Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dissenters, Not Heretics

Fr. Edward Oakes makes the case that Protestants are not heretics.  He argues that both sides lost something significant in the Reformation, noting, for example: "No church historian doubts that the Catholic Church after Trent began to emphasize behavior as the marker of Catholic identity in ways unique in her history."  The whole thing is rich and worth reading, but here's an excerpt:

Luther’s point can be easily satirized and misconstrued–and by Catholic polemicists was–as if he were saying that behavior doesn’t matter, and that God was “letting us off the hook.” To take a modern analogy, the Catholic controversialists were in effect comparing Luther’s view of God to the California jury that acquitted O.J. Simpson of charges of murdering his wife even though he was obviously guilty–and here he is now living the high life and playing golf in Florida! Is that really the kind of justice we want to ascribe to God? But such a charge abuses Luther’s position, for he was more than willing to insist that a Christian’s justification must be reflected in the transformation of his behavior if a genuine faith were really the material cause of his justification.

Similarly, the Council of Trent was extremely nuanced in its decree on justification. For one thing, it had Paul’s letters to consider, which could hardly be made to say the opposite of what they do say. Additionally, the overpowering authority of St. Augustine on the matter could not be gainsaid. Thus the path to a superficial works-righteousness was blocked from the outset. No doubt, later Protestant polemicists claimed that Catholics were taught that they could “earn” salvation by going on pilgrimages, doing works of charity, and the like. But if Catholics believed that (and maybe a lot did on the popular level), they had no support in Trent’s carefully crafted decree.


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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