Monday, August 18, 2008

Bouyer on the Gospel

The first book that I read which presents the Catholic view from a positive angle was Louis Bouyer's "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism".

It is an amazing look at how the positive elements of Protestantism are truly biblical according to Catholic doctrine-namely, the free and unmerited character of our salvation, the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, our personal responsibility, and that Holy Scripture is the highest authority for the believer.

What Bouyer argues is that these seed principles that are positive in character degrade into negative denials of things such as the reality of principle, that grace changes us through justification, and so on and so forth. I would like you to consider this brief passage to get a feel for how he argues, and let me know what you think. Or at least, think about it among yourselves. Ask yourself if your notion of what Catholicism teaches is challenged by this passage. Ask whether this accurately portrays the Protestant view. Most importantly, ask Our Lord to make us one as He and His Father are one.

"Whether it concerns the sola ratia, sola fide, in one or other of its aspects, or the soli Deo gloria, or the supreme authority of Scripture, the negative element arising out of the polemical use of the positive principles seems invariably the same. It was apparently impossible for Protestant theology, as elaborated, to agree that God could put something in man that became in fact his own and that at the same time the gift remained the possession of the giver. Or else, what comes to the same thing, that even after the intervention of grace man could ever belong to God; it would seem as if man could belong to him only in ceasing to have a distinct existence, in being annihilated. That amounts to saying that there can be no real relation between God and man. Barth repeats incessantly that, according to the gospel, there is no way that leads from man to God. The Catholic theologian, contrary to expectation, finds it easy to agree with him in this. His objection to Barth, and to the whole of Protestantism as represented by him, is that he in fact disallows that God can himself come to man. It may be granted that there is no way from man to God that is not illusory. But the gospel is the way of God to man; and the charge against Protestantism, as a system directed against Catholicism, is that, whatever its intention, it does in fact bar this way. If the grace of God is such, only on condition that it gives nothing real; if man who believes, by saving faith, is in no way changed from what he was before believing; if justification by faith has to empty of all supernatural reality the Church, her sacraments, her dogmas; if God can be affirmed only be silencing his creature, if he acts only in annihilating it, if his very word is doomed never to be really heard-what is condemned is not man's presumptuous way to God, but God's way of mercy to man.
This, and this alone, is the ultimate reproach the Church levels at the Protestant system. This the Church refuses to allow, and, in fact, has no right to allow in virtue of the divine word whose sovereign authority is so much invoked. For it is clearly declared false by this word, not in rare and obscure expressions, but on every page; in terms, too, more clearly explained than ever by modern exegesis and relevant to each of the points mentioned, which all derive from the same initial error. The word of God categorically proclaims a grace that is a real gift; a justification by faith that makes man really just; a faith that does give itself, but receives, its content, proclaimed by the krugma [preaching] of the apostolic Church, in celebration of the Eucharist; a God who puts his greatness in giving, giving himself, by a fully effective gift, where there is no question of docetism or legalism, for his Incarnation is no more a pretense or a legal fiction than was the creation-he is the living God who gives life."

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