Monday, August 25, 2008

Watch Your Language!

Some years ago while a missionary in Budapest, I was listening to a visiting pastor preaching to Hungarians through a translator. At one point in his sermon he used an illustration in which he mentioned a "disheveled man." The translator furrowed her brow and translated his phrase "lapát ember," which means "shovel man." Needless to say, it was all downhill from there.

My point is that it was only those few of us who spoke both languages well who realized that we were watching a train wreck happening in slow motion. Everyone else was just confused.

Now, I do speak Hungarian, but I don't speak Catholic. This means that I am at a disadvantage when it comes to moderating this discussion about Sola Fide, which is why we must turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in order to understand what our new friends mean when they speak of justification. Here are some relevant passages:

1. Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.

2. Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God's merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals.

3. Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or "justice") here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

4. The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the "inner man," justification entails the sanctification of his whole being.
Points 1 and 4 are key, for they make it plain that justification and sanctification are not distinct but inseparable phenomena like they are for Protestants (but they are inseparable). Point 2 says that "justification" is the label Catholics use for what Protestants call "regeneration" and "(definitive) sanctification." And lastly, point 3 equates justification with what Protestants call "conversion."

"Justification" for the Catholic, it seems, refers to what the Protestant would call "salvation."

The two questions that must be tackled head-on, therefore, are (1) Does the Catholic Church's nomenclature faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture? and (2) Given the Church's terminology, is the Catholic's denial of justification by faith alone to be treated as seriously as it would be if it came from someone speaking from a Protestant lexicon?