Saturday, June 14, 2014

Echeverria: the Pope, the Cardinal, and God's mercy (and justice)

In "Understanding God’s Love: A Primer on Mercy and Justice" (Crisis, June 13, 2014), my colleague Eduardo Echeverria addresses the question of how god is both just and merciful in the light of Pope Francis' recent book entitled, The Church of Mercy,Walter Cardinal Kasper's new book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life,and St. John Paul II's 1980 encyclical, Dives in misericordia.

Echeverria begins his meditation by using as a foil H. Richard Niebuhr's description of liberal Christianity, which I have always considered rather apt: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." While there is much more to the issue of liberalism and the theologies of Popes Francis and John Paul II and Cardinal Kasper, the substance of the article may be summed up in the question as to "how we avoid both despair when confronted with the gravity of our sins, on the one hand, and a sentimental view of God and of his love, on the other."




"God’s justice is superabundant, or superproportional, as Kasper also puts it, because justice is in service to mercy, and God’s mercy is beyond measure, which is another way of referring to the wideness of God’s grace."

Well, this piece has so much good in it I almost hate to question it. But then it also makes Kasper sound like the most orthodox of theologians, while his moral theology hardly seems super-orthodox. I guess my concern is that if we cap our conversation with comments about the overwhelming and superproportionality of God's mercy, I wonder if, especially in today's climate, we are not suggesting God's judgment ends at the Cross. Period. in other words, we are all now covered, regardless of our own dispositions. If this is so, does anyone really need to "flee from the wrath to come," since the wrath of God has now been satisfied? For me this remains the perpetually ambiguous hotspot of Catholic theology. Why fear a loving Father who wants nothing but my good?

We have the reputation for being historically mean-spirited, fire-breathing, damnation-bent and guilt-inducing Papists, and yet for the life of me I can find no more than 0.5 in 10 theologians who would say anything that sounds like it is even remotely possible to land oneself in Hell. The impression given is God has written everyone one universal get out of jail free card. As for mortal sins, I wonder if anyone actually does believe in those anymore at all.

These are not accusations but sincere questions. If Jesus' losing his own life is the final word, then why are we also told we must lose our own lives to find them? Does the Mercy as trump card paint God as permissive doting parent, or does it prove some conservatives to be uptight moralists? The same saga is being played out in Reformed circles right now over the doctrine of sanctification with Tully Tchividjian, so I'd argue it is a sort of complex issue.

Pertinacious Papist


Good questions, JM.

Eduardo Echeverria


1) In light of Niebuhr's epigraph to my article, I was sketching an argument about the relationship between mercy and justice as aspects of God's love. If we emphasize God's mercy without justice, judgment, wrath, we tilt in the direction of a sentimental God and of his love. I am not saying that Martin distorts what I wrote, but it is easy to do so if one doesn't consider that I was talking about the necessary relationship between mercy and justice (wrath, judgment, satisfaction) as aspects of God's love. Without mercy, however, there is a chance that sorrow for one's sins tilts in the direction of despair and abandonment. Thus, we need to see how mercy and justice are aspects of God's love. That was the most important thing about the essay. We can't treat God's mercy without his justice, judgment, wrath; otherwise, it does lead to a version of cheap grace, a sentimental God, etc. Objectively speaking, Christ's work of redemption is accomplished; it is finished, he said hanging from the cross. Subjectively speaking, however, there is the imperative to work out our salvation in fear and trembling; to continue by God's grace to offer our whole life under the mercy of the cross; this is subjective redemption, responding to the gospel, conversion, with the gospel taking root in our life and transforming us from within toward our proper end. In this light, we can understand why the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the call to repentance, "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back" (no. 1861; italics added).

2) Well, I would say on the question I was addressing in this article, Kasper is orthodox: we need both mercy and justice (judgment, wrath, etc.), and they meet at the cross, he says. To agree with Kasper on this point doesn't make him the most orthodox of Catholic theologians on the whole, but just orthodox on this question.

3) My posted article is limited in its aim. It did not address the question of the relationship between justification and sanctification, merit and grace, eternal reward, and so forth. My article also didn't address the question of divine election, predestination, and reprobation. Nor did it even address the question regarding the nature of Christ's atoning work directly and explicitly: satisfaction, substitutionary atonement (although I did say something about both these briefly given that I discussed divine justice and wrath), Christus victor, or moral influence/exemplar theory.

4) I fully recognize the real question that Martin is addressing about the judgment of God. God's wrath (justice, judgment) and mercy meet at the cross! He has objectively accomplished our redemption in and through the finished work of Christ, his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. This is objective redemption: Christ is the full and sufficient cause of our salvation, nothing can be added, nothing need be added to it. That is why we can trust in the promise disclosed in the 1 Letter of John 1:9: if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. But there is another verse in the same Letter, but this time in Chapter 4: 17-18 where St. John tells us that God's love in Christ is perfected in us, made complete in us, "so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment. . . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love [God's love has not had its full way with us]."

Steve Finnell



Faith only advocates are very inconsistent when is comes to explaining the meaning of for the remission of sins that is found in the Scriptures.

Acts 2:38 The Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)

Mark 1:4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (NKJV)

Matthew 26:28 "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which shed for many for the remission of sins. (NKJV)

Faith only advocates proclaim that for in Acts 2:38 actually means because of. In other words the 3000 on the Day of Pentecost repented and were baptized in water because their sin had already been forgiven. Were they save by "faith only?"

Did John the Baptist baptized because those he baptized had already been forgiven? Did for mean because of? Were they saved the very minute they repented. Were they saved by "repentance only?"

Did Jesus shed His blood because the sins of men had already been forgiven? Did for mean because of? Are all men saved by the "the crucifixion of Jesus only?"

The same word, for, was used in Acts 2:38, Mark 1:4, and Matthew 26:28. The Greek word eis has not been translated as because of in Acts 2:38, Mark 1:4, or Matthew 26:28. There is not one single translation that translates eis as because of. Are all translations in error? Is God not powerful enough to have His word translated correctly?

Forgiveness of sins followed the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness of sins followed those who were baptized by John the Baptist.

Forgiveness of sins, under the New Covenant, follows being baptized in water.


Men are saved because of God's grace. Ephesians 2:8.
Men are saved because of the shed blood of Jesus. Matt. 26:28.
Men are saved because of faith. John 3:16.
Men are saved because of their repentance. Acts 3:19.
Men are saved because of their confession. Romans 10:9.
Men are saved because of their immersion in water. Acts 2:38.