Below is part of my comments between myself and a Baptist Minister who believes Catholics have it wrong on "every" matter of faith, not just on how we see the relationship between "Faith and Works". Please let me know what you think! Also, out of respect for the individual who I am having these discussions with, I've agreed to withhold his name. Thank you for understanding!
My email comments begin with the Baptist Minister's quote from The Council of Trent, Canon 32, in which he underlined the parts that he has most problem with. My response follows...
CANON 32 – “If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.”
Note: When Catholics learn about matters of faith, they don't begin with the Council of Trent (LOL). They begin with a side-by-side reference of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, all reinforced through the Liturgy and orthodox teachings from our priests and schools. The Council of Trent was convened to respond to challenges made to the Church following the Protestant Reformation, an opportunity to address abuses and clarify matters that were bothersome. Those who are more scholarly and familiar with the documents can speak to the Council of Trent from our Catholic perspective (since it was a Catholic council). I, however, will rely more on the Catechism, which quotes and summarizes many issues addressed at Trent.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. 'Since without faith it is impossible to please [God]' and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'but he who endures to the end" [CCC 161]. (I'm wondering if this statement on faith is included in any of your presentation materials, and if not, why not.)
"Faith is a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit" [CCC 179]. I wonder what your students would feel about this verse.
"Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: "He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" [CCC 183 cf. Mk 16:16].
"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. It reconciles man with God It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals" [CCC 1990].
"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" [CCC 1991].
"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" [CCC 1992].
"This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature" [CCC 1998].
"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" [CCC 2007].
"We can have merit in God's sight only because of God's free plan to associate man with the work of his grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man's collaboration. Man's merit is due to God" [CCC 2025]. If I have the details correct, this was a major theme of those at the Council of Trent, where this issue was being settled between Catholics and Lutherans. So, if you take Canon 32 out of the context of the whole, it can sound contradictory to the rest of what Trent was putting forth.
My Response (How I would say it):
Catholics do not see Faith as a static "idea", "attitude", or something that is "fixed" at a particular point in time. We see our faith as a "living faith" that continues throughout our lives. The Church does not say that we are "justified by works"; however, Scripture demonstrates that there are "works" that have an animating cooperative role in one's living faith. There are no "works" that "cause" our salvation; they do, however, configure the Christian to Christ and to Christian works of charity. Our salvation always depends on God's grace alone, and any charitable "works of Christian charity" are begotten of God's grace given to us. Furthermore, our faith gives us every reason for "hope". "For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Note that the Scripture does not say "will not perish"; it says "should not perish". To me, this means that we have to be faith-ful throughout our lives.
We should note that for many Protestants, "Justification" (Salvation) is something that occurs at a particular moment in time, such as when one makes his/her "confession of faith". However, for Catholics, we see "justification" as a process that occurs continuously during the course of our lives, lives that are configured to Christ and a deep inner longing from the Holy Spirit to act in love.
No act of love is generated within us without the prompting of God, and therefore, these acts of love and mercy have a degree of merit, through the grace of God who desires these works, and thus recognizes our cooperation in them. These works of love and mercy enhance our faith, give us a living faith, and propel us to desire to please God more and more, but do not "earn" us salvation. They are only aspects of our relationship with God that contribute to a state of grace.
We believe that we are always free to turn away from God (and many do). Perhaps some weren't saved in the first place, since God knows the end from the beginning, right? But we don't know. And therefore, we should always seek to grow in the grace that God provides us, in love, growing and maturing in faith over the course of our Christian lives. And therefore, we have every reason for "hope".
What the Bible has to say:
"For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail [works of the Law], but faith working through love" (Galatians 5:5-6).
"Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him..." (Hebrews 5:8-9) I don't consider "obeying" God a meaningless goal of my faith.
Does anyone think they can be saved if they do not love God and obey him? "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:3). So does our "love" for God at least nudge us toward obedience, or not?
Are the Ten Commandments optional? Are we saved if we make a confession of faith, and spend the rest of our lives willingly living in sin? Now, we may not always be successful, but we should always remain faithful (and that requires some sort of effort).
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
That we should walk in them??? Jesus is not a "them". Walk in good works? What are they? Works of love and mercy (cf. Matthew 25:35-46). Note that the "works of love and mercy" in Matthew 25 are for the sake of Christ in the example that he gives himself. Catholic teaching: We are saved by the grace of God alone (which we need faith to receive), not by our "works", though works of love and mercy are of God and what we share if our hearts are configured to Christ. Yes, this begins with Baptism, but a more thorough look at Baptism has to wait for now. When we share love and mercy with others, we are sharing them with Christ. When we share charity with others, we are sharing what only comes from Christ with others - God's love.
My Comments Continued...
"Merit" as understood by me, a Catholic...
In September 2001, I was a firefighter in New York who responded to the World Trade Center collapse (true story). Being from Long Island, I did not have to go; it was my choice. I wanted to be a part of the rescue effort because I had multiple friends (City firefighters) who were at Ground Zero, and one of them was missing. I was one of 4,000 rescue workers who were working at Ground Zero on any 24 hours of the day. I asked God to guide me. I asked for the strength to do what I had to do, to see what I had to see, and help anyone who He would allow me to help. At one point, my small team was assigned to climb through the rubble and rescue an iron worker who had gotten injured. We got him off the pile and proceeded to the hospital. I had no idea where I was going (I was the driver), and when I saw the hospital, there was no stopping me from driving the wrong way down a one way street to get to the Emergency Room (fortunately, there were no cars on the road at this time). Now.... nothing that I "did" means anything by itself with regard to my salvation. Nor did God take over my body and possess it in order to accomplish what we did. But I do know that without the grace of God, I could not have been there. I know that without the Holy Spirit, I could not handle the devastation on my own. And it is only by the grace of God, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within me, that I was able to do anything worthwhile over those three days that I was there. I do not think that God checked anything off in his notebook, or said, "Yep, that's going to put John over the hump on Judgment Day". No! However, I do suspect that when I go to heaven, I'm going to tell God "Thank you for helping me accomplish what I had to do; thank you for being with me, for staying by my side, for handling for me what I could not handle for myself." If I didn't have faith, if I didn't cooperate with God, I really don't know how things would have turned out. The merit that I receive is nothing more than the "hope" that God provides me through his Son, Jesus Christ, and that "hope" is what propels me to doing whatever He asks me to do. In the end, it's not about the number of stars I have in his Book of Life; it's about love, and the Source of all love is God. Mother Teresa used to tell her nuns: "Take whatever he gives, and give whatever he takes -- all with a big smile." I agree. I will do whatever God asks of me through the strength and grace that he provides. And I do not consider myself worthy of heaven by virtue of ANYTHING that I have done. I don't think that I can do enough to get anywhere close to that kind of merit..... if such merit even existed!
I believe that Christ is my Lord and Savior, too! And I believe that he gave us a Church with seven Sacraments as our "ordinary means" of salvation. Baptism. Confirmation (a completion of our Baptism). Eucharist. Reconciliation. Healing. Matrimony. Holy Orders (to teach and guide and administer the Sacraments). The Sacraments are not "works" that we perform; they are actions taken by God (Scripturally based, whether explicit or implicit) as a way to be with us.... as a manner in which sanctifying grace is received by us. The entire Mass is from Sacred Scripture. All of it. From the opening greeting to the closing prayer. We listen to God's Word, listen to the priest's homily (most of the time they are great; sometimes I want to sleep). We partake in the Eucharist, which if you believed as we do, is the most intimate encounter we can have with Our Lord.... because he loves us... because we love him..... We go to confession, not to tell our sins to a priest, but to God who is present, and who forgives our sins. Is some act of penance insulting to non-Catholics? It's done in a manner that helps to strengthen our resolve, to make some sort of sacrifice in order to help us gain greater discipline in our lives. If I can't say "No" to a potato chip, how am I going to say "No" to something far more powerful? (Porn, alcohol, selfishness, lust, greed, sloth, etc...) For this, Catholics are condemned to hell? For this, Catholics are not saved?
You have shared with me many Scripture verses in the documents that you have sent me. Thank you. Love them. However, you also shared your own personal interpretations of what many of those verses mean (or do not mean). I also assume that your interpretations are supported by your church, which has some structure of leadership, no? You've shared papers and information from very anti-Catholic people who you believe to have some amount of authority, otherwise, you wouldn't present them or even agree with them. If your authority was the "Bible alone", you wouldn't need to share your own interpretation of the Scriptures you are using to support your teachings. If someone asks a question, you could just say, "Read this chapter/verse or that chapter/verse." So, I have to ask, why should I trust your (or anyone else's) authority and/personal interpretations of Scripture? You might say because you are using the Bible alone. However, there are many Protestants who open their Bible and argue with you, too. They, too, will say that the Holy Spirit guides them to a proper understanding. Thank God your beef isn't only with the Catholic Church, but I wonder if you present workshops and lectures against other Protestant denominations, or only Catholics?
I, too, have shared Scripture. My personal comments are from me, in an effort to be consistent with the formal teachings of the Catholic Church. You cannot say that the Catholic Church is not based on Sacred Revelation, but, you can say that you don't agree with the Church's interpretation of the Scriptures it puts forth to support its position on various matters of faith... that's fair. So, why do I trust the authority of the Catholic Church? Why is it that I trust her interpretation of Divine Revelation? Well... when I go back in history, all Protestant denominations cease to exist, and it was the Catholic Church that traces its history back to Christ and the apostles. I realize that you will disagree, but my statement is not without reason or evidence.
Also, when I read the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I hear an echo of everything that the Catholic Church teaches today. If you're not Catholic, you won't hear the echo because not everything was so neatly defined and declared doctrinally from day one. Not even the apostles clearly understood everything Christ said when he said it. However, even though they didn't understand, they still believed him. So, yes, clarifications were made over time in effort to respond and fight various heresies.
Further, if Christ told the apostles that his Church had authority to "bind" and "loose" and that the Holy Spirit would guide that Church to "all truth", and I look at what Church came out of those beginning years of Christianity, then I have no reason to put my faith anywhere else. It's not because I like stained glass windows or the smell of incense that I'm Catholic; it's because I believe it safeguards the fullness of the truth and passes on what was given to it by Christ and the apostles, and that it still has the authority of God to "bind and loose" and act/teach in his name, to make disciples of all nations, teaching them (us) to observe all that he told them.
I love Pope Francis, but it's not because he reminds me of my Grandfather, Sal. It's because I see the continuation of the Seat of Peter (that you don't see) in the Scriptures and through the life of the Church for 2,000 years. You'll show me verses and give me your interpretation as to why those verses prove that there was no primacy to the seat of Peter. But I disagree and see it very clearly.... as clearly as the Church Fathers!
I know that you'll disagree; I've seen the comments you put forth in the documents you sent. But the Catholic Church refers to the Bible, too, to support its position, a position that is supported by the Church Fathers on almost every issue. It's for this reason that the Catholic Church has an authority that I trust. This does not mean that you are wrong on everything... or that your flock is destined for hell and not saved, etc.... I don't believe that. I believe that there are tons I can learn from you about scores of faith-related topics that are not anti-Catholic in purpose and nature.
Okay, back to the original topic on Salvation and Justification. My venting (above) was not part of my original response. Sorry about that.... but I was speaking from the heart.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:
2006 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. [John speaking: If I deny God and turn away from him, I "merit" ("deserve"; not "will receive") eternal separation from Him Who I reject. If I've done anything good, it is only through cooperating with God's love that has any value, and so I "hope" for the grace to live eternally with Him forever. I say "hope" because, as a Catholic, I believe that my faith is something that matures and grows over time, during my whole Christian life, which will one day be completed by my death. Therefore, although "I am saved", I am also right now "Being saved" and "Will be saved" if I die in friendship with God (by repenting of my sins and growing in love for God and my neighbors). This includes you, Brady, whom I would never say is "not saved" by virtue of your denomination, because only God knows the work that he is doing in you and with you, and I believe, that wherever you or I may fall short, He has the power to make up, as long as we say "yes" to his love, and to the best of our ability, and according to the dictates of our conscience, strive to be the best Christian versions of ourselves that we can be. Our lack of perfection is not insulting to God, only our lack of love and willingness to try.
CCC 2007 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.
CCC 2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.
Some notes from Trent:
When Catholics say that persons ‘cooperate’ in preparing for and accepting justification . . . they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities” (JD 19-20).
Here I am going to pause, and paste an article, which speaks in far greater detail regarding Trent than what I can do in an email. It's better for the experts to share these details than me, as you are more likely to better understand their expression rather than mine: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/justification
Your (Baptist Minister) questions and my responses (in red):
Would you agree that the Catholic Church does require good works or justification and to earn or “merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life”? No. It does not require "good works" if you mean that by themselves, they merit salvation. If not, please explain? Only "good works" that are done in cooperation with the love of God have any merit, and by "merit" I do not mean "guarantee" of achieving heaven. They originate from the grace of God and are shared with others through our human will to cooperate. Is your salvation dependent on your good works in any way or wholly and completely on the work that Jesus Christ accomplished for all who repent of their sin and put their faith in Him? My salvation is dependent only on the grace of God, and yes, that is achieved only through faith in him. However, the question is: What do you mean by "faith"? How do you define "faith"? Can we have faith if we do not conform our lives to Christ? Who's life appears configured/conformed to Christ? The person who strives to love God and others by the grace and faith given them as a gift, or the person who says that he believes that Christ is his Savior, but is a serial murderer and spits on the Ten Commandments? Perhaps he believes he can do anything he wants, even murder children, or fly planes into buildings, because someone told him that he only needs to "believe" in order to be saved! "What does "believe" mean? What does "faith" mean? Even the demons believe... and shudder" (James 2:19). Satan believes in Christ, doesn't he? He knows the truth, yet he rejects it. He was created good by God and gave up all the love and grace God had for him through an act of his own free will. He knows that Jesus Christ is "Lord and Savior" and admitting that to himself (his confession of what is true), is what causes him to burn with hatred! Do you agree that if any part of your salvation is dependent on your good works that your salvation is in part dependent on good works and therefore is a works based salvation? If not, please explain. No. My salvation is not dependent on works, it is dependent on the grace of God. What does that mean to me? It means having a living faith, configured to Christ, sharing HIS love with others. If I'm not allowing God to live in me, to be part of me, through my freedom to say "yes" and cooperate with his grace, then I don't think my faith is where it is meant to be. But God, being God, will not abandon me, as long as I remain faith-ful, the grace of God will continue to fill me to my own capacity.
[Mr. Baptist Minister], I spoke for myself in most of the comments I made above. This is what faith means to me and how it applies to my life. I do not believe that any "works" mean a thing, unless those works are underwritten by God's grace, which means that they are OF him, through me, with my cooperation to love as he loves (to the best of my ability) while living as a human being on this planet. Any good works that I do only help me in that they strengthen me with the grace that God provides, and that grace makes my love for him burn with more intensity, thus helping me to be more like him. When asked when a goldsmith knows that the gold is fully purified, he will tell you, "When I look at it and see my reflection." So, this is how I will end for now. The grace of God works within me so that I can become a reflection of his love in the lives that I encounter here on earth. I cooperate because I love God and desire to be with him forever in heaven. And perhaps, if we're both there, he will sit us both down and roll his eyes over the stuff we could have done better. Then he'll say to each of us, "Welcome home, good and faithful servant."
I'll share Mr. Baptist Minister's response to me in my next post on this matter. I hope it wasn't too long of a read, but he had a lot of questions for me, and my comments were in response to a previous email he had sent me. Tell me what you think. Please respond below if you have a moment. God bless you!