Will Peter Repent Again?

I don’t accept the premise that all dialogue is equally useful or important. In some dialogues there is a side that is correct and a side that is not. In the case of the Reformation “dialogue” with Rome both sides believe that they are defending divine truth. Several contemporary dialogues have not always recognized this ancient fact. In some dialogues, anxiety to reach compromise has shattered any genuine give and take. Some dialogues are more honest. One happened here. Okay, so it only happened in the combox of HB (at this post), but hey it’s a start. The dialogue reproduced below is the sort of dialogue that SHOULD have happened at ECT. The dialogue begins with Mark’s question to me. His questions/statements are indented and my responses are not.

Mark writes,

Unless you are removing James from the Bible, the Catholic view and the Protestant view are not so far apart… We Catholics consider Faith without Love to be useless except to give a chance that the sinner might repent. When we hear “sola fides”, we are hearing “faith without works”, which is of course “dead”, according to James. As to the anathema, remember that Luther _added_ the term “alone” to his translation of Romans and said that James was an “epistle of straw”, so that at Trent the assumption was that he really did mean that Faith without Love (and Hope, for that matter) could save. I am certainly no expert on Lutheran theology, so I can’t tell you whether that assumption is correct, but the assumption is what brought about the anathema. Catholic moral theology would hold that a person guilty of a mortal sin loses all supernatural Love in his soul, but retains his Faith and Hope, unless he has sinned directly against those virtues.

The problem seems to be that Romans tends to use the term “faith” to mean “Faith formed by Love”, while James uses the term in the current Catholic sense. The point is that we have to understand one another, then determine where there is commonality and difference, rather than simply attacking. Christ wanted us to be one (John 17), and we have to try to understand to make that possible.

Well Mark, do you assume that the 16th and 17th-century Protestants were unaware of these options or that they did not address these questions? See Calvin’s lecture/commentary on James in which he argues at length that Dikaioo in James 2 does not mean “to make righteous” (the Roman view) or even “to declare righteous” but rather that James 2 and Paul have different audiences in view. Paul, e.g. in Romans, has in view righteous with God and James has righteousness “before men” in view. On this see my essay on double justification in Protestant theology in Westminster Confession into the 21st Century vol 2.

Second, Luther modified his appraisal of James in his later preface.

Yes, Luther added “allein” to his transl. of Galatians and defended that translation quite eloquently!

What the protestants rejected and continue to reject is justification by love or justification through sanctification. Rome teaches exactly what we reject.

If you follow the Protestant relation of justification to sanctification (that justification is a legal declaration by God that results in sanctification) rather than the Roman arrangement (sanctification leads to justification) then Paul and James make perfect sense.

James is saying, “You people claim to have faith but I see no evidence.” He’s preaching the law to them to show them the greatness of their sin and to drive them to trusting in Christ and in his finished work. Paul is proclaiming the gospel of free righteousness with God through trusting in Christ and in his finished work which righteousness necessarily produces sanctity in those who believe.

Not assuming that the Protestants were unaware, but rather that Catholics and Protestants spend more time yelling at one another than listening.

Most places in the Bible, “faith” seems to refer to an intellectual agreement with the truths revealed by God, without reference to how those are put into practice in life. Paul himself differentiates faith, hope and love, and declares that love is the greatest of these. Catholics don’t teach justification through love alone, but through faith informed by love. Indeed, in Catholic theology, it is impossible to have theological love without faith.

As you point out, there are still large differences in Catholic and Protestant theology. This was made very clear after the Joint Declaration on Justification, to which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith added a statement about the Catholic understanding of the terms of the declaration, so as to avoid any false ideas that the problems of the Reformation had been totally overcome. My point is that the two positions are closer than one might imagine by the anathema for “sola fides”.

As you are aware, the Catholic position has sanctifying grace infused into the soul at Baptism. This brings with it the three theological virtues, whose exercise is the spiritual life. The initial grace of conversion is a free gift of God and cannot be earned in any way.

If we are to obey the wish of Christ “that they be one”, we all need to listen to one another with respect and try to work through the theological differences to come to the truth that Christ revealed to us.


The ecumenical appeals to John 17 seem to beg the question, they seem to assume that we all agree that Jesus had in view visible, institutional unity and that confessional Protestants and the Roman communion are or represent the visible church of Christ in the same sense. According to the confessional Protestants, the Roman communion represents the visible church of Christ in about the same way as the Cathars did in the 13th century. Having eternally condemned the blessed Gospel of our Lord in session 6 of Trent (1547), Rome has done exactly what the Apostle Paul said could (morally) not be done, i.e. to reject Apostolic doctrine (see Galatians) and thus by her own actions, has brought herself under the divine and apostolic anathema. That Roman communion has repeatedly re-affirmed the Tridentine doctrine of justification (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church) magisterially and informally (John Paul II and Benedict XVI both publicly re-affirmed the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent in their papacies) has only intensified the problem.

The question, in recent years, hasn’t been listening to each other respectfully, the question has been whether “evangelicals” and other alleged Protestants (e.g. Lutheran World Federation) will be faithful to the Protestant understanding of Scripture. My first beef here isn’t with Rome. She is what she is. Cardinal Cassidy (and now Cardinal Kasper in another context) has been doing his job, trying to get those (in Rome’s view) wayward evangelicals to come back “home.”

My job is the same as Cassidy’s, trying to get those wayward evangelicals who ware much too impressed with Cassidy’s personal religious experience to come back home to the Reformation.

As to pisteuo in the NT we shall have to agree to disagree. Even some contemporary Roman commentators (e.g. Fitzmyer) agree with Luther and Calvin and the Protestant confessions that Paul in Rom 3-4, as he interprets Gen 15, does not define faith as an infused virtue. It is more like the “certain knowledge and hearty trust” of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) or “receiving and resting” of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) than it is the Roman virtue.

Abraham was not justified with God because he was sanctified! That would be a bizarre reading of the life of Abraham. Indeed, none of the patriarchs was particularly sanctified. Yet Paul calls unsanctified Abraham the faith of all who believe. How is that? He believed God and his faith was imputed to him for righteousness.

One other thing to think about. It’s not as if Rome has never taught a doctrine of imputation.

We confessional Protestants teach that Christ’s perfect, actual, condign righteousness and merits are imputed to us. We have a real basis for the divine declaration of justification.

Rome recognizes that your sanctity will never be sufficient hence the doctrine of congruent merit, which Thomas taught quite plainly. Meritum de congruo nothing but a doctrine of imputation but it has no real basis. More recently, Pius X, in Ad Deim Illum Laetissimum, para. 14 re-affirmed a doctrine of meritum de congruo (in reference to merits of the BVM!) in 1904.

So, the question is not whether merit will be imputed but rather the question is whose merit and on what basis. We say that righteousness with God is on the basis of the condign merit of Christ accomplished once for all and imputed to all those who believe (i.e., those who have knowledge, assent, and trust) in Christ and in his finished work alone for righteousness. Rome proposes another scheme entirely. These two schemes are not reconcilable.

Yes, we must talk, but sometimes dialogue entails not mutual concession but a call to repentance. Think of Protestants as the Apostle Paul calling the Apostle Peter to repent for his denial of the gospel (see Galatians again) when he stopped eating with the Gentiles. Peter repented and was restored to fellowship. Our prayer too is that “Peter” (granting the connection between Peter and the Roman see and magisterium only for the sake of this analogy) will once again repent and be restored to the apostolic fellowship.

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  1. “Our prayer too is that “Peter” (granting the connection between Peter and the Roman see and magisterium only for the sake of this analogy) will once again repent and be restored to the apostolic fellowship.”

    Dr. Clark — humoring Catholics in this way, mixing categories, is probably not very useful to the discussion, especially to those wayward evangelicals who are looking to “Peter” for unity. There is no “successor” to Peter. Historical research (i.e. Peter Lampe, Klaus Schatz, and likely the Vatican’s own) has removed all doubt about that. “Peter” is simply another fabrication-turned-dogma.

  2. Dr. Clark, What do you make of this passage from Gasparo Contarini?

    Seeing we have affirmed that we attain a twofold righteousness by faith: a righteousness inherent in us, as charity, and that grace whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature; and the justice of Christ given and imputed unto us, as being graft into Christ, and having put on Christ: it remaineth that we inquire, upon which of these we must stay and rely, and by which we must think ourselves justified before God, that is, to be accepted as holy and just, having that justice which it beseemeth the sons of God to have. I truly think, that a man, very piously and christianly, may say, that we ought to stay, to stay I say, as upon a firm and stable thing able undoubtedly to sustain us, upon the justice of Christ given and imputed to us, and not upon the holiness and grace that is inherent in us. For this our righteousness is but imperfect, and such as cannot defend us, seeing in many things we offend all, &c.; but the justice of Christ which is given unto us, is true and perfect justice, which altogether pleaseth the eyes of God, and in which there is nothing that offendeth God. Upon this therefore, as most certain and stable, we must stay ourselves, and believe that we are justified by it, as the cause of our acceptation with God: this is that precious treasure of Christians, which whosoever findeth, selleth all that he hath to buy it.

    [Richard Field cites these words in Of the Church (App. to Bk. 3, Ch. 11) and provides the original Latin in a note. Turretin also refers to them (Loc. 16, q. 2, 18). Ranke gives a paraphrase and observes that the true text was tampered with in a Venetian edition to bring it into line with Trent.]

  3. Hi Iohannes,

    I comment on Contarini et al in “The Benefits of Christ: Double Justification in Protestant Theology Before the Westminster Assembly,” Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed., The Faith Once Delivered: Celebrating the Legacy of Reformed Systematic Theology and the Westminster Assembly (Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear). (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 107-34.

    I also comment on the various Roman double justification schemes in “Regensburg and Regensburg II,” Modern Reformation (September/October, 1998).



  4. My evangelical friend was using James to defend the Roman view of justification just yesterday, claiming that the Roman view and the protestant view are the same.

    Is it just me, or are doctrinal things getting extremely bad in teh Western church?

  5. John,

    I think the analogy that Dr. Clark makes is a nice one – although I agree with you that there is no successor to Peter. What a nice thought – that “Peter” repents and reaffirms the Apostolic teaching regarding justification. We can dream I guess . . . interesting that the Pope is German.

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