Monday, February 16, 2015

Trent's Most Dangerous Doctrine

Christ promised that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  In John 10:28, He puts it in such strong terms, it's as if Christ is jumping up and down and shouting "THEY WILL NEVER EVER EVER PERISH".1 The biggest problem I have with Catholicism is their doctrine that true believers sometimes perish and do not have eternal life.

I don't know why this problem doesn't receive that much attention from Protestants.  Perhaps it's because many Protestants teach salvation cannot be lost.  Calvin 's response to the Catholic teaching on unformed faith was to insist that faith cannot be separated from love.2   True enough, but Luther's reaction was stronger: "In this manner they completely transfer justification from faith and attribute it solely to love". 3  Could the difference in these responses be due to Calvin's saying temporary faith is false faith whereas Luther said temporary faith is true faith?

Catholics teach baptismal justification and that Christians can fall from grace and they merge justification with sanctification. While these are real problems they are not as serious as the problem I am referring to. To get at the real issue, lets grant them all for the sake of argument.  Let's say salvation can be lost. What causes the loss of salvation.  Most Lutherans and Arminians would say a loss of faith.4  Some would even say that sins can lead to a loss of faith and thereby cause a loss of salvation.  But Catholics say you can sin mortally while remaining a true believer and thereby lose your salvation.  By sinning mortally they don't mean that the sin kills your faith but rather kills your spiritual life.  Thus Catholics deny the necessary connection between faith and eternal life and thus they deny Christ's promise to believers.
Let's walk through the Council of Trent, session 6, chapter 15 and the related cannons 27-29 step by step.     
CHAPTER XV.  That, by every mortal sin, grace is lost, but not faith.
In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.

Paul says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  (Romans 10:9-12) Trent says, one can have this sort of faith and through this faith be justified.  So Trent is talking about true believers, not false faith or a mere outward profession.   Yet this person can retain this true faith and still be separated from the grace of Christ through mortal sin.   This assumes that true faith can coexist with mortal sin and as a consequence, denies the certainty that believers will be saved.    

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.

Paul describes apostasy as making shipwreck of faith (1 Timothy 1:19, see also Colossians 1:21-23 and Romans 11:20 and Hebrews 3:12-14). Minimally, cannon 27 is saying loss of faith is not the only type of apostasy or the only cause of loss of salvation.  This one sets the stage for the big one, cannon 28:

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 a Christian; let him be anathema.

Canon 28 plainly teaches people can have true faith (a faith through which they were previously justified) and still perish. It implies we cannot trust Christ's promise to save believers.  It's the most dangerous doctrine I've seen from Rome as it counters the heart of the gospel.

This canon locks Catholics into some miss-understandings of James 2 and 1 Corinthians 13:2 and Galatians 5:6.  Catholics must understand James to be talking about true faith, but James says: 1) can "that" faith save him? as distinct from real faith and 2)  "But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds" using the lack of deeds as evidence that the person did not have true faith, and 3) "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder", thus defining the faith he is discussing as naked monotheism (i.e. that of Judaism) without trust in Christ.  Demons do not believe Christ died for their sins.  If Trent had limited it's mistake on James 2 to "infused justification" I would be far more sympathetic, but to say James is talking about true faith is to put James hopelessly against Paul and Christ Himself.

1 Corinthians 13:2 is talking about the faith that works miracles. In 1 Corinthians 12:9, Paul is talking about a special sort of faith, not the faith all Christians must have to be saved. That’s why his teaching here doesn’t contradict his earlier teaching that we are justified by faith.
In Galatians 5:6, Paul isn't saying faith justifies through love, as if without love faith would not justify.  Rather Paul is saying faith works or performs good deeds through love.

Trent imposes misunderstandings of God's word on Catholics without resolving the conflicts they create.  

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 taugh; let him be anathema. (link to Trent Session 6)

Canon 29 follows from 28: if true believers can be lost, then faith alone cannot be the means of restoration.  In the process it anathematize the view of many Arminians (based on Hebrews 6:4-6) that apostasy is without remedy.

I'm not saying we can live like the devil and go to heaven or that true faith can be without love. I am saying we can trust Christ's promise that believers shall not perish.  I'm going with Christ over Trent.


1 Dan Wallace calls the construction Emphatic Negation Subjunctive.  "Empatic negation is indicated by on me plus the aorist subjunctive or, less frequently, on me plus the future indicative (e.g. Matt 26:35; Mark 13:31; John 4:14; 6:35).  This is the strongest way to negate something in Greek.  One might hink the neagative witht eh subjunctive cound not be as strong as the negative with the indicitive.  However, while on + the indicative denies a certainty, on me + the subjunctive denies a potentiality.  The negative is not weaker; rather, the affirmation that is being negatived is less firm with the subjunctive.  On me rules out even the idea as being a possibility: "on me is the most decisive way of negativing something in the future. (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament By Daniel B. Wallace, page 468)

2 8. But before I proceed farther, it will be necessary to make some preliminary observations for the purpose of removing difficulties which might otherwise obstruct the reader. And first, I must refute the nugatory distinction of the Schoolmen as to formed and unformed faith. For they imagine that persons who have no fear of God, and no sense of piety, may believe all that is necessary to be known for salvation; as if the Holy Spirit were not the witness of our adoption by enlightening our hearts unto faith. Still, however, though the whole Scripture is against them, they dogmatically give the name of faith to a persuasion devoid of the fear of God. It is unnecessary to go farther in refuting their definition, than simply to state the nature of faith as declared in the word of God. From this it will clearly appear how unskillfully and absurdly they babble, rather than discourse, on this subject. I have already done this in part, and will afterwards add the remainder in its proper place. At present, I say that nothing can be imagined more absurd than their fiction. They insist that faith is an assent with which any despiser of God may receive what is delivered by Scripture. But we must first see whether any one can by his own strength acquire faith, or whether the Holy Spirit, by means of it, becomes the witness of adoption. Hence it is childish trifling in them to inquire whether the faith formed by the supervening quality of love be the same, or a different and new faith. By talking in this style, they show plainly that they have never thought of the special gift of the Spirit; since one of the first elements of faith is reconciliation implied in man’s drawing near to God. Did they duly ponder the saying of Paul, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” (Rom. 10:10), they would cease to dream of that frigid quality. There is one consideration which ought at once to put an end to the debate—viz. that assent itself (as I have already observed, and will afterwards more fully illustrate) is more a matter of the heart than the head, of the affection than the intellect. For this reason, it is termed “the obedience of faith,” (Rom. 1:5), which the Lord prefers to all other service, and justly, since nothing is more precious to him than his truth, which, as John Baptist declares, is in a manner signed and sealed by believers (John 3:33). As there can be no doubt on the matter, we in one word conclude, that they talk absurdly when they maintain that faith is formed by the addition of pious affection as an accessory to assent, since assent itself, such at least as the Scriptures describe, consists in pious affection. But we are furnished with a still clearer argument. Since faith embraces Christ as he is offered by the Father, and he is offered not only for justification, for forgiveness of sins and peace, but also for sanctification, as the fountain of living waters, it is certain that no man will ever know him aright without at the same time receiving the sanctification of the Spirit; or, to express the matter more plainly, faith consists in the knowledge of Christ; Christ cannot be known without the sanctification of his Spirit: therefore faith cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection. (Calvin's Institutes.  Book 3.  Chapter 2 Section 8  See also Sections 9-11) 

3 The sophists apply this passages (Galatians 5:6) in support of their doctrine that we are justified by love or by works.  For they say that even when faith has been divinely infused - and I am not even speaking of faith that is merely acquired - it does not justify unless it has been formed by love.  They call love "the grace that makes one acceptable", namely, that justifies, to use our term, or rather Paul's; and they say that love is acquired by our merit of congruity, etc. In fact, they even declare that an infused faith can coexist with mortal sin.  In this manner they completely transfer justification from faith and attribute it solely to love as thus defined.  And they claim that this is proved by St. Paul in the passage - "faith working through love" - as though Paul wanted to say: "You see, faith does not justify; in fact, it is nothing unless love the worker is added, which forms faith.  (Works of Martin Luther.  Lectures on Galatians 5:6, volume 27, page 28)

4 However, since salvation and justification are by faith and not works, and faith yields obedience (Rom 1:5; 14:23; 16:26; Gal 5:6; 1 Thes 1:3; 2 The 1:11; Heb 11; James 2:14-26), these types of passages should not be taken to indicate that sinning in itself results in the forfeiture of salvation (though some Arminians believe this), whether by any sin whatsoever or certain egregious sins. Rather, ongoing refusal to repent of sin by one who has been a believer and continues to profess to be a believer reflects that the person is no longer truly trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior, and it is the forsaking of genuine faith that actually leads to practical rejection of Christ’s lordship and the loss of salvation, even if the person still professes faith in Christ.  (From the Society of Evangelical Arminians FACTS writeup).