Help with a question from a Protestant

A non denominational told me that catholics aren’t christians if they follow he church

I told him we have saved the same way grace alone through faith

He responded with

Can you explain why it is that the Council of Trent anathamatized the message of Justification by Faith alone? Can you explain the difference between the catholic view of infused grace and the protestant view of imputed grace?

I’ll take a stab at it. I believe that the Catholic view of justification is that Christ gives grace to the individual so that he or she may live a life worthy of obtaining salvation. So that even though a person can earn merit salvation, it is only because God gives that person the ability to do it. The Protestant view is that no one can merit salvation through their works. When we have faith we strive to live a life according to God’s will, but we are unable to do anything that merits salvation, and are saved only because we have faith in Christ.

There are a lot of characters like that wandering around out in the world who make statements like this. Get used to it. :slight_smile:

He’s dead wrong of course because the New Testament itself does not teach Sola Fide, and Trent was correct to condemn it. It flies directly in the face of St. James epistle which tells us that “faith without works is dead” and they try to tell us that that’s not what it means. That whole discourse is found in James 2:14-26. Then too, we have Matthew 25:31-46 where Our Blessed Lord straight up tells us that we will all be judged by the works we have done (and not done), so the church’s teaching is correct and Sola Fide is an error.

Here are some articles that get into this in more depth.

*]Justification Sola Fide
*]Many Protestants believe we are saved by Faith Alone and they say Catholic believe they can “work” their way into Heaven. How do you answer that?
*]Sola Fide - Salvation by Faith Alone
*]It’s Not Over ‘til It’s Over
*]We Can Work It Out

Too late to edit my first post. To put it more simply --Catholics can earn their salvation, but only because they have faith in Christ and are enabled by the Holy Spirit. Protestants cannot earn their salvation, but are saved only because of their faith in Christ. They are enabled by the Holy Spirit to do good works, but these works have no merit as far as salvation goes. Good works are evidence that a person has true faith. Without works there is no faith. Faith and works are all wrapped up into one.

A protestant friend of mine, who would agree with everything you say here, sent this to me the other day for reflection…

7/30/2014—1655 DT 70—If anyone gives even a cup of cold water . . . , he will certainly not lose his reward.(Matthew 10:42)…What shall I do? I expect to pass through this world but once. Therefore any good work, kindness, or service I can render to any person…let me do it now. Let me not neglect or delay to do it, for I will not pass this way again. {an old Quaker saying (Streams in Desert)}

:shrug: :whacky:


As I said above James must be interpreted in light of the whole new testament. How about the following?

Ephesians 2:8-9New International Version (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

The reward spoken of here us probably an earthly reward. You can’t say that any person who gives someone a cup of cold water is ensured of salvation because of it.

The Catechism has some interesting things to say on the subject. Paragraphs 1987 and following speak to Justification, Grace, and merit.

Paragraph 2010 seems like it might be useful here:

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

I like to use the following when this comes up in RCIA:

Every person who is baptized into the Christian community is saved by the unmerited gift of Jesus on the cross. Nothing any person can do can earn that gift, because it IS a gift. If you follow Jesus, and believe in Him, you will naturally desire to please Him. The love for Christ will move you to perform good works. Your good works do not somehow earn you God’s love, because He has always loved you. You good works reenforce the grace you received in baptism, and are another way you help lead others to God.

You still have free will and can still choose to do bad/evil works and separate yourself from God or reject Him. (This then naturally leads into the sacrament of reconciliation.)

The challenge for 500 years centers on confusing grace with faith. Grace != Faith.

Grace is from God and it is the thing that first convicts us of sin. It is grace that leads us to the point of doing the work of saying “I believe”. After that grace continues its work in us through our faith.

“For by grace are you saved through faith that no man may boast” is not a contradiction of catholic teaching because all of our good deeds ultimately come from grace. We must cooperate with grace, permit grace to live and grow. We cannot boast based on our works because they come from God.

When you get right down to it no protestant really believes “faith alone” and I grew up protestant and talked to many. If you say it in another way they never object.

Basically no protestant believes you can say “I believe in Jesus as my savior” and then run around like Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler the rest of your life and never repent and make it to the pearly gates. They all have some way out. Baptists and Once Saved Always Saved folks usually say “well he wasn’t really saved to start with or he wouldn’t act that way” or things along those lines. A lutheran response would be along the lines of “since works are a result of faith and grace the absence of christian behavior means he really didn’t have at the start or lost along the way, his faith.” Same with the others.

Probably? How can one know for sure? The writer of the commentary following the scripture, which was sent to me by a protestant, does not seem to think of it as being an earthly reward. :wink:


Most people do not know that Martin Luther and most of the leading protestant theologians at the time were invited to the Council of Trent to enter into dialogue with the Church and resolve the dispute. They refused to attend the session in which these issues were addressed, even though they were granted safe passage to and from the Council.

This causes the anathema sit ruling of the Council of Trent to be misunderstood, as both sides were saying very similar things, but the anathema of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone caused dialogue to be halted and emotions were polarized one way or the other.

Both the Justification by Faith Alone (Protestant) and the Justification by Faith and Works agree on the following steps in the acceptance of Grace:

  1. God gives man grace to identify him
  2. Man identifies God.
  3. God gives man the grace to believe in God.
  4. Man believes in God. (This profession of faith is through Baptism, be it of Water, Desire, or Blood)
  5. God gives man grace through his faith (through baptism) that ultimately leads through salvation.

Here is where Catholics and Protestants differ.

Justification by Faith Alone states that the grace of Baptism is what ultimately causes salvation. It covers over all imperfection of man kind. God sees that grace given through his Son, and ultimately allows the person’s salvation. Luther uses the famous example of snow (God’s grace) covering a dung heap (man). This salvific grace causes the believer to be compelled to do good works. These good works cover the person with more grace, but ultimately don’t do anything, since they already were saved before the good works. If no good works come from a person, then this is supposedly proof that the person did not have true faith to begin with and are not saved.

Catholics believe that the grace of Baptism is just the beginning and actually changes the person’s soul for the better, making them more like Christ. Salvation, then, does not come from God seeing Christ covering you with His grace, but rather the resemblance your soul has to His Son. As such, Catholics are then called to do good works. Like Justification by Faith Alone, good works impart grace, but unlike Justification by Faith Alone, the graces imparted through those works change your soul more and more to resemble Christ.

I don’t know any Evangelical Christians who don’t also believe that our souls are meant to be changed to “more and more resemble Christ.” That’s the single major point of “being saved”: being saved to be conformed to the image of Christ more and more.

Hmm…This sounds like something an Evangelical Christian would say.

I agree. Once we’ve been justified through faith in Christ, that’s where sanctification comes in. We are continually striving to become more Christ-like. When we accept Christ into our lives it doesn’t just mean that we’ve got a free ticket to heaven. We’ve made a decision to follow Christ. We’ve given our lives over to his will. If someone says he’s believes in Jesus and doesn’t strive to become more like him, then he doesn’t have saving faith.

That’s exactly my point. Most protestants have a modern evangelical viewpoint, not the original view Martin Luther had of Justification by Faith Alone. The modern evangelical viewpoint extremely different than the original Lutheran, Zwinglian, or Wycliffite theology. Modern protestants don’t realize what the actual “Justification by Faith Alone” that was declared anathema sit at the Council of Trent was. This is why I said that the council is very misunderstood. The definitions have changed dramatically, but the old arguments haven’t.

The Lutheran World Federation and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the teaching and doctrinal branch of the Vatican) put out this joint declaration highlighting the similarities and differences between the two viewpoints.

This should clear up some confusion about the anathema sit of Trent and the differences between it and the modern evangelical viewpoint.

If you would actually read the entire chapter or paragraph and not simply pull out verses from God’s Holy Word, then maybe you would be better off.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (New American Bible, emphasis mine):

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”

My Commentary:

We have been saved by the gift of grace. We have received this grace, firstly, through faith, which has led us to be baptized and therefore justified through Jesus Christ. Now, this grace and this faith is not from us, but the free gift of God alone: grace comes from God alone and no one else. This grace does not even come from works in the sense that no human work could possibly merit grace; it is for this reason that we cannot boast, saying, “Look, myworks can make grace, what about yours?”

Rather, grace is a gift from God that we do not deserve, but which he gives us for having faith in Him and which he rewards us with FOR performing good, charitable works, which He Himself commands us to do “for the least of my brethren.” Thus, the works in and of themselves do not bring grace, but only God, Who sees us perform them, rewards us with grace for performing such good works, which He “has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”

Plus, do not forget, God’s Holy Word CANNOT contradict itself; so, when Jesus tells us the need for good, charitable works, and when Saint James reiterates this in his epistle, you have to realize that nowhere will it or can it ever say the opposite.

I don’t want to interfere with the very good discussion already in progress but thought I would interject my thoughts on how to handle such comments.

My immediate question would be “Why”? What, in his definition, constitutes a Follower of Christ…aka a Christian?

I told him we have saved the same way grace alone through faith

He responded with

Can you explain why it is that the Council of Trent anathamatized the message of Justification by Faith alone? Can you explain the difference between the catholic view of infused grace and the protestant view of imputed grace?

Here I would ask the person to provide the documents where this occurs so that you both may review them and discuss what is actually being said and what it means. If he is unable to a quick web search will turn up sites with the documents translated in full.

The reason I suggest this approach is that I have had similar conversations with protestants and when one looks at what is actually said in the documents it isn’t nearly as cut and dry as they assume - or have been taught.
Also - when you get into the discussion of what is actually said at Trent, you can also get into what it really means to say one is saved by faith alone and the relationship of actions (works) to faith.

This approach can take some time but is far more fulfilling to both sides.
Heck he might even decide you are a Christian after all…:smiley:


I agree with everything you said here. We are “saved unto good works” and the works themselves bring us no merit. We are saved totally by God’s grace. I also agree that James and Paul do not disagree. If a person has no good works, then his faith is dead. Only genuine faith produces good works. How does this tie in with keeping count of sins and having to go to confession to have a mortal sin forgiven? If our act of sin can keep us from heaven, and our ability to avoid sin or going to confession can get us in, how is that not “works based” salvation?

“Works Based”…
Consider the term - - - Consider what a “base” is…

A base is a foundation - upon which other things are built.

Do protestants truly think that Catholics teach “works” as the base upon which we build???
Do you - Lek - believe this??


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