I think the misconceptions that you and John have with Ratzinger’s writings really delineates the chasm between Protestant and Catholic thought. I “think” (Ratzinger's thinking is above mine) I can explain it but it would take A LOT of time and it would require you to understand it from a Catholic mindset.I have to confess, I’ve been fascinated with what “TheDen” has to say, because he is what I’d call a real, genuine Roman Catholic, as opposed to the epistemologically metastasized variation of Roman Catholic, known generically as a “Catholic apologist” that we frequently encounter here.
I responded by saying, “‘TheDen’, I would be interested in knowing what you know about ‘the Catholic mindset’ that I didn’t grow up with. And he graciously followed up with a brief explanation, which has given us an opportunity not to pick on “TheDen,” but to begin to systematically think about the many differences between Roman Catholicism and Reformed doctrine and theology.
Alright...here goes.I just want to focus on this one point for now. (I’ll refer you to the discussion thread for “TheDen”’s further explication of “the Catholic mindset.” I’d like to give “TheDen” (or any other Roman Catholic) an opportunity to defend this particular item from the CCC or Denzinger or the Bible (if they can find it), but I wanted to point this out. This is exactly the mindset I grew up with. And it is illustrative of one reason why I came to the conclusion that I could not remain as a Roman Catholic.
In Catholic thought, we are united to Christ. We become one with Him per John 15. How does this happen? It happens through our obedience to Him. We no longer follow our will but rather we follow Christ. It’s no longer I--it’s now Christ. And then, per Galatians, it’s “no longer I who live but rather Christ who lives inside me.” In essence, we become Christ but only in obedience to Him. We are united to Him and He nourishes us and in doing His will, we spread forth His message. (emphasis added).
The Reformed doctrine of “Union with Christ” was prevalent in Calvin’s Institutes, and it has undergirded Reformed thinking on salvation ever since. In the traditional order of “systematic theology,” Soteriology, or the doctrine of Salvation, is not the first thing to be discussed. Prior to Soteriology, it is most important to discuss Revelation, the Doctrine of God, the Works of God, Anthropology (that is, the Doctrine of Man in relation to God), the Doctrine of Christ, and the person and work of Christ. And I don’t want to criticize TheDen for a knowledge or lack of knowledge of systematic theology. But what I do want to point out is that his thinking is fairly characteristic of “a good Catholic”. It is, I think, a result of faulty Roman Catholic understandings of things like Revelation, the doctrine of God (Pseudo-Dionysius, for example), the Doctrine of Man (the donum superadditum, for example, and on and on).
At this point, “TheDen” was complaining that the song “Good Morning Starshine” had gotten stuck in his head. So as a public service to “TheDen”, I’ll provide another song that will stick inside his head, with the hope of moving that one out. A warning to my Reformed brethren: this is a point at which “the Catholic mindset” – very bad Roman Catholic theology -- has reached into popular culture, in the popular song “Last Kiss,” written by Wayne Cochran in 1962, and performed a number of times over the last 50 years, most recently here by Pearl Jam.Not to spend too much time on that sort of thing, but it’s just to say, I guess, that is why theology matters and precisely why it matters on so many fronts.
Oh where oh were could my baby be
The lord took her away from me
She's gone to heaven so I've got to be good
So I can see my baby when I leave this world
We’ve had so many Roman Catholics come here and talk about “the Church” (meaning “the Roman Catholic Church, founded by Christ, constituted and organized in the world as a society, [which] subsists in the [Roman] Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”), as “the ongoing Incarnation of Christ” or for short, “The Church = Christ”, that I thought it would be best to provide a Reformed and thoroughly biblical explanation of what “Union with Christ” actually means.
It seems as if Roman Catholics like to throw this out to Protestants as if to say, “our Church is better than your church.” But this is not at all the case. We do not have to work for “Union with Christ”; it is a gift of God, established (as in Ephesians 1:4, for example) “from before the foundation of the world”. In “the Catholic mindset,” this union “happens through our obedience to Him.” In Reformed theology, “those who will be saved were not even contemplated [apart from union with Christ] by the Father in the ultimate counsel of his predestinating love … —they were chosen in Christ. As far back as we can go in tracing salvation to its fountain, we find ‘union with Christ’; it is not something tacked on; it is there from the outset.” (Robert Reymond, “Systematic Theology,” Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, ©1998, pgs 736-737, citing John Murray, “Redemption—Accomplished and Applied, 162).
Here is Berkhof’s exposition:
Calvin repeatedly expresses the idea that the sinner cannot share in the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work, unless he be in union with Him, and thus emphasizes a very important truth. As Adam was the representative head of the old humanity, so Christ is the representative head of the new humanity. All blessings of the covenant of grace flow from Him who is the Mediator of the covenant. Even the very first blessing of the saving grace of God which we receive already presupposes a union with the Person of the Mediator…. Every spiritual blessing which believers receive flows to them out of Christ. Hence Jesus in speaking of the coming Paraklete could say unto his disciples: “He shall glorify me; for He shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you,” (John 16:14). Subjectively, the union between Christ and believers is effected by the Holy Spirit in a mysterious and supernatural way, and for that reason is generally designated as the unio mystica or mystical union.(The Ford Lewis Battles translation of The Institutes notes that “Calvin nowhere teaches “the absorption of the pious mystic into the sphere of the divine being,” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, ©1960, Vol 1, pg 737, 3.11.20, n.20) as we’ve seen Ratzinger do, on multiple occasions.)
Reformed theology … deals with the union of believers with Christ theologically, and as such … employs the term “mystical union” in a broad sense as a designation not only of the subjective union of Christ and believers, but also of the union that lies back of it, that is basic to it, and of which it is only the culminating expression, namely, the federal union of Christ and those who are His in the counsel of redemption, the mystical union ideally established in that eternal counsel [within the Trinity, in eternity past], and the union as it is objectively effected in the incarnation and the redemptive work of Christ.So Ratzinger and “TheDen” get it precisely backwards.
1. The Federal Union of Christ with Those Whom the Father has Given Him, in the Counsel of Redemption.
In the counsel of [redemption], Christ voluntarily took upon Himself to be the Head and Surety of the elect, destined to constitute the new humanity, and as such to establish their righteousness before God by paying the penalty for their sin and by rendering perfect obedience to the law and thus securing their everlasting life. In that eternal covenant the sin of His people was imputed to Christ, and His righteousness was imputed to them. This imputation of the righteousness of Christ to His people is sometimes represented as a justification from eternity. It is certainly the eternal basis of our justification by faith, and is the ground on which we receive all spiritual blessings and the gift of life eternal. And this being so, it is basic to the whole of soteriology, and even to the first states in the aplicationof the work of redemption, such as regeneration and internal calling.
2. The union of life ideally established in the Counsel of Redemption.
In the case of the first Adam there was not only a federal, but also a natural and organic union between him and his descendants. There was the tie of a common life between him and all his progeny, and this made it possible that the blessings of the covenant of works, if these had eventuated, could have been passed on to the whole organism of mankind in an organic way. A somewhat similar situation obtained in the case of the last Adam as the representative Head of the covenant of redemption. Like the first Adam, He did not represent a conglomeration of disjointed individuals, but a body of men and women who were to derive their life from Him, to be united by spiritual ties, and thus to form a spiritual organism. Ideally this body, which is the Church, was already formed in the covenant of redemption, and formed in union with Christ, and this union made it possible that all the blessings merited by Christ could be passed on to those whom He represented in an organic way. They were conceived of as a glorious body, a new humanity, sharing the life of Jesus Christ. It was in virtue of that union, as it was realized in the course of history, that Christ could say: “Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me,” (Heb. 2:13).
3. The union of life objectively realized in Christ.
In virtue of the legal or representative union [“forensic” union, through “imputation”] established in the covenant of redemption Christ became incarnate as the substitute for His people, to merit all the blessings of salvation for them. Since His children were sharers in flesh and blood, “He also in like manner partook of the same; that through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage,” (Heb 2:1-15). He could merit salvation for them just because He already stood in relation to them as their Surety and Mediator, their Head and Substitute. The whole Church was included in Him as her Head. In an objective sense she was crudified with Christ, she died with Him, she arose in Him from the dead, and was made to sit with Him in the heavenly places. All the blessings of saving grace lie ready for the Church in Christ; man can add nothing to them; and they now only await their subjective application by the operation of the Holy Spirit, which is also merited by Christ and is sure of progressive realization [sanctification] in the course of history.
4. The union of life subjectively realized by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
The work of Christ was not finished when He has merited salvation for His people and had obtained actual possession of the blessings of salvation. In the Counsel of Redemption He took it upon Himself to put all His people in possession of all these blessings, and He does this through the operation of the Holy Spirit, who takes all things out of Christ, and gives them unto us. [Note that Christ does not further empower “the Church” to hand “possession of blessings” to people. This is a direct mediation by the Holy Spirit, and in fact, Tertullian, in Prescription against Heresies, 28, refers specifically to the Holy Spirit as “The Vicar of Christ”.] We should not conceive of the subjective realization of the mystical union in the Church atomistically, as if it were effected by bringing now this and then that individual sinner to Christ. It should be seen from the point of view of Christ. Objectively, the whole Church is in Him, and is born out of Him as the Head. It is not a mechanism, in which the parts precede the whole, but an organism, in which the whole is prior to the parts. The parts come forth out of Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and then continue in living relationship with Him. Jesus calls attention to this organic relationship when he says: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing,” (John 15:5). In view of what was said, it is quite evident that it is not correct to say that the mystical union is the fruit of man’s believing acceptance of Christ, as if faith were not one of the blessings of the covenant which flow unto us from the fullness of Christ, but a condition which man must meet partly or wholly in his own strength, in order to enter into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith is first of all a gift of God, and as such a part of the treasures that are hidden in Christ. It enables us to appropriate on our part what is given unto us in Christ, and it enter ever increasingly into conscious enjoyment of the blessed union with Christ, which is the source of all our spiritual riches. (Berkhof, “Systematic Theology,” pg 447-449).