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Justification by Love in Scripture and Catholic Dogma
When one considers the course of history, the event with the greatest impact is clearly the coming of Jesus Christ. However, second only to this would appear to be the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The changes that this period caused in the world were far reaching, encompassing almost all areas of human thought and life. Many direct results of the Protestant Reformation are still coming about through the ripples of history even today. Indeed, this makes perfect sense to any person of faith. All the world exists because of His act of creation, and everything that exists operates according to the blueprint with which He made it. Given this, it is obvious that any change in the relationship mankind has with God will have a dramatic impact on the relationship mankind has with himself.
As has already been alluded to, while we can recognize the Reformation to be the cause of so many changes in the world, the Reformation was itself a change in man’s understanding of his relationship to God. The real causes of this change in understanding are many, and are the matter for another discussion altogether, but it will suffice, and indeed be requisite, for our purposes to look to two primary principles lying behind it: Sola Scriptura, and Sola Fide. Sola Scriptura is the overarching term for what is now a variety of beliefs all of which concern themselves in at least some way with the idea that all truths about God are to be derived from the Holy Scriptures alone, apart from any Tradition. This was called the formal principal of the Reformation, because it gives form to the rest of the objections raised by the Protestants against the Catholic Church. An overview of this concept can be found here. Similarly, Sola Fide is the doctrine which holds that man is justified – that is, made right with God - by faith in Christ alone, apart from any works. This was given the title of the material principle of the Reformation, because it is what the Reformation was made out of, practically speaking. It is with this idea that we are now concerned.
This point is a critical one indeed, as it pertains directly to the eternal destiny of all the souls of the world. Christianity has the notion of salvation as its very core. It is the only religion in the world, to my knowledge, based upon the principle of the forgiveness of sins. The two destinations of Heaven and Hell, in either of which each and every soul will spend all of eternity, really lie at Christianity’s core. The entire reason for one being a Christian, at least in a very real and practical way, is to escape the eternal suffering of Hell and reach the eternal happiness of Heaven. Thus, how one actually is justified is of the greatest importance; if one misses this, he misses the entire point of Christianity.
Unfortunately, there are a great many teachings on this matter in Christianity today. Up until the Reformation, the Catholic Church, in Her councils and Traditions, was recognized as the source of all true teaching. Even those in the East, who were separated from the Church, did so almost entirely for matters of obedience, rather than any substantial doctrinal matters. Today, the Eastern churches share virtually all beliefs with the Catholic Church, albeit using sometimes very different terminology. The point to this is simply that after the Reformation, new Christian groups began to spring up - slowly at first, and then more and more rapidly – teaching any number of different and conflicting doctrines. The central idea of justification was not immune to this phenomenon.
As a result, not only are their various views on the matter, but the ensuing debate over these views has left many with even very erroneous ideas about what a given group actually teaches. Matters of Christian doctrine are of the utmost importance, and so believers naturally strive for truth. Christ said that He Himself is the truth after all, and thus out of true love for Him, people, seeking to avoid the slightest hint of error, tend to in any discussion misunderstand opposing viewpoints. Particularly, it is common for those seeking Truth Himself to argue themselves into a misunderstanding. When one group disagrees with another over some matter, the fear of making the slightest error in understanding easily leads to an emphasis on the points disagreed over, which can often distort the true meaning of the opposing view. Even those defending their own view can easily grow to misunderstand it in the same way. Because the Catholic Church has been questioned more than any other Christian group, it is not then surprising that countless people misunderstand what She actually teaches, including Catholics.
This is especially true of the question of justification. The conversation between Protestants and Catholics over this so central a matter of the faith has grown to be recognized as the debate between the adherents to the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the adherents of the doctrine of justification by faith and works. This terminology has been even further emphasized because the Scriptural verse in which the Catholic Church finds Her primary defense against the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide happens to mention works: “You see then, that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jam 2:24). The real argument however, is between the concept of justification by faith alone and the concept of justification by faith and love, not works. With that being said, it is the purpose of this article to present the Catholic Church’s true teaching on the matter of justification, drawing from the Councils and teaching documents of the Church, and presenting Scripture’s teaching on the matter systematically alongside.
In the beginning, man was created in justice. Mankind had communion with God, and no animosity existed between them. The Scriptures teach that the state of justice, which justification restores to man, consists in knowing God. In John 17:3, Jesus defines eternal life itself as knowing God: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John also indicates this in his first epistle, where he uses the terminology of ‘knowing God’ to explain being in a state of justice before God (for example, see 1 John 2:3-4). When Jesus describes the condemnation of the unjust souls in Matthew 25, He does so on the basis that they were not known by God. In Genesis, we see that Adam and Eve did know God. God placed them in the garden, where they walked with Him. They were not afraid of Him, and they believed and trusted Him. They had a communion with Him. For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that, “The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator…” (#373).
Adam and Eve were also created without the need to die, a need that only came through the sin of Adam, as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans: “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (5:12). It was through this first sin that man lost his friendship with God, and that death became a necessity for all men. The Council of Trent - which was called to respond to the Protestant Reformation and which is the most authoritative document of the Church’s on the matters of justification - teaches that with Adam’s sin, he “drew upon himself the wrath and indignation of God and consequently death with which God had threatened him…” (Session 5, #1). The Church also teaches that this new state of being affected not Adam alone, but all of his descendants (Trent, Session 5, #2). The Scriptures convey this point in Romans, in which Paul writes, “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (5:18), and “by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (5:19).
Adam and Eve, as their punishment, were cast out of the garden in which God dwelt, and therefore lost friendship and fellowship with God. In the chapters of Genesis following the fall, Adam and Eve were still aware of God’s existence, but they were still not in a proper relationship with Him. They believed in Him, but they did not have a relationship with Him. They no longer knew Him, but merely knew of Him. In Genesis 5:24, when Enoch is taken up to Heaven, it is described as Enoch walking with God, as Adam and Eve had in the garden. Abraham, the great Old Testament saint whom both Paul and James use as an example of justification, is described as being a “friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23). The Book of Exodus explains that, “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Adam and Even knew of God, but Enoch and Abraham and Moses knew God; they were in God’s justice, which consists of knowing God. This is a critical point which will be returned to later, so please make a particular effort to keep it in mind.
After this first sin, man is unable to reconcile himself to God. The Council of Trent teaches that all men are “unable to liberate themselves and to rise from that state” of being unjust before God (Session 6, Chapter 1). Christ is the only path to a new relationship with God, as the Scriptures teach: “his Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). This teaching is so abundant in Church documents so as not to require a reference. Justification is this reconciliation with God which man by himself cannot achieve. The Council of Trent defines justification as “the transition from the state in which one is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and adoption as children of God (see Romans 8:15) through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Session 6, Chapter 4).
Another key point on which all agree is that man is justified by Grace alone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains what Grace is:
Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God Gives us to respond to his call to become children of God (John 1:12-18, 17:3), adoptive sons (Romans 8:14-17), partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4) and of eternal life. (#1996)
Grace alone saves men, because Grace is a free gift of God without which no man can be saved. The Council of Trent teaches that Grace is the only means by which any person is saved. It is a passage worth quoting at length:
The council moreover declares that in adults the beginning of justification must be attributed to God’s prevenient grace through Jesus Christ, that is, to his call addressed to them without any previous merits of theirs. This, those who through their sins were turned away from God, awakened and assisted by his grace, are disposed to turn to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace. In this way, God touches the heart of the human being with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, but one is not inactive while receiving the inspiration, since one can reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, one cannot by one’s own free will take one step towards justice in God’s sight (Session 6, Chapter 5).
Thus it is seen that only by Grace may a man be justified. The teaching does emphasize man’s free will, because man must accept God’s grace. The Scriptures teach this, such as in Acts, wherein Stephen insists that the people “always resist the Holy Spirit” (7:51), or in Matthew, where Jesus says He has long desired to gather the people of Israel but they were “unwilling” (23:37).
Nevertheless, the teaching that man must cooperate with Grace does not detract from the fact that by Grace alone may one be justified, as the Council goes on to insist that “without God’s grace, one cannot by one’s own free will take one step towards justice in God’s sight.” It further establishes this in Session 6, wherein the first Canon, which is considered to be of the level of infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, declares the absolute need for Grace in the strongest possible terms:
If anyone says that, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, one can be justified by one’s own works, whether they be done by one’s own natural powers or through he teaching of the Law, let him be anathema.
What’s more, Grace is far more than a mere help or assistance of some kind. The Catholic Church teaches that it is Grace alone which saves us. Canon 2 condemns the idea that “divine grace is given through Jesus Christ only in order that one may more easily live justly and merit eternal life…”
In fact, the Catholic Church goes so far as to teach that man cannot even believe in God without Grace. The third Canon of Session 6 declares,
If anyone says that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Spirit and without his help one can believe, hope and love or be repentant, as is required, so that the grace of justification be bestowed on one, let him be anathema.
This is the same teaching as the apostle Paul offers in his epistle to the Ephesians. It is chapter 2 verses 8 and 9, a passage that Protestants often cite against the Catholic Church: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Even a man’s faith, the Church declares along with Paul, is a Grace of God, rather than something man has done himself. Nevertheless, man must cooperate with this Grace, and must not resist or reject it, as the Council and Scriptures teach, some of which teachings have been cited above.
Up until this point, there is a large degree of - though imperfect - agreement between Catholics and Protestants. The differences are not important enough to the present discussion to elaborate on here. Suffice it to say that, up until this point, there is a general agreement on the need for salvation for all men, and on the inability of man to reconcile himself with God. All agree that Jesus Christ came, God in the flesh, to die for man’s sins so that men may be reconciled to God through Him. He is a man who knew God better than any other, because He Himself was God, and so He is the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). All agree that man is justified by grace alone. All agree that man is justified by faith, as the Scriptures make it so plain that this is the case.
The disagreement arises over whether man is justified through Christ the Mediator by faith alone or not. The primary difficulty can be summed up by referring to two verses. Protestants cite Romans 3:28, in which the apostle Paul states that “we hold that man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Catholics respond with James, who insists “you see that man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” The basic resolution of this problem has been written on extensively, and is readily available elsewhere. While it is a worthwhile, and indeed important, study to undertake, this article seeks to approach the issue from a perhaps more important, and certainly less frequently approached, standpoint
The problems is that the traditional disagreement poses the doctrines of salvation by ‘faith alone’ and ‘faith plus works’ against one another, as if ‘faith plus works’ is the doctrine of the Catholic Church, while Her official teaching does not contain this emphasis on works. In fact, the most official Catholic statement concerning James 2:24 is one which teaches something Protestants are inclined to agree with, at least in part. Chapter 10 of Trent’s 6th Session teaches on the increase in justification that man may receive once He has already been justified:
When ‘faith is active along with works’ (James 2:22), [the justified] increase in the very justice they have received through the grace of Christ, and are further justified, as it is written… ‘You see that one is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24).
Most Protestants would agree with this insofar as it means that faith and good works done by those already justified earn greater Heavenly rewards. However, the Church does not teach that this verse means that works themselves justify a person apart from faith, or apart from the Grace of God, as is evident from the passages of Trent cited above. Many Catholics, because of the arguments over works had with Protestants, unfortunately believe that this is what the Church does teach.
The true teaching of the Church is at the same time much more complicated and much more beautiful. It begins with the idea that justification is not only external, but internal as well; Protestants most often disagree. To the Protestant, justification is merely a decision whereby God declares man not guilty in view of the offering of Jesus Christ. Man is still unjust in fact, but God accepts him into Heaven anyways, because of the sacrifice of Christ. Martin Luther explained this idea by use of an analogy. He compared sinful man to a pile of dung. By faith in Christ, the Savior would cover this dung with snow. Beneath the snow, the man was really still dung, but God would look at the man as if he were really snow. This idea is known as imputation of righteousness because it holds that Christ’s righteousness is merely imputed – assigned - to the justified. At last we come to this point, which is really where the entire disagreement lies.
The Catholic Church’s teaching is that righteousness is infused – really put into – the justified. It holds that man is not only forgiven in justification by some assignment of Christ’s righteousness to them, but he is also made righteous inside. It is the difference between covering the dung with snow and actually turning the dung into snow. This teaching can be found in the Council of Trent:
…justification itself… is not only the remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior person through the voluntary reception of grace and of the gifts, whereby from unjust the person becomes just, and from enemy a friend, that one may be “an heir in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). (Session 6, Chapter 7)
Immediately, the statement that justification makes men the friends of God jumps out, calling to mind the earlier point that justice is in some way equivalent to knowing God.
Of course, it is true that nobody is good except God alone, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 19:17, which is why the means by which a person is made righteous is by the infusion of the Holy Spirit and the virtues which He instills in men. Trent speaks to this in Chapter 7 of Session 6, teaching that in justification “’God’s love is poured through the Holy Spirit into the hearts’(Romans 5:5) of those who are being justified and inheres in them.” The quotation that Trent makes here is one of the strongest teachings in the Scriptures on this matter, and it will be returned to later. However, there are many other Scriptural presentations on this point. God prophesied this through Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (36:26-27).
Paul teaches in Romans that the justified are actually “made righteous,” (5:19), not just declared to be so. In Ephesians he writes that the justified “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). In Colossians 3:10, he writes that the justified “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” It is important to notice all of the references to the image and likeness of God; this helps to indicate that man is not merely being forgiven, but is being restored to what he was before the fall, when he was created in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26). At this time, man was truly free of sin and was internally righteous; he was “very good” according to God (see Genesis 1:31).
Paul gives a tremendous amount of teaching on this matter. In his letter to the Ephesians, he provides a rather concise presentation of it:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:14-19).
Here we see that the Holy Spirit works in the “inner being” of the justified, causing Christ to dwell in his hearts. This causes him, through faith, to be rooted in love, which enables him to know Christ and His Love which is put within him, which is, as Jesus taught, the very nature of eternal salvation (John 17:3). It is for this reason that he provides a test for believers in his second letter to the Corinthians to see if they are within the faith: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (13:5) Those who are in the faith have Jesus Christ dwelling within them, and only those within the faith are justified.
Paul goes on to provide even more extensive teaching on the inner change of the justified in his second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 5 verse 17, the apostle teaches that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This shows beyond all doubt that man’s sins are not merely covered up, but he is literally changed into something new. In chapter 4, he teaches that that “our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (verse 16). This is a restatement of a more in depth point which Paul makes in 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
This is the very same point that James makes when he says that “man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). As we do works day by day in Christ, our justification increases and we are more and more transformed into the image of Christ. Our share in the virtues infused by the Holy Spirit increases, and we grow to deeper faith, greater hope, and more complete love. Protestants may have difficulty with this point, because most often they do not view justification as something which can increase; to Protestants, a man is either justified or he is not. The Church teaches otherwise, and the multiple passages cited here provide good evidence for Her understanding. Indeed, if this understanding is not correct, then James really does contradict Paul in teaching that a man is justified by works. Justification is understood by the Church to be a true inner change, as these passages indicate. If the link between all of these things is not yet completely clear, it will be after examining the true center of the entire process of justification, and indeed the center of everything: love.
The Scriptures are very, very clear that man cannot be justified without love. John, in whose gospel Jesus equated eternal life with knowing God, writes in his first epistle that “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:7-8). In 1 John 3:14, he teaches that “Whoever does not love abides in death.” St. Paul, along with the Council of Trent, identifies justification with being made children of God, and John teaches that it is the love of God which makes us His children: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (3:1). Recall two of Trent’s teachings on justification that were mentioned above. First, justification is the transition to being adopted as a child of God (Session 6, Chapter 4). Second, justification occurs when the love of God is infused into the soul (Session 6, chapter 7). In this verse, John explains that the love that God gives us makes us His children, encompassing these two teachings beautifully. John further speaks against loving the world, warning that if one is to do this “the love of the Father is not in him” (2:15) This warning makes sense because the state of being justified consists of having the love of God in a person. The examples from this epistle could be multiplied.
St. Paul also speaks extensively of love. As has already been cited, he teaches that God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). In 1 Corinthians 2:9, he says that the rewards God has in Heaven are “for those who love Him.” He writes to Timothy that women will be saved “if they continue in faith and love and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:15). Perhaps the strongest statement in the entire Scriptures concerning love comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:2, where he writes, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” This, beyond all doubt, proves that man cannot be saved by faith without love. The chapter ends with Paul teaching that “faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” The Council of Trent teaches on all of this, in the 7th chapter of Session 6:
For faith without hope and charity neither unites a person perfectly with Christ, nor makes one a living member of his body. Therefore, it is rightly said that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17) and unprofitable, and that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
This last passage cited by the Council shows what Paul means throughout the rest of Scripture when he speaks of faith: a faith that works through love.
In Galatians 6:15, he makes a very similar statement which ties everything together: “For neither circumcision is of any avail nor uncircumcison, but a new creation.” The new creation that the apostle Paul speaks of over and over in Scripture is a new creation of faith working through love. Faith working through love is the means by which men are returned to the image and likeness of God, the righteous state that they were in before the fall. It is the means by which man is brought to know God once more, and thus to inherit eternal life. It is the means by which man is brought to become children of God. It is the means by which man is justified. Justification, then, is not a matter of faith and works, but of faith and love.
When Paul speaks of faith, he refers to a faith that is open to acts of love - one that loves God and neighbor. Faith without works is dead because faith without love is dead, and real love is something that works. When Paul says that man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law, he means a faith that is open to love, not a mere intellectual belief. Paul makes this clear in his famous teaching on what love is in 1 Corinthians 13, which he gives for the purpose of illustrating what this love is that he is nothing without:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
All of these things that love does are works. Indeed, there are more works that love might do, such as works of charity, but love is at the very least consistent of these things. The love Paul speaks of, the love that he teaches must accompany faith for justification, is a love that works. The Church does not teach that this is human love, but, as the Council of Trent and the Scriptures teach, is the love of God poured out into man’s heart. It is itself Grace, but it is a Grace which must be accepted, and without which man cannot be justified.
Adam and Eve had faith, but not the kind of faith Paul speaks of. They had the faith of intellectual belief. They believed in God, but they did not know Him, because they did not have a faith open to Love. This intellectual belief is the same as James teaches concerning the demons, writing, “even the demons believe – and shudder!” (2:19) As John teaches in his first epistle, God is love (4:8), so to have love is to know God. They had belief in the same way as the demons which James teaches about when he writes, “even the demons believe – and tremble” (2:19). The demons believe God, and they believe in God, but they do not love God, so they do not know God, so they are not justified. This was true also, at least for some time, of Adam and Eve after the fall. Abraham believed God, and he loved God, so he was justified. The same is true of Moses. They were the friends of God.
This is also, consequently, why the Catholic Church is so concerned with the commandments and with sin. John writes that when we know God, we keep His commandments (1 John 2:3-4). Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). St. Paul also stressed the importance of keeping the commandments, for this same reason. Just as he wrote that in Christ, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love,” (Galatians 5:6), he also writes that “neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Thus we see that when Paul speaks of faith, he means a faith that loves, and thus a faith that is obedient, not an intellectual belief alone, and so he says that Christ seeks “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:6, 16:26).
Paul’s teaching here both clears up an interesting confusion that seems to exist in his writings, and enlightens us as to the connection works have to love that causes James to write so highly of them. On the one hand, the apostle says that Christians are not bound to a law on several occasions (see Romans 7:4, Galatians 2:19, and others). On the other hand, he also writes that the law is not cancelled but upheld. For example, Romans 3:31 he writes, “do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” The harmony between these two verses lies in his teachings that by loving, we keep the law. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8), he commands, and again “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). Here he quotes Jesus, who gave as the two commandments that we must follow to love God, and to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), teaching that these two commandments encompass all that the Law and prophets had taught before. Paul explains the same thing in Romans 13:9-10: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” James agrees with Paul, writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (2:8). If love is in keeping the commandments, this is why James writes that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). One who loves will express that Love in works, and so a faith without works is a faith without Love, and a faith without Love is dead.
Thus, the Church teaches that Love is required for salvation, along with faith, and that love of God requires the keeping of the commandments. The Council of Trent presents this very concisely in the 7th chapter of the sixth Session of Trent:
For faith without hope and charity [Love] neither unites a person perfectly with Christ, nor makes one a living member of his body. Therefore, it is rightly said that “faith without works is dead” [James 2:17] and unprofitable, and that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision not uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” [Galatians 5:6, 6:15]. This is the faith which, in keeping with apostolic tradition, the catechumens ask of the Church before reception of baptism when they ask for “the faith that gives eternal life,” a life which faith without hope and charity cannot give. Hence, they immediately here Christ’s words: “If you would enter into life, keep the commandments” [Matthew 19:17].
However, it is important to stress the Church’s teaching that this Love, and in fact even the faith that man has in Christ, is no doing of his, but of Grace alone:
…nothing that precedes justification, neither faith nor works, merits the grace of justification; for ‘if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise (as the same apostle says) grace would no longer be grace [Romans 11:6] (Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 8).
It is only by the Holy Spirit pouring the Love of God into man’s heart (see Romans 5:5) that man gains it, and it is only as a free gift that it is given, based on the merits of Jesus Christ on the cross. As Trent teaches here, Faith too is a gift of Grace, a virtue which man cannot have without Grace. Jesus teaches this when He says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). In 2 Corinthians 4:13, the apostle Paul writes of the “Spirit of faith,” as it is the Spirit which gives faith to us. As has been presented above, the same apostle teaches that faith is a gift, rather than the doing of man, in Ephesians 2:8-9.
Thus, the Church teaches that faith alone is insufficient for salvation. The interesting thing is that many Protestants today agree with the general understanding of the Catholic Church, even if not in its entirety. One phrase common in Protestant circles is that faith alone saves, but not a faith that is alone. The statement seems to fall short logically, because it faith alone by definition excludes any other factor with which it would not be alone. It also falls short Biblically, because both Paul and James indicate that faith, in the sense of intellectual belief, is not sufficient without love. This is why a far more accurate Protestant concept of the matter is one which holds that faith, if it is an intellectual belief, is insufficient, whereas faith, if it is a living faith that works, is. Perhaps the most accurate understanding in Protestantism is the need to accept Jesus Christ into one’s heart, as the Church teaches, and the Scriptures provided demonstrate, that salvation requires the Love of God to be poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit, which can only happen when one willingly consents. There are still differences, many subtle, between the two understandings, and it is very important that these are not ignored, as Paul taught that any erroneous gospel is accursed (see Galatians 1:8). It is fitting, then, to end with the words of God, and the words of Peter, the prince of the apostles, as he encourages us on the journey of faith:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11, emphasis mine).
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