I posted 2 things earlier today, one was basically a declaration that Trent seemed to be against not only scripture, but also what Cardinal Pole, and the Spirituali taught, as well as noting others in the Catholic Church who have dissented like Blaise Pascal, and more recently Peter Kreeft and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who all officially submitted to Trent, but in their private lives basically espoused Lutheran soteriology. I don't know enough about the issues in question on the Catholic side of justification to say anything with certainty. I know more than anything what the Lutheran/Reformed position is, and I know that Trent condemned that in some ways, but I am hard pressed to come up with a very detailed analysis of the soteriology of Rome beyond (what I consider) the basics.
I was considering never going back to Rome this morning, I was thinking about never confessing my sins again to a living human, and being free with just Christ. I don't want to make the story a polemic either Lutheran or Catholic. I'm just going to say what happened.
So as I considered more and more the magnitude of my sins and the hopelessness of any regeneration within me, I began to consider Lutheranism more and more. I was (and am) writing a paper on Catholic and Lutheran soteriology for history and so I went to the library and picked up some books on it. I decided I should go to confession but I was an hour early so I sat in St. Alexander's parking lot for an hour reading Martin Marty's biography of Luther.
I was reading the parts about confession and feeling that nagging doubt about Catholicism greater than I'd ever felt since my conversion. I considered driving away or just not confessing, but I waited. I really thought for some reason, that after my confession the priest would just throw me out (that only happens if you vote pro-choice I think), so I figured it would be soon enough.
But then when I got out of my car, a Catholic friend I had been teaching John's Gospel too in a bible study pulled up. He had brought another one of our co-workers who hadn't been back to confession in over a year. We are kind of the Catholic trinity at our grocery store and all came (back for them) to the Church at the same time.
As I sat there I talked with my friend and told him about my considering Lutheranism etc, and his only words were "but what about Augustine?" hah. I had taught him well I guess.
Then I confessed and the priest said some interesting things. When I asked him how I could stand before a just God and be saved, he basically said that we can't be declared perfect, and it's only through Christ's grace that we can be declared as such. I don't know if that was unorthodox or really what he meant to say. But it had been the most recent of a string of Catholic writings that I had seen that basically deny the idea that we are made perfect within ourselves by God (ie. without Christ's righteousness).
I can't even describe it except that I knew I was forgiven when he gave the absolution. I felt as if I had been given this immense gift. I had tears in my eyes and I didn't know what this meant. I sat down beside my other friends who had confessed and they looked the exact same.
The verse in our reading today was Jeremiah 23:6 saying that Judah would be called, "the Lord is our righteousness". Perhaps I have joined Peter Kreeft, and Richard J. Neuhaus, I can't explain my theology here (which probably means I'm going to get attacked for it). But I just knew that Christ had satisfied the demands of the law for me, he had acted on my behalf, he had absolved me completely, even though I had no merit or works. He had given me his merit. The only quote I could think of was from St. Bernard:
"But as for me, whatever is lacking in my own resources I appropriate for myself from the heart of the Lord, which overflows with mercy. My merit therefore is the mercy of the Lord. Surely I am not devoid of merit so long as he is not of mercy. And if the Lord abounds in mercy, I too must abound in merits (Psalm 119:156). But would this be my own righteousness? Lord, I will be mindful of your righteousness only. For that is also mine, since God has made you my righteousness." (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon on the Song of Songs)
The Eucharist which I could finally take again was a gift. I didn't see it primarily as a sacrifice, just a gift. And I was overwhelmed with love for God. Then I remembered St. Robert Bellarmine "Charity (love) is that with which no man is lost, and that without which no man can be saved". Charity/love had been restored to me.
I'll close with something from one of the men I've mentioned. Fr. R. J. Neuhaus who somehow found the truth of Catholicism and the spirit of the free grace of the gospel of Lutheranism. He writes of the mass:
"[for the Eucharist there is] a palpable yearning for a gift desired, a sigh of gratitude for a gift received. "It" is happening again. It is the Mass that holds together the maddeningly ragtag and variegated thing that is the Catholic Church. Which is to say it is the Presence. Which is to say it is Christ, doing it again, just as he promised."
Gratias Tibi Domine