Saturday, August 01, 2015

Justification, Continued

In my last post, I wanted to lightly touch on the Catholic and Reformed doctrines of justification, so we might be aware that the difference is not a trifling one. In general, the educated Catholic--of which there are too few, sadly--knows that he or she must give unyielding, unqualified assent to much more than that which appears in the ecumenical creeds--the Apostles' and the Nicene--in order to suppose that he might possess the virtue of faith. Therefore, even if we supposed incorrectly that the Catholic and Reformed mean the same things in giving their affirmation to those creeds, we would still be divided. We are divided over charity; that is, the fundamental theological significance of it. In crude terms, the Reformed person locates the goodness of God's sovereign mercy in the divine electing will; the Catholic locates the same in the sacraments of the New Covenant.

They are efficacious signs, for the Catholic. There are 2 ways to be denied salvation, for the Catholic: to refuse to receive the sacred signs, or to deny their power, whether by profession or conduct. It seems to me, on the other hand, the Reformed essentially has one answer for the one who is denied salvation: "You were not appointed for it."

This is why I felt safe in writing elsewhere, "What we were fighting about is the sacramental life versus an historic faith, with due respect, that is at its core anti-sacramental." It is not to say that the Reformed lack the words, "sacrament" or "grace." Far from it. But there is a wide gulf between believing, "This sign is my salvation" and "This sign confirms for me that my salvation has been assured." To coherently call it a "means of grace" in the Reformed tradition, one would have to be clear that the celebration of a sacrament is an occasion through which the believer receives a grace of perseverance; anything else violates the prior commitment to the Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God. The experience of faith and repentance may be quite a meaningful one, at a personal level for the Reformed believer. In reality, however, everything he says and does toward that end falls out necessarily from the reality of his election. Though trembling before the mystery of Providence hidden in the divine mind, the Catholic must and does say that a sacrament can change a destiny.

Thus, I think it fair to say that the Presbyterian version of the "Oxford Movement" is built on an incoherence. It either leads back to holy mother Church--for without the disagreement concerning sacraments and free will, there was no theological reason to leave--or it finds itself at odds with its own received theological tradition. The latter would be a reason to reject it as an innovation, but--what a truly evil result!--the reality of Sola Scriptura leaves no effective institutional means to enforce that determination!

If it suits you, prayerfully consider these things before the Lord. Thank you for reading.

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