Now, I don’t mean Luther *had* the right to insert “sola” into the biblical translation, only that there is a way to render it theologically correct in concept. Of course, Luther was absolutely wrong and erroneous in his theology, and is conceptually in contradiction to Catholic teaching. Merely, here is my attempt to show that the syntactical addition of “sola”, by itself, is an authentic translation possibility that does no harm to Roman Catholic doctrine on justification. And that is even if Luther really inserted this.
Many interpreters of the sacred Scriptures have commented on Romans 3:28 suggesting that it is not a negation of justification by works, but simply an assertion that justification is by faith, among other things. Thus, in the mind of these readers, it was theologically wrong of Martin Luther to have added “sola fide” to the text of Romans.
St. Paul is clearly negating “works” in the process of being justified. If I had told you that my store is open week days, and not on weekends, am I not saying that my store is open on week days “alone”? Or, if I were to say that my store is open during day light hours, and not night time hours, am I not saying that my store is open during day light hours “alone”? Paul is assessing only two ways to reach God in a justified state, either of faith or works, the former being effective and the latter being entirely impossible (with the nuance explained below). Consequently, it is entirely reasonable to read St. Paul as saying “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom 3:28) as if he said “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the deeds of the law”. How then can a Catholic, one who is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church which exercised her authority on this subject at the sacred Council of Trent in the 16th century, affirm the translation which Luther gave?
First, a preliminary remark on “deeds/works of the law” – the recent arguments put forward (here I am thinking of the shift in scholarship with E.P Sanders all the way unto the New Perspectives on Paul in the writings of Dunn, Wright, Hays, & Co.) to say that “deeds of the law” are an exclusive reference to the Jewish ceremonial boundary markers, such as circumcision, the food laws, and the Mosaic sabbaths, etc,etc., hardly stands in light of the fact that St. Paul continues this theme of the inability to be just in God’s eyes through the law in chapter 7 of Romans, and there his inability is to fulfill the commandment “thou shall not covet”. Secondly, in 3:20, St. Paul writes, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin”. But the “law” which brings the knowledge of sin is a moral prohibition, as said later in chapter 7, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Rom 7:7). Therefore, even though the Jewish ceremonial signs, prescriptions, and prohibitions are are the primary import in the general scheme, it is not devoid of the failure to keep its moral demands. In fact, in some contexts, it is that which is intended to be given thought.
Now, you might ask how the above assertions are to be harmonious with the 9th canon of the 6th Session of the Council of Trent, which reads:
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
There are 2 ways:
(1) In the first place, it can be brought into harmony by realizing that it is not so much the exclusivity of faith that is of concern, but *what is faith*. For St. Paul, “faith” is not a mere reference to mental assent which is, itself, isolated from other implications. For instance, “faith” implies the reception of baptism. This is proven in the following: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ [the Son]” (Gal 3:280. Notice how St. Paul sees the reception of baptized as necessarily implied by his reference to the instrumentality of “faith”? One needs only say they have had faith in Christ, and St. Paul would have understood by the baptismal state. Another text shows that his understanding of “faith” includes certain qualifications: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor 13:5). A much more relevant passage is when he implies that Christians receive the Spirit of God, the agent of renewal (Titus 3:7-9), through faith: “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal 3:2). There is of course the famous passage intersecting love with faith, showing that the latter is authentic when operative with the former: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6). Commenting on the condition of perseverance for the enjoyment of eschatological salvation, St. Paul writes: “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Col 1:23). There is also the instrumentality of faith in the act of being regenerated: “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12). So we see that for St. Paul, “faith” has some certain implications if it is going to be genuine or authentic. Thus, when he says we are justified by “faith”, it does not necessarily mean that this means exclusively a mental assent, or even a sincere trust in Jesus as Savior. This is aptly demonstrated in a video presentation given by Catholic apologist Steve Ray (though, Steve would probably not immediately agree with the title of this post). In short, “faith” was a technical term for taking on all the was asked of persons in order to be a disciple of Jesus and a member of the cultic community of the church. Therefore, in the reference to a justification “by faith”, Paul is hardly positing an exclusive confession from the mouth. It includes a sincere heartfelt belief, as Steve shows, the inner repentance which St. Peter made clearly obligatory for the remission of sins (Acts 2:36).
(2) The good “works” that are performed in the Christian life, that is, in the post-baptismal state, are not, for St. Paul, “works of the flesh”, or “powers of human nature”. Anyone who is familiar with the Pauline corpus will know that a controlling motif in his material is the fundamental shift from the “old” -to- “new”. This is in terms of the covenant, creation, the Mosaic Law, the Christic law, and the human being itself. There is a new which replaces the old in all these instances. In particular, Christ himself represents the “old” Adam in his crucifixion, and by dying, brings Adamic humanity to destruction (Rom 6:5-6), and by being raised unto life, re-constructs a new model of humanity, the “new” human, which is infused with the special indwelling of the Holy Spirit and all His power of conforming to God. In our partaking together with Christ, through baptism, we make an exit from the Adamic human complex and enter into the Christic human complex, wherein the life conditions are heightened in contrast to the weakness of the 1st Adam’s human population. In the context of fallen humanity, no works are capable of either entering or sustaining a right-relationship with God, as chapter 1 of the 6th session of Trent states:
The holy council declares first, that for a correct and clear understanding of the doctrine of justification, it is necessary that each one recognize and confess that since all men had lost innocence in the prevarication of Adam, having become unclean, and, as the Apostle says, by nature children of wrath, as has been set forth
in the decree on original sin, they were so far the servants of sin and under the power of the devil and of death, that not only the Gentiles by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated or to rise therefrom, though free will, weakened as it was in its powers and downward bent, was by no means extinguished in them.
In the newly created humanity, of which we become (2 Cor 5:17-21), there is no effective place for the life conditions which St Paul elsewhere subsumes under the reference “flesh” (Rom 7:4-5, for one instance). Even the good works which are done in this new life condition is not identified with what Paul calls the “works” done by human nature, and which are entirely excluded from both obtaining and sustaining a right-relationship with God. In fact, St. Paul says that it is through the instrumentality of faith that this resurrection-life is channeled into the lives of Christians. He writes of this power, that it is “… the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand” (Eph 1:19). Therefore, the “good works” which are requisite for meriting eternal life, as the Catholic Church teaches, are not works done directly coming from human nature in isolation, but in human nature deified by the Spirit and empowered by the resurrection-life of the 2nd Adam which is channeled to us via faith, as St. Paul wrote; and so these are not works done by the law, which represents human nature confronted with the “letter” of God’s demands, but, is rather the internal outworking of a supernatural principle which begins in the seed of the initial regeneration which constitutes the justified state (Titus 3:7).