Has Luther Won?

(Catholic-Lutheran Agreement on Justification)

Good Morning Father,

I have been following the Catholic-Lutheran Agreement. Reported in the BC Catholic newspaper is the statement that justification and salvation is by faith alone.

My understanding of the Catholic Doctrine is that justification and salvation is by faith and good works. Wasn't this the teaching of the Council of Trent? Is this not de fide? Has Luther won?

I would appreciate some clarification on this.

Yours in Christ,

Tim Cathcart


Dear Tim,

Thank you for the question. Do you receive The Rock? James Akin has an excellent article entitled "Justification, Setting the Record Straight."

The classic Catholic doctrine was expressed by St. Augustine. He spent much of his life combatting the error of an English monk named Pelagius who taught that we capable on our own of following Christ teaching. Augustine countered that we are totally dependent on God's grace for any good action, even the desire to do good depends on the action of the Holy Spirit in us. A couple of early Church councils eventually condemned Pelagianism, even in a modified form called semi-Pelagianism and embraced Augustine's view. It is important to note here that Augustine also vigorously argued for man's freedom of will, something that Martin Luther seemed to deny.

What has the past four centuries of controversy been about? Akin's article concisely outlines the issues involved. I personally like C.S. Lewis approach. He quotes Philippians 2:12-13:

"continue to work out your salvation
with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you to will
and to act according to his good purpose.

That pretty well sums up the paradox of faith and works, grace and freedom. But each one of us will struggle daily with what it means, especially in our culture which is based on the exaltation of man (self-esteem, etc.). At the same time we view freedom as freedom-from rather than freedom-for. On that point have you read Weigels biography of Pope John Paul II? Freedom-for is one of its leit motifs.

God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom

P.S. About your specific question concerning the Council of Trent, please do read Akin's article where he does a good job explaining the precise teaching on faith and works and how it is reflected in the Joint Declaration.


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