Preaching Law and Gospel – the Catholic Version

I wonder what our Lutheran friends will make of this passage in Evangelii Gaudium (if they read it):

36. All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead…

38. It is important to draw out the pastoral consequences of the Council’s teaching, which reflects an ancient conviction of the Church. First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.

The Lutheran tradition also knows a “hierarchy of truths” – or at least one truth that is at the top (or perhaps the foundation) of the heirarchy, namely the article of “justification by faith alone apart from works”. They call this the “article by which the Church stands or falls”. There is a version of Lutheran doctrine derisively called (by other Lutherans) “Gospel reductionism”. This makes the “chief article” the one article that judges all others, to the extent that one’s own personal idiosyncratic interpretation of the “chief article” can be used against set and firm teachings of the Christian tradition.

For Francis, the “heart of the Gospel” is the love of God revealed in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. He later identifies this with the apostolic kerygma (cf. paragraphs 164 following) in a way that I think even C.H. Dodd could recognise. But it is quite clear that Pope Francis is not a “Gospel reductionist”, as he goes on to explain:

39. Just as the organic unity existing among the virtues means that no one of them can be excluded from the Christian ideal, so no truth may be denied. The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed. What is more, each truth is better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message; in this context all of the truths are important and illumine one another. When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel”.

So. All revealed truths are to be believed with the same faith, but in the preaching of the faith, the heirarchy of truths indicates we should place our primary focus on the central Kerygma. It then becomes possible to teach the fullness of the faith upon a firm foundation in a way that the beauty of all those truths which follow from the Kerygma are clearly seen and becomes “attractive” rather than repellant (as they often are today). And Francis has already indicated in this document that he sees the primary modus operandi of evangelisation in terms of attraction rather than proselytisation (cf. paragraph 14).

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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3 Responses to Preaching Law and Gospel – the Catholic Version

  1. Matthias says:

    Talking about law,Schutz if you have read monica Dux’s column on saturday in THE AGE – a very objective paper when it comes to Christian faith ,NOT- re child abuse our Church,what is the response we should make to such a person?
    Yes the hierarchy failed and I am of the same opinion as Kate Edwards on this matter,but that is no excuse to walk away .

  2. Peregrinus says:

    I take your point, Matthias. (At least, I think I do. I haven’t read the article that your refer to. But I’m guessing that your point is that Christian faith is faith in Christ, and not in the person, character or decency of this or that hierarch, or even of the hierarchy as a class.)

    And of course you’re right.

    But at the same time, we can’t ignore the reality that our relationship with Jesus is expressed in and through our relationship with others. Most people who commit to the Catholic church are drawn to it through their relationships with other people. This is true for the infant baptised by his parents and raised in the faith by his family and community, and for nearly all adult converts, whose encounter with Catholicism nearly always starts with a relative, a friend, a romantic partner, etc. I’ve been active in an RCIA group for more than ten years, and in all that time I can only think of one person who found his way to the church through independent enquiry and prayer, and he’s a fairly extraordinary bloke. (In a good way!)

    And I think the same is true when people leave the church – at any rate, when they leave because they’re dismayed rather than because they’re indifferent. We must know that when we stuff up on such a grand scale we will repel a lot of people. And we mustn’t think that, when they follow through on their repulsion, they’re particularly weak, or they are behaving inappropriately, or that they have no excuse for what they do. Just as we as a church have to share responsibility for what was done to children in our name and through our institutions, so we also have to share responsibility for the faith that was destroyed by what was done. Our proper response is humility and repentance.

  3. LPC says:

    Hi DS.

    Long time no hear. I see no big issue with what you quote. The only thing I could say is that for the Lutheran view the L/G’s purpose is for the hearer to have faith in Christ alone and through that he is justified. Romans 5:1. So I am not sure if
    a.) The RCC as you quoted above is using the same semantics as the Lutheran L/G
    b.) The purpose for doing so for the Lutheran is that repentance and faith might be produced and by that they mean being justified through faith alone apart from works.



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