This is a Joint Declaration regarding the Doctrine of Justification that Ratzinger played such a large role in during the late 90’s.
It came about as a step toward Christian Unity nearly 500 years after the division from the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
It was originally signed by Roman Catholics and Lutherans signifying “a common understanding of justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.”
Now, the World Communion of Reformed Churches also has recently joined by signing this document in Germany, becoming the forth Church to pledge their agreement that Christians of all denominations have more in common than the initial question that separated them in the beginning: faith or works.
“Today is a historic day,” said Jerry Pillay, president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), at a ceremony on 5 July in the eastern German town of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther lived and worked. “The documents we are signing today are significant and symbolic of the road we are to travel.”
Said Brian Farrell [pictured above] of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity; “We now have a situation where on the fundamental question that separated us in the sixteenth century, which was Catholics insisted on good works as a sign of faith, as necessary for salvation, and Protestants said no, no, no, it’s only the grace of Christ”.
“We have the same substantial understanding of what it is that happens when Christ saves the sinner. This is the whole point. So we have a very central point of our faith that we thought we disagreed on but now we realise that in the substance, we agree.”
With this understanding comes a basis on which the Churches can build a deeper relationship and help one another share the Gospel.
After the Lutherans and Roman Catholics signed the document in 1999, the Methodists joined in 2006.
This year will see two Churches sign, starting now with the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Anglican Church will also do so in October 2017.
“As you can see there is a very important growth in communion about the substantial question of how Christ saves us. It’s very important. It means we can no longer think of each other as separated and distant”.
“We are now in a position to work together and work more closely and to help each other to preach the Gospel because we have so much in common that we didn‘t realise before that we had so much.” said Farrell.
By October, all of the main historical Christian Churches of the West, who were involved in the divide, will be in agreement on this issue.
Bishop Farrell says it is a big step toward potential unity, because it establishes a basis on which to build something more, leading to further collaboration in the future.
“We cannot think of each other as separated or distant, but we must work together,” says Brian Farrell.
But should this concern us? What does it matter? Hasn’t the church been divided long enough?
The following is taken from a prominent catholic website dated Sept 2011.
Let’s begin by establishing the bedrock: defined Catholic dogma. Then we will consider the unique insights and contributions of our Holy Father.
Justification is a mystery which cannot be exhaustively understood. We can only approach a mystery in receptive, vigorous wonder: “Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5, RSV). Still, we can gather some understanding of this mystery. We can speak aboutwhat happens in justification; we can speak about who causes justification and through what means; and we can speak about the basis for justification. Let us start with a brief description touching on all these points.
Justification involves the free forgiveness of sins and the re-creation of the sinner through the infusion of justifying grace, otherwise known as sanctifying grace. This infusion makes us God’s truly just friends and adopted sons (CCC 1266, 1999, 2000, and 2010; Compendium of the Catechism 263 and 423).
God alone causes justification, working through the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation. The basis for justification—the grounds on account of which God justifies—are the merits of Jesus Christ. Let us now explore these elements in greater detail.
Note already that we have a swerving away from Protestant doctrine right here. Baptism and reconciliation are not sacraments.
Justification as Forgiveness of Sin
The personal sins forgiven in justification differ from person to person, but when we speak of “justification,” the sins forgiven must include mortal sin and original sin. When someone already in the state of grace is forgiven only venial sins, the subject is not, strictly speaking, justification (the first moment of Christian spiritual life) but rather ongoing sanctification (sometimes called “second justification”).
What is original sin?
Original sin is what we inherit from Adam: We are all conceived in a state of alienation from God (Ps 51, Eph 2:3). We are deprived of sanctifying grace, which made us radiant like angels. Stripped of our royal robe, we inherit the rebellious state Adam chose. Also, we are ravaged interiorly by this loss, so we find acts of supernatural virtue impossible, acts of natural virtue difficult, and, often enough, acts of vice attractive. This is not all.
Upon birth, those begotten of Adam (except the Mother of God) also bear the stain of guilt before God, which cries out for eternal punishment. Since sin entails guilt before God; only God can remit sin. Indeed, only the one who is offended can reestablish a violated relationship. No matter how much I try to win back the friend I have wronged, I must await his free forgiveness. How much more is this the case with God!
What of mortal sin? An act of mortal sin is an offense of infinite proportion because instead of cleaving to God as I am commanded (Dt 6:4ff), I choose another god. Whether money, fame, pleasure, or vain knowledge, it is not the living God. Against such sin, the wrath of God flares up (Rom 1:18). Yet, God does not consume the sinner immediately; he is slow to anger and rich in mercy (Rom 2:4, Eph 2:4). Often, he gently asks the shivering soul cloaked by shame, “Where are you?” (Gn 3:9).
God can call dead bones to life (Ez 37)and he does not quench the smoldering wick (Is 42:3). Yet, God’s mercy does not come cheap. Preachers of “mercy” who do not call to mind the divine wrath misread Paul. In the face of God’s justice, one cannot but confess, “No man can ransom himself” (Ps 49:7).
Behold fallen man: Interiorly destitute of divine life, frequently inclined towards evil, soiled with guilt. The result: “No human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law” (Rom 3:20). There is no human sinner who can make himself just. This is bad news but true. What doctor ever healed before a proper diagnosis? God, wanting man’s cooperation, shares with him this diagnosis, that he might come freely to the Light of life (Jn 3:20f), drawn by the Father (Jn 6:44). God is not only just but merciful. As he created us without our assistance, so he redeemed us without the cooperation of sinners, putting forth his Son as an expiation for sin (Rom 3:24ff). The sole human person cooperating in our redemption was Mary. An expiation is a sacrifice lovingly offered in atonement. Our expiation is the self-offering of the Son made flesh. Instead of condemning us sinful humans, he became one of us yet without sin (Heb 2:14-17, 4:15). This Redemption is radical. Such a gift can only be received; it cannot be earned, though its acceptance through faith is an act of freewill.
Justification as Re-creation
We have covered the first aspect of justification, the forgiveness of sins, together with the Redemption in Christ and the prevenient love of God. The second aspect—inseparable from the first—is the infusion of sanctifying grace and the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) by which the human person becomes God’s acceptable child, his loving friend, an heir of eternal life (Jn 15:15, Rom 8:14-17, Gal 4:7).
As Catholic faith teaches, forgiveness is not isolated from this re-creation (Gal 6:15) but comes hand in hand with it (Trent, VI, ch. 7 and canons 10-11). It would be unintelligible for God to forgive the godless and call him godly if he remains godless in reality. Rather, God forgives the sins of the godless whom he makes godly(Eph 2:1-5), obedient from the heart (Rom 6:17). There is an internal difference of great magnitude between the unjustified and the justified. Whereas the former “[do] not submit to God’s law” (Rom 8:7), the latter do, for they are made lovers of God, and whoever loves God keeps his commandments (Jn 14:15) and no one who does not keep his commandments loves God (Jn 14:21). God alone replaces the heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26ff). This surgery is divinely wrought, not a work of human effort (Eph 2:8-10).
The foregoing remarks show us that on at least three counts our Redemption is not by works of law. First, no one can exact forgiveness, much less divine forgiveness. Second, no one can bring down grace, no matter how much he tries. Third, a rotten tree—which is what man is when born—cannot bear (supernaturally) good fruit. Similarly, justification, which is dependent on Christ’s redemptive act, is a free gift and not a work of law (Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:9) nor a product of human willing (Jn 1:13).
Pope Benedict’s Remarks
We are now in a position to read properly Pope Benedict’s teachings.
First, Pope Benedict states there are several reasons that we cannot merit heaven. Most obviously, our Redemption by the blood of Christ is a pure gift. Moreover, and in some sense more astoundingly, heaven is a communion with God who is love (1 Jn 4:8), and a relationship of love is initiated by a free gift. If such a relationship is with the infinite, all holy God, how much more is this initiative free! So, too, any merit depends on God’s promise, though God’s promise does not exclude all merit. Finally, the reward of the just exceeds actual merit, as divine mercy tempers divine justice (Wis 11:23, Rom 8:18). Pope Benedict has these reasons and others in mind in his statement. He does not intend to deny Trent’s teaching. He does, however, put this teaching in context—in the context of personal love. We are dealing, after all, with a love story, with a Father who sent his only Son out of love for the godless.
Second, there is a reason that Pope Benedict teaches that faith alone suffices and that it always comes with charity. He means, by “true faith,” a living faith. Now, living faith by dogmatic definition includes charity, for divine faith without hope and charity does not avail (1 Cor 13:2, 1 Jn 3:14). Charity is not first a “work.” It is first of all a divine gift of love that comes down from the Father (Jas 1:17) through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). It is by this gift of divine love that faith can realize itself in good works (Gal 5:6). Pope Benedict teaches this very thing: Charity is the soul or form of faith (Audience, Nov. 19).
Calling to mind charity as a gift, an infused virtue (not first a work), supports the truth of James’ analogy: Works are to faith as the soul is to the body (Jas 2:26). James’ Epistle would devolve into moralism and contradict Paul (see Rom 10:1-4; Phil 3:8ff; Audience Nov. 26), if it meant that merely human works are added to a dead faith to resuscitate a dead corpse. Not at all! It is living faith that realizes itself through good works, that produces good works. But I might not have opportunity to perform a work, to “realize” this living faith. Am I not saved, if I die in such circumstances? No, I am saved! Therefore, having formed faith is sufficient for salvation. This is what Pope Benedict means. Further, as he also expressly states, living faith itself will surely die if it is not expressed in concrete works, if I am capable of action and the opportunity presents itself.
Third, good works testify to justification, for they are signs of a justification already received. They are signs of gratitude for the gift already given, promised in earnest. Luther said the same thing, as did St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic saints.
Of course, more must be said—and the pope says more: “Salvation received in Christ needs to be preserved and witnessed to” (Nov. 26). This is what Trent teaches (Trent, VI, canon 24). Moreover, the pope indicates a progressive growth in communion with Christ, a progressive conformity to his life (Nov. 19). Since communion with Christ is established through faith and constitutes the essence of our “being justified,” the pope is teaching here another truth of Catholic faith—that, once justified, the Christian can surrender to God and so be increasingly sanctified unto eternal life (Rom 6:15-23). In purgatory, those who die with imperfect charity are thoroughly sanctified (see Spe Salvi, 45ff).
Finally, we must heed something not yet mentioned—the pope’s focus on the final judgment: “This idea of the Last Judgment must illumine us in our daily lives” (Nov. 26). What is the basis upon which we will be judged? The “sole criterion is love” (Nov. 19; see also, Nov. 26). Hence, “At the end of this Gospel [Mt 25], we can say: love alone, charity alone” (Nov. 19). Here, the pope is showing his deeply Augustinian character (see Augustine, De Trinitate, XV:18:32).
Love of God and neighbor is a matter of life and death (Dt 30; John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 12), for even though a person has divine faith as a free commitment to Christ, if he has not charity—and the deeds of charity where need requires and capacity exists—he cannot be saved (Mt 7:22ff; Jn 15:2; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21; Jas 2:17; Veritatis Splendor, 68).
A Matter of Focus
Pope Benedict covers vast swaths of the faith in a few delicate brush strokes, without contradicting previous teaching. More importantly, he draws our attention to things one might not see in Trent—which was focused on combating errors—but which must be seen.
Above all, Benedict focuses our hearts on our Redeemer. He does so in at least two senses. First, he recasts the Church’s presentation of the nature of justification. Justification is not some impersonal event of forgiveness and re-creation. It is not an abstract thing. It is a real mystery, a mystery that takes place in the encounter between the sinner and Christ. Picture the sinful woman, weeping over Christ’s feet. He says to her, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.” This is the mystery of justification, which buoys up weak sinners, uplifts depressed hearts, gives sight to the blind, fills the soul with joy and glory, and makes us eager to do good in response to the infinite kindness of God. This is no abstract doctrine but a concrete event.
Many ecumenical difficulties fade away when we think of the event in these terms. Nothing of Catholic doctrine can ever be compromised. But our presentation of it must be faithful to the reality; thus, it must be recast ever anew so that heavy burdens may be lifted and hearts may rejoice.
The second way Benedict focuses our eyes on the face of our Redeemer is this: Looking into Jesus’ eyes, the true believer, which is the lover, must desire to ignore his own merits in order to pursue the upward call (Phil 3:13ff). He only cares for Christ. Indeed, he loves Christ for Christ’s sake so much that he is willing to delay seeing those sacred eyes in order to serve his neighbor (Phil 1:21-24). He may even be willing to surrender any title to an inheritance for the sake of the lost whom God calls (Ex 32:32, Rom 9:3). By calling attention to this deep love, Benedict indicates, indirectly, a lofty aim that one finds especially in the early Luther. Luther spoke of this deep love, this willingness to be forsaken, for love of God.
Now, regarding this deep love, sobriety is important, as the magisterium always has reminded the “enthusiasts” and “quietists.” The willingness to surrender must be rooted in love of and desire for God, not indifference. In the end, there is one thing that remains needful (Lk 10:42)—union with God. Truly, this union is “far better” than any service we can offer God (Phil 1:23). Work—even the redemptive work itself—is for the communion of persons. Benedict emphasizes communion over labor.
At this point, we see why Benedict stresses faith before he stresses love. First, it is a biblical mode of expression. One must understand this mode of expression in consonance with the truth of Scripture, which Trent adumbrates. Thus, this faith includes the divine gift of charity. But second, faith is stressed because we must keep Jesus before our eyes. Through faith, we encounter the goodness of God; through faith we are blessed and receive gifts. Through the love God pours into our hearts—out of his own infinite love—we are enabled to respond with our whole hearts. So, the word “faith” certainly calls to mind a gift from above, whereas, in common discourse, “love” often calls to mind a work or response, not a divine gift.
What Did Luther Teach?
A question nonetheless remains: Did Luther teach that infused charity is the form of justifying faith? Well, Luther’s work is complicated, not reducible to a formula (see B. Lohse). On the one hand, Luther lauds the glorious union of Christ and the soul: “[This righteousness of Christ] flows and gushes forth from Christ” (Luther’s Works, 27:222, 1992 ed.).
Notwithstanding, Luther rejects the idea that at the baptismal moment of justification a man becomes truly just interiorly (LW 32:229).
For Luther, the believer is always totally righteous and totally sinful. Hence, despite the beginnings of sanctification, justification itself must be simply a declaration of forgiveness and an “imputation” of righteousness (LW 26:223-236, 1963 ed.). He must, therefore, reject Catholic teaching. Luther declares, “If love is the form of faith, then I am immediately obliged to say that love is the most important and the largest part of the Christian religion. And thus I lose Christ” (LW 26:270). Luther even resorts to a curse: “Let that expression ‘faith formed’ be damned!” (LW 26:273, see also LW 27:38; on this curse, see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 104-11).
There is no question, many of the points Luther made were on the money. Among these are the following: Some members of the Church were corrupt; God’s grace is totally free (Eph 2); sin still lies in wait even for the just person (Rom 7); Christ is presently a high priest interceding for sinners (Heb 4-5); good deeds are expressions of gratitude for salvation, etc.
Still, Luther—and the Formula of Concord after him—excludes charity from the justifying role of faith. Luther consequently deflates the dramatic tension that constitutes our “time of decision for love” on earth (Phil 2:12ff; 2 Tm 4:7-8).
Catholics cannot accept these teachings of Luther, which contradict the Gospel (Rom 1:16ff) as Catholic faith reads it. (Their words)
Despite every effort at ecumenical reconciliation, a difficulty remains; an important obstacle must be overcome. As Benedicts shows, Catholic terminology is flexible. It is the reality of the mystery that must be upheld. Provided that justifying faith (Rom 3:28) is understood as a compact expression for faith, hope, and charity, Catholics do profess that faith alone justifies (1 Cor 13:13; on a history of the reception of Romans pertinent to this point, see Thomas Scheck, Origen and the History of Justification).
Above all, our eyes should fall on Jesus Christ. May these papal audiences be as oil upon the head, running down the beard (Ps 133:1ff), so that Catholics may humbly profess the fullness of the faith they do not own, so “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).
Pope Benedict and Trent
Pope Benedict teaches, “Paul is primarily concerned to show that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient” (Audience, Nov. 26). Someone familiar with traditional apologetics might ask, “Doesn’t St. James teach that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:26) and does not justify (Jas 2:24)”? The Holy Father knows these verses well: “James accentuates the consequential relations between faith and works” (Nov. 26). That is, “Faith that is active in love testifies to the freely given gift of justification in Christ” (Nov. 26).
Compare these statements with Trent: “If anyone says that . . . [good] works themselves are solely fruits and signs of justification received, and not also a cause of its increase, let him be anathema” (Trent, VI, canon 24).
Finally, Benedict underscores “the insignificance of our actions and of our deeds to achieve salvation” (Nov. 26). Elsewhere, he states, “We cannot—to use the classical expression—‘merit’ Heaven through our works” (Spe Salvi, 35). If we turn to Trent, we hear,
If anyone says that the good works of the justified man are gifts of God in such a way that they are not also the good merits of the justified himself, or that the justified person, by the good works he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ (whose living member he is), does not truly merit an increase in grace, eternal life, the attainment of eternal life itself (if he dies in grace), and even an increase in glory, let him be anathema. (Trent, VI, canon 32)
It is of first importance to stress the continuity of the faith. As Paul VI indicated and as Pope Benedict XVI indicates, the Second Vatican Council, as all post-conciliar teaching, must be read according to a hermeneutic of continuity. That hermeneutic demands as its bedrock a solid knowledge of Tradition and as its lifeblood a suppleness grounded in attention to the real, to what the rule of faith tells us.
From the Christian Apologetics website
Justification is a divine act where God declares the sinner to be innocent of his sins. It is a legal action in that God declares the sinner righteous–as though he has satisfied the Law of God. This justification is based entirely on the sacrifice of Christ by His shed blood: ” . . . having now been justified by His blood . . . ” (Rom. 5:9).1 Justification is a gift of grace (Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7) that comes through faith (Rom. 3:28; 5:1).2 Christians receive Jesus (John 1:12) and put their faith-filled trust in what Jesus did on the cross (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Pet. 2:24) and in so doing are justified by God. The Bible states that justification is not by works (Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9) because our righteous deeds are filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
However, Roman Catholic doctrine denies justification by faith alone and says:
- “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
- “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.” (Canon 14).
Anathema, according to Catholic theology means excommunication, “the exclusion of a sinner from the society of the faithful.” The Greek word anathema is also translated as “accursed” (Rom. 9:3; Gal. 1:8-9, NASB & KJV), “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:8-9, NIV), and “cursed” (Rom. 9:3, NIV),. We can see that Roman Catholic theology pronounces a curse of excommunication, of being outside the camp of Christ if you believe that you are saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus.
Does the Roman Catholic Church specifically state that we are “saved by grace and works”? Not that I am aware of and neither do the above Catholic Canons state such a thing. But, when the Roman Catholic Church negates justification by faith alone, it necessarily implies that we must do something for justification; for if it is not by faith alone, then it must be by faith and something.
At this point, many Catholics appeal to James 2:24 which says, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” But the context of James is speaking of dead faith as opposed to living, saving faith. James states that if you “say” you have faith but have no works (James 2:14), that faith cannot save you because it is a dead faith (v. 17). In other words, mere intellectual acknowledgement of Christ is a dead faith that produces no regeneration and no change in a person’s life. This faith does not justify. Rather, it is only that real and believing faith in Christ that results in justification. When someone is truly justified, he is truly saved and regenerate. Therefore, we see the results of true saving faith as they are manifested in the changed life of the one justified by faith alone. Real faith produces good works, but it isn’t these works that save you. Good works are the effect of salvation–not the cause of it in any way–and they certainly do not help anyone keep their salvation. For more on this, please see Are you justified by Faith (Romans) or works (James)?
Protestant theology, as a whole, appeals to the Bible alone for spiritual truth and maintains that justification is not by works in any way but is by grace through faith in Christ and His sacrifice alone.
After all, the Bible says “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Rom. 11:6). Furthermore, the Bible says:
- “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20).
- “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” (Rom. 3:24).
- “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:28).
- “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:3).
- “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,” (Rom. 4:5).
- “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13).
- “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).
- “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Rom. 5:9).
- “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;” (Rom. 10:9).
- “so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Gal. 3:14).
- “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God;” (Eph. 2:8).
I am bewildered when I read Catholic theology that denies justification by faith alone and requires human effort in addition to God’s grace to be saved. Of course, Catholicism denies that it is works that save us–and rightly so. But, it contradicts itself when it teaches that certain things must be done by people in order to be justified and to keep that justification. Whether or not Catholicism calls these works acts of faith or not is immaterial. The label doesn’t change the substance. We are either saved by grace through faith alone, or we are not.
Of the acts to be performed by Catholics for justification, baptism is the first requirement Please consider these quotes:
- “. . Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that ‘we too might walk in newness of life,'” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 977).
- “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy,” (CCC, par. 2020).
I do not see the Bible saying anywhere that we are justified by baptism. Yes, there are verses that can be interpreted that way; but if they were, then they would contradict the clear teaching of Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:3; 5:1; Eph. 2:8 which says salvation by grace through faith–not grace through faith and baptism. For a discussion of this subject please see Is Baptism necessary for salvation?
However, according to Roman Catholicism, even faith and baptism aren’t sufficient in themselves for you to be saved. It says that baptism is only the first sacrament of forgiveness. Good works, according to Roman Catholicism, are also required and are rewarded with going to heaven:
“We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ,” (CCC, par. 1821).
The above quote clearly states that heaven is the “eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.” Catholic theology asserts that works are a predecessor to justification in direct contradiction to God’s word which states “ . . . that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:28). What are the deeds of the Law? Anything we do in hopes of getting or maintaining our righteousness before God.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), par. 2010 it says,
“Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification.”
How does anyone merit for himself the underserved kindness of God’s grace?
Grace is by definition unmerited favor. To me, this is an utterly false teaching that you can earn grace from God through works or rituals. So how does the Catholic church get around this apparent dilemma that grace is unmerited, but it is obtained through our merits? It states that . . .
“Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it” (CCC, par. 2023).
This is the crux of the problem. Roman Catholic theology asserts that God’s grace is granted through baptism and infused into a person by the Holy Spirit. This then enables him or her to do good works which then are rewarded with heaven. Basically, this is no different from the theology of the cults which maintain that justification is by grace through faith and your works whether it be baptism, going to “the true church,” keeping certain laws, receiving the sacraments, or anything else you are required to do. In response, I turn to God’s word at Gal.3:1-3:
“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Does not the above scripture clearly state that receiving God’s Spirit is by faith and not by what we do? Does it not teach us that we cannot perfect our salvation by the works we do in the flesh? To receive Jesus (John 1:12 ) means to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) which means a person is saved–justified. Is this salvation something we attained through our effort? Of course not! Is it something we maintain through our effort? Not at all. It is given to Christians by God and assured by God because it rests in what God has done and not in anything we have done–that is why salvation is by faith and not works. If it did rest in any way in our works, then our salvation could not be secure; and we would end up trying to be good enough to get to heaven. That only leads to bondage to the Law, and the result is a lack of assurance of salvation–a constant worry that you are not good enough and a repeated subjection to the Church’s teachings and requirements about what you must do to be saved. The only natural effect of such a teaching would be that you can lose your salvation over and over again and that you must perform the necessary requirements of the Catholic church to stay saved.
Catholic Theology teaches that you maintain your justification
Because the Catholic view of justification is a cooperative effort between God and man, this justification can be lost and regained by man’s failure to maintain sufficient grace through meritorious works.
Now I must admit that within Protestant churches there are different opinions on this very matter of eternal security. Some believe salvation can be lost, while others do not. I am not here attempting to address this issue. Rather, I seek to point out that Roman Catholicism teaches that works are necessary for this “re-attainment” of justification. This is how . . .
According to Catholic theology, penance is a sacrament where a person, through a Catholic priest (CCC, par. 987), receives forgiveness of the sins committed after baptism. The penitent person must confess his sins to a priest. The priest pronounces absolution and imposes acts of Penance to be performed.
“Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank (of salvation) after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace,” (CCC, par. 1446).
The Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, c. i) declared regarding Penance:
“As a means of regaining grace and justice, penance was at all times necessary for those who had defiled their souls with any mortal sin. . . .”
Acts of penance vary, but some of them are prayer, saying the rosary, reading the scripture, saying a number of “Our Father’s” or “Hail Mary’s” prayers, doing good works, fasting, and other such things. Is it by doing these acts of penance that the Catholic is able to regain his justified state before God? I am astounded to think that they are taught to believe that by their works of penance justification is regained. In essence, it is earning one’s salvation. Think about it. If you do not have it and you get it by saying prayers, fasting, and/or doing good works, then you are guilty of “works’ righteousness” salvation which is condemned by the Bible. “Works’ Righteousness” means that a person is trying to attain or keep his position with God based upon his works. It is a false teaching.
I confess my sins to God. He forgives me (1 John 1:9). I do not need a Catholic priest to be my mediator of forgiveness. I need the true mediator and High Priest, Jesus. He alone is my mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) to forgive my sins and intercede for me. He finished the work on the cross (John 19:30), so that I do not need to perform any work in order to gain, maintain, or even regain my salvation. That is why the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1) apart from works (Rom. 3:28).
To say that we can add to the finished work of Christ on the cross is to say that what He did was not sufficient to save us. May this never be! We are saved by grace through faith–not grace through faith and our works. If it were, then grace would not be grace.
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Rom. 11:6).