Grace-Caused Faith is Catholic Teaching, Too!

Grace-Caused Faith is Catholic Teaching, Too! June 12, 2024

Please, Someone, Tell James Swan and Get Him Up to Speed

Photo credit: [Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license]

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Anti-Catholic Reformed Protestant James Swan wrote an article entitled,Did John Calvin Believe Faith is a Gift Given From God?(12-21-05), with second and third installments. He was replying to non-Calvinist Protestants Norman Geisler and Gordon Olson and another person following them. Swan correctly answered in the affirmative, and proved it from Calvin’s own writings. He wrote:

These authors hold that modern-day Calvinists who hold faith is a gift of God are “extreme Calvinists”, because not even John Calvin believed this.

Calvinists cannot be said to be “extreme” for holding that faith is the gift of God. 

In his third article, Swan observed:

Calvin . . . clearly held faith was a supernatural gift given by God to spiritually dead sinners. Sinners do not have the ability, according to Calvin, to muster up enough of their own faith to accept an offer of salvation without God first doing something supernatural to their spiritual inability to believe.

What I find interesting about this, is that such teaching is Catholic dogmatic, magisterial teaching, too, and had been for at least a thousand years before Calvin. It’s not exclusively Calvinist at all. It’s simply one of many areas where Calvin continued Catholic teaching (whether he himself knew this or not) Swan is, in all likelihood, unaware of this, since he routinely insinuates that Catholics are Pelagians.

Like many thousands of Protestants, he has only the dimmest understanding of our soteriology, and so must unwillingly — in ignorance — caricature it or (deliberately?) distort it. So for instance, in the middle of this series, chronologically, he flat-out asserts in another article the lie that Catholics are Pelagians, or believers in works-salvation, and deniers of salvation by grace alone:

[T]he second group is “Theologians of Glory.” . . . the second group is comprised of Roman Catholic apologists. . . . I do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church preaches the Gospel . . . 

The Theology of the Cross is a theology of “foolishness.” It denies man’s wisdom and works; it rests totally upon Christ’s work. Indeed, it really does sound silly to think that salvation is found only through faith alone. All the worlds’ religions “reason” that God can only be appeased by some “work” on our part. But a Theologian of the Cross finds it is only in God’s action where we find salvation.

The Theology of Glory is founded on man’s wisdom and works. It is a worldview that seems “sensible and right” by worldly standards. Glory theologians have to understand by the use of reason, and they have to “do” by their own moral energy to be right with God.

The truth of the matter, contra Swan, is that the Catholic Church believes that initial faith and justification originates from God, not man:

Canon 5. If anyone says, that just as the increase [of faith] so also the beginning of faith and the very desire of credulity, by which we believe in Him who justifies the impious, and (by which) we arrive at the regeneration of holy baptism (is) not through the gift of grace, that is, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit reforming our will from infidelity to faith, from impiety to piety, but is naturally in us, he is proved (to be) antagonistic to the doctrine of the Apostles, since blessed Paul says : We trust, that he who begins a good work in us, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus [Phil. 1:6]; and the following: It was given to you for Christ not only that you may believe in Him, but also, that you may suffer tor Him [Phil. 1:29]; and: By grace you are made safe through faith, and this not of yourselves; for it is the gift of God [Eph. 2:8]. For those who say that faith, by which we believe in God, is natural, declare that all those who are alien to the Church of Christ are in a measure faithful [cf. St. Augustine]. (Second Council of Orange, begin on July 3, 529; in Denzinger #178 or #375 in the most recent numbering system)

Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas, over 700 years later, reiterated this and taught initial justification by faith through grace:

. . . if we suppose, as indeed it is a truth of faith, that the beginning of faith is in us from God, the first act must flow from grace; and thus it cannot be meritorious of the first grace. Therefore man is justified by faith, not as though man, by believing, were to merit justification, but that, he believes, whilst he is being justified; inasmuch as a movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly . . . (Summa Theologica 1-2, q. 114, a. 5, ad 1)

. . . a movement of free-will is required for the justification of the ungodly, inasmuch as man’s mind is moved by God. Now God moves man’s soul by turning it to Himself according to Ps. 84:7 (Septuagint): “Thou wilt turn us, O God, and bring us to life.” Hence for the justification of the ungodly a movement of the mind is required, by which it is turned to God. Now the first turning to God is by faith, according to Heb. 11:6: “He that cometh to God must believe that He is.” Hence a movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly. (ST 1-2, q. 113, a. 4c)

The Council of Trent in the 16th century also concurred:

Chapter VI on Justification: Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . 

Chapter VIII on Justification: . . . 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.

Canon III on Justification: If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

I have written in the past many times about how the Catholic belief concerning initial justification is virtually identical to Protestant justification by faith alone:

Initial Justification & “Faith Alone”: Harmonious? [5-3-04]

Grace Alone: Perfectly Acceptable Catholic Teaching [2-3-09]

Monergism in Initial Justification is Catholic Doctrine [1-7-10]

Catholics & Justification by Faith Alone: Is There a Sense in Which Catholics Can Accept “Faith Alone” and/or Imputed Justification (with Proper Biblical Qualifications)? [9-28-10]

Salvation: By Grace Alone, Not Faith Alone or Works [2013]

Grace Alone: Biblical & Catholic Teaching [12-1-15]

Luther’s “Tower” Justification Idea & Catholicism: + Early Catholic Church & St. Thomas Aquinas on Grace Alone (Contra Pelagianism) & Justification [5-28-24]

See also: Trent Doesn’t Utterly Exclude Imputation (Kenneth Howell) [July 1996].

We are in thorough (and joyful) agreement on this. Would that so many undereducated and sometimes willfully ignorant and bigoted Protestants (especially the fringe group of anti-Catholics) would understand this. But the misrepresentations and false accusations about Catholic soteriology (theology of salvation) have been continuous for over 500 years and, sadly, they won’t ever end short of the Second Coming.

We differ, of course, on the notion of justification by faith alone, which is a different issue, having to do with the believer’s response to God’s grace after his or her regeneration and initial justification. See:

Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages [2-10-08]

Justification: Not by Faith Alone, & Ongoing (Romans 4, James 2, and Abraham’s Multiple Justifications) [10-15-11]

Final Judgment Always Has to Do with Works and Never with “Faith Alone” [9-5-14]

Jesus vs. “Faith Alone” (Rich Young Ruler) [10-12-15]

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans [11-18-15]

Philippians 2:12 & “Work[ing] Out” One’s Salvation [1-26-16]

“Faith Alone”?: Quick & Decisive Biblical Refutation [1-8-19]

Jesus: Faith + Works (Not Faith Alone) Leads to Salvation [8-1-19]

Defense of Bible Passages vs. Eternal Security & Faith Alone (vs. Jason Engwer) [8-12-20]

Justification: A Catholic Perspective (vs. Francisco Tourinho) [6-22-22]

Reply to Francisco Tourinho on Justification: Round 2 (Pt. 1) [+ Part 2] [+ Part 3] [7-19-22; a debate to be made into a book in Portugese]

Abraham: Justified Twice by Works & Once by Faith [8-30-23]

Sola Fide (Faith Alone) Nonexistent Before the Protestant Revolt in 1517 (Geisler & McGrath) [Catholic365, 10-31-23]

We must understand and rejoice in the areas where we agree, and respectfully dialogue concerning those where we continue to have honest and sincere disagreements.

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Photo credit: [Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license]

Summary: Anti-Catholic Protestant polemicist James Swan argued that it was exclusively Calvinist to believe that faith is a gift of God’s grace. I prove that this is also a Catholic dogma.

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