Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Paul and Justification
"To Be Just Means Simply to Be With Christ and in Christ"
H.H. Benedict XVI
November 19, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the journey we have undertaken under the guidance of St. Paul, we now
wish to reflect on a topic that is at the center of the controversies of
the century of the Reformation: the issue of justification. How is a man
just in the eyes of God? When Paul met the Risen One on the road to
Damascus he was a fulfilled man: irreproachable in regard to justice
derived from the law (cf. Philippians 3:6); he surpassed many of his
contemporaries in the observance of the Mosaic prescriptions and was
zealous in upholding the traditions of his forefathers (cf. Galatians
The illumination of Damascus changed his life radically: He began to
regard all his merits, achievements of a most honest religious career,
as "loss" in face of the sublimity of knowledge of Jesus Christ (cf.
Philippians 3:8). The Letter to the Philippians gives us a moving
testimony of Paul's turning from a justice based on the law and achieved
by observance of the prescribed works, to a justice based on faith in
Christ: He understood all that up to now had seemed a gain to him was in
fact a loss before God, and because of this decided to dedicate his
whole life to Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 3:7). The treasure hidden in
the field, and the precious pearl in whose possession he invests
everything, were no longer the works of the law, but Jesus Christ, his
The relationship between Paul and the Risen One is so profound that it
impels him to affirm that Christ was not only his life, but his living,
to the point that to be able to reach him, even death was a gain (cf.
Philippians 1:21). It was not because he did not appreciate life, but
because he understood that for him, living no longer had another
objective; therefore, he no longer had a desire other than to reach
Christ, as in an athletic competition, to be with him always. The Risen
One had become the beginning and end of his existence, the reason and
goal of his running. Only concern for the growth in faith of those he
had evangelized and solicitude for all the Churches he had founded (cf.
2 Corinthians 11:28), induced him to slow down the run toward his only
Lord, to wait for his disciples, so that they would be able to run to
the goal with him. If in the previous observance of the law he had
nothing to reproach himself from the point of view of moral integrity,
once overtaken by Christ he preferred not to judge himself (cf. 1
Corinthians 4:3-4), but limited himself to run to conquer the one who
had conquered him (cf. Philippians 3:12).
It is precisely because of this personal experience of the relationship
with Jesus that Paul places at the center of his Gospel an irreducible
opposition between two alternative paths to justice: one based on the
works of the law, the other founded on the grace of faith in Christ. The
alternative between justice through the works of the law and justice
through faith in Christ thus becomes one of the dominant themes that
runs through his letters: "We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not
Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of
the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in
Jesus Christ, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by
works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified"
And, he reaffirms to the Christians of Rome that "all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a
gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).
And he adds: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from
works of law" (Ibid. 28). Luther translated this point as "justified by
faith alone." I will return to this at the end of the catechesis.
First, we must clarify what is the "law" from which we have been freed
and what are those "works of the law" that do not justify. Already in
the community of Corinth there was the opinion, which will return many
times in history, which consisted in thinking that it was a question of
the moral law, and that Christian freedom consisted therefore in being
free from ethics. So, the words "panta mou estin" (everything is licit
for me) circulated in Corinth. It is obvious that this interpretation is
erroneous: Christian liberty is not libertinism; the freedom of which
St. Paul speaks is not freedom from doing good.
Therefore, what is the meaning of the law from which we have been freed
and that does not save? For St. Paul, as well as for all his
contemporaries, the word law meant the Torah in its totality, namely,
the five books of Moses. In the Pharisaic interpretation, the Torah
implied what Paul had studied and made his own, a collection of
behaviors extending from an ethical foundation to the ritual and
cultural observances that substantially determined the identity of the
just man -- particularly circumcision, the observance regarding pure
food and general ritual purity, the rules regarding observance of the
Sabbath, etc. These behaviors often appear in the debates between Jesus
and his contemporaries. All these observances that express a social,
cultural and religious identity had come to be singularly important at
the time of Hellenistic culture, beginning in the 3rd century B.C.
This culture, which had become the universal culture of the time, was a
seemingly rational culture, an apparently tolerant polytheist culture,
which constituted a strong pressure toward cultural uniformity and thus
threatened the identity of Israel, which was politically obliged to
enter into this common identity of Hellenistic culture with the
consequent loss of its own identity, loss hence also of the precious
inheritance of the faith of their Fathers, of faith in the one God and
in God's promises.
Against this cultural pressure, which not only threatened Jewish
identity but also faith in the one God and his promises, it was
necessary to create a wall of distinction, a defense shield that would
protect the precious inheritance of the faith; this wall would consist
precisely of the Jewish observances and prescriptions. Paul, who had
learned these observances precisely in their defensive function of the
gift of God, of the inheritance of the faith in only one God, saw this
identity threatened by the freedom of Christians: That is why he
persecuted them. At the moment of his encounter with the Risen One he
understood that with Christ's resurrection the situation had changed
radically. With Christ, the God of Israel, the only true God became the
God of all peoples.
The wall -- so says the Letter to the Ephesians -- between Israel and
the pagans was no longer necessary: It is Christ who protects us against
polytheism and all its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and
in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity in the
diversity of cultures; and it is he who makes us just. To be just means
simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other
observances are no longer necessary.
That is why Luther's expression "sola fide" is true if faith is not
opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust
oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to
his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe
is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in
the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on
justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf.
Paul knows that in the double love of God and neighbor the whole law is
fulfilled. Thus the whole law is observed in communion with Christ, in
faith that creates charity. We are just when we enter into communion
with Christ, who is love. We will see the same in next Sunday's Gospel
for the solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge
whose sole criterion is love. What I ask is only this: Did you visit me
when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you feed me when I was
hungry, clothe me when I was naked? So justice is decided in charity.
Thus, at the end of this Gospel, we can say: love alone, charity alone.
However, there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St. Paul. It
is the same vision, the one according to which communion with Christ,
faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the realization of
communion with Christ. Thus, being united to him we are just, and in no
At the end, we can only pray to the Lord so that he will help us to
believe. To really believe; belief thus becomes life, unity with Christ,
the transformation of our life. And thus, transformed by his love, by
love of God and neighbor, we can really be just in the eyes of God.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the Audience, Benedict XVI greeted pilgrims in several
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on St. Paul, we now consider his teaching
on our justification. Paulís experience of the Risen Lord on the road to
Damascus led him to see that it is only by faith in Christ, and not by
any merit of our own, that we are made righteous before God. Our
justification in Christ is thus Godís gracious gift, revealed in the
mystery of the Cross. Christ died in order to become our wisdom,
righteousness, sanctification and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30), and we in
turn, justified by faith, have become in him the very righteousness of
God (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). In the light of the Cross and its gifts of
reconciliation and new life in the Spirit, Paul rejected a righteousness
based on the Law and its works.
For the Apostle, the Mosaic Law, as an irrevocable gift of God to
Israel, is not abrogated but relativized, since it is only by faith in
Godís promises to Abraham, now fulfilled in Christ, that we receive the
grace of justification and new life. The Law finds its end in Christ
(cf. Rom 10:4) and its fulfilment in the new commandment of love. With
Paul, then, let us make the Cross of Christ our only boast (cf. Gal
6:14), and give thanks for the grace which has made us members of
Christís Body, which is the Church.
I am pleased to greet the participants in the international Catholic
Scouting Conference meeting in Rome. Upon all the English-speaking
pilgrims and visitors present at todayís Audience, especially those from
England, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, South Africa and the United
States, I cordially invoke Godís blessings of joy and peace.
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