I've had the third edition of Alister McGrath's Iustitia Dei on my desk, and while thumbing through it I found a section I had completely forgotten about. McGrath spends a few pages (pp. 300-307) discussing Newman's views on justification, and also his understanding of Luther. He points out a few cases in which Newman misrepresents Luther, and then discusses what he calls, "the most serious case of misrepresentation" and particularly, Newman's use of ellipses (...). Imagine misquoting Luther by use of ellipses- where and when has that ever happened? [That was a rhetorical question!]. McGrath states, "The most serious case of such misrepresentation demands particular attention. Newman's view on justification is that faith and works both justify, although in different manners" (p.304). He then cites Newman:
"It seems, then, that whereas faith on our part fitly corresponds, or is the correlative, as it is called, to grace on God's part, sacraments are but the manifestation of grace, and good works are but the manifestation of faith; so that, whether we say we are justified by faith, or by works or sacraments, all these but mean this one doctrine, that we are justified by grace, which is given through sacraments, impetrated by faith, manifested in works."
McGrath states, "This view is to be contrasted with Luther's view, which is that faith (understood as trust) alone justifies.
In a remarkable section, Newman then asserts that Luther corroborates this (that is, Newman's view), 'not willingly . . . but in consequence of the stress of texts urged against him'. This frankly rather patronising statement is followed by a citation from Luther's 1535 Galatians commentary, as follows. In view of the seriousness of the charge which I am about to lay against Newman, I will cite the passage in full:" McGrath then cites Newman's Luther quote:
'It is usual with us', [Luther] says, 'to view faith, sometimes apart from its work, sometimes with it. For as an artist speaks variously of his materials, and a gardener of a tree, as in bearing or not, so also the Holy Ghost speaks variously in Scripture concerning faith; at one time of what may be called abstract faith, faith as such: at another of concrete faith, faith in composition, or embodied. Faith, as such, or abstract, is meant, when Scripture speaks of justification, as such, or of the justified. (Vid. Rom. and Gal.). But when it speaks of rewards and works, then it speaks of faith in composition, concrete or embodied. For instance: "Faith which worketh by love"; "This do, and thou shalt live"; "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments"; "Whoso doeth these things, shall live in them"; "Cease to do evil, learn to do well". In these and similar texts, which occur without number, in which mention is made of doing, believing doings are always meant; as, when it says, "This do, and thou shalt live", it means, "First see that thou art believing, that thy reason is right and thy will good, that thou hast faith in Christ; that being secured, work".' Then he proceeds: - 'How is it wonderful, that to that embodied faith, that is, faith working as was Abel's, in other words to believing works, are annexed merits and rewards? Why should not Scripture speak thus variously of faith, considering it so speaks even of Christ, God and man; sometimes of his entire person, sometimes of one or other of his two natures, the divine or human? When it speaks of one or other of these, it speaks of Christ in the abstract; when of the divine made one with the human in one person, of Christ as if in composition and incarnate. There is a well-known rule in the Schools concerning the
"communicatio idiomatum" when the attributes of his divinity are ascribed to his humanity, as is frequent in Scripture; for instance, in Luke ii the angel calls the infant born of the Virgin Mary "the Saviour" of men, and "the Lord" both of angels and men, and in the preceding chapter, "the Son of God". Hence I may say with literal truth. That infant who is lying in a manger and in the Virgin's bosom, created heaven and earth, and is the Lord of angels. ... As it is truly said, Jesus the Son of Mary created all things, so is justification ascribed to faith incarnate or to believing deeds'[Newman, Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, 300-1].
This passage, as cited, clearly indicates that Luther concedes that justification is to be ascribed to 'believing deeds', an excellent summary of Newman's own position, as well as that of certain earlier Anglican divines, including George Bull. On the basis of the biblical passages noted, Newman declares that Luther is obliged - against his will, it would seem - to accept this inevitable conclusion. Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone is thus to be set aside as irreconcilable with Scripture on the one hand, and with Luther's own words on the other. The strategic location of the citation within Lecture 12 - it is the final and clinching argument - indicates that Newman is aware of its importance. Like a conjurer producing an unexpected rabbit from a hat, Newman surprises his readers with the news that even Luther had to concede the case on this one.
But notice a curious feature of this passage. It has been cited extensively without any omissions. Yet suddenly, towards the end, we encounter an ellipsis, in the form of three periods. All of us who indulge in scholarship use this device, generally to save weary readers from having to wrestle with textual material which is not totally germane to the issue under discussion. Perhaps Newman has omitted part of a sentence, or maybe even a sentence or two, which is not relevant to the interpretation of the final dramatic sentence. Such, I imagine, would be the conclusion of many of his readers, although some would be puzzled as to the need for verbal economy at this stage, given the generous nature of the citation up to this point.
But to anyone familiar with Luther, the line of argumentation is suspicious. It is simply not what Luther consistently maintains throughout his extensive body of writings; nor would it be the kind of statement he would have made in such a significant work as the 1535 Galatians commentary. It is with sadness that I have to point out that the omitted portion is not a sentence but a section - and a section which so qualifies the meaning of the final sentence as to exclude Newman's interpretation of it. In what follows, we shall pick up Newman's citation at the penultimate sentence, and insert the omitted material, before proceeding to the final sentence. For the sake of clarity, the material which Newman included has been
printed in italics:
Hence I may say with literal truth. That infant who is lying in a manger and in the Virgin's bosom, created heaven and earth, and is the Lord of angels. I am indeed speaking about a man here. But 'man' in this proposition is obviously a new term, and, as the sophists say, stands for the divinity; that is, this God who became man created all things. Here creation is attributed to the divinity alone, since the humanity does not create. Nevertheless, it is correct to say that 'the man created', because the divinity, which alone creates, is incarnate with the humanity, and therefore the humanity participates in the attributes of both predicates. [A list of biblical passages relating to this point follows.] Therefore the meaning of the passage 'do this and you will live' is 'you will live on account of this faithful doing; this doing will give you life solely on account of faith. Thus justification belongs to faith alone, just as creation belongs to the divinity. As it is truly said, Jesus the Son of Mary created all things, so is justification ascribed to faith incarnate or to believing deeds'.
Throughout this analysis, we find Luther insisting that 'faith alone justifies and does everything'; works are implicated only in a derivative manner. The significance of the passage which is omitted is that it unequivocally qualifies the final sentence so that its only meaning can be that of 'faith alone justifies'.
This observation forces us to confront a most difficult and vexing question: did Newman himself deliberately and knowingly omit the critical section of the passage, or did he encounter the passage in this mutilated form? My suspicion is that the latter option is much more probable, although I cannot prove this. None of us is infallible, and Newman may simply have copied the passage in this distorted version from another source. Evidence supportive of this suggestion can be found in the generally inaccurate citations which he provides from Luther, which suggest borrowing from secondary sources rather than an engagement with the original.