Benedict XVI, the pope who resigned in 2014, has written an essay on the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. It has a curious section about what the church should now do:
What must be done? Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed. Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way. So let us first try to understand anew and from within [ourselves] what the Lord wants, and has wanted with us.
That looks like a conclusion that the Protestant Reformation was a failure. And if Protestantism failed, what does that say about Protestants’ salvation? It does not look good.
But then Benedict talks about redemption in ways that make it look like Protestants, at least liberal ones, could qualify as a success:
If we really wanted to summarize very briefly the content of the Faith as laid down in the Bible, we might do so by saying that the Lord has initiated a narrative of love with us and wants to subsume all creation in it. The counterforce against evil, which threatens us and the whole world, can ultimately only consist in our entering into this love. It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God. He who entrusts himself to the love of God is redeemed. Our being not redeemed is a consequence of our inability to love God. Learning to love God is therefore the path of human redemption.
That is a lot of love and makes me wonder if Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, and star of “Mr. Rogers” could well have written those lines. Granted, Benedict contrasts evil with love. But where are the categories of God’s law, God’s holiness, human sinfulness, punishment for sin, and salvation by faith?Of course, justification by faith alone is not a doctrine that Benedict could affirm. But his idea of redemption doesn’t even sound like faith working through love.
Worst of all, he doesn’t sound like Paul:
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3)
I understand that Protestants and Roman Catholics differ on saving faith and on the supremacy of Scripture. But if one of the apostles himself says the contrast is between law and faith, why would a person who used to be head of the biggest church in the world substitute a contrast of evil and love?
Benedict may want to rescue Protestants from the bins of failure.