From Christianity Today, an interview with noted Evangelical author Charles Colson, who has played an instrumental role, with Fr. Richard Neuhaus, in the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" initiatives:
How will Neuhaus' death affect Evangelicals and Catholics together?
It's a terrible setback because Cardinal Avery Dulles died a month before Neuhaus died. It was like a double-barreled blow. They were the principal leaders on the Catholic side of the dialogue. In some respects, those are two giants of the faith that you can't replace. But God in his sovereignty, his providence, knows exactly what he's doing.
The timing of Neuhaus's and Dulles's deaths is really significant when you realize that Pope Benedict on November 19 in what was otherwise a routine audience in St. Peter's square, gave a homily on justification and fully embraced the position that Evangelicals and Catholics Together had taken [in the 1997 document, "Gift of Salvation"]. He didn't identify it as such, but that's what he did.
Whoa. Hold on a second. First, since when did the Pope take his directives on soteriology from the ECT documents, as significant or meaningful as they might be? Secondly, the qualification—"so long as"—is very, very important. And if Colson is saying that he, as an Evangelical, believes that justification involves charity and works done in love, well, then welcome to Catholic Soteriology 101. A key question is: what did Luther really believe about the relationship between faith and charity? Benedict XVI rightly notes this, indirectly, when he states,
For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14). [emphasis added]
One of several reasons this makes me a bit huffy is that it's not at all evident (far from it!) that what an Evangelical such as Colson believes about justification, faith, and charity is what Luther believed. For example, Luther posited a form of "extrinsic justification," that is, justification is an external action, not an internal transformation. And that, of course, is opposed to the Catholic understanding of justification and the one apparently held by Colson. Unfortunately, Colson, in my opinion, makes matters even worse:
Do the Catholics in ECT right now take the same position on justification as Neuhaus and Dulles?
Oh yes. There are probably 12 to 13 other Catholic [leaders] who hold that position. And now of course the Pope holds it, so it almost doesn't matter who else holds it, in the way the Catholic Church is structured.
All shifts that take place in Catholicism happen very gradually. Vatican II was an exception. That's not the way in which theological development occurs within the catholic communion. It occurs in a gradual process in which the pope, and in this case, a cardinal and a couple priests see a way to express something differently and they would argue that there's no change.
Of course, if you compare it with Trent, there's a profound change. But they would see it as the development of doctrine. And if it's contrary to some church council — as this was, clearly — then nothing happens immediately.
Cardinal [Edward] Cassidy took ["The Gift of Salvation"] back to the Vatican in 1997 and was teaching it to the bishops. It sort of percolated through the church, and the Pope, who — significantly — was an Augustinian, picked it up. And then a decade later, it ended up in the catechism. That's just the way change occurs in the Catholic Church.
I don't, unfortunately, have time to dig into this very far, but here are a couple of problems: First, to repeat, the position that Colson takes as his own and (now) the Pope's, is hardly new or unique. It is the belief that justification involves faith intimately bound up with love and hope, (which result in good words accomplished by grace), as befitting the theological virtues given by the Holy Spirit. I'm glad Colson agrees with that view, but it's not evident at all that this view is the same as Luther's; quite the opposite.
Secondly, the statment about Trent is puzzling. After all, Trent stated:
How, I wonder, is this different in substance from what Benedict said and what the Catechism say? The Catechism, for the record, states:
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. (par 1992)
In short, Colson's comments are puzzling. Have I missed something?
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
• Was The Joint Declaration Truly Justified? | An Interview with Dr. Christopher Malloy
• Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick | Mark Brumley
• Theosis: The Reason for the Season | Carl E. Olson
• Has The Reformation Ended? | An Interview with Dr. Mark Noll
• Reformation 101: Who's Who in the Protestant Reformation | Geoffrey Saint-Clair
• The Tale of Trent: A Council and and Its Legacy | Martha Rasmussen
• Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 1 | Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
• Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 2 | Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
• Answering The Call To Full Communion | An Interview with Dr. Francis Beckwith
• Thomas Howard and the Kindly Light | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: An Interview with J. Budziszewski | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Thomas Howard on the Meaning of Tradition | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Surprised by Conversion: The Patterns of Faith | Peter E. Martin