I

                                                                    A CATHOLIC CLARIFICATION

 

                                                                                                              with a Lutheran Commentary

 

 

                                                                                                                Part II

 

Part II of a dialogue between Monsignor Tom Coogan of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church and Pastor Kris Baudler of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Bay Shore, New York, in December 2014.

 

Msgr. Coogan submitted a 12 page response to Pr. Baudler's 6 page letter on "Purgatory."  10 of his 12 pages, however, were quotations from The Catholic Catechism and from a document from Pope John Paul II on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, rather than original dialogue.  That material is too much to recreate here.  The following 13 page response from Pr. Baudler is all original material and addresses the key concerns of Msgr. Coogan (noted as bullet points).

 

 

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Dear Tom,

 

Thanks so much for offering me your “Catholic clarification.”  And thanks for taking time out of your very busy schedule to answer me.  I’m humbled that you would deem me worthy of a response.  In my (30 year) experience, the only people less willing to engage in meaningful theological dialogue than Catholic priests are Lutheran pastors (the former for whatever reason, the latter because they don’t know anything, especially those sent to represent Lutheranism in official ecumenical dialogues.  There the differences, as you say, are simply “glossed over” for the sake of collegial clerical fraternity).

 

At any rate, I appreciate the conversation immensely and offer a few thoughts on some of the points you’ve raised.  You wrote:

 

  • “To my catholic [sic] ear, the representation you gave of the cooperation with grace that our theology emphasizes sounded a little too pelagian.”

 

I imagine it probably did, and this may be the crux of the matter and actual point of  impasse, one which Lutherans cannot see a way around. Catholic theology, as we both know, is heavily indebted to the application of human reason found in the (non-Christian) philosophy of Aristotle, continued in Thomas Aquinas’s apologetic (e.g. Summa Theologica — as mentioned in the preamble you sent of Pope John Paul II’s “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory”), and the free will philosophy of Erasmus (De libero arbitrio). As I mentioned earlier, these stress the cooperative nature of man through a notion of human reason and free will as part of a “process” of justification (that is, in order to be declared just — one must first become just.)

 

This is the semi-Pelagianism of the Gallicans and of Bishop Faustus of Rhegium against Augustine in the 3rd century.  The Gallican leader, Massilia (d. 432), as I’m sure you know, taught that mankind, in spite of an inclination to evil after the Fall, could by free choice accept the good when it is offered, but needed God’s grace to increase in sanctification (holiness).  Faustus taught that free will and grace are as cooperative for man’s salvation as the divine and human natures were cooperative in the person of Christ, and that free will was not entirely destroyed in Adam’s fall, but that an indestructible germ remained. Though Augustine and the African bishops fought them, and Luther attacked their teaching in the 16th century Reformation, semi-Pelagianism has remained in the Catholic Church to the present day, as is evidenced in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which you cite as your teaching authority.  For example:

 

  • 1993: Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith in the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent.

 

  • 2002:  God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy.

 

  •  2022: The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom.

 

  • 2025: We can have merit in God’s sight only because of God’s free plan to associate man with the work of his grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man’s collaboration.  Man’s merit is due to God.

 

  • 2027: No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.

 

(None of the above quotes cite scripture and none of them square with St. Paul’s theology.)

 

Luther countered the idea of free will with Paul’s theology of the bondage of the will (De servo arbitrio), i.e., while we have limited free will in the civil realm (e.g., which socks to put on, which toothpaste to use), in matters of our salvation, sinful humanity, ever since the Fall, only has the ability to say “no” to God in word and deed (“no one is righteous, no one does good, no one seeks after God, no, not even one” Romans 3:10 ff., — i.e., there is no “cooperation”).  Instead, the Holy Spirit creates justifying faith as a gift through the hearing of the Word alone without our cooperation. (Who better to illustrate this than Paul’s uncooperative conversion on the road to Damascus?)  God violently assaults the ungodly with his Word.  He doesn’t meet us halfway as the Catholic Catechism claims (he cooperating with our cooperation), as there is nothing there to meet — except sin, death, and the devil. These are the only ones we cooperate with in our sinful nature, (our Old Adam & Eve), not by accident or by mistake, but with gusto, with a free-will spirit that is in bondage to sin. Why do I sin, Tom?  Because I LOVE IT.  It’s what I do.  It’s who I am! The only sin against God, therefore, is to claim that I am somehow something other than what I am, which is unbelief manifested in many and various ways (the sin against the Holy Spirit). Christ doesn’t just meet us halfway or jump-start our (self) righteousness:  He KILLS us!  He CRUCIFIES us!  “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” (Romans 6:5).

 

St. Paul says,

 

“While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:6 & 10)

 

 

So we are not redeemed or reconciled (justified) by God once we have cooperated and attained a certain righteousness (whether here or in “purgatory”), but are already justified in the here and now while we are still ungodly and unrighteous, simply by God’s declaration from the cross, receiving his righteousness as a free gift by faith alone in baptism.  One is either reconciled or one isn’t.  One is either pregnant with His righteousness or one isn’t.  There is nothing further to be done or attained. The Lutheran answer to the question, “What must I still do in order to be saved?” is always a resounding “NOTHING!” You write:

 

  • “Lutheran rejection of free will sounds to me more like Calvinistic predestination.”

 

 

I can’t see how. Calvinism teaches that God’s judgment has already been rendered, humanity is already either saved or doomed according to God’s predetermined will.  Lutherans believe that God pours out his grace continuously (the power of our baptism), and while God alone knows who the elect are (and has reconciled them by his righteousness through faith), the final judgment of all others has yet to take place (Mt. 25).  To Calvinistically believe it already has negates the purpose of the cross.

 

  • “Or else it would also not make much room for a Hell — if all are saved by the Cross (which they are) and their own actions have no effect on their salvation, then . . .?”

 

All human actions of the flesh are sin, for “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). The one action that is not sin is faith, because it is not our action, but God’s action. It is not our faith he gives us, but his faith in the Father. The only unforgiveable action, then, is to not have faith (Mark 3:29) in the promise of the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Faith alone justifies, faith alone creates good works that are not ours but the Holy Spirit’s (“He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” John 15:5), but to require works beyond the ones faith creates is to make of the gospel a new law, (even St. Patrick’s frequent signs requiring church attendance as “a day of obligation,” — a theological oxymoron even by Catholic standards: What happened to the “cooperative free will” of choosing not to cooperate in attending mass?).  If our own actions could affect our salvation, who needs God?  And what good was the cross?

  

Thus for Lutherans there is no such thing as cardinal or venial sins, all sins being “mortal” (“the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23; “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23). One cannot parse sin, for “surely I was a sinner from my birth,” says King David, “sinful from the moment my mother conceived me” Psalm 51:5. This is David’s-Paul’s-Luther’s “bondage of the will:”

 

 

 

Romans 7:15-25

 

  15 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from  this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

 

(Verse 25, incidentally, is Luther’s famous simil iustus et peccator: In Christ we are “simultaneously saint and sinner”.)

 

So Tom, please help me to understand this: How is the Aristotelian-Aquinian-Erasmian system of free will (including “canon law”) not just Judaism revisited? As I asked earlier, (but haven’t yet received an answer), “How is Christ’s victory on the cross insufficient for the total and immediate justification of the sinner?”  To claim still more needs to be done beyond faith in Christ’s saving act (John 3:16) is to place one’s trust in ones (self) righteous (free will) in bondage to the law. 

 

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10).  Paul again, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

 

“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

 

We are dead, Tom. “We know that our old self was crucified with him” (Romans 6:6) – literally! If we’re dead we quite literally can’t do anything.  If “we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (Romans 7:6) we have died to the law’s demands; to now seek to fulfill them is to squirm in the flesh of Adam.

 

“But if I build up again those things which I tore down [my strivings in the law], then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ [my old Adam is literally dead]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of [Genitive case] the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose” — Galatians 2:18-21.

 

My sinful actions can never overwhelm my baptism or nullify the cross; only my free-will refusal to believe in the love and forgiveness of a merciful God can. Faith alone fulfills all of the law’s demands and it alone produces good works in love.  I can no more produce good works than I can pray or repent, but it is the Holy Spirit who “prays” me (Romans 8:26) and “repents” me and who “loves” me into producing good works.

 

 

  • “Good men of our traditions that we both are, I imagine we both read James 2:14-26 and see it as supporting our own denomination’s take on the issue.”

 

The summation of that passage is found in v. 17: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead,” i.e.,  only true faith produces good works. I believe here we’re agreed.  However, the author of James, by most guesstimates, was probably a well-meaning Jew influenced by Christianity whose writing was reluctantly admitted into the canon at the end of the 2nd century (written around A.D. 50, but not accepted until the Third Council of Carthage in A.D. 397).  (He makes no mention of Jesus anywhere — only by way of an opening greeting in v.1 — and doesn’t mention the cross at all.) In 23b he quotes Genesis 15:6 (“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”), but then strangely adds, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Here he totally contradicts Paul who writes concerning the very same verse in Romans 4:1-6,

 

“What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckoned righteousness apart from works.”  

 

It is little wonder, then, that Luther once referred to James as “a straw gospel.”  You continue:

 

  • “Indeed, since the New Testament canon was composed and then later canonized in the midst of a living Church, it would seem odd to me that one would insist on ‘scripture alone’ — where did the scripture come from?  How were the books acknowledged to be included in the Bible? (You referenced a “choice” made by your “tradition” over the canonicity of Maccabees, which Christians had previously accepted for over 1400 years, for example.)”

 

The New Testament canon evolved over a period of 300 plus years (its evolution being decided not by a man nor a council, but by the acceptance of the various congregations with regard to the authenticity of the message). In the case of Maccabees, the book can hardly be considered authoritative simply because it was considered binding for a very long time. (If longevity were the standard, the Catholic Church would still be teaching the doctrine of a geocentric universe, which was binding for much longer than that). While Luther and most Protestants didn’t toss the books of the Apocrypha from the canon altogether, they did “demote” them because they were not part of the Hebrew or Jewish Bible (the Tanakh). Your tradition, however, follows the Septuagint, its Greek translation — but only to a point. While the Septuagint references all four Books of the Maccabees, the Catholic version of the Bible only recognizes the first two. But on what basis? If the length of tradition alone were what truly mattered, Rome would be obliged to  recognize all four.  

 

So the determiner has to be the authority of the books themselves.  As Luther famously said in response to the claims of a magisterial hierarchy’s claims to exclusive interpretation, “Scripture interprets itself,” (that is, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies whomever through the Word alone, blowing hither and thither as Jesus told Nicodemus This was originally also the only source of truth for the “holy fathers”).  As evidence he points to the Roman magisterium itself, saying to Eck:

 

“They accuse scripture of being dark . . . and they give the holy fathers credit for being the light that illumines scripture, although all the fathers confess their own darkness and illumine scripture only with scripture.” (WA 7.639)

 

Luther’s beef, (like Hus, Wycliffe and Augustine before him), was with those who changed the writings of the church fathers from being an exposition of scripture to being an extension of it, (something the fathers themselves didn’t do). Church tradition contains errors, but God’s Word does not, and so they cannot be on par. The Word begets the church; never the church the Word. Yet even within scripture, the only thing of real interest to the Christian is “whatever drives Christ home” (Was Christum treibt). The book of Esther, for instance, which doesn’t mention God even once, can’t share authoritative and declarative parity with John’s Gospel, for example. To give it such is to engage in textual literalism which only leads to an exegetical and hermeneutical train wreck.

 

  • “Again, you cite Luther as an ‘authority’ from the past for whom you have deference, although the absence of a Magisterium to interpret authoritatively in the here and now seems to me to have led many Christian denominations down some questionable paths.”

 

Those “denominations,” I hope you agree, surely include Rome in everything from the Magisterium’s previous anti-Galilean, anti-Darwinian teachings to its present teachings on sacramental ordination in regard to the pedophilic priests scandal.  And yet, miraculously, the truth of the gospel continues to be proclaimed into our day by the church within the (institutional) church, the wheat among the tares, God raising up “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). As Luther put it, “Whatever crawls out of the baptismal font is equally a pope, a bishop, and a priest.”  (He did, however, insist on a proper liberal arts and theological education with a proper call to assume the office of pastor.)

 

No doubt part of the authority problem lies in Rome’s attributing Jesus’s words in Matt. 16:18 to Peter,  “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church,” confusing the rock (petra) of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, with Peter (petros), a “pebble” of a man.

 

We read in Matthew 16:15-18

 

“15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter (Πέτρος=nominative masculine singular noun)  and upon this (ταύτῃ=dative feminine singular demonstrative pronoun) rock (πέτρᾳ=dative feminine singular noun) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”

 

One cannot fudge the Greek syntax in which the (feminine) rock of Peter’s confession (that Jesus is Lord) is what Christ will build his church on, rather than the (masculine) pebble that is Peter.

 

Origen refers to the “solid foundation of Peter,” though one can hardly imagine a less solid foundation on which God would  build his church than on the faults and foibles of a man who thrice denied him, sought to dissuade him from the cross, sank into the waves of the Sea of Galilee with fear and doubt, and ran away from the crucifixion.  Clearly Christ alone is the solid foundation of his church, which rests not on Peter’s flesh and blood (nor ours), but on the eternal rock of living water that Moses struck in the wilderness and against whom he transgressed. It is not Peter who “binds and looses sins,” (Mt. 16:19) but Christ who does, which Peter and all the baptized declare (1 Peter 2:9), the pebble proclaiming the rock, as it were.

 

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:11).

 

 

 

I pray that you do not view this in any way as an attack on you, Tom, or that you think of me being too harsh, but merely as an explanation in part of why we Lutherans are where we are, and you Catholics are where you are.  As you said, all too often our differences are glossed over.  You note,

 

  • “’Purgatory’ is a name (yes, the name is a “scholastic invention”) for the experience whereby our souls are fortified in order to be able to endure the perfect love of God.”

 

Again, no scripture.  Jesus says “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:29).  I see nothing in there about the severity of Christ’s love or our having “to endure” it.

 

 

  • “That each soul has its own weaknesses is evidenced by our individual propensities to be susceptible to certain sins. One may have a weakness with regards to vanity, another to lust, another to greed etc.”

 

Actually, the only weakness of our souls is to dismiss sin as mere “weakness,” a “propensity to be susceptible to certain sins” when it is in fact our age old willful rebellion against God, as your own Catechism testifies.  To wit:

 

    386:  “Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile. To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity's rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history.”  You continue:

 

 

  • “These weaknesses are not sins, yet the soul will need to be healed before it can live in the love you beautifully describe. That necessary experience, whatever else it could be called, we call ‘purgatory’.”

 

I politely decline to say what Luther called it.

 

 

  • “It is more like heaven boot camp — although “time” and “space” are not applicable.”

 

Sounds more like Guantanamo to me: I don’t know what the charges are, why I’m being held, and for how long.

 

 

Referring to the theory of purgatory you write:

 

  • “And finally, that our prayers and penances here on earth can have an effect, I might quickly cite John 20:23 wherein we would say the Lord gave the Apostles the powers to forgive sins and Matthew 16:19 wherein the Lord gives Peter the keys to bind and loose in Heaven.”

 

Jesus doesn’t say in Matthew 16:19 that whatever Peter “binds” or “looses” in heaven, but whatever he binds or loosens “on earth” will be bound or loosed (by God) in heaven.  This all Christians can do, all of whom possess the office of the keys to forgive the sins of one another according to Christ’s command to love one another.

 

 

 

In the papal document you graciously shared with me, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, by Pope John Paul II, the preamble states,

 

  • “. . . the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language.  This language of places is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal categories in which this world and we exist.”

 

We could spend a lot of time on this, given both scripture’s and the creeds’ many references to heaven as a place, not the least of which is Christ’s assurance offered at the graveside: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2).  τόπον=(accusative masculine singular noun: “Any portion of space marked off, as it were, from surrounding spaces” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: American Book Company, 1889).

 

(One of Luther’s accusations against the Romanists was their propensity for taking “the simple words of scripture” and changing them to mean something else.)

 

Even if we thought of heaven “incorporeally” as Thomas Aquinas does in Summa Theologiae, — Christ’s “place” is nevertheless, wherever Christ is, a place to be distinguished from where he isn’t, even if it’s in the human heart.  Though I must say, for a God who isn’t in a place, he and the heavenly host certainly do an awful lot of ascending and descending from somewhere. 

 

But with all due respect, speaking strictly on a human level, who is the pope to say heaven isn’t actually a real and tangible place?  Was not space void and the earth without form before God created it to be the most delightfully tangible and habitable of all places? Why then this nebulous focus on an effervescent wispiness of God floating in an incorporeal ether?  It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw in which Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answered, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the deepest longing of our Zeitgeist in the hermeneutic of the divine mystery.”  And Jesus said, “Say what???”  When it comes to heaven being tangible, as some wise theologian once said somewhere, “God loves matter. He invented the stuff!” You and I and everything around us are Exhibit “A” of a God who loves to make stuff — matter — and when Christ says “there will be a new heaven and a new earth,” experience tells me to take him at his word. 

 

I remember hearing, and I sometimes quote, a young parish priest named Tom Coogan, who at a funeral years ago asked the mourners rhetorically why Jesus hasn’t returned yet.  He then answered by saying, “He’s gone to create heaven for us and he’s been doing it for two thousand years. What an incredible place it's going to be!” 

 

 

Yet in defense of heaven as a quasi-state of (mind/being?) over “place,” JP II quotes the Catholic Catechism:

 

  • 1024  “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” 

 

             So is pot.  (Or so I've been told.)

 

 

He then contradicts himself four paragraphs later:

 

  • “The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch, and Elijah,” etc.

 

And again two paragraphs later:

 

  • “St. Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: ‘Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” etc.

 

“Spatial,” unless I’m wrong, usually means “place.”

 

 

I’m afraid, Tom, his document is just a little too semi-Pelagian for me as a Lutheran, the pope saying such things as: “Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely.”

 

Or “Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said ‘no’.” 

 

As far as I can see, the only one who “risked” anything was Christ on the cross where he risked and faced the wrath of the Father in our stead, becoming a curse for us: “Not my will be done, but thine.”  Such Catholic “decision theology” shares the same free will DNA with the Pentecostal “fundagelical” movements of cooperative works-righteousness on the moral continuum (along with most of what passes itself off today as “Lutheran”).  It makes me wonder, given all the things we do for God, what does he actually ever do for us?

 

I’ll offer just a quick comment below on John Paul’s Purgatory is Necessary Purification, since we’ve already discussed that topic.  The pope wrote:

 

  • “In Sacred Scripture, we can grasp certain elements that help us to understand the meaning of this doctrine, even if it is not formally described. They express the belief that we cannot approach God without undergoing some kind of purification.”

 

 

The truth is, we cannot “approach God” at all, rather he draws us to himself (“You did not choose me, but I chose you,” John 15:16), having already purified us by his blood through faith in him. Hence, any “yet-to-be-purified” doctrine of purgatory is rejected by Lutherans as a false doctrine, as is clear in many places in scripture, beginning with Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (ποιησάμενος=aorist participle middle voice=“having made purification.”) Hence Christ’s words from the cross, “It is finished/accomplished.”

 

When it comes to purification — been there, done that.

 

After citing examples of ancient Israel’s sacrificial and institutional laws for approaching God (Lev. 22:22; 21:17-23; Deut. 6:5; 1 Kings 8:61; 10:12f.), (yet never mentioning the temple curtain torn in two to signal the end of those laws), the pope adds, “It is a matter of loving God with all one’s being, with purity of heart and the witness of deeds.”

 

Of course it is, but who, other than Christ, has ever loved God with “all of his being” (fulfilling the 1st Commandment)? He alone is righteous and that is why I need to have his righteousness imputed to me, making me acceptable to the Father for the sake of the Son.

 

As I mentioned earlier, Lutherans can find no biblical basis for (and no citations) from scripture for JP II’s exposition on purgatory, and so cannot give it any theological credence.

 

 

 

Finally, you were kind enough to give me two pages of citations from the Catholic Catechism on the subjects of “Scripture and Tradition” and “Justification.” After rightly stating that the Holy Spirit transmitted the Word of God to the apostles and their successors (which in Lutheranism is the whole church, to all the baptized), we read:

 

  • 82:  “As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone.  Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’”

 

Questions for you:  How can the church be certain that the Tradition is God’s Word and not man’s if it is not predicated on the canonical scriptures?  If the writer of Hebrews says that our purification has already taken place on the cross, but John Paul II says it still needs to occur (in purgatory), whom should I believe and why?  If the Council of Trent (in 1551) affirmed this penitential purgatorial system of incremental purification post-mortem determined and dispensed by the Catholic Church through indulgences et al, though Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; they do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life” (John 5:24), why should I believe the Council of Trent?

 

Or as one of my young confirmands recently asked: If purgatory is such a great place, why are indulgences sold to shorten one’s time there?

 

Under “Justification” your Catechism states:

 

  • 2020 “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy.”

 

A Lutheran would reply that justification isn’t a “goal” (still to be achieved), but God’s gift already bestowed (imputed, not infused).  It doesn’t “conform us to the righteousness of God” —  it IS the righteousness of God. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5). (Notice the repetitious past tense.)

 

  • 2021 “Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming adopted sons. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life.”

 

Lutheran response:  It is not a “process” of “becoming” adopted sons (not to mention daughters).  We’ve already been adopted in our baptism, (drowned in our strivings in the Old Adam, dead to our attempts “to become” what the Lord has instead already made us, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:26). In the words of the cross: “It is done.” Done can’t be more done than “done!”

 

  • 2027 “No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.”

 

Lutheran response: We merit nothing, having no merit, no righteousness of our own.  We cannot “attain” to eternal life because eternal life has already been “obtained” for us by the crucified Christ. Believe it . . . or not!

 

“More than that, I count all things to be rubbish in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as excrement (ζημίαν) so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may be brought into the resurrection from the dead,” — (Philippians 3:8-11).

 

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed -- a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith alone!"

 

(Romans 1:17)

 

Wishing you and your fellow priests a most blessed Christmas celebration.

Your brother in Christ,

 

Kris