Koons on Faith and Works in Catholicism
I've read a bit more in "A Lutheran’s Case for Roman Catholicism," the essay (pdf) by Robert Koons, and I'm musing my way through his thinking -- specifically, through his views on faith and works.
On the issue of faith versus works, I wonder if Koons is merely explaining Catholic doctrine or possibly nudging it along towards a Lutheran position:
Rome does not claim that God's grace renders anyone sinless in this life: everyone sins daily and is in daily need of forgiveness for Christ's sake. At the same time, the Lutherans do not deny that there is something internal to us (in nobis) that is required for our justification: namely, the faith that lays hold of Christ's righteousness. So the question comes down to this: what internal condition (in nobis) is required for us to lay hold of Christ's righteousness? The Scriptures sometimes speak of faith justifying or saving (or even of baptism as saving). These are understood as elliptical, expressing that it is Christ as believed in who justifies, or Christ in whom we are baptized who saves. By the same token, when Rome speaks of our being justified 'by good works', this can be taken as also containing an ellipsis: we are justified by Christ as the one who brings forth good works in us as His fruit.Koons suggests that when Catholics speak of the Christian being "justified by good works," then the wording "can be taken as ... containing an ellipsis," namely, that the Christian is "justified by Christ as the one who brings forth good works" as fruit.
Lutherans say that it is faith alone that does the apprehending, although saving faith is always accompanied by regeneration and good works. Rome teaches that it is 'faith working in love' that apprehends Christ's merits: that is, that [it] is the whole process, including both faith (as its root) and hope, love and works of charity (as the fruit), that is involved in apprehending Christ. In both cases, it is only Christ and only His merits that reconcile us to God. Lutherans are unfair in claiming that the Romans propose to substitute our merits for Christ's. One could, with as much justice, claim that Lutherans propose to "substitute" our faith for Christ's merits. The biblical evidence (including the Lutheran's most important text, Romans 4), simply doesn't, taken as a whole, clearly favor the Lutheran position. (pp. 26-27)
Question: Is that what Catholics do mean?
Certainly, it could be taken that way if that's what is meant. Okay, let's take it that way, with the provision that the Catholic position might be somewhat different.
Koons refers to Romans 4, the famous passage where Paul elaborates upon the statement that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3, NRSV). According to Koons, it seems, Lutherans emphasize that Abraham's faith is itself a gift from God, such that one's personal faith is the expression of an inward state granted by God. The faith is not a substitute for Christ's merit. Similarly, for Catholicism, one's works are no substitute for Christ's merit, for they can also be understood -- implies Koons -- as the expression of an inward state granted by God. At least, I think that this is what Koons is saying.
But why bring works into this economy of salvation at all since Paul not only quotes scripture as stating that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:4), but also says in Romans 4:3 that "if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about" and in Roman 4:5 that "to one who works, wages are not recognized as a gift but as something due"? Koons doesn't at this point explain why Catholics bring works in, but he would probably point to James 2:21-24:
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:21-24, NRSV)Such would be the reason that Catholics introduce works at this point in the economy of salvation. Even so, Koons argues, what this means in Catholic thinking is that the Christian is "justified by Christ as the one who brings forth good works" as fruit.
Is that what it means? Catholic readers, is Koons correct?
Supposing that he is, where does free will fit into this? If I recall, Luther rejects free will, whereas Erasmus affirms it. Does Koons Lutheranize Catholicism here and make good works purely Christ's works, or does he leave implicit a Catholic acknowledgement of free will on the part of human beings?