I present three Roman Catholic views on “faith and works.”
Catholic Answers Forum
Here is a recent question on Catholic Answers Forum: “Are the teachings of Paul, specifically in the book of Romans easily understood?” A comment from a reader: “As there is the teaching of salvation by Grace alone – and the scriptures are arranged — it’s called the Roman road study– by faith alone not by (catholic) works. But in the catholic religion it is confusing and not easily understood.” Response from Catholic Answers: “Sorry, but this is simply not true. We Catholics do not believe in salvation by works. We believe in salvation by grace. Faith and good Christian works are results and fruits of God’s grace.(Italics added).
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was convened to counter the Protestant Reformation. Here is Canon 24 of the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that justice [justification] received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. (Council of Trent sixth session, celebrated on the thirteenth day of January, 1547, Decree concerning Justification).” (Italics added). Trent (and modern Rome?) says it believes in justification by faith but will not say it believes in justification by faith alone, which is the main pillar of Protestant Reformation. (See Trent above). Trent has, in retrospect, anathematised, that is, cursed, damned to hell – the expert on the “Catholic Answers Forum.”
Contrary to Trent’s view of Protestants above, the Protestant believes most firmly that works are “the fruits and signs of justifications obtained” This Protestant position, though, would not say that works are “merely” (Trent above) the fruits of justification, because this might create the impression that works don’t matter in salvation. If you are an evangelical Christian and someone asks you, “Do you believe in faith alone?, you’ll politely growl – if the questioner is another evangelical Christian – “What a dumb question, of course I do!” The meaning of “faith alone” is that one is justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works. That is not to say that faith is found alone, for works are involved, but not as part of your justification but as part of your salvation. The general Protestant view is that works are the fruits and signs of justification obtained. It also matters much what kind of good works you do once you believe – not for the purposes of salvation but because “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). (See Faith and Jerks: The Bible out of context is a con; that’s why James White is not going to hell and David Stern’s Torah “Torah” in the Justification of sinners: A legalistic spanner in the works).
What is the latest Roman view? Here is Pope Francis on faith and works, or rather faith or works: If the Roman Catholic sources are true, it’s all about loving kindness, good works. Justification (reconciliation with God) says Pope Francis, is no longer about faith AND good works, but solely about works You can be an atheist, says Pope Francis, on condition that you’re good and kind.
“LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The Holy Father is full of surprises, born of true and faithful humility. On Wednesday he declared that all people, not just Catholics, are redeemed through Jesus, even atheists. However, he did emphasize there was a catch. Those people must still do good. In fact, it is in doing good that they are led to the One who is the Source of all that is good. In essence he simply restated the hope of the Church that all come to know God, through His Son Jesus Christ.”
The Vatican, it seems is alarmed, at best; no wonder, for Pope Francis is indeed, if not in deed, trashing Trent. Here is Trent, Session 6, Chapter 8: “[I)t is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity [love].” Francis has thrown faith out of the Sistine into the cistern.
What is a Roman Catholic to believe? For starters, the Bible is clear: without faith in Christ, you will, after you leave this body, die the second death. Second, without one’s works, one cannot be saved. So salvation involves both faith (which alone makes us justified before God) ands works, the fruit of faith. But what to make of Paul’s “justification by faith without works” and James’s “one cannot be justified without works? Here is Craig Keener:
“[W]hen Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Rom 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Rom 1:5). James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18). In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning. If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined. (“Biblical Interpretation” by Craig Keener). (See A Calvinist drools over the ORDO SALUTIS: Justification, and Salvation by works).
There are actually only two real denominations: drivel and drool.
- David Stern’s Torah “Torah” in the Justification of sinners: A legalistic spanner in the works (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)
- James White’s impassioned plea to Jason Reed to come home from Rome (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)