In a recent article, Paul Owen has contended that the Pauline anathemas are inapplicable to Roman Catholicism.
This calls for a number of comments. As a general matter, Owen’s contention amounts to a straw man argument. When the Protestant Reformers compared Catholic theology to the Judaizers, this was an argument from analogy, not identity. No one was supposing that the “salvation history” of Roman Catholics was identical at every point with the “salvation history” of the Judaizers.
Every argument from analogy is, at the same time, an argument from disanalogy. Naturally, then, there will be discontinuities as well as continuities between the two groups. The question is whether the parallel holds up at the relevant point of comparison.
And let us cast the issue within an even larger framework. The “salvation history” of 21C Christians, living in different parts of the globe, is quite different from the “salvation history” of 1C Christians. Yet it is our Christian duty to apply the Bible to our own circumstances. So any appropriation of Scripture to our own time and place will be an argument from analogy. Any valid application will make some allowance for the historical distance between the past and the present. And yet we are obligated by God to apply to our own situation a revelation given by him some 2000-3500 years ago. It is our duty to perceive parallels between what was then and what is now.
So the mere fact that there are disanalogies and discontinuities between Rome and Jerusalem does not, of itself, invalidate the analysis of Luther and Calvin.
<< 1. The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified by faith in Christ (CCC 1991, 1993), and not by the works of the Law (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I, and Canon I). >>
This summary is deceptive:
1. According to Trent, faith is necessary condition of our justification, but not a sufficient condition. We are not justified by faith alone. Is that Paul’s position?
2. Trent subdivides justification. Does Paul subdivide justification? Does he distinguish between condign and congruent merit? Does he say or imply or allow for the possibility that, in the initial stage of justification we merit justification by congruent merit, while in the final phase we merit justification by condign merit?
3. Why does Owen cite the Catechism to prove one proposition, but cite the Council of Trent to prove a different proposition? Is it because the Tridentine doctrine, taken as a whole, does not support Owen’s reinterpretation, so he must play this off against an expression of post-Vatican II theology?
4. It is extremely unlikely that the Judaizers believed in salvation by works apart from faith in Christ. These aren't Jews, in contrast to Christians, but Messianic Jews--probably attached to the Church of Jerusalem (Gal 2:12). Their point, rather, is that a Messianic Jew, as well as a Gentile convert to the Christian faith, is still bound to keep the Mosaic Covenant in toto. They are reopening the "circumcision question" (Acts 15).
<< 2. The Judaizers taught that righteousness comes through the Law, and not through the death of Christ (Gal. 2:21). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified through the death of Christ (CCC 1992), and not through the Law. >>
This is a simplistic and equivocal statement of the Catholic position. In Catholic theology, the merit of Christ is a necessary, but insufficient ground in our justification. Is that Paul’s position as well?
<< 3. The Judaizers taught that the Law of Moses was always able to impart life (Gal. 3:21). Roman Catholics deny that the Law of Moses could ever impart life (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I). >>
This is a red-herring. The issue at hand is not how the RCC believes that Jews were justified under the Old Covenant, but how Christians are justified under the New Covenant.
<< 4. The Judaizers taught the necessity of circumcision (Gal. 5:2) for justification. Roman Catholics deny that circumcision is necessary for justification. >>
This is simple-minded. The Protestant indictment is an argument from analogy. The proper analogy would be: Judaizers are to justification by circumcision as Catholics are to justification by baptism.
And, as a matter of fact, Trent makes baptismal regeneration a precondition of our justification (Session 4, chaps. 3-4; canon 5).
Since Owen has read up on Trent, why does he misrepresent the traditional and official Catholic position? Is he going out of his way to mislead the reader?
<< 5. The Judaizers denied that justification was effected by the Spirit of God, through faith (Gal. 5:5). Roman Catholics affirm that justification is effected by the Spirit of God (CCC 1994), through faith (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter VIII). >>
1. The appeal to Gal 5:5 is an argument from silence. It doesn’t say that the Judaizers denied the relation between faith and the Spirit of God, but between faith and justification. So do we have here a clear disjunction between the Catholics and the Judaizers?
2. Even more to the point, Trent channels the action of the Spirit through the outward rite of baptism.
<< The whole point of Galatians 3:10-29 is to argue against the idea that God’s people were ever justified by the Law, because if this were the case, then that would necessarily imply that Christ’s death was not necessary for justification: “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on the law” (3:21). >>
<< Paul’s position is diametrically the opposite. God’s people were never justified by the Law; rather by the Law they were placed under a curse, from which Christ’s death was necessary to deliver them (Gal. 3:10-14). The Judaizers simply did not believe that the Law had placed Israel under a curse; rather they believed that the Law provided the means of justification. >>
1. The mere giving of the law did not, of itself, place Israel under a curse. Rather, her law-breaking brought her under a curse.
2. More to the point, Owen’s whole argument is trading on a fatal equivocation, for the “Law” can either be used as a:
i) synonym for the Mosaic Law=Mosaic Covenant, or even the Pentateuch (e.g. Gal 4:21); or as an
ii) antonym for grace
When Paul and Protestant theologians deny that anyone can be justified by the law, they are using the word in the sense of (ii), not of (i).
The Mosaic Law was more than a covenant of works. It was also an exemplum of the covenant of grace. Covenant-keeping Jews could be justified under the Mosaic Law, while covenant-breakers were damned. Likewise, faithful Christians are justified under the New Covenant, while antinomians are damned.
Were OT saints, living under the Old Covenant, justified by law-keeping, in the sense of keeping God’s commands? No. They were justified by faith. Faith in what?
The Mosaic Law, in the lower-level typology of the sacrificial system, as well as the higher-level typology of redemptive events (e.g. the Exodus, the promised land), supplied them with the Messianic object of justifying faith.
This dimension also figures in Paul’s theology of the law. And it effects a dispensational transition when the age of promise reaches the age of fulfillment (Gal 3:24-25; 4:1-17).
<< They [Roman Catholics] teach that justification has always been by God’s grace, in view of the merits of Christ’s atonement. >>
This is duplicitous on a couple of grounds:
1. Catholic theology denies that salvation is by grace alone.
2. Catholic theology denies that our justification is by the sole and sufficient merit of Christ.
<< The “works” of Roman Catholics on the other hand, although they do contribute to the increase of justification within their theological scheme (since they view justification as a transforming process), are based upon Christ’s justifying death, and in fact derive their merit from that atoning death. >>
And does Dr. Owen, as a NT scholar, regard this dynamic view of justification as an exegetically accurate transcript of Paul’s own position?
Finally, it is quite striking that Owen is so concerned to show that the Pauline anathemas have no bearing on Catholic theology, and so unconcerned to show that the Tridentine anathemas have no bearing on Evangelical theology.