Why the Catholic Understanding of Justification Is Not “Faith Plus Works”

In response to a question on Facebook, after I shared this article from Catholic Answers.

I might say that “faith plus works” can be a valid but misleading generalization — but not “grace plus works” (even though the article does clumsily put those side by side). Catholics do (and the Council of Trent did) fully affirm that salvation is by grace alone. Because everything is grace, even the works we do, since it is only by grace that we can work at all or even will to do good (Philippians 2:13, John 15:4). Even in that case (“faith plus works”), we are not saying that “works save us,” and in no sense do we mean works can “earn” salvation, or that anything must be added to the cross of Christ — which is why I generally disagree with the characterization “faith plus works.”

Catholics fully affirm that our initial justification — our initial rebirth in Christ — is entirely by faith alone through grace; it cannot be earned or deserved by anything we do or are. Since Protestants tend to compress the whole salvation experience into that initial justification, it’s easy to get the wrong idea when Catholics say that anything more (and “works” at that!) is required. But Catholics understand salvation as an ongoing process (so does Scripture: e.g. Philippians 1:6, 2:12–13, etc.), and roll into a part of “justification” what Protestants call “sanctification,” the ongoing process of being converted and conformed to Christ. And that — and most Protestants would agree — is wrought by “faith working in love” (Galatians 5:6, James 2:24).

Salvation is more than just being once forgiven; it’s being healed, renewed, and transformed by the love and grace of God. And God has designed to make us participants in that life of grace; we are not just passive recipients, but we receive that grace and bear fruit (John 15:1–4). Protestants say that good works are a fruit of grace, and Catholics agree. And just as Protestants say that a Christian who isn’t bearing any fruit possibly isn’t really “saved,” Catholics would likewise agree — only we would say that bearing that fruit is part of the ongoing process of being saved, being renewed and transformed in His image — which begins when we first receive His grace, and ends when we see Him face to face.

9 thoughts on “Why the Catholic Understanding of Justification Is Not “Faith Plus Works”

  1. “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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

    First, let me say that I am not a Protestant, I am a Lutheran. there is a difference, trust me. You conflate a typical “once saved, always saved” approach taken by the predestinationists of the Reformed churches and many evangelical/ charismatic/ baptist denominations. They believe in a Perseverance of the Saints (the “P” in TULIP). To that extent, what you call initial justification is crucial to them.

    However, James tells us early in his epistle: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18) clearly stating that justification comes before the good works. He moves on in chapter 2 to decry the “confess with your mouth” doctrines of so many evangelical protestants and worsks the argument from a spoken, intelellectual, confession of the facts to a living faith (“even the demons believe” – how could they not? but that belief is not faith).

    It is the justified person that lives a life of faith and the progression you see as toward being saved I would argue is the sanctification of one who is already saved. In truth, we are transformed but not made more worthy of salvation than the moment that the Holy Spirit comes upon us in Baptism and when we renew our Baptism when we confess our sin and fall upon God’s mercy.

    Always remembering that, in idleness of simply stating a faith we can fall away. But, in unquestioning obedience to God as he places the works to be done before us, we can only be walking in true faith.

    I would sooner point to Luke 18:9-14. think about the just man (the Pharisee), truly a man of faith and works (marred by pride, perhaps), truly wants to please God, but cannot see that he is dead in sin because he actively fights sin in daily life, he does not have full faith in God’s salvation – he relies, in part, upon himself. The tax collector knows that he falls far short of God’s expectations and knows that he is dead in sin, that he cannot fight and cannot win. He is saved in God’s mercy because he knows it to be the only way – he has true faith.

    Taking a page from Robert Capon, we are challenged to think of ourselves as the tax collector but more often end up the Pharisee. We would expect the tax collector to change, to be reformed, for faith to become evident – we would pharisaically expect him to do something lawful. But if he returns only miserable with guilt and throwing himself at God’s feet, he will be saved because he truly believes God’s salvation.

    Finally, “Protestant” is not a monolithic idea. Most do not administer the sacraments, do not recognize the Real Presence, are baptized merely as an act of obedience. Lutherans disagree with them on these points and many others. I would encourage a reading of Martin Luther’s treatise on good works.

    I wish you well in your faith journey and pass along the Peace of Christ. I do hope that we will find ourselves together in spirit as part of Christ’s Body this Ash Wednesday as we receive the ashes reminding us of our death in sin and contemplate the cross, the death of all sin.

    • Hi, Harold. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. God bless you!

      Yes, I know that “Protestant” is not a monolithic concept. I have another Lutheran friend who comments on nearly every post to remind me on just that! I know that I sometimes generalize (and even overgeneralize) about Protestantism — but the motive is not to denigrate Protestants, but to highlight distinctions in the Catholic belief. I live in the American South, and the great majority of the people I communicate with locally on a regular basis are Evangelical or Reformed.

      But I will say this: I’ve heard Evangelicals object to the term “Protestant,” but never a Lutheran! Luther, as I’m sure you well know, is literally the Protestant poster child! It was Luther’s infamous (and apocryphal) nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door that initiated the Protestant Reformation, and every modern history textbook I’ve ever seen places Luther under that heading and at the forefront of that movement. The term “Protestant” was first applied to Lutherans in 1529! So I’m rather puzzled by your claim that Lutherans are not Protestants (a label to which my other Lutheran friend has never objected).

      In the way the terms have generally come to be understood, and the way I use them, “Protestant” describes any Christian tradition that descends from the Western European schisms beginning in the sixteenth century, led by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others. And yes, it is a broad umbrella, including many diverse groups, leaders, and schools of thought, and I appreciate being called on my overgeneralizations where that is appropriate.

      Catholics and Lutherans do agree on many points, and have indeed come closer to a common understanding of even the doctrine of justification. But one point in your comment stands out. You say:

      In truth, we are transformed but not made more worthy of salvation than the moment that the Holy Spirit comes upon us in Baptism and when we renew our Baptism when we confess our sin and fall upon God’s mercy.

      If we measure worthiness in terms of being worthy of God’s grace, then certainly, we can never do anything or become anything to earn or deserve that; we must always fall upon His mercy. But there is a sense, in the Catholic understanding and evident in Scripture (and it was one of the chief points that Luther objected to), in which we do merit the reward God has stored up for us (cf. Matthew 6:6, Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:6-8, etc.). Scripture says again and again that God will “repay each person according to his works.” But the key — and where most Protestants (and yes, this means Luther) missed it — is that even the works for which we will be rewarded are gifts of God’s grace. As Saint Augustine said, “When God crowns our merits, he crowns nothing else but His own gifts.”

      • Thank you – i was taught never to identify as “protestant” becuase that implied a lump of Christians who reject the sacrament, accept double predestination, may rejecf infant baptism, do not accept absolution from the church and many of whom are non- or anti-liturgical. Our faith is more Catholic than what passes for protestant in the general mind.

        I agree with what Augustine said because we will be judged for Christ’s merit and not our own. It is His works and His obedience which saves, not our own. The most sanctified Christian is no closer to worthy of Heaven than the most unrepentant person. We are all.dead in original sin and are not condemend by actual sin but by that original sin which which manifests in thought, word, and deed.

        Anything more from us added as part of redemption (choosing, oral confession, our own will, our own actions) proclaims that we are complicit, cooperative in salvation. That is false if only because it proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is completed by us in the choosing and in our discernment of good works.

        The wonder and mystery of God’s grace is that He grants us what we do not and cannot merit. It is also wondrous, loving, and beyond comprehension that in mercy He withholds from us the damnation that even the best of us deserves. That total reliance on Christ as the author and perfecter of our faith is all there is to plead our case before the Father.

        Look forward to hearing more from you. A well-thought discussion of doctrine is a rare thing. Hang in there, the Bible Belt can be a tough place. Rest assured that one can be sola scriptura without being fundmentalist or literalist. We have been doing it for 500 years. Stand firm. I think that God has called you to your faith.

        • Hi, Harold. I hope you realize, despite your insistence in not being a “Protestant,” your argument here is very typically Protestant. 🙂 The argument itself originated with Luther, but is maintained by virtually all Protestant sects in one form or another. What defines “Protestant” in my mind is what Protestants hold in common, not what they hold differently — and this is one point on which most Protestants are fairly consistent.

          And no, Augustine was quite clear in maintaining what is and always has been (since Augustine) the Catholic teaching: Man does cooperate with God’s grace in his own salvation. We can never earn or merit God’s grace, but given that grace, He enables us to work with Him and through Him for our sanctification — not because His salvific work was “not enough,” but because He gives us the opportunity to participate in it. (See CCC 1987-2011.) I highly recommend Alister McGrath’s detailed study of the doctrine of justification, Iustitia Dei, in which he devotes a good portion to Augustine. Or, read my partial review: “Augustine is Catholic.

          God bless you, and His peace be with you!

          • Good morning!

            I do not accept all of Augustine, any more that I accept all of any other of the Church fathers. After all, in his discussion of God’s sovereignty, Augustine embraces double- predestination. That, alone, indicates he has flaws in his doctrines.

            As to the consistency of protestants, most evangelicals and reformed groups tend to be Arminian and take a synergistic view that man does cooperate with God in sanctification and toward salvation. Many reject infant baptism for the sole reason that one must choose and confess openly that one has faith in order to “become” a Christian. In other words, “I am saved by my choice.” That places the power of salvation in the hands of the sinner – we, that is you and I would reject that. But that would be my entire rejection of synergism, in all forms, and I do not believe this is what you or Augustine means.

            No act of propitiation can be performed on our part. You may claim that an act taps into a store of Christ-earned grace and brings more into your life. You may claim that stacking up these acts brings in more and more grace. By that you would be saying you grow more Godly, in a sense, become sanctified as you avail yourself of this grace. But even saying that, you are not complicit or cooperative in your salvation.

            I would disagree. Grace is infinite and, as such, cannot be accumulated and stored up. Any part of it is sufficient to save. If the full gift of grace can fall to the thief on the cross with no complicity on his part, nothing done and nothing possessed but a bare-bones faith, how can it be said salvation requires more of any man?

            On the side of monergism, the belief that only God is working salvation, there are Calvinists who accept that all is predestined and falls neatly into God’s sovereign package. The evidence of faith is in obedience and one who ceases to obey was never saved in the first place. God has made His judgement to save some by Christ’s sacrifice and decided that others just won’t. I reject this, as well.

            What we, as Lutherans, share with them is that we receive the imputed righteousness of Christ. We are judged for what He did, not for what we do. We are washed in the blood of the lamb (Revelation 7:9-17) so that we are not clothed in a garment of our own righteousness before the throne.

            As a Lutheran, we accept that God, by His grace, works faith in us so that we may His pardon (justification). What you see as cooperation or complicity is the shared joy of a saved person living with and for God. We go, repeatedly, back to the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament, because we always fall back into sin. We always fail, in thought, word, and deed to keep His commandments. But the grace we receive is not an addition, it is a renewal. No matter how much less we sin, no sin not covered by grace, has any place in Heaven.

            As long as we are covered by grace, we have the promise of salvation:

            In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.(Eph 1:13,14)

            Notice, too, “the gospel of your salvation”, the good news of a thing already accomplished? With that in hand, we get to do the good works intended for us. We get to live as God desires. Having salvation is not a goal, it’s an opportunity.

            Christ’s peace!

          • Hello, Harold.

            Certainly Augustine, like any human interpreter, is not perfect. But you stated that you agreed with him above; I just wanted to be clear that no, you probably don’t. 😉 Many Protestants, especially the Reformed, love to lay claim to Augustine as “one of their own,” when really, aside from his pronounced views on grace and predestination (FWIW, I don’t think he teaches “double predestination,” at least not consistently; for a good summary, see Fr. William Most, “St. Augustine on Grace and Predestination”), he has little affinity at all with Reformed or otherwise Protestant theology. (“Reformed” with a big R, in my understanding, being virtually synonymous with “Calvinist.”)

            But that brings me to the point that troubles me most about Protestant theology: You acknowledge that you break with Augustine and the other Church Fathers. Many, as I said, don’t, arguing sometimes vehemently to grasp some connection to the past, maintaining that their tradition is actually the heir to some true and pure Christian tradition. But it simply isn’t. McGrath acknowleges that Luther’s and Calvin’s ideas about justification, be they “monergism” or “imputation” or other such, were genuine theological innovations, never before found in the history of the Christian tradition. Reading texts that innumerable other brilliant people had been poring over for many centuries, Luther came to all-new interpretations, all-new understandings, all by his lonesome, that were supported neither by the teachings nor the practices of the earliest Christians closest to Christ and the Apostles, nor handed down to any of their followers, nor received by any later generation of the Church. Does that not present a problem for you? If “monergism” or “imputation” were the true Christian teaching, what Paul really meant, then why can’t any trace of them be found in the thought of Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, or anyone else? Did the Church really fall away from the teaching of the truth so completely and so immediately? And if so, doesn’t that present a problem in itself? — this Church that Jesus promised would withstand the very gates of Hades, that would be guided into all truth?

            His peace be with you.

          • Good afternoon.

            You read McGrath? I am reading the Mystery of the Cross this Lenten season.

            Bearing in mind that all things in the church were there at the beginning and some that were are no longer, we have to believe that God guards the church and saves in spite of human error.

            The canon of scripture we have was not solidified for centuries.The Real Presence was acknowledged from the earliest but transubstantiation was not. For Catholics, before Vatican II (and many after), they did not receive the sacrament in both kinds, bread and wine. it was considered sufficient to receive the host only. this is not the practice of the apostolic or the patristic church but was something lost in the early medieval period. i understand this is being somewhat remedied? Even as regards Catholic dogma Barnard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas vehemently denied the immaculate conception, This dogma dates to 1854 and The Assumption of Mary dates to 1950. Reminder, dogma means you must believe this if you are to be Roman Catholic, it’s not an option. Does this absence of dogma for over a thousand years condemn anyone? What about early Christians who insinuated later rejected scripture into their churches?

            Clearly, all truth is not revealed at once and God’s time for revelation is not ours. But whatever we need is always present and always sufficient.

            I have limited time and there are gems from Clement of Rome and Chrysostom which point with certainty to imputed righteousness and justification by faith without works. But here is a snapshot of others (I am assuming you’ve been exhausted on the scriptural arguments which are, of all writings, the most ancient in the church – I would think apostles would count as heavily as patristic figures);

            Man therefore was lawfully delivered up, but mercifully set free. Yet mercy was shown in such a way that a kind of justice was not lacking even in his liberation, since, as was most fitting for man s recovery, it was part of the mercy of the liberator to employ justice rather than power against man s enemy. For what could man, the slave of sin, fast bound by the devil, do of himself to recover that righteousness which he had formerly lost? Therefore he who lacked righteousness had another’s imputed to him, and in this way: The prince of this world came and found nothing in the Saviour, and because he notwithstanding laid hands on the Innocent he lost most justly those whom he held captive; since He who owed nothing to death, lawfully freed him who was subject to it, both from the debt of death, and the dominion of the devil, by accepting the injustice of death; for with what justice could that be exacted from man a second time? It was man who owed the debt, it was man who paid it. For if one, says S. Paul, died for all, then were all dead (2 Cor. v. 14), so that, as One bore the sins of all, the satisfaction of One is imputed to all. It is not that one forfeited, another satisfied; the Head and body is one, viz., Christ. The Head, therefore, satisfied for the members, Christ for His children, since, according to the Gospel of Paul, by which Peter’s [i.e., Abelard] falsehood is refuted, He who died for us, quickened us together with Himself, forgiving us all our trespasses, blotting out the hand writing of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross, having spoiled principalities and powers. (Bernard of Clairvaux – certainly no slouch and preceding the reformation by several centuries)
            Let it [i.e., the LXX] therefore heed John’s loud cry, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and the divinely inspired Paul’s words, “For us he made him to be sin who did not know sin so that we might become righteousness through him,” and again, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us.” So just as the one who was a fount of righteousness assumed our sin, and the one who was an ocean of blessing accepted a curse lying upon us, and scorning shame endured a cross, so too he uttered the words on our behalf. After all, if he willingly submitted to chastisement prescribed for us—“Chastisement of our peace is upon him,” the inspired author says—much more is it the case that it was on our behalf that he employed these words in our person, crying out, The words of my failings are far from saving me: do not have regard to the faults of nature, he is saying, but grant salvation in view of my sufferings. (Theodoret of Cyrrhus, 393-466AD)
            This he says, that without the works of the law, to an impious person (that is, a Gentile) believing in Christ, his faith is imputed for righteousness, as it was to Abraham. How then can the Jews imagine that through the works of the law they are justified with Abraham’s justification, when they see that Abraham was justified not from the works of the law, but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law, since an impious person is justified with God through faith alone. (Ambriosiaster, 4th century)
            In short, faith in one of two gods cannot possibly admit us to the dispensation of the other, so that it should impute righteousness to those who believe in him, and make the just live through him, and declare the Gentiles to be his children through faith. Such a dispensation as this belongs wholly to Him through whose appointment it was already made known by the call of this self-same Abraham, as is conclusively shown by the natural meaning. (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 5, Chapter 3)
            I know that through grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God, through Jesus Christ (Polycarp)
            Through the obedience of one man who first was born from the Virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. (Ireneus)
            This is the true and perfect glorying in God, when a man is not lifted up on account of his own righteousness, but has known himself to be wanting in true righteousness and to be justified by faith alone in Christ. (Basil)
            Do you believe that you cannot be saved but by the death of Christ? Go, then, and put all your confidence in this death alone. If God shall say to you, “You are a sinner”, say to him, “I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sin. (Anselm)
            God gave his own Son the ransom for us…for what, save his righteousness, could cover our sins. In whom was it possible that we, transgressors and ungodly as we were, could be justified, save in the Son of God alone? …O unexpected benefit, that the transgression of many should be hidden in one righteous Person and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors (Justin Martyr, Letter to Diognetus)

            Remember, we are not saved because we know the truth of how it is done but because we believe that it was done for us through Christ, that the Son of God sacrificed Himself for us, paid our penalty, took the burden and the wrath for all our sin upon Himself, died, and was resurrected for us. However you approach justification, believe that it is Christ who justifies us through His work of reconciliation. That is a saving faith. Christ is victorious over all sin, now, therefore His church, now, has already prevailed against the Gates of Hades and stands in victory for all eternity.

            How can our limited understanding and practice win back the victory for Hell?

            Christ’s peace!

          • Hello, Harold. You are behaving more and more like a Protestant. 😀 You are doing exactly what I suggested many Protestants do, fishing frantically for some patristic antecedent to Protestant theology (and this, I know, is the stuff of Protestant apologetics). But it simply isn’t there. You’re making, I think, a subtle mistake: The fact that you can read your understanding of the doctrine of imputation (etc.) into the Church Fathers is not the same thing as their having articulated that doctrine. You can also read that doctrine into Paul, but neither does Paul articulate it. In both cases you are making an interpretation of words that can be interpreted more than one way. In both cases you are taking a few words and ideas that resemble the ones you are looking for out of the larger context of the authors’ arguments, and ignoring all the rest they have to say. You are finding half your doctrine, if that much, and then interpolating the rest, even when the rest contradicts it.

            To take your excerpt from St. Bernard: for one thing, he never uses the word “imputed” at all. It isn’t there in the Latin, but was interpolated by the translator (Bernard actually uses the word “assigned”). For another — there is nothing at all Bernard says here that is inconsistent with Catholic theology. Catholics also believe, and Paul clearly teaches, that the righteousness of Christ is given to believers (Romans 3:22, cf. CCC 1987). The difference between Catholic theology and Protestant theology is their understanding of the nature of that gift, what it actually is and does. Catholics believe that in addition to assigning Christ’s righteousness to the sinner, God actually infuses that sanctifying grace and love into the sinner’s heart (Romans 5:5), and that that grace effects a change in his soul, cleansing him, destroying the power of sin over him, and actually making him righteous. On the other hand, Protestants believe, and you have articulated, that the alien righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner in such a way that it neither becomes his own nor actually, in itself, effects a change in him: that this imputation is a purely forensic act, a declaring “not guilty” that attributes to the sinner Christ’s righteousness but doesn’t actually give him that righteousness; and that this imputation is once and for all, irreversible, and all that is necessary for salvation. But that isn’t what Bernard says at all. “Bernard teaching imputation” would be Bernard articulating that doctrine in the same terms Protestants eventually did, the same terms you understand it. As it reads now, he is mostly just quoting Paul, and you are interpolating your understanding of imputation in exactly the same way you do with Paul.

            A few quick quotes from the very same letter:

            “If from the one [Adam’s fall] I was infected with concupiscence from my birth, by Christ spiritual grace was infused into me.” (Chapter VI)

            “He who had mercy on the sinner will not condemn the righteous; I mean that I am righteous, but it is in His righteousness, for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Romans 10:4). In short, He was made our righteousness by God the Father (1 Corinthians 1:30). Is not that righteousness mine which was made for me? If my guilt was inherited, why should not my righteousness be accorded to me? And, truly, what is given me is safer than what was born in me. For this, indeed, has whereof to glory, but not before God; but that, since it is effectual to salvation, has nothing whereof to glory but in the Lord.” (Chapter VI)

            Just as Protestants read a denial of the necessity of works into Augustine’s affirmations of grace against Pelagius, taking those affirmations out of the larger context, they are here reading much the same into Bernard’s arguments against Abelard’s denials of grace and justification. For example:

            [Against’s Abelard’s “moral influence” theory of the Atonement:] “If the life which Christ gives is nothing but his instruction, the death which Adam gave is in like manner only his instruction; so that one by example leads men to sin, the other by His example and His Word leads them to a holy life and to love Him. But if we rest in the Christian faith, and not in the heresy of Pelagius, and confess that by generation and not by example was the sin of Adam imparted to us, and by sin death, let us also confess that it is necessary for righteousness to be restored to us by Christ, not by instruction, but by regeneration, and by righteousness life (Romans 5:18). And if this be so, how can Peter [Abelard] say the only purpose and cause of the Incarnation was that he might enlighten the world by the light of His wisdom and inflame it with love of Him? Where, then, is redemption? There come from Christ, as he deigns to confess, merely illumination and enkindling to love. Whence come redemption and liberation?” (Chapter IX)

            Spending any length of time with Bernard, beyond the abbreviated excerpt you’ve given, would show that Bernard actually teaches nothing at all like the Protestant doctrine of “imputation.” Just because he quotes the same passages from Paul that you derive that doctrine from doesn’t mean that Bernard derived that doctrine.

            The other authors you cite — Theodoret, Ambrosiaster, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Basil, Justin — literally do nothing more than that, quote Paul. Quoting Paul is no indication that they read in Paul what you want to read in Paul. I could also quote the same passages and same statements from Paul, but I would not be “teaching imputation” any more than the Fathers.

            I will say again, and quote McGrath: The Protestant notions of “forensic justification” and “imputation” were something entirely new, never before seen in the Christian theological tradition:

            “The most accurate description of the doctrines of justification associated with the Reformed and Lutheran churches from 1530 onwards is that they represent a radically new interpretation of the Pauline concept of ‘imputed righteousness’ set within an Augustinian soteriological framework.” (Iustitia Dei, 3rd ed., 209)

            “The fundamental theological question which is thus raised is the following: can the teachings of the churches of the Reformation be regarded as truly catholic? In view of the centrality of the doctrine of justification to both the initium theologiae Lutheri [beginning of the theology of Luther] and the initium Reformationis [beginning of the Reformation], this question becomes acutely pressing concerning the doctrine of justification itself. If it can be shown that the central teaching of the Lutheran Reformation, the fulcrum about which the early Reformation turned, the articulus stantis et candentis ecclesiae [the article on which the church stands and falls], constituted a theological novelty, unknown within the previous fifteen centuries of catholic thought, the Reformers’ claim to catholicity would be seriously prejudiced, if not totally discredited.” (Ibid., 210)

            “The essential distinguishing feature of the Reformation doctrines of justification is a deliberate and systematic distinction is made between justification and regeneration. Although it must be emphasized that this distinction is purely notional, in that it is impossible to separate the two within the context of the ordo salutis [order of salvation], the essential point is that a notional distinction had been acknowledged where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine. A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification — as opposed to its mode — must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum [novelty].” (Ibid., 217)

            “That there are no ‘forerunners of the Reformation doctrines of justification’ has little theological significance today, given current thinking on the nature of the development of doctrine…” (Ibid., 217)

            As to the rest of your comment:

            Bearing in mind that [not] all things in the church were there at the beginning and some that were are no longer, we have to believe that God guards the church and saves in spite of human error.

            [I inserted the “not” in your comment because I presume that is what you meant; otherwise your statement doesn’t make any sense. Please correct me if I’m wrong.]

            We do believe that everything we believe was present from the beginning in some form, even if only as seed or raw material that needed to be thought out. We also believe that nothing has been lost that God wanted us to have. Do you believe otherwise? God saves sinful humans in spite of human error, but very clearly God does not spare individual Christians within the Church from human error — the terrible schisms and heresies we have imposed on it being a glaring example. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth, but obviously He has not guided every individual Christian into all truth. The only way to be assured of that truth and that guidance is to remain in the fullness and unity of the Church!

            The canon of scripture we have was not solidified for centuries.

            This is a specious argument, and I’m not sure what you mean to make by it. The canon of Scripture was not formally codified for several centuries; but with the exception of only a few books that were questioned (Jude, 2 Peter, Revelation), the greater part of the New Testament was formed and embraced throughout the whole Church by the end of the first century. Much like any other formal doctrine, the necessity of codifying the canon at all was only brought on by the disputes of heretics, namely the Gnostics, who as you well know, tried to introduce their own spurious books in later centuries.

            The Real Presence was acknowledged from the earliest but transubstantiation was not.

            “Transubstantiation” is only a teaching and explanation about the Real Presence, a formal and philosophical statement of what the Church has believed since the beginning: that the Bread and Wine actually become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord. You acknowledge that this belief was there from the beginning; what are you expecting to be there that wasn’t there?

            For Catholics, before Vatican II (and many after), they did not receive the sacrament in both kinds, bread and wine. it was considered sufficient to receive the host only. this is not the practice of the apostolic or the patristic church but was something lost in the early medieval period. i understand this is being somewhat remedied?

            I don’t see what this has to do with anything. I realize that this was a beef of the Protestant Reformers; but they made an issue of something that was never and has never been an issue for Catholics. Communion under one kind is “sufficient,” because Christ Himself is sufficient. One receiving the Host receives all of Christ; one does not receive any more Christ (or “double-Christ”?) when one receives the Cup also. Communion under one kind is a liturgical discipline, not an element of doctrine; it could have been relaxed or changed in any place at any moment, and in many places it never was a practice at all. It developed organically and consistently throughout Christendom for reasons of public health, proper respect for the Eucharist (problems with spillage or profanation), and other worthy concerns: At the same time the Cup was being withdrawn from the laity in the West, Eastern Christians began to practice intinction, out of the very same concerns. Many lay Catholics received Communion under both kinds, in full keeping with the Catholic faith, long before Vatican II. And yes, at the discretion of bishops and pastors, it is perfectly permissible today to offer Communion under both kinds to the laity.

            Even as regards Catholic dogma Barnard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas vehemently denied the immaculate conception, This dogma dates to 1854 and The Assumption of Mary dates to 1950.

            One can’t “vehemently deny” something that wasn’t articulated yet. All the Church Fathers agreed (vehemently) that the Virgin Mary was without sin throughout her whole life; the open question — upon which the theologians of the Church debated and did eventually reach a consensus in the later Middle Ages — was when and how she received this grace. Once again, just because these dogmata were formally promulgated at a late date does not mean that “this dogma dates” to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption had been articles of the faith for many centuries by that time.

            Does this absence of dogma for over a thousand years condemn anyone?

            I think you are misunderstanding the proposition. Rejecting the teachings of the Church is a problem. But one couldn’t very well have rejected something that wasn’t formally taught yet. And yet nobody rejected these teachings: they were only declared dogmata at all because they had been believed by all Catholics for so many centuries already.

            What about early Christians who insinuated later rejected scripture into their churches?

            I don’t know to whom you’re referring, unless to heretics who introduced spurious books. And yes, they are probably condemned, because they rejected Christ and His truth.

            Clearly, all truth is not revealed at once and God’s time for revelation is not ours. But whatever we need is always present and always sufficient.

            You seem to be making the argument — correct me if I’m wrong — that because the Catholic Church “introduced” new doctrines at late dates, it was somehow okay for the Protestant Reformers to do the same? But no. Everything the Catholic Church teaches can be found in some form in the original deposit of faith. The doctrines that developed, developed naturally and organically. They weren’t pulled out of an exegetical hat by late theologians with no antecedents, in contradiction to everything that had ever been taught previously, and presented as the truth.

            His church, now, has already prevailed against the Gates of Hades and stands in victory for all eternity.

            Christ has won the victory, but our human fracturing of the earthly Church certainly isn’t much of a testimony to that victory.

            This discussion is heating up a little, and I may seem a little aggravated, but I want you to know that I do pray all of Christ’s peace may be with you.

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