Protestants believe that we are justified by “faith alone” while Catholics believe that we are saved by a combination of faith and works. Right? At least, that was what we were taught in catechism class through apologetics. Those foolish Protestants believe that they can do anything they want as long as they have faith!
Of course, Protestants don’t believe this, but it’s easy to see how this simple formula can be whittled down to this gross oversimplification. It’s also easy to see how, from this formula, Protestants might think that Catholics believe that we can save ourselves through good works. This is hardly the case, and a faithful Catholic should be repugnant at the idea: at the Synod of Orange, Council of Carthage, and Council of Trent (the latter being the one directly responding to Protestantism) the Catholic Church categorically denounced this position.
So how did we get here? And how we do get out of there?
The answer lies in cutting through the oversimplifications and getting to the root of what we actually believe. Novel idea, right? This means that things will not be automatically apparent to us. It means that the answer is going to be a bit confusing at first. We’re going to want a simpler answer to remember, a way to boil down the difference to a single line. But that is what got us into the mess in the first place! We must resist this temptation and try to get to the precise language our Church’s have come up with after hundreds of years of thinking about these topics.
Up for the challenge? Then I present you with the latest episode of Catholicism in Focus, a look at how Lutherans and Catholics define justification.