Monday, August 12, 2002

Faith as a work: responses

There have been a couple of responses to my post at the Theo Dept regarding Faith as a work. Mark Byron made a couple remarks in the comments, as did others, and Mark later made a longer response (and David Heddle agreed with Mark in the comments of Mark's post). Separately, Peter Sean Bradley provided a Catholic take on the question.

I posed the question because the Theo Dept was in the midst of a discussion over baptism, and the relation between faith and baptism is an important question among Christians. My concern in asking my question was to get people to think about the source of faith: does it come from us, or from God? Or perhaps, both, in some way? This line of thinking actually came about while I was reading Lutheran theologian Carl E. Braaten's Justification: the Article by which the Church Stands or Falls. Writing about the divine and human roles in the order of salvation as Luther understood it, Braaten states the following:

On the one hand, Luther could say that faith is a work which must be done by a human being, and on teh other, that faith is not a human work at all, but a gift of the Holy Spirit. Both statements are true when seen from the right perspective. In any case, faith is a work. It is an act. But how is it related to justification---as a means to an end or as the effect of a cause? In other words, how is faith correlated with justification in Luther's mind? If faith is described as a work which justifies, it could be mistakenly understood to mean that God forgives my sin because I do something, because I believe or feel sufficiently miserable about my sin and guilt. The remission of sins is something I can get if only I fulfill certain requirements. I have only to be told what they are, and with proper persuasion I may even choose to fulfill them. This, Luther perceived, is the essential element in all false religion: "If I do thus, God will be merciful to me." [...] The quid pro quo type of connection between faith and justification was certainly not what Luther meant to affirm by his assertion that faith makes righteous, or faith justifies. [...] Justification is objectively prior to faith. Faith is subjectively the result of the creative impact upon the sinner of God's acceptance. [...] Faith is by all means not a cause of forgiveness and not a prior condition of justification which can possibly be fulfilled by a human will in bondage.

For the most part, I agree with Braaten's take, especially in the final sentence. I think it is terribly important that we always remember (as my Protestant friends in blogland have) that faith is a gift, not something that first originates within us. Yes we believe, we have faith. But before we have faith, it is given to us by God, given (normally) in baptism. With the Lutheran tradition (and others), the Catholic Church clearly teaches that we receive faith when we are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The distinction between belief and faith (referred to in Dominus Iesus 7) is important to remember: the former is a completely human work; the latter is a gift of God to man, which man then "does".

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