Rome and Geneva

tss-john-calvin-coffee.jpgUnderstanding the differences between medieval Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformers is important because many of the core distinctions exist today. In the final week of September we have interviews planned with scholars to help further unpack the contemporary importance of the Protestant Reformation.

Today we post the comments of Scott Manetsch, associate professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In a recent book review (download pdf) he wrote it is “impossible to reconcile the classic Protestant solas with the teaching of the Catholic Catechism.”

Manetsch summarizes the differences well:

– For Roman Catholics, Scripture and Tradition are two distinct but equal modes of revealed authority which the magisterium of the Roman Church has sole responsibility to transmit and interpret. For the early Protestant reformers, the holy Scripture provides final normative authority for Christian doctrine and practice, standing as judge above all institutions and ecclesial traditions.

– For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified because of inherent righteousness. For the mainstream Protestant reformers, sinners are accepted on the basis of the righteousness of another―namely, the alien righteousness of Christ imputed to them.

– For Roman Catholics, sinners are both justified by unmerited grace at baptism and (subsequently) justified by those infused graces merited by cooperating with divine grace. For the magisterial reformers, sinners are justified before God by grace alone.

– For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified by faith (in baptism), but not by faith alone. For the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers, sinners are justified by faith alone.

– For Roman Catholics, justification is a process of renewal that affords no solid basis for Christian assurance in this life. For reformers such as Luther and Calvin, justification is God’s decisive verdict of forgiveness and righteousness that assures Christian believers of the acceptance and love of their heavenly Father.

HT: Justin Taylor

10 thoughts on “Rome and Geneva

  1. As one who spent her early adult years – a dozen of ’em – as an RC, these crucial contrasts are very lucidly and succinctly put.

  2. Understanding the differences between medieval Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformers is important because many of the core distinctions exist today…

    Absolutely, and yet often (though not always) when I speak to Roman Catholics or even some protestants they feel the issue is about whether or not you like the Pope.

  3. >” For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified because of inherent righteousness.”

    Um, this doesn’t square with the Catholic catechism which states “The grace of the Holy Spirit confers upon us the righteousness of God. Uniting us by faith and Baptism to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the Spirit makes us sharers in his life.” [2017]

    http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt3sect1chpt3art2.htm

    >”For Roman Catholics, sinners are both justified by unmerited grace at baptism and (subsequently) justified by those infused graces merited by cooperating with divine grace. For the magisterial reformers, sinners are justified before God by grace alone.”

    So, both Catholics and Reformers are justified by grace alone? The arguement then seems to be over when/how that grace alone is received.

    >”For the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers, sinners are justified by faith alone.”

    I have never understood how the early Reformers got to this when the only mention of “faith alone” occurs in James 2:24 — where it is rejected as a description of how we are justified. In light of the recent Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Catholics and Lutherans, it seems many of the the early Reformers erred. They weren’t infallible, you know.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

    >” justification is a process of renewal that affords no solid basis for Christian assurance in this life.”

    That seems to match my Bible where Paul indicates the even Paul lacked assurance and was afraid of losing his salvation. “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Cor 9:27. Paul also hints of the process nature when he states “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” Philippians 2:12

    Catholics seem to have a very Biblical basis for their doctrine.

    God bless…

  4. Hello Timothy! Yes, “grace” is a word used very differently for the two positions. R.C. Sproul’s address at T4G did a great job summarizing this distinction (even Mormons believe in salvation by grace). On the rest, these are common misconceptions and I would argue all on the basis of reductionism. The argument of James 2 simply bypasses the biblical argument of what it means to be justified so clearly presented in Romans and Galatians. Secondly, taken in context of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 it’s more likely Paul’s prize is not salvation but a reward. And in Philippians you need to quote the next passage, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Very assuring indeed. The reformers would not allow this reductionism to determine their theology. I would encourage you to study Scripture more fully on these issues. You are right the Reformers were not infallible, but Scripture is and sufficient for these things. Blessings! Tony

  5. Tim: From your catechism, “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” #2010

    Having been RC schooled for 16 years, I hated the fact that I couldn’t seem to be good enough to merit eternal life, I was always messing up and falling out of sanctifying grace and thus headed to hell.
    It wasn’t until years later when I was born again that God opened my eyes to His true free gift of eternal life through my faith in Jesus.

    Ask God to do the same for you…

  6. I appreciate the attempt at drawing out the distinctions between Catholicism and Protestantism. Too many Protestants and Catholics think that these are just “denominations” of the same religion. Not so. If Catholicism is true, then Protestants are in grave danger of spending eternity in hell. If Protestantism is true… well, that is the rub. What is Protestantism. I really don’t know what is the case if Protestantism is true. It seems that Protestantism is quite undefinable except by one huge negative and one huge positive that is really a negative also. 1. “I am not Roman Catholic!” 2. I have the right to private interpretation; which can be stated in 2a. I do not have to submit to the teaching authority of the Church because she has no teaching authority.
    Am I right there? I think so. I spent my life until I was 30 as a Anti-Rome Protestant. While I sympathize with Bill’s pain and lack of assurance because of lousy teaching on the part of his catechists, that does not excuse his lack of research into the actual teaching of the Church and the lives of the saints. Not to mention Biblical, theological and philosophical arguments that are there to show that non-Catholic versions of Christianity cannot be true. I know that psychological road-blocks are tough to beat- I really do know- but you need to beat them and come back to your Mother, the Jerusalem which is above, the Church.
    Blessings!

  7. Hello Credo! I’m not sure what you have read but a proliferation in Protestant and especially Reformed systematic theological works (let alone many historical creeds and contemporary conferences) point to the fact that Protestantism is quite well defined. As for assurance, Ludwig Ott of old and Mother Theresa of recent both highlight one brutal reality of Roman Catholicism — there is no firm assurance of salvation. Read Scripture and press close to our One certain authority of all spiritual truth and press close to the Cross of Christ! Tony

  8. yes, certain bits of protestantism is well defined, but protestantism as a whole is self-contradictory. Just one instance should suffice to illustrate my point. Reformed theologians say that God commands us to baptize our babies. Baptist theologian say that God forbids it. Now how can God forbid and command paedo-baptism? So who is the true protestant? the Baptist or the Reformed?
    JMJ

  9. Hello JMJ, In your definition, Rome too is self-contradictory. Many want female priests and many want male-only priests. Which group is right? Trying to define Protestantism as one cohesive unit of all beliefs from all camps is futile (as it is in Rome). The question is over Scripture. What does the Bible say? On assurance? On baptism? On the gospel? This is why I encourage you to read for yourself. The Spirit is strong enough to guide you into all truth and guide you to a Cross that can wipe away all eternal doubts by promising that if you are justified in Christ no one can bring a further charge of condemnation (Rom. 8:33)! What freedom for such wrath-deserving sinner like myself! To be free from judgement and to be free from any further indictments for my wickedness! I’m speechless! Such grace! This is the Cross. See for yourself.

    Tony

    (FYI – On the Gospel, both the reformed camp and baptists agree here).

  10. “The holy Victim is made available to us, he through whom the record of debt that stood against us was annulled. He triumphed over an enemy who does keep a tally of our faults and looks for anything to lay to our charge, but finds no case against him. In him we win our victory.”

    -Augustine, The Confessions

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