I am trying to figure out how I should see modern Augustinian and Thomistic Catholics who agree with Augustine's clear defense of Sola Gratia. The Catholic Church officially "allows" for strong adherance to Sola Gratia and Predestination among their ranks but as a whole will distance itself from these truths.
A couple of thoughts:
1. I would first say that we don't have infalible knowledge about the state of any person's soul and as I wrote earlier, I think there will be many people in heaven who while on earth didn't have all the I's dotted and T's crossed in regard to their theology. Perhaps some of them will be those Augustinans you mention - contrary to the official teaching of their church? Isn't that the issue? Yes, a person can be saved in the RC church, but it is by believing something inconsistent with her official teachings. I don't think anybody would argue with that, but that seems to me to be an entirely different scenario then ECT and the Joint Declaration present. ECT says that the official position of Rome contains the gospel, so that a person who consistently follows her teachings will be saved. Apples verses oranges compared to the first.
2. Here is a section from James White's book on Justification (page 134) that I think applies to this discussion:
It has long been the practice of opponents of sola fide to to point to the patristic witness and hence preclude the exegetical conclusion of the inspired text itself: "Surely if that is a consistent interpretation of the Scriptures it would have been known from the beginning." (McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 36) But students of church history well know that such an assertion does not follow from the evidence. Many vital biblical topics were not discussed in-depth in patristic sources for many centuries. The Atonement for example, so central and definitional to a Scripture based understanding of the gospel, did not receive full treatment until Athanasius's work in the middle of the fourth century. Even then, the history of the church shows the prevalence of wildly unbiblical views of this doctrine despite the depth of the teachings found in the book of Hebrews.
Regarding justification, one simply does not find the kind of exegetical study and discussion in the early fathers upon which to base accusations against sola fide.. It simply was not the subject of debate in their context, so to put great weight upon their default position, when it is a position informed by tradition and not the kind of thoughtful conflict that drives one into the Scriptures is folly.
3. Do the Scriptures clearly teach sola fide? Shouldn't that be the first question we ask?
4. I understand and sympathize with the desire to avoid needless bickering over secondary issues, but does sola fide fit into that category? Do we really do our Roman Catholic friends any favors by attempting to minimize our differences over sola fide? If you have cancer, the news would certainly be disturbing, but wouldn't you want know as soon as possible, so you can seek a cure? So then, how loving would it be as a doctor to do everything possible to minimize the danger signs?
[Edited on 10-23-2005 by AdamM]