Fr. Dwight Longenecker muses on the difference between Catholics and Protestants vis-a-vis grace and faith. He criticizes “pile of dung” theologies (a phrase he borrows from Luther).
First I should explain what I mean by ‘Protestant pile of dung theologies.’ This is a reference to Luther’s idea that because of original sin we are totally depraved and are worthless in God’s eyes. However, because of the death of Christ God looks on us and does not see our sin and depravity, but Christ’s righteousness. Luther likened this to a pile of dung that is covered by snow.This is more technically (but less colorfully) called ‘imputed righteousness.’ Catholics do not believe this. We believe that through faith and baptism, and the continued sacramental life of grace, Christ’s righteousness is infused into us, not imputed. In other words, it doesn’t just cover us, making us superficially and outwardly good in God’s eyes. Instead, God’s grace really does get into us and transforms us from the inside out. It gets down deep to the very foundations of our being and re-makes us into the image of Christ.
I get a lot of the former position (the Protestant imputed righteousness) at work and I don’t really feel comfortable with it. It seems to assume that God is pretending to believe something that He doesn’t really believe about us. The latter position (the Catholic one) has a lot to commend it, even if I would quibble with some of the details. I particularly like this statement: “Instead, God’s grace really does get into us and transforms us from the inside out. It gets down deep to the very foundations of our being and re-makes us into the image of Christ.” It would seem to me that this is a fair description of the process of sanctification that begins at baptism.
What do you think?