Are We Justified By Faith Alone? – What Still Divides Us: A Protestant and Roman Catholic Debate by Michael S. Horton
‘For nearly half a century, the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form–the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution. It is against this background of a profoundly shaken ecclesial consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the Church, ultimately came to experience the Church, not as the guarantor, but as the adversary of salvation.’
I hope that the credibility of this historical assessment will not be called into question, as it comes to us from the pen of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, current head of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for the Church of Rome. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, trans. by Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989) p.196).
As the gavel came down to close the final session of the Council of Trent in 1563, Rome had officially and, according to her own commitment down to the present moment, irreversably, declared that the Gospel announced by the prophets, revealed in and by Christ, and proclaimed by the apostles, was actually heretical. The most relevant Canons are the following:
Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone…, let him be anathema.
Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins,… let him be anathema.
Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy (supra, chapter 9), which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.
Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.
Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ…does not truly merit an increase of grac and eternal life… let him be anathema.
It was, therefore, not the evangelicals who were condemned in 1564, but the evangel itself. The ‘good news,’ which alone is ‘the power of God unto salvation’ was judged by Rome to be so erroneous that anyone who embraced it was to be regarded as condemned. Let us now consider the key questions and passages relating to this doctrine.