Hans Küng on Peter’s Confession that Pauline Justification by Faith Alone is Hard to Understand
El Greco - Saints Peter and Paul (source: wikipedia)

El Greco - Saints Peter and Paul (source: wikipedia)

Peter truly speaks as the victor of Rome when he said that Paul's Doctrine of Faith Alone was difficult to understand. This is an Essene pesher when I equate Peter with Roman Catholicism and Paul with Protestantism, but is it not true that the Tridentine formulas that are so odious to Protestants really are due to this same problem of Peter's confession regarding the great difficulty in studying the doctrine of Grace. Continuing my pesher, there is also a warning that Peter pronounces after his confession that we are in danger and many have already done so to twist the Doctrine of Grace to our own destruction and of others.  Beware!

2 Peter 3:15-18 NRSV "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity."

Hans Küng has demonstrated that the Tridentine statements on grace are wrongly misunderstood by Protestants to be Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian synergism. Despite the explicit denial of Semi-Pelagianism in the Second Council of Orange, there is no convincing some Protestants otherwise (and some Catholics as well!) despite Peter's warning (2 Peter 3:17).

A point of particular difficulty to understand, which continues to fuel the Protestant Reformation, is the Pauline vs Petrine understanding of Grace. In the following quotation from Hans Küng's Doctrine of Justification, is an excellent explanation of how the Roman Catholic doctrine of Grace, i.e. habitus, is understand by Catholics and misunderstood.

"Barth's fears that God's grace might become, perniciously, 'my' grace are unfounded if we keep in view the fact that grace is mine only as the grace of God; I never "have" it; it is never simply at my disposal. The term habitus is not meant in the sense of "having" grace, but, as Bonaventure explains "to hold is to be held" [..]. Grace is given to me each day as something completely new. It becomes "my" grace--as a consequence of the incarnation--but always as a grace alien to me, according to the paradoxical formulation of Trent: [..] ("Thus, it is not personal effort that makes justice our own."--D809). The 'Index of Celestine' states in Chap. 2: "Unless he who alone is good grants a participation in his being, no one has goodness within himself. This truth is proclaimed by that prontiff (Innocent I) in the following sentence: 'For the future, can we expect anything good from those who mentality is such that they think they are the cause of their goodness and do not take into account him whose grace they obtain each day, and who hope to accomplish so much without him?" And in Chap. 6: "The same teacher Zosimus instructed us to acknowledge this truth when, speaking to the bishops of the world about the assistance of divine grace, he said: 'Is there ever a time when we do not need his help? Therefore, in every action and situation, in every thought and movement, we must pray to him as our helper and protector'" (D 131 and 135)"

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 205. Print.

I believe in One Holy Catholic Church.

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  1. The habitus/merit debate cannot be isolated from the sacramental scheme in which the Catholic doctrine of justification is located. And fundamental to this scheme is the maintaining and re-attaining of the “state of grace” for the individual. And thus, the particulars of mortal sin (confession, penance, works of satisfaction) were at the center of Catholic practice until recently. This is the Tridentine scheme that both the Reformers and Barth knew very well. I love it when Rahner and Balthasar and all the rest (Kung included) talk about the Catholic practice of participation and union, in its full-bodied ecclesial and anti-gnostic dimension, all of which Protestants have much to learn. But it is all very idealized, especially when faced with the particulars of how salvation is retained (lost and re-attained) in both the Roman Catechism of the 16th century and the recent universal Catechism of John Paul II. The teaching of Rome is rather clear: justification is dependent upon one’s personal sanctification (by grace, of course), and failure therein is a fatal compromise to one’s justification until reconstituted through confession.

    • Kevin, it’s great to receive such informed comments! My Catholic sources are all post-Vatican and in dialogue with Karl Barth. Much of the problem is vernacular, and how terms are received. I’ve written previously how the Catholic doctrine of justification is not partly-partly, though many may make it that way, it is not irreconcilable with Protestant Justification. For instance, the reformers always distinctly spoke of Justification and Sanctification but even so they were separate yet inseparable. And its a matter of emphasis with Protestants on Justification and Catholics on Sanctification. I previously wrote about this based on Hans Kung’s Justification.


      The sacramental scheme is certainly their, and as much as I love Barth’s criticism of sacramentology, it is an old soul in the church, and he even displays the very things that you meant ion as the “teaching of Rome is rather clear” in his rejection of Infant Baptism, in that its not purely a one sided action of God, but this one sided word of God results in an obedient response of Thankfulness when a person learns of what God has done for them. So we may critique sacramental/merit, yet also retain sanctification.

      • Hey, Wyatt, sorry for the delayed response! The Catholic doctrine of justification is only reconcilable with the Protestant doctrine of justification in the most generalized way. Yes, Catholics are not Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, and Thomism is actually Reformed (!) in its understanding of divine and human agency (at least, the Reformed scholastics were substantially Thomist when they endeavored to delineate these matters…as Barth details toward the end of CD II.1, specifically pages 542-607 and especially the excursus on pages 567-586, where Barth has high praises for the Thomists). But when we move from the overarching statements about grace and how justification includes sanctification, and so forth, we have to meet with the particulars. We have to deal with how Roman Catholicism has tethered justification to the ecclesia and the individual’s spiritual performance. We have to deal with mortal sin. We have to deal with confession. We have to deal with “super-added” merits. And I could go on. I am happy that post-V2 Catholicism has moved closer to Protestantism, at least in everyday praxis, but officially the Roman Catholic Church has not budged. The proof is in the pudding…and the pudding is the 1994 universal catechism, which everyone should own. Trent remains, in the clearest of terms. And, thus, our protest remains.

        Don’t get me wrong. I would love nothing more than, for example, the Joint Declaration on Justification in 1999 (between mainline Lutherans and the Vatican’s ecumenical arm, the PCPCU) to be true. But it perfectly manages to avoid the details, and as such it is basically worthless.

        When it comes to the sacraments, I disagree with Barth’s trajectory that culminated in CD IV.4. Like Brunner, Barth was basically a Zwinglian, as he said explicitly in IV.4. I hate to disagree with Barth (as my friends will tell you!), but he didn’t get everything right. (Nor do I!) Interestingly, this is part of why I am very fond of Roman Catholicism, and this is where I think Barth’s theology is not as helpful as it could have been, as astutely discerned by Balthasar. Barth was also an iconoclast. I am not.

        • Kevin, great comments again! You know your stuff! I certainly don’t believe all is well and fine with Catholicism. Hans Küng’s Justification demonstrates that the reason for division between Protestants and Catholics is not insurmountable, but this hardly means that all the problems are resolved, but only that the path is paved for talking to continue to move forward towards this solution (ie removing the mutual anathemas as the JDDJ strived to do). I do not think that the JDDJ in 1997/1999 has acheived the full vision that was published in Küng’s book 40 years before, but it was a test case and a hopeful possibility. So I remain optimistic that this is work that is the first fruits for healing the divided One Holy Catholic Church as the creed says. Another related work I admire related to this is Eucharist and Ecumenism by George Hunsigner, that strives to find unity in divided Christendom.

          I had forgotten that Barth called himself a neo-Zwinglian in the final volume. And I admit, that I am in dialectic between Barth and Calvin, rather than Barth and Zwingli on sacraments. I guess thats where I’m POSTbarthian, rather than barthian! I like for instance, W. Travis McMaken’s book, The Sign of the Gospel that takes Barth’s criticisms seriously yet works through them back towards Calvin. Or maybe its my high-church sympathies, but either way, I’m not an iconoclast either.

          I will review those sections of KD too. Thanks for sharing, Kevin!

          • Yes, the JDDJ is a hopeful step forward and perhaps not “worthless”! (I tend to use hyperbole, just so you know!) Like you, I am closer to Calvin than Zwingli on the sacraments and ecclesiology. Though, in other matters, I think Zwingli is too neglected. His essay, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God,” is one of the finest statements of the entire Reformation, and it is remarkably Barthian (in all the good ways). It is a shame that Zwingli is only known for his position on the sacraments.

            I’ve read McMaken’s book. Overall, I agree. I question some of his more extreme statements about Barth’s soteriology as wholly extrinsic (top of p. 60, for example). As I read Barth, salvation needs to be “applied” in a subjective appropriation, in order to have any real significance for the individual. Obviously, it would take considerable time for me to demonstrate this, but I am rather convinced. The tricky thing is that you have to read a substantial amount of the CD to get the whole picture, and Barth likes to treat the subjective aspect of God’s work toward the end of his volumes and in the later part-volumes (e.g., III.4, IV.3). On the whole, we have to admit that Barth is imbalanced, as he himself recognized (see his fabulous Table Talks). But his “imbalance” was demanded by his time period.

            This is a great discussion to have. I enjoy it.

  2. C’mon, Kevin. You’re a better reader than this.

    (1) “Wholly extrinsic” is your language and I reject it as a proper interpretation of my argument.

    (2) There are other ways to talk about the subjective soteriological pole than “application.” On the page you refer to I refer readers to my discussion of this in my fourth chapter. There you learn about Barth’s position and the importance that he attaches to the subjective pole, even if he reconceives it. He thinks in terms of subjective “actualization” rather than “application.” If I read you correctly as suggesting that Barth in fact thinks in terms of “application,” you’re just wrong. It’s another argument whether or not Barth is right about this, of course, and on that I cannot be so doctrinaire although I throw my hat in with him.

    (3) I resent the implication that I have not read enough of CD to understand your point, but I’m going to try to ignore that on the off chance that you did not intend to imply such.

  3. Thanks for the response, Travis. RE #3, I most certainly did not mean to imply that you have not read enough of the CD. I was thinking about the broader discussion. In fact, beginning with the fourth sentence in that paragraph, I am going off away from your book…into my own musings. It was one, relatively minor disagreement with how you formulate matters, and when I say “I question,” that’s precisely what I mean. I am questioning, not even disagreeing substantially. Yes, I do like “application,” and I have questions about what “actualization” accomplishes that “application” does not (or, contrariwise, what dangers are avoided…presumably not collapsing christology and ecclesiology).

    That being said, I will admit that I need to read your book more carefully. I had to ship it from the Richmond campus, in the midst of a semester with other duties. I read it, but I had to read it quickly and return it. I took some notes, and I looked over those notes when I replied to Wyatt. In my notes, I wrote some questions related to salvation as “wholly extrinsic” (yes, my way of putting it), and this goes well beyond your book. But, even if this goes well beyond your book, what I enjoyed most about your book is that you were bringing-in these other aspects of Barth’s theology, not afraid to do so. And you even did exegesis! Really, solid work, Travis.

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