The Response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestants on Justification (The Council of Trent on Justification)


Protestant and evangelical churches have ideas on justification that greatly differ from those of their Roman Catholic and Orthodox counterparts. Being that the Protestants broke from Roman Catholicism it is necessary to look at the early response of the Roman Catholic Church to get a better understanding of the great difference of understanding on this topic. This article is set out to show the early response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant’s asserted beliefs on justification.

Faith Alone

One of the biggest pillars of the Protestant understanding of justification is the teaching of faith alone. The idea that Christians are justified by faith is not a new teaching, nor is the understanding that Christians are justified by faith alone (Canon 9). The details and conclusions of how one is justified by faith alone as asserted by the Protestants is one that is indeed incompatible with the prior understandings of the faith, which is not confidence alone (Canon 12). Also the idea that one must adhere to faith alone in faith alone or be absolutely sure he is justified in order to be justified is also condemned (Canons 13 and 14).

Selected Canons

Canon ix. If any one shall say, that by faith alone the impious is justified; so as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order unto the obtaining the grace of justification, and that it is not in any respect necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

Canon xii. If any one shall say, that justifying faith is nought else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified; let him be anathema.

Canon xiii. If any one shall say, that it is necessary unto every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any hesitation arising from his own infirmity and indisposition, that his sins are remitted unto him; let him be anathema.

Canon xiv. If any one shall say, that man is absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself to be absolved and justified; or that no one is truly justified save he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are perfected; let him be anathema.


Canons 15 and 17 due away with the introduction of reformed predestination. That is the ideas that God predestined evil and good for those whom He chose to receive grace and not to receive respectively and that those who have faith are to be confirmed that they are of this type of predestinate.

Selected Canons

Canon xv. If any one shall say, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinated; let him be anathema.

Canon xvii. If any one shall say, that the grace of justification only befalleth those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.

Free will and Total Depravity

Canons 4, 5, and 6 condemn the idea that free will is entirely done away with from Adam’s fall and that man’s free will does not co-operates with God to receive justification.

Selected Canons

Canon iv. If any one shall say, that the free will of man moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates to the end that it should dispose and prepare itself for obtaining the grace of justification; and that it cannot refuse consent, if it would, but that, like something inanimate, it does nothing whatever, and is merely in a passive state; let him be anathema.

Canon v. If any one shall say, that, since Adam’s sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with a name only, yea, a title without a reality, a figment, in fine, brought into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.

Canon vi. If any one shall say, that it is not in the power of man to make his ways evil, but that God worketh the works that are evil as well as those that are good, not by permission only, but properly, and of Himself in such wise that the treason of Judas be no less His own proper work than the calling of Paul; let him be anathema.

Perseverance of the Saints

The idea introduced to the church that everyone who receives the grace of justification will indeed persevere unto the end and not fall away from the faith is condemned by canons 23 and 26. Canon 24 does away with the idea that good works are a “fruit” of faith only. It is said to build up the faith he has and is necessary.

Selected Canons

Canon xxiii. If any one shall say, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, throughout his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds respecting the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.

Canon xxiv. If any one shall say, that the justice received is not preserved, and also increased in the sight of God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

Canon xxvi. If any one shall say, that the just ought not, for their good works which have been done in God, to expect and hope for an eternal recompense from God, through His mercy and the merit of Jesus Christ, if they persevere unto the end in well doing and in keeping the divine commandments; let him be anathema.


No matter what sect of Christianity one finds himself to be in I believe this information is helpful for the understanding of early Protestant and Catholic relations on the theology of justification. There are other canons on the topic of justification and one can read, as I have, the Council of Trent’s canons here.

Roman Catholic Response to the Reformation (Council of Trent)

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