Category Archives: Evangelical

Justification: being made right with God

– detail from the “Last Judgment”, by Giotti, Cappella Scrovegni, 1306, Fresco, 1000 x 840 cm, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail.

The chapel is entered from the west, the side on which the sun goes down. In accordance with an old tradition, the entrance wall of the chapel is filled by the depiction of the Last Judgment. This scene is as complex and crowded as the frescoes on the side walls are concentrated and reduced to essentials. This large painting occupies the entire west wall across several registers. The three-light windows of the façade also had to be incorporated into the composition.

This extensive depiction of the Last Judgment is dominated by the large Christ in Majesty at its centre. The twelve apostles sit to His left and to His right. Here the two levels divide: the heavenly host appears above, people plunge into the maw of hell below, or are led by angels towards heaven.

The way this large fresco is divided into registers is traditional. But if we look at Giotto’s invention in detail, then his novel attempts at visualizing different spheres, as well as abstract beliefs, become particularly apparent. In the center of the representation, Christ is enthroned as supreme Judge in a rainbow-colored mandorla. The deep, radiant gold background, the style of painting, and the delicate substance give the impression that the heavens have opened in order to reveal the powerful, extremely solidly modeled figure of Christ. Different levels are likewise alluded to when the choirs of angels disappear behind the real window, or when the celestial watch in the upper area of the picture rolls back the firmament, behind which the golden-red doors of the heavenly Jerusalem shine forth. The black and red maw of hell, which seems to anticipate Dante’s “Inferno”, is different again in its impact.


1) What is Justification? To be justified means being made righteous, just, holy, and acceptable before God.  Because we are born in original sin, we need to be made right with God and only He can effect this change, which was merited by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but which we must accept (or in the case of an infant, their parents) by sincere repentance (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; Romans 2:4; 1 Corinthians 7:9-10, etc.) and by baptism, by which sacrament we become children of God and heirs with Christ (John 1: 12; Romans 8:14-17).

It is the gift of divine sonship.  Our soul is regenerated (made clean) from the effects of original sin (or mortal sin if any has been committed) and wiped clean.  Thus, there is cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom that is expressed by the assent of faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church or CCC 1993).  “With justification faith, hope and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted” (CCC 1991).  “In baptism you were not only buried with him, but also raised to life with him because you believed in the power of God who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-5,8).

2) Salvation is a gift of God.  Man cannot obligate God.  But man is called upon to freely choose God through an exercise of his free will.  The steps for an adult:

(1) God grants the grace to believe (prevenient grace)
(2) Man with his free will accepts it, repenting of sins committed and affirming in faith God’s truth
(3) Man cooperating with divine grace receives baptism
(4) Baptism re-generates the soul so that the man is “born from above” or “born again”
(5) We can co-operate with the sanctifying grace in our souls or not.

3) What is grace?  Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us.  But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ in the Church.” (CCC 2003).  The Apostle Peter gives us an example of how people are saved after Pentecost when the sermon he preaches leads them to want salvation.  He says:

“‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit….’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2: 38, 41)

St. Augustine, an Early Church Father, put it this way:

“Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us.  It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing” (De natura et gratia, 31).

4) A Catholic monk in the 16th century made the novel claim that we are saved by “faith alone.”  The lense of Fr. Martin Luther was doubtless his own spiritual turmoil.  He viewed God as a very harsh judge but he was not tracking with Scripture in this conclusion.  His own sensitive conscience led him to live in fear that this harsh God would judge him and find him wanting.  He felt he might never enter heaven, until he read the words of St. Paul one day in light of his own fearful struggle, and came to a new interpretation, in fundamental discontinuity with the previous 1500 years of Apostolic Tradition.  A detailed sympathetic study by Protestant scholar Alister McGrath admits that Luther’s thesis of sole fide, by faith alone, was a brand new theology. It was a new approach to salvation that removed much of man’s moral responsibility for his salvation.  No Christian theologian before Luther ever held it.

Luther thought man should sin “boldly” telling Melanchthon in a letter in 1521, “No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.”  Some argue this hyperbole to make the point that we must trust in God, however, this directly contradicts Holy Scripture wherein St. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

Ironically, among Protestant groups today, the Lutheran view is closest to the Catholic. For example, Luther taught the necessity of Baptism (including infant Baptism) and the possibility of losing one’s salvation and the real presence in the Eucharist (though he spoke of consubstantiation rather than transubstantiation). Both agree that justification takes place solely by [by faith through] God’s grace (Joint Declaration with the World Lutheran Federation, 1999). “The working of God’s grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore we are called to strive” (cf. Phil. 2:12ff). The Holy Spirit effects in the one justified an active love (an inward renewal). Thus, what we do in God’s grace can merit for Christ abides in us.

Still, what Luther produced was a heresy. It comforted Luther and comforts many today, but is a misreading of Scripture, nonetheless.  Why is it comforting compared to Catholic doctrine?  It amounts to an abnegation of moral responsibility and what Protestant Dietrich Bonhoeffer once termed “cheap grace.”  He wrote: It means the forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God.  An intellectual sassent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins . . . . In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God. . . . Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

Luther so believed that he was correct that he even changed Scripture to reflect his interpretation, changing Romans 3:28 from: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” to “For we hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of law.” Luther thought the intent of the words urgently demanded this assertion, but he nonetheless tampered with the Word of God. He did not like what he saw in the letter of James either (who wrote, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”) calling it an “epistle of straw.”

5) James says that we are justified by works also:

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.  You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.  (James 2:21-26)

Were St. Paul and St. James at odds with one another? They are not.  Paul is addressing the fact that grace is needed to believe and James is talking about the Christian who already believes, but nonetheless has a necessity to have a faith animated by good works.  Understanding the works that Paul refers to as “works of the law” is critical.  Here he refers to the Old Law, especially circumcision, which has no power to save anyone.  He is teaching that salvation is by God’s grace, not by any works that merit God’s favor.  [We know this from the Dead Sea scrolls, written in Christ’s time or before, which clearly show the usage and meaning of “works of law” as works of the Mosaic law, like circumcision and animal sacrifice.]  Faith is a gift from God, but James, is showing that faith without works is dead.  Scripture says that even the devil believes but that does not merit him anything (James 2: 19).

In the words of St. Augustine, God created us without our cooperation, but He will not save us without it. So we are saved by faith, hope and charity. The supernatural love of God is what unites the soul to God! “Salvation in Christ is conditional; it requires repentance and faith.”  Good works are the fruit of salvation. (Jimmy Akins, “Justification: Setting the Record Straight,” click here)

6) We must read all that Scripture says about salvation. St. Paul, for example, writes:  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love (Galatians 5: 6)

And again:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 2).  Note: Open your Bible and read all of 1 Corinthians 13 and see what kind of love St. Paul is talking about.

7) Love requires obedience according to Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Or again in Matthew 19: 16-17:

“And behold, one came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.'”

8) The Catholic teaching is that justification is a process by which we become righteous by God’s grace, but is not finished until we persevere to the end of our lives.  Thus, we are justified by faith and obedience persevered in to the end.  We must as St. Paul says, finish the race (2 Timothy 4:7). We do not work our own way to heaven because we are totally dependent upon the gift of faith and the grace of Christ, but our obedience is required. St. Paul begins and ends his epistle to the Romans by noting the importance of the “obedience of faith.”

9) The pattern in Scripture is troubling to the notion of faith alone.  The pattern in Scripture is always faith and obedience leading to blessing.  Would Noah and his family have been delivered from the flood by faith alone?  Were they called upon to believe God or to believe and obey?  Both.  Noah had to build an ark.  Did Abraham receive the promises that God made to him by faith alone?  In Genesis 12, the Lord asked Abram to leave his home in Haran and go to distant land he did not know.  He believed what God said to him and he obeyed and received the blessing in the form of a covenant promise by God.  He was justified.  Abraham’s obedience is most often spoken of as the reason God will bless him.  In Genesis 22: 15-18:

“By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

God elevates this to a covenant oath in Genesis 26: 4-5:

“I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves: because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

So in Abraham we see that justification is a process, not a one-time event.

How about the Israelites being freed by God from Egyptian slavery and given the land of milk and honey, that today we call Israel by faith alone?  Was that the case?  No, they had to slaughter the lamb, smear the blood on the door posts, cross the Red Sea, and after they worshiped the golden calf, they had to follow Moses in the desert for 40 years, rely upon God to guide them and feed upon the manna provided by God, etc.

How about the leper Naman?  Was he cleansed by faith alone?  No, he had to dip in the water; he had to obey.  Faith and obedience go together.  Israel was God’s chosen nation and if God wanted to teach the world that they are to be saved by faith alone, than why did he fill the Bible with stories of those who are saved by faith and obedience?

10) Does our obedience mean that God does not deserve all the glory?  No.  Noah had to be build an ark to be saved but his deliverance was due to God and thus God gets the glory.  We honor Abraham because of his faith and his obedience, but God gets the glory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says,

1999 “The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:

Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself …  (2 Corinthians 5: 18)

11) Summary.  There are a large number diverse Scriptural verses relating to the topic of our salvation in Holy Scripture.  If Jesus meant to teach faith alone he said so many things to confuse us. For example, in the Bread of Life discourse, John 6: 53-56:

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

It is the same with St. Paul who wrote, “For he will render to every man according to his works . . . For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2: 6-10, 13).

The same is true in James, St. John or Peter, etc.  St. Peter boldly says that Baptism saves you (see 1 Peter 3:21).  The pattern is always the same.  God is always saying I love you, I want to bless you, therefore, humble yourself before me, like a child trust me and obey me and I will deliver the blessing for you. As St. Paul said, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).  One could give a whole sermon on that verse!

If asked, “Are you saved?”  Respond according to the Bible I have been saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5B,8), but I am also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I hope to be saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12).

Quotations from the Early Church Fathers:

“We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions.  Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power.  For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed.”  Justin Martyr (Died 165 A.D.)  First Apology of Justin

“Again, we affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man.”  Tertullian On Repentance, Chapter II

“Be pleasing to him whose soldiers you are, and whose pay you receive. May none of you be found to be a deserter. Let your baptism be your armament, your faith your helmet, your love your spear, your endurance your full suit of armor. Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you” (Letter to Polycarp 6:2 [A.D. 110]).

“We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man’s actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed” (First Apology 43 [A.D. 151]).

“[T]he wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself; and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds, since it was in his free choice that he did not transgress the will of God” (Address to the Greeks 7 [A.D. 170]).

“And we shall make no mistake in saying, that the [goal] of an intelligent life and rational judgment, is to be occupied uninterruptedly with those objects to which the natural reason is chiefly and primarily adapted, and to delight unceasingly in the contemplation of Him Who Is, and of his decrees, notwithstanding that the majority of men, because they are affected too passionately and too violently by things below, pass through life without attaining this object. For . . . the examination relates to individuals, and the reward or punishment of lives ill or well spent is proportioned to the merit of each” (The Resurrection of the Dead 25 [A.D. 178]).

“He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works [Rom. 2:7], he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither eye has seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man [1 Cor. 2:9]. For the unbelievers and the contemptuous and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity . . . there will be wrath and indignation [Rom. 2:8]” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).

“[Paul], an able wrestler, urges us on in the struggle for immortality, so that we may receive a crown and so that we may regard as a precious crown that which we acquire by our own struggle and which does not grow upon us spontaneously. . . . Those things which come to us spontaneously are not loved as much as those which are obtained by anxious care” (Against Heresies 4:37:7 [A.D. 189]).

“Again, we [Christians] affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man” (To the Nations 19 [A.D. 195]).

“In former times the Jews enjoyed much of God’s favor, when the fathers of their race were noted for their righteousness and faith. So it was that as a people they flourished greatly, and their kingdom attained to a lofty eminence; and so highly blessed were they, that for their instruction God spoke to them in special revelations, pointing out to them beforehand how they should merit his favor and avoid his displeasure” (Apology 21 [A.D. 197]).

“A good deed has God for its debtor [cf. Prov. 19:17], just as also an evil one; for a judge is the rewarder in every case [cf. Rom. 13:3–4]” (Repentance 2:11 [A.D. 203]).

“Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment,’ and the justice of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).

“The Lord denounces [Christian evildoers], and says, ‘Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity’ [Matt. 7:21–23]. There is need of righteousness, that one may deserve well of God the Judge; we must obey his precepts and warnings, that our merits may receive their reward” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 15, 1st ed. [A.D. 251]).

“[Y]ou who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the collyrium of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” (Works and Almsgivings 14 [A.D. 253]).

“Let every one train himself to righteousness, mold himself to self-restraint, prepare himself for the contest, equip himself for virtue . . . [and] in his uprightness acknowledge the true and only God, may cast away pleasures, by the attractions of which the lofty soul is depressed to the earth, may hold fast innocence, may be of service to as many as possible, may gain for himself incorruptible treasures by good works, that he may be able, with God for his judge, to gain for the merits of his virtue either the crown of faith, or the reward of immortality” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes 73 [A.D. 317]).

“The root of every good work is the hope of the resurrection, for the expectation of a reward nerves the soul to good work. Every laborer is prepared to endure the toils if he looks forward to the reward of these toils” (Catechetical Lectures 18:1 [A.D. 350]).

“It is our task, according to our different virtues, to prepare for ourselves different rewards. . . . If we were all going to be equal in heaven it would be useless for us to humble ourselves here in order to have a greater place there. . . . Why should virgins persevere? Why should widows toil? Why should married women be content? Let us all sin, and after we repent we shall be the same as the apostles are!” (Against Jovinian 2:32 [A.D. 393]).

“We are commanded to live righteously, and the reward is set before us of our meriting to live happily in eternity. But who is able to live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith?” (Various Questions to Simplician 1:2:21 [A.D. 396]).

“He bestowed forgiveness; the crown he will pay out. Of forgiveness he is the donor; of the crown, he is the debtor. Why debtor? Did he receive something? . . . The Lord made himself a debtor not by receiving something but by promising something. One does not say to him, ‘Pay for what you received,’ but ‘Pay what you promised’” (Explanations of the Psalms 83:16 [A.D. 405]).

“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (ibid., 194:5:19).

“Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ’s grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice, but never in the absence of God’s help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine 6 [A.D. 431]).

“Hear, all you who love God, the holy merits of Patrick the bishop, a man blessed in Christ; how, for his good deeds, he is likened unto the angels, and, for his perfect life, he is comparable to the apostles” (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 1 [A.D. 444]).

“[G]race is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed, but grace, which is not due, precedes [good works], that they may be done” (Canons on grace 19 [A.D. 529]).

Love & truth,

Justification: once & forever? or, a lifetime?

-“Last Judgment”, by Giotti, Cappella Scrovegni, 1306, Fresco, 1000 x 840 cm, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail.

The chapel is entered from the west, the side on which the sun goes down. In accordance with an old tradition, the entrance wall of the chapel is filled by the depiction of the Last Judgment. This scene is as complex and crowded as the frescoes on the side walls are concentrated and reduced to essentials. This large painting occupies the entire west wall across several registers. The three-light windows of the façade also had to be incorporated into the composition.

This extensive depiction of the Last Judgment is dominated by the large Christ in Majesty at its centre. The twelve apostles sit to His left and to His right. Here the two levels divide: the heavenly host appears above, people plunge into the maw of hell below, or are led by angels towards heaven.

The way this large fresco is divided into registers is traditional. But if we look at Giotto’s invention in detail, then his novel attempts at visualizing different spheres, as well as abstract beliefs, become particularly apparent. In the center of the representation, Christ is enthroned as supreme Judge in a rainbow-colored mandorla. The deep, radiant gold background, the style of painting, and the delicate substance give the impression that the heavens have opened in order to reveal the powerful, extremely solidly modeled figure of Christ. Different levels are likewise alluded to when the choirs of angels disappear behind the real window, or when the celestial watch in the upper area of the picture rolls back the firmament, behind which the golden-red doors of the heavenly Jerusalem shine forth. The black and red maw of hell, which seems to anticipate Dante’s “Inferno”, is different again in its impact.

-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“Romans 5:1 is a favorite verse for Calvinists and those who hold to the doctrine commonly known as “once saved, always saved:”

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This text is believed to indicate that the justification of the believer in Christ at the point of faith is a one-time completed action. All sins are forgiven immediately—past, present and future. The believer then has, or at least, can have, absolute assurance of his justification regardless of what may happen in the future. There is nothing that can separate the true believer from Christ—not even the gravest of sins. Similarly, with regard to salvation, Eph. 2:8-9 says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.

For the Protestant, these texts seem plain. Ephesians 2 says the salvation of the believer is past—perfect tense, passive voice in Greek, to be more precise—which means a past completed action with present on-going results. It’s over! And if we examine again Romans 5:1, the verb to justify is in a simple past tense (Gr. Aorist tense). And this is in a context where St. Paul had just told these same Romans:

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.””

Righteousness is a synonym for justice or justification. How does it get any clearer than that? Abraham was justified once and for allthe claim is made, when he believed. Not only is this proof of sola fide, says the Calvinist, but it is proof that justification is a completed transaction at the point the believer comes to Christ. The paradigm of the life of Abraham is believed to hold indisputable proof of the Reformed position.


The Catholic Church actually agrees with the above, at least on a couple points. First, as baptized Catholics, we can agree that we have been justified and we have been saved. Thus, in one sense, our justification and salvation is in the past as a completed action. The initial grace of justification and salvation we receive in baptism is a done deal. And Catholics do not believe we were partially justified or partially saved at baptism. Catholics believe, as St. Peter said in I Peter 3:21, “Baptism… now saves you…” Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” That means the new Christian has been “washed… sanctified… [and] justified” as I Cor. 6:11 clearly teaches. That much is a done deal; thus, it is entirely proper to say we “have been justified” and we “have been saved.”

However, this is not the end of the story. Scripture reveals that it is precisely through this justification and salvation the new Christian experiences in baptism that he enters into a process of justification and salvation requiring his free cooperation with God’s grace. If we read the very next verses of our above-cited texts, we find the inspired writer himself telling us there is more to the story here.

Romans 5:1-2 reads:

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

This text indicates that after having received the grace of justification we now have access to God’s grace by which we stand in Christ and we can then rejoice in the hope of sharing God’s glory. That word “hope” indicates that what we are hoping for we do not yet possess (see Romans 8:24).

Ephesians 2:10 reads:

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

There is no doubt that we must continue to work in Christ as Christians and it is also true that it is only by the grace of God we can continue to do so. But even more importantly, Scripture tells us this grace can be resisted. II Cor. 6:1 tells us:

“Working together with Him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.”

St. Paul urged believers in Antioch—and all of us by allusion—“to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). Indeed, in a text we will look at more closely in a moment, St. Paul warns Christians that they can “fall from Grace” in Galatians 5:4. This leads us to our next and most crucial point.


The major part of the puzzle here that our Protestant friends are missing is that there are many biblical texts revealing both justification and salvation to have a future and contingent sense as well as these we have mentioned that show a past sense. In other words, justification and salvation also have a sense in which they are not complete in the lives of believers. Perhaps this is most plainly seen in Galatians 5:1-5. I mentioned verse four above.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.

The Greek word used in verse 6 and here translated as “righteousness” is dikaiosunes, which can be translated either as “righteouness” or as “justification.” In fact, Romans 4:3, which we quoted above, uses a verb form of this same term for justification. Now the fact that St. Paul tells us we “wait for the hope of [justification]” is very significant. As we said before, that which one “hopes” for is something one does not yet possess. It is still in the future. Romans 8:24 tells us:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The context of Galatians is clear: St. Paul warns Galatian Christians that if they attempt to be justified—even though they are already justified in one sense, through baptism, according to Gal. 3:27—by the works of the law, they will fall from the grace of Christ. Why? Because they would be attempting to be justified apart from Christ and the gospel of Christ! St. Paul makes very clear in Romans and elsewhere that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8, cf. Gal. 5:19-21). “The flesh” is a reference to the human person apart from grace.

The truth is: this example of justification being in the future is not an isolated case. There are numerous biblical texts that indicate both justification and salvation to be future and contingent realities, in one sense, as well as past completed realities in another sense:

Romans 2:13-16: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified… on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:16: Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness? (Gr.dikaiosunen- “justification”)

Matt. 10:22: And you will be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Romans 13:11: For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

I Cor. 5:5: You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.


The Calvinist interpretation of Romans 5:1 not only takes Romans 5:1 out of context, but it leads to still other unbiblical teaching. As we mentioned above, at least from a Calvinist perspective, this understanding of Romans 5:1 leads to the untenable position that all future sins are forgiven at the point of saving faith. Where is that in the Bible? Answer? It’s not. I John 1:8-9 could not make any clearer the fact that our future sins will only be forgiven when we confess them.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I should note here that many Calvinists—and many of those who may not be full-fledged Calvinists, but hold to the “once saved always saved” part of classic Calvinist doctrine—respond to this text by claiming that the forgiveness of sins St. John is talking about here has nothing to do with one’s justification before God. This text only considers whether or not one is in fellowship with God. And this “fellowship with God” is interpreted to mean only whether or not one will receive God’s blessings in this life.

There is a large problem here. The context of the passage does not allow for this interpretation. In fact, if you look at verse five, St. John had just said:

God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him, while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

This text makes clear that the “fellowship” being spoken of is essential in order for us to 1) walk in the light as God is in the light and 2) have our sins forgiven. If we are not in “fellowship,” according to verse 6, then we are in darkness. And if we are in darkness, we are not in God, “who is light and in him is no darkness” (vs. 5). There is nothing in this text that even hints at the possibility that you can be out of “fellowship” with God, but still go to heaven. That is, of course, unless you have that fellowship restored by the confession of your sins. This is precisely what verses eight and nine are all about!


Another point we can agree with our Calvinist friends on is that Romans 4:3 demonstrates Abraham to have been justified through the gift of faith he received from God. The Catholic Church acknowledges what the text clearly says: “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” referencing Genesis 15:6.

However, there is more to this text as well. While the Catholic Church agrees that Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6 as St. Paul said, we also note that Abraham was justified at other times in his life as well indicating justification to have an on-going aspect to it. Again, there is a sense in which justification is a past action in the life of believers, but there is another sense in which justification is revealed to be a process.

Let’s take a look at the life of Abraham.

Virtually all Christians agree that Romans 4:3 depicts Abraham as being justified through faith in the promise God made to him concerning his offspring:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (citing Gen. 15:6).

What many fail to see, however, is Abraham is also revealed to have already been justified many years prior to this when he was initially called by God to leave his home in Haran to create a new nation in a then-unknown land promised to him by God. Heb. 11:8 provides:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

What kind of “faith” is the inspired author speaking about? Hebrews 11:6 tells us it is a faith “without [which] it is impossible to please God.” This is a saving faith. So how could Abraham have saving faith if he wasn’t yet saved, or justified?

He couldn’t.

He had a saving faith because he was already justified through his faith and obedience to the call of God in his life long before his encounter with the Lord in Genesis 15. In addition, Abraham is revealed to have been justified again in Genesis 22 years after Genesis 15, when he offered his son Isaac in sacrifice and in obedience to the Lord.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God (James 2:21-23).

The Most Important Thing

When Catholics read of Abraham “justified by faith” in Romans 5, we believe it. But we don’t end there. For when Catholics read of Abraham “justified by works” in James 2 we believe that as well. For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has taken all of Sacred Scripture into the core of her theology harmonizing all of the biblical texts. Thus, we can agree with our Protestant friends and say as Christians we have been (past tense) justified and saved through our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

But we also agree with our Lord that there is another sense in which we are being saved and justified by cooperation with God’s grace in our lives, and we hope to finally be saved and justified by our Lord on the last day:

I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).”

Love & truth,

Justification/Sanctification 2

-by Tom Nash

Could you please tell me what is Justification and Sanctification and does the Catholic understanding on these topics differ from Protestants?

Whole books have written on this subject, so I will provide a basic overview, distinguishing between the basic Catholic view and the fundamental Protestant view first advanced by Martin Luther.

Catholics and Protestants agree that God’s grace is fundamental and indispensable to our eternal salvation as Christians. And that initial justification—i.e., when we first come into relationship with Jesus Christ—is a completely unwarranted divine gift (John 15:16; CCC 1989-92).

In short, the Church teaches that God inwardly heals and transforms us by his grace, making us children of God (CCC 1262ff.). This is initial justification, which takes place in baptism. So baptism gives us a share in divine love or “righteousness,” an infused “theological virtue” which enables us to become like Jesus and do his will in a lovingly obedient way (CCC 1991). Baptism restores our communion with God and is the beginning of our salvation, the first step on a lifelong journey.

Through initial justification, from the Catholic perspective, God obligates us to abide in him (John 14:15) and grow progressively in holiness (see Matt. 5:43-48). This progressive growth after initial justification is known as ongoing justification or sanctification. In ongoing justification or sanctification, we continue to grow in the theological and human virtues, with Jesus as our model. This is not “works righteousness” or “salvation by works” as the Church’s teaching is sometimes caricatured. Works alone, as the heretic Pelagius was reminded by the Church in the 400s, can never save. And works apart from grace cannot even contribute to our salvation. Indeed, our good works only have “merit”—including graces for ourselves and others to grow in holiness and help attain eternal life—because they are rooted in and aided by Christ’s love (CCC 2006–16), so that we might persevere in God’s grace instead of rejecting his gift of salvation. And if we are baptized after the age of reason, even the choice to receive baptism is a good work, again aided by God’s grace.

Luther believed that justification took place by baptism, including infant baptism, something with which most modern Protestant don’t agree, favoring instead a nonsacramental “believer’s baptism.” In addition, in harmony with many modern Protestants, Luther saw God as a judge who makes a legal declaration about our righteousness, our being free from sin in some sense, but who doesn’t inwardly heal and transform us by his grace, let alone call us to a life of deepening holiness. For Luther, the original sin of our first parents injured human nature so badly that we are “totally depraved,” i.e., incapable of doing any good at all, or at least not able to do good works that impact our eternal salvation. Indeed, a fundamental plank of Luther’s soteriology is that man’s will is enslaved. From this conviction comes Luther’s doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” meaning our “good works” cannot possibly impact our eternal destiny, and that only by a total repudiation of God (loss of faith) can we lose our salvation.

For Luther, the baptismal “regeneration” St. Paul taught (Titus 3:5) means the removal of the eternal punishment of sin through the justifying faith associated with baptism, and thus it opens heaven to the justified (Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, “Holy Baptism,” nos. 41–46, 83). However, a justified person’s human nature remains totally depraved for Luther, and original sin and an individual’s personal sins are not blotted out; so communion with God is restored but in a lesser way than our first parents originally enjoyed. One needs to keep these distinctions in mind when Luther teaches that Baptism brings about the “forgiveness of sin.” (Ibid., nos. 41, 86).

Because Luther believed man’s will was enslaved, when God is “in the saddle” vs. the devil, man can perform works of sanctification, whereby the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all we think, desire and choose. But if the devil prevails, man inevitably chooses wrongly.”

Love & truth,


-by Karlo Broussard

“Protestants within the Reformed tradition are known for making a rigorous distinction between justification and sanctification. They argue that when a believer is “saved,” or justified, what makes him stand righteous before God is merely God declaring him to be so, not an interior state of righteousness (holiness). Interior righteousness, they argue, accompanies justification but is not the grounds for being at peace with God. This distinction leads Protestants of this persuasion to claim that a believer’s right standing before God is once and for all, regardless of what’s in his heart or how much he wavers in his pursuit of holiness (sanctification).

The Catholic view, on the other hand, doesn’t draw a hard line. For example, the Council of Trent taught in its Decree on Justification, “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man” (ch. 7). For a Catholic, God reckons a believer to be at peace with him (justified) because he, by a sheer gratuitous gift, has brought about in the believer through faith and charity an interior state of righteousness (sanctification).

So which view is correct? 2 Corinthians 3:1-9 is one passage that shows that the Catholic view is. Let’s take a look at it here.

St. Paul begins with a prominent theme found in the Jewish prophetical tradition: the writing of God’s law on the heart. He writes:

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (vv. 2-3).

Paul then begins to identify this written letter (law) on the heart as characteristic of the New Covenant in contrast to the Old. He writes:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God . . . who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit, for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life (vv. 4-6).

This theme of God’s law being written on the human heart in the New Covenant is an allusion to both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah 31:31-34 reads:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. . . . This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people

Ezekiel, in reference to the time when God establishes his “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 34:25), also called an “everlasting covenant” (Ezek. 37:26), foretells what God will do in those days:

new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances (36:26-27).

The revelation that God will give a new heart to his people in the New Covenant with his law written on it indicates there was a problem with Israel’s heart in the Old Covenant: they couldn’t keep the law written on stone. This is why Paul says, “The written code [the Old Law] kills” (2 Cor. 3:6) and goes on to call the Old Law a “dispensation of death” in verse 7 and a “dispensation of condemnation” in verse 9. The ground for condemnation was disobedience. The Old Law gave knowledge of what must be obeyed but didn’t give the power to obey.

For Paul, who’s thinking in the same vein as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the solution that he identifies as the New Law is proportionate to the problem. The problem for the people of Israel was an interior matter, a matter of the heart; therefore, the solution must be interior and a matter of the heart as well.

So far, everything we’ve said maps on to what a Protestant persuaded by the Reformed tradition would say happens with sanctification. The trick now is to connect the interior transformation that Paul speaks of with justification.

The key is found in verses 7-9. Paul writes:

Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as this was, will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor? For if there was splendor in the dispensation of condemnation, the dispensation of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor. Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor has come to have no splendor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses it.

Notice that Paul calls the New Law the “dispensation of righteousness” and contrasts it with the Old Law, which he calls the “dispensation of death” (v.7) and the “dispensation of condemnation” (v.9). The Greek word for “righteousness,” dikaiosunē, is related to the verb dikaioō, which means to justify or declare righteous. These are the words Paul uses when he explicates his doctrine of justification in his letter to the Romans:

  • Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified [Greek, dikaiousthai] by faith apart from works of law.”
  • Romans 4:5: “To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness [Greek, dikaiosunēn].”

This contrast shows that Paul views the result of the Old Law as the opposite of righteousness: unrighteousness. And given what we said above that the result of the Old Law was a heart problem (the problem of Israel that the New Law is meant to rectify), it follows that the people’s unrighteousness under the Old Law was something interior—a matter of the heart. The ground for the legal act of condemnation, therefore, was the Israelites’ interior state of unrighteousness brought about through disobedience.

Now, for Paul, the interior transformation that the new dispensation brings with God’s law written on man’s heart is the proportionate solution to the problem of unrighteousness characteristic of Israel under the Old Law. This is why Paul calls the New Law “a dispensation of righteousness [Greek, dikaiosunēs].”

Since the unrighteousness of Israel under the Old Law was something interior—a matter of the heart, and the righteousness that the New Law written on the heart brings is intended by God to rectify that unrighteousness and make God’s people no longer subject to condemnation, it follows that the righteousness that the New Law brings is an interior righteousness, a matter of the heart—or, as Bible scholar John Kincaid puts it, “cardiac righteousness.”

For Paul, therefore, the ground for no longer being condemned—or, to put it differently, the ground for being justified—is the believer’s “cardiac righteousness,” an interior state of righteousness that God brings about in his soul. And since justification is a transformation of the heart resulting in an interior state of righteousness, we don’t have to draw a hard line between justification and sanctification.”

Love & truth,

Are Catholic rules a yoke of slavery?

-by Karlo Broussard

“It’s no secret that the Catholic Church has rules. Catholics are obliged to attend Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. We have to fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meats on Fridays during Lent. We have to confess our sins at least once a year, and so on.

Some Protestants have a problem with this since they tend to associate rules with the kind of vain, works-based religion that Christ has done away with. A favorite passage of those who make this challenge is Galatians 5:1, where Paul writes, “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

With all its rules, is the Catholic Church submitting Christians to a yoke of slavery?

The answer is no.

First, the yoke of slavery that Paul is talking about is clearly intended to be the yoke of the Mosaic Law, not laws in general. For example, in the verses following the passage in question, he writes,

“Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace . . . For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:2-6)

Notice that circumcision, which is an example par excellence of a precept from the Mosaic Law, is the focus of the passage. This is a clue that it’s the rules associated with the Mosaic Law or “works of the law” (Gal. 2:16) that Paul is calling the “yoke of slavery,” not rules in general.

Second, all communities and families need rules—Christianity is no different. Virtually all Protestants agree that rules can serve a good purpose. Nations and communities need laws. Sports need rules and referees to enforce them. Households have family rules for how children should behave. You can’t just do whatever you want in a family if you want peaceful coexistence.

If rules are good for family life, especially in a home where parents love their kids and one another, then they are good for the Church—since the Church is the family of God (1 Tim. 3:15). If God’s Church is his household, then it’s reasonable for him to have rules to govern its members for the sake of maintaining peace and order.

Of course, Protestant communities aren’t strangers to rules and laws. For example, many say that a person has to be fully immersed in water for his baptism to be valid. Some forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Other examples involve the governance of marriage. Many Protestant groups require that spouses profess their vows in the presence of witnesses. Most have the precept that divorce and remarriage are permitted only on the condition that a spouse has committed adultery. If Protestant communities have these sorts of rules or laws, then wouldn’t they be subject to this challenge as well?

Third, the New Testament gives evidence that rules were a part of the Christian life in the early Church. Let’s start with Jesus.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus stipulates that the nations would be made disciples through baptism. So, baptism is a New Covenant precept or rule, if you will. Another is the celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus commands the apostles in Luke 22:19 to offer the Last Supper as a memorial offering: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals his intention that rules would be a part of the Christian life. For example, he gives us a variety of ethical precepts:

We must not be angry with our brother nor insult him (Matt. 5:22).
We must reconcile with our brother before we offer our gifts at the altar (Matt. 5:23).
We must not look at others lustfully in our hearts (Matt. 5:28).

These are just a sample of the ethical rules that Jesus intends Christians to live by. Jesus also intends certain pious actions to be part of the Christian life: almsgiving (Matt. 6:2-4), prayer (Matt. 6:5-15), and fasting (Matt. 6:16-18). He even gives instructions (rules) on how those who disobey the judgment of the Church are to be dealt with: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17).

Paul follows suit, stipulating a number of rules to govern the local churches. For example, he instructs the Corinthians to keep the feast of the new Passover, which is the Eucharist (1 Cor. 5:8). He even gives instructions concerning the reception of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, forbidding anyone to eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord “in an unworthy manner.”

In 1 Timothy 5:9-11, Paul lays down certain rules concerning proper implementation of consecrated celibacy with regard to “enrolled” widows. He instructs the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to “hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul gives rules to govern the Corinthians and their practice of speaking in tongues as they gather in church.

Now, some Protestants will probably concede that at least some rules can be part of the Christian life, especially in light of the evidence presented above. But they still might reject the number of rules in the Catholic Church.

But how do we know how many rules is too many? What’s the magic number of rules that a church should have? Whatever number someone comes up with, it would be completely arbitrary—whatever feels right. But Christians of all kinds have different feelings, and their different churches have varying numbers of rules.

And despite the charge that Catholicism has too many rules, in truth, it has relatively few when compared to other groups of comparable size. For example, the United States has around 325 million citizens. The 2012 edition of the United States Code (federal law) totals 45,000 pages in thirty-four volumes. By comparison, a standard English edition of the Code of Canon Law, the main legal text for the large majority of the Church’s one billion members, totals a little more than 500 pages in a single volume. (According to the Census of the 2020 Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook), the number of baptized Catholics in the world was about 1.329 billion at the end of 2018).

Finally, we can also point out that not only is the Church’s code of laws relatively short, but many of those laws apply to specific situations that an ordinary Catholic rarely—if never—encounters. So only a fraction of them impact his daily life. As for the rest, Catholics can be instructed on the “dos and don’ts” as the situation arises.

In the end, it’s simply unreasonable to think that no rules are binding just because the Bible says that some rules aren’t binding. And on top of that, the Bible gives plenty of positive evidence that rules are a part of the Christian life. When it comes to rules, the Catholic Church turns out to be a bible-believing Church after all!”

Love & truth,

Ignorance – Vincible & Invincible

Ignorance is NOT a synonym for stupid.  Ignorance is a lack of knowledge, NOT mental capacity.

-by Jimmy Akin

“In moral theology, ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge that a person ought to have. Ignorance is distinguished from mere nescience, which is a lack of knowledge that a person has no need of. For example, a person who did not know the square root of 1429 would be ignorant of it if he were taking a test that required him to know the answer, but he would be nescient of it if performing a task that didn’t require the number.

Moral theology divides ignorance into a number of categories. The two I will consider here are invincible and vincible. Ignorance is invincible if it a person could not remove it by applying reasonable diligence in determining the answer. Ignorance is vincible if a person could remove it by applying reasonable diligence. Reasonable diligence, in turn, is that diligence that a conscientious person would display in seeking the correct answer to a question given (a) the gravity of the question and (b) his particular resources.

The gravity of a question is determined by how great a need the person has to know the answer. The answers to fundamental questions (how to save one’s soul, how to preserve one’s life) have grave weight. The answers to minor questions (the solution to a crossword puzzle) typically have lightweight.

The particular resources a person has include (a) the ease with which he can obtain the information necessary to determine the answer (e.g., a man with a good textbook on the subject may be able to find the information with greater ease than a man who lacks such a textbook) and (b) the ease with which he can make an accurate evaluation of the evidence once it is in his possession (e.g., a smart man may be able to evaluate the evidence with greater ease than an ordinary man). The graver the question and the greater the resources available, the more diligence is needed to qualify as reasonable. The lighter the question and the fewer the resources available, the less diligence is needed to qualify as reasonable.

Just as it is possible to show less than reasonable diligence, it is also possible to show more than reasonable diligence. Diligence can be supererogatory (and praiseworthy) if one shows more diligence than would be expected from an ordinary, conscientious person. Diligence can be excessive or scrupulous (and blameworthy) if someone spends so much time seeking the answer to a particular question that he fails to attend to other matters he should attend to, or if he refuses to come to a conclusion and continues seeking even when he has enough evidence.

Depending on its type and degree, ignorance may remove, diminish, leave unaffected, or even increase one’s culpability for a materially sinful act (cf. CCC 1735, 1746, 1859). Conversely, it may have the same effects on one’s imputability for a materially righteous act. Here we will deal only with the effects of ignorance on one’s culpability for sin.

Invincible ignorance removes one’s culpability for a materially sinful act, whether one of omission or commission (CCC 1793). Vincible ignorance may affect one’s culpability for a sinful act, depending on the kind of vincibility. If some insufficient diligence was shown toward finding the answer, then the ignorance is termed merely vincible. If little or no diligence was shown, the ignorance is termed crass or supine. If one deliberately fostered the ignorance then it is termed affected or studied.

If vincible ignorance is merely vincible, crass, or supine, it diminishes culpability for the sinful act relative to the degree of diligence that was shown. If a vincibly ignorant person showed almost reasonable diligence, most of his imputability for the sin could be removed. If he was crassly ignorant, having shown little or no diligence compared to what was reasonable, little or none of his imputability would be removed.

Affected or studied ignorance can increase culpability for a sin, especially if it displays hardness of heart, whereby one would commit the sin irrespective of any law that might exist concerning it. Such an attitude shows contempt for moral law and so increases culpability (cf. CCC 1859).

Potentially, ignorance can diminish or remove imputability for any kind of sin. However, no one is presumed to be ignorant of the principles of moral law since these are written on the heart of every man (CCC 1860). It is possible for a person to be invincibly ignorant that an act is required by natural law. This may be true if the act involves a point that is not obvious, if the person is not mentally quick enough to discern the application of natural law to the case, or if he has been raised to strongly believe in a system that denies the point of natural law. However, such ignorance must be proven, not presumed.

In practical use, the terms vincible and invincible may pose problems for those unfamiliar with Catholic moral terminology. For many, vincible is a wholly unfamiliar term and invincible can suggest that which can never be overcome, no matter how much diligence is shown. Because of these difficulties, it may be advisable in practice to speak of innocent (invincible) and culpable (vincible) ignorance when addressing such people.

However, other individuals (notably radical traditionalists and Feeneyites) may view one as suspect if one substitutes the innocent/culpable ignorance terminology. When addressing such individuals, the standard terminology should be used.

A special case is the application of vincible and invincible ignorance to salvation. Failure to embrace the Christian faith (infidelity), total repudiation of the Christian faith (apostasy), and the post-baptismal obstinate denial or willful doubt of particular teachings of the Catholic faith (heresy) are objectively grave sins against the virtue of faith. Like any other grave sins, if they are committed with adequate knowledge and deliberate consent, they become mortal sins and will deprive one of salvation.

Also like any other grave sins, their imputability can be removed, diminished, unaffected, or increased by the varying types of ignorance. Invincible ignorance removes culpability for the sins against faith, merely vincible ignorance diminishes culpability (sometimes to the point of being venial), crass or supine ignorance will affect culpability for them little or not at all, and hard-hearted, affected ignorance will increase culpability for them.

For those who have had their culpability for sins against faith removed or diminished to the point of veniality, they are not mortal sins and thus will not of themselves deprive one of heaven. A person who is ignorant of the gospel of Christ and his Church through no fault of his own (or, by extension, through his merely venial fault) can be saved-if he otherwise does what is required for salvation, according to the level of opportunity, enlightenment, and grace God gives him (CCC 847, 1260).

In such cases, people are not saved apart from the true Church. Though they are not “fully incorporated” into the mystical Body of Christ, they are “joined” or “related” to the Church (to use Vatican II’s language) by the elements of saving grace God has given them. One might thus speak of them as having been “partially incorporated,” though not obtaining membership in the proper sense (Pius XII, Mysitici Corporis 22).

Unfortunately, there are a number of erroneous views regarding salvation and invincible ignorance that need to be pointed out. First, the fact that someone is invincibly ignorant of the true faith is not a ticket to heaven. A person who is not culpable for sins against faith may still be culpable for other mortal sins-the same ones people of faith can commit-and may be damned on that account.

Second, the fact that someone is invincibly ignorant does not mean that they should not be evangelized. The farther from the center of God’s truth a person is the more spiritual jeopardy they are in. Even if they are not culpable for sins against faith, the fact they are ignorant of the true religion and do not have access to the sacraments means that they are more likely to commit mortal sin and thus more likely to be damned. Christ did not leave us the option of only evangelizing some peoples (Mark 16:15) or of only teaching them some doctrines (Matt. 28:20). Consequently, it is a false understanding of evangelism or a false spirit of ecumenism that would suggest that classes of people can be left in total or partial ignorance of the true faith on the pretext that they are invincibly ignorant and should not be disturbed.

Third, those who have accepted the Catholic faith are in a special position concerning innocent ignorance. Vatican I taught that God gives special grace to those who have embraced the true faith so that they may persevere in it, “not deserting if he [God] be not deserted.” As a result of this special grace, “those who have received the faith under the teaching authority of the Church can never have a just reason to change this same faith or to reject it” (Dei Filius 3; ND 124, D 1794, DS 3014). It then infallibly condemned the proposition that “the condition of the faithful and of those who have not yet attained to the only true faith is the same, so that Catholics could have a just reason for suspending their judgment and calling into question the faith that they have already received under the teaching authority of the Church, until they have completed a scientific demonstration of the credibility and truth of their faith” (ibid., canon 3:6; ND 130, cf. D 1815, DS 3036). This applies, of course, to those who have genuinely accepted the Catholic faith under the influence of the Magisterium, not those who-though baptized or received into the Church-never actually accepted the Catholic faith due to absent or grossly defective catechesis.

Fourth, some radical traditionalists, those known as Feeneyites, assert that while invincible ignorance might excuse sins against faith, one would not thereby be excused from the necessity of baptism for salvation. This is false, since invincible ignorance excuses from acts of omission (such as failure to be baptized) as well as acts of commission. If one is invincibly ignorant of the requirement of baptism but would seek baptism if one knew it was required then the lack of baptism will not be held against one. This is expressly taught by the Church (CCC 1260). One would thus be recognized as having baptism of desire, at least implicitly.

Fifth, Feeneyites sometimes assert that there are no individuals who are invincibly ignorant of the necessities of baptism and embracing the Catholic faith. This position reflects a misunderstanding concerning what constitutes reasonable deliberation for many in the non-Catholic world. If someone has never heard of the Christian faith, or if he has been taught all his life that the Catholic Church is evil, then it could well be that he would not discover the truth of the Christian faith or the Catholic Church merely by exercising reasonable diligence in weighing the various religious options presented to him.

In many parts of the world it is easy for people to display reasonable but not supererogatory diligence and be invincibly ignorant concerning the Christian faith in general or the Catholic Church in particular. The assertion that there are no invincibly ignorant people also is manifestly contrary to the teaching of the Church, which acknowledges that there are “righteous people in all religions” (CCC 2569; cf. 847, 1260).”



“I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one—as You are in me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me.” -Jn 17:21

-by Jimmy Akin

“Recently, friends called to our attention the existence of a new Facebook group, calling itself “Catholic Answers,” that serves as a forum to attack Catholic teaching as false and unbiblical. Its description page includes the group’s “one rule”:

Because all liars will have their part in the lake of fire (Rev 21:8), so, If a Roman Catholic decides to make the false claim that there are “x number of denominations”, they will be required to name them all, by name [sic].

The multiplication of Protestant denominations and sects following the Reformation is a common talking-point for Catholic apologists and often a sore spot for Protestants. It’s a licit point for Catholics to raise—after all, Christ came to build one Church whose members would live and believe in unity with each another, not many churches that disagree over important points of faith and morals. But it’s also one that should not be exaggerated.

What are the different varieties of Protestantism?

There are many varieties of Protestantism, and they display an enormous amount of theological diversity. For this reason, it is almost always a mistake to speak of “the” Protestant position on any subject. Even the core distinctives on which Protestantism is based—sola fide and sola scriptura—are understood in markedly different ways. When we move to other doctrines, the diversity only increases.

There are literally thousands of independent Protestant denominations and many more independent congregations. Catholic apologists have pointed to these numbers as illustrations of the tendency of Protestant principles—especially sola scriptura—to cause fragmentation and doctrinal confusion.

This is a valid point. However, sometimes apologists cite misleading numbers, claiming—for example, that there are something like 33,000 Protestant denominations. This number is given as the total number of Christian denominations in the World Christian Encyclopedia, but the methodology used to count them is flawed. It considers two groups to be separate denominations if they are in different countries, even if they are in communion with each other. Because the Catholic Church is found in many countries, the Encyclopedia counts Catholicism as being 242 separate denominations!

Even when denominations operate independently of each other, it doesn’t mean that they disagree theologically. A Presbyterian denomination in America may be totally independent of a Presbyterian denomination in Uganda, but they may have the same doctrinal views.

About half of Protestants worldwide belong to one of six major traditions—Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals—with the remainder belonging to smaller traditions, including nondenominational groups.

These major traditions historically have all been Trinitarian in theology, and they broadly accept the results of the early ecumenical councils dealing with the Person of Christ. Use of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed is common in many of them, though some clauses (e.g., those regarding belief in the communion of saints, baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and especially the Catholic Church) may be understood in different senses.

Although the majority of groups stemming from the Reformation are Trinitarian, there are movements that reject this teaching. Whether Unitarianism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostalism fall under the definition of Protestant is open to debate.

Over time, a number of movements have emerged in Protestantism that cut across these traditions. By the twentieth century, many historic Protestant denominations had become more theologically liberal, though they still contained conservative congregations and individuals. In the 1920s, they came to be known as “mainline” Protestant churches, and they include representatives of all the major Protestant traditions except Pentecostalism.

Mainline denominations were criticized by more conservative ones, who came to be called “fundamentalists” because they favored The Fundamentals—a twelve-volume set of books advocating conservative positions. Over time, the origin of the term was largely forgotten, and today fundamentalist is a term used to refer to very conservative Protestants (as well as members of other groups and even other religions, e.g., “fundamentalist Muslims”). The term also has taken on negative connotations. If someone is called a fundamentalist, it suggests that he is doctrinally rigid and hostile to other viewpoints. For this reason, the term should be used only for those few Christians who apply it to themselves. Otherwise, it becomes an insult that adds more heat than light.

Because of the negative connotations the term acquired, conservative Protestants needed a different and more positive term for themselves, and in the United States they began to call themselves “evangelicals.” This can be confusing since the term evangelical has been used in other senses. In Europe, it is applied to mainline Protestant churches or, alternately, to anyone who strongly favors evangelism (i.e., preaching the gospel).

However, in the United States evangelical generally indicates a conservative Protestant who distances himself from the rigidity associated with fundamentalism, though the term is fluid and not all who identify themselves as evangelical fit this profile.”

Love & unity,

Bible burning

-please click on the image for greater detail.

The Scriptures are written on our hearts. Paper pages also exist.

-Catholic News Agency

“There are some things in them (Epistles of St. Paul) hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” -2 Peter 3:16

“Ever since the Protestant Revolt in the 16th century, the Catholic Church has been accused of ignoring, opposing, hiding, and even destroying the Bible in order to keep it from the people. Allegedly, copies of the Bible were chained to the walls of churches during the Middle Ages so that people could not take them home to read. Supposedly the Church during the Middle Ages also refused to translate the Bible into the various tongues of the common people, the vernacular languages, in order to further hinder personal Bible reading. Furthermore, it is claimed that the Church even went as far as to burn vernacular Bibles.

When examining these charges against the Church, we must consider several points. First, if the Church truly wanted to destroy the Bible, why did her monks work diligently through the centuries making copies of it? Before the printing press (before 1450), copies of the Bible were handwritten with beauty and painstaking accuracy. One reason for Bibles being chained to the walls of churches is because each copy was precious both spiritually and materially. It took a monk about a year to hand copy the entire Bible, so Bibles were scarce. The chain kept it safe from loss or theft, so all the people of the church community (parish) could better benefit from it.

Secondly, concerning the vernacular, we must remember that in the 5th century when St. Jerome translated the Bible from the original languages into Latin, Latin was the language of the people. This Bible is commonly called the Vulgate, the common version. Even after a thousand years, Latin still remained the universal language in Europe.

Translating the Bible into the vernacular languages during the Middle Ages was simply impractical. Most vernacular languages at that time did not have an alphabet, so they could not be put into written form. Also, only a few people could read. The few educated persons, who could read, could also read Latin. This situation did not create a great demand for a vernacular Bible nor promote a popular devotion to personal Bible reading.

Even though impractical, there are examples of the Church promoting the vernacular. One example is the mission of Sts. Cyril and Methodius to the Slavic people in Moravia during the 9th century. They are both famous for introducing the Slavonic liturgy. In their work St. Cyril had to develop an alphabet for the Old Slavonic language. (It became the precursor of the Russian “Cyrillic” alphabet.) In 885 St. Methodius translated the entire Bible into this language. Despite strong political opposition from the Germans, Pope Hadrian II, after careful investigation, confirmed St. Methodius as Archbishop of Moravia and endorsed their Slavonic liturgy. (St. Cyril had already died.) Several later popes continued to uphold their work against attacks; however, Pope Stephen VI recalled the liturgy after being deceived by the German opposition. [1]

In 7th century Britain, before English was even a language, Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, paraphrased most of the Bible into the common tongue. During the early 8th century, St. Bede the Venerable also translated parts of the Bible into the language of the common British people. On his death bed in 735, he translated the Gospel of St. John. Also in this period, Bishop Eadhelm, Guthlac, and Bishop Egbert worked on Saxon Bibles. During the 9th and 10th centuries, King Alfred the Great and Archbishop Aelfric worked on Anglo-Saxon (Old English) translations. After the Norman conquest of 1066, a need for an Anglo-Norman Bible arose, so the Church produced several translations, e.g. Salus Animae (1250). In 1408 the provincial council of Oxford made it clear that vernacular translations could receive approval from the Church. In 1582 the famous Douay-Rheims New Testament translation was completed, while the Old Testament was finished in 1609. Ironically the Douay-Rheims New Testament influenced the King James Bible. [2,3]

After the 14th century when English finally became the popular language of England, vernacular Bibles were used as vehicles for heretical propaganda. John Wycliffe, a dissentient priest, translated the Bible into English. Unfortunately, his secretary, John Purvey, included a heretical prologue, as noted by St. Thomas More. Later William Tyndale translated the Bible into English complete with prologue and footnotes condemning Church doctrines and teachings. [2] St. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea. Even King Henry VIII in 1531 condemned the Tyndale Bible as a corruption of Scripture. In the words of King Henry’s advisors: “the translation of the Scripture corrupted by William Tyndale should be utterly expelled, rejected, and put away out of the hands of the people, and not be suffered to go abroad among his subjects.” [4] As food for thought, if the Wycliffe or Tyndale Bibles were so good, why do Protestants today not use them as they do the King James Bible?

One action that Catholic Christians pursued to stop this propaganda was to burn these books. Does this action make the Church anti-Bible? No. If it did, then the Protestants of this period were also anti-Bible. John Calvin, the main Protestant Reformer, in 1522, had as many copies as could be found of the Servetus Bible burned since Calvin did not approve of it. Later, Calvin had Michael Servetus himself burned at the stake for being a Unitarian. [5] In those days it was common practice on both sides to burn unapproved books. Finally, it is one matter to destroy the real thing and another to destroy a counterfeit.

The Church did not oppose faithful vernacular translations but heretical additions and distortions to the Bible. The Church prohibited these corrupt Bibles in order to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture. This action was necessary if the Church is to preserve the truth of Christ’s Gospel. As St. Peter in his Epistle (in the Bible) warns us, the ignorant and unstable can distort the Scriptures to their own destruction [2 Peter 3:16; see front panel].

Should good Christian parents allow their children to read a Bible with anti-Christian propaganda or profanity in the footnotes? I certainly would not. Finally, if the Catholic Church truly wanted to destroy the Bible, she had ample opportunity to do so for 1500 years.”


[1] Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom (Christendom College Press, 1987) pp. 359,371,385.
[2] The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice-Hall, 1968) Vol. II, pp. 586-588.
[3] Henry G. Graham, Where We Got The Bible (TAN Books, 1977) p. 99.
[4] Ibid., pp. 128,130.
[5] Ibid., p. 129.

Chaining the Bible

The Catholic Church doesn’t have a problem with the Bible.  The Church has a problem with inaccurate translations of the Bible.  Who is to determine what is inaccurate or not?  Who is to determine the meaning of Scripture?  The Church.  Mt 16:19, 18:18


The same reason Protestants chained them. Because bibles were extremely valuable and susceptible to theft-not to keep them from the laity!

Bibles were rare and valuable. By today’s standards, each one would be worth $100,000. That’s why they were chained by both Protestants and the Catholic Church.

Before the printing press, Bibles were copied by hand and each one took thousands of hours to make so they were scarce. The Church wanted to keep them secure.

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“In his 1929 book Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc examined the forces attacking the Catholic Church and its role in society. He put them into two chief categories: “survivals,” those “old forms of attack” that continue to be used by the Church’s enemies but are, in the main, on their way out; and “new arrivals,” the newer forms of attack that focus primarily on the Church’s moral teachings rather than its theological doctrines.

Among the “survivals” was a holdover from Protestantism Belloc termed the “biblical attack.” Its key element, he wrote, is “Bibliolatry”—elevating the Bible to the level of an idol. It is Bibliolatry that is the root of the myth that the Church locked and chained Bibles in medieval churches to prevent the laity from reading them. The implication of this myth is that if medieval people had been able to read the Bible for themselves, they would have recognized that the Catholic Church’s teachings are false and would have sought to free themselves from the yoke of Rome.

The notion that the Church restricts access to Scripture to control its interpretation comes from the Saxon monk-turned-revolutionary Martin Luther. Luther published three famous treatises in 1520 in response to the bull of Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521), Exsurge Domine, that condemned many of Luther’s teachings.

In An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther exhorted Emperor Charles V and the German nobility to reject papal authority and establish a national German Church in opposition to Rome. He argued that Rome had built three “walls” around itself to maintain its hold on Catholics. He identified these walls as the following false teachings:

1) that the spiritual power is greater than temporal power;

2) that only the pope can authentically interpret Scripture; and

3) that only the pope can call an ecumenical council.

He warned the German nobility that they must be aware “that in this matter we are not dealing with men but with the princes of hell.”

To Luther, the belief that the pope is the only interpreter of Scripture (which is not in fact Church teaching but rather Luther’s erroneous understanding of it) was “an outrageous fable” and is not rooted in the only authoritative source of divine revelation that Luther recognized, Scripture itself. Instead, he put forth the idea that all Christians should be able to interpret Scripture for themselves, a doctrine that would lead to a multitude of rival Protestant denominations.

It is widely believed that, to facilitate the lay reading of Scripture, Luther was first to translate the Bible into German. He was not. The first Bible in the German vernacular was produced in the eighth century at the monastery of Monse. By the fifteenth century, there were 36,000 German manuscript bibles in circulation, and a complete printed Bible in the German vernacular appeared in 1529, five years before Luther’s translation was published. In short, the Church made Scripture accessible to laymen long before Luther and the Reformation did.

There is, in fact, a sense in which the Bible is the product of the Catholic Church, as it was the bishops of the Church who decided which books circulating in the fourth century would be considered canonical. Indeed, the Church took great pains throughout its history to guard, defend, and preserve Scripture. Pope St. Damasus I (r. 366–383) first took up the task of publishing a vernacular version of Scripture, and he employed his brilliant yet irascible secretary St. Jerome (342–420) to accomplish the task. Jerome learned Greek and Hebrew to properly translate the word of God into vernacular Latin.

His translation, which became known as the Vulgate, was not well received in North Africa, where a riot erupted over his version of the book of Jonah. The widespread acceptance of the Vulgate in the Church took time. Perhaps part of the resistance can be attributed to the long memory of the Church. Jerome’s new translation came less than a hundred years after Diocletian initiated the Great Persecution. One of his edicts mandated the surrender of all copies of the sacred writings, an event so destructive that its memory remained with the Church long after the persecution ended. The Church maintained great respect and love for the sacred word, as evidenced by the efforts of monks to preserve it.

The sixth century was witness to the activity of a uniquely saintly man who renounced his worldly life to become a hermit. His reputation for holiness attracted many followers, and soon thereafter Benedict of Nursia founded a monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s vision for his monks was rooted in the idea that monasticism was a “school of divine service” in which the monk committed himself to a life of obedience focused on a routine of work, prayer, study, and self-denial. Benedict’s monks preserved and maintained Western civilization through their painstaking work of copying ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, as well as devoting time to copying and illustrating Scripture.

Working in the scriptoriums of Benedictine monasteries in the Middle Ages was not easy. It took nearly a year to copy a Bible manuscript. The process was laborious and wearisome; as one monk recorded, “He who does not know how to write imagines it to be no labor; but though three fingers only hold the pen, the whole body goes weary.” Any copying work the monk did not finish during the day had to be completed at night, even in the cold winter months.

Bibles were not only copied but richly and beautifully illuminated with elaborate images. Bible illumination began in the fifth century with Irish monks who painstakingly prepared the skins of calves, sheep, or goats into vellum that was used for the manuscripts. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, copied and illuminated in the eighth century, was the work of one scribe who used 130 calfskins and took five years to complete the work. The amount of labor that went into each copy of the Bible led to preventing their theft either by locking them in containers or chaining them to desks. In other words, these were security measures, not efforts to keep Scripture from the faithful.

Indeed, protecting and expensive Bible by securing it allowed greater, not lesser, access to it. Moreover, the Bible was usually placed in a public area of a church so those who could read could peruse its pages. The first mention of this protective policy occurs in the mid-eleventh century in the catalog of St. Peter’s Monastery in Weissenburg, Alsace, where it was recorded that four Psalters were chained in the church. Moreover, the practice was not exclusive to the Catholic Church: Protestants also utilized the well-known security measure, as evidenced by the chaining of the Great Bible (also known as the Chained Bible) published by command of King Henry VIII of England in 1539.

The Real Story

The Protestant principle of sola scriptura led to the myth that the Catholic Church kept the word of God from the faithful to maintain its authority; the chaining of bibles in medieval churches was seen as evidence of this. It also led to the false claim that Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was the first such vernacular edition; in fact, there had been many vernacular editions preceding Luther’s, including St. Jerome’s Vulgate.

It was the Church that, far from suppressing the Bible, determined the canon of its books and then preserved and authoritatively interpreted the written word of God throughout its history. Catholic monks painstakingly preserved the sacred writings and beautifully illustrated them throughout the medieval period. These priceless manuscripts were chained or locked up in churches not to prevent their use but to protect against theft, thus allowing greater access to them, which was standard practice in both Catholic and Protestant churches until the printing press enabled mass production of bibles.”

Love, His Word,

Where does the Bible say everything Christians believe must be found in the Bible?

-by Trent Horn

:When Catholics and Protestants have discussions about what divides us, Protestants often pepper their Catholic friends with the question, “Where is that in the Bible?” But seldom do they stop to apply the standard of sola scriptura to their own beliefs. If they did, they would find that some of them don’t come from the Bible at all but from a theological tradition they received from a parent or pastor.

Let’s look at three examples of extrabiblical Protestant traditions.

Where does the Bible say we are not purified of sin after death?

The single most common question we receive at Catholic Answers is, “Where is purgatory in the Bible?” But Protestants who assume that Catholic doctrine about the afterlife should be spelled out explicitly in Scripture rarely apply this same standard to their own beliefs about life after death. The Protestant author William Edward Fudge writes:

While the Reformers talked about last things, they never did construct an eschatology using the building blocks of Scripture. . . . Luther and Calvin rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, for example, not because they made a thorough study of scriptural eschatology and found it missing, but because purgatory clearly contradicted the doctrine of justification that they had discovered in the Bible.[1]

Protestants typically believe that every Christian is united with Christ immediately after death, and therefore we will have no need for purification. But the passages they cite in defense of this claim, such as Philippians 1:23 (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”) and 2 Corinthians 5:8 (“We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”) do not stand up to scrutiny.

If I say, “When I am at work in the office, I am away from my family,” that does not mean the moment I leave my office I will be home with my family (I might have to endure a long daily commute, for example). Likewise, a desire to be with Christ does not prove there will be no process of purification before we achieve that desire. In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:10 teaches that we can be apart from the body but not at home with the Lord: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.”

Where does the Bible say we should make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior?

Protestants who object to the Mass or sacraments as unbiblical and unnecessary often say that all we need to do instead is accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and confess our sins directly to God rather than to some priest.

Setting aside the fact that the Mass and the sacraments are biblical, I would point out the idea of basing one’s faith around a personal relationship with Jesus is not. Concerning the popular “Sinner’s Prayer” (“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior”), Protestant apologists Matt Slick and Tony Miano note, “There is not a single verse or passage in Scripture, whether in a narrative account or in prescriptive or descriptive texts, regarding the use of a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ in evangelism. Not one” [emphasis in original].

This doesn’t mean it is wrong to ask Jesus to have a personal relationship with us. It just means that this foundational Protestant belief is not found in Scripture. The Bible also never instructs us to confess our sins to the resurrected Jesus, even though almost all Christians are comfortable doing that. So Protestants who adhere to sola scriptura should rethink their belief in these things—or rethink their belief in sola scriptura.

Protestants often cite 1 John 1:9 to defend confessing sins to God (and not to a priest), because it says, “If we confess [Greek, homologōmen; root homologeō] our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But this passage doesn’t say we should confess our sins to God alone. The context of the passage concerns what we say or confess to other people rather than what we communicate to God.

The previous verse, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and the following verse, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us,” describe believers speaking to one another. In fact, aside from Hebrews 13:15, homologeō is never used to describe confessing anything to God. In John’s writings, it is always used to describe confessing a belief to other men. In both the sacrament of confession and anointing of the sick, the priest does not directly forgive sin or heal, but rather he becomes the means by which God grants forgiveness or healing.

Most Protestants would agree with this thinking on something like baptism, since—like Catholics—they usually deny the validity of self-baptism. Those who believe in baptismal regeneration correctly point out that although God alone takes away sin, God does not act alone when he takes away a person’s sins through baptism. Instead, God works through other believers who baptize on his behalf. The same principle applies when God uses a minister to forgive a person’s sins through confession.

Where does the Bible say all revelation ceased after the apostolic age?

Protestants claim that the word of God is confined to what is recorded in Scripture and that no new revelation was given after the last books of the Bible were written. Catholics agree that public revelation, or the deposit of faith, ceased after the death of the last apostolic man (this includes the apostles and their associates like Mark and Luke). We disagree, however, with the idea that this truth can be known from Scripture alone. Protestants who are skeptical of Sacred Tradition should ask why they believe in the cessation of divine revelation since Scripture does not explicitly address this issue.

Some have argued that this truth is described in Jude 3, which speaks of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints,” but this verse on its own cannot support the claim that public revelation has ceased. Protestant apologist John MacArthur says that the Greek word translated “delivered” in this verse “refers to an act completed in the past with no continuing element.” He also says the phrase “once for all” (Greek, hapax) means “nothing needs to be added to the faith that has been delivered ‘once for all.’” This would mean that the “faith” had been delivered before Jude was written, which means Jude and its teaching about the cessation of public revelation would not have been a part of that original deposit of faith.

Arguments from Jude 3 also confuse “delivering the faith” with public revelation. Jesus gave “the faith” once and for all to the apostles, but the public revelation of that faith continued for decades after Jesus’ interactions with them during the writing of the New Testament. There isn’t any explicit biblical evidence that this revelation ceased after the death of the last apostle (or that it didn’t continue for centuries rather than decades).

Catholics agree with Protestants that this public revelation did cease in the apostolic Church. The Catechism says that “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (66). But Catholics believe this truth based on the trustworthiness of the Magisterium, which preserves God’s word in both its written (Scripture) and unwritten (Tradition) forms—not, as Protestants would have to believe, based on the clear teaching of the Bible alone.

So when Protestants ask, “Where is that in the Bible?”, you might charitably ask in reply, “Where does the Bible say everything we believe as Christians must be found in the Bible?” Then you could offer to share with them some other common Protestant beliefs that have their roots not in Scripture but in traditions—both sacred and human.”