Jason Stellman hosts a great Protestant blog over at De Regnis Duobus.
[Quick Plug: Stellman is a minister in the Reformed/Calvinist tradition (PCA). I really enjoy his blog. He’s always asking great questions and while I don’t always agree with some of his conclusions, I think that his blog is a good one. He also has a new book coming out: Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet.]
I claimed on Stellman’s blog that Luther’s doctrine of “justification by faith alone” was unheard of before the 16th century. I was challenged on this by a lapsed Catholic who then listed a variety of quotes. I will address each of these quotes from the Catholic Saints and Fathers of the Church in a new series of blog posts.
One of the so-called “pro-Protestant quotes” that were dragged out by this lapsed Catholic is found in an epistle from an unnamed disciple (Greek: Mathetes) to Diognetus. However, if you read the quote in question, there’s nothing particularly “pro-Protestant” about it:
As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.
Mathetes to Diognetus, Chapter 9.
I’ve seen Protestants bring out this quote before, but I don’t see how it scores any points against the Catholic position. First, it doesn’t mention “faith alone” at all. Secondly, it only mentions “justified” once:
By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!
No big deal. If a Protestant thinks this will win him points, he should be prepared for the Catholic to yawn. In fact, the passage argues in favor of the Catholic view of salvation since salvation regards being “hidden in Christ”. This is unitive soteriology – the chief model for the Catholic presentation of salvation. It speaks contrary to imputed justification.
The quote does speak of “our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works,” but so does the Council of Trent!
Session VI, CHAPTER I.
On the Inability of Nature and of the Law to justify man.
The holy Synod declares first, that, for the correct and sound understanding of the doctrine of Justification, it is necessary that each one recognise and confess, that, whereas all men had lost their innocence in the prevarication of Adam-having become unclean, and, as the apostle says, by nature children of wrath, as (this Synod) has set forth in the decree on original sin,-they were so far the servants of sin, and under the power of the devil and of death, that not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, therefrom; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them.
So there it is. Mathetes Epistle to Diognetus is in full accord with the Catholic Council of Trent. One quote down. Several more quotes to go. Please check back.