Reconciling Protestant and Catholic views of justification

As a Reformed (Presbyterian) Protestant who greatly admires the Catholic Church, I have been working on how to tease out the difference between the two views of justification. They have long seemed to be more similar than different - perhaps nothing more than different perspectives on the same truth.

Both Catholics and Protestants believe we are justified by grace through faith. Both Catholics and Protestants believe that saving faith definitely produces obedience and good works, and that saving faith is not spurious, but persevering. Both Catholics and Protestants believe that the basis for justification is not works done by us, but rather Christ’s death on the cross where He satisfied God’s demands for justice.

So what are the differences? The main difference is that Catholics believe that we can lose our state of justification through mortal sins, while (most) Protestants believe that we cannot lose our state of justification, though we can fall out of God’s favor through sin. I believe this is due to a misunderstanding of justification by both Protestants and Catholics.

Justification is a legal term that God will use to declare all true believers righteous at the last judgment (Romans 2). Any status of being justified we have now is merely the position we are in before God - it is the guarantee of the future reality. That guarantee is sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Who sanctifies us and produces obedience and good works (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Protestants err by confusing justification with conversion. Too many Protestants believe that when a person fully commits their life to Christ they are immediately and irrevocably justified at that moment. But this is not even true in classical Reformed theology! Nowhere does the Bible say that justification occurs when one outwardly converts to Christianity. A true believer can be assured of their justification, but justification ultimately occurs at the last judgment. We can be given the promise of that future reality, but no one is truly and finally justified the moment they are converted or even baptized.

And that leads me to the Catholic error. Catholics believe that grace is infused at the time of baptism, and this renders us justified before God. This justification can be lost, however, through mortal sin, and only through repentance can that right standing with God be regained. This might be true in the sense that someone might be baptized who does not have true saving faith, but it is not true that we can be in and out of a position of justification, as Jesus Himself makes clear in John 10, and which both Peter and Paul re-iterate in the New Testament. Catholics might say that mortal sin requires confession and repentance to return to a position of justification, but I believe the flip side is true: those who are justified and have true saving faith will invariably confess and repent of their mortal sins. Catholics believe that we confess to RETURN to a state of justification, when in reality we confess BECAUSE we are in a state of justification and are continually being sanctified.

A Catholic objection to this might be that someone might turn their back on God and live a life of sin, and thus lose their justification. I would argue that such a person was never truly justified to begin with, however sincere their faith appeared to be, because saving faith is by definition persevering faith (Hebrews 6:11-12).

I think these two views can be reconciled through the right view of justification. Justification comes through true saving faith in Jesus Christ, but saving faith produces good works and obedience (i.e. Charity), which includes continual confession and repentance of sins. Saving faith is also persevering, meaning it is not simply a “one and done” prayer or baptism. Thus a true believer will constantly confess and repent: they don’t lose their justification, but neither should they consider themselves justified because they “asked Jesus into their heart” at some point in their life (a common Protestant error). A true believer will remain justified as Protestants teach, but a true believer will invariably be obedient (which includes confession and repentance) and produce good works as Catholics teach.

So I believe if Protestants and Catholics shift their perspective on justification slightly they can retain their historic teaching and be reconciled, at least as far as this doctrine goes. Any thoughts and critiques would be greatly appreciated!

I think you need to take into account the Catholic view that ultimate salvation requires more than justification, it requires sanctification as well.

(Just to throw a wrench into your works. :wink: )

I am not sure what you mean there.

Jesus does not teach such nor does Peter and John.

Jusitication is more than legal term. It is a reality. Something that happens to the person.

The Catholic understanding (that of the New Testament writers) is there is a real change that happens. One is a new creation. One is now “in Christ”. One has true life.

Yes one can loose that state (as again the NT writers note).

And I would not say that “most” Protestants believe one cannot loose ones salvation. Rather the term is “some”.

Pope Benedict XVI on the subjects of Faith and Works in St. Paul (scroll down)

Plus earlier one:

I would offer this article by Dr. Marshner, an convert from Lutheranism:

Justification By Faith
By Dr. William Marshner

Stages of Justification
Catholic and Protestant views on the respective roles of grace, faith and works cannot be compared meaningfully, unless one specifies what stage of the justificational process one is talking about. In the preparatory stage, for instance, in which prevenient graces first stir a person towards an interest in religious truth, towards repentance, and towards faith, Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists are at one in saying “sola gratia.”2 A second stage is the very transition from death to life, which is the first stage of justification proper. Here the parties are at one in saying “sola fide,” though they seem to mean different things by it. Protestants tend to mean that, at this stage, by the grace of God, man’s act of faith is the sole act required of him; Catholics mean that faith is the beginning, foundation and root of all justification, since only faith makes possible the acts of hope and charity (i.e. love-for-God) which are also required.3 However, since most Protestants have a broad notion of the act of faith, whereby it includes elements of hope and love, it is often hard to tell how far the difference on this point is real and how far it is a matter of words. Finally, however, there comes a third stage, that of actual Christian life, with its problems of growth and perseverance. The man justified by faith is called to “walk” with God, to progress in holiness. It is at this stage that the parties sharply diverge. Catholics affirm, and Protestants strenuously deny, that the born-again Christian’s good works merit for him the increase of grace and of the Christian virtues. As a result, Protestant piety has no obvious place for the self- sacrifices, fasts, and states of perfection which are prominent features of Catholic piety. At each stage, neither the apparent agreements nor the apparent disagreements can be understood without looking at certain metaphysical quarrels, the chief of which is over the very existence of what
Catholics call “grace.”

Pope Benedict XVI on the subjects of Faith and Works in St. Paul (scroll down)

Plus earlier one:

Reformed teaching does take into account sanctification. Confusion arises because different meaning given to terms by Catholics and Reformed.

To Reformed, salvation is made up of four stages or parts.

Regeneration is when our sins are forgiven. We are given a new heart and spirit and the Holy Spirit indwells us. This allows us to want to please God and makes us capable of working to that end.

Justification is viewed as a legal term whereby the regenerate is viewed as righteous by God. While we have been changed by regeneration, we do not actually become righteous as this requires perfection which is not achieved in this lifetime.

Sanctification is where we work our salvation by trying to do things pleasing to God. These can be acceptable to God because justification covers any defects in our works arising from motivation for these works is not always solely love. Sanctification is never completed in this lifetime.

Glorification arises when we truly become perfectly righteous after death.

Salvation is by grace because it is only received as God’s free gift. Justification is by faith since it what God requires to count us as righteous. Faith is only true if it is such that it results in the desire and the actual doing of the works required for sanctification.

I cannot accept all of Reformed theology. Scripture is clear that Christ died for all and not just the elect, although it is only efficacious for those who have faith… Perseverance of the saints is a rather useless truism. If the elect are defined as those who will be with Christ in Heaven, by definition they will persevere to the end. The problem is no one can know they are elect until they actually persevere to death.

God bless SyCarl and every readers of the CAF.

Quote: “In fact, in TRADITIONAL WORKS OF CATHOLIC THEOLOGY, one regularly encounters the statement that FORMED FAITH IS JUSTIFYING FAITH. If one has formed faith, one is justified. Period. End quote. Emphasis mine.

**Sola fide formata = FORMED FAITH ALONE

a. BELIEF (Unconditional BELIEF in what God says.)

b. HOPE (Unconditional TRUST in God.)

c. CHARITY (Unconditional LOVE for God.)**

Every child/elect of God is a recipient of God’s free gift of Formed Faith at their baptism.

So, every child/elect of God has the desire to participate in charity and to do good works, this desires part of God’s given Formed Faith.

JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church

3/17 Justification is SOLELY due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we RECEIVE IN FAITH, and NEVER CAN MERIT IT ANY WAY.

4/25 We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. WHATEVER in the JUSTIFIED PRECEDES or FOLLOWS the free gift of faith is NEITHER THE BASIS of justification NOR MERITS it.

4/27.The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this RENEVAL in FAITH, HOPE, LOVE is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes NOTHING to JUSTIFICATION.

4/37 We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - FOLLOW JUSTIFICATION and ARE ITS FRUITS.


C) Justification takes place "by grace alone“ (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified „apart from works“ (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). "Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts“ (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th.II/II 4, 4 ad 3).The working of God’s grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore, we are called to strive (cf. Phil 2:12 ff). "As soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit…“ (The Formula of Concord, FC SD II,64f; BSLK 897,37ff).

D) Grace as fellowship of the justified with God in faith, hope and love is always received from the salvific and creative work of God (cf. JD 27). But it is nevertheless the responsibility of the justified not to waste this grace but to live in it. The exhortation to do good works is the exhortation to practice the faith (cf. BSLK 197,45). The good works of the justified „should be done in order to confirm their call, that is, lest they fall from their call by sinning again“ (Apol. XX,13, BSLK 316,18-24; with reference to 2 Pet. 1:10. Cf. also FC SD IV,33; BSLK 948,9-23). In this sense Lutherans and Catholics can understand together what is said about the "preservation of grace“ in JD 38 and 39. Certainly, "whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it“ (JD 25).

  1. The doctrine of justification is measure or touchstone for the Christian faith. No teaching may contradict this criterion. In this sense, the doctrine of justification is an "indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ“ (JD l8). As such, it has its truth and specific meaning within the overall context of the Church’s fundamental Trinitarian confession of faith. We "share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5-6) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts“ (JD 18).

God bless SyCarl and every readers of the CAF.


**God bless SyCarl and every readers of the CAF.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 Fr William Most
What does the Catholic Church teach on Predestination? **

Fr. Most himself leans toward a school of thought known as Thomism, which he develops in summary as follows:

Predestination is gratuitous: …for even before God considers human merits, He predestines, and because the sole and total cause of predestination is the goodness and love of the Father which moves spontaneously WITHOUT stimulus, merit, or condition.

God’s grace appears to all men (e.g.Tit. 2:11), and man’s initial “response” is the omission of resistance, which he identifies as an “ontological zero,” meaning man does NOTHING, to enter a state of justification.

In a related paragraph:

The SECOND STAGE follows, in which grace moves us further, so that **we do MAKE A DECISION: **

**“It is God who . . . works in you both the WILL and the PERFORMANCE.” **

Of course, we do actively cooperate with grace in the SECOND stage.

The entire process need not take more than one instant of time. (#82)

So, in summary the initial response is one of omission of resistance, followed by a positive response in grace.

Thomism emphasize the role of grace in human actions.

Aquinas said, “God changes the will without forcing it.

But he can change the will from the fact that He himself operates in the will as He does in nature,” De Veritatis 22:9.

Similarly, the Council of Orange says that **“in every good work, we do not begin.” **(#329.2)

In other words, when God commands, He capacitates the hearer to respond.

Yet the ability to respond is also His gift.

**The Catholic Church affirms predestination as a *DE FIDE *Dogma (the highest level of binding theological certainty).


THE CATHOLIC DOGMA. – The predestination of the elect**

Consequently, the whole future membership of heaven, down to its minutest details, has

been IRREVOCABLY FIXED FROM ALL ETERNITY. Nor could it be otherwise. For if it

were possible that a predestined individual should after all be CAST INTO HELL or that

one not predestined should in the end REACH HEAVEN, then God would have been

MISTAKEN in his foreknowledge of future events; He would NO LONGER be omniscient.

God’s unerring foreknowledge and foreordaining is designated in the Bible by the beautiful

figure of the “Book of Life” (liber vitæ, to biblion tes zoes). This book of life is a list which

contains the names of ALL THE ELECT and admits NEITHER ADDITIONS NO ERASURES.

(2) The second quality of predestination, the DEFINITENESS of the number of the elect,

follows NATURALLY from the first. For if the eternal counsel of God regarding the

predestined is UNCHANGEABLE, then the number of the predestined must likewise be


CANCELLATIONS. Anything indefinite in the number would eo ipso imply a lack of

certitude in God’s knowledge and would DESTROY His omniscience. End quote. Emphasis added.




God has completed the Book of Life before the foundation of the world by taken out the names of the reprobates from the Book of Life for their vehement rejection of God and His grace and as the results they all end up in hell.

Practically by their vehement rejection of God and His grace the reprobates predestined themselves to hell.

In Catholic Theology only the reprobates end up in hell who are predestined to hell before the foundation of the world.

From the completion, the Book of life admits NEITHER ADDITIONS no ERASURES.

Some people can be confused about the Book of Life, because God has completed the Book of Life in His “chronological order” before the foundation of the world, but in the Bible concerning the events in the Book of Life, for our understanding, written in our chronological order, like the cancellation from the Book of Life done at our present time, this is not the case.

This fact can cause confusion, because someone may wrongly conclude; God’s child/elect can lose salvation, which is a theological impossibility.


Quote: St. Thomas Aquinas, In his Summa Theologiae he wrote:

[P]erseverance is called he abiding in good TO the end of life.

And in order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding him and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . that he may be kept from evil TILL the end of his life (ST IIa:109:10)

This same teaching was infallibly taught by the Council of Trent after the Protestant Reformation.

A Tiptoe Through TULIP by James Akin

Quote: Trent’s Decree of Justification, canon 16, speaks of “That Great and Special Gift of Final Perseverance,” and chapter 13 of the decree speaks of "the gift of perseverance of which it is written:

‘He who perseveres to the end shall be saved [Matt. 10:22, 24:13],’ Which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him who stands to stand [Rom. 14:4]."

Aquinas said it always saves a person because of the kind of grace it is; The gift of final perseverance always works.

Catholics even have a special name for the GRACE God gives these people: “the gift of final perseverance.”

The Church formally teaches that there is a gift of final perseverance. [43] Aquinas (and even Molina) said this grace always ensures that a person will persevere. [44] Aquinas said, “Predestination [to final salvation] most certainly and infallibly takes effect.”

In order to have this perseverance man…needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions…” End quote

At baptism every child/elect of God is a recipient of God’s free gift of Salvation/Everlasting Life and His special grace The Gift of Final Perseverance, which is an Eternal Protection of the Salvation/Everlasting Life of every child/elect of God.

Without God’s special grace The Gift of Final Perseverance every Child/Elect of God would end up in hell.

God bless SyCarl and every readers of the CAF.


This page may be of interest.

The main difference is that Protestants seem to view salvation as a one time event (I was saved on the 3rd of July 2003 when I got down on my knees and accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour). Catholics view salvation as a process where we co-operate with God’s grace.

The Catholic Church teaches that man cannot merit by himself the initial grace of justification.

The dogmatic elements are dogmas on efficacious grace and sufficient grace, and doctirne on the particular judgment (Councils of Lyons and Florence, and Benedietus Deus).

*]The Human Will remains free under the influence of efficacious grace, which is not irresistible. (De fide.) - Council of Trent

*]There is a grace which is truly sufficient and yet remains inefficacious (gratia vere et mere sufficiens). (De fide.) - Council of Trent

*]Immediately after death the particular judgment takes place, in which, by a Divine Sentence of Judgment, the eternal fate of the deceased person is decided. (Sent. fidei proxima.)

Full Quotes:

If anyone says that man’s free will, moved and awakened by God, does in no manner co-operate when it assents to God, Who excites and calls it, thereby disposing and preparing itself to receive the grace ofjustification; and (if anyone says) that it cannot dissent if it wishes, but that, like some inanimate thing, it does nothing whatever, and only remains passive, let him be anathema.

You really need to call Dr. David Anders at his EWTN radio show Called to Communion. He was a Calvinist who sought to demonstrate the false doctrines of the Catholic Church. The inevitable happened.

This is exactly right, but I was trying to simplify things by focusing on justification. It may not have helped. :o

Take a look at John 10:28, 1 Peter 1:3-5, Phillippians 1:6, among others.

You make a good point here. Much of the difference between Catholics and Protestants is terminology. Catholics tend to conflate justification, sanctification, and regeneration, and that’s not a criticism. Protestants, especially Reformed Protestants, tend to precisely define and and separate them. Protestants define justification as the legal state we are in before God, but inseparable (yet distinct) from regeneration, or replacing the heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and inseparable (yet distinct) from sanctification, or the spiritual growth we experience due to the work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament.

So Protestants would say justification itself does not cause in inward spiritual change, but regeneration and sanctification do affect real inward change, and these are invariably linked, yet distinct, from justification.

A couple of points here. First, I agree that a sort of judgment takes place immediately after death, when those who are saved go immediately to Heaven and the unsaved to Hell. But these are temporary spiritual locations until the last judgment, when our physical bodies are resurrected in their glorified state and the saved go to the New Heavens and New Earth, and the unsaved are cast into Hell for eternity.

Second, I agree with your last paragraph. The emphasis being that we only turn to God because He “excites and calls” us. In terms of our initial call, we are passive: we are dead in our “trespasses and sins,” and could therefore not come to know Christ without the work of God. Ephesians 2:1-5.

This is not correct. Justification is an English translation of an ancient Greek word, that was universally understood by the entire Church to mean “make righteous”, up until some 16th Century western Europeans introduced a forensic legal interpretation. Source: the church that speaks Greek -

And that leads me to the Catholic error. Catholics believe that grace is infused at the time of baptism, and this renders us justified before God.

The Catholic view is not an error. It is the universal view of the worldwide church prior to the 16th Century western European Reformation. See Canon 13 of the Council of Orange:

Saving faith is also persevering, meaning it is not simply a “one and done” prayer or baptism. Thus a true believer will constantly confess and repent: they don’t lose their justification, but neither should they consider themselves justified because they “asked Jesus into their heart” at some point in their life (a common Protestant error).

This is the current Reformed view, which is incorrect. It makes salvation entirely subjective and unknowable, because even if you have lived righteously every day of your life since baptism, you don’t really know if you are saved because tomorrow you might fall back into sin and not repent.

The correct, historic, universal teaching of the church is that saving grace is given to everyone who is validly baptized. This is an objective criteria - if you were validly baptized, then you received saving grace. You don’t have to prove it to yourself every day of your life, hounded by nagging thoughts of “Was I really saved?”

As Saint Bernard explains it, saving grace means that the freedom of will that was lost through original sin is restored at baptism. The baptized person is then free to choose whether to continue living righteously, or to choose to sin mortally. If you choose to sin mortally, you must confess your sin to a priest to be absolved, which again is an objective event - the sacrament of confession objectively restores a person to saving grace. You don’t have to worry, “Was I really truly repentant enough?”

This book might help:

As I noted

Jesus does not teach such nor does Peter and John. Nor does Paul.

None of those verses teach what you asserted.

And others are rather to the point that one can yes loose ones salvation (and that one can be restored to life too).

Paul is very serious about such as is Jesus as is John and Peter…

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