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Justification and Roman Catholicism

by Stephen Unthank

It shouldn’t surprise Protestant readers that our Roman Catholic friends (or maybe they’re not your friends) really do believe that God justifies sinners. When they read Romans 3:19-26 they also say “Amen!” But of course, it’s what is meant by the term justify that needs careful clarification. In fact, it’s that very definition which makes the difference between calling our Roman Catholic neighbors merely a friend or a brother.[1]

The history of Rome’s understanding is itself variegated and in no way lends itself to an easy retelling, at least not in a short article like this. There’s a story about an argument over justification by faith, held during the two-decade deliberation of the Council of Trent, where “the Bishop of La Cava wrenched the beard of the Cretan Bishop of Chironissa, who had commented that he was either a knave or a fool for sounding a bit like Martin Luther on justification.”[2] And yet, you could turn to many of Thomas Aquinas’ statements on justification and easily conclude that he sounds exactly like Martin Luther. That is to say, there is not a clearly defined doctrine of justification which is easily traceable throughout the history of the Catholic Church. This is partly why there could be such a vague document like the Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which plays on how close Catholics and Protestants can seemingly come. Yet, being close is not the same thing as being faithful and when it comes to the Gospel, faithful is essential whereas being close is still an eternally distant “close.”

It is not quite right to say that the Roman Catholic church opposes salvation by grace through faith. Their own Catechism explicitly states that a person is made right with God by God’s grace, and that grace is accepted by faith. “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit….

Read the entire article over at Reformation21  

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