According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Protestantism, there are three primary theological principles separating Catholics and Protestants. These principles have to do with justification, Church tradition, and Church authority. Here I want to focus on justification, briefly laying out the fundamental difference between the Catholic and Protestant positions on this doctrine only with respect to the role of charity.
Protestants and Catholics have somewhat different definitions of the term 'justification'. For Protestants, 'justification' refers not only to an initial justification at the moment of faith, but also to a final justification at the Final Judgment (see, for example, here and here). The Catholic understanding of the term 'justification' includes a third aspect: ongoing justification (see here). That is partly because the Catholic Church defines 'justification' such that sanctification is intrinsically included within it (see here), while Protestants define 'justification' such that sanctification is not included within it per se, but is supposed to attend or follow it.
These disagreements between Protestants and Catholics are partly semantic differences. Mere semantic differences are not substantive differences. But the disagreements are not entirely semantic. In this post, however, I will focus only on one aspect of [initial] justification, namely, its relation to charity.
Recently, Pope Benedict spoke about justification as the topic of one of his weekly general audiences. That address is something I hope all Protestants will carefully and prayerfully read. In that address he said the following:
"For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love.
Responding to Pope Benedict's statement quoted above, R. Scott Clark, professor of Church History & Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary [a Protestant seminary] wrote [UPDATE: his post has been moved to his new blog here] the following:
That conditional, that "if," makes all the difference in the world. That one little conditional is the difference between Rome and Wittenberg. Why? After all, Protestants affirm that faith alone is not opposed to charity (love) or sanctification. That's certainly true, but the question here is whether [...] Benedict means by "faith" what we mean by it and whether we're talking about the same justification and the same role of faith? For us Protestants, charity is the fruit and evidence of justification. Is it so for Benedict? If so, he's abandoned his own catechism and magisterial Roman dogma since 1547. That would be remarkable indeed! (emphasis mine)
Clark suggests that the fundamental point of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants regarding justification is whether charity is or is not necessarily present with justifying faith as its form. In other words, Is the faith by which we are justified necessarily formed by charity [fides formata caritate ] or not?
Catholics understand charity to be that theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God - see CCC 1822 and ST II-II Q.23 a.3. And Catholics do believe that charity is evidence of justification, and that charitable actions are the fruit of justification. But the fundamental point of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics with respect to the role of charity in [initial] justification seems to be whether charity is necessarily present within the person having justifying faith, or whether charity only necessarily follows justifying faith as its fruit. We can see the Catholic position on the relation of justifying faith and charity in Chapter VII of Session VI of the Council of Trent in 1547:
For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity. This faith, conformably to Apostolic tradition, catechumens ask of the Church before the sacrament of baptism, when they ask for the faith that gives eternal life, which without hope and charity faith cannot give.
(To avoid the technical part of this post, skip over the following section between the dashed lines.)
Why does the Council of Trent teach that charity must be present in us in order for our faith to be justifying? St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the relation of charity and justifying faith in Summa Theologica II-II Q.4 a.3, where he argues that charity is the form of faith. First, consider some background philosophical anthropology.
Rational beings each possess two rational powers: intellect and will. The intellect is by its nature directed toward the true; the will is by its nature directed to the good. These two powers (i.e. intellect and will) have habits, i.e. dispositions. Good habits are called virtues; bad habits are called vices. The virtues can be divided into the natural virtues and the supernatural virtues. The natural virtues can be acquired (though not perfectly) through the use of our own powers, without supernatural infusion. There are three supernatural virtues, called 'supernatural' because they can be acquired only by supernatural infusion. Hence they are also called the "theological virtues". They are faith, hope, and charity. Faith is a virtue of the intellect; charity is a virtue of the will. The theological virtue of hope also is a virtue of the will.
Why then, according to Aquinas, is charity the form of faith? In ST II-II Q.4 a.3 he writes:
As appears from what has been said above (I-II, 1, 3; I-II, 18, 6), voluntary acts take their species from their end which is the will's object. Now that which gives a thing its species, is after the manner of a form in natural things. Wherefore the form of any voluntary act is, in a manner, the end to which that act is ordered, both because it takes its species therefrom, and because the mode of an action should correspond proportionately to the end. Now it is evident from what has been said (art. 1), that the act of faith is directed to the object of the will, i.e. the good, as to its end: and this good which is the end of faith, viz. the Divine Good, is the proper object of charity. Therefore charity is called the form of faith in as much as through charity the act of faith is perfected and is formed.
What is Aquinas saying here? His argument can be analyzed in this way:
(1) Voluntary acts take their species from their end, which is the will's object. [From ST I-II Q.1 a.3 and ST I-II Q.18 a.6]
(2) That which gives a thing its species is its form, in the manner of a form in natural things.
(3) The form of any voluntary act is, in a manner, the end to which that act is directed. [From (1) and (2)]
(4) An act of faith is related both to the object of the will, i.e. to the good and the end, and to the object of the intellect, i.e. the true. [ST II-II Q.4 a.1]
(5) The act of faith is directed to the object of the will, i.e. the good, as to its end. [From (4)]
(6) This good which is the end of faith, viz. the Divine Good, is the proper object of charity. [From ST II-II Q.24 a.1]
(7) Charity is the form of faith inasmuch as through charity the act of faith is perfected and is formed. [From (3), (5),(6)]
Premises (1)-(3) are quite straightforward. To understand the basis for premise (4), we have to look back at ST II-II Q.4 a.1. Recall that faith is "the substance of things hoped for". (Hebrews 11:1) Because hope is a virtue of the will, faith is a virtue of the intellect, and because faith is defined as "the substance of things hoped for" (ST II-II Q.4 a.1), therefore the act of faith on the part of the intellect is directed to the same object and end that the act of charity on the part of the will is directed to (i.e. the Divine Good). Premise (5) follows directly from (4). Premise (6) is drawn from ST II-II Q.24 a.1, where Aquinas argues that the subject of charity is not the sensitive, but the intellective appetite, i.e. the will, which is ordered to the good. (To understand why charity is a virtue of the [rational] appetite, see also my post titled "Love and Unity: Part 2".) Charity is thus the form of faith [forma fidei], in that it is only through charity that the act of faith attains the end by which it is given its species.
Aquinas makes this even clearer in the following article (ST II-II Q.4 a.4), where he argues that unformed faith [fides informis] is the same habit as formed faith. He writes:
We must therefore hold differently that formed faith and unformed faith [fidei formatae et informis] are one and the same habit. The reason is that a habit is differentiated by that which directly pertains to that habit. Now since faith is a perfection of the intellect, that pertains directly to faith, which pertains to the intellect. Again, what pertains to the will, does not pertain directly to faith, so as to be able to differentiate the habit of faith. But the distinction between formed faith and unformed faith [fidei formatae et informis] is in respect of something pertaining to the will, i.e. charity, and not in respect of something pertaining to the intellect. Therefore formed faith and unformed faith [fides formata et informis] are not distinct habits.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
What is this unformed faith [fides informis]? Aquinas identifies it with the faith referred to in James 2:20, where St. James writes that "faith without works is dead'. Thus according to Aquinas, fides informis is "dead faith". What makes it dead is the absence of the virtue of charity in the will, for as St. Paul says in Galatians 5:6, "faith worketh through charity". [cf. ST II-II Q.4 a.2 arg.3] In other words, what distinguishes formed faith [i.e. living faith] from unformed faith [i.e. dead faith] is nothing in the faith itself, that is, nothing in the habit in the intellect. Rather, what distinguishes formed faith (i.e. living faith) from unformed faith (i.e. dead faith) is that the former is accompanied by the supernatural virtue of charity in the will, while the latter is not accompanied by the supernatural virtue of charity in the will.
The interesting thing here is that Protestants do not believe that anyone is justified by dead faith. Protestants believe, with Catholics, that a justifying faith must be a living faith. So the difference between Catholics and Protestants with respect to this point is that Protestants do not believe that charity is what makes faith living (though they do believe that charity necessarily follows living faith), while Catholics believe that charity is precisely what makes faith living.
This raises the following questions for Protestants: What is the difference between dead faith and living faith? More specifically, what does living faith have per se that dead faith does not? Are they two species of faith? If so, are they both gifts of God? If so, when a man moves from dead faith to living faith, does God take away His previous gift of dead faith? If God does not do so, then does the gift of dead faith remain in the man, but inactive for the rest of his life as a believer? On the other hand, if dead faith is *not* a supernatural gift of God, then how is it different from any belief about God we might come to merely through our natural power of reason? And if dead faith is no different from any belief about God we might come to merely through our natural power of reason, why is it rightly called 'faith'? Moreover, how can charity be the fruit of living faith if living faith does not contain charity? In other words, how can charity come from non-charity?
In his Institutes, John Calvin briefly treats the relation of charity to faith. There he writes, "For the teaching of the Schoolmen, that love is prior to faith and hope, is mere madness; for it is faith alone that first engenders love in us." (Institutes, III.2.41) Aquinas discusses this question in ST II-II Q.4 a.7 and ST II-II Q.17 a.8. Aquinas makes a distinction between the order of generation and the order of perfection. In the order of generation, faith precedes hope and charity, because we cannot hope in or love what we do not know. This is because the movement of the will toward its end depends upon the intellect presenting this end to it. But, according to Aquinas, in the order of perfection, charity precedes hope and faith. This can be shown from what St. Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 13:13.
When Calvin claims that "faith alone first engenders love in us", there is a certain *qualified* sense in which a Catholic can agree, because faith precedes charity in the order of generation. But the question is whether faith without charity simultaneously co-present, is living, and thus justifying, faith. In his article, Clark cites Calvin's commentary on Galatians, where Calvin writes: "When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle." (Commentary on Galatians 5.6, 1548). By "the exclusive particle" Calvin means the term 'alone', as in "faith alone". So we see here Calvin at least implicitly denying that charity is necessarily simultaneously co-present with justifying faith.
The Catholic Church teaches that the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity are infused into us when we receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of baptism. St. Paul writes that "the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). Only when faith is living (i.e. accompanied by the virtue of charity as its form), is faith justifying. Notice that this does not mean that the deathbed convert must do charitable works in order to be justified. It does mean, however, that unless there is charity in his will, whatever virtue of faith is present in his intellect is not a justifying faith.
Professor Clark seems not recognize that justification being progressive is fully compatible with an initial justification. For example, Pope Benedict claims that "Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love." Clark responds by saying, This is code for "to be gradually sanctified and gradually justified." Of course Catholics do believe that being conformed to Christ and entering His love is something that does continue over the course of a believer's life, insofar as the believer makes use of the means of grace. But, Catholics also believe that in our [initial] justification in the sacrament of baptism, we are at that moment "conformed to Christ and enter into His love", for at that moment we receive His life and love and Holy Spirit into our hearts. The death-bed convert who converts in his dying breath, is at that very moment truly "conformed to Christ", even though at that moment he might not yet be as conformed to Christ as he possibly could be, and will be in heaven.
If Clark is right that this disagreement between Protestants and Catholics regarding the role of charity in [initial] justification is "the difference between Rome and Wittenberg", then I'm left wondering how Protestants can be so sure that charity is not what makes faith living, that they are willing to make (or perpetuate) this 488 year-old schism on account of it. I invite my Protestant brothers and sisters, in this week of prayer for Christian unity, to consider prayerfully this fundamental point of disagreement. It is tragic and ironic that we should be divided over the role of charity. May charity break down this division between us, by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit.