A Catholic answer to an important question, part 2



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Catholic defenses of their doctrine of salvation typically take one of two tracks: 1) it is not works righteousness at all, or 2) “faith alone” is unscriptural and works are necessary.  Sometimes, as with the Catholic Answers Live apologist I began addressing yesterday, they take both.

Colin Donovan, Vice-President for Theology at EWTN, began answering a question regarding the difference between Catholic and Protestant beliefs about salvation by asserting that, “the Protestant belief is actually closer to a works righteousness” than Catholic belief because the act of faith itself is a work for the Protestant but the Catholic simply receives faith in baptism. But in expounding on that he reveals the incongruity of his argument because if faith is a work, baptism surely is also, as we see further established in his continuing defense.

Another element of this is that the Church doesn’t say that we can merit any of this by works, like what I described. Everything up until baptism you could call a work but you can’t merit baptism. You go and you basically pray the Church to give it in Christ’s name. You are asking, you’re not demanding, you’re not begging. You can’t. You can’t do it to God, you can’t do it to the Church. But the Church freely gives it as God gives it. That’s, again, gratuity.

Note that in criticizing the Protestant view he says, “it is the faith, the believer’s prayer…” that is a work. But praying and asking for and getting yourself baptized is somehow not.

So, with the issue of works, because God gives charity, which is the union of wills between man and God, in other words, the grace of God flowing into the human heart and into the human will, in order to do supernatural works, in order to take human works like look after your family and supernaturalize them; to do your job well and to supernaturalize it; to help your neighbor in need and to supernaturalize that act. So that it is Christ working through you; God gives you charity in baptism. And by maintaining charity till the end of your life, that’s how you get to heaven. Not by an act of faith, an altar call or something like that.

Here Mr. Donovan is getting ready to jump the track. He affirms that works are involved, but since God gives us charity in baptism, he is doing the work through us so we can’t be said to be meriting our own salvation. He doesn’t exactly say this, but I believe this is what he’s implying. If it is, it’s contrary to what we find in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Thus, when a person with the virtue of charity in his soul assists a needy neighbor on account of the words of Christ, “as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me”, or simply because his Christian training tells him that the one in need is a child of God, the act is one of supernatural charity. It is likewise meritorious of eternal life. (1)

I don’t believe that faith, hope, and charity are entities of some kind that can be “infused into the soul.” What I understand from Scripture is that what we are given when we believe is the Holy Spirit and he empowers us to exhibit those virtues. But we still have to submit our will to his. We have that power yet can choose not to avail ourselves of it.

Likewise, even if it were true that we are given charity by God…if our good works are all of him, his doing…why is it that everyone with this God-infused charity does not always and everywhere exhibit it? Well, Mr. Donovan tells us. It’s because WE must maintain it. “That’s how you get to heaven.”

Hmmm. Seems to me that’s a little more like works righteousness than salvation by faith alone.

So there are wide divergences between Catholic and a variety of Protestant beliefs most of which are based on a misunderstanding by the Reformers in one respect or another of what the Catholic Church actually teaches. The Church’s position is entirely scriptural, in fact you can’t reconcile faith alone with St. Paul in Romans. Luther had to insert the word “alone” into the German to get it in there. It wasn’t in there.

Paul’s doctrinal treatise in Romans does not need “alone” inserted to understand that he means faith and nothing else.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. – Romans 3:20-28

See also: Romans 4:3-5, 13-16, 5:1, 9:30, Galatians 2:16, 3:8-9, 11-14, 24-26, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:9, Titus 3:5

I would challenge any sincere seeker of truth to read all these verses one after the other and then see if you don’t at least have some serious misgivings about whether a doctrine that credits acts, slash works, as meritorious towards one’s salvation, is “entirely scriptural.”

Finally, Mr. Donovan concludes:

By faith, James later says in the Bible…works of charity. In other words, by the gift of charity.

So, the Church’s view is entirely consistent with Scripture, it’s consistent with the idea that we must persevere in faith, hope, and love to the end of our life. It’s not a simple act at some point which takes us to the end of life and that we never have to do anything. So I think those are the prime differences.

So after beginning with the charge that the Protestant doctrine of sola fide, faith alone, is “closer to a works righteousness,” even though the only “work” that can possibly count is the believer’s faith, he ends with the inevitable conclusion that the Catholic doctrine involves “works of charity” (notice how he corrected himself there), and persevering in virtues (something the individual has to do) “to the end of our life.” And then he contrasts the Church’s view with “never hav(ing) to do anything.”

What do you think, Catholic friend? Am I missing something or are there some real inconsistencies here?

(1) http://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/charity-and-charities