For the past two weeks, I’ve dreaded writing today’s essay. I know the blogger called “vivator” will probably be reading, eagerly looking for holes in my argument. Upon finding these holes (real or imagined), vivator will seize on them and try to use them as evidence that I don’t understand my subject matter. While this person must realize that his or her rebuttals won’t change my position on Catholicism, perhaps he or she hopes to persuade my readers that I don’t have a grasp on Catholic theology, and therefore should be dismissed.
In thinking about writing this post, I’ve decided against trying to answer the objections vivator makes. Engaging in a detailed debate on the nuances of the Catholic view of justification (at least according to vivator) would take enormous time and energy, derailing me from my purpose of showing why evangelicals should celebrate this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
For those of you who would like to read and consider vivator’s point of view, please feel welcome to investigate Viva Catholic. There, my worthy opponent explains the Catholic perspective on the issues raised by the Reformers.
As for me, I believe it will be much more productive to continue writing from a distinctively Reformed Baptist perspective. Although I don’t want to misrepresent Roman Catholic doctrine, I also realize that, while extremely well-studied in both Catholic and Protestant apologetics, vivator isn’t necessarily the final authority on Rome’s views of justification.
The final authority, for Catholics, is the Council of Trent, which convened in Trento and Bolonga between the years 1545 and 1563. Trent happened as a response to the teachings of the Reformers, answering to them firmly. And even though 21st Century Catholics may or may not hold to its declarations, Trent has not been officially revoked by the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the Protestant teaching of justification by faith alone still stands in opposition to Roman Catholicism.
Canon IX of Trent includes a decisive condemnation of anyone who believes he or she is justified by faith alone.
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.
Yes, other parts of Trent affirm that Christ justifies by His merits, and yet penitents must cooperate with His grace. This line of reasoning, however, essentially gives us (not God) the ultimate authority in whether or not we attain salvation. Catholics would naturally word it more delicately than I just did, but they have to admit at some point that they are responsible for appropriating God’s grace.
The Reformers denied that humans play a part in justification. I’ve written extensively on that matter throughout this blog, and I’ll go over it again next Tuesday. This question must remain front and center as we talk about why the Reformation still matters.