Pope Acknowledges Protestant Theology
The idea that we are justified by faith alone apart from works of law was solely a Protestant idea. Forwarded by Martin Luther and adopted by the rest of the Reformers, this idea of sola fide has been the subject of ridicule from Catholic lay apologists almost as much as sola scriptura.
Scripture supports sola fide. Catholics believe in a cycle of redemption, but Scripture makes it clear that justification is a finished act: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Heb 1:3-4).
Only the book of James seems to dissent from the position that justification comes by faith alone. But it is easy to reconcile this apparent contradiction when you understand the difference between saving faith and empty faith. Saving faith produces good works. An empty faith produces no works. Saving faith saves and produces good works as a fruit of that salvation. Faith without works is dead, as James states.
However, it has always been the Catholic position that works are necessary for salvation. Hence the entire sacramental system that allegedly dispenses God’s grace. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Almighty God can and does give grace to men in answer to their internal aspirations and prayers without the use of any external sign or ceremony. This will always be possible, because God, grace, and the soul are spiritual beings. God is not restricted to the use of material, visible symbols in dealing with men; the sacraments are not necessary in the sense that they could not have been dispensed with. But, if it is known that God has appointed external, visible ceremonies as the means by which certain graces are to be conferred on men, then in order to obtain those graces it will be necessary for men to make use of those Divinely appointed means. (source)
Now, there seems to be a polar shift in the opposite direction. The Pope, in a general assembly dedicated to reflection on the Apostle Paul, said that Luther’s version of justification is correct provided that faith isn’t opposed to charity or love.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens now. Will the Catholic apologists recant? Will Steve Ray remove the question from his questionnaire for Bible Christians that pokes at sola fide? It’s very doubtful.