…we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things thatprecede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. (Trent VI, Chapter VIII)
…in a manner of speaking.
Matthew 25:41-46King James Version (KJV)41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
They simply did nothing at all.
Note also that they called Jesus, Lord.
Faith without works is dead, being alone. (James 2:17)
I have a theory about Luther’s misunderstanding of justification, see if it makes any sense to you.
1st: Before the advent of Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Revolution, some very prominent and influential Catholics also said that justification was by faith alone.
Basil of Caesarea (329-379) “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ.”
Ambrose (c. 339-97) “Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.”
Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3 “God justifies by faith alone.” (Deus ex sola fide justificat).
So, in my opinion, if these Church Fathers used the term “faith alone”, I conclude that there is a legitimate understanding of this term for Catholics.
2nd: How can it be by faith alone?
To put it bluntly, “Not the Protestant way.” Protestants deny that works before justification avail anything towards justification. But it is clear to me, from Scripture, that unless someone keeps the Commandments and does the Will of God, he will not be justified.
Romans 2:13 13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
This verse, very clearly tells me, that only those who do the Commandments will be just before God. Therefore, good works avail everything towards justification because without them, we won’t be justified.
3rd: So what did the Church Fathers mean when they said, “justification by faith alone”?
They were talking about that justification which occurs in the Sacraments. The Church teaches that the Sacraments are the works of God.
740 These “mighty works of God,” offered to believers in the sacraments of the Church, bear their fruit in the new life in Christ, according to the Spirit. (This will be the topic of Part Three.)
We approach the Sacraments with a disposition of faith. But it is apart from works. We repented, we turned to God, we sought His Face, we studied to show ourselves approved, now we believe that He will keep His promise. He will wash our souls with the washing of regeneration and renewal which is Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. But we don’t do anything at that moment. We only believe. And God sees our faith and credits it to us as righteousness and that is why we are called the children of Abraham (Gen 15:6).
So, the justification which occurs in the Sacraments is what I believe the Catholic Church Fathers were talking about when they used the term “justification by faith alone”.
4th: So, what about Luther? In his German Bible, Luther swapped the words, “apart from works” for the word, “alone”. My theory is that he simply did not see the Sacramental Teaching which St. Paul was making when he wrote these words. I believe that when St. Paul said, “we are justified by faith apart from works”, he was describing that justification which occurs in Baptism. But Luther was led astray. And the prophecy of 2 Peter 3:16-17 was fulfilled in him:
2 Peter 3:16-17 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
16 speaking of this as he (i.e. St. Paul) does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability.
Does that make sense?
Justification by faith and works
precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. (Trent VI, Chapter VIII)
Therefore, when we say that we are justified by faith and works, it is only in a manner of speaking.
Our faith does not save, we don’t save ourselves.
Our works do not save, we don’t save ourselves.
God saves those who demonstrate their faith in works of love. God grants eternal life to those who keep His Commandments.
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.