Q: I recently read a document
called the "Gift of Salvation," prepared by a group called Evangelicals and
Catholics Together. Catholic signatories to this document include Father Avery Dulles,
Father Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel and other prominent Catholic
This document contains the following statement: "The New Testament makes it clear
that the gift of justification is received through faith. ĎBy grace you have been saved
through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of Godí (Ephesians 2:8).
By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the
gospel, the good news of Godís saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith
to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual
assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections,
issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with
what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola
As a Catholic with an amateurís interest in apologetics, I am completely flummoxed by
the assent of the above-named Catholic intellectuals, all men of impeccable orthodoxy
whom I greatly respect and admire, to this statement. Can they really be affirming the
Protestant doctrine of sola fide? I thought that sola fide was one of the
two major doctrinal issues (the other being sola scriptura) that divide Protestants
Are we now saying that the Protestants were right all along on sola fide?
A: The Churchís Confession
of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults ($16.95), first published by the German
Bishopsí Conference (1985), then in English by Ignatius Press, devotes at least 13
pages to the question of faith and justification and a study of Protestant and Catholic
interpretations of Scripture concerning justification.
The authors of this catechism investigate the cause of disagreements not only between
Catholics and Protestants but also among Protestants themselves. They go back to the
time of Luther and Trent and attempt to place the dispute in its historical context.
Early on in examining the question, they state: "The original and fundamental meaning
of these concepts is no longer immediately intelligible to us. We must exert ourselves
to discover their original sense."
After speaking of some of the causes of misunderstanding and the distortions of polemics,
the catechism says, "We can understand that many controversies arose through semantic
and even real misunderstandings and were only apparent oppositions. When we look instead
to what was meant by the contradictory formulations, and especially to the personal acts
of faith, we see in many questions an amazing nearness and deep commonality."
It then adds, "The ecumenical discussion of the last decades has led to great progress
in the doctrine of justification. Many Catholic and Protestant theologians are today
of the opinion that the doctrine of justification need no longer separate the two Churches.
"Two aspects of the doctrine must be conceived together: the grace of God and the
cooperation of man rendered possible by it in faith and action. The Catholic and Protestant
doctrines about this relation do not exclude each other in principle; they do not indeed
coincide but they are open to each other."
The German catechism observes that in the past Catholics and Protestants often spoke
past each other or at each other rather than to each other. The authors of the catechism
speak of the need for patient dialogue in which old prejudices and misunderstandings
are removed, and both sides strive to obtain a deeper mutual understanding.
I would suggest that is the kind of dialogue that has taken place among the Evangelicals
and Catholics Together theologians. The theologians engaged in this dialogue concluded
they were not so far apart after all and they could accept each otherís positions as
Iím sure not all Evangelicals and Catholics will subscribe to the theologiansí conclusions.
An editorial assistant here turned up a number of Evangelical reactions on the Internet.
Some were highly critical of their colleagues. One response was headlined, "A Camouflage
for Catholicism" and another voiced the fear that, unless answered, the document
will bring an end to evangelicalism and the Reformation.
The Catholic Church has not changed its teaching on grace and justification. To better
understand it, I suggest you read all that the German bishops had to say.
Job for Real?
Q: Was the Bibleís Job a
A: Asking if Job was a real,
historical person is something like asking if there really was a boy who cried wolf once
too often. It is like wanting to know how old the Good Samaritan was when he came upon
the wounded Jew. These questions miss the point.
The important thing about the Book of Job is the message it conveys: Have faith and
trust in the midst of trouble. With that said, R. Potter, O.P., in A New Catholic
Commentary on Holy Scripture, writes: "It is reasonable to hold and there is
ample evidence that Job was the name of an ancient patriarch, sage or hero in Israel
and in yet older traditions of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
"It is reasonable too to hold that there was a historical person behind the book
as we have it and to that extent we may rejoin the patristic tradition which never had
any doubt that Job was other than a historical character and the Book of Job a historical
"But we must also recognize that the book as we have it is the artistic creation
of the author who used the ancient figure of Job as the vehicle for his message."
Are the Living Creatures?
Q: In the Book of Revelation,
John talks about "four living creatures." Could you explain to me who they
A: When talking about the Book
of Revelation (Apocalypse), I think it would be good to start with Wilfrid J. Harringtonís
reminder in Understanding the Apocalypse (Corpus Books). The revelations of an
apocalypse are made through the medium of visions. The seer attempts to put the visions
in conventional language. He uses images, symbols and numbers.
Nearly everything is symbolicóbut not all the details are significant. The seer is concerned
with ideas, his purpose to convey the ideas he has received from God. Harrington warns
against trying to make everything cohere or reducing the visions to pictures. The commentators
on Chapter Four of Revelation agree this text and its living creatures have some kinship
with Chapter One of Ezekiel, where Ezekiel describes a vision that was given him on the
banks of the river Chebar in Babylon.
Ezekiel, too, describes four living creatures identified in Chapter 10 as cherubim.
They are different from Johnís living creatures in that each of Ezekielís creatures has
four faces and four wings.
In Chapter Four of Revelation John describes the heavenly court and the worship that
takes place there. Among those around the throne of God John sees four living creatures.
These creatures have six wings, suggestive of the seraphim. One has the face of a lion,
one of a man, one of an ox and one of an eagle. They imply nobility, wisdom, strength
According to John J. Scullion, S.J., in a New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,
they are symbols of the cosmos. Harrington says they are the four angels responsible
for directing the physical world and symbolize the whole created cosmos. These creatures
have eyes in front and behindónothing escapes their sight. Since seven represents perfection,
the six wings of the creatures tell us they are less than God.
The creatures sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who
is, and who is to come" (4:8). Their song is the unceasing song of nature in praise
of its creator.
Later Christians would use the creatures as symbolic of the four evangelists. The eagle
was identified with John because of his soaring mysticism; the lion with Mark because
Mark speaks of the desert and of John the Baptist; the man with Matthew because Matthew
begins the Gospel with the human origins of Jesus; and the ox with Luke because Luke
begins with the sacrifice offered in the Temple by Zechariah.