As mentioned in a previous post, a lapsed Catholic recently trotted out several passages “proving” that the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is found in the Church Fathers. In the previous post, I demonstrated how the Epistle to Diognetus does not teach justification by faith alone, but rather that it conforms to the Council of Trent’s definition of original sin and justification (see the official Canons of the Council of Trent on Justification).
Next we turn to the so-called “Pro-Protestant” passages from Saint Clement of Rome, the fourth pope and bishop of Rome (died around A.D. 96). Here are the two quotes that supposedly prove that Saint Clement agreed with Luther’s doctrine of “faith alone”:
St. Clement of Rome Quote #1
Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.
First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 30.
I fail to see how this passage teaches “justification by faith alone” since it explicitly teaches that we are “justified by our works”. Why quote this?! It only proves what the Catholic claims already! Here the fourth pope is confirming what later popes also decreed!
St. Clement of Rome Quote #2
Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also was descended our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him arose kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.”
All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 32.
Again a beautiful quote from Saint Clement. Yet nowhere does he speak of “justification by faith alone”. As we already observed in the previous quote, Saint Clement taught “justification by works”. Clement’s comment about “works which we have wrought in holiness of heart” is also completely in accord with the Council of Trent:
Session VI CHAPTER VIII.
In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously.
And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.
The Council of Trent, like Pope Saint Clement confirm that works do not merit the grace of justification. Many Protestants misunderstand what the Catholic Church teaches. As Trent decreed, the justified “increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ” by means of “faith co-operating with good works,” to use the phrase of the Council and that of Saint James. Catholics do not earn the initial grace of justification.
Listen to the recordec message (mp3):
Are We Justified by Faith or By Faith Alone? by Taylor Marshall
Click on the triangular “play” button above.