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Chris Castaldo:

The notion that Rome doesn’t modify authoritative teaching such as the articles and canons of Trent is, with all due respect, out of step with reality. If you were looking for an example of a church that hasn’t changed for over a millennium, you’ll want to consider Eastern Orthodox Churches, not Rome. In the words of Calvin Scholar A.N.S. Lane,

The Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, has in the last generation changed more than the great majority of Protestant churches. This reality is often obscured by the Roman method of changing, which is not to disown the past but to reinterpret it. If we expect the Roman Church to disown Trent we will have a long wait; if we want to see Trent reinterpreted, we need only look around.

Before looking specifically at Trent, let us consider what might be the most vivid illustration of how Rome modifies her doctrine. Ever since Pope Boniface VIII promulgated Unam Sanctam in 1302, the Catholic Church has unequivocally asserted that there is “no salvation outside of the [Catholic] Church” (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus). Boniface pressed the idea more vigorously than his predecessors by declaring that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. The less audacious version actually reaches back to Cyprian in the third century. It is among the most basic affirmations of the Catholic tradition and therefore it is employed with full authority; however, the meaning is now radically different from what it has been in previous centuries. You might say it’s a 180 degree difference. Read through the lens of Vatican II, it now means that sincere Buddhists and even atheists can be saved (Lumen Gentium 2:16; Gaudium et spes 22). The belief that God desires salvation to reach all people, coupled with the conviction that such redemption may occur through Jesus Christ apart from one’s conscious awareness, led Rome to develop her teaching on this point in a much different direction from what it originally seemed to say.

A tangible, if not dramatic, example of this sort of revision unfolded in Boston in 1949 (before Vatican II) when a zealous Catholic priest, Father Feeney of Boston, insisted on the traditional interpretation of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (that only Catholics can be saved). After an extended period of warnings, Feeney was excommunicated by Rome as an obstinate rigorist. Thus, the church excommunicated a priest for holding a traditional interpretation, while it simultaneously asserted that the doctrine remains the same (semper eadem). This is how the Roman Catholic Church implements doctrinal revision: it retains the formulation while interpreting its meaning in a different light.

After the Council of Trent (1545-63), previous councils were naturally understood through the lens of Trent. The Tridentine grid became normative for Catholic teaching and remained such for four hundred years. Vatican I (1869-70) continued in the same vein. Then came Vatican II (1963-65) and a new interpretive filter was introduced. Where Trent stated that Protestants (who maintain sola fide and resist the authority of Rome) are lost, Vatican II introduced hermeneutical categories that call this conclusion into question.

How do these interpretive categories work? Catholic theologian Hans Küng provides an example when he claims of Trent that “the Church. . . never looked at these decisions as rigid and frozen formulations, but rather as living signposts for continued research. . . .” This is the sort of theologizing for which Catholic scholars are famous. “Living signposts,” what does that mean? I haven’t a clue. The point for us to grasp is that statements of Catholic doctrine are not simply defined according to the intent of the original author (as we evangelicals are accustomed to doing exegesis); they are rather understood and applied according to contemporary perspectives.

Castaldo goes on to look at the suggestion that the Catechism of the Catholic Church unambiguously reaffirms the Tredentine teaching, and answers “Yes and no.”

Castaldo thinks that “the Catholic method of re-appropriating its doctrine through a developmental hermeneutic is problematic on an ethical level.” The result is that “the Catholic Church has painted herself into a corner by investing magisterial conclusions with an immutable character such that she isn’t able to say, ‘We were wrong.'” But it also behooves us as evangelicals to point out this problem and to deal with where they are at today.

You can read the whole thing here.

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47 thoughts on “Has the Roman Catholic Church Modified the Authoritative Councils of Trent?”

  1. This is a very, very important question and there is a lot of misunderstanding floating around out there. The Roman Catholic Church has decidedly NOT changed, modified, retracted or otherwise moved away from the Council of Trent, and this is most dramatically and most importantly the case on the very heart of the Gospel itself.

    After the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” was announced by both Rome and the Lutheran World Federation, the Vatican hastened, in a very public way, to make clear that Rome had NOT changed its position, at all, on justification and to what did it very pointedly refer? Yup, the Council of Trent.

    Please also take very careful note of the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church very clearly cites Trent in its discussion on the doctrine of justification, affirming the Roman teaching that anyone who teaches that man is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, is condemned!

    This is the very point of the entire Reformation of the Church.

    Here we stand…still. We can not do otherwise. God help us. Amen.

  2. Chris Larson says:

    Equivocation is hardly a more charitable reading of Trent and equally damning for the RCC’s “magisterial conclusions”.

  3. Bryan Cross says:


    Chris misrepresents the Catholic understanding of the nature and development of Catholic dogma. See my comment on his site.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    1. steve hays says:

      Ironically, the theory of development is, itself, a theological innovation. The theory of development represents a drastic break with traditional definition of sacred tradition.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments so far.

    Respectfully, I am confused about the point of this article and its place in this very respected blog. Maybe I don’t understand the writer’s agenda.

    It seems to communicate confusion and contradiction rather than a clear position as Reformed Christians, whose tradition goes back to Christ, the Apostles and the inspired Word of God, not centuries of obfuscation.

    Ignatius of Loyola summarized the Catholic point of view best when he said:
    “We should always be disposed to believe that that which appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the Church so decides”

    The Apostle Peter warned us in 2 Peter 2:1:
    “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

    Luther tried to “fix the system”, but had to come to grips with centuries of its “obscured […]Roman method of changing”. The result was a glorious reformation and the salvation of many!

    I hope this comes across as honestly, respectfully and graciously as I had hoped.

  5. Justin B. says:

    Aren’t there other Catholics who have written on the development of doctrine, like John Henry Newman? I’m not saying the Protestant sources cited by Chris are wrong, but I think it would’ve been helpful if he had drawn from some other Catholics on the matter, especially if, as Bryan pointed out on the blog, Hans Kung isn’t representative of Catholic thought.

    1. steve hays says:

      Here, from an unimpeachable source, is documentation that Rome has reversed itself on the scope of salvation:

    2. steve hays says:

      We need to put Küng in perspective. It’s true that he doesn’t speaker for Rome. He’s a famous critic of the papal status quo.

      However, he was trained at the Gregorian. He knows far more historical theology and church history than a Catholic layman and newbie convert like Bryan Cross will ever know.

      In addition, he’s an eyewitness witness. He was at Vatican II. He was a theological consultant. He was privy to the behind-the-scenes deliberations. He knew all the key players.

    3. Personally I think it is another one of Catholiccontradictions, but I agree…they have in some ways reversed the scope of salvation…it sounds a lot like universalism… Note what Dulles says in the last paragraph:

      “Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice.”

      1. bob in In says:

        That last paragraph by Dulles is stunningly universalist. I have heard other allegations of John Paul II and Mother Teresa being universalists as well. It seems to me on paper the RCC still affirms Trent while in practice they just “absorb” (stealing from MacArthur) all of its dissonance.

  6. TurretinFan says:

    “Chris misrepresents the Catholic understanding of the nature and development of Catholic dogma.”

    Bryan’s statement is misleading – it suggests that there is only one Roman Catholic view on the nature and development of Catholic dogma. Kung is a priest in the Roman communion and a personal friend of Benedict XVI. He’s not allowed to teach “Catholic theology” because he’s opposed to papal infallibility.

    Then again, Kung’s views on dogma (while shared by many) are not the only view. There is a wide spectrum of views about dogma in the RCC, ranging from SSPX type folks to folks who would go beyond Kung in terms of seeing dogma as malleable, living, or organic.

    And where the future will take us with the RCC, no one knows. A priest in Maryland recently made the news by challenging his archbishop’s view of marriage between homosexuals. Archbishop William Lori seems opposed even to civil recognition of same-sex marriages but Rev. Richard Lawrence thinks that same-sex marriage could one day be sacramental marriage.

    There’s not just one “the Catholic position,” on almost anything these days, unless you just arbitrarily refuse to recognize as “Catholic” people in the Roman communion who one disagrees with.


  7. steve hays says:

    And here’s an example, from the same unimpeachable source, of how Rome has done an aboutface on the death penalty:

    1. Randy says:

      In that article Cardinal Dulles says:

      The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that “Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.” Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the “Consistent Ethic of Life” at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the “classical position” that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.

      So nobody is arguing that it is always immoral for the state to execute a criminal. Does that imply there are no conditions where that is immoral? Specifying some of those conditions seem like a good example of development of doctrine. Even if those conditions almost always apply in the modern western world. That is a changing cultural situation not a changing doctrine.

      1. steve hays says:

        How are the conditions for committing a capital offense like murder drastically different today than they were in past centuries?

  8. Scott C says:

    I wonder what R.C. Sproul would say to this post. I haven’t read his newest book on the RCC, but I have read “Faith Alone” and “Getting the Gospel Right” and I think he would agree that Trent’s declarations about justification still stand as originally understood. I just got done preaching a Reformation Day sermon about the RCC view of justification versus the Reformed view. If Rome has truly changed I’d sure like to know about it.

  9. Thanks for your feedback. I cited Hans Kung because of his expertise on the doctrine of justification. But, you are right, he is not the one from whom to understanding the concept of the development of doctrine. Newman is the man for that. The Catechism provides an authoritative example of how Rome’s thinking has developed. We Protestants, for instance, were previously considered damned heretics; now we’re “separated brethren.” As the full post explains, we also observe (some) development in what Rome says about the doctrine of justification.

    My purpose in the post is not to minimize the profound differences of belief that still remain between Catholics and Protestants. It is, rather, to questions whether the axiomatic portrait of Catholic doctrine, which is often depicted as frozen in time, is in fact true. Quite frankly, I see it as overly simplistic and ultimately unhelpful.

  10. Bryan Cross says:


    You wrote: “We Protestants, for instance, were previously considered damned heretics; now we’re “separated brethren.””

    That’s not a change of the doctrine decreed at Trent; that’s rather a change in the historical condition between the first generation of Protestants and later generations of Protestants. Unitatis Redintegratio explains, “Those now born into such Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and in brotherly respect and love the Catholic Church embraces them.” (UR, 3) It is not that the dogmas declared at Trent have changed, but that the epistemic condition of Protestants in relation to Catholic dogma has changed.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Thanks, Bryan. I realize that is not a change from Trent. But surely it constitutes a change in Catholic teaching (or in Catholic terminology “a development”).

  12. steve hays says:

    Bryan Cross

    “That’s not a change of the doctrine decreed at Trent; that’s rather a change in the historical condition between the first generation of Protestants and later generations of Protestants. Unitatis Redintegratio explains, “Those now born into such Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and in brotherly respect and love the Catholic Church embraces them.” (UR, 3) It is not that the dogmas declared at Trent have changed, but that the epistemic condition of Protestants in relation to Catholic dogma has changed.”

    i) By the time Trent concluded (1563), you already had second-generation Protestants. So on what basis do you restrict the Tridentine anathemas to first-generation Protestants?

    ii) Do the Tridentine anathemas apply to modern cradle Catholics who convert to evangelicalism? That would be analogous to 16C first-generation Protestants who grew up in the church of Rome, but later converted to the Protestant faith.

    1. Randy says:

      Not Bryan but I will give it a shot:

      1. In 1563 we still had a situation where Protestantism defined itself as a protest against Catholicism and not so much as a thing in itself. That has changed. Modern protestants might be only vaguely aware of anything the Catholic church says.

      2. Cradle Catholics who convert to Protestantism today are not typically in the same state either. They might be. If their conscience testified that the Catholic Church was the one, true church and they ignored it. For many, their consciences are poorly formed so they are too ignorant of the church to reject it in a culpable way.

      1. steve hays says:

        Trent anathematizes Protestants because of the beliefs they hold, not the circumstances.

  13. TurretinFan says:

    “That’s not a change of the doctrine decreed at Trent; that’s rather a change in the historical condition between the first generation of Protestants and later generations of Protestants. Unitatis Redintegratio explains, “Those now born into such Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and in brotherly respect and love the Catholic Church embraces them.” (UR, 3) It is not that the dogmas declared at Trent have changed, but that the epistemic condition of Protestants in relation to Catholic dogma has changed.”

    a) The sin of the separation would be the sin of schism, not the sin of heresy.

    b) The anathema of Trent don’t (at least most of them don’t) distinguish between schismatics and (other) heretics.

    c) Indeed, most of Trent’s anathemas do not say “whoever separates himself from the Church …” but rather “whoever holds teaches X.”

    So, it’s not really honest to suggest that it is just a “a change in the historical condition.”

    And, of course, the fact that Unitatis Redintegratio (promulgated in 1964) tries to explain away Rome’s change in stance just supports Chris’ thesis that Rome is trying to mask her changed position.

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent, however, places both Schismatics and Heretics in the same category as outside the church:

    Those Who Are Not Members Of The Church

    Hence there are but three classes of persons excluded from the Church’s pale: infidels, heretics and schismatics, and excommunicated persons. Infidels are outside the Church because they never belonged to, and never knew the Church, and were never made partakers of any of her Sacraments. Heretics and schismatics are excluded from the Church, because they have separated from her and belong to her only as deserters belong to the army from which they have deserted. It is not, however, to be denied that they are still subject to the jurisdiction of the Church, inasmuch as they may be called before her tribunals, punished and anathematised. Finally, excommunicated persons are not members of the Church, because they have been cut off by her sentence from the number of her children and belong not to her communion until they repent.

    But with regard to the rest, however wicked and evil they may be, it is certain that they still belong to the Church: Of this the faithful are frequently to be reminded, in order to be convinced that, were even the lives of her ministers debased by crime, they are still within the Church, and therefore lose nothing of their power.


  14. John Bugay says:

    This process of “reformulating” dogma made a big appearance in the opening address of Pope John XXIII from Vatican II, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia”:

    “The certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which we must remain ever faithful, must be examined and expounded by the methods applicable in our times. We must distinguish between the inheritance of the faith itself or the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine, and the way in which these truths are formulated, of course with the same sense and the same significance.”

    But who thinks that changing the words in no way changes the meaning?

    Raymond Brown described the way this plays out in real life:

    “Essential to a critical interpretation of church documents is the realization that the Roman Catholic Church does not change her official stance in a blunt way. Past statements are not rejected but are requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time” (Raymond E. Brown, “The Critical Meaning of the Bible,” New York, NY: Paulist Press ©1981, pg 18 fn 41).

    This is how Rome gives the impression of speaking appearing to remain semper eadem, while actually changing the substance of what is being said.

    So the Council of Trent still is the law of the land, but “reformulated positively” (to use a phrase from the CCC), the actual statement from Trent (or Vatican I or Vatican II for that matter) may or may not mean what it seems to mean, depending on the particular need of the Roman Pronouncement du jour.

    See this link for more.

  15. rc sproul jr says:

    What a comfort to know that Rome is not apostate because of the sixth session of Trent. Nope, now she is apostate for embracing theological liberalism. I guess Dr. Machen, whose countenance hangs above my desk, will have to also adapt, affirming now not that Christians have more in common with Rome than theological liberals, but that theological liberals have more in common with Rome than with us. What a challenge to be the one true church, with an infallible tradition.

    1. John Bugay says:

      Rome indeed was apostate because of the sixth session of Trent, but if Machen thought that we had “a common inheritance” with Rome which made the gulf between us “almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and … naturalistic liberalism”, he would likely be shocked at what transpired at Vatican II.

      But in the process, Rome put such a smiley face on everything, some evangelicals like Chris Castaldo seem to think that rather than be “full-blown anti-Catholic”, his opinion is that it is better to have a “positive-identity” approach to Roman Catholics, “avoiding criticism of the Roman Catholic Church”, seeking “common ground as well as positive contact with Roman Catholics”, while rejecting “both the institution and authority of the RCC as well as certain central doctrines” (from “Holy Ground”, pg 165).

      1. John, as I read R.C. Sproul from his recent book, Are We Together?, he appears to be advocating the same posture toward Catholicism that I am seeking to promote: clarity on theological differences, a commitment to gospel witness, and openness to collaboration where appropriate. For instance, Sproul writes in his conclusion, “I am happy to make common cause with Roman Catholics on social issues, but we have no common cause in the gospel” (121). Elsewhere he writes, “When our involvement in social issues brings us into contact and camaraderie with Roman Catholics, we need not draw back” (122). Since you evidently have a copy of Holy Ground, you can see that this is precisely what I suggest.

        Like Sproul, I feel the freedom to assert my Reformed theology over and against Catholic teaching in a way that is honest and forthright, without having to be irritable and vitriolic. If you truly believe that the Reformed tradition is correct, and you’re secure in that belief, you’ll have enough confidence to convey your thoughts in a way that is life-giving, instead of the stridency that is common to anti-Catholicism.

        1. John Bugay says:

          Who is irritable and vitriolic? I admit I let my emotions bubble to the top on occasion, but I am an excellent writer and I have the ability to do that. I don’t recommend that many people let their emotions out on the Internet.

          On the other hand, have you ever read Turretinfan? He’s one of the “full-blown” anti-Catholics you’ve tried not to be, and yet he is the kindest gentleman you’ll ever meet. Perhaps you have a prejudiced view of what it is to be “anti-Catholic”.

          Precisely how “problematic on an ethical level” does the “developmental hermeneutic” have to be before you begin to explore just how “problematic” it is? And what harm it causes?

          Have you followed the Jason Stellman discussions at all? Do you understand what harm he has done to his entire church?

          My disagreement is not so much with “making common cause” with Roman Catholics on certain social issues. My disagreement involves your stated policy (posture, etc.) of “avoiding criticism of the Roman Catholic Church”.

          I do understand living in a world with Roman Catholics. My mother is Roman Catholics, and I work with several Roman Catholics. But I don’t keep my views secret from anybody — I purposely post my Triablog blog posts on my personal Facebook wall, and I’ve posted theology articles on a personal blog that feeds my LinkedIn profile.

          Too, Sproul is not shy about his criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church.

          If you truly believe that the Reformed tradition is correct, and you’re secure in that belief, you’ll have enough confidence to convey your thoughts about the Roman Catholic Church in a way that, in the words of Luther, “says what a thing is”.

  16. Nathan says:

    We can be very open about our disagreements with the Roman Catholic church and still be kind and considerate.

    I recently wrote this:

    in general, our orientation should be to furiously emphasize our commonalities and to furiously emphasize our honest differences, because the truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all. Even some in the unbelieving world know as much! Do you, like me, think of the pagans’ words recorded by Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”? I say yes! Let us aim to love one another in truth as we patiently work through the tragic reality that there must be differences among us – to reveal who has God’s approval!

    From my new series on “The coming vindication of Martin Luther”:

    +Nathan Rinne (infanttheology)

  17. John, you have quoted me WAY out of context. What you call my “stated policy” is part of a taxonomy by missiologist James Hatcher in which he outlines the typical ways that people relate to the Catholic Church. I point to the model that in my estimation does the best job of recognizing our theological differences while also extending kindness to our Catholic conversation partners. Yes, it is true that in that model Jim suggests that people generally “avoid publicly criticizing the Catholic Church;” but clearly this is not my approach. In the above post, I call the Catholic Church out on its apparent failure to admit where it has been wrong in the past. And I have written a book that criticizes the Catholic Church in consecutive chapters. You can’t get much more public than that.

  18. Nathan says:

    Chris starts his article:

    “The notion that Rome doesn’t modify authoritative teaching such as the articles and canons of Trent is, with all due respect, out of step with reality.”

    In a recent post at “Green Baggins” ( ) we see this same point made with more specificity:

    “Which papal bulls are infallible and which aren’t? In Denzinger, for instance, many papal pronouncements are used as the sources for Catholic dogma. Are they infallible? Papal bulls present a particular problem, because some of them are obviously intended to be infallible pronouncements. However, there are many papal bulls which are not viewed as infallible, even by Roman Catholics, though, when originally given, were given as supposedly fixed decrees. So, how does one decide which bulls are infallible and which are not?”

    This is exactly right – and is more or less what I concluded in a post a while back:

    “I think intellectual honesty requires us to admit that some Popes of the 15th and early 16th century who put forth authoritative documents would surely take exception to the idea that their pronouncements were not solemn, ex cathedra exercises. When this doctrine was formally defined in the late 19th century, it was not a new doctrine, but was one (namely, the Pope’s voice is more or less God’s when he says it is) that had had some currency for a while.”

    ( )

    So let’s love Rome, who indeed also has life-giving remnants of the Gospel within it – but with eyes wide open.


  19. Bruce Russell says:

    The Roman hierarchy stands against Sola Scriptura…and indeed, “the Scripture cannot be broken.” Let us be the ones who stand broken before Scripture.

  20. James Swan says:

    I’d like to compare two of the commenters above. Rev. McCain takes more or less the view that Trent must be understood the way Trent understood what they stated. Bryan Cross says, in essence,that changes in historical condition effect the way Trent is understood. It comes down to interpreters of the infallible interpreter, on the one hand. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the infallible interpreter must needs be fallibly interpreted.

    On the other hand, the basic underlying issue, is authority. Someone probably reading my above synopsis of McCain and Cross may reply: Isn’t that the same problem with interpreting the Bible? Is it to be understood correctly based on it’s original audience, or is it something that applies differently and is understood differently in later ages?

    That of course, is a greatly debated question. Here though the underlying question is not how to interpret Rome correctly, or who interprets Rome correctly. The question is, is Rome really the infallible voice of God? That’s what all these Roman Catholic issues come down to, don’t they?

    Mr. Cross is simply arguing according to his basic presuppositions. In his worldview, it all works out (it has to). Mentioning Küng or arguing like Rev. McCain did probably won’t dent the Romanist armor Mr. Cross has put on, that is, he won’t feel it. For Mr. Cross, since Rome is the infallible voice of God, any sort of argument that she isn’t will be subject to some sort of counter-reply, because Trent was… infallible. That’s assumed. There has to be a reply and a way to understand the situation because Trent was an infallible council. This reminds me of how Mr. Michuta argued that the blatant historical errors in the apocrypha weren’t errors because the apocrypha is God’s infallible word.



    1. My friend, James Swan, provides a fairly good summary.

      I would however want to offer a slightly different point of view.

      Actually, what I’m assering is that we must be careful to understand that the only “official” position Rome has is that which is enunciated and clarified by the Pope himself, and then, via the church’s magisterium.

      That is why when the Vatican issued a very clear clarification after the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed asserting, quite plainly, that the canons of the Council of Trent are still very much in full force and that it, Rome, understands the JDDJ only in light of Trent, it exposed the JDDJ for what it really is: just another example of mainline liberal protestants compromising their confession.

      Rome has remained consistent.

      1. Thanks, Paul. Here is how the JDDJ summarizes its conclusion: “Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration” (41)

        1. Chris, yes, that’s how the JDDJ summarizes the conclusion. Why? Because the JDDJ was a wholesale compromise by Lutherans of the doctrine of justification by grace, THROUGH FAITH ALONE.

          The historic differenc between Rome and Wittenberg has never been an argument over the place of grace in justification.

          Rather, the key contention has been over the role of works.

          The JDDJ “fudged” enough on the Lutheran position to eliminate the sola fide.

          Rome recognized this and to make doubly sure nobody understood it any other way, the Vatican stepped in and issued the statement about the binding nature of the anathemas of Trent. And guess who was the Vatican’s head theologian at the time? Yes, the man we know as Benedict XVI, Ratzinger.

          If you would like the extensive documentation I have on the JDDJ and its reception among the Lutheran communion, I have it. Just drop me a line.

          I am familiar with this issue because I served as senior theological assistant to two of the presidents of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod during the events leading up to and then the declaration proper.

  21. James Swan says:

    “The question before us is this: Is the Council of Trent’s teaching on justification the church’s final word? Emphatically not. Rome has developed its doctrine of justification, and it will doubtless continue to do so. None of the ecumenical councils, not even Chalcedon or Nicea, is terminal in the sense that it ends all possible development.

    They are not terminal, but they are decisive. Rome can indeed develop the views expressed at Trent. What it cannot do without radically altering its view of itself is repudiate or ‘correct’ Trent. Those who look for such a repudiation, or who think they have already found it, are whistling in the dark.”

    Source: Sproul, R.C., Faith Alone : The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995) pp.120-121

    there was a great ambiguity as to what exactly “justification” was even at Trent, documented by Alister McGrath: “The Council of Trent was faced with a group of formidable problems as it assembled to debate the question of justification in June 1546. The medieval period had witnessed the emergence of a number of quite distinct schools of thought on justification, clearly incompatible at points, all of which could lay claim to represent the teaching of the Catholic church.” [Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 259)]. McGrath goes on to point out “…[T]here was considerable disagreement in the immediate post-Tridentine period concerning the precise interpretation of the decretum de iustificatione” [ibid. 268]. In other words, even after Trent made its decree on Justification, Catholics were confused as to how to interpret it.

  22. Claims that there was great confusion among Catholics even after Trent are incorrect and misinformed.

    Keep in mind that the church we call Roman Catholic can said to trace its origin directly to the Council of Trent, for that is where much was set in stone that had been somewhat uncertain.

    Among many other issues, such as the number of canonical books, to the greater matter of the doctrine of Justification, Rome locked it down at Trent.

    Trent clearly affirms Rome’s teaching that justification is not through faith alone, but requires works.

    This was the point of contention that sparked the Reformation and Trent emphatically rejected the Lutheran assertion of the Biblical teaching that man is saved by grace through faith alone.

  23. James Swan says:

    Rev. McCain…

    “Rome, understands the JDDJ only in light of Trent” appears to imply that Trent actually has one particular way of being understood. I would assume a Romanist embracing development would have no problem twisting Trent around so as to show there was not “a change of the doctrine decreed at Trent” but “rather a change in the historical condition between the first generation of Protestants and later generations of Protestants.”

    I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, so it’s time for me to go do some NJ gasoline line battles.



  24. The Vatican made it crystal clear that Trent is to be understood to mean what it asserts.

    Rome asserts justification is NOT by grace through faith ALONE, but a combination of grace received through a process of faith+works.

    1. Paul, the Annex of the JDDJ, which is equally as authoritative as the rest, makes Rome’s endorsement of “faith alone” explicit. Is this in fact what the Catholic Church practices? I think not when you consider the role of the precepts as necessary stipulations by which one is saved. But, that aside, the fact is that the RCC has offically endorsed sola fide in the JDDJ. You’ll find it in paragraph C:

      “Justification takes place “by grace alone“ (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified „apart from works“ (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). “Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts“ (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th.II/II 4, 4 ad 3).The working of God’s grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore, we are called to strive (cf. Phil 2:12 ff). “As soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit…“ (The Formula of Concord, FC SD II,64f; BSLK 897,37ff).”

  25. James…

    Again: the Vatican made it VERY clear that Trent is still in full force, which rejects faith alone. Further JDDF is equivocating on every crucial point with enough loopholes to drive a Mack Truck through.

    Let’s just put it this way, when a majority of the member churches in the Lutheran World Federation didn’t even adopt the JDDJ, when a large number of Lutheran scholars in Germany pointed out how it was a sham, and then when Ratzinger made sure Trent was still the official position…the JDDJ turned out to be an empty hollow exercise, just a bunc of liberal Lutheran bartering away their birth right, you know, the same bunch that will jump in any ecumenical bed they can find and the same bunch that blesses Pastor Adam shacking up with Pastor Steve.

    With all due respect, please permit an orthodox, confessional Lutheran to interpret the Lutheran church’s reaction to the JDDJ debacle based on personal experience and with the full command of the fact here, ok?

    I’ll let you be an expert on the Reformed Church’s agreement with Rome on justification, ok?

    ; )

  26. James Swan says:

    Rev. McCain,

    I believe we’re speaking past each other.



  27. I believe you’re right. We agree that Trent is still “on the books” and also we recognize that the Magisterium’s interpretation of it has in some sense developed. We also agree that the remaining differences (i.e. imputation) continue to divide Catholics and Protestants, and will likely do so for a long time to come.

    Thanks, Paul & James, for your comments.

  28. Pete Holter says:

    TurretinFan wrote,

    “A priest in Maryland recently made the news by challenging his archbishop’s view of marriage between homosexuals. Archbishop William Lori seems opposed even to civil recognition of same-sex marriages but Rev. Richard Lawrence thinks that same-sex marriage could one day be sacramental marriage.”

    Hi TurretinFan!

    Archbishop Lori responded to our priest here:

    I hope you have a blessed Lord’s Day!

    In Christ,

  29. Pete Holter says:

    Steve Hays wrote,

    “And here’s an example, from the same unimpeachable source, of how Rome has done an aboutface on the death penalty:”

    Greetings in Christ, Steve!

    I wanted to share with everyone that I had responded to you on this topic, beginning here:

    In Christ,

  30. Joe says:

    All CC is saying is that while Rome claims its doctrine has not changed, it most certainly has with Vatican II. This is why Bishop Bernard Fellay will not sign off on Vatican’s most recent doctrinal preamble: as an honest man who operates along the lines of straight talk and logic, he cannot say different things are really the same things. Meanwhile, the last three Popes pined away after Hans von Balthasar and now the whole Roman Catholic Church acts as if it is reasonable to “hope” that all will be saved. Really? And the Council of Trent taught that? R O F L O L and I have bridge crossing the Tiber to sell you. Likewise, Inerrancy used to be championed by the Magisterium: now there is no way in Hell to pretend Benedict XVI or JPII held any brief whatsoever for Inerrancy. All of which makes the protests of those like Cross seem like those of Mormons defending the translation of the Book of Abraham. With shifts such as that, is it any wonder liberals think it worthwhile to keep advocating for changes in teachings on celibacy and sex. After all, if soterological doctrines can be effectively so nuanced, why not tough moral questions. Rome has been used of God as the mother Church and a doctrinal anchor, I’d agree. But it has been consistent and infallible? No Pope has ever changed a doctrine (as Catholic apologists suggest)? Go read JPIIs “Crossing the Threshold”… He has a hard time even spelling out doctrine. Vatican II was the first time Rome by example said it was ok to be doctrinally ambiguous. 50 years later, Catholics still can’t agree on the wonderful message of Vatican II, because its prolix documents left so many questions unanswered. Meanwhile the post-conciliar popes refuse to excommunicate anyone and go around kissing the Koran and sending voodoo doctors back to their native religion. Sure, that’s the same Church, right? Really, a dose of reality would help here. Castaldo is so obviously right the protests here are painful to read.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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