Today’s reading: Romans 3
In today’s reading Paul cites several Old Testament passages. These passages are often referenced by Protestants to critique Catholic teachings on the sinlessness of Mary, the role of works in salvation, grace, and free will. However, a close look at these verses shows that Paul isn’t doing any such thing.
The verses referenced are:
None is righteous, no, not one;
No one understands, no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
No one does good, not even one.
For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
The verse referencing “None is righteous” is thought to disprove the Catholic teaching on the sinlessness of Mary. The verse containing, “No one seeks for God” is argued to rebut Catholic teaching on grace and free will. Finally, “no one does good” and “no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law” are used to attack the Catholic teaching on the role of works.
There are several ways to address the issues raised by these objections. However, I think the simplest is to look closely at verse 21, in which Paul writes:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
A brief internet search shows that every major translation and the vast majority of translations all begin verse 21 with, “But now…”. Thus, it is clear that in everything written before verse 21, Paul was talking about the state of things before the Resurrection. After the resurrection, things have changed and Paul goes on to describe that change.
In verse he writes:
“… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God they are justified by his grace as a gift…”
This is the new truth of justification under the New Covenant. Let’s look at how it affects the understanding of the disputed verses.
The verse containing, “None is righteous”, used to try to disprove the Catholic teaching on the sinlessness of Mary. Let’s look at this argument in light of Paul’s teaching that we are justified by a gift of God’s grace. We know that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary he said to her, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” (Luke 1). Mary then speaks about what has just occurred and says, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior”. Thus, when the angel Gabriel meets Mary she already has grace and she is already justified. Note, that Gabriel calls her “full of grace” even before she says Yes to being the mother of the Messiah – before Jesus has become incarnate. Thus, we see that God provided Mary the grace of justification to Mary before Jesus came into the world. Note, this is still the grace of salvific work of Jesus for Mary refers to her savior. For other reasons, namely that Mary is the “new Eve”, Catholics determine that this grace was to Mary at her conception. Thus, it follows that Mary is born into the world without sin but is still saved by her son, Jesus.
The verse containing, “No one seeks for God” is argued to rebut Catholic teaching on grace and free will. Paul’s articulation of the new state of things agrees in its first half with this, saying, ““… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …”. However, Paul’s articulation of the New Testament standard is that God no longer leaves people in this sorry state. Paul says that since all have sinned, “they are justified by his grace as a gift…”. Read closely we can see that since everyone is a sinner, God give a free gift of grace to everyone. This matches what Paul wrote to Timothy, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” So, we know that all people are sinners and falls short, we know that God gives everyone grace that could cause justification, and we know that Hell is real and some people are not saved. If God is giving everyone grace for justification there can only be one reason why some remain unsaved … logically that can only be free will.
Finally, the verses of, “no one does good” and “no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law” and the Catholic teaching on the role of works. When this verse is referenced as a proof text against the Catholic teaching on the role of works it is usually because the antagonist doesn’t properly understand the Catholic teaching on the role of works. Catholics do not believe that we are justified by work. Rather, Catholics believe that we are justified by a free gift of grace from God. Which, of course, is exactly what Paul said, “… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God they are justified by his grace as a gift…”. Catholics do believe that after we are justified and in union with Christ that, because that union is so profound that we have become “one body”, our works can then be meritorious. Jesus said as much when he said that those who come after him will do even “greater works” than he did. (John 14:12). There are a few different ways to understand how our works could possibly by greater than Jesus’, who is God. However, putting aside both the quality and quantity of our works, if Jesus says that his disciples will do, “greater works” than the works must be, at the very least, “good works”. Thus, it can no longer be taken as an absolute that, “no one does good”. Under the New Covenant, we can do good, presuming we are united to Jesus.
Tomorrow: Romans 4