Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue (Part 4)
This is the fourth part of my review on a book by Prof. Anthony N.S. Lane: Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue. Anthony N.S. Lane is Professor of Historical Theology and Director of Research at the London School of Theology. Published by T & T Clark in 2002 and 2006 (second edition) it carries on its front cover the words: Scholars’ Edition in Theology. In the first part I wrote my review on what Prof. Lane wrote on three distinctive features of Protestant Justification. Second part deals with what he explained about the real meaning of sola fide or (by) faith alone while the third part on how God assesses our good works. Prof. Lane relies mostly on the work of John Calvin: Institutes of Christian Religion (Inst. for short). In this fourth part is my review on what he wrote about reward of our good work, also based on Calvin’s Institutes. His statements, if quoted directly, are in italic.
Following Calvin Prof. Lane admits that we do receive reward of our works – our reward includes eternal life (Inst. 3:18:1-5), but quoted from Calvin (Inst. 3:18:2) he stated that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is not servants’ wages but sons’ inheritance’ (Inst. 3:18:2). Our works are rewarded not according to strict justice but generously and because their blemishes are overlooked. ‘Our works are pleasing only through pardon’ (Inst. 3:18:5). God rewards them both because of his grace and generosity and in order to encourage us and give us an incentive to good works. Prof. Lane noted a problem in Calvin’s statement: He [Calvin] seems to teach that the content of the reward is no different from that which is promised to the new believer who has yet to perform any works. ‘The Lord rewards the works of believers with the same benefits as he had given them before they contemplated any works’ (Inst. 3:18:2). But what incentive is it to be offered as a reward that which one has been promised freely? Calvin is aware of this objection as he proceeds to state that ‘The Lord does not trick or mock us when he says that he will reward works with what he had given free before works (Inst. 3:18:3), although it is not altogether clear why this should be so. Prof. Lane concluded that according to Calvin the reward is on the basis of generosity and there is no strict correlation between the work and the reward. But is he [Calvin] also saying that the works are totally lacking in any worth at all? This is what he at times appears to say. Our works have value only because of God’s fatherly generosity in accepting and approving them after we have been justified by faith (Inst. 3:11:20, 3:14:12, 3:15:3, 3:17:3, 8,15, 3:18:6). Here works justified by faith means their imperfections are covered by Christ, through faith (refer to part 3).
How do Catholics view reward from our good works or do we merit reward from them? Merit is a term used by Catholics, which Calvin disliked (cf. page 38 of Prof. Lane’s book). He disliked it because it is non-scriptural term, prone to abuse, to describe the value of good works (Inst. 3:15:2). Merit is not legitimately inferred from Scripture (Inst. 3:15:1, 4, 3:18:7). Merit is not scriptural term but there are other non-scriptural terms used by both Catholics and Protestants to describe certain teachings (Trinity, Original Sin etc.). Do Catholics believe we merit something from God? The answer is No, if by merit we mean we deserve something from God from our works. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares (# 2007) ‘with regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator. Catholics understand that our merits are God’s gift (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2009). This sounds similar to what Calvin stated: our works receive reward ‘not because they so deserve but because God’s kindness has of itself set this value on them (Int. 3:15:3). The difference is according to Calvin the imperfection of our works must be first covered by Christ in order to make them produce reward and even after what Christ did, this reward comes from God kindness. Catholics, on the other hand say that our merit is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2008). In part 3, I used the analogy of a father who proudly displays drawings made by his children despite of their imperfection – children’s drawing is never perfect. His children do not need free service from professional painter (representing Christ) to retouch their drawings and to make them presentable to the father – this is what Calvin (and Luther) taught. The father accepts their drawing as it is, simply because he is their father who fatherly appreciates their work. If the father rewards his children for the drawings, be it in the form words of praise, kisses or even ice cream treat – the reward is a gift from him. Again his children cannot make those drawings unless the father first provides paper, crayon and some encouragement.