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SKIRTING THE REFORMATION

So how does the new Catechism of the Catholic Church handle the issues of justification and believers' assurance? Unfortunately, they are not legitimately addressed at all. In fact, justification is treated as something of a nonproblem, which leads me to confess a real degree of concern. The Roman Catholic reader of this catechism will learn little, if anything, of the Reformation debates over this matter or of Protestant sensitivities over Roman Catholic teaching.

While emphasizing that salvation takes place by grace, on the basis of the work of Christ rather than human effort or achievement, the catechism seems reluctant to engage with the questions raised above and does little to reassure the anxieties of any readers familiar with the sixteenth-century debates. It is clear that the agenda of the Reformation remains with us on these issues. And a cluster of other controversies are associated with these contentions of the Reformation era. Two are of remaining importance: indulgences and purgatory.

The official theology of indulgences was somewhat confused in the sixteenth century. Particularly at the popular level, an indulgence was understood to be a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins through human achievement, particularly through financial means. In 1517, Luther's wrath was kindled by the activities of the indulgence peddler Johann Tetzel, whose marketing strategy included the following memorable slogan: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!"

Luther regarded this as outrageous. The doctrine of justification affirmed that forgiveness rested on the grace of God, not the payment of money! The posting of the 95 Theses on Indulgences on October 31, 1517, is widely ...

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In the Magazine

December 12, 1994

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