Roman Catechism on Justification

Many Protestants have mistaken opinions about what the Catholic Church teaches concerning justification. One major aspect of their error has to do with their claim that the Catholic Church teaches a “works-based” justification, by which they mean to say that it teaches we can merit salvation by what we do. This is a false notion. In this post I would like to briefly adduce a certain bit of testimony from the Roman Catechism (also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent) which demonstrates that the Protestant notion about Catholic teaching on this point is mistaken.

The publication of the Catechism was prompted by the Council, during the fourth session of which (in 1546) “the draft of a decree was read proposing that there be published in Latin and in the vernacular a catechism to be compiled by capable persons for children and uninstructed adults, ‘who are in need of milk rather than solid food’” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. xxviii) This decree (though not, as far as I know, formally adopted by Trent) bore fruit when the Catechism was published in 1566 by St Pius V (just three years after the close of the Council). It is reasonable to say, then, that the Catechism constitutes some of the first fruits of the Council; it is likewise reasonable to say that it represents the views of the Council, since it was published by the last pope to preside over the council.

The Catechism presents its instruction under four heads: the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments, and the Our Father. In the first section’s discussion of the second article of the Creed (“And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”), we read this:

That wonderful and superabundant are the blessings which flow to the human race from the belief and profession of this Article we learn from these words of St. John: Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God; and also from the words of Christ the Lord, proclaiming the Prince of the Apostles blessed for the confession of this truth: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar–Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. For this Article is the most firm basis of our salvation and redemption [Source; emphasis added].

“This Article:” namely, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” This, says the Catechism, is the “most firm basis of our salvation and redemption.” There is no other basis for it; this is it. We are saved by Christ alone. Consequently our works—however important they must be—cannot and do not save us.

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Posted in Apologetics, Catechism, Council of Trent, Justification
6 comments on “Roman Catechism on Justification
  1. Zhai Yujia says:

    Haha. Just let you know that Catechism teaches Christ-based, work accompanied salvation, but never Christ “alone” or work “alone” salvation. Catechism stresses that it is “the most firm basis of our salvation and redemption”. So please be cautious when you say, in the last paragraph, “we are saved by Christ alone”.

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Hello Zhai,

    My post — particularly in that claim — is consistent with what the Council of Trent says are the causes of our salvation. In the Decree on Justification (which you can find here), in chapter 7, they enumerate the causes of justification. If you take a look you will see that none of those causes are human works. Of course we must live holy lives, but this is an effect of the justification we receive from Christ and not a cause of it.

    Peace,

    Fred

  3. aquinasetc says:

    By way of follow-up: perhaps it would be helpful if I pointed out that Trent (and I) are talking about initial justification.

    • Aquinasetc,

      That last clarification makes all the difference in the world. Actually, not even faith merits initial justification, for faith itself is part of the gift of grace that causes justification. At least, that’s how I understand it.

      Bradley

  4. Here is a slice from my discussion on “Luther vs. Catholics on Justification,” (http://theophilogue.com/2010/04/30/luther-vs-catholics-on-justification-2/) in which I conclude that although there are differences, there are not nearly as big of a difference in persective as people imagine.

    Catholic dogma holds that final justification (or the inheritance of eternal life at the final judgment) is by grace-wrought works of faith done by the merit of Christ. This may have also been taught by Luther. It is a part of Catholic teaching that such works, therefore, merit eternal life. For these last two distinguishing aspects of the Catholic teaching, it is important to understand two distinctions. First, to merit something is different than deserving it, but refers to God’s rewarding of good works—itself an act of grace—which good works were done by grace in the first place. Second, final justification is different from initial justification: the former is merited, the latter is not: “No one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.” Seventh, although not incompatible with Luther’s teaching of the centrality of the doctrine of justification, Catholic teaching tends to emphasize that justification is one among many ways the Bible describes the free gift of salvation, rather than, as Luther, emphasizing its unique role in Pauline theology.

    Note: I cite my sources in the post.

  5. aquinasetc says:

    Hi Bradley,

    I am no Luther scholar, and I don’t play one on TV either. :-)

    My sense of things from what little I have read is that Luther moved further away from orthodoxy the longer he thought about it. I think he was driven by bad philosophy and scrupulosity to an unfortunate degree.

    Peace,

    Fred

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