I’ve been noticing this Bavinck quote come up on the internet and it’s really annoying since people seem to be using it to support the old argument that at least Catholic works-righteousness is productive whereas the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith falls short. The quote already had me wondering how honest it was since it starts off mid sentence. Turns out, Bavinck is arguing against the position that posters have been using the quote online.
Anyway, here’s the quote that’s appearing on the internet (here are a few places I’ve seen it); after the jump I’ll post the context (Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith-PDF):
‘[W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride. Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentance, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.’
But now, for what Bavinck was really saying and then what he continues saying even about paganism.
On the Certainty of Catholic Faith (Sort-of-Rey’s header regarding pg 36,37):
Far be it from us to immediately denounce the latter with the protestant judgment that since such piety issues from a false principle—righteousness by works—it is therefore worthless to God. For no matter how much truth that judgment may contain, before we utter it we must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride.Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentance, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops to its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.
Nevertheless, Catholic piety, even in its best form, is different in character from that of protestantism. It always remains unfree, unemancipated, formal, legalistic. Complete inner certainty of faith is lacking. It always leaves room for the question: Have I done enough, and what else should I do? Rome deliberately keeps the souls of believers in a restless, so-called healthy tension. Spiritual life fluctuates between false assurance and painful uncertainty. Catholicism does not understand the word of Holy Scripture that the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
On the Certainty of Pagan Faith (Sort-of-Rey’s header regarding page 56, 57)
The study of religions has, furthermore, achieved one important benefit: it has shed clear light on the superiority of the Christian religion over all other religions. There are, it is true, a few scattered groups in Europe and America who give precedence to Buddhism or Islam and have formally switched to these religions. And much greater are the ranks of those who feel they don’t need Christianity, can lead rich lives without it, and hate it all their lives. In fact, untold numbers are turning their backs on Christianity in humanistic pride or in practical indifference and are seeking satisfaction in paganism.
Yet, none of this detracts from the fact that the religious and ethical makeup of Christianity is far superior to that of all other religions. Nowhere else are nature and history, man and world, heart and conscience conceived with such intimate truth and so true to reality as in the Christian religion. Our self-knowledge and our knowledge of the world continually verify the knowledge of God revealed in Holy Scripture. This is the light on the path that leads through creation, and which is itself clarified and confirmed by all of nature and the whole history of mankind. We have no idea what we would be missing, into what dire spiritual poverty we would sink if the Christian religion and all its influence and impact were suddenly excised from our society and culture. If the Christian religion is not the true religion, there is every reason to despair of truth in the area of religion. Practically and concretely the question regarding certainty of faith comes down to this: In what way can the truth of Christianity be demonstrated and impressed on our souls so we are convinced?