Pope Benedict on St. Paul’s Justification by Christ’s love

In November 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said in St. Peter’s Square in one of his series of lessons:

“Luther”, said the Pope, “translated this as ‘justified by faith alone’, … yet before returning to this point it is necessary to clarify which is the ‘Law’ from which we have been freed and what are the works that do not justify us. In the community of Corinth there already existed an opinion, that crops up again throughout history, to the effect that it is the moral law, and that hence Christian freedom means freedom from ethics. … Obviously this is an incorrect interpretation. Christian freedom is not debauchery, … it is not freedom from doing good“. (“St. Paul: Justification by Christ’s love”, Vatican Information Service)

Amen. I agree with him. It light of scripture (and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) signed by signatories from the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church), it is good to hear Pope Benedict affirm the doctrine of justification, which Lutherans and Protestants of the Reformation know as the cornerstone of our faith. The most chief article, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession states:

“Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21-26] and 4[:5].”

Pope Benedict obviously has no hang ups about doing good works. In fact, he encourages it. I like that because that is what St. Paul the Apostle meant to explain in his Epistle to the Romans. As children of God who have been redeemed by Christ, we have been set free from the requirements of the law. At the same time, we are not free from doing good works, but we are not bound by good works either. I also premise this by saying that good works ought to come from a voluntary basis out of our love for God and not out of compulsion. That is the good fruit we are called to bear (Rom. 7:4; Eph. 5:9; Col. 1:10).

“Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4, RSV).

“(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:9-10, ESV).

“so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10, NRSV).

The holy Pontiff concludes in this articles saying:

“Being just simply means being with Christ, being in Christ, that is all. The other precepts are no longer necessary. … For this reason Luther’s ‘sola fide’ is true if it is not placed in opposition to charity, to love. Faith is looking at Christ, trusting in Christ … conforming to Christ. And the form of Christ’s life was love. … We become just in communion with Christ Who is love. … Justice is defined in charity”.

“We can only pray to the Lord to help us believe”, Benedict XVI concluded. “Thus belief becomes life, unity with Christ, transformation. … And transformed by His love, by love for God and mankind, we will truly be just in the eyes of God”.

Hat tip to Tim at Catholic Bibles

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2000), 39-40.

6 thoughts on “Pope Benedict on St. Paul’s Justification by Christ’s love

  1. Hi Rich, I know what you’re saying. We Lutherans see justification as “imputed righteousness” (or forensic justification), whereas, Catholics see it as “infused grace” (or effective justification).
    But I wonder if these differences could be created by things such as language, and where we emphasize our theological understanding on justification? At the core, this declaration only says that there is agreement on the core basic truths, while yet recognizing that there are still differences. If so, perhaps it can be called a “differentiated consensus“?


  2. Howdy, Kevin. I would take issue with the “hats off” this soon. From the statement, we read,

    “We become just in communion with Christ Who is love.”

    This indicates part of the problem with the Roman understanding of justification, that “we become just” (an on-going process which the RC sacramental life is to help the person “become”) as opposed to the declarative nature of the δικαιοσυνη as taught by Lutherans. Thus, to me little has changed.

    from a conserving and confessional Lutheran



  3. Tim, yes you’re right. Some Lutherans don’t receive the declaration because the Vatican has not retracted canons 9, 11, 12, 14, 18, 24, 32 from the Council of Trent. I think there was huge misunderstanding of how protestants viewed good works and how Roman Catholics viewed justification by grace through faith. It’s really the same understanding but all the other extraneous doctrines confuse it all. Thanks for the link to the JDDJ.


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