Mark Brumley wrote a fascinating article, Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick: Louis Bouyer on the Reformation. The article is an overview of Louis Bouyer's book, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. I think it will [be] interesting to discuss some of the ideas drawn from that article and book.
What a breath of fresh air on the Catholic Answers forums to find someone recommending one of the authors typically viewed as part of the Roman Catholic reassessment movement (Louis Bouyer). Roman Catholic scholarship previous to say, 1917 or so, held Luther in very low regard and typically (but not entirely) attacked Luther the person rather than Luther the honest theologian. Louis Bouyer belonged to a generation of Roman Catholic scholarship that attempted to go beyond entirely negative polemics. I like how Mr. Brumley described Bouyer's book: "it avoids the bitter anti-Protestantism that sometimes afflicted pre-conciliar Catholic works on Protestantism." Indeed. Probably half of the squabbles I've had with Roman Catholics come from them utilizing Roman Catholic studies from the period before the Roman Catholic reassessment movement (Grisar, Denifle, O'Hare, etc). Had they moved beyond these outdated works into more current Roman Catholic Luther scholarship (Lortz, Wicks, McSorley, etc.), I think the conversations would have been less hostile and more fruitful.
Before anyone thinks Bouyer is presenting a kumbaya treatment of the Reformation, he is critical of Protestantism and sees Luther as distorting the Roman Catholicism. One fairly famous quote from the book is that "...it was Luther himself, and not only the stupidity of his followers, who provided all the elements of the system which was to imprison, rather than protect, the original doctrine" (p. 166 1956 edition).
Luther's basic intuition, on which Protestantism continuously draws for its abiding vitality, so far from being hard to reconcile with Catholic tradition, or inconsistent with the teaching of the Apostles, was a return to the clearest elements of their teaching, and in the most direct line of that tradition.Now this sort of statement being made at Catholic Answers is akin to giving the store away. Think of all the discussions and debate over sola fide and sola scriptura that have occurred at Catholic Answers... and now a Roman Catholic theologian is saying these things were a return to the clearest elements of the teachings of the apostles?
Of course, how Bouyer explains sola fide, sola scriptura and sola gratia is not exactly what I as committed Protestant mean. I can appreciate Bouyer's ecumenical method is taking distinctly Protestant slogans and attempting to synthesize them into Roman Catholicism. On the other hand, I'm leery of attempts of taking historic terms and redefining them so as to fit into another system of thought. Brumley/ Bouyer hold their definitions of sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura are the correct definitions. Take for instance how the article presents sola gratia:
1. Sola Gratia. What was the Reformation's main principle? Not, as many Catholics and even some Protestants think, "private judgment" in religion. According to Bouyer, "the true fundamental principle of Protestantism is the gratuitousness of salvation"–sola gratia. He writes, "In the view of Luther, as well as of all those faithful to his essential teaching, man without grace can, strictly speaking, do nothing of the slightest value for salvation. He can neither dispose himself for it, nor work for it in any independent fashion. Even his acceptance of grace is the work of grace. To Luther and his authentic followers, justifying faith . . . is quite certainly, the first and most fundamental grace." Bouyer then shows how, contrary to what many Protestants and some Catholics think, salvation sola gratia is also Catholic teaching. He underscores the point to any Catholics who might think otherwise: "If, then, any Catholic–and there would seem to be many such these days–whose first impulse is to reject the idea that man, without grace, can do nothing towards his salvation, that he cannot even accept the grace offered except by a previous grace, that the very faith which acknowledges the need of grace is a purely gratuitous gift, he would do well to attend closely to the texts we are about to quote." In other words, "Listen up, Catholics!The link goes on to point out that Roman Catholics can claim sola gratia because even after initial grace given, the subsequent works that are done are based on continued grace. This is what Roman Catholics understand by the sufficiency of grace: "Our salvation requires that we assert and believe that, in every good work we do, it is not we who have the initiative, aided, subsequently, by the mercy of God, but that he begins by inspiring faith and love towards him, without any prior merit of ours," and "Man freely cooperates in salvation, but his free cooperation is itself the result of grace. Precisely how this is so is mysterious, and the Church has not settled on a particular theological explanation"(Brumley).
Bouyer / Brumley rightly identifies though sola gratia as a distinct Reformation slogan. In fact, the emphasis I see in Brumley's article is that Bouyer (and perhaps Brumley?) see that a good number of Roman Catholics deny that sola gratia is a Roman Catholic teaching. The article has the intent to show sola gratia is also a Roman Catholic teaching. I've always understood that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that God's grace is necessary. Where I differ as a Reformed Protestant is that God's grace is not only necessary, but completely sufficient. Brumley explains Bouyer: "Man freely cooperates in salvation, but his free cooperation is itself the result of grace." That "free cooperation part" even if its origin is God's grace, is, in my opinion, a denial of the sufficiency of grace, and hence a denial of sola gratia. I hold that the historic Protestant position opposes the definition of sola gratia put forth in the article:
1. The issue is whether grace, by itself accomplishes salvation. Trent said the grace of justification can be gained and lost. Therefore if someone doesn't perform works done in a state of grace, justification can be lost. In the final analysis, the deciding factor as to whether or not someone is eternally justified is decided upon someone's will. This means that something else (human decision) must be attached to God's grace, hence gratia is not completely sola. When I as a Protestant say, sola gratia, I really mean sola. God's grace is the ultimate deciding factor of who will believe, and who will continue to believe.
2. It isn't any sort of failure on my part to choose to perform works in a state of grace that leads to my eventual salvation or damnation. Rather, the perfect works of Christ are mine now, given to me graciously and eternally. The good works I do now are the fruits and signs of justification, they are not the means to increase my justification. I've been given Christ's works by grace alone.
The same sort of situation of redefining terms can be seen with the article's treatment of sola scriptura. In the article, Brumley / Bouyer says:
Bouyer also sees a negative principle that the Reformation unnecessarily associated with sola Scriptura or the sovereignty of the Bible. Yes, the Bible alone is the Word of God in the sense that only the Bible is divinely inspired. And yes the Bible’s authority is supreme in the sense that neither the Church nor the Church’s Tradition "trumps" Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that the Word of God in an authoritative form is found only in the Bible, for the Word of God can be communicated in a non-inspired, yet authoritative form as well. Nor does it mean that there can be no authoritative interpreter of the Bible (the Magisterium) or authoritative interpretation of biblical doctrine (Tradition). Repudiation of the Church’s authority and Tradition simply doesn’t follow from the premise of Scripture’s supremacy as the inspired Word of God. Furthermore, the Tradition and authority of the Church are required to determine the canon of the Bible.The debate, as I understand it, is that the Roman Catholic side finds the "Word of God" in another form besides Scripture (Tradition, the Magisterium). The article presents a particular speculative view that "the Word of God can be communicated in a non-inspired, yet authoritative form as well," and if this is taken into consideration by the Protestant side, the rift over sola scriptura could be healed. My concern is whether or not the article wants to go so far and say infallible Tradition is not divinely inspired. If so, they've set up a situation in which Tradition (and any infallible pronouncement from the Magisterium) is infallible but not divinely inspired. See my discussion here for more on this. If the infallible Word of God is found elsewhere beyond the Scriptures (say, in Tradition or the Magisterium), scriptura is not sola.