Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Justification by Faith Alone. Sacraments. Papal Infallibility. Jansenism.

I started to show the development of the Roman church from the period of the Reformation to the present, and discussed the meaning of the term Counter- Reformation and its consequences. This was confirmed by the definite establishment of the authorities, to which I referred yesterday. Then we started discussing something of the doctrines, first, the doctrine of sin which was formulated and included another interpretation of human sin than that of the Reformers. Now I come to the central discussion between the Reformers and the Catholic church: the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide), the formula given by the Reformers for polemic purposes, and which was the main point, of all the controversies in the Reformation period.

In the doctrine of justification, the Roman church in the Council of Trent repeats the Thomistic tradition, but with a diplomatic tendency. The Catholic church knew that this was, as the Reformers called it, the articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesia , the article with which the church stands or falls. And since this was the main point of the Reformation opposition, it was a point where the Roman church felt it had to be as conciliatory as possible. It avoided some of the distortions of this doctrine in nominalism, and attacked by the Reformers in this form. But it remained clear – and had to be, of course, from the point of view of the Roman church – in the main statement, namely, that the remissio peccatorum , the forgiveness of sins, is not sola gratia, by grace alone. It adds other elements, It speaks of the preparation for the Divine act of justification whereby a gratia preveniens, a prevenient grace, is effective in man, but so that this prevenient grace can be rejected or accepted, whatever the man decides. So here is the first point, where man must cooperate with God in the prevenient grace. After justification is received by man, it is given to him in the degree of his cooperation. The more man cooperates with God in the prevenient grace, the higher is the grace of justification given to him.

Justification as a gift of God contains two things: faith on the one hand, and hope and love on the other hand. Faith alone is not sufficient. And according to the Council’s decision, it is even possible that justification may be lost by a Christian through a mortal sin, but that faith remains. Now the Reformers would say: if you are in faith, you never can lose your justification. But the Roman church understood faith in its old tradition, namely. somehow an intellectual and a moral act. Of course, if faith is an intellectual act and a moral act it can be lost, and nevertheless justification can be there; but faith according to the Reformers is the act of accepting justification; and this cannot be lost if there shall be justification.

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