Monday, June 15, 2009

The Testimony of Holy Scripture on Justification by Implicit Faith: Part III

I shall now consider some of the scripture verses that are often used as an objection against salvation by implicit faith. I have grouped them according to categories.

“This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)

“But knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. We also believe in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

“Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest. And how can we know the way? Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would without doubt have known my Father also: and from henceforth you shall know him. And you have seen him.” (John 14:5-7)

“Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

These texts in no way imply that explicit faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. It is easy to see this. Let us consider this: were the Jews and Gentiles of the Old Testament saved in another name than Christ? Or were they justified by the works of the law, and not by faith in Christ? This cannot be; salvation comes through Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.” (Heb 13:8) It is the constant teaching of the Church that all salvation comes through Christ, even for those who were saved in the Old Testament. Therefore, if these verses apply to both those in the Old Testament who had implicit faith in Christ and those after Christ who had explicit faith, on what grounds can we justify using them as an argument against implicit faith?

“And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart: Praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)

“Then Paul and Barnabas said boldly: To you it behoved us first to speak the word of God: but because you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord hath commanded us: I have set thee to be the light of the Gentiles: that thou mayest be for salvation unto the utmost part of the earth. And the Gentiles hearing it were glad and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to life everlasting believed.” (Acts 13:46-48)

These quotes not only fail to prove the point, they are not even relevant. First, they are talking about those who, having had Christ preached to them, believed explicitly in Christ. This is not to make an assertion about this or that group of people being damned because they do not believe. Furthermore, it is not even making the assertion that all those who believed upon first hearing the Gospel were saved. As Christ says in the parable of the sower, there are those who receive the word with joy upon first hearing it, but then fall away afterwards.

“For, whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel. But they did not all hearken to the glad tidings. For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)

“But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God must believe that he is: and is a rewarder to them that seek him.” (Heb 11:6)

The second text here is not relevant to the question about implicit faith in Christ. One might argue that it implies the necessity of explicit faith in God, but we shall leave that aside for the moment. The first text here is actually St. Paul giving an argument against the idea that God will give a divine revelation to those gentiles who follow the natural law in order to bring them to explicit faith. Rather, he implies that the only way they will come to believe explicitly in Christ is through a preacher.

Now, one might think at first that he is saying that one cannot be saved without someone preaching to him the word of God, for he begins “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” and continues “How then shall they call,” all the way until “How shall they preach unless they be sent,” implying that the first statement, calling upon the name of the Lord and being saved is dependent upon the last, i.e., a preacher being sent.

Let's look at the context. St. Paul is speaking concerning the Jews, and he laments that they are making their own righteousness unto themselves, because Christ is the fulfillment of their law, and they are failing to turn to him. Now, immediately after this text, he continues, “But I say, Did they not hear? Yea, verily, Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did Israel not know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy with that which is no nation, With a nation void of understanding will I anger you.” (Romans 10:18-19) The Apostle is answering an objection which would give the Jews an excuse for believing in Christ, namely, that they have not heard the Gospel preached to them. He responds first by quoting Psalm 19:4, “Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” Whose sound is this referring to? “The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge. There are no speeches nor languages, where their voices are not heard. ” (Psalm 19:1-3) Thus, it is actually because “the heavens proclaim the glory of God” that the Apostle can say that they have not heard. It is through the preaching of God's creation that causes them to be inexcusable.

Thus, we see in context that the Apostle is indeed saying that one cannot be saved without faith, and one cannot come to faith without a preacher, but he then goes on to say that all the earth has been preached to, through the glory of God's creation. This echoes what he said in the beginning of Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.”(Romans 1:18-20) This is the same point that St. Paul is making in chapter 10; he blames the Jews for making unto themselves their own righteousness, and says that they are inexcusable because “the heavens proclaim the glory of God.” Thus, this passage, far from being an argument against implicit faith in Christ, actually strongly supports it.

"He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30)

This is an interesting text sometimes used to argue for the non sufficiency of invincible ignorance to save someone who does not have explicit faith in Christ. Leaving that question aside, though, this passage is not clear enough to make a definite assertion about it. Clearly, both those before Christ who were justified by implicit faith, and those who were justified by explicit faith are with Christ. Nevertheless, this passage brings up an opportunity to critique this kind of “face-value” interpretation of Scripture. Let's look at another passage from Scripture.

“John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40)

Interestingly enough, Jesus seems to say the opposite in this passage as he does in Matthew 12:30. This passage could be just as easily be used to argue that someone in invincible ignorance necessarily is “for Christ”, since he is not against Him.

Passages like these confirm what we already knew: Scripture cannot always be simply interpreted according to the face value of the words, but rather in light of tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. Any theory of interpretation which excludes these two is Protestant, and not Catholic.

One last interesting text is Christ's description of the last judgment, which describes all righteousness men in the mode of those who do good to Christ in an implicit way, without necessarily realizing it.

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:37-39).

Interesting. Remember that it is said that Christ will reward each one according to his works. I will discuss how natural justice in man relates to supernatural justice in a later post.


  1. Leaving aside the difference between "me" and "with", and "for" and "us," the two statements "He who is not with me is against me" and "he that is not against us is for us" are not only not contradictory, but each logically implies the other.

  2. The problem is that we naturally expect people to be saying something significant when they speak. Thus, the statement "He who is not with me is against me," is interpreted at face value as saying, "Those men who don't seem to be against me, nevertheless are against me, because they are not with me." Likewise the statement "He that is not against us is for us," is interpreted at face value as saying, "Those men who don't seem to be for us, nevertheless are for us, because they are not against us."

    Thus in both statements the subject is the same group of men, an uncommitted group who neither seem to be against Christ, nor seem to be for Christ. Nevertheless, contrary predicates seem to be said of this one group of men, namely, they are against Christ, and they are for Christ.

    This is why I said that if one reads these passages at face value, one could use them as arguments for contrary things.

  3. You seem to be taking my comment as though it were disagreeing with what you had said. Why? You said "Jesus seems to say the opposite," and I simply pointed out that in fact each statement logically implies the other.

    I find the statement "There are two Ways: a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and there is a great difference between these two Ways" quite significant. Similarly "There are two Ways: a Way with me and a Way against me" is a significant statement.

    Though you explicitly contrast a face value interpretation with an interpretation "in light of tradition and the teaching authority of the Church", you seem in fact to use "face value" interpretation to mean an interpretation without textual context. (The context in Matthew does not seem to lend itself to a reference to an "uncommitted group who neither seem to be against Christ, nor seem to be for Christ." It seems to in the first place have reference to those who see Christ's work, but are unwilling to recognize the Spirit by which he casts out demons... hardly a matter of apparent indifference.)

    Comparing the context in which the two statements come up (casting out of demons) gives a certain indication that both are expressing the same teaching of Christ.

  4. Certainly my comment was not explicitly disagreeing with yours; there could have been an implicit disagreement, if your comment was implying that the two statements do not disagree with one another at face value.

    I do not use face value to ONLY mean without textual context; this is only one possible scenario. In fact people do take quotes from Scripture out of context to prove their positions, whether that be textual context, or the broader scriptural context and/or the context of tradition and Church teaching. That is precisely the point I was making.

    If your point is that the two statements are not contradictory, and that evidence can be given for them not being contradictory with only a little effort, that is true of a lot of quotes that people take out of context; more or less so in different cases, but nevertheless always so.