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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Justification by faith: the real issue?

It's common for Protestants to claim that justification by faith is the single major issue separating Protestants from Catholics. Coming from a Wesleyan background, this has never loomed as large for me. Sure, I was taught that Catholics thought they were "saved by works," but when I came to understand what the Catholic Church actually taught (as opposed to what many Catholics may believe or have believed), I couldn't see that it was such a big deal. I had always been taught that justification involved actually being changed and not simply imputation (my tradition used "justification" pretty much synonymously with "regeneration"--at least that's the impression I got growing up). I was dubious about the whole notion of imputation, and even if it was true I couldn't see how something that abstruse could be the point on which the Church stood or fell. The living presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart--that was what I had always been taught was the main thing, and nothing I have learned in adulthood has persuaded me differently.

However, as I've been involved (on both sides!) in Protestant-Catholic discussions over the years, it's become clear to me that there is some significant difference regarding justification, not only between Lutherans or Calvinists and Baptists and Catholics, but between _all_ evangelically minded Protestants and Catholics. Unquestionably Protestants and Catholics alike experience God's grace. But evangelical Protestants have a particular way of speaking about grace that enables them to testify to it in a way rare among Catholics. And for all the faults of evangelicalism, this way of speaking about grace and salvation clearly speaks to many ordinary people in a way that Catholicism doesn't. Whatever explanations and excuses and qualifications we may make, the fact remains that thousands, maybe millions of people have failed to hear the message of grace in Catholicism and have heard it in evangelicalism. Believing as I do that to break communion with Rome is always tragic (whether or not it can be justified), I think it's important to understand why this happens rather than explaining it away. Poor catechesis may explain a lot. But then one has to ask why Catholicism so routinely fails in this particular department? The people who don't seem to have understood free grace are far more numerous than the people who didn't understand transubstantiation or the Church's moral teachings (numerous as those are these days).

For a while now I've been mulling on a possible answer. It isn't something that I hear stressed a lot in discussions of justification, at least not in quite these terms. I think the key difference between all evangelical Protestant theologies (I'm using "evangelical Protestant" with deliberate looseness--feel free to pin me down!) and Catholicism is the Catholic belief in sola fide. Not, of course, that faith can save on its own, but that it can exist on its own. Protestants generally deny this. At least, orthodox Protestants (another loose term) deny that the "faith" that can exist without charity is the same thing as the faith that saves. We furthermore deny that this loveless faith, this faith of demons, is a supernatural gift. Rather, we see it as just another opinion about religious matters, no more a gift of God than any true opinion is. A true opinion about God has more importance and dignity than a true opinion about onion soup, but they are both human opinions. The faith that God gives, the faith that is supernatural, is faith that transforms the soul and causes us to bring forth good works through love.

It is, of course, common to say that Catholics and Protestants define faith differently, and that this leads to a lot of misunderstanding. Or more polemical Protestants may say that "Rome" has no conception of what faith really is, and this is the root of its horrible errors (this is basically what Luther himself said). I'm saying more than the first statement and less than the second. Certainly this disagreement is a matter of definitions. Christians experience the grace of God no matter how they define it, and a matter on which so many wise and holy people are found on both sides cannot be one of the essentials of the Faith. And yet it may be important.

Catholics, it seems to me, think of saving faith as a composite act: first you believe (which is a gift of God) that God is God and that the things proposed by the Church for belief are true. But this faith remains dead unless it has added to it (which again is only possible by God's gracious gift) the infused habitus of charity, which lives only as long as you persevere in cooperating with the grace of God working in you. Thus, when Catholics are exhorted to believe, they are exhorted to accept truths intellectually (though, as St. Thomas said, this requires an act of the will which gives the certainty of knowledge propositions that on a natural level have only the nature of opinions). They are then exhorted to do certain things in order to make and keep that faith "living."

This division is one of the things to which Luther objected most profoundly. And I think he was right (though not in the vitriol with which he condemned the Catholic position). The real issue is not so much imputation vs. infusion, or exactly in what sense human beings can be considered to cooperate with God's grace (on both of which points I am in more sympathy with the Catholic view than with Luther). To me, the profound insight of the Reformation (with regard to soteriology) was that living faith is a single and simple act. (Simple in the technical philosophical sense: uncompounded, non-composite, irreducible.) It is not "belief in everything God has revealed" plus charity. Or more precisely, this way of defining it may be correct in a sense, but it is pastorally and psychologically false, because it divides what must (in our experience if not in our theology) remain utterly indivisible.

I don't buy the idea (even though Aquinas taught it) that there are certain doctrines you can only believe by a special gift of God. Human beings can believe just about any theoretical proposition, if circumstances favor credulity. But to place one's whole trust in Christ's grace and love (to quote the 1979 Episcopalian baptismal liturgy); to accept the searing, transforming, renewing power of grace; to throw oneself on God's mercy as a forgiven sinner and at the same time rejoice in the dignity of being a son or daughter of the King of Heaven; this is only possible by a grace that perfects our nature.

That means that evangelicals can proclaim the grace of God with a clarity and simplicity that traditional Catholic doctrine makes impossible. (Or at least normally so: I take Pontificator's point that many Catholic saints, such as St. Therese of Lisieux, have expressed this simplicity of faith. But post-Tridentine doctrine does not make this easy.) It isn't that Catholics don't experience the same thing Protestants do. Indeed, Catholics have spiritual resources at their disposal of a richness and depth that far surpass those normally available to Protestants. But these resources are of use only if you have gotten the basic message. And the indisputable fact is that very many Catholics simply don't. The simplest and most reasonable explanation is that something in Catholic doctrine obscures the message of grace. It doesn't deny it, but it makes it harder for many Catholics to grasp. When faith and charity are separated out and you are told that faith can exist without charity, but charity must be added to faith, it is harder to experience just what the phrase "believe on Jesus Christ and you will be saved" means. Furthermore, it is easier to be at least somewhat complacent about a faith that does _not_ work by charity. After all, you have _part_ of the formula. You just need to work on the charity part--and that is only a good confession away. Hence the indisputable reality of widespread antinomianism among Catholics, which goes straight against the stereotype of anxious Catholics trying to work out their own salvation. Perhaps antinominanism is too strong. I don't mean that Catholics think (as the more heretical Baptists do think) that you can be saved while clinging wilfully to serious sin. But it seems hard to question the fact that traditional Catholic societies contain large numbers of people who see themselves as devout Catholics while also admitting that they are probably not in a state of grace much of the time. On a cultural level there are certain advantages to this (it allows for a heavy permeation of the culture with Christianity even if most people are not willing to try seriously to live a holy life). And it's certainly better than a genuine antinomianism that doesn't recognize the seriousness of sin. But it's hardly surprising that to people used to that kind of culture, the message of evangelical Protestantism often seems like a light in the darkness, because (if it is not the genuinely heretical version taught by some Baptists and quasi-Baptists) it teaches the necessity of a habitually holy life. By denying any spiritual value to faith that does not work by love, it forces people to make a stark choice: either they are not really Christians at all, or their lives must habitually show the fruit of living faith. (This should, of course, be a matter for self-examination, and even then one should be reticent to make final judgments. Catholicism is absolutely right that we have no business trying to figure out someone else's state of soul, and some forms of evangelicalism have gone horribly wrong here.)

This, I think, is at the core of all the fights over justification. Is faith essentially assent to what God has revealed, to which charity must be added? Or is it a single, living, simple act, consisting of a total reliance on the grace and love of God in Christ, overflowing into the love of God and neighbor? I believe that Scripture, as a whole, teaches the latter, and that the recovery of this understanding was one of the few genuinely positive aspects of the Reformation.


Derek Jenkins said...

How do you incorporate into your idea of justification (or into your overall soteriology) James' comment:

"You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."

Redefining 'faith' here to include something that isn't faith seems a failure. It seems important to me to keep in mind that Romans and Galations (where Luther formed his idea that the axis of Christianity is salvation by 'faith alone') are not dealing with 'works' in the same sense James is. The works referred to in Romans are those, which are 'according to the Law', those whereby the Jews thought they could be justified. Paul is refuting a Jewish idea of justification, James is teaching about justification (in the Christian sense) and works, and the relation between the two.

Evangelical Protestantism sees faith as a 'simple act' as you say, but isn't it really far more? The 'things not seen' part of the Hebrews passage makes it clear that the objective aspect of faith, the 'what is held to be true', is just as integral a part of faith as the act of 'holding as true'. And this is where dogma and authority are indespensible and yet absent from evangelical Protestantism. It is why 'faith' in the Jehovah's Witness sense or the Mormon sense is not faith in Christ at all. It is why Arianism is not Christian. And gnosticism, Donatism, Albegensianism, etc. Faith has an objective element that the Authority of the Church protects and that is necessary to salvation.

"But these resources are of use only if you have gotten the basic message. And the indisputable fact is that very many Catholics simply don't. The simplest and most reasonable explanation is that something in Catholic doctrine obscures the message of grace."

Perhaps there is another explanation? If the Lord founded a pilgrim church in the earth, then that church is always in need of renewal, sometimes far more than others. This is one of the bad times, especially in America. Indeed, it isn't 'something in Catholic doctrine [that] obscures the message of grace', but in the failure to teach Catholic doctrine that grace becomes obscured. How can the truth obscure? But the failure of those in the Church to teach the truth is not cause to continue separation from the Church. It is in fact all the more reason she needs those who see clearly.

You keep wanting to make things simple which simply are not simple. The Dogma and Authority of the Church are not the heart of Faith but they are the divinely instituted means of protecting the very fullness of the Faith.

The Church must be seen for what she is throughout history and not simply for how she is failing in the present. She must be seen for what she is and not for how she fails.

Bouyer has a brilliant analysis of the legitimate insight of the 16 century 'Reformers', and an equally brilliant critique of their tragic and unjustifiable failures.

Johann Mohler's Symbolism is also an outstanding comparison of many of the foundation elements of Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

thoughtspot said...


I may end up agreeing with you that the widespread misunderstanding of grace in Catholicism does not proceed from any single flaw, but from the sheer difficulty of grace (for the fleshly mind). Certainly grace has been the most misunderstood concept, I would argue, in most traditions at most times.

But as a (budding) Biblical scholar, I must question your misunderstanding of faith. For one thing, the authority for faith in Scripture is the Spirit-confirmed testimony of the apostles--something that those without a magisterium do not lack.

Moreover, your reading of Romans and Galatians is at least as mistaken as Luther's. Biblical scholarship has largely abandoned the caricature you give of "works of the Law"--because nobody in the 1st-century (least of all Jews) tried to be justified by such. Most scholars of the 1st century agree that Jews saw works (and Law) as inherently a covenant response to the gracious Creator-Redeemer God, not as works-righteousness.

What Paul is arguing is, of course, that the covenant has been radically reshaped around the Messiah, and that therefore covenant faithfulness must begin with the Messiah's faithfulness to God (including to the Law) rather than with our own. Only this (to Paul) overcomes what was (to Paul and all Jews) the "weakness" of the Law: human sin.

I hope I have not over-condensed to the point of being difficult to understand. But surely Romans, that dense theological primer, is much more careful in establishing the Christian sense of what faith really is and is not. James, by contrast, is loosely organized and mainly pastoral. It strains credulity to read Romans as merely a reaction to Judaism (a Judaism which never actually existed!), and to favor instead a definition of faith found only in James (and argued againt by James!).

In fact, your very phraseology ("redefining 'faith' . . . to include something that isn't faith") shows a marked misunderstanding of the language and culture in which the New Testament was written. Any lexicon will tell you that faith is synonymous with faithfulness, not something separate from it. Lexically as well as theologically, faith is a full-life response.

As far as I know, this common misunderstanding of faith is not specifically a Catholic-Protestant issue. (Certainly Christians for centuries have been missing what would have been blindingly obvious to a 1st-century reader; and several excellent Catholic scholars are among those bringing needed correction.) But if Edwin is right, the misunderstanding has caused more damage in (some) Roman Catholic circles, particularly in "blocking" people's understanding of grace. This is a very serious charge that can't be swept aside lightly.

Derek Jenkins said...


You may have some very good criticisms of my response. And I am certainly no scholar (budding or otherwise) ;)

I was hoping to point out that is is precisely Luther who leaves out the fullness of apostolic faith by only considering Romans and Galatians. In fact the only place 'faith alone' occurs in the Scripture is in James, where the tesitimony, surely as authoritative as Romans, says a person is 'justified by what he does and not by faith alone'. Surely this can't be dismissed as not really germane to the idea of justification.

What I am asking is how does that fit into one's concept of justification? I think Mohler's discussion is illuminating here. He points out that Calvin and Luther began, and therefore cemented into the foundation of the Protestant movement, with an incorrect anthropology and therefore ended with an incorrect soteriology.

In order to proceed step by step regarding your response: I am not sure I understand the comment below, could you elaborate?

"For one thing, the authority for faith in Scripture is the Spirit-confirmed testimony of the apostles--something that those without a magisterium do not lack."

We can then address the matter of 'Faith' and then proceed.

CPA said...

Binx, your attempt to restrict Paul's view of the Law to the obsolete parts of the Law of Moses, is old and inadequate. What killing law does Paul actually mention? "Do not covet" (Rom. 7:7ff.) Is that not applicable to Christians?

The "justified" in James means something different from the "justified" in Romans. How so? Both refer to Abraham. So if they mean the same thing they would agree on when Abraham was justified. But in Romans 4, the moment of Abraham's justification is when he believes (Gen. 15:6). In James 2:21, Abraham is justified when he "gives proof" by obeying God in the matter of Isaac (Gen. 22). For Paul Abraham was justified from Gen. 15:6 on. For James he was not justified until Gen. 22, although that he WOULD BE justified was stated in Gen. 15:6. Clearly they differ in what they mean by justification.

This difference relates to the difference between justification as God's own judgment/declaration of "not guilty" and His public proclamation of that fact to all creation (as was common in midrash, Abraham's testing was to demonstrate his holiness to the angels). God declares those who rest on Christ alone, not guilty on the day we have faith. This anticipates the public confirmation (what James calls justification) before all the angels and all creation on the judgment day that we have indeed been rightly so judged by God. BUt the second justification follows from the first, not the other way around.

Edwin, a great post. Yes, you have found the power of evangelicalism. I would only say that it is imputation and monergy that makes the power of God to save particularly clear.

Contarini said...


Excellent criticisms. Thanks a lot! I don't find the objection from James convincing at all, because I see no evidence in James that the "faith" of which he speaks is the same faith Paul is talking about. In particular, I don't see James speaking of faith as a gift of God. The example he gives of "lifeless" faith is the faith of demons. Now Aquinas explicitly says (Secunda Secundae, Qu. 5, Art. 2) that the faith of demons is _not_ a gift of God. It therefore follows, if Aquinas is right (and surely he is right on this), that the faith of which James is speaking is not a gift of God either.

Aquinas of course thinks that "lifeless faith" as it exists in humans _is_ a gift of God because it involves some affection for the good; and he furthermore thinks that it is "one and the same habitus" with living faith, differing from it only as the imperfect differs from the perfect. It's interesting, by the way, that he mentions William of Auxerre and Alexander of Hales as both disagreeing with him on the identity of living and lifeless faith. He doesn't cite any authorities in favor of his own view, simply arguing that it's more reasonable. This may be yet another case (along with the doctrine of created grace and the insistence that unbelievers really eat the Body of Christ in the Eucharist) where what Catholics have come to accept as the true doctrine was highly contested (at best) in the earlier Middle Ages, and owes its dominance within Catholic theology in large part to Aquinas (and sometimes to other high and late scholastics).

One interesting approach to consider would be to see what Aquinas calls "lifeless faith" as simply _imperfectly_ formed by charity. It could thus be a true gift of God, and would go along with some degree of charity (what Aquinas calls "affection for the good" but distinguishes sharply from the gift of charity). I wouldn't have a problem with that. In other words, let's think in terms of more and less rather than either/or. But at any rate, anything that involves "affection for the good" of any sort is not the faith of demons, and hence is not what James is talking about.

(I know of course that Aquinas's views are not necessarily Catholic doctrine. Feel free to correct me if later developments have substantially altered Aquinas's view of faith.)

It's also interesting to note that you deny that Paul and James have the same conception of "works," but you think they have the same conception of faith. I think they are working with different terminology on both counts. But I strongly disagree with the idea that the "works" Paul is talking about are only Jewish works--as if the Holy Spirit moved the Church to include Romans and Galatians in the canon just so we could be warned not to be Jews! I suggest that this is implicitly anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Jewish in ways that have had lethal results in Christian history, because it implies that defining ourselves against Jews remains an important part of what it means to be Christian. Whatever Paul means by works of the Law (or whatever the Holy Spirit means through Paul), it must be something on which Christians of all eras would be tempted to rely, or you are making the Word of God meaningless to us (except as an incitement to look down on Jews).

When I said that faith is a "simple act," I clarified that I meant "simple" in the philosophical sense. That is to say, it is one indivisible act rather than a compound of two things. I'm not sure you understood my meaning there.

Your point about the objective aspect of faith being as important as the "act of holding as true" is spot on. The great error of Protestantism here has been turning the spotlight on _how_ we believe rather than on the object of our faith (Newman was right about this). Often we have wound up having faith in faith rather than in Christ.

BUT I must point out that you don't speak of faith in Christ either. You speak of faith as "holding as true" things proposed to us by "dogma and authority." This leads you to identify evangelical Protestantism (and Donatism) as being in some sense in the same boat as "non-Christian" heresies that deny basic aspects of the Faith. This is, I firmly believe, a very serious confusion. Christian faith is not "belief-in-whatever-the-church-proposes." Indeed, I'd turn your accusation round on you and say that "belief-in-whatever-the-church-proposes" is not, formally speaking, Christian faith at all. Or rather, it is Christian faith only because your belief in what the Church proposes rests on a _prior_ belief in Christ, on the belief that the Church is the true witness to Christ, and on the confidence that Christ will not let the Church propose for belief anything that leads you away from Him.

But this means that you're turning your priorities around in the way you're putting things. Arianism's failure to be authentically Christian does not stem from the fact that it is opposed by "dogma and authority." It stems from the fact that it proposes for our belief a Christ who is not fully divine and thus not the true Christ. (That's why Donatism and Protestantism _are_ Christian and the other heresies you mention are not, at least not fully.)

It all boils down to that old evangelical cliche--our faith is in Christ, not in a doctrine or a church. Doctrines and hierarchies and liturgies all follow, and evangelical Protestants are far too cavalier about them (indeed, if I do remain Protestant, fighting those tendencies is going to be my primary vocation). But the object of faith is Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, and risen. Belief in the Church and its teachings as a whole (or, for that matter, belief in the Bible) is dependent on faith in Christ, not the other way round.

I may be attacking a straw man here, since you say later that "the Dogma and Authority of the Church are not the heart of Faith but they are the divinely instituted means of protecting the very fullness of the Faith." But in that case you need to rephrase your transition from saying that "dogma and authority are indispensible" (not something with which I'm prepared to argue) to a list of heresies that are "not Christian at all." In other words, the only way you will make a convincing argument (to me at least) is if you construct an argument that recognizes that Protestants (and Donatists!) believe(d) in the same Christ you do. That we have not preserved the fullness of the Faith I am not going to dispute for an instant. (I'm not certain that the Roman Communion has either--I rather think it hasn't but don't claim to be sure.)

I'm also not sure how you think I'm trying to make things simple that are not simple. I'm not suggesting that there is one simple cause for people falling away from the Catholic Faith. I'm suggesting that a flaw in Catholic teaching is a fairly obvious _possible_ cause, and that the other causes you allege do not (to me) seem adequate. I would certainly not accept such arguments from fellow-Protestants. For instance, it's indisputable that Protestantism as a whole (not Anglicanism, at least not since the 19th century) tends to fall down in terms of sacramental piety. I don't think this is inevitable--I think that anti-sacramentalism can be fought within Protestantism. But I don't question for a minute that this requires Protestant churches to re-examine their teachings. Of course, this is possible for us as it isn't for you, because we don't claim to be infallible. Both Anglicanism and more recently Methodism have been willing to learn a great deal from Catholicism--to relearn much that was unlearned at the Reformation, and to relearn together with Catholic liturgical scholars much that all Western Christians had long forgotten. I'm not trying to exalt Protestantism above Catholicism--I'm arguing that we need to be open to each other.

I'm also not convinced that modern American Catholicism is uniquely "bad" compared to Catholicism of other places and times. It seems to me that it has its unique vices and its unique virtues. What I know of Catholicism of other times and places (though admittedly two of the other three places where I've experienced Catholicism, Bavaria and Romania, were quite impressive on a cursory view; the third place, Lower Saxony, was much like the U.S.) indicates that they had/have their own problems, which may be just as serious. I simply don't buy the idea that all that's required is to teach the official doctrines of the Church with fervor and correctness and all the problems will go away. That really _is_ making something simple that is not simple.

Finally, you say that the failures "of those in the Church to teach the truth" are not reasons for continued separation. Believe me, I hold no brief for continued separation. I'd "come back" tomorrow (no, today) if unconditional submission was not the price. It's disingenuous to phrase things as if we were Donatists who condemn you as not being the true Church, when in fact it is you who (however gently and with however much nuance these days) condemn us (I'm speaking for moderate, ecumenical Protestants here, not fundamentalists or confessional hardliners). It's not that we are stubbornly refusing to reunite, but simply that we are stubbornly refusing to give up unconditionally traditions that may possibly give us precisely the insights that you say (rightly) that you need. Just as, unquestionably, you have many insights that we need (indeed, I have no doubt that our need of you is far greater than your need of us).

CPA said...

I have touched on your post at my blog here. Also, you mgiht be interested in Martin Chemnitz's truly powerful discussion of Justification (info here. It's beautiful theology.

Derek Jenkins said...


So the passage in James should read:

"You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by lifeless faith alone."?

Derek Jenkins said...

Hi Edwin:

By the way just so you will know, and this will help, I will begin taking RCIA this fall and plan to be received into the Church next spring. As I came to where I am because I think it is true, I will change if I think otherwise.

You wrote,

"BUT I must point out that you don't speak of faith in Christ either. You speak of faith as "holding as true" things proposed to us by "dogma and authority." This leads you to identify evangelical Protestantism (and Donatism) as being in some sense in the same boat as "non-Christian" heresies that deny basic aspects of the Faith. This is, I firmly believe, a very serious confusion. Christian faith is not "belief-in-whatever-the-church-proposes." Indeed, I'd turn your accusation round on you and say that "belief-in-whatever-the-church-proposes" is not, formally speaking, Christian faith at all. Or rather, it is Christian faith only because your belief in what the Church proposes rests on a _prior_ belief in Christ, on the belief that the Church is the true witness to Christ, and on the confidence that Christ will not let the Church propose for belief anything that leads you away from Him."

It is a challenge to simply not talk past each other eh? There is so much that would have to be run thru at each post to merely prevent miscommunication. It makes me chuckle. ;)

Actually I think I would formulate the relationship between the Church (and her God given Authority to bear witness to the Truth) and Christ as integral and inseperable. After all the Church is the Body of Christ. And while the Authority of the Church was given to her by Christ and therefore 'rests' on Christ, we do not know about Christ except thru the proclamation of the Church. The only way one can even have faith in Christ, if you trace it back all the way, is to have faith in the Church. The gospel message is always mediated thru the Church. The Church, as 'the pillar and ground of truth', and the guardian of the deposit of faith, bore witness authoritatively as to which writings comprised Holy Scripture. So even if you believe by thru exposure to the Scriptures you do so on the Auhority of the Church to declare what is Scripture. So it seems to me it can't boil 'down to...our faith is in Christ, not in a doctrine or a church', because implicit in faith in Christ is faith in Christ's message necessarily mediated thru the Church. Yes?

You wrote that, "Arianism's failure to be authentically Christian does not stem from the fact that it is opposed by "dogma and authority." It stems from the fact that it proposes for our belief a Christ who is not fully divine and thus not the true Christ." But I would immediately feel compelled to qualify the statement by an equally important addendum so that it only makes sense to read it as "...not fully divine and thus not the true Christ as understood and proclaimed the Church, whom the Lord gave his Authority to bear witness regarding Himself" ('He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.') Otherwise who can tell us who the 'true Christ' is? That is precisely what the Arians claimed to be doing, defining the true Christ. Who has the Authority to say?

So in the end the Church, her Authority, her Dogma, and Christ cannot be divided. I think this all flows from the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Church's foundation on Christ and his nature as determined by the Incarnation. The human and divine nature of Christ are inseperable, even tho they can be considered in their seperate aspects. Yes?

The reason so much of Protestantism struggles with all this is that they fail to recognize that the Catholic Church, in spite of her many failings, is not merely a human institution (Luther and Calvin both wounded forever the Protestant movement with their inbalance regarding the Transcendence of God). She has the promise that the Gates of hell will not prevail against her.

If the Catholic Church (or the Church whose true identity is that of the original church, as Newman would say I think) has not 'preserved the fullness of the Faith', then the Scripture is not true that proclaims she is the 'pillar and ground of truth', and indeed the 'gates of hell have prevailed against her'.

" I simply don't buy the idea that all that's required is to teach the official doctrines of the Church with fervor and correctness and all the problems will go away. That really _is_ making something simple that is not simple."

Indeed. The problems in the Church will never go away, at least in this realm anyway. She is a pilgrim. But a quote from Dr. Alice von Hildebrand that she attributes to her husband sums up nicely what I think seems exactly right, "the members of the Church, due to the effects of original sin and actual sin, are always in need of reform. The Church’s teaching, however, is from God. Not one iota is to be changed or considered in need of reform."

I am not sure what you mean by 'unconditional submission', could you explain. Also, whatever this means, the Church, I think, teaches that one should always follow the dictates of one's conscience. That surely has to be balanced with what unconditional submission means (I will try and find that in the CCC if you like).

I thought Bouyer in Spirit and Forms does a marvelous job in pointing out that the insights that Luther came to were always the heart of Catholic Doctrine and that it was the decadence of the time and of a corrupting Nominalist Theology on which he was standing that caused him to fail to perceive it. If you get the chance I would love to hear your perspective on his argument.

I have not studied enough to speak at all in regard to the status of heretics before the Lord, but in light of the Church's teaching regarding many of the separated churches and their union with the soul of the Church I can see where discernment is quite proper.

If that isn't enough. Would you comment on the following short essay of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori?

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Edwin,

Great post, as always. I'm not convinced, however (as you'd expect) that you can draw such a distinction between Catholics and all Protestants (at least not as widely as you have). In two papers (I list a related one by a friend, too) I sought to show that there is more of an affinity in soteriology than either side usually realizes. FWIW, here they are:

Catholic "Initial Justification" & Protestant "Faith Alone": Significant Common Ground?

Reflections on Faith and Works and Initial Justification

Trent Doesn't Necessarily Exclude All Variants of Imputation (Kenneth Howell)

Could it really be that you have significantly more time for some great discussion? Naw, too good to be true . . . I mustn't get my hopes up too high. :-)

In Him,


Dave Armstrong said...

I just realized that the first paper I cited is an excerpt of the second. :-) Oh well, I catch a lot of flak for my long papers, so if anyone wants "Dave Light," or "Cliff Notes Dave," read the first one. :-)

Contarini said...


First of all, I read the extracts from St. Alphonsus and didn't find them very realistic. In practice the kind of certainty of teaching he talks about is not present within the Catholic Church. He twits Luther for contradicting himself, as if Catholic theologians didn't do the same. There are all sorts of tensions and contradictions within Catholic teaching--I'm not necessarily talking about infallible dogma, but neither was he. Catholicism is a lot messier than St. Alphonsus makes it sound. And in the second place I'm not convinced that a lack of unity is qualitatively worse than a lack of holiness. He says that a Church that isn't united and can't trace unbroken continuity in all respects with the apostolic Church can't be the true Church. I see no reason to believe this any more than the proposition that a Church which has grave scandals among its clergy can't be the true Church. Sin affects the Church in all sorts of ways. Catholics seem to block off the possibility that it affects them in certain ways, and I don't find this convincing.

And as for James, I think of course that's what he means, and Catholics would agree with me. Living faith can't be alone, by definition, so of course he's speaking of lifeless faith. I'm not really interested in whether it's correct to say that we are justified by faith alone even though the faith that justifies always works through love (which is the classical Lutheran-Reformed Protestant position). That seems like a technicality to me. But James is clearly not addressing that point anyway. He's talking about a kind of faith that can exist without works. Hence he isn't talking about living faith in either its Catholic or Protestant understanding. And that makes the entire discussion not really relevant to a serious Catholic-Protestant debate, though it does refute the sillier versions of Protestantism.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Catholic Dude from:

anyway I have been reading the best I could the original article and all these responses and wanted to comment on a lot but I cant remember all that I wanted to mention.

First of all Baptism, from what I understand there are two camps in protestantism and one in Catholicism.
In one protestant camp and all Catholic, Baptism is a physical outward sign of grace given on the spiritual level, it is inseprable and occurs at the moment of Baptism, all acts of Baptism (done properly) confer grace on the individual. (Im not sure about the P side but the C side teaches that original sin and all other sins committed up to that moment is washed away.) In the other protestant camp Baptism is nothing more than a outward sign to your fellow Christians that you are a changed person, but they believe that no grace is conferred on the individual. This to me is one distinction about the Sacraments as a whole when dealing with P's vs. C's, especially the point when one becomes Christian. The Biblical and Historical moment when one becomes a Christian is when they are Baptized.
To Catholics the Sacraments really are grace conferring acts and hense saving acts, and for all Sacraments to be vaild and protected that is where the Church comes in. Not an invisible global tentcovering, but a physical and very real presence that men can always look to for the truth.

Now onto the James vs. Paul issue. I dont believe they were teaching opposite things at all. The issue protestants get caught up with, as some here have already said, is the faith vs rules and regulations of the Law, they think that means the same things as good works in general but it doesnt. Paul made it clear Abraham was justified by Faith, but he always made it clear that certain sins would result in a person not going to heaven. The people he was talking to knew Abraham lived a good God fearing life and did what God wanted him to, even when it sounded too good to be true. Now here is where James comes in, people usually point to James 2:24 and say "not by faith alone" which protestants turn around and point to Paul's references to Abraham. The key is James 2:22-23 which explains the Abraham situation perfectly which Paul implied the whole time. James says for Abraham specifically that: "Faith was ACTIVE WITH and COMPLETED by works" Abraham didnt have the Law at that time, so those works mentioned didnt mean the Law, it meant obeying God and doing good.

Other than that Binx has pretty much covered the bases.
-Catholic Dude

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Leo said...
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