I stumbled across this article earlier today, and I haven’t been able to stop prodding it. It bugs me, because 1) the guy is making claims based on incorrect information, and 2) he doesn’t CITE anything, so I can’t even tell where he’s getting said mistaken information. (Also, he doesn’t have any contact info, so I can’t even ask for clarification.)
As Jimmy Akin often says, one of the primary difficulties for Catholics and Protestants attempting to discuss their theological differences is that they often use the same term for different things, or different terms for the same things. So they can both walk away convinced that the other person is a resounding heretic, not realizing that they are in more agreement than disagreement.
It’s frustrating, but I can’t be too hard on the guy, because at one point I was the Protestant who was roundly ignorant of the Catholic Church, condemning a straw man, because I had never seen what the Catholic Church really teaches. Even so, it is painful to watch such a schism over what reduces to confusion over terms. (Not to say that there are no significant differences between the two, but that they are fewer than originally appear.)
He starts off talking about how good it is that the Catholic Church has stood firm on many Christian doctrines and moral teachings, unlike several mainline Protestant denominations. However, he ultimately condemns the Church for defining the Marian doctrines, papal infallibility, and affirming the Council of Trent‘s teaching on justification in the Catechism.
Then he (rightly) states:
The question, “what must I do to be saved?” is still a critical question for any person who is exposed to the wrath of God.
And that’s where he starts to get confused:
In the final analysis, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed at Trent and continues to affirm now that the basis by which God will declare a person just or unjust is found in one’s “inherent righteousness.”
Question #1: You use quotes around “inherent righteousness,” but you don’t cite any sources. What are you quoting?
Question #2: What do you mean by “inherent”? Do you mean something that we have in and of ourselves before the Holy Spirit works in our lives, that we can merit justification by our own efforts? Because that’s Pelagianism, and the Church condemned that at the Council of Carthage in the 400s.
His confusion continues as he mistakingly describes Purgatory as taking time:
If righteousness does not inhere in the person, that person at worst goes to hell and at best (if any impurities remain in his life) goes to purgatory for a time that may extend to millions of years.
Then he sets up the Protestant position, which he describes as contrast to the Catholic teaching:
In bold contrast to that, the biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
Shall we contrast it to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on justification?
1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us…
1989 The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification … Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.
1990 Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness…
1991 Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ…
1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ…
1994 Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit.
1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God
1998 … It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself.
1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.
2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us.
2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man.
2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification…
2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God.
And how about quoting from the Council of Trent itself? (The language is a little archaic; I’ll try to make it comprehensible. How about a modern translation, somebody?)
…if [men] were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just.
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…
…no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated…
…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.
…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.
Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.
CANON I.- If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.
CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
This turned into a lot more quotes that I had counted on, but I just kept finding more and clearer teachings, from the Catholic Church, in the very documents that the author condemns, that we can merit nothing on our own, and that everything comes from the free gift of God.
I’ll save a comparison of various terms for the next post.