Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Simul justus et peccator"

Now that we (well, my brand of Lutheran we's, anyway) have liturgically celebrated the Reformation and all the saints, my mind and eye were drawn to this posting from Pontificator in which he provides an excerpt from Han Urs von Balthasar's analysis of Karl Barth's theology as it has to do with the Lutheran formulation "simul justus et peccator." It has seemed to me one of the central constructs of a properly Lutheran anthropology is that pithy formulation -- more or less translated as "at the same time justified/saint and sinner." In fact, that phrase, perhaps more than any other, sets me on the path of "ethics." So to see one of the most suggestive and complex minds in modern Roman Catholic theology sets his cap to address this ultra-Lutheran proposition, I have to attend.

I haven't, by any means, finished my own decoding of -- let alone thinking about -- von Balthasar's "catholic" correction to what he understands Barth's understanding of Luther to be. It is typically von Balthasar -- sometimes dense, poetic, usually translated with latin phrases that may or may not bear technical meaning (something lost on me), and always rich and inspirational. But I confess to being put off when he writes that "Luther's formula seems oversimplified and flat." Oh, I have heard little from Lutherans that rivals the beauty of his drawing the paradox of a life declared and being made justified lived amidst a living of sin. But I'm not sure that it's fair to Luther to blame him for the failure of later interpreters (even Blessed Brother Karl Barth) to deliver the subtlty. (And I'm not sure that Barth fails in that regard: I'm going from von Balthasar.)

I think von Balthasar gets it right here: "...[T]he Catholic will insist that the 'forensic' character of grace and justification be correlated with the toerh sense of justification (A side that the Reformers of course did not totally neglect but still slighted too much): that is, as the beginning of a process of real sanctification -- real, because it give a real partaking in the merits of Christ and in the divine life opened up by him." But is it really fair to claim that the Reformers failed to correlate the great doctrine of justification by faith with "real partaking." I think that I've gotten that insight precisely from the Reformers -- if not, alas, their heirs and successors.

I'd be interested in your responses to this relatively short extract. (That's a direct challenge to you, Brother Paul in Wannaska: You're my neo-gnesio-Lutheran on this matter -- no offense.) It seems ripe with insights into living -- and guiding the living of -- the life of faith.


Brian said...


I would suspect that you are familiar with David Yeago, the Lutheran Systematician at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. His doctoral dissertation was on HVB. When I read the excerpt on Pontifications, I could not help but go, "Duh!" I think Yeago is the antidote to the poor interpretation of simul justus et peccator.
In the Parish

Anonymous said...

My frustration with Yeago is that he never finishes his work: He has had "The Catholic Luther" in production for years and he doesn't get it done. He's brilliant (a grad of Gettysburg Sem, incidentally, one of Jenson's genuine stars -- and younger than I am, argh) and he's a really engaging speaker and he's speaking all the time all around. But we need his book!He has an article in "First Things" that gives a foretaste of what he'll have to say.

However, this von B stuff is not non-controversial among Lutherans. I suspect that many "on the hill in Saint Paul" (i.e., at Luther Sem) do not buy the life-transforming, growth-in-grace aspects of life in Christ. Foerde didn't seem ever to go very far in that direction.

In this short critique of Lutheran theology of the "simul" gives additional footing to Bonhoeffer's rejection of "cheap grace," too, I think. How does one avoid works righteousness while proclaiming the necessity to be a disciple of Jesus -- not just an admirer? Through Christology, laid out quite clearly here.

I think, too, that any of us who have read/heard of/been influenced by/met the Finns of the Mannerma school of Luther research will not be hardpressed to cheer this critique.

It's all here: But it's not getting through to Lutheran preachers, my brother!

Keep the faith.