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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Historic Catholic-Protestant debate

by Catherine Frakas 03 Jun 2001

Historic Catholic-Protestant debate QUESTION from Rev. Deacon Gerald Foley August 3, 2001 The Protestant Reformers, particularly Martin Luther, objected to the Catholic doctrine on the efficiacy of good works stressing the absolute primacy of what they called justification by faith found particularly in the writings of St. Paul: Succinctly as possible what was the basic diagreement that the Reformers had with Catholic Teaching on its inclusion of good works as also essential for salvation!
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 31, 2001 Dear Deacon:
The most succinct answer is that the so-called reformers thought of the Catholic doctrine as a doctrine of gaining heaven by means of personal merit instead of by the grace of God.
St. Paul said that we are justified by faith, not by works lest any man should boast. St. Paul is correct. We cannot boast of attaining heaven because we do not merit heaven and can do nothing to merit heaven. It is a free gift of grace from God.
But then St. James says, Justification is not by faith alone.
There is not contradiction. St. Paul was talking about the works of the law and how they cannot save us. St. James is talking about the works of love, that is, the natural outflowing of good deeds as a result of ones faith and the grace they have received. If a person does not have this outflowing then he has no faith, and if no faith, then no justification, and is deprived of heaven.
St. James says it better:
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But some one will say, You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?
St. James uses tough love here. He points out how shallow these people are to insist on faith alone. In other translations the word shallow is rendered fool or ignoramous. In any event, it is an ad hominum. St. James is not tolerating the stupid assertion of faith can truly exist without the expression of love that comes from that faith.
This is the Catholic Teaching and the teaching that is consistent with both St. Paul and St. James.
Martin Luther in his evil arrogance called the book of James an epistle of Straw and wanted to remove it from the bible. And he further blasphemed God by ADDING to scripture the word alone in the passage from St. Paul.
What does the Bible say about people who add or subtract from Scripture? Well. Luther did it both. He added and subtracted. May God have mercy on his soul.
Justification is by the grace of God given to those with faith who then ACT upon that faith and live the gospel life. If we fail in offering the works of love then our faith is a sham and will find ourselves not on heaven's road.
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