Georges de Selve on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith



The debate over the doctrine of Justification by Faith which was dividing Christianity clearly concerned Georges de Selve as a moderate cleric trying to articulate a position which would reconcile the Reformers to the universal church.* In a letter to a priest in his diocese, he wrote: "If a priest speaks today of living in obedience or of doing works as necessary for eternal life, one part of the world cries and says that he is a Papist and a 'iusticaire.' If he preaches the salvation by Jesus Christ and the redemption of sins, the other part of the world cries that he is a Lutheran and a disseminator of bad doctrine."* This passage reflects the delicate balancing act a clergyman like de Selve had to maintain between the pro-Reform faction and the ultra-orthodox faction led by the faculty of the Sorbonne.

de Selve's position on Justification appears to be strongly indebted to the works of Lefèvre d'Etaples. Following Lefèvre, de Selve asserts : " all times and all nations has been the way of justification."* Neither Lefèvre or de Selve ruled out good works entirely, but good works must proceed from faith. Lefèvre's position is made clear in his Catholic Commentaries:

But he who has faith must perform good works when the time for acting is at hand and he who does good works must have faith. In like manner James said (2:14-25) I will show my faith to you through works. For good works are tokens of faith..*

de Selve would write: "without faith we would not be able to do any work that was aggreeable to God."* de Selve argues that spiritual works made from the heart give glory and render grace to God.*