Protestant vs Catholic Comparison
I compare and contrast the Protestant and Catholic doctrines concerning justification.
Both Protestants and Catholics have stages of justification. To facilitate comparison I include two Protestant positions.
|Original Sin||We are totally depraved with complete moral corruption and don't have free will.||We are mortally wounded by sin but still have free will and can choose to obey God.||Although bound by original sin which weakens our free will, we can do works that are truly good. However, we can not merit the grace of justification by works or by faith.|
|God calls||God electssome to salvation. Christ died only for the elect. The elect can not reject God's irresistible grace.||God chooses those whom he foreknew would believe. God calls all. Christ died for all and his death made salvation possible. The Spirit convicts all, but only some respond while others resist the call.||Excited and assisted by divine grace, our free will is moved and aroused by God. We require the prevenient [anticipating or preceding] calling of the Holy Spirit. Without any merits existing on our part, we are called.|
|Man receives||Righteousness is imputed via a forensic (legal) justification in which we are legally declared righteous.Our sins are pardoned and we are born again.||Similar to Calvinist with an emphasis on a personal decision to accept Jesus in faith.||Initial justification (regeneration) by baptism.The grace of God is poured (infused) into us which makes us righteous and able to perform good works.|
|Until death||Sanctification. A living faith results in good works (working from salvation) and an assurance of salvation. All the elect persevere.||Similar to Calvinist except that we can lose our salvation.||Progressive justification (growth in righteousness) through It is possible and necessary to obey the law of God and of the church.|
|After death||Heaven.At judgment the believer stands secure before God. Heaven is not a reward based on works but our works are judged to determine our status in heaven||Similar to Calvinist.||Final judgment for all.|
The term justification is used by both Protestants and Catholics when referring to the general topic of salvation and redemption.
For Protestants the term is limited in meaning to the instant when a person is saved or born again.
For Catholics the term is used in a much wider sense and encompasses the lifelong aspects of our life with God and includes such topics as redemption, salvation, and God's judgment.
Both Protestants and Catholics agree that there are no deeds that we do before becoming justified which earn us God's grace of justification. It might surprise Protestants to learn that they share this view with Catholics since anti-Catholicsoften mistakenly portray Catholicism as being based on salvation by works.
Protestants typically teach that we are justified by having our sins pardoned in a legal sense. Our sins are coveredbut there is no internal removal of our sins or of our sin nature. God merely sees the righteousness of Christ instead of seeing us as the depraved sinners that we really are.
In this perspective good works are not necessary at all in the process of justification because we are justified by faith only (sola fide).Yet most Protestants would agree that a person who lives a life of sin probably never had saving faith to begin with (or they have lost it).
In the Catholic view, justification is the change or the transformation of a soul which is transferred from the state of original sin to the state of God's grace and divine sonship. In initial justification at baptism we truly become just and are not merely called just in a legal sense as in Protestantism. The process of justification results in both (1) the remission of sins, and (2) the infusion of the supernatural gifts of faith, hope and charity. (But note that the process of justification begins even before baptism with prevenient grace. (Council of Trent, Chaps. 5 & 6)
God's offer of grace (salvation) is a gift and our justification comes to us through God's grace alone by (1) our faith and (2) our works done in love and charity inspired by the Holy Spirit. The sinner cooperates with God's grace.
Each person's level of cooperation with God can be different with the effect that we will each be infused with differing amount of God's grace. We are able to reject God's grace yet we cannot do anything to merit justification other than receive His free gift
In addition to initial justification at baptism, justification can increase over the course of our lives as we practice various spiritual disciplines and participate in the sacraments of the church and in Christian charity.
It is important to note that the Catholic Church teaches that we can't be justified by our works of the law and that justification is through Christ and His work on our behalf. Protestant anti-Catholicscommonly misrepresent the Catholic teaching.
There are several stages of justification:
Aspects of Justification:
Protestants and Catholics have different views about (1) the nature of original sin, and (2) the process of justification. Yet both agree that justification is a result of God's grace and that we participate in some way.
However, the most significant assumptions affecting justification concern (1) the nature of the church,and (2) the nature of God's revelation to man. These are the issues which provided the impetus for the Protestant Reformation.
Within Protestantism itself there are various views regarding man's free will, election, predestination, the role of good works, the nature of sin, and other key doctrines. Protestants typically make light of these differences but they are not so minor after all. These differing views undermine the validity of the Protestant Reformation by demonstrating that Protestantism is a ship without a rudder in its ability to determine the truth about (1) God and man, and (2) God's revelation of truth. See Sola Scriptura.
These assumptions provide the philosophical foundation of some Protestant systems of theology but are rarely discussed or considered by non-theologians:
The side-effects of this are:
The following assumptions provide the basis for Catholic doctrine:
It is often difficult to discuss the topic of justification because many of the key terms are used with different meanings. I have catalogued the various uses of the key terms.
Terms used differently by Protestants and Catholics:
The born-again event|
Forensic (legal) imputation of Christ's righteousness. Our sin nature is merely covered overbut not removed. Our sinful acts are not counted against us (similar to Catholic venial sins).
Some denominations view baptism as necessary
Phase 1 — Baptism (corresponds to Protestant justification)
Phase 2 — Spiritual growth (corresponds to Protestant sanctification)
Phase 3 — God judges at death. Factors considered: baptism, unconfessed mortal sin, a life of faith, love of God and neighbor, good deeds.
Phase 4 — Purgatory for temporal punishment. Heaven after that.
After being saved, living a holy life with good deeds|
Requires good works
Phase 2 of justification
Sin nature (original sin) — remains until death|
Sinful actions — continue until death but God overlooks them (In Martin Luther's words, God winks at sin)
Original sin — It has two aspects:
Concupiscence — The inclination to sin. Baptism does not remove concupiscence.
Sinful actions — Only the action (in thought, word, or deed) results in judgment. Concupiscence and temptation must be resisted.
Types of sinful actions:
A heart-faith which results in good deeds.|
Some Protestants accept the notion of easy-believism in which no works are necessary at all.
There are many aspects of faith.|
There are many uses of the word faith in the Bible.
Some believe that we are saved by baptism|
Some believe that baptism is merely a symbol and an act of obedience demonstrating our faith
|Original sin is removed by baptism. This is phase one of justification|
Terms with a similar meaning for Protestants and Catholics:
|Atonement||The vicarious (substitutionary) and efficacious (producing the desired effect) death of Christ for human sin.|
|Propitiation||The satisfaction of God's justice and righteousness through Christ's atonement.|
Terms used by both Protestants and Catholics but with important differences and nuances of meaning:
|Impute||To reckon sin or righteousness to another's account.||N/A|
|Calling||God draws men to himself. In Calvin's view the call of God is irresistible as man has no free will.||God planned how he would redeem fallen man. He calls people back to himself and they can accept or reject his call.|
|Adoption||In faith we are adopted into the personal family of God. A nice benefit of salvation.||The goal and essence of salvation. Salvation is a family event.|
|Sanctification||Set apart to God's purposes, growth in relationship, and holiness toward God. Eternal security.||Phase II of justification|
|Perseverance||Continuation in faith until death. In Calvinism, those called WILL persevere.||Believers must persevere in faith. The sacraments of the church assist and we should continually ask God to assist us.|
|Election / predestination||Chosen by God for salvation||(1) The plan of redemption. (2) A person must cooperate.|
Terms that are significant only for some Protestants:
|Depravity||The spiritual condition of man before God (Calvinism). This total depravity requires God to call the elect to salvation via irresistible grace since man's nature is too depraved for him to have anything other than a passive role.|
It is natural to ask the question of whether non-Christians can be justified. Certainly liberal Christianity and Universalism teaches justification for all, but I am not considering those heretical views here.
Among Protestants there are divided opinions. Many Protestants suspect that non-Christians can somehow be saved but typically Protestant theology doesn't address this issue. Some Protestants secretly believe that non-Christians can be saved but don't like to discuss it because the idea is not supported by Protestant theology and mainstream Protestant fundamentalist teaching.
Catholicism provides guidance about the topic. Salvation is possible for anyone who has sincerely responded to God's call and who would have accepted the gospel if it had been presented to them in a clear and believable manner. Original sin is removed by baptism, and within the desire to receive baptism is implicitly contained in a serious resolve to do all that God has commanded, even if His holy will is not fully understood. But still there is no guarantee that a non-Christian will be saved as they will still be judged by God just as Christians are.
There are side-effects of Protestant theology and teaching that are not usually discussed or considered by Protestants. I discuss these at length so that Protestants will consider the implications of their doctrines, beliefs, and theology.
Thus, we are saved by works (not our own, but Christ's).
Causes of Justification:
There are three necessary things for the justification of the ungodly:
(1) Towards God by faith
(2) Away from sin
Two things that can never exist simultaneously in the soul:
(1) Sanctifying grace
(2) Sin (original and mortal)
Grace and sin exclude each other. We cannot have them both at the same time.
There is such a thing as temporal punishment which is not necessarily remitted when God forgives us the sins we commit after baptism; however, as a result of baptism for the first time there is no temporal punishment for any of the sins committed previously. This temporal punishment does not result in a loss of salvation for those who are otherwise justified.
There can still be temporal punishment and guilt for sins committed after a person is justified.
We must pay the temporal punishment for sins we commit. This occurs (1) while in this life, and (2) after death in purgatory.