Justification by faith: Catholic vs. Protestant

Do Catholics and Protestants have a similar understanding of “justification by faith”? Some suggest that if we combine the Protestant and Catholic understandings of justification, we would have a more complete understanding of what justification means. Is this possible? Or are these two views necessarily exclusive views?

Catholics believe that serious sin breaks the bond of charity between us and God. When one commits mortal sins one in a sense, rejects God’s supernatural grace and is no longer in a state of grace. This state of grace can be reestablished by the sacrament of reconciliation: confession of the sin, repentance, and forgiveness. Catholics use the term “infused grace” (related to “effective justification”) to emphasize that in salvation, grace comes to be present in us. One remains in a state of grace only as long as by one continues to be reconciled with Christ, then this infused grace, which makes one righteous, continues to be present. It is still viewed as a supernatural gift that comes from God alone. For Catholics, justification is a sort of a process where one cooperates in maintaining a right relationship with God after one commits serious sin. Protestants fear that this process of cooperation can lead to “works righteousness”.

Protestants of the Protestant Reformation like Luther, Calvin, and Melanchton believe that one’s relationship with God continues in full force even after mortal sins. One has an unbreakable relationship with God. Sin can never break one’s relationship with God because of our bond with Christ. Even though sin may hurt the heart of God, our relationship is never broken. Protestants use the term “imputed righteousness” to emphasize the righteousness that comes solely from Christ and is not from human works (related to “forensic justification”). For Catholics, serious sin breaks the bond of charity between us and God. Catholics fear that one could fall into a moral and spiritual laxness because one might become complacent and doesn’t feel a need to maintain a right relationship with God. (photos: top: John Calvin; middle: Martin Luther; bottom: Philipp Melanchton)

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

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