Faith and Works in Justification
John Martignoni v Joe Mizzi
of John Martignoni
Born Catholic. Saved by Baptism (1 Ptr 3:20-21) as an
infant. Teaches Catholic and non-Catholic alike, using the
Bible, that the Catholic Faith is the faith of the Bible; the
faith of the Apostles; the faith of the early Christians.
Prays that we all may be one (John 17:20-21).
Website: Bible Christian Society
of Joe Mizzi
A former Roman Catholic; lives in Malta of Acts 28:1; a
paediatrician. Converted to Christ when he was convinced that
salvation is by grace through faith, not of works. Desires to
share the gospel of grace with all people, especially with
Catholics whom he knows and loves dearly.
Website: Just for Catholics
The debate begins with John giving evidence that Joe
misrepresents the Catholic teaching on justification and works;
whereas Joe starts by answering John's question on salvation. This
is followed by rebuttals and final conclusions. A maximum of 600
words are allowed for each person per round. The debate is published
on both John’s and Joe’s websites.
Round 1 Martignoni
- John substantiates his allegation that
Joe misrepresents Catholic teaching. "From your [Joe's] website: ‘So
then, what is required for a person to be justified at the end, that
is, to be accounted to have fully satisfied divine law, and
therefore to merit eternal life? Trent answers: THEIR GOOD WORKS!
Their good works fully satisfy the divine law. Their works merit
eternal life.’ Again, you mis-characterize Catholic teaching. Our
good works, in and of themselves, do not ‘fully satisfy the divine
law.’ Our works, in and of themselves, do not ‘merit eternal
life.’ Both characterizations of Catholic teaching are
To show that Dr. Mizzi has misrepresented Catholic teaching on
salvation, I wish to start by quoting his website:
“So then, what is required for a person to be justified at
the end [according to Catholic teaching], that is, to be accounted
to have fully satisfied divine law, and therefore to merit eternal
life? Trent answers: THEIR GOOD WORKS!”
I have read through the Council of Trent’s “Decree on
Justification,” and nowhere do I find it saying what Dr. Mizzi
claims it says. So, first I would ask him to give me the exact
quotes that he uses to come to the conclusion he has stated on his
website. Where does the Council of Trent say that men are accounted
as having fully satisfied divine law by “THEIR
Next, I will give the actual words of the Council of Trent
regarding justification (as found in: “The Sources of Catholic
Dogma,” by Denzinger):
“...so unless [men] were born again in Christ, they never would
be justified, since in that new birth through the merit of His
passion, the grace whereby they are made just, is bestowed upon
them.” (Denzinger, p. 249)
“...man himself receiving that inspiration [of the Holy Spirit]
does nothing at all inasmuch as he can indeed reject it, nor on the
other hand can he, of his own free will, without the grace of God,
move himself to justice before Him.” (Denzinger, p. 250)
“...the meritorious cause [of man’s justification] is His
most beloved only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who...merited
justification for us by His most holy passion on the wood of the
Cross, and made satisfaction for us to God the Father...”
(Denzinger, p. 251)
“...no one can be just but he to whom the merits of the passion
of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated...” (Denzinger, p. 251)
“...we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because ‘faith
is the beginning of human salvation,’ the foundation and root of
all justification, ‘without which it is impossible to please God’
[Heb 11:6] and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and are,
therefore, said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those
things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit
the grace itself of justification; for, ‘if it is a grace, it is
not now by reason of works...’” (Denzinger, p. 252)
“Canon 1: If anyone shall say that man can be justified before
God by his own works which are done either by his own natural
powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace
through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema.” (Denzinger, p.258)
Again, Dr. Mizzi has misrepresented the Catholic Faith by giving
visitors to his website the impression that the Church teaches that
our works, in and of themselves, “merit eternal life.” That our
works, in and of themselves, “fully satisfy divine law.” Yet, I
have shown that the Council of Trent, which he claimed as the source
for his misrepresentations, clearly teaches that we can do nothing
pleasing to God in and of ourselves. That without the merits of
Jesus’ death on the cross, we are lost.
Dr. Mizzi’s position on justification is actually very close to
the Catholic position on justification. The difference is that he
believes we cannot “merit” anything. But, instead of focusing on
that aspect of our differences on his website, he has instead
distorted the whole of Catholic teaching in this area by claiming
Trent teaches we are saved by our good works...period! The quotes
above show that he is indeed distorting Catholic teaching.
Round 1 Mizzi
- Joe answers question on
salvation: "Is whether or not we have faith, God's sole
criteria for judging us worthy of salvation?"
John, your question is designed to re-word my belief in ‘salvation
by faith alone’, and you expect me to answer ‘yes’. I cannot!
Your question reflects a serious misunderstanding of the Protestant
doctrine of ‘faith alone’. You confuse the biblical doctrine of
justification by faith with the eternal foe of the gospel –
antinomianism. There are heretics (not least in evangelical circles)
who say: ‘I believe in Jesus for salvation; I will go to heaven
whether or not I do good works.’ Sadly they are deceived with a
false gospel. It does not take some gross sin to keep someone out of
heaven -- it is enough to do nothing. Christ calls such a person ‘wicked
and lazy’. The last words he will ever hear from the mouth of
Christ are horrible: ‘Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer
darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew
What then do we mean by ‘faith alone’? Simply this: ‘to him
who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his
faith is accounted for righteousness’ (Romans 4:5). God justifies
him who ‘believes’ and ‘does not work’! That is what ‘alone’
implies. The sinner relies by faith in Christ for justification and not
on account of his works. I turn to God and say, ‘Lord God, I
am not worthy of salvation. I am a guilty; I deserve wrath and hell.
Please do not judge me according to my sins. Have mercy on me. I
have no confidence in myself; I do not present my merits. By faith I
rely on Jesus Christ your Son. Cover me with his righteousness,
cleanse me with his blood.’ ‘Faith alone’ is a complete and
exclusive dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for justification.
What is the place for good works in the Christian experience?
Christians are eager to do good works because God has already
declared us just. He freed us from sin; we now have the liberty
to live for God who loved us so much!
In Ephesians 2:8-10, the Bible teaches that we are not saved
because of our good deeds (‘not of works, lest anyone should boast’).
But that is only half the story. The same passage also teaches that
we are saved for a very specific purpose, namely, to do good works (‘created
in Christ Jesus to do good works’). Works are not the cause, but
rather the result (the purpose, the fruit) of salvation. Thus good
works must always accompany true faith; if they are absent there is
neither living faith nor salvation.
Believers will not stand before God to be decided whether he will
be ‘justified’ (declared just) or ‘condemned’ (declared
guilty). ‘Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace
with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). ‘Having
been justified’ - God has already declared every believer
‘justified’. We ‘shall not come into judgment’ (John 5:24).
So why should we stand before the judgment seat of Christ at all?
Principally to be rewarded for our deeds. On that Day we will not be
charged before a criminal court; rather it is our graduation day!
‘Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to
every one according to his work’ (Revelation 22:12).
I am motivated by God’s love to do the works that please him
that I may become more and more like his Son. I do not perform works
to merit justification – for justification is God’s gratuitous
gift, purchased for us with the infinite price of the blood of
Jesus, and received by faith alone.
Round 2 Martignoni -
Well, I would never want to be so impertinent as to tell a man he
doesn't believe what he says he believes. So, if my question to Dr.
Mizzi about the criteria for salvation is based on a misunderstanding
of what Dr. Mizzi believes in regards to the doctrine of Sola
Fide...salvation by faith alone...then I apologize. I give him his
belief as he defines it. I challenge him to do the same towards
The problem is, though, that while Dr. Mizzi claims his
interpretation of "salvation by faith alone" is THE accurate
understanding of the doctrine, I deal with many Protestants who would
disagree 100% with his assertion regarding the definition of
"salvation by faith alone." These people say that works have
no role in salvation whatsoever. And, all of these folks point to the
Bible as the sole source of their beliefs and claim to be guided by
the Holy Spirit.
So, I hope Dr. Mizzi will understand the nature of my confusion
regarding his belief on the doctrine of Sola Fide. Now, he will
undoubtedly claim that all Protestants (or anyone else for that
matter) who disagree with him are, of course, wrong. Just as these
other Protestants would tell me he is wrong. So, my question is, who
do I, as a Catholic, turn to for a definitive ruling on the Protestant
doctrine of Sola Fide, when different Protestants tell me different
things, and they all point to the Bible as the source for their
Dr. Mizzi will not only use the Bible, though, he will also use
history - which is a legitimate and logical thing to do. I believe Dr.
Mizzi will claim that his understanding of this doctrine of Sola Fide
represents the "historical Protestant doctrine on
Justification." But, exactly where does one go to find out the
"historical Protestant doctrine on Justification?" And, who
exactly is it that decided the "historical Protestant doctrine on
Justification?" There aren't any Protestant church councils one
can point to for authentic Protestant teaching. There isn't a
Could we say that the beliefs of Martin Luther and John Calvin
represent the "historical Protestant doctrine on
Justification?" That would make sense, wouldn't it? The beliefs
on Justification of the two main founders of Protestantism would
indeed represent the "historical Protestant doctrine on
But, that would present a problem to Dr. Mizzi. If the beliefs of
Martin Luther and John Calvin can be said to represent the
"historical Protestant doctrine on Justification," then why
does he believe in some historical Protestant doctrines, but not
others? For example, both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed in
the perpetual virginity of Mary, yet Dr. Mizzi does not.
So, if the beliefs of Martin Luther and John Calvin can be said to
represent historical Protestant doctrine, then Dr. Mizzi is, in a
sense, talking out of both sides of his mouth. He believes historical
Protestant doctrine in one area (because it fits with his beliefs),
but he doesn't believe historical Protestant doctrine in another area
(because it doesn't fit with his beliefs).
So, Dr. Mizzi, please tell us how you know what historical
Protestant doctrine is? Is it the teaching of Luther and Calvin? If it
is, then why don't you believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary,
like they did? If it's not, then what is it?
Round 2 Mizzi
John you have demonstrated that the Council of Trent 'clearly
teaches that we can do nothing pleasing to God in and of ourselves.' I
fully agree. Catholicism opposes the Pelagian heresy that we can merit
eternal life by our natural ability.
Now if I wrote that the Catholic Church teaches that we are saved
by our works 'in and of themselves', or if I taught that 'Trent
teaches we are saved by our good works... period!', then I would have
indeed misrepresented the Catholic position. But I wrote nothing of
the sort! Not even did I give the impression that Catholicism teaches
salvation by works 'in and of themselves', as I will presently show by
asking you to read my words in context.
I quote at length from my article
to which you referred (emphasis added). Trent's decree on
Justification can be read online
In other words, Rome teaches that God helps man
to do good works and hence to fully satisfy the Law. Only then is a
person qualified to enter heaven. The Council of Trent elaborates
this idea in chapter 16:
"For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself
continually infuses his virtue into the said justified, - as the
head into the members, and the vine into the branches, - and this
virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good
which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious
before God, - we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the
justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very
works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law
according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited
eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be,
however, that they depart in grace..."
To be fair, we should acknowledge that a great
emphasis is placed on Jesus Christ and the grace of God. Good works
do not originate in man's natural ability but can only be performed
through Jesus Christ. Yet, it is also true that these works do not
cease to be the good works of the Christian; personal works give him
the right to heaven.
So then, what is required for a person to be
justified at the end, that is, to be accounted to have fully
satisfied divine law, and therefore to merit eternal life? Trent
answers: THEIR GOOD WORKS! Their good works fully satisfy the divine
law. Their works merit eternal life.
John, did I really state or imply that Catholicism teaches
salvation by works 'in and of themselves'? Did I not clarify that good
works are done by God's help; that Catholicism emphasizes God's grace;
that the works are performed through Jesus Christ? Did I not
specifically refuse the false idea that Catholicism teaches that our
works originate in our natural ability?
John, your allegation is false. You have falsely accused me of the
very thing that I took pains to refute!
Moreover my assertion on the Catholic teaching on justification
(that personal good works satisfy divine law and merit eternal life)
is correct; it is deduced from Trent chapter 16 quoted above. For
notwithstanding the grace of God and the merits of Jesus Christ,
ultimately, your personal works are in a very real sense your own.
Canon 32 places a curse on your head if you deny that your good works
are not your own good merits.
Lord willing, next week we'll compare the Catholic doctrine with
the evangelical message of justification by faith apart from our
Round 3 Martignoni -
I disagree strongly when Joe says that his website does not even
give the “impression” that Catholicism teaches salvation by works
“in and of themselves.” I got that impression, as have others.
One gets that impression because he states that we believe our “personal
works” give us the “right” to Heaven. That is not even a wrong
impression, that is a flat out MISREPRESENTATION. Where does the
Council of Trent teach that? It doesn’t. So, Joe, please remove that
FALSE STATEMENT from your site.
One also gets that impression when he states: “So then, what
is required for a person to be justified at the end...Trent answers:
THEIR GOOD WORKS.” Why don’t you instead say: “Trent
answers: JESUS’ DEATH ON THE CROSS (Decree on Justification -
chapter 7), FAITH (chapter 8), BEING BORN AGAIN (chapter 3), AND GOOD
WORKS (chapter 10)?” Why do you just say “GOOD WORKS” ALONE and
LEAVE OUT all the rest? You’re not trying to create an impression of
Catholic teaching as a “works alone” salvation? Then include the
full answer from Trent.
We believe almost the same thing about faith and works with the
following exception: Catholics believe good works do indeed merit an
INCREASE in justification, AFTER we are justified; whereas, you do
not. Why not focus on that? Why state it the way you have if your
intent is not to mislead?
We can merit an increase in justification, because after we are
justified gratuitously by God, we are then members of the Body of
Christ. Before justification, we cannot merit anything. But, after
justification, we can merit an increase. Does Christ merit? Of course
He does. If the Head merits, does not the body also merit? Of course
it does. It would be foolish to say that the Head merits but the hand
or the foot does not.
2 Cor 3:18, “And we all...are being changed from one degree of
glory to another...” So, we can increase in justification...in
glory. But, do we merit anything in this increase in glory?
Heb 13:16, “Do not neglect to do good...for such sacrifices are
pleasing to God.” How can our sacrifices be “pleasing to God,”
if we don’t merit anything? Shouldn’t it say that Jesus’
sacrifice is the only sacrifice pleasing to God?
Heb 13:20-21, “Now may the God of peace...equip you with
everything good that YOU may do His will, working in YOU that which is
pleasing in His sight...” We can merit because it is Christ working
through us. Christ is crowning His own merits manifested in us.
Heb 10:35, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which
has a great reward.”
Matt 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when men revile you...Rejoice and
be glad for your reward is great in heaven.”
1 Cor 3:14, “If the work which any man has built on the
foundation survives, he will receive a reward.”
There are many other passages that speak of a reward for what we
do. How can we receive a reward for our works, if our works do not
merit anything? A reward is something given in return for something we
Matt 25:14-30...the two good servants increase what their Master
has given them, and they merit a reward for it. The bad servant does
not, and he is cast into the outer darkness.
As members of the Body of Christ, we can merit and do merit
increases in grace, after our justification...just as the Church and
the Bible teach. By producing good fruit (John 15:1-6) we, the
branches, abide in Christ and merit, by Christ the vine working
through us, increases in grace. Very biblical. Very Catholic.
Round 3 Mizzi
John I accept your apology. Your misunderstanding of sola fide
gives me great hope. You are not opposing the biblical gospel but the
antinomian pseudo-gospel. In this fight, I am on your side. Moreover,
I am hopeful that one day you will understand and receive the
evangelical message for your salvation.
Your rebuttal deviates from our subject, Justification, to the
field of epistemology. Important as that is, we must keep to our
topic. I will not attempt to give a full answer; suffice it to say
that the historic Protestant doctrine is recorded in the historical
Articles; Belgic, Augsburg, 1689 Baptist, Westminster, etc).
Protestants do not agree on everything (do you?), but it is gloriously
true that God granted us perfect agreement on the doctrine of
justification by faith alone, as the Protestant confessions testify.
Back to our subject. I must emphasize that sola fide is not:
Faith à Justification minus
That’s antinomianism, making works unnecessary or optional in the
Christian experience. Heretical!
Sola fide includes works as a necessary aspect of God’s
salvivic purpose. Sola fide is:
Faith à Justification plus
We believe that a person is justified by faith alone, apart from
the merits of personal works, on account of the righteousness and
blood of Jesus. We come to God empty-handed, without merits, and
appeal for mercy and grace, asking God to give us what we do not
deserve. By faith we rely on Jesus Christ alone for our justification,
being convinced that his sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to
cleanse us from all sin.
Now God’s purpose is not only our liberation from guilt and
condemnation; he also determined that his people should be zealous for
good works. The same faith that justifies, uniting us to Christ, also
results in a godly and holy life. Good works follow justification –
as one historic Protestant confession states: good works ‘do spring
out necessarily of a true and lively faith insomuch that by them a
lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the
Yet we do not dream on relying on those works for our
justification. For justification we believe in Christ – in Christ
How does this compare with the Catholic doctrine? Catholicism also
has works as a necessary factor in the formula, but there is a
fundamental difference. Catholicism teaches:
Faith plus Works à
Faith is important; Catholicism does not teach justification by
works alone. Yet faith is insufficient to secure a right standing
before God according to Catholic teaching. The merits of personal
works performed throughout the Catholic’s life, must be added so
that at the end he will be accounted to have fully satisfied the
divine law and merited eternal life. I hope you can appreciate the
difference between the Catholic and evangelical message.
Good works, like a kiss, could be the sign of opposite things. Good
works are the Christian’s kiss of love and gratitude to the Saviour.
But good works could also be a Judas kiss betraying the grace of
Christ. For pretending to believe in Jesus, many religious people will
not completely trust in him for justification, but work and toil to
merit what God gives freely for Christ’s sake alone.
John I appeal to you, and to the readers of this debate, to examine
your deepest motives. Do I trust completely in Jesus Christ alone for
my justification? Is there concrete evidence in my life, good works,
that my faith is real? And finally, am I doing works out of love for
Christ, or for the purpose of meriting justification?