What Is True Faith? (3) The Romanist Condemnation Of True Faith

blue-bloods-tableIn part 2 we considered the nature of assent. There is a third aspect to the Reformed definition of faith: trust. This is the crux of the disagreement between Rome and the Reformation over nature of faith in the act of justification. In Session 7 of the Council of Trent (13 January 1547), Rome declared that when Paul wrote that we are “justified by faith and freely” (Trent’s summary), it means, “faith is the beginning of salvation (initium salutis). It is the foundation (fundamentum) and root (radix) of salvation “without which it is impossible to please God….” (cap. VIII). According to Rome, faith is necessary but not sufficient for acceptance with God. Of course, we haven’t got to Rome’s definition of faith. So far, for the moment, we’re assuming that Rome means by faith what we mean by faith. So, the first thing to understand is that, even if we’re assuming the same definition, faith according to Rome, has a different function in justification than it has for confessional Protestants.

These different functions are, in part, due to the fact that Rome and the Reformation have two different understandings of the nature of justification. According to Rome, justification is not an event. It is a process. Therefore, faith can only be the beginning, in the same way that baptism is the beginning of the Christian pilgrimage through this life. Justification is, for Rome, not a once-for-all forensic declaration on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and merits imputed, but rather it is God’s recognition of what is true of the Christian intrinsically, inherently. In other words, according to Rome, one is only as justified as he is sanctified. Faith is the beginning of justification because it is an essential part in the process of sanctification/justification, which began at baptism.

This brings us to the Roman definition of faith. Thomas Aquinas taught, in his commentary on Romans and in his Summa, that faith is that which is formed by love (fides formata caritate), that “charity is the form of faith.” In this definition he subtly changed Paul’s teaching that faith “working by love” (Galatians 5:6), whereby he was teaching that true faith gives evidence of its existence by manifesting itself in acts of charity. This was exactly what James teaches in (James) chapter 2. By turning “working by love” into “formed by love” Thomas turned a fruit into that which makes faith what it is. In other words, Thomas turned faith, in justification, from the empty hand that receives what Christ has done, into the part of the ground of justification—remember, for Rome, justification is progressive sanctification. Thus, ordinarily, according to Rome, no one is ever actually justified in this life because no one is ever perfected in this life.

These notions of progressive justification/sanctification and faith formed by love (i.e., Spirit-wrought sanctity and cooperation with grace make faith what it is) are reflected in the chapters of Trent’s exposition of justification. When, in chapter 4, Rome speaks of “a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace” she is not speaking God’s declaration about and to the sinner but of the process of gradual transformation of sinner by grace and cooperation with grace. This much is made clear in chapter 5, when Rome teaches

the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace….

If we didn’t know this was from Trent, we might be forgiven for thinking that one of our Arminian friends had written these words, because that is their doctrine too. Now you can see why the Synod of Dort was so vociferous in its rejection of the Remonstrant errors. The Remonstrant theology was, in this respect, Romanism without vestments. For Rome, once we are regenerated in baptism, we are engaged in a pilgrimage, the outcome of which is uncertain. God acts first, that is why grace is said to be prevenient, but notice the nature of the grace. It is “exciting” (excitantem) and “helping” (adjuvantem) but not definitive. We must still do our part, which, according to Rome, we are able to do because, though sin is harmful, sin is not deadly. We, with Paul say that, by nature, we are “dead in sins and trespasses.” Like the Remonstrants, Rome says that we are wounded but able, grace helping us, to do our part. This is also why confessional Reformed folk resist the Federal Vision theology because, once they have invoked the category of covenant, they teach exactly what Rome and the Remonstrants teach. I have called it covenantal Arminianism but we could just as well call it “covenantal Romanism.”

Rome’s synergism in justification is quite clear when she speaks of “converting one’s self unto his justification” (convertendum se ad suam ipso rum justiftcationem). It is by grace and cooperation with grace. This is why Calvin wrote on Galatians 5:6 that, when we’re discussing justification, we must not talk about love or works but rather we must adhere resolutely to the “exclusive particle.” That particle is the sola in sola gratia and sola fide. Rome teaches grace and faith but she denies grace alone and faith alone in their respective offices.

This is why, in chapter 6, Rome is quite unembarrassed openly to teach her doctrine of preparation. Grace, according to Rome, creates in us a disposition. Thomas said habits and Trent says disposition but it is the same thing. By the grace of faith we are, according to Rome, disposed unto justification by we are not justified. There is more to be done. We must do our part. We must capitalize on the grace whereby we have been roused (concutiuntur) and excited (eriguntur) to do our part, i.e., convert ourselves, we must begin prepare ourselves for further grace because, it is to those who do their part that God gives grace. Thus, the “justification of the impious” means not that God actually justifies those who are, in themselves, intrinsically, impious or unjust but rather it means, says Rome, that God justifies those who are not completely, intrinsically just but who have “this disposition or preparation” for justification (hanc dispositionem, seu præparationem; chapter 7). By definition, according to Rome, justification is “not remission of sins merely (sola peccatorum remissio), but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man….” (sanctificatio et renovatio interioris hominis) and that sanctification is an act of the human will (per voluntariam susceptionem gratiæ et donorum). That is why, for Rome, justification must be said to be “increased” (incremento; cap. X). That’s why, according to Rome, grace can be lost (cap. XIV). We must cooperate with grace. Faith is necessary but it is not sufficient. Our cooperation is equally necessary.

With this background in view it is easy to see why Rome declares in canon 12, of Session 6:

If any one says, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence (fiduciam) in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone (fiduciam solam) is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

Mainline ecumenists and naïve evangelicals (e.g., Evangelicals and Catholics Together) might delude themselves into thinking that there is “peace, peace” when there is no peace but anyone with just the slightest bit of background in medieval theology or who spent a few hours reading the chapters, canons and decrees of Session 6 of the Council of Trent, which dogma is still binding upon Romanists, which is invoked repeatedly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has been re-affirmed since Vatican II, can see that, at Trent, Rome took careful, thoughtful, intelligent, and deliberate aim at the article of the standing or falling of the church and fired a blast through the side of the ship of Christ’s gospel. These are not semantic differences. This was no misunderstanding. Don’t be misled. You must choose between Trent and the Reformation. You cannot have both.

To be continued

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  1. This part 2 post explains true faith very well. Great job. I will try to get others to read and understand. For the Romists, grace is necessary but just not sufficient. How tragic.

    I choose the Reformation! We are beggars bringing nothing but our sins to our Justification.

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