25 December, 2012

Jaroslav Pelikan on the Catholicity of the Lutheran Reformation

'Every major tenet of the Reformation had considerable support in the catholic tradition. That was eminently true of the central Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone…That the ground of our salvation is the unearned favor of God in Christ, and that all we need do to obtain it is to trust that favor – this was the confession of great catholic saints and teachers…Rome’s reactions [to the Protestant reformers] were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone – a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers – Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted(justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition.'

Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006; bio here ) The Riddle Of Roman Catholicism (Abingdon Press, 1959)
[italics mine].

Note - Yes, I'm aware that Pelikan later joined the Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction of the Eastern Orthodox Church, albeit one not recognised by the Patriarchate of Constantinople) but that fact doesn't negate what he says here. In fact, in an interesting commentary on Acts (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible SCM/Baker Books 2006) published after his conversion to Orthodoxy, Pelikan still seems to maintain that the Reformers got it right on justification.

This quote is one of a number of modern quotes I'll be adding to this site in the coming weeks in an attempt to shed some light on the notion of catholicity. They'll be published under the category What is Catholicity? and under the name of the author.

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