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Catholics, Evangelicals
Seek Unity

    What Does the Statement Mean?

    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 intellectuals.

    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 fide)."

    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 from Catholics.

    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 not contradictory.

    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.

    Was Job for Real?

    Q: Was the Bibleís Job a real person?

    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 narration.

    "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."

    Who Are the Living Creatures?

    Q: In the Book of Revelation, John talks about "four living creatures." Could you explain to me who they are?

    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 and mobility.

    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.

    What Does Hosanna Mean?

    Q: At Mass, during the "Holy," we say "Hosanna." I heard an EWTN homily that hosanna means "savior." Is this correct? I want my daughter to tell her children what it means.

    A: The biblical encyclopedias indicate that the cry of "Hosanna!" was a cry for salvation. It can be translated "Do save," "Save, we ask" or "Lord, grant salvation!" That is its sense as it appears in Psalm 118:2. On the Feast of Tents the Jewish people made a procession with palms while singing hosanna. The seventh day was called the Great Hosanna. Used by crowds in the Gospels as Jesus enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9 and John 12:13), it is a cry of praise, homage, supplication and joy used to recognize Jesusí royal messianic dignity. The cry of hosanna passed from use in the liturgy of the synagogues to our use in the Christian liturgy where it continues to be a shout of praise and honor.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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