I've been debating a few Protestants recently over the differences between Protestants and Catholics, and was defending the Catholic position that we are saved by Grace Alone, to which we must respond by our faith and our works--but even that response itself is only possible through God's Grace in our lives. One of my opponents said that he agrees with that teaching, but doesn't think it's Catholic, and quoted the 9th Canon on Justification to show me how my continuing to hold that opinion would make me 'anathema'. As such, I looked up the 33 Canons on Justification, and was, well, justified in what I read. I am reproducing them here. The Canons will be in bold type, and my comments on each one will be in regular type.
CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
You can't save yourself. At all. (Contrary to the Pelagian heresy.)CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.
You can't save yourself. Jesus' sacrifice, and the resulting grace, isn't just a kick in the pants to help you save yourself, as if you could have done it on your own. (Contrary to the semi-Pelagian heresy.)CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
If the Holy Spirit isn't moving in you already, you can't respond to God's Grace and believe and repent. Hence, it's all about God, as I said above, about believing in Grace Alone.CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.
God starts it, but He gives us the choice to respond. He gives us also the ability to respond, but He doesn't make us respond. We still do have free will. (Contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace.)CANON V.-If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.
We still have free will, but, without God's grace, that will is subject to slavery to sin, and needs to be set free by God's grace. Contrary to Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity.CANON VI.-If any one saith, that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.
God can't do evil, and God won't make us do evil. When we sin, it's our own dang fault. Contrary to supralapsarian Calvinism.CANON VII.-If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.
A non-Christian who does good things is not sinning. A person who is trying to seek for God and respond to His grace, even before he repents and is saved, is not sinning in doing so. Contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity again.CANON VIII.-If any one saith, that the fear of hell,--whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning,--is a sin, or makes sinners worse; let him be anathema.
Repenting because of a desire to escape hell is not sinful. It's not the best reason to repent, but it's not sin (Contrary to some of Luther's teachings).CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
This is the canon that caused the fuss, but it hardly denies God's grace. It must be read and interpreted in light of the rest of the Canons, especially Canon III. The Catholic Church teaches that we are justified by God's Grace, which we must appropriate or accept from Him with a willing heart, by our faith and our works. Salvation is a gift of God--but we must accept that gift. That's faith. But just accepting a gift doesn't do us any good, if we never unwrap and use it--that's work. Faith and Works aren't opposites, opposed to each other, but are two sides of the same coin.CANON X.-If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.
Alright, this one counters two extremes: First, that we don't need Christ's righteousness to be ourselves righteous, but are righteous because we're just that good, and, on the other hand, that Christ's righteousness doesn't actually make us righteous, but we just kinda wear His like a cloak or costume.CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.
Basically, what it is saying is that we can't be good enough for God without Jesus' righteousness being infused into our souls, which actually makes us righteous
(obviously an ongoing process).
Salvation is more than declaring us to be righteous, or forgiving our sins. It is infusing us with Grace. And Grace is more than just God's unmerited favour (though it includes that), but is actually the life of Christ, in the Holy Spirit, coming into our hearts and transforming us.CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
Faith is more than just believing that we're saved by Jesus. It's responding in obedience to the life of Grace that He has given to us, and holding to all that He teaches.CANON XIII.-If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.
Having doubts about our relationship with God does not automatically make us unsaved, or sinful. It's how we deal with the doubts and questions that count. (See my talk, St. Doubting Thomas for more of my perspective on that issue.)CANON XIV.-If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.
You're not saved just because you said a Sinner's Prayer and believe that you're saved.CANON XV.-If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.
God has predestined people to be saved--but just because you've been born again, doesn't mean you won't fall away. Salvation involves persevering in faith until the very end, and it is possible for us to walk away from God.CANON XVI.-If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,--unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.
Unless God specifically shows up and says, "Yeah, no worries, you're gonna get to Heaven and not fall away," you have no right to presume that about yourself. We can be morally assured that we are, and will be, saved, if we continue to live for God. He won't condemn anyone who follows Him sincerely. However, we cannot be 100% that we will automatically get to Heaven simply because we at one point committed our lives to Christ.CANON XVII.-If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.
If God calls us to be saved, He will give us the grace to be saved. He doesn't predestine anyone to Hell.CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.
The life of Grace given to those who are born again, makes it possible for them, if they strive to obey the commandments, to succeed. It is possible for a Christian to obey God.CANON XIX.-If any one saith, that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel; that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free; or, that the ten commandments nowise appertain to Christians; let him be anathema.
The Gospel did not nullify the Law, and we still have obligations to God to live a Holy Life. Faith isn't the only thing He demands.CANON XX.-If any one saith, that the man who is justified and how perfect soever, is not bound to observe the commandments of God and of the Church, but only to believe; as if indeed the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the commandments ; let him be anathema.
Faith without works is dead, nonexistent faith and will not save.CANON XXI.-If any one saith, that Christ Jesus was given of God to men, as a redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey; let him be anathema.
Jesus is Saviour and Lord, and as Lord, we have to do what He says, and not just believe that He saves.CANON XXII.-If any one saith, that the justified, either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema.
God alone makes us able to persevere in faith. If He wasn't helping, we would never be able, but as long as we cooperate with His help, we are indeed able to persevere.CANON XXIII.-lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,--except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.
If we sin, it does not mean that we were never saved. We cannot necessarily avoid all sins, unless God specifically aids us in that, as He did with Mary.CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
Through Christ's righteousness, we actually become righteous, and able to do righteous things, which make us more righteous still--all because of the Grace of God inside us. We can't earn our initial justification, but, through our response of obedience, we can grow in justification (sanctification).CANON XXV.-If any one saith, that, in every good work, the just sins venially at least, or--which is more intolerable still--mortally, and consequently deserves eternal punishments; and that for this cause only he is not damned, that God does not impute those works unto damnation; let him be anathema.
If a Christian does something good, it is not somehow at the same time still sinful. We can sin while doing good, if it is from wrong motives, but not all good deeds are inherently from self-serving motives. It is possible to do Good for the right reasons.CANON XXVI.-If any one saith, that the just ought not, for their good works done in God, to expect and hope for an eternal recompense from God, through His mercy and the merit of Jesus Christ, if so be that they persevere to the end in well doing and in keeping the divine commandments; let him be anathema.
God rewards the Good that we do, even though the only way we can do that Good is because God enables us to through Jesus Christ.CANON XXVII.-If any one saith, that there is no mortal sin but that of infidelity; or, that grace once received is not lost by any other sin, however grievous and enormous, save by that of infidelity; let him be anathema.
We can walk away from God through our sins and so lose our salvation, if we refuse to repent.CANON XXVIII.-If any one saith, that, grace being lost through sin, faith also is always lost with it; or, that the faith which remains, though it be not a lively faith, is not a true faith; or, that he, who has faith without charity, is not as Christ taught; let him be anathema.
One is still able to believe in God even if his sin has placed him in a great need for repentance. He does not become unregenerate simply because he has stepped out of God's Covenant through his sins. Also, Faith alone, if not worked out in Love, is not what Christ taught.CANON XXIX.-If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church--instructed by Christ and his Apostles--has hitherto professed, observed, and taught; let him be anathema.
When we fall into mortal sin, and out of grace, there is forgiveness, which is available through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
While our sins are forgiven by God, oftentimes there remains a temporal consequence that must be repaid by us. We are saved, but still not quite pure.CANON XXXI.-If any one saith, that the justified sins when he performs good works with a view to an eternal recompense; let him be anathema.
If we obey God because we're looking forward to being rewarded by Him, this is not sinful (though, not the best of reasons, either).CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,--if so be, however, that he depart in grace,--and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.
The good works that we do in and through Christ, are counted as truly our own good works, and God rewards us for them.CANON XXXIII.-If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.
Basically, if anyone believes that these canons on Justification don't give glory to God, then they aren't really Catholic. What, you were looking for permission to dissent?
So there you have the 33 canons on Justification from the Council of Trent. I am fully in agreement with each one, and thinking otherwise was because Canon #9 was pulled out of context, while I was defending Canon #3.
Context is important.
Anyway, I hope that clears up what Catholicism teaches about being Justified. It's by God's Grace alone, with which we must cooperate by our faith and works.
(Category: Soteriology: Justification)