It is true we are saved by faith but only if it is not in opposition to charity and love, says Pope
In a cold but sunny morning that required placing a windscreen on the Pope’s open car, Benedict XVI addressed one of “the central issues in the controversies” that defined “the century of the Reformation,” namely the “question of justification” or “how do human beings make themselves just in the eyes of God.”
Paul had “an irreproachable religious career,” respectful of all Jewish observances, but “the conversion of Damascus radically changed his life, and he began to consider” his past “as ‘rubbish’ in the face of the sublimity of his knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
“The relationship between Paul and the Risen One runs so deep that Christ was not only his life, but his living, to the point that even dying was a gain.”
“Paul did not scorn life, but [for him] its purpose was reaching Christ. [. . .] The Redeemer was the beginning and the end of existence,” which was “like a competition, a race towards the Lord,” something akin to “rushing forward to the One who conquered you.”
We are faced by “two alternative paths;” one “based on the works of the law, the other on faith in Christ. [. . .] The alternative between the two becomes the dominant motive.”
“Man is not justified by the works of the law but by his faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul wrote that “a person is not justified by works of the law.” Since “we are all sinners, we are all freely justified by His grace” and “His faith, independently of the works of the law. [. . .] “Luther,” said the Pope, “translated this as justified by faith alone.”
But “what is this law that justifies us?” In the “community of Corinth there already existed an opinion [. . .] to the effect that it is the moral law.” Hence ‘Christian freedom means freedom from ethics.” This is “incorrect,” because “Christian freedom is not debauchery; [. . .] it is not freedom from doing what is good.”
So what does “the law from which we are freed and that does not save” mean? For Paul,” the “law meant the Torah in its entirety, the five books of Moses.” In the interpretation given by the Pharisees which Paul studied, this entailed a “series of actions ranging from an ethical core to ritual observances” which “ substantially defined the identity of the just man,” including “circumcision, dietary laws, respecting the Sabbath, etc.,” that is “practices that were already debated by Jesus and his contemporaries.”
The prevailing Greek culture of the time, “universal and apparently tolerant,” but tending towards uniformity, put pressures on the Jews, “threatening Israel’s identity,” including a loss in faith.
“It was necessary to build a defensive wall” against this threat, and Jewish ritual “observances were the wall that protected the precious heritage of the faith” which Paul saw “threatened by Christian freedom and for this reason persecuted them.
When he converted he understood that “the God of Israel, the only true God, had become the God of all peoples,” and so the wall “between Israel and the pagans was no longer necessary” since it is Christ who “protects us from polytheism and its deviations,” who “guarantees our identity within the diversity of cultures.”
It “is He Who makes us just” and being “just simply means being with Christ, being in Christ. [. . .] other precepts are no longer necessary. [. . .] He is enough.” Thus the claim that we are justified only by faith alone “is true if it is not placed in opposition to charity and love.”
“Joining Christ necessarily means conforming to Christ; [. . .] it is love, entering into His love.” In fact Paul “talks about faith working through charity” and it is “in communion with Christ, which creates charity, that faith is realised.”
“The only standard is love” as the words “I was hungry and you gave me food” make clear. For this reason “justice is defined in charity, in love.” Indeed “there is no contradiction; charity is the realisation of faith. [. . .] United in Jesus we are just, not in any other way.”
“We can only pray to the Lord to help us believe,” the Pope concluded. “Thus belief becomes life, unity with Christ, transformation. [. . .] And transformed by His love, by love for God and mankind, we will truly be just in the eyes of God.”