Thursday, June 14, 2007

Theology is exciting

I want to devote this 400th post to reminding both my readers that and anybody laboring under the anti-intellectual delusion that theology is boring that, to the contrary, it is exciting! To that end, I offer the following from Dr. Christopher Malloy, who is an assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas, and who has written a book length critique of the Joint Declaration On the Doctrine of Justification, signed in October 1999 by representatives from the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

The intended result of this document was to show that there really is no difference between Catholics and Protestant understandings of justification. His book, which I have not read, but now intend to, is entitled Engrafted into Christ: A Critique of the Joint Declaration (American University Studies Series VII, Theology and Religion). According to Dr. Malloy, there are significant differences. Hence, there are "are two lines of scrutiny that can be pursued in an effort to verify the merits of the Joint Declaration. On the one hand, its historical implication can be investigated: Did the original positions of each communion not, in fact, substantially conflict with one another? ... On the other hand, the contents proper to the JD can be investigated: Does the JD adequately represent the teachings of both communities?" (p 5)

So, WAKE UP!- we're getting to the exciting part. Dr. Malloy lays out the Catholic understanding in a way that is, well, exciting:

"There is enormous pastoral import to these matters. For Catholicism, justification makes the human person truly just--interiorly and before God--so that the justified has the infused grace and the constant help of God by which to obey all of the law sufficiently. This means that the human person can avoid every single mortal sin. More, the human person can, by infused grace and God's constant help, grow in the very grace by which he is made truly just. He can merit eternal life by his good works wrought in charity. He can even merit an increase in eternal life. This is mind-blowing, truly. God has not only justified but also divinized man! So justified and divinized, man works with God so as to journey to his eternal abode. If he violates the commandments, however, he loses the grace by which he is justified. He sins mortally and merits hell. This is a horrific thought, and yet it is a real possibility. This is why Catholic moral theologians talk so much about the "moral object" of various acts. For Catholics, the "moral object" can be a life-threatening issue. At the end of our lives, as St. John of the Cross warns us, Jesus will ask each of us, 'Did you love me above all?' Paul even speaks of a judgment according to works as part of his Gospel (Rom 2:16)"(underlined and emboldened emphasis mine).

You can read the rest of this informative interview, that also links you to an article by Cardinal Dulles' critique of the Joint Declaration.


  1. Scott,

    Interestingly enough, lately it's occurred to me that justification is the most boring topic imaginable - at least as most people think of it (regardless of their ecclesial affiliation). It's like life insurance, but even less tangible.

    To be flippant, I wonder if what we often use the word justification to mean rationalization. E.g. if you were to die right now, what would you say to rationalize yourself to God - and therefore we point to Jesus as if he is the excuse we have for our failure, the consolation prize for a ruined life.

    If I were to die right now, my response would be "great! now I don't have to worry about what to do with the next ten minutes of my life." The question is whether a salvation exists for me now, something that redeems my life from waste.

    So, yes, that's the exciting part that you highlighted, but who experiences this now?

  2. Good observations all, Fred. Once in awhile I experience something close to what Malloy describes, on the very rare occasion that it does happen it is usually in the context of liturgy, when everything fuses together for a bright, shining moment or two and usually a musical part, like a Gloria, or a Sanctus. I can hear my parish chanting now, even as I type, “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominius Deus sabaoth, pleni sunt caeli et terra, gloria tua.” I like thinking about how God works in the world and my experience plays at least as much a part as words, thoughts, theories, poems, music, novels, films, etc. Of course, all of these are of my experience. So, they are not really separate from it or from me, as their meanings are filtered through who I am.

    I found Malloy's description of justification and grace breath-taking and so very sacramental. I love the sacraments because they are so tangible, sensuous, and what they point to, even though the glimpse we get, if we get one at all, is dim. If we were given privileged access to how it is God works in the world, in our lives, our descriptions would be laughable, but it suffices for me for now. I like to think of God working in me, changing me from the inside out, as painful as this dying often is.

    The very fact that we need to be justified and that Christ justifies, frees me from the need to rationalize. Does that mean that I never rationalize? Hell no! It only means that I reject the freedom not have to do so. If I were to die right now I would not even try to rationalize myself to God, it would be futile. I plan to throw myself on the mercy of the court.