Roman Catholic church teaches that the true merit of man, achieved
through sacraments, Mass and other means, is in some sense responsible
for salvation, Catholicism cannot logically deny that it teaches a form
of salvation by works.
discussion of these points will show this.
Confession (dictated by Holy Orders)
Although it is
frequently lost upon the faithful, the Catholic Church has made it clear
that in personal confession of sin, the priest does not have intrinsic
authority to forgive a personís sinsóhis only authority is a derived one
in that he is a representative for Christ, and that Christ is working
Thus, when the
priest says, "I absolve you," he does not mean that he alone is
absolving a person from their sins. It is Christ through him.
Nevertheless, it is also true that priestly confession is said to be
necessary for salvation. Further, because Christ actually is, in Person,
working through the priest, his absolution is as valid as if done by
In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma we read, "Confession is the
self-accusation by the penitent of his sins before a fully empowered
priest, in order to obtain forgiveness from him by virtue of the power
of the keys.... The Sacramental confession of sins is ordained by God
and is necessary for salvation."2
No less an
authority than the Council of Trent declared,
If anyone denies that
sacramental confession was instituted by divine law or is necessary to
salvation.... Let him be anathema [cursed by God].Ö If anyone says
that the sacrament of penance it is not required by divine law for the
remission of sins... let him be anathema.... If anyone says that the
sacramental absolution of the priest is not a judicial act but a mere
service of pronouncing and declaring to him who confesses that the
sins are forgiven,... or says that the confession of the penitent is
not necessary in order that the priest may be able to absolve him, let
him be anathema.3
to realize that priestly confession must be sincerely done to be valid.
Catholic must genuinely be sorry that he has committed the sin, he must
also resolve not to repeat it; in addition he must agree to make
restitution to any individual that his sin might have harmed and finally
he must be willing to accept any penances imposed by the priest.4
the Catholic Church maintains that the priest per se does not forgive
the believerís sins, it is difficult to deny that in the minds of many
Catholics, in effect, the priest is "forgiving" the same sins for which
Jesus died on the cross.
teaches that we are to "confess our sins one to another" (James 5:16);
it never mentions confession to a priest. The reason why Protestants
"confess their sins one to another" and not to a priest, has nothing to
do with the issues of forgiveness of sins but rather individual
reconciliation among true believers in Christ. In fact, there is no
reason to confess our sins to a priest if Christís death on the cross
has already paid their full divine penalty.
almost universally refer to John 20:21-23 as the proof of the priestís
power to forgive sins on behalf of Christ. This verse reads, "whose sins
you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall
retain, they are retained."
with the Catholic interpretation is that this Scripture teaches that all
Christians have this power, not just priests. In other words, every
Christian has the right to tell a new believer in Christ that their sins
have already been forgiven them by Jesus Christ. Thus, we donít believe
that any priest has the exclusive right to forgive sins on
Christís behalf. This is a prerogative of all believers which comes
under the biblical teaching of the universal priesthood of believers,
e.g., the fact that every believer in Christ is "a priest unto God" (1
There is no
necessity for the often humiliating experience of the confessional if
Jesus Christ alone has already forgiven us the full divine penalty for
our sins. Thus there is no fear that the individual Catholic might not
perform the acts of penance properly. There is no reason to be concerned
about obligations to the Church, no confusion over whether or not oneís
sins are truly forgiven, and no terror of purgatory for errors committed
in such matters in this life.
we believe that priestly confession negatively impacts the biblical
doctrine of the atonement. Even if we grant the Catholic denial of this
charge relative to their interpretation of their official doctrinal
position, it has been our experience that in individual Catholic
practice, priestly confession works to undermine full confidence in
B) The Mass
Catholic Church claims that the Mass in no way detracts from the
atonement of Christ, it nevertheless believes that it is principally
through the Mass that the blessings of Christís death are applied to
believers. The principal reason for this is Catholic teaching that in
the Mass Christ is actually, in a real sense, re-sacrificed (Catholics
prefer the term re-presented).5
fruit of Christís death is applied at the Mass, one can see why
Catholics attach such importance to the practice. The Catholic
Catechism cites the Council of Trent as providing the standard
Catholic view: "This sacrifice [of the Mass] is truly propitiatory,...
through the Mass we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of
need. For by this oblation the Lord is appeased,... and he pardons
wrongdoing and sins, even grave ones."6
standard Catholic work observes, "In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christís
Sacrifice on the Cross is made present, its memory is celebrated, and
its saving power is applied."7
Thus, "As a propitiatory sacrifice... the Sacrifice of the Mass effects
the remission of sins and the punishment for sins;... "8
of the Mass does not remit the guilt of sins immediately as do the
Sacraments of Baptism and of Penance, but mediately by the conferring of
the grace of repentance. The Council of Trent teaches: "Propitiated by
the offering of this [Mass] sacrifice, God, by granting the grace and
the gift of penance remits trespasses and sins, however, grievous they
1 Paul G. Schrotenboer,
ed., Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), pp. 68-69, citing the encyclical
Ad Catholic sacerdotii, 1935, and Pope Paul VI in Mysterium
fidei, no. 38.
2 Ludwig Ott,
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and
Publishers, 1974), p. 431, emphasis added.
3 H. J. Schroeder, trans.,
The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford, IL:
Tan Books, 1978), pp. 102-103, citing Fourteenth Session, Sacrament of
Penance, Canon 6, 7, 9.
4 Walter Martin, The
Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian
Research Institute, Inc., 1960), p. 63.
5 Karl Keating, What
Catholics Really BelieveóSetting the Record Straight (Ann Arbor,
MI: Servant, 1992), p. 248, emphasis added, citing Rev. John A.
6 John Hardon, The
Catholic Catechism: The Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the
Catholic Church (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), p. 468,
7 Ott, p. 407.
8 Ibid., p. 412.
9 Ibid., 413.