Pope Francis: ‘What justifies us is Jesus Christ’

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Pope Francis at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Aug. 18, 2021. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Aug 18, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholics must observe the Commandments with the knowledge that justification comes from Jesus Christ.

“Do we believe in Jesus Christ and do what we want? No,” Pope Francis said in his weekly catechesis on Aug. 18.

“The Commandments exist, but they do not justify us. What justifies us is Jesus Christ … And what do we do with the Commandments? We must observe them, but as an aid to the encounter with Jesus Christ,” the pope said in Paul VI Hall.

The pope offered a reflection on St. Paul’s teaching on the Jewish law as a pedagogue in the Letter to the Galatians 3:23-25.

“The Apostle seems to suggest to Christians to divide the history of salvation, and also his personal story, into two periods: before becoming believers in Christ Jesus and after having received faith,” Francis said.

“At the center is the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus, which Paul preached in order to inspire faith in the Son of God, the source of salvation.”

Pope Francis explained that St. Paul believed that the function of the Jewish law was positive, but limited in time.

“The Torah, that is, the Law, was an act of magnanimity by God towards His people. After the election of Abraham, the other great act was the Law: fixing the way to go forward,” he said.

“It certainly had restrictive functions, but at the same time it had protected the people, it had educated them, disciplined them and supported them in their weakness, especially by protecting them from paganism; there were so many pagan attitudes in those times.”

Pope Francis began a cycle of catechesis on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians on June 23. This was his fifth reflection on the epistle this summer.

St. Paul wrote his letter to Christian converts in the Roman province of Galatia around the year 53 or 54 AD, according to Catholic Biblical scholars. The central theological question of the Letter to the Galatians is justification: How is a person saved?

“Saint Paul, who loved Jesus and clearly understood what salvation was, has taught us that the ‘children of the promise’ – that is all of us, justified by Jesus Christ – are no longer bound by the Law, but are called to the demanding lifestyle of the freedom of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said that St. Paul’s teaching on justification is very important and deserves to be considered carefully.

“It will do us good to ask ourselves if we are still living in the period in which we need the Law, or if instead we are well aware that we have received the grace of having become children of God so as to live in love,” he said.

“How do I live? In fear that if I do not do this I will go to hell? Or do I also live with that hope, with that joy of the gratuitousness of salvation in Jesus Christ? … Do I disregard the Commandments? No. I observe them, but not as absolutes, because I know that what justifies me is Jesus Christ.”

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  1. Francis says: “It will do us good to ask ourselves if we are still living in the period in which we need the Law, or if instead we are well aware that we have received the grace of having become children of God so as to live in love,” he said.

    JESUS SAID: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10)
    JESUS ALSO SAID: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

    So yes, we are aware. Jesus commanded we obey the commandments as the method through which we give and receive God’s love and grace.

    “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29).
    And Jesus warned, in the form of a command: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

    • And then, other than the Fourth Gospel, there are the letters of John:

      “And by this we can be sure we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says that he knows him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But he who keeps his word, in him the love of God is truly perfected; and by this we know that we are in him” (1 John 2:3-5).

      What is there about “thou shalt not have strange gods before me” that leaves a niche inside St. Peter’s Basilica for Pachamama and the synodal antics in Germania; or about “thou shalt not commit adultery” that offers wiggle room, so to speak? But who are we to judge?

  2. “Do I disregard the Commandments? No. I observe them, but not as absolutes, because I know that what justifies me is Jesus Christ.”

    And, therefore, we never mention Veritatis Splendor which holds that “…the commandment of love of God and neighbor does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, BUT (Caps added) it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken” (n. 52).

    And lest moral ambiguity itself be made into an absolute (!), this: “The relationship between faith and morality shines forth with all its brilliance in the UNCONDITIONAL RESPECT DUE TO THE INSISTENT DEMANDS OF THE PERSONAL DIGNITY OF EVERY MAN (italics), demand protected by those moral norms which prohibit WITHOUT EXCEPTION (Caps added) actions which are intrinsically evil” (n. 90).

    So much for the new pseudo-absolutes: the Fundamental Option, “proportionalism,” and “consequentialism” (nn. 65 and 75).

  3. His Holiness is on a mission to reinterpret the Apostle Paul as the epistles of Martin Luther. Paul made it clear Christ perfects the Law since it is in Christ and love for him that we can live the Commandments [Rules] in spirit and in truth. If you love me, keep my commandments (JN14:15). A fundamental truth that we are justified by Christ alone was misinterpreted by Luther with omission of works, whereas Christ, Paul, the Apostles demanded repentance. The marketing of His Holiness’ doctrine to the world is as most know mercy sans strict adherence to rules with the deceptive argument of Luther’s doctrine of justification. In principle[only] it is true since it is Our Lord who first provides prevenient grace. A premise Luther cites as election. Nonetheless, we do respond to grace in time although in the order of nature God first provides grace. What is omitted is free will, a reality that troubled Luther. Therefore, predestination. We are free to reject that grace as Saint Thomas Aquinas pointedly asserts. Otherwise without consent there would be no true repentance, simply facsimile. Jesus’ Gospel as Bishop Barron faithfully markets is instead the Word on Fire.

    • Noticing another card on the table, we see that Predestination is not only key to Lutheranism but is also a central tenet of Islam. As a mindset, we are broadly alerted to the similar DNA for early Protestantism and for much-earlier and more distant Islam:

      “There is something decidedly Islamic in original Protestantism, with its idea of an all-controlling hidden God and His infallible Prophet, its secularization of marriage, its Puritanism and messianism. Even today some of the survivals of original (i.e., pre-liberal) Protestantism in remote parts of Scandinavia, Holland, Scotland and the United States have, at least culturally, more affinity with the Wahhabis than with Catholics from which they stem. It must be borne in mind that not so much the authoritarian organization but the liberal theology [e.g., free will versus Predestination of the elect] of Catholicism was the target of the reformers” (Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “Liberty or Equality,” 1952).

      A complication to keep in mind—-grace without moral absolutes—-as Church voices propose mutual understanding now at the cross-cultural (no longer inter-religious) level, under the Abu Dhabi Declaration of 2019….

      “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed [!] by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings,” states the bundled document (versus an only “permitted” pluralism of religion).

      • Interesting nexus between Protestant reform and Islam. Abu Dhabi credo pluralism and diversity of sex seems inserted under camouflage of religions, race, language. There’s an affinity in Abu Dhabi with Fratelli Tutti. About the distancing from free will by the Reformers beginning I suppose with Luther, at least markedly is the satisfying sense of being saved whatever. And with that an icy Kantian coldness [Kant despised sentiment, music comparing the latter with flatulence] seen in rejection of a Loving Blessed Mother given us by her Son from the Cross. Certainly not however for Protestants I’ve known who in our day became more religiously eclectic. Now with Francis there’s emphasis on sentiment, perhaps, not anomalously couched in harshness toward the very human aesthetic of tradition, and his frequent striking derogation of Mary.

  4. Silly me. I always thought the multiple moral laws that require defending life from harm had a self-evident connection to love. Where did my parents go wrong in raising me? Where did my teacher of moral theology who taught in more fomal terms what my parents taught me go wrong?

  5. Just as I was getting very depressed at witnessing Francis express another point of Lutheran ignorance in not distinguishing between ancient ritual law and divinely endowed innate natural law that Our Lord revealed in all its beauty, at the Sermon on the Mount, that is a healing salve for the world as a field hospital for which Francis claims to care but gives many indicators to the contrary, I watched EWTN’s World Over rebroadcast of an interview of Father Richard Neuhaus from 2002, being prophetic about the integration of moral doctrine, the truth about love, and the crisis in the Church. Watch it. It will remain on YouTube for a long time. (08-26-21 broadcast)

  6. 46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
    11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
    According to these passages we need to give a response to God’s love and His call. The way some people use God’s unconditional love and justification through Jesus Christ appears to suggest once saved always saved. For all practical purposes hasn’t a stiff-necked, hard-hearted, impenitent sinner filed for divorce from God? Reconciliation with God requires sinners who are willing to repent of their own free will.

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