Friday, February 29, 2008

Misconceptions about Roman Catholicism: Works Salvation

This post is intended to be part of series on misconceptions about Roman Catholicism. In this post, we address the issue of works salvation. Roman Catholicism, according to the Reformation, teaches works salvation.

What we do not mean:

1) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism teaches that man unassisted by grace merits salvation.
2) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism denies the necessity of grace.
3) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism is fully Pelagian.
4) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism denies a role for grace at every stage of salvation.
5) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism denies any role for Christ's sacrifice in salvation.

We admit:

1) We admit that Roman Catholicism teaches that grace is necessary for salvation.
2) We admit that Roman Catholicism teaches that grace is involved at every point in salvation.
3) We admit that Roman Catholicism ascribes great importance to grace.
4) We admit that Roman Catholicism condemns Pelagianism.
5) We admit that Roman Catholicism views good works as the product of grace.
6) We admit that Roman Catholicism has a role for the sacrifice of Christ in salvation.


We criticize the Roman Catholic position as teaching works-salvation, because of a semi-Peligian error: the ascription of a role for human cooperation in salvation. We view Roman Catholicism as teaching works-salvation because:

1) Roman Catholicism teaches that cooperation with grace is also necessary for salvation. ("by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace" - Trent, Session 6, Chapter 5, see also Canons IV and IX on Justification)

2) Roman Catholicism teaches that cooperation with grace is necessary at many points in salvation. (Ibid, chapters 7 ("the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation") and 10 ("they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified"),

3) Roman Catholicism condemns monergism ("CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema." - "CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.").

4) Roman Catholicism teaches the meritorious value of good works performed by mere men ("CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.").

5) Roman Catholicism teaches final justification based on actual (infused) righteousness ("For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God" ... "Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ. ").

6) Roman Catholicism teaches that it is possible for human beings to expiate sin through acts of contrition. (Trent, Fourteenth Session, Chapter 5, "For venial sins, whereby we are not excluded from the grace of God, and into which we fall more frequently, although they be rightly and profitably, and without any presumption declared in confession, as the custom of pious persons demonstrates, yet may they be omitted without guilt, and be expiated by many other remedies.")

7) Roman Catholicism teaches that Purgatory removes the guilt of sin (Trent, Twenty-Fifth Session, Decree Concerning Purgatory: "there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar;" "CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.").

Therefore, for these reasons, we hold that Rome teaches salvation by works, in contravention of the Scriptural doctirnes of sola gratia and sola fide. We criticize the Roman Catholic position as teaching works-salvation, because of a semi-Peligian error: the ascription of a role for human cooperation in salvation. We, of course, do not conflate that particular semi-Pelagian error with historic Semi-Pelagianism in all its minutiae, nor is the label the point. The point is that works salvation is not the gospel and will not save.

We preach a different gospel: a gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and

To the glory of God alone,



Cory Tucholski said...

Great stuff, as usual TF!

I can't wait to read more misconceptions about Roman Catholicism. A friend of mine recently posted a blog on his MySpace that was a treasure trove of misconception about Roman Catholicism and I'm going to point him to your series. I think he could benefit from it!

Turretinfan said...

Thanks, Cory!

Matt said...

Incidentally, I was aware of this line in your post:

"We, of course, do not conflate that particular semi-Pelagian error with historic Semi-Pelagianism in all its minutiae, nor is the label the point."

The label is not the point, of course. The real point of my post is, somewhat polemically stated, that the Catholic Church owns Augustine on this issue.

Turretinfan said...


Thanks for your comments (including the longer one that I have not approved for publication yet).

I see that your comments may require to add a few more "we do not mean" items and "we admit" items to the list.

When I have a chance to consider the matter more fully, I'll revist it in view of your quotations from two of Augustin's works.

As far as your general comments regarding historic semi-Pelagianism, I think you may want to check out my clarifying post on that matter, from the noted church historian, Philip Schaff. (link)

I'm not saying you have to agree with it because Schaff says it, but I'd suggest that if what he says is different from what you think the proper understanding is, his credentials as a historian should be enough to make you consider trying to verify/discredit his claims.

Of course, I would also like to direct your attention to the admissions section of the post, in which it is noted that we recognize that Trent condemns Pelagianism.

By the way, I really ought to thank "Orthodox" and Lucian (two Eastern Orthodox posters) who each brought the potential for confusion over the issue to my attention. Indeed, it was Lucian who especially pointed me towards the Schaff article that makes up much of the post that I linked to above.


phatcatholic said...

While I do not agree that Catholicism is semi-Pelagian, I do appreciate this post b/c it is a very clear articulation of what you ARE saying, what you ARE NOT saying, and why. So much of this debate is burdened by a confusion of terms. It is helpful, as a Catholic apologist, to have posts like this. Thank you.