The Catholic View on Justification (and Sanctification)

Almost every Catholic can you tell you stories about Protestants who tell them they’re damned for believing in works-righteousness, and then tell them they’re bad Catholics when they explain that they don’t believe in works-righteousness.  If you’ve been reading the comments on the post from a few days ago, you’ll see that my turn has come up again (although it’s from a non-denominational Christian who doesn’t consider himself Protestant).

There are a few problems here.  One, which I’ll hopefully get to tomorrow, is the tendency to conflate Catholics with Pharisees (who believed in salvation by being Jewish, through the working of the Mosaic Law), and both with Pelagians (who believed in salvation by good works, which aren’t the same as “works of the law”).  The second is that while Protestants have often heard a whole lot about what Catholics believe on justification, it’s rarely from Catholic sources, and much of it is absolutely false.  This isn’t a problem just with justification (yesterday, Mark Shea highlighted to a Protestant website with a letter allegedly from Jerome in 492… even though Jerome had been dead 72 years at this point), but it’s particularly a problem with justification, since most Protestants are aware that’s the thing that originally separated them from Catholicism.

My goal in today’s post is just to provide two actual Catholic documents dealing with justification, so that both sides can be better informed:

I. The Catechism on Justification

The Catechism has a great section on justification. CCC 1991 says that:

Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

And CCC 1992 explains:

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life (Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1529): 

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26).

The section even quotes St. Augustine for the proposition that “the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth,” because “heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect . . . will not pass away” (see CCC 1994).  So by faith – even by faith alone – are we brought into right relationship with God. 

II. The Council of Trent on Justification

But didn’t the Council of Trent declare that view anathema?  That, at least, is what I’ve heard from about every Protestant who’s heard this.  T27C declares me a heretical Catholic for believing it.  Of course, the people who tell me what Trent said… never read Trent.  Ahem:

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.

That’s chapter eight of the sixth session of the Council of Trent.  The Coucnil follows the custom of St. Thomas Aquinas, who, out of respect for Paul, refers to him simply as “the Apostle,” and it makes the exact argument Protestants are making: if we can somehow “earn” our justification, it’s not a grace.

When I say the Catholic view is misrepresented and misunderstood, this is what I mean.  We’re told Trent derides as heresy a view which it declares as dogma.  The chapter before it is much more technical, and involves a ridiculously long run-on sentence, which I’ve broken it up into bullet points.  But if you’re interested in the precise mechanics of justification, here’s chapter seven (if you’re not, skip the block quote):

Of this Justification the causes are these:

  • the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting;
  • while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance;
  • but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father;
  • the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified;
  • lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation.

For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith, Catechumen’s beg of the Church-agreeably to a tradition of the apostles-previously to the sacrament of Baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestows life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow: whence also do they immediately hear that word of Christ; If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they are bidden, immediately on being born again, to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first robe given them through Jesus Christ in lieu of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting.

That’s admittedly very technical, but the gist is this: we are justified by faith, through the gratuitous mercy of God, due to the merits of Jesus Christ dying for us on the Cross.  We receive this justification through Baptism, the sacrament of faith. And through justification, the Holy Spirit bestows upon us faith, hope, and love, the three things which unite us perfectly to Christ.  It’s these two things (hope and charity) which Trent cautions us not to separate faith from.  And it’s through this that we’re able to do works which are pleasing to God: not because they’re good works, but because they’re our faith working through charity.  It’s us living in the Holy Spirit.

III. Conclusion

To Protestants who aren’t used to the Catholic view of justification and sanctification, this picture can seem confusing and even contradictory. In hopes of making it clearer, let me use an analogy: God breathed life into Adam when he was just dust.  After having life breathed into him, Adam had to cooperate in maintaining that life by eating.  Adam’s not alive because he ate: he’s alive because God breathed life into him.  You didn’t somehow merit being alive by eating breakfast. But if Adam stops eating, even when he feels the internal call to, he’ll eventually die.  So the breath of God is roughly the role that Grace and faith play here, while eating is roughly the role that the expression of faith through love (“good works”) takes.  Breath precedes eating, and is necessary for it to be of any worth.  But once we’ve come from dust to life in Christ (once He’s breathed His life into us, so to speak), we’re not to reject that internal call to charity, and if we do, it’s damnable: our faith dies, and we die with it.  That’s how we can simultaneously affirm that Adam’s life came from the breath of God, and not anything he did, whether eating, or any other thing (cf. Romans 3:28); and at the same time affirm that if Adam doesn’t eat, he’ll be dead (cf. James 2:26).

Protestants are of the view that “if you’re truly alive, you’ll eat,” while Catholics are of the view that “if you don’t eat, you’l die.”  The Bible sides with the Catholic view: that there are folks who have faith, but then refuse to act on that faith, killing it. But quite frankly, these two views aren’t very far apart.  I’m strongly of the opinion that the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism on justification is one of inches, not miles, when we get past the buzz and actually hear what the other side actually proclaims.  But to get to those views, we have to be patient, and seek to understand what the other Christian actually believes.

16 Comments

  1. Good job Joe. I think these exercises are valuable to all involved; your readers, 27, and yourself. My frustration is that you are so clear and make so much sense to me, yet someone else like 27 continue to believe something else.
    Would 27’s line of reasoning hold up in court?
    Bill

  2. Thanks, Bill! I agree that this has been edifying and instructive for me, and I’m glad you’re getting something out of it as well.

    In T27C’s defense, he’s almost certainly heard – for years – that we Catholics believe the opposite of what we actually believe. Chances are, he knows some Catholics who either didn’t know their faith, or explained it in a way he didn’t get.

    Imagine if your entire life, you’d been taught that all of South America spoke Spanish, including Brazil. Maybe you know some Spanish-speaking Brazilians, or maybe it just sounded like Spanish to you. If one day, some Brazilian claimed Brazil speaks Portugese, you’d probably think he was nuts, or lying. I think something similar is going on here: we have the facts on our side, while he’s got years of prejudices and things-he’s-been-told, and how Catholics sound to his non-Catholic ear. Being mistaken about Catholicism is excusable- it’s refusal to accept correction which is sinful.

    Joe.

  3. Hello, Mr. Heschmeyer;

    I have indeed heard what you believe for years, and, without ruining my pseudonymity, I should lay a claim to knowing within reason that I am right. At the very least, I gave you some lines that I disagree with from the Catechism. (I disagree with lots more: the Traditions, and the Traditions that talk of the Traditions, such as those that compel that these Traditions—praying the rosary, say—are equal in force with things like “Believe, you and your household, and you will be saved.”) So, if you say I am wrong, you are saying we should await an encyclical.

    “Being mistaken about Catholicism is excusable- it’s refusal to accept correction which is sinful.”
    And what about being a heretic? I asked you—and you refused to answer, tellingly—if you agree with this: We are justified by Grace, through Faith, apart from works of the Law.
    Here is what you should believe (regardless of whether you do) if you are a Roman Catholic:
    “The term “merit” refers in general to the recompense owed …
    … we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”

    Heretic to the Roman Catholic Church, or heretic to the gospel of Truth (in spite of not being a heretic to the Roman Catholic Church)? I do not know what you believe; that may be true. But I know what you are taught to believe. You, like me, may be a heretic, but one who is just taking too long to see it.
    Or you could concede that there is ambiguity, and pray for a clarifying encyclical about which we may bicker yet more.

  4. T27C,

    You seem to have just ignored all of the above. Of course we proclaim that we’re justified by faith apart from works of the Law. If you’d honestly tried to understand the above, without trying to play word games, you’d see that. I quoted the Catechism for the fact that “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law,” (CCC 1992, quoting Romans 3), and Trent for the fact that nothing we do can merit justification.

    Instead, you quote misleading half-sentences. CCC 2006, which says “The term ‘merit’ refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it. “
    And is immediately followed by CCC 2007, which says, “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator. “

    Yet you quote the first half of CCC 2006, and make it sound like the Catechism is saying God owes us: the exact opposite of what it says. This is “dirty pool,” and it’s unfit for a Christian.

    If you’re genuinely confused as to what the Church teaches about merit, it’s essentially this. To the extent God “owes” us anything, ever, it’s not because we’re so good; instead, it’s because of His own justice and promises: the righteousness of God. As 2 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

    Paul’s “boast,” if you will, is that he’s been faithful, so he knows God will reward him (and all others who are similarly longing after God).

    The second “soundbite” you pull from the Catechism is explicitly about the process of sanctification, not initial justification. Yes, in working in accord with God’s will, we grow closer to Him, and our spiritual state is improved. Catholics *definitely* believe this. But that’s not “works-righteousness,” since we aren’t receiving righteousness as a reward for our works.

  5. Mr. Heschmeyer;
    Does the Catechism—full as it is of contradictions, which you also recognise—clarify anything? Give me Romans 4 any day.
    You separate sanctification and justification; perhaps rightly so. But if sanctification depends on our works, and sanctification ensures eternal life (I assume the Catholics understand that eternal life is for the justified), then justification depends on our works.

    Yes, St. Paul explicitly notes, it is because he has kept the faith that that there is in store a crown of righteousness. Is that forbiddingly-difficult to see? Do you see faith and see works?

    To dive right into this, seeing as I am referenced in the first paragraph (an honour; thank you, sir), you say:

    “The Catechism has a great section on justification. CCC 1991 says that …”
    Yes, paragraph P says that. What does paragraph Q say? I perceive real contradictions in the Catechism. And since Roman Catholicism insists on the necessity of an interpreting encyclical for such a case, we have to have one, before you can say that I am wrong. And in the event that we do have one, we could have ambiguities in that.
    There is only one solution, of course—believing that we are correct, by simple, blind, gut faith—but you rejected it.

    “The Coucnil follows the custom of St. Thomas Aquinas, who, out of respect for Paul, refers to him simply as “the Apostle,” …”
    There is more St. Thomas here than that (I think Angelic himself learnt that tradition somewhere else, for he never seems to develop it). They talk of final causes and formal causes … the gospel is become philosophy. Hah.

    “… the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism …”
    Bad. Tellingly, this is often a cause for clashes with the nulla salus crowd. We are justified even when not baptised (however nice baptism indeed is).

    “For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body.”
    Bad. We are justified apart from works of Law.

    “For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity.”
    So, you see: one cannot be justified, according to the Roman Catholic Church, without works. (Or you are self-contradicting.) This is why you cannot agree with the Truth: we are justified by Grace, through Faith, apart from works of the Law. No doubt you are going to say I am getting your point wrong, even though I have not edited this sentence since we started our exchanges. No doubt I do not see how it is wrong to say that the Roman Catholic Church hinges justification on works, even as you quote the above.
    No doubt I am being obstinate, when I note also that either you are heretical or contradictory; and that the contradictions cannot be solved, because you burnt the fideistic bridges behind you in contempt and indignation.

    “… that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting.”
    Bad. The commandments of Jesus are: repent and believe the gospel. The Catechumen is being told to bear his robe spotless—a work, by which they “may have life everlasting—but this is wrong. We are justified by Grace, through Faith, apart from the works of the Law.

  6. “It’s these two things (hope and charity) which Trent cautions us not to separate faith from.”
    We cannot; if we have faith, we have them, in Christ Jesus.
    For Roman Catholics, they have them if they work for them; so they can indeed, by working wrong, or failing to work good, be separated from Jesus. That is, their works are why they would be condemned or not, before God.
    This is wrong. God hasten the day when these lies are no longer taught.

    “And it’s through this that we’re able to do works which are pleasing to God …”
    The “this” pronoun there refers to the hope and charity, which we have to maintain on our own. Do you see, now, how you have arrived at pleasing God through your works? Oh, you should now claim in indignation that I do not understand the subtle interplay of faith and works! That I do not know what the Catholics really teach! That it is not through our works that we please God! Even though we could not have remained in grace, had it not been for our charity. Yet what does the Hebrew say? “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” I know what the traditions of men say: without charity it is impossible to please God.
    Someone is wrong, and it is not the Hebrew.

    “To Protestants who aren’t used to the Catholic view of justification and sanctification, this picture can seem confusing and even contradictory.”
    It is contradictory, where it is not wrong. Where it is wrong, it is because it says “by Grace, through faith and works, we are justified”, which is not even a gospel at all.

    “After having life breathed into him, Adam had to cooperate in maintaining that life by eating.”
    In eating, Adam was not co-operating with God. He was not doing co-creative work in eating! (And the Bible laughs at you: he died for eating.)
    The better example, Pauline in origin: just as through one man sin entered the World, by one man justification to all.
    Your example of Adam communicates heresy.

    “That’s how we can simultaneously affirm that Adam’s life came from the breath of God, and not anything he did, whether eating, or any other thing (cf. Romans 3:28); and at the same time affirm that if Adam doesn’t eat, he’ll be dead (cf. James 2:26).”
    A correct example would be affirming that if Adam were dead, he would not eat. That is, if the faith we have were dead, we would not believe in Jesus Christ, and would not be thereby justified.
    It is not the other way ‘round.

    “Protestants are of the view that “if you’re truly alive, you’ll eat,” while Catholics are of the view that “if you don’t eat, you’l die.””
    I think it is only the Lutherans—those who signed the Joint Declaration, at least—who maintain thus. I know it is wrong for me to pipe up, seeing as I am outside of both. But, for what it is worth, mine is “You are alive, therefore you are eating.”
    Is mine very far apart from Catholicism, too?
    Inches, perhaps; but if it is “another gospel”, it is not even a gospel; therefore the inches are an infinity, an eternity.

  7. T27C, where does Roman Catholicism demand an explaining encyclical? I don’t know where you get your information about what Catholics believe, but it’s been wrong repeatedly. I’ve been meaning to address this before, but it got kind of knocked down the list. A lot of your logical analysis (about how this would lead to an infinite series of encyclicals explaining each other) is based on a false premise.

    Can you point me to a section of the Catechism, or another official Catholic document, supporting this claim?

    And in response to “For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body,” you say, “Bad. We are justified apart from works of Law.” Are you saying hope and charity are works of Law?

  8. Trent says: “For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity.”

    You respond: “So, you see: one cannot be justified, according to the Roman Catholic Church, without works. (Or you are self-contradicting.) “

    But Trent is quoting James 2:24 and Galatians 6:15. Are you saying that these disagree with your theology?

  9. “Can you point me to a section of the Catechism, or another official Catholic document, supporting this claim?”
    The Scriptures are perspicuous, and we can have a private understanding of them each on his own?

    “Are you saying hope and charity are works of Law?”
    Charity, as stated there, yes.

    “But Trent is quoting James 2:24 and Galatians 6:15. Are you saying that these disagree with your theology?”
    No; it is the Roman Catholic interpretation of them that does.

  10. T27C,
    (1) That’s not an official Catholic document – it’s a loaded, rhetorical question.
    (2) It’s also a false dichotomy: why should we have to choose between “all Scripture is immediately understood” and “no Scripture is understandable without instruction, and that instruction must come in the form of an encyclical”?

    Is it your stance that all believers picking up a Bible will get, unaided, obscure parts, like the parable of the Dishonest steward from Luke 16:1-15)? And is it further your stance that anyone who disagrees must take the 180 degree diametric opposite view that NO Scripture is easily understood?

  11. Sorry to interject again but my patience has grown thin.

    T27C, the hand of friendship has been offered to you time and time again, and each time you have slapped it away with insults of lies, heresy, and the damned. I even gave you a definition of justification that we all could use to have a common understanding, but even that you dismissed knowing full well that I wasn’t asking if you are Lutheran, but if you could accept this olive branch. You didn’t disagree with the definition (or else you would have said so) but you were too timid to affirm to one doctrinal statement in order to further discussion. This is great in a debate, but uncharitable in a dialogue.

    I know you are allergic to the term “works” or “deeds” or “actions” even though it is mentioned positively many times in scripture. But I’m not going to give up the reality that after we are justified by Christ through no merit of our own we still have to participate with the grace he gives us. I use the example of the prodigal son which you dismiss as only a message of forgiveness. I also believe it is a story of forgiveness (although according to you there is no need for forgiveness since there is no sin against belief) AND it is also a model for our relationship with God. When justified we become the adopted child of God. And like a child there is nothing we can do earn or lose that status of the Father’s love. But we can still squander our inheritance or live in a way that honors our relationship with the heavenly father. So in short Faith makes us a son or daughter of God, and our works determine if we are a good or bad son or daughter.

    You disagree because you suffer from a personal individualistic fundamentalist interpretation of scripture that has been spoon fed with anti-catholic bigotry and is non-existent before the 16th century. I usually wouldn’t use such strong language because it shuts down dialogue, but you rejected that possibility a long time ago.

    I am not looking for a response to this post because anything you type is impossible to refute since you offer no evidence outside your own prejudiced hermeneutics that I can read or research or proves that anyone else has ever come to the same conclusions as you.

    A conversation can not continue when you repetitively reframe the teachings of the Catholic Church as “this is what you say, but I know what you really teach, according to the bigotry I’ve been taught.” You would not go on to a Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu website and use the same language of lies, heresy, and damnation out of respect, but you have no problem displaying the last acceptable prejudice: anti-Catholic bigotry.

    All your words ring hollow and empty because you lack any charity in speech and while you may be passionate in your faith, you reveal yourself to be wholly immature for serious dialogue.

    Thank you for your time.
    Fr. Joshua

  12. Fr. Joseph;
    I am sorry. I have captured a crucial Pakistani city for the British Crown. I will stop posting, after this my long-overdue apology. I know that I am severely lacking in online etiquette, which is why I avoid such exchanges. (I speak the truth here.) But I was swallowed into this one, from what I thought would be a one-off comment on this blog some days ago, about what Protestant Bible translators’ traditions may require of them; such as segregation against Roman Catholic ideas. I was trying to point out that if the extra-Scriptural Catholic Traditions were correct, then it could not be argued—except by my kind of fideism—that one tradition had to do as another tradition demanded. I intended to stop there, but now look how far it came. And, believe me, I am deeply sorry about my conduct.

    To your (plural) credit, though, I have been very keenly aware of the large disparity in charity between me and the Catholics here, and not just because I am untrained in such exchanges (well, in the time when I used to have them, vicious sarcasm was how one did it, if one were well-trained—we live in a post-Adam World, you see). Even in this exasperated comment of yours, I kept waiting for a lashing word, preferably with four letters and Germanic in origin, and none came. Fearing that I would wear Mr. Heschmeyer out, I kept it clear that I recognised and appreciated his charity, even though I seemed unable to reciprocate it. The Calvinists may have a valid point on the T petal.

    Nonetheless, when I disagree—be it because I am idiosyncratic in my beliefs, as I made it entirely clear from the very first comment, because I knew that it is a main cause for my confrontations with people online, from Catholics and Protestants, to atheists and hedonists—I tend to be viciously defensive of my position, because I know Whom I have believed, and (crucially) I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day. Now, if anyone even distantly implies the opposite—however distantly—I am likely going to become a frothing fanatic. I am worried about ever having to rely on me, because one thing I am certain of is this: I cannot suffice for anything (except good grammar). You will bear me witness. Your (plural) good conduct in this debate is something I could use to make some point on my side of the debate, but that would generally drain the charity in a way that good guys like yourselves—even when you are wrong—simply do not deserve.

    Now, I promise to make no further comments after replying to Mr. Heschmeyer here, in similarly penitent tone, so that I may suffer self-ex-communication and learn from it to behave better.

  13. Mr. Heschmeyer;
    After I write this comment, I will probably (well, I will certainly try) to shut up. Because while it would be good to continue to defend my position, if I have used up the charity of my hosts, I have forfeited that right, where I had it. It is not as though I cannot say what I am saying in a nicer way; it is for not having as well-shaven a language for such a purpose, which is a sad state for a person of my age.

    And I should tell you my dirty secret: that I tell people to be morally Roman Catholics, if they can in so doing avoid thinking that self-flagellation can help them before God (and all such things). For in the modern World, nobody has a moral rudder nearly as good (I should say “as existent”) as the Roman Catholics. The rest of us are swept by every new practice, to the detriment of body (first), then the soul (next), then the community (last—for if it dies, everybody dies). Apart from the Roman Catholics, nobody even has a sound reason (if I do not count my fideistic “I reject it because I do”) to be against the many provably-dangerous contraceptive methods out there, or even a way to count the aborted millions into the murder count this bloodiest century ever.
    If you are brave enough to see this link, you are seeing something that only Catholics have a sound response to (seriously). No philosophy outside of the Scholastic natural law theory one has a cogent answer; this being mainly Roman Catholic. Entire peoples are condoming themselves out of existence, and only the Catholics can even begin to say that it is wrong. For your body’s sake, at the very least, and society’s sake, at most, live as the Popes say you should. Just ignore that nonsense about how crossing yourself and kissing statues and mummies helps your standing before God. Now you know why I write of your Roman Catholic Tradition with respect.

    And also I will tell you that you have been correct on another thing; what separates me and most Catholics I’ve met is just two “small” things: I will have no works account for my justification before God, at all, ever. Never, at all.And also I believe in taking things as true by simple, blind, gut faith. Let faith be true, and all reason a liar. I blame the Catholics for relegating the importance of blind faith, and subsequently causing the New Atheists. But if it is about what you should do—not that you may be made right before God, but that you may be right in your mind, in your body, and in your society and other societies—ask a Roman Catholic (now that other sound traditions have died at the hands of the onslaught that seems to have been resisted only in Rome). Indeed, the absence of such a moral guidance is driving the remainder of those who need the morals to work into the Roman Catholic direction—the Queen of England hinted at just that, in the strained first person singular, not long ago—and therefore leading them to feeble and wrong soteriology as well, which is sad.

  14. Yea, indeed: it is a loaded question. But it not rhetorical, because it seeks an answer. Does the St. Augustine line I see often count as an official document? When a particular Catholic tradition gets in trouble, and you have to pin a Catholic, you will find that documents are sparse on the requirements, but the Tradition is rich. There are, to my knowledge, only two articles of faith defined as infallible. So if I had to pin a Catholic on the requirement on the infallibility of the Catechism, then … Not very long ago, I would have given you an official document that says “Where there is unclear understanding, the guidance of the Teaching Tradition should be consulted …” or the like. But I know that you understand my point, which is why a question sufficed. You had used this very fact in chuckling at the “many denominations of Protestantism.” I do not take it seriously when you pretend that nothing in Roman Catholicism compels referring to the Teaching Tradition on all such matters. In fact, I remember reading where it was said that, even though a passage of Scripture may be used to defend Papal Infallibility, it is itself not infallible. That is comical … unless you accept fideism, which you do not.

    The dichotomy holds for the Roman Catholic, because whatever can be misunderstood to the point of needing an explaining encyclical will. I have probably demonstrated as much just from my comments here.

    “Is it your stance that all believers picking up a Bible will get, unaided, obscure parts, like the parable of the Dishonest steward from Luke 16:1-15)?”
    Yes; if they interpret everything to be in sync with: we are justified by Grace, through Faith, apart from works of the Law. It comes with an explanation: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” The first sentence is clear, the second one: use your worldly wealth for the cause of faith, so that when gold tarnishes and moths eat silk, you will be justified. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” So, use money to serve God, in the cause of faith. The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.
    And the best part: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.” Faith, children. Faith. The works will not bear you home. I speak as a justified tax collector.

  15. T27C,

    Wrapping up a few loose ends:

    (1) The Catechism is an official Catholic document, and it relies heavily upon inspired and infallible statements, but it’s not itself infallible. It’s just a summary of Church teachings.

    (2) As for the relationship between Scripture and “explaining encyclicals,” the analogy I can think of is from law. I know this will make Catholics look legalistic, but really, it’s just because I’m a lawyer, and law’s something I know.

    Some statutes are totally clear: some are ambiguous. So the courts interpret the statutory law. Maybe you say the law means X, and I say it means Y, and we end up in court. The court tells us that the law means X. I now know, for sure, what this statute means as a matter of law. Similarly, where Scripture leads different people to different conclusions, the Church can say, “no, my son, that’s not what’s meant” when need be.

    You’ll note that in the analogy, the court isn’t (hopefully) creating a new law: it’s just explaining what Congress already intended. What’s more, the additional clarity isn’t because judges are better writers than legislators. It’s because the judge, faced directly with the question, “Did Congress mean X or Y” answers that question directly.

    Likewise, Paul was directly addressing the question of the so-called “Judaizers.” There’s not really any question as to what the answer is there, because he addressed it directly. In the course of doing so, he said plenty of things which are instructive, but indirectly (if Paul says this in this situation, what does it mean in this other situation?). These indirect teachings are less clear, so when they lead to confusion, the Church answers directly.

    Most statutory law never gets an official Supreme Court interpretation of what the law means. Either the law is clear, or the ambiguity isn’t serious enough to lead to major confusion or dangerous errors. Likewise, most of Scripture is never directly interpreted by the Church, unless and until it’s misunderstood.

    (3) I never meant to insult blind, gut faith, although it clear from your comments that I’ve insulted you. I’m sorry about that. What I meant to convey (and what I’m increasingly thinking you might agree with, given what you said on contraception above) is that while blind, gut faith can work for an individual believer, it doesn’t really work for evangelism, or for governing disputes in the Church, since it’s unique to the individual.

    Finally, I’ve enjoyed having you around. Certainly, there have been a few heated moments. But I hope that putting me in a position to have to explain what the Church teaches on a variety of issues was as edifying for you as it was for me: steel sharpening steel, and all that.

    I think it’s best we end the debate on justification here. We’ve said most of what can be said. Perhaps a while from now, if we come across this dialog again, we’ll see something we missed before; perhaps not. In any case, let’s just agree to pray for each other. I hope you keep reading the blog, invite you to comment on areas other than justification if you’d like, and consider you a brother in Christ.

    Joe.

  16. What an intriguing exchange. I am a math instructor, not a theologian, but I would like to ask T27C, or anyone else, how it is possible to have faith and not have hope and charity? Is not the presence of faith in the soul indicative of the work of grace, and evidence of an inner transformation? Then how would that work of grace not include hope and charity? I am thinking along these lines: if God transforms the soul, toward His offer of salvation the soul reponds with faith; toward His promises the soul responds with hope, and toward His creatures the soul responds with love. It is the one disposition with various outward manifestations. That’s what I don’t understand about the “faith alone” concept — it doesn’t seem to be grounded in any kind of reality I can get my hands on. If I am wrong here, I would be grateful to know how. Thanks in advance, Dan

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