These words are found in the “JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION” by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Apparently, based upon these words, many Catholics are beginning to say that the Catholic Church teaches salvation by grace alone.
I beg to differ.
Why? There it is in black and white.
It is, actually. But not as you have been led to believe. First of all, let’s look at the scope of this “Joint Declaration.” And ask yourself. Does it purport to teach or disseminate new Catholic Doctrine to the entire Church?
See for yourself:
5.The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ. It does not cover all that either church teaches about justification; it does encompass a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.
First thing to note. This concerns a very limited group. They are described here as “subscribing Lutheran churches.”
Second thing to note. This document is not concerned with explaining or confirming doctrine but only with explaining why we agree with this group of Lutherans on the Doctrine of Justification.
Yeah, but it says, “Together we confess: By grace alone….”
In my opinion, the wording here is significant. Note that the Catholic Church does not say, “We’re glad you agree with us that salvation is by grace alone.” No. Why?
I believe it is because the Catholic Church recognizes that the term “grace alone” is a Protestant doctrine which historically contains many anti-Catholic presuppositions.
One of those presuppositions is “irresistible” grace. The idea that God gives His grace only to those whom He wants to save. And that those individuals can not resist His grace.
This goes hand in hand with their denial of free will. The reason that God’s grace must be irresistible is because unregenerate man is incapable of turning to God without irresistible grace. If grace were resistible, unregenerate man would always resist and could not be saved.
Which leads to the idea of the “total depravity of man” and other false Protestant doctrines. All of which are part and parcel of the Protestant doctrine of “salvation by grace alone”.
So, why does the Catholic Church say, “Together we confess: By grace alone….”
Because this group of “subscribing Lutheran churches” does not hold the predominant definition of grace alone which is held within the rest of Protestantdom. Here’s what else the Joint Declaration says on the matter:
- "Where, however, Lutheran teaching construes the relation of God to his human creatures in justification with such emphasis on the divine 'monergism' or the sole efficacy of Christ in such a way, that the person's willing acceptance of God's grace - which is itself a gift of God - has no essential role in justification, then the Tridentine canons 4, 5, 6 and 9 still constitute a notable doctrinal difference on justification" (PCPCU 22).
In other words, when they said that salvation is by grace alone, this group of subscribing Lutherans does not intend to deny man’s participation in his salvation. They admit that man participates and cooperates in his salvation.
Therefore, we confess together with this group of Lutherans that salvation is by grace alone, since they don’t deny man’s participation.
Can we do the same with other Protestants?
Not unless they also admit that man participates in his salvation.
So, why are some Catholics claiming that the Catholic Church teaches salvation by grace alone?
I don’t know. I suspect its because they are of a Protestant background and remain enamoured of Protestant nomenclature.
Is it wrong to claim that the Catholic Church teaches salvation by grace alone?
I think so.
1. Salvation by grace alone is well known as a Protestant doctrine. If we claim that the Catholic Church now teaches salvation by grace alone, most of them will assume that the Catholic Church has corrected and changed her infallible doctrines.
2. By condescending to use Protestant terminology in the Joint Declaration, the Catholic Church was simply acknowledging that the subscribing Lutherans did not intend to convey the same anti-Catholic meaning as the rest of the Protestants when they say, “grace alone”.
3. The Document itself, limits its purpose to mending fences with a subscribed group of Lutheran churches. And makes no mention of establishing new doctrines.
The Catholic Church has not issued a doctrine of salvation by grace alone. They only used the same nomenclature with a “subscribing” group of Lutherans in order to mend fences and hopefully bring them into the fullness of Truth at a future date. There is much more work to be done in that respect.
As for me, I don’t follow certain Catholics here and there who have decided to proclaim something that the Catholic Church has not.
I follow the Catholic Church. If and when the Catholic Church stipulates a doctrine of salvation by grace alone, I’ll be the first one to begin to teach it. Until that time, I’ll continue to teach the Doctrines that the Catholic Church actually teaches.