening?).

In his weekday audience continuing the catechesis on St Paul on 24th September 2008, Pope Benedict favourably cited none other than Martin Luther himself – with approval!

From this gift of Jesus himself, Paul draws the most engaging and fascinating expressions of our relationship with Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5: 21); “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8: 9). 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.

Could anyone ever have imagined such a thing in times past! Of course, the doctrine of the “great exchange” is one of the core components of Lutheran spirituality – one which I continue to hold to very strongly – but in this passage the Pope does what Cardinal Kasper urged only a few days earlier, namely to “get to know Luther better and not just interpret him from his polemical writings, still less from a few sentences taken out of context”.

In my Reading Paul class (starting again tonight at 6pm at Mary Glowry House, 132 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy – all welcome!), while studying precisely the passage from Galatians 3 in which Paul says that Christ became a curse for us, I explained precisely this doctrine of “the great exchange” to the class, saying that in this Luther was certainly right.

But there is even more in this passage which the Pope cites than meets the eye – on the one hand it is a confession that our righteousness is not ours but Christ, yet (in Luther’s wonderful way of phrasing paradoxes) the righteousness of Christ indeed becomes ours.

Some time ago there was a rumour that the Pope would move to recind the excommunication of Martin Luther. As I said in the combox to the entry on Kasper’s recent comments, the excommunication of Luther ended with his death. But far more striking and significant than any symbolic recinding of a defunct excommunication is the way in which this Pope does not hesitate to quote the insights of the world’s most famous Augustinian with approval when he said or wrote things from which Catholic spirituality might also benefit.

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0 Responses to Pope Benedict cites Luther in Weekly Audience: "And thus we are saved"

  1. Shan says:

    Not to rain on your parade David, but there is a phrase about a stopped clock that springs to mind…

  2. Schütz says:

    Not entirely fair, Shannon. To be sure, Luther was a Christian formed by the Catholic faith and hence much – if not most – of what he said and wrote can be expected to be in harmony with the Catholic faith.

    Nevertheless, this teaching of the “great exchange” is, from an evangelical point of view, very much at the heart of the Gospel. And yet prior to Luther, no-one had ever expressed it quite in the sense that he did.

    One aspect of Luther which has not received anywhere near enough attention from either Catholics or Protestants, is what Bengt R. Hoffman described as Luther’s “mystical” theology. In this mystical theology, rather than in his polemical writings, we have a doctrine of salvation that is very much closer to traditional Catholic mysticism (including the mystical union of the Christian with God in Christ). The “Great Exchange” belongs to that understanding.

    If you go to this blog entry, you will find my lecture on this to the School of Prayer last year:

    Luther Lecture in course on Christian Mysticism

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s hard for me to imagine any one could know the Catholic faith so poorly as to forget that the Church Fathers spoke of this very same thing all those many years before Luther was ever born.

    As a commenter above pointed out How do you think Luther learned it. The faith was handed down intact a shame Luther did accept all of it. He remains today the heretic he made of himself.

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