A Note: The Council of Trent will be referenced frequently over the next few posts. It is the most relevant Council for this conversation as it is the Council that responded to the Reformation and is cited by Challies in several articles. If you are unfamiliar with Trent, Bishop Robert Barron offers an excellent introduction to the Council of Trent (length – 12:53).
1. Do Catholics deny Grace alone?
We are therefore said to be justified gratuitously [as gift/by grace], because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification… Canon 1. If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema  [or known as a false teacher]. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VIII and Canon 1 ).
This is the Catechism, “Our justification comes from the grace of God” (CCC 1996 ). Here is James Cardinal Gibbons from 1917, “Without Divine grace we can neither conceive, nor accomplish anything for the sanctification of our souls” (Faith of Our Fathers, 218). While this is certainly Grace alone, that does not mean Challies and the Church agree on how they view grace .
2. Do Catholics deny Christ alone?
No! Though I think it is important to affirm that we are saved by the Triune Godhead. We should avoid excluding the Father and the Holy Spirit. But I’ll let Trent speak on that:
The causes of this justification are:
– the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ and life everlasting;
– the efficient cause is the merciful God who washes and sanctifies[cf. 1 Cor. 6:11] gratuitously, signing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance,[Eph. 1:13f]
– the meritorious cause is His most beloved only begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies,[Rom. 5:10] for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us,[Eph. 2:4] …
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[Rom. 5:5] 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. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VII)
3. Do Catholics deny Faith Alone?
This particular claim gets into the unfortunate tendency to create a false dichotomy. “The issue is naively boiled down to justification by faith, on the one hand (evangelicalism), versus justification by works, on the other hand (Roman Catholicism). This crass caricature has little basis in reality, and hampers the cause for theological truth and Christian unity” (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 2). Challies gives the impression that Catholics don’t adamantly believe that faith is essential to salvation. As disciples of Truth we need to avoid such mischaracterizations.
Can a Catholic ever say “Faith Alone/Sola Fide”? Yes.
However, Challies seems to want you to believe that any understanding of faith alone has been anathematized by the Council of Trent, likely because that is what R.C. Sproul had him understand. Here is the ruling in question:
Canon 9 – 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 (Council of Trent Session 6) [If you’ve never read the eight Canons prior to this one, Trent is very clear that the action of the will is “moved and aroused by God” (Canon 4) through the “the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost” (Canon 3). Heck just read all of Session 6 already.]
Seems pretty cut and dry right? If you accept that particular articulation of faith alone, then yes, it is. But it seems that even at the time of Trent there must have been consideration that there is an acceptable definition of faith alone, otherwise why clarify the specific meaning they are anathematizing? This isn’t coming from me. This is coming from Pope Benedict XVI:
Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. 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. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 6 & 14). (Saint Paul: “The Doctrine of Justification: from Works to Faith” )
Also, check out the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification .
But one might say, Catholics still add works and sacraments, meaning we now earn our justification. First, the Catholic would argue that we don’t add anything, merely recognize the way Jesus set it up and the Apostles handed it down. Second, that only sounds like earning our salvation to the ears of one who has made faith synonymous with grace. Faith is a fruit of grace, but that is not all God’s grace is capable of. Here is how Cardinal Henry Newman expresses it:
It seems, then, that whereas Faith on our part fitly corresponds, or is the correlative, as it is called, to grace on God’s part, Sacraments are but the manifestation of grace, and good works are but the manifestation of faith; so that whether we say we are justified by faith, or by works or by Sacraments, all these but mean this one doctrine, that we are justified by grace, which is given through Sacraments, impetrated by faith, manifested in works. (Newman, Lectures on Justification, p. 303)
Not to mention we are all in agreement that the supernatural gift of Faith that saves us apart from works of the Law is a gift. But it isn’t any less of a response or more of gift because it is invisible as opposed to grace initiated works which are visible. God who is Spirit took on flesh. Do we really think He does not want our Faith to become incarnate as well?
Finally, as has been my practice thus far, I’ll let Trent speak for itself:
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 (James 2:17,20) and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity (Gal. 5:6, 6:15). … But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely (Rom. 3:24, 5:1), these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that 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 we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VII and VIII)
It is telling that St. Paul does not say “faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is faith because it justifies you alone” or “If I have not faith I am nothing”. Instead we see in Scripture that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28), “we are saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24), and “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). We are warned that “if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2), and if we do not have love for our brother that we can see, while claiming love for God who we can’t see, then we are liars (cf. 1 John 4:20). This is why James says “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and Paul says that we must have “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
9. “When the councils pronounced holders of a doctrine anathema, it marked a formal excommunication from the Church: nothing more and nothing less” (“Let him be Anathema”: Not what many Protestants think it means. http://lonelypilgrim.com/2013/06/03/let-him-be-anathema-not-what-many-protestants-think-it-means/) See also, What Catholics Really Believe: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith by Karl Keating – “[Misconception #5] The Catholic Church sends people to hell by excommunicating them. [Keating’s response] It doesn’t. Only God can condemn anyone to hell. That isn’t within the Church’s power, and no Catholic ever claimed it was” (17). Interestingly, Challies’ list of “False Teachers” on his site is essentially him saying, “let them be anathema.”
Interestingly, Challies never makes comment of it on his site. I searched the whole thing for references he made to “the forgettable Benedict,” as he called him, and a Pope affirming a legitimate articulation of faith alone must have missed the list of noteworthy items.