The root of Roman misunderstanding of Justification

Discussion in 'Cults & World Religions' started by johnbugay, Dec 14, 2009.

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  1. johnbugay

    johnbugay Puritan Board Freshman

    There is an exceptional discussion of justification in the early church over at Triablogue:

    Triablogue: Seeds Of The Reformation

    This is part of an ongoing discussion with some of the “Called to Communion” gang. As many of you probably know, justification was at the root of the Reformation. But what many people, even Reformed believers, don’t understand is that the Roman Catholic conception of justification does not have its roots in the Scriptures; rather, they have their beginnings in Aquinas’s use of Aristotelian categories – not Scripture – to describe such things as God, reason, and grace.

    J.V. Fesko, in his excellent work “Justification,” describes quite accurately where these discrepancies come from, the effect they have on the Roman doctrine, and also some of the consequential outworkings. (I’ve posted selections from Fesko at the Triablogue discussion, but this is something that everyone should understand). Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (9781596380868): J. V. Fesko: Books

    (Michael Horton also writes about this in more detail in Covenant and Salvation and also in People and Place).

    As a practical out-working then, my understanding is that there are several key differences which don't get mentioned in these types of discussions:

    "Grace" actually means different things when Catholics and Protestants talk about it. So when Catholics say that “we both affirm that justification and salvation are by ‘grace alone,’” they fail to acknowledge that there is equivocation on this word “grace.”

    This is reflected from the very beginning; in the Protestant schema, man was "very good" when God created him. So Christ's sacrifice, for Protestants, brings man through forensic justification, a declarative act of God, restoring man back to the "very good" that he had "in the beginning."

    In the Catholic scheme, man as created wasn't yet "good enough." He was merely neutral. There was this "super-added Grace" that gave him a kind of supernatural character that enabled him to "fellowship with God."

    So in Roman Catholics, this begins what I call the “sacramental treadmill” -- beginning with an "infusion" of grace (a little squirt of this good oil that is yours to maintain by staying in "a state of grace") which does "make you righteous," but then it must be maintained through life -- being a "good Catholic," it can be "added to" (through the "increase of merit").

    This is required not by God in the Word, but by the Roman Magisterium, which lost the proper understanding of justification because of Augustine’s errors, and which found new life through Rome’s need to affirm that it has “never erred.” Such errors are propped up by the Aristotelian/Thomist necessity to maintain human reason as a principle above and controlling God's Word.

    It should be noted, too, that Aquinas made other errors, and incorporated them into his theology. He believed that “Pseudo-Dionysius,” a fifth century neo-Platonist, was actually “Dionysius the Areopagite” from Acts 17. As well, he accepted many of the forgeries of the middle ages as if they were genuine items.

    Sorry if this is a bit long, but Fesko explains it very, very clearly. There is much more to it (including longer explanation from Van Til about the outworkings), but the gist of it is that Roman Catholics, with their Aristotelian understanding of God, really do not have the God of the Bible in mind when they, in their very core doctrines, use Aristotle to understand him.
  2. Dao

    Dao Puritan Board Freshman

    In Christianity, justification before the Lord is an event. For the Romanists it's process. A continuing activity where sinners try to become good enough to deserve Heaven. This isn't Gospel ("good news")'s Bad News ! Auto-soteric works salvation where redemption-if it occurs at all- takes place in church by sinners struggling to save themselves.
  3. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    My understanding is that Roman Catholic theology has conflated justification with sanctification. If these Romanists would only read their Anselm . . .
  4. johnbugay

    johnbugay Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, yes, but Fesko says specifically why and how they conflate justification with sanctification. And it comes from Aquinas's use of Aristotle. It's worth it to understand what he's saying.

    -----Added 12/14/2009 at 10:32:52 EST-----

    I agree with you, except for your characterization about "trying to become good enough to deserve Heaven."

    You sort of are given that through baptism; but you must work to maintain it.

    But it is bad news; it is a treadmill; the "good works" that Rome requires, in part, are composed of simply being a good Roman Catholic: attend mass, receive communion, get to confession once per year, etc.
  5. Dao

    Dao Puritan Board Freshman

    Our righteousness upon conversion is a positional righteousness, i.e. Christ's righteousness imputed to us. We cannot "maintain it". We'd have to be Christ to do so ! (from brother. Rat)
  6. johnbugay

    johnbugay Puritan Board Freshman

    I should have said, in the Catholic scheme, you have to work to maintain it (on the "sacramental treadmill."
  7. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I think you're underlining the importance of words and understanding who you are dialoging with. Obviously, Reformed and Roman Catholic dogmaticians have known what the real issues are for centuries.

    It's obviously difficult to describe the full nature of the problem when you're trying to convince a person of the truth of the Gospel. It gets a little "heavy" for most laymen to try to describe the Roman system of infused grace along Thomistic categories. For that matter, even explaining the Sacrifice of the Mass is way over many heads.

    It's usually easiest to start with some of the consequences to core doctrines. Most people need to understand God saves and that we are saved forensically, by declaration, being found in Christ by faith. It's what Paul repeatedly hammers home to those who are straying away because, by being united to the Vine where all truth and philosophy is, you're going to grow in knowledge and understanding of true religion vice wandering off into philosophy, which is where many go searching.

    Once I believed justification I sort of started "looking around" and I still am. Sanctification is a lifelong process and I learn something new every day. I never considered, at the first, how the vast difference in anthropology played in the formation of many other doctrines. There are all these consequences that start rolling in one area and snowball into an avalanche into another.

    The point made by Fesko about Scriptural data is very true. I think many people are not aware of the baggage that each of us brings into interpreting the Scriptures. In many ways, we ought to be more grateful to God that He protects us from philosophies that could take our minds captive and blind us to the plain truth of His Word. Often, people are bewildered that a verse of Scripture is exegeted and people just don't see the same things they see.

    I started reflecting on this with respect to the Regula Fide (rule of faith), which essentially operates as the controlling rule for the Catholic faith. A community will develop a hermeneutic around the way it sees the world. The Roman Catholic Church saw Church councils and Popes as the norm for authority and their hermeneutic reflects it. The Quadriga is not a mistake but is an outgrowth of how they already view the Christian faith. Consequently, every verse in Scripture might be exegeted properly but once it is brought into the "larger context" it will be absorbed into dogma by allegory or some other device.

    Anyway, your post is a good reminder to many of us that we need to have a faith in the simplicity of the Gospel that we possess everything in Christ and need not search anywhere but the Word for all wisdom unto godliness. At the same time, however, it is a reminder against being too reductionistic or simple about theological opponents or the many ways the word can get distorted. The real battle not that "they" misinterpret the Word but "we" within our own Churches are prone to idolatry. The RCC serves as a good reminder of the consequences of becoming captive to vain philosophy and will worship but we cannot pretend like that tendency is unique to the black hats and ministers of Christ's Word need to be diligent to tirelessly spur on their own people away from such things and remain grounded in Christ.
  8. johnbugay

    johnbugay Puritan Board Freshman

    Rich, I appreciate your feedback and your additional clarifications.

    There is a reason why I feel a tremendous amount of urgency about Roman Catholicism -- I recently spent a very great amount of time in a "discussion" with a number of individuals who are formerly PCA and similarly "Reformed," who have (a) converted to Rome, and (b) are very aggressively pursuing Reformed believers.

    If you go to Called to Communion you will see this site. It's billed as "Where the Reformation Meets Rome." The individuals here are very well educated -- some are PhD's, PhD candidates, some are former Reformed and Anglican clergy -- who are dedicated to bringing Reformed believers back "home to Rome." They use very sophisticated arguments, and they can appear to be very winsome to uninformed believers.

    (For anyone else who is interested, there is a Reformed apologist named "Turretinfan" who is very well-educated himself, and who is going toe-to-toe with these individuals. You can see his arguments at Thoughts of Francis Turretin ).
  9. SemperEruditio

    SemperEruditio Puritan Board Junior

    Just thought I would add that what you describe here of Catholics can very easily be said of mainstream Protestants. I've noted when asking friends to explain their use of the terms that mainstream Protestants are better RC's than RC's are. We have forgotten what it means to be Protest-ants because we have ignored the teachings of why we became Protestants in the first place.

    Just sayin...
  10. dudley

    dudley Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    The following also attests to the Protestant doctrine of Justification.

    Frank said above "Just thought I would add that what you describe here of Catholics can very easily be said of mainstream Protestants. I've noted when asking friends to explain their use of the terms that mainstream Protestants are better RC's than RC's are. We have forgotten what it means to be Protest-ants because we have ignored the teachings of why we became Protestants in the first place".:ditto:

    I agree with Frank and also say "It takes no courage to sign up as a Protestant. To live by the truths of historic Protestantism, however, is an entirely different matter. That takes courage in today's context." :amen:

    Having been a Roman Catholic all my life I can now see many of the errors of Rome. I am well versed in the Roman Catholic theology. But I have become also an astute student of Protestantism and am a staunch reformed Protestant today. Some of my Protestant friends have said I am more Protestant then they are and others who are cradle Protestants. The truth is as Frank said many mainline cradle Protestants have forgotten why we are Protestant in the first place. I do think converts like me from Roman Catholicism have a better grasp of why we are Protestant and what it means to be Protestant, and a Reformed Protestant.

    As a Roman catholic I needed to belong to the Roman Church to be saved. I had to do good works and work with much effort and much guilt to save myself. I know now as a Protestant that none of this could save my soul. Salvation was bestowed because of God’s mercy. Salvation by Faith alone...the Protestant doctrine of Justification. I now understand the scripture when it says

    In Titus Ch. 2 v. 11, I read: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”
    These words make it very clear that Salvation is by Grace. It is God reaching down to the helpless sinner, revealing to him that He loves him so much that He sent His Son to the cross. There, He took the sinner’s place by becoming his substitute. He paid the penalty for sin that the sinner should have paid.

    The following also attests to the Protestant doctrine of Justification. It also attests to me why the Church of Rome is wrong in condemning the Protestant doctrine and distorting the truth. It is why I am now a Protestant and why I renounced the RC church.

    In Titus Ch. 3 v. 4 - 5, I read: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us...”.

    The words of Romans Ch. 3 v. 24, summed it all up. They read: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” I could now see that God gave Salvation FREELY to sinful man. The sinner was not required to work for it.

    I decided to become a Reformed Protestant and a Presbyterian in 2007 because I asked myself "Either the Catholic Church is very right, OR if it’s not, it’s very wrong?" I knew it was wrong and a false teacher of the true Gospel of Christ and there can no in-between on this issue.:judge: I knew Protestantism and the reformed branch of Protestantism is the true path to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We are justified by His righteousness and our connection to Him through our faith alone in Him, the Protestant doctrine of Justification

    Sincerely and In Grace,
  11. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritanboard Commissioner

    This "hits the nail on the head"- mixing the teachings of God with the teachings of men. Eventually, officially, the latter became most authoritative- the source of faith and practice.

    And, in this, they confuse justification with sanctification. Sanctification is the (life long) process that does not attain the perfection that occurs later, in the state of glory only.
  12. dudley

    dudley Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    the Protestant doctrine of salvation by Justification through faith alone is so beaut

    After writing my latest post on justification and what it means to be a Protestant this evening, I thought about the fact that the Protestant doctrine of salvation by Justification through faith alone is so beautiful and not only not appreciated by many Protestants but is really never properly explained to Roman Catholics. My Presbyterian congregation I belonged to has a vibrant youth program and they have had several Roman Catholic teens become Presbyterian Protestants. The conversion from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism is a growing phenomena here in the U.S. The message of the Gospel is to preach and spread the "Good News". I have found many Protestants have forgotten that aspect sometimes.

    Most Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and Reformed Protestant churches have dynamic youth programs, vibrant Wednesday and Sunday evening services, and friendly small-group bible studies. In addition, they host special crusades, seminars and concerts. At the invitation of a Protestant friend, a Catholic may begin attending one or more of these events while still going to Sunday Mass at his local parish.

    Most Protestant services proclaim a simple gospel: repent from sin and follow Christ in faith, the wonderful Protestant doctrine of Justification. Our Reformed Protestant services stress the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus and the reward of eternal life. Most of the Roman Catholics who attend these services are not accustomed to hearing such direct challenges to abandon sin and follow Christ. As a result, many of these Roman Catholics experience a genuine conversion and become Protestants.

    In faith alone,

  13. johnbugay

    johnbugay Puritan Board Freshman

    Frank -- I know that Protestantism, mainstream and otherwise, has a lot of problems. But what comes with Catholicism is in many ways (a) unique to Rome, (b) far more highly dogmatized, (c) far more likely to influence our world today. For example, in the recent debates over the health care bill, it is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops whose organization keeps getting mentioned whenever they mention the Stupak/Nelson amendments. John Roberts and Antonin Scalia are both Catholics. The debates over the Manhattan declaration come largely because there are compromises with Catholics over what is the Gospel.

    Even though it seems much diminished, the world in which we "live and move and have our being" is shaped by Catholics. If we are to be true to the Gospel in this world and in this culture (whatever that means), we have to understand the forces that have shaped it.

    -----Added 12/16/2009 at 04:00:39 EST-----

    I think you are right about this; it's so important to know our own history; at what cost the (western) world shook loose from what had been an an all-pervasive form of bondage.

    -----Added 12/16/2009 at 04:04:49 EST-----

    It's true that the tide is moving out of the RCC. But there are stiff challenges as well, from individuals such as Hahn, Bryan Cross, etc. These people put a highly winsome face on what is pure corruption underneath; and as their own personal stories testify, if someone isn't fully understanding what they believe in the Reformed faith, and why they believe it, it's still very easy to become swayed and lose your way.
  14. SemperEruditio

    SemperEruditio Puritan Board Junior

    We're saying the same thing. Your point of my point of your point all points to the errors of justification and how because of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church it is influencing the world which includes Protestantism.

    As Dudley I was brought up Roman Catholic and the majority of professing Protestants I know are actually just Roman Catholics without the Pope. Well at least without the Pope in Rome because their pope is in the pulpit everyweek...

    I went to the website you mentioned and it sure was surprising to see all those guys from WSC and RTS now back in Rome. I knew of one on the list from the Baltimore area. I know of a former PCA pastor who is now Anglican and I imagine will make the move to Rome shortly. In his own words his journey is from Azusa Street to Geneva to Cambridge (and I believe shortly) to Rome.

    For the past two years I have spoken to men and women in seminary and can say that the justification we were taught was Romish and not Protestant. That is why I said what I said. I see your point and say that the reason I can make mine is because as you pointed out the Roman Catholic Church is that influential. I'm definitely going to add the Fesko's book to the top of my reading list. I didn't know how influential the RCC still was and this is a good wakeup call to get the Protestant doctrine of justification nailed down historically and theologically because I'm not going back to Rome. :judge:
  15. johnbugay

    johnbugay Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Frank. It's true, as Dudley says, that the tide is moving in our direction. But there are influential people going in the other direction. But the root of all that is Rome. That's where the "authority" is, the "certainty" that these folks seek.

    This is one big reason why I think the "confessional" movement is so necessary. Whether you're able to subscribe fully or you have minor disagreements, an understanding of how the Confessions came to be written can help all Protestants (mainstream, confessional, or otherwise) understand where they came from, what they were struggling against. There are huge parallels today.
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