Sunday, May 31, 2009

Observation about sola fide

This comes to mind in regard to a recent post. In it we see St. Thomas quoting Luke 7:47: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much." The observation to be made here is that Christ attributes the forgiveness of sins to Mary Magdalene's love, not to her faith. But this flies in the face of the Protestant's claims about sola fide, wherein he says that he is saved by faith in Christ alone.

Now the Catholic does not have difficulties with this passage: we acknowledge what it says, and we say with St. Thomas (as discussed in the aforementioned post) that God rewards what he has given. But it seems to me that the Protestant cannot easily "handle" this declaration of the Lord within his own system.

Of course, this is not the only passage that undermines sola fide. When Matthew and Mark report the Lord's preaching, it is this: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17) and "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mk 1:15). In the first case, there is no mention of faith; in the second, it is inseparable from faith. Faith and action go together.

Just as telling is St. Peter's first sermon, following which the crowds say, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" St. Peter does not take the road of sola fide here. He does not tell them, "You do not have to do anything. Just have faith in Christ." No. He does nothing of the sort. He tells them what they must do: "Repent, and be baptized..." (Acts 2:38). Now we Catholics certainly agree that one must believe in order to be saved; mere deeds are not enough. We are not legalists. So clearly an unstated premise of what St. Peter says is that one must believe.

But the Protestant who believes in salvation by faith alone cannot deal with St. Peter's declaration on his own sola fide terms. St. Peter calls for action; the Protestant calls for faith alone. Did St. Peter get it wrong? Of course not! But that means that the call for salvation by faith alone is what is wrong, because it simply cannot be reconciled with St. Peter's call for action in order to be saved.


Mike Burgess said...

There are Reformed (and some Lutherans, but particularly the Federal Visionist Reformed) who are - to greater and lesser degrees - coming to the realization that they are closer to Trent than Westminster (or Augsburg). Synergy is, of course, how the inspired authors expressed things. Artificial bifurcation of justification and sanctification (as well as erroneous univocal interpretations of "justification") and the apotheosis of a completely passive faith (which is properly attributable only to fallen angels, really) are slowly being revisited. This, of course, is why the "TRs" are so vociferous and become unhinged in their reactions.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Mike,

Agreed concerning the FV gang; I wouldn't be surprised if this was a major reason for some of the just crazy junk said about them in the PCA GA a couple years ago. For some folks even a whiff of incense is enough to drive them bonkers :-)

I think it would be interesting to know how many folks have gone from FV to Catholic.

-- RdP

Nick said...

Here is a Protestant favorite, yet reading it carefully actually causes some of the most humorous gymnastics you've ever seen:

"Rom 10:9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

Here Paul speaks of "confessing" and "believing" for salvation, yet that flatly contradicts belief alone. The killer follow up for this is:

"John 12: 42Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue"

Here they believed in Jesus!...but they did not confess! You should see the excuses that pop up trying to explain this in light of Sola Fide.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for the additional examples! I appreciate it. I'll have to add them to the "arsenal". :-)



Merton said...

I have to disagree with your reading in Luke about the woman who was forgiven much because she loved much. I have to say I read it plainly as that her love shows that she has been forgiven much, and those like the Pharisee who see no need for forgiveness do not come to know what it means to be forgiven, and thus don't come to know love. I say this with respect for your blog, which is vey good, and as a fellow Catholic, and without knowing if a Church Father or Thomas Aquinas have specifically interpreted this passage. But just to share my reaction...

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Merton,

Thank you for stopping by, and for your kind words.

If I rightly read your objection to my understanding of the passage, it seems that you see it as saying that her love is an effect of having been forgiven, rather than (as I have said) a cause of it?

I am not a scholar, so I certainly concede that I may be mistaken. However, in defense of my view, I would offer the following: first, although my Greek is quite rusty, it seems that the verse points at her love as the cause of her forgiveness rather than the other way around. I can't say a thing about the Latin, because I don't have Latin :-(

The Douay-Rheims seems to support my understanding (see here), as far as I can tell; so do Bishop Challoner's notes on the same page. I just now compared the Navarre Bible and my old CCD (1961) Bible, and they seem to say the same (the CCD especially: "The parable appears at first sight to imply that the woman loved much because of the greatness of the sin remitted; but our Lord's words at the end indicate rather that her love was the cause of her pardon." On the other hand, the JB and NRSV-CE both suggest the reverse (which seems to be your view). For what it's worth, in the case of the NRSV the note's view seems out of place, because the translation itself seems to me to say the reverse: "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much." That "for" seems to me to indicate that her love was the cause, but the editors of the NRSV disagree in their note.

With respect to St. Thomas: In ST I Q21 A4 ad 1, he says: "In the justification of the ungodly, justice is seen, when God remits sins on account of love, though He Himself has mercifully infused that love. So we read of Magdalen: 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much' (Luke 7:47)." This appears to be consistent with what I have said.

Similarly, in ST III Q49 A1: "Christ's Passion is the proper cause of the forgiveness of sins in three ways. First of all, by way of exciting our charity, because, as the Apostle says (Romans 5:8): 'God commendeth His charity towards us: because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us.' But it is by charity that we procure pardon of our sins, according to Lk. 7:47: 'Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much.'"

I hope this helps. Thanks again for stopping by.