The issue of salvation sparked the Protestant Reformation and split the church. It seemed to both sides at the time that Protestants and Catholics taught two radically different gospels, two religions, two answers to the msot basic of all questions: What must I do to be saved? Catholics said you must both believe and practice good works to be saved. Luther, Calvin, Wycliffe and Knox insisted that faith alone saves you. Unfortunately, both sides have been talking past each other for 450 years. But there is strong evidence that it was essentially a misunderstanding and that it is beginning to be cleared up.Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p320-321.
Both sides used key terms, faith and salvation, but in different senses.
1. Catholics used teh term salvation to refer to the whole process, from its beginning in faith, through the whole Christian life of the works of love on earth, to its completion in heaven. When Luther spoke of salvation he meant the initial step--like getting into Noah's ark of salvation--not the whole journey.
2. By faith Catholics meant only one of the three needed "theological virtues" (faith, hope and love), faith being intellectual belief. To Luther, faith meant accepting Christ with your whole heart and soul.
Thus, since Catholics were using salvation in a bigger sense and faith in a smaller sense, and Luther was using salvation in a smaller sense and faith in a bigger sense, Catholics rightly denied and Luther rightly affirmed that we were saved by faith alone.
Catholics taught that salvation included more than faith, just as a plant includes more than its roots. It needs its stem (hope) and its fruits (love) as well as its root (faith). Luther taught that good works can't buy salvation, that all you need to do and all you can do to be saved is to accept it, accept the Savior, by faith.
Both sides spoke the truth. Since truth cannot contradict truth, the two sides really did not contradict each other on this most important of all questions. That assessment may sound unduly optimistic, but it is essentially what Catholic and Lutheran theologians said publicly in their "Joint Statement on Justification" a few years ago. Pope John Paul II said the same thing publicly to the German Lutheran bishops. It both astonished and delighted them (D'Souza talks about this very thing in What's So Great About Christianity).
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The official teaching of Catholicism (as distinct from the popular misconception) is that salvation is a totally free gift that we can do nothing to "buy" or produce. The Council of Trent's "Decree on Justification" is as insistent on the gratuitous nature of grace as Luther or Calvin. So is Aquinas in the Treatise on Grace in the Summa Theologiae, the bottom line of which is that we can do nothing without God's grace--not be saved, not deserve grace, not even ask for grace.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Faith and Works and Faith Alone and Protestants and Catholics
I feel compelled to transcribe a few paragraphs from Peter Kreeft, since Catholics and Protests still to this day commonly misunderstand one another on soteriology (salvation). The "faith and works" issue is particularly important because it is most likely where the heresy that "all good people go to Heaven" comes from, and has to be cleared up wherever that ugly booger rears its head.