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    dave armstrong
    @Dave Armstrong

    Erik is a thoughtful, amiable Calvinist who claims he has never had a constructive theological discussion with a Catholic. Hopefully, this will be his first time. I enjoyed it on my end! He commented under my blog paper, “Reply to Calvin” #3: Synergism, Grace Alone, & the Elect. His words will be italicized.


    I believe you are correct that Calvinism and Catholicism (especially Thomism) have a virtual overlap in terms of soteriology. Officially, that is. And I believe that is why the Catholic participants in ECT could so easily use the terminology of Sola Fide. From a Protestant prospective, Sola Fide is there as a hedge around Sola Gratia. From our perspective, it is nonsensical to speak of the two separately. Deny one, you deny the other. Again, from our perspective, Sola Fide has utterly no logical connection with Antinomianism. (From a common Catholic perspective, on the other hand, they are synonymous.)

    The educated Catholic or apologist knows that sola fide is not antinomianism. I have several papers along those lines:

    Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith

    John Calvin: Good Works Manifest True Saving Faith

    Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis & Sanctification Linked to Justification

    Martin Luther: Faith Alone is Not Lawless Antinomianism


    To my mind, our unanimity on justification depends on what any given Catholic means by “Spirit-wrought works of love.” Are these works Spirit-assisted or Spirit-ACCOMPLISHED? Are both our cooperation AND the cooperative grace which assists it graciously accomplished (from start to finish) by the self-same Spirit? After all, as St. Paul observed: “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

    David Anders gives the illustration of a man rolling a wheel barrow up a hill. His young son puts out his hand to help “push” it up the incline. But, of course, he adds not one iota to the task’s accomplishment. This is the proper recipe. Cooperation without justificatory merit. Sola Gratia.

    My impression, however, is that very few Catholics believe in Sola Gratia without de-sola-izing it. Why else would they cringe at the phrase “by grace alone THROUGH FAITH ALONE on account of Christ alone for the glory of God alone”? Makes no sense to me. They adamantly affirm that justification is by faith AND works.

    Well, the difference is that we think in terms of “both/and” and not “either/or.” So with the faith and works issue, we say that we do a thing, and God also does it. This is biblical and Hebrew paradox, which is very common.

    The Calvinist doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend that God and a person can do the same thing, and both take credit (God, of course, far more). This is how we interpret 1 Corinthians 15:10 above (thanks for citing that). Paul is not saying that he did nothing whatsoever. He says, “I laboured more abundantly than they all.”

    That’s real labor and work. Yes, God gives the grace. He enables absolutely every good thing we do by His grace (that’s Catholic teaching, right from Trent). It doesn’t follow, however, that we don’t cooperate.

    Even your little boy pushing the wheel barrow up the hill is not doing nothing. He is actually helping, just as everyone in a tug-of-war is helping, while the stronger ones do much more work proportionately.

    In that sense, we deny sola fide / faith alone.

    There is plenty in Scripture about all of these things:

    Catholic Bible Verses on Sanctification and Merit

    Reflections on Common Ground Between Catholics and Protestants (Particularly, Good Works)

    St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages)

    Exposition on the Scriptural Relationship Between Grace, Faith, Works, and Judgment

    Bible on Participation in Our Own Salvation (Always Enabled by God’s Grace)

    Bible on the Nature of Saving Faith (Including Assent, Trust, Hope, Works, Obedience, and Sanctification)

    New Testament Epistles on Bringing About Further Sanctification and Even Salvation By Our Own Actions

    “Catholic Justification” in James & Romans

    Philippians 2:12 & “Work[ing] Out” One’s Salvation

    Paul vs. Calvin: “Doers of the Law” Will be Justified

    Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages

    Catholics & Justification by Faith Alone: Is There a Sense in Which Catholics Can Accept “Faith Alone” and/or Imputed Justification (with Proper Biblical Qualifications)?

    The “Obedience of Faith” in Paul and its Soteriological Implications (Justification and Denial of “Faith Alone”) [from Ferdinand Prat, S. J.]

    Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, <i>The God Who Justifies</i>

    Final Judgment Always Has to Do with Works and Never with “Faith Alone”

    Jesus vs. “Faith Alone” (Rich Young Ruler)

    “Work Out Your Own Salvation” & Protestant Soteriology (vs. Ken Temple)


    But whose works are we talking about? The Spirit’s works? If so, then we are left again with only faith, itself a gift. For justification IS A TOTAL GIFT: Sola Gratia.

    I don’t believe any educated Protestant will call Catholics semi-Pelagian. There is an academic definition, and Catholics don’t fit it. I do believe, however, that the way Catholicism is sometimes practiced is “Pelagianizing” in its effects. Much as Arminianism does in Protestantism, it ascribes to the work of believers what should only be ascribed to God.

    Once again, you seem to be thinking in paradigms that are not particularly biblical, at least not in these particular terms. You want to connect the Holy Spirit and “works” as if men’s works are not ours at all, and only those of the Spirit.

    I got curious to see how that lined up in Scripture: the relationship of “Spirit” and “works.”

    When I searched “Spirit” and “work[s]” in conjunction in the RSV, I got no connection.

    When I searched the phrase “Spirit works” I got absolutely nothing.

    Likewise, with “works of the Spirit” and “works of the Holy Spirit”. So those two thoughts cannot be said to be particularly “biblical”: at least insofar as the term “works” itself is concerned, as connected with the Spirit. When “works” are discussed, it is the usually works of man.

    There are at least a few “hits” for “works of God”.

    And for “works of the Lord”.

    Also, there is one time that “God works” appears (Rom 8:28) and one time, “The Lord works” (Ps 103:6).

    None of this is to deny (at all!) that God the Father or the Holy Spirit work. Of course they do. But we are talking about the relationship of man’s work to God’s work: does the latter wipe out the former, when it is referring to the same exact work?

    I say no: the Bible doesn’t teach that.

    The second thing to note is that when the Bible does discuss “God’s work” it is usually His alone, and has nothing to do with man. It’s just something He does, as God.

    On the other hand, there is the motif of “workers with God”: which precisely supports my contention: we do the works, and God also does, in the enabling sense:

    1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; . . .

    1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

    2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, . . .

    Philippians 4:13 I can do all things in him who strengthens me.


    As far as assurance is concerned, I am likewise convinced that there is very little difference between our respective paradigms. We simply draw the fulcrum (between despair and presumption) at alternate spots on the balance. You accuse us of presumption. We accuse you of despair.

    It’s healthy to wonder if we are where we need to be in terms of our walk of faith. We need to make our calling sure. It is unhealthy to be totally in the dark as to whether we are in God’s good graces. We should not be doubting his work in our lives.

    I agree that there is a lot of common ground here, too, and have written about it:

    Bible on the Moral Assurance of Salvation (Persevering in Faith, with Hope)

    John Calvin holds that we can’t know for sure who is of the elect. That puts a big qualification on [absolute?] “assurance”.



    Wow, Dave!  I gained a lot from this.  Your knowledge, rationality and, above all, charity cast a great deal of light on this difficult subject.  I am curious to know how Erik (who himself seems a noble soul) responds.

    I have to laugh, though.  My horror at the propositions of Calvinism (presented to me as the infamous Tulip) is part of what drove me into the arms of Mater Ecclesia.  And yet, now that I am Catholic, I find that I have a remarkable amount in common with the Calvinists, and, strangest of all, this delights me!  The Lord truly has a sense of humour!


    dave armstrong
    @Dave Armstrong

    Glad you liked it. Calvinism (like Martin Luther) is a mixed bag. There are some big falsehoods (however well-intentioned and sincere) and also a great deal of truth retained from Catholic tradition. In my critical book about John Calvin, I devoted the final 66 pages to common ground. I did similarly in my book about Luther, and then compiled a second book devoted to “Catholic Luther.”

    If anyone is interested, I take on all five points of TULIP from the Bible in my book, Biblical Catholic Salvation.



    Thanks Dave, this is great.

    I’ve been studying reformed theology in general, and Calvin’s theology in particular, as a last ditch attempt to remain Protestant. The more I learn, the less I accept it. As you said above, there appears to be a general discrepancy between reformed theology and the bible. It only works when one takes specific passages of the New Testament out of context. When one reads the bible as a whole, it does not support it.

    On a positive note, I did find that the early reformed theology of the “golden age” of Protestantism is far richer than a lot of mainstream evangelicalism today. It has a higher view of the sacraments, retains more of the message of the bible, and also looks to the church fathers (if rather selectively). So although I don’t agree with them, I can respect them and better understand their motives and beliefs.



    On a positive note, I did find that the early reformed theology of the “golden age” of Protestantism is far richer than a lot of mainstream evangelicalism today.

    cosbap, I take the trend that one sees here and there in conservative Protestantism to return to their founders, formularies and prayer-books as a positive sign.  It shows, I think, a desire to be firmly established in and to understand their faith.  In my case, the discovery of the Book of Common Prayer (1662) and, through it, the Church Fathers, was a vital step in my journey toward Catholicism.




    I am glad to see that trend in some protestant circles too. I hope it spreads.

    Sometimes its enough to confuse the catholic-protestant question. Could I remain protestant but find a more traditional version? Like the american reformed theologian Nevin, who had a crisis of faith after being rejected by the more modernist/rationalist theologians and came close to catholicicsm, but in the end remained resolutely protestant but stuck to his more historical version.

    Some days I am quite convinced by it, but there are still a lot of holes even in the closest-to-catholic version of protestantism. It relies on a selective reading of the bible and the church fathers.

    How did the book of common prayer feature in your conversion?



    In a word, cosbap, the Book of Common Prayer introduced me to liturgical worship, and in particular to a spirituality rooted in the psalter.  It also forced me to reflect on what I really believe since it makes strong doctrinal claims.  Its greatest appeal, though, was also its greatest weakness: the Prayer-book, especially as used in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, keeps alive (in spite of itself) much English spirituality from before the Reformation.  Through the Prayer-book, I was able to graft myself onto those deep roots which are, essentially, Catholic and, what is more, Roman Catholic.  Blessed John Henry Newman put it best: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”  I am eternally grateful to the Book of Common Prayer, even to the heretic Cranmer himself, because, without them, I should never have discovered the Creeds and Fathers and living history of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolick Church founded by Jesus Christ as his very Bride and Body.

    As a wonderful gift on top of everything else, I am still able, through the Anglican ordinariates so graciously established by Pope Benedict XVI, to worship God in the sixteenth-century English that so delights me!





    Thanks for sharing this. I discovered liturgy from Anglicans too, by living in an Anglican chaplaincy for a few years at university. They demonstrated it was possible to pratice all the traditions I’d been taught were “distracting extras” and be genuine Christians. I’m very grateful to them.

    Apparently the Church of England has preserved some of the structure of the pre Trent Catholic Church such the many more types of clergy.



    Apparently the Church of England has preserved some of the structure of the pre Trent Catholic Church such the many more types of clergy.

    I don’t know about more types of clergy, but traditions certainly are preserved. Some, like the tradition of decorating a church with flowers on Mothering Sunday (the fifth Sunday in Lent) certainly antedate the Reformation.  Other examples include the Kalendar and lectionary, which are much closer to the Extraordinary Form of Mass (Traditional Latin Mass) than they are to Ordinary Form.  They preserve, however, the great honour given to the Feast of the Holy Trinity, which had its origin in Mediaeval England under S. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury.

    It may be that the ‘more kinds of clergy’ are canons, although I was under the impression that they still exist in the Roman Church.

    Other traditions, particularly those found in Anglo-Catholic churches, are revivals of almost-forgotten customs or borrowings from the Roman Rite.  So, for example, the rood-screens that are the glory of Anglo-Catholicism, which all but disappeared from the West after the Council of Trent, were based on the ones thathad survived the Reformation and still existed throughout England.  The position of the choir between the rood-screen and the altar-rail is also a remnant of mediaeval Christianity, when these choristers would have been monks, or perhaps canons.  In most churches that celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the choir is in a loft at the back, which was, again, a trend that appeared on the Continent in the years following Trent.

    There are plenty of little examples like these.  Many, alas, are disappearing as the Anglican communities modernise.  I like to think, however, that they substantially survive in the Anglican Ordinariates.



    They’re like a living time capsule, although its possibly a happy accident. The place where lived had photos of the chapel before modernising, and it had a beautiful rood screen. I think I read that the oxford movement was responsible for bringing back a lot of catholic practice into the church of England, a lot had been lost.

    It is sad its disappearing in many places, but there are still very catholic parishes that enjoy all the bells and smells and even eucharistic adoration. I have (youngish) friends who deeply loves the more catholic aspects of anglican tradition so perhaps there’s some life left.

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