Sunday, July 24, 2011

Works Alone: The Protestant Claim that Slanders and Libels Catholicism


[Arnobius of Sicca note: Ugh… I meant "Libel" but typed "slander."  Edited to fix]


1 Law the publication of a false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation. Compare with slander.

† such a statement; a written defamation.

1 Law defame by publishing a libel.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


I've been forcing myself to read the novel Left Behind (I figure I should be aware of famous works, even if I think they are in error), which is a story about the so-called Rapture.  As I do so, I am reminded of a theme among certain Protestants (often repeated) which is an act of libel against the Catholic Church.  That is the claim that Catholics believe we earn our salvation by doing "good works," and we are "owed" salvation if we do enough regardless of whether or not we believe in Christ.

Such a statement is so much repeated, especially among certain Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, that many would be surprised to learn we do not believe this at all.

That's right… one of the major arguments used to denounce the Catholic Church is a complete falsehood.

Some Evidence

Let's not get into an argument about whether I am "deceived" about what the Catholic Church really teaches.  We'll do this by pointing not to my own writings, but to what the Church herself says about justification, grace and works.

In terms of Justification:

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:40

  • But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.41 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

We believe when it comes to Grace:

1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.46

1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.

1998 This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.47 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

When it comes to merit, we profess:

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. the fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2009 Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life."60 The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.61 "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due.... Our merits are God's gifts."62

Nor is this merely a late change as some might accuse.  The Catechism of the Council of Trent  of the 16th century says:

For the grace of Christ is seen to abound more, inasmuch as it communicates to us not only what He merited and paid of Himself alone, but also what, as Head, He merited and paid in His members, that is, in holy and just men. Hence it can be seen how such great weight and dignity belong to the good actions of the pious. For Christ our Lord continually infuses His grace into the devout soul united to Him by charity, as the head to the members, or as the vine through the branches. This grace always precedes, accompanies and follows our good works, and without it we can have no merit, nor can we at all satisfy God.  (emphasis added)

I believe this evidence should be enough to demonstrate that we believe our justification, grace and merits come from God and (if one follows the links) even the good we do is made possible by God.

I think it should be clear that the person who claims the Catholic believes God "owes" us anything on the grounds we "earn" our salvation by doing works slanders or libels us (depending on whether the accuser speaks or writes).  We have no belief whatsoever about doing [X] amount of works or saying [Y] number of prayers will guarantee us Heaven.  We believe God calls us to be faithful to Him and carry out His commands out of love for Him.  Christ has said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).  In a relationship of love, a person doesn't ask "How much do I have to do?"  The person who loves does what he or she does as an expression of love.

The Implication

Now the person who repeats such a claim may not be acting with malice.  He or she may sincerely believe what is said against us.

That does not let the individual off the hook however.  To repeat a claim without finding out if it is true is unjust indeed.  If I should repeat that Jones is a murderer simply on the grounds I have been told this, I am to blame for repeating a slander if Jones is innocent.

There's also another serious implication here: Protestantism has at least one false premise in its rejection of Catholicism.

Think of it.  One of the reasons of the rejection of the Catholic Church was the belief that the Church put a person on an endless and futile quest to do "enough" to earn salvation.  Yet we don't believe what we are accused of.  Thus one justification for breaking away is… unjustified.  In placing Sola Fide in opposition to "Works Alone" a straw man fallacy is committed.

  1. The Catholic Church Holds [X]
  2. The Anti-Catholic presents the Church as holding [Y] (a distortion of [X])
  3. Position [Y] is attacked.
  4. The illusion is The Catholic Church has been refuted on [X]

The truth is, the attack on [Y] is irrelevant.  The Church teaching is [X] and it is [X] which needs to be examined.

To continue to accuse the Church of [Y] is to slander or libel the Church, whether through malice or negligence.


n. failure to take proper care over something.

† Law breach of a duty of care which results in damage.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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