Monday, September 14, 2009

Lutheranism & Catholicism (Part 1): Law and Gospel vs. Justice and Mercy

"From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. - John 1:16-18

"You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement." - James 2:8-13


This sunday at the FSSP Latin Mass the priest gave a sermon about the Resurrection of the body and basically just read a sermon Greg the Great wrote about it in the 6th century. Papa Greg the Great said that Christ died so we didn't have to fear death, and was risen so we could hope to share in his resurrection. (Paul had already said as much in the reading). But the sermon included this faith and hope in Christ for mercy and grace, as well as the moral exortation to seek God's mercy through penitence now, while you still can. It was one of the rare times I'd heard the preaching of Law and Gospel (Lutheranism) / Justice and Mercy (Catholicism) in a Catholic Church, albeit in a slightly confused manner.


The other day on my way home from PEI and I was reading Pelikan's Church History on the Reformation and specifically on "Law and Gospel". I really like the idea, and I feel like it's in a way (not completely, but similar) the same message as the medieval catholics like Bernard preached about loving God, but at the same time begging God to trust that "God's mercies are my merits" (St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that).


I like Lutheranism alot (more Melancthon than Luther) but there are definately problems I see in it (as it is formally a heresy according to my church). The biggest problem is Luther's understanding of God. He always sees God first as hateful, angry, and full of wrath. I think this is why for him the doctrine of imputation was so important.

However, it's paramount to remember James 2:13 "mercy triumphs over judgment", and even the Old Testament's constant repetition of the formula: "slow to anger, abounding in love".

I think this is a difference between Lutheranism and Catholicism. That we begin with this God who is slow to anger and abounding in love and mercy, not willing that any should perish, whom will not impute men's sins to them if they seek his mercy (moved by grace to be sure). The verses surrounding that passage in John about law and gospel are really important as well, because they show that we have received "grace upon grace" which in my exegesis shows how grace is not merely a disposition within God, but his actual help through the Spirit.

That's where St. James comes in to remind us that Christ is in 1 sense a lawgiver, which is what separates us from the Lutherans as well, and that sense is the dual command of love. This love is what St. Paul calls "the torah of Christ" or the law of Christ.

Thus, to me, these are biblical reasons for preferring the Catholic teaching of Justice and Mercy over the Law and Gospel distinction. Though at the end of the day, in a pragmatic sense, it amounts to the same message.

"slow to anger, and abounding in love" (num 14:18)

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