The Pope on Justification by Faith and Love

Ligon Duncan

Well, Joseph Alois Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) preached an interesting sermon back in November, on Paul and justification. I've had a number of inquiries about it. Here's an English translation. Carl, I'd love to hear your assessment.

In one portion, he says: "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)."

One friend wrote to me and said: "I must say that what he says seems more orthodox than what is taught in most Protestant churches (perhaps I'm too cynical). It's a bit unclear how faith operates in his his view (perhaps the lack of clarity exists because of my suspicion), but he does state that grace and justification are a gift. He frames love as integral to justification, and I think he means that it flows necessarily from the act of justification and is the means by which justification is properly expressed in our lives."

"Love as integral to justification" - now there's the rub. Is love an instrument? A basis or ground? Or an invariable accompaniment to justifying faith? Does love precede and ground or follow and evidence justification. For my part, the Pope's message reminded me that at the heart of the Roman-Protestant disagreement on this issue is the confusion of justification and sanctification. And if my justification is based, in any way, on my love - I have no hope.