Faith & Works Question


#1

I was recently handed a document, which looked a lot like a sermon, from one of my protestant friends lately. The document laid out very well an explanation of James 2:14-26, “faith and works”. From reading the document I couldn’t tell it was written by a non-Catholic. It confirmed time and time again that faith and works go hand in hand and one is worthless without the other. However, in the closing statement the writer states, “remember, James is not saying that our salvation is dependant on our work.”

I love the Catholic faith and continue to realize the more I learn the less I really know. I’m not sure if I understand the Catholic teaching on this issue. Can you please enlighten me? Thank you and God bless your ministry!


#2

Thanks for your inquiry, Dan, and welcome to the board, if you are a newbie. :slight_smile:

Actually, the final sentence of what you read is Catholic teaching. Our salvation doesn’t depend upon our works. You see, both faith and good works are actions of the grace of God in our lives, so we cannot take credit for either. All the praise and credit go to God for whatever good we do because it was done through his grace. Does that help?

What James is telling us is that we cannot be negligent in doing good and expect to be acceptable to God. When we don’t do what we ought to have done or should have done we commit sins of omission. So, if we don’t feed the hungry, feed the naked and house the homeless, we have not done what God wants us to do.

Of course, there are many ways of doing good works, such as donating to charities or getting more personally involved, if possible.


#3

[quote=Dan Goebel]I was recently handed a document, which looked a lot like a sermon, from one of my protestant friends lately. The document laid out very well an explanation of James 2:14-26, “faith and works”. From reading the document I couldn’t tell it was written by a non-Catholic. It confirmed time and time again that faith and works go hand in hand and one is worthless without the other. However, in the closing statement the writer states, “remember, James is not saying that our salvation is dependant on our work.”

I love the Catholic faith and continue to realize the more I learn the less I really know. I’m not sure if I understand the Catholic teaching on this issue. Can you please enlighten me? Thank you and God bless your ministry!
[/quote]

Salvation by works is known as Pelagianism and is a heresy. Catholicism believe that all good works come from the prevenient grace of God and we are called to cooperate with that grace. Thus we are justified by grace, not works or faith, yet have free will to cooperate within the mystery of divine predestination. Catholics don’t get into predestination too much but hold it a mystery within the greater mystery of God. Since Catholics believe that we cooperate with God’s grace some Protestants hurl the label of “Semi-pelagianism” at Catholicism.

Sometimes you might see a reference to “Monergism” which is a term to refer to the double predestination of Calvin, et al., that holds that justification is solely an act of God. The term applied to Catholicism’s view is “Synergism” because Catholics believe we cooperate with that grace that indeed first comes from God. Dominus Iesus gives a very understandable short description of the Catholic position. As you might guess, this is a technical hot topic with numerous fine distinctions between Protestants and Catholics.

You’ll also find a lot of semantic differences in these issues. Justification v. sanctification being the most common disconnects.

Personally I don’t see the difference between monergism and fatalism - another heresy. This is one dispute that I have no doubt the Catholics got right. You will find out that it is a real hot button, though. Good luck.


#4

[quote=Dan Goebel]… I’m not sure if I understand the Catholic teaching on this issue. Can you please enlighten me?
[/quote]

Catholics describe good works as necessary for eternal life because God rewards acts of faithfulness (good works) of those already justified with sanctifying grace. Not because of deservedness, but due to God’s loving kindness. In Catholic soteriology, such gifts or blessings from God are not understood to have been given frivolously or needlessly by God, as all of his gifts are for the ultimate purpose of attaining eternal life. We believe that God rewards the faithful with necessary gifts to further enlighten the intellect and strengthen the will in such a way as they contribute to one’s perseverance in faith. If we do not remain stedfast in faith, we fall from grace and are no longer justified. Consequently, in this sense, works of the faithful are necessary for eternal life.

With Protestants, I try to change the polemical wording and explain Catholic soteriology in terms they won’t automatically rail against. For example, I think every Protestant would agree with the Catholic assertion that …

The condign merit of Christ ALONE is that which justifies a sinner and makes him righteous in God’s eyes.

Yet, Protestants (at least some) deny the very notion of congruous merit. Catholic soteriology does not. Congruous merit does not, and cannot make an unjust man, just. Instead, it is the gratuitous reward God gives to those already justified who act faithfully (supernatural blessings for faithfulness, which is our willing cooperation with God’s grace working within us). Even when we cooperate with God’s grace, God is STILL not obliged to sanctify or reward us for that cooperation. It is still a gift, completely gratuitous. However, we believe God does indeed reward the faithful. In fact, God can and does reward some for the faithfulness of others (that’s why we pray for others). It is not owed (as was Christ’s condign merit). Instead, it is given gratuitously, not because of our deservedness, but due to the loving kindness of God. Catholic theology describes condign merit of Christ, as merit properly so-called. The congruous merit of the faithful, Catholic theology describes as quasi-merit.

Condign merit is like a paycheck for work completed. It is obligatory. There would be a true violation of communative justice if the pay was withheld after the work was performed. This is the way Christ merited grace for mankind at Calvary.

Congruous merit is like a gratuity, or using a military example, a medal awarded for meritorious service. As a member of the USAF, the military owes me a paycheck for my efforts (condign merit), but they never owe me a medal (congruous merit). Yet, it is a matter of distributive justice to give medals to those who perform meritoriously. If they did not, they would not be very nice, but they are not strictly obliged to award medals.

The lack of congruous merit on the part of the just neither adds to nor subtracts from the merit of Christ (which is infinite), which ALONE makes a sinner just. Consequently, congruous merit neither adds to or subtracts from the state of justification for those made righteous by Christ. Christ’s work was infinite. His merit is infinite. Furthermore, the source of grace for congruous merit gifted to the faithful, is the condign merit of Christ alone.

So what good is congruous merit? It does not make us just. However, it is still a supernatural gift from God. It adds to our sanctification. Our increased sanctification better equips the faithful against trials. It helps us to grow in our faith. That’s good. We believe that such is necessary for eternal salvation, especially in times of tribulation. Those of “little faith” are justified. Yet, those of “great faith” are more likely to be stedfast in their faith. This contributes to the attainment of eternal life!! Yet, the lack of congruous merit is not the same as demerit.

A word about “demerit” … those given the obligation to do good works and do not do so, may be committing a grave sin of omission, which does cause us to lose our justification. In other words, failure to do that which is obligatory in the eyes of God can be a serious evil, and may cause us to fall from a state of grace (become unjustified). In this sense too, good works are necessary for salvation. One who is just, but fails to do an obligatory deed may be committing a damnable sin.


#5

It’s often helpful to start with something reassuring, such as, "supernatural merit is only an effect or fruit of the state of grace (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi)" (*The Catholic Encyclopedia (1909), “Merit”). *It is not the cause of justification, and so it is not that which makes a sinner justified. Also, the faithful acts of the just is rewarded with grace upon grace, and the source of that Grace is Christ. “It is a defined article of the Catholic Faith that man before, in, and after justification derives his whole capability of meriting and satisfying, as well as his actual merits and satisfactions, solely from the infinite treasure of merits which Christ gained for us on the Cross (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi; Sess. XIV, cap. viii).” (ibid)

This normally disarms many false accusations against Catholic soteriology from the very start of the discussion.


#6

Hi Dan! :thumbsup:

Nothing like getting something that is almost the complete truth huh?

One thing I have never been able to understand is how non-Catholics can make such silly statements (like that one) while telling us that they are basing all that they believe and practice upon the Bible alone. Look at this passage that deals pretty directly with works and our salvation.

Matthew 25 31-46

31 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. 32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. 34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:

36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? 39 Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? 40 And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. 44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? 45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

The conclusion that they come to is not really in line with what Jesus Himself says and I would think that the author of that sermon or tract is spinning his own interpretation onto what St. James had to say, and that it doesn’t measure in the context of what Our Lord said.

You might wanna read through these Catholic Answers tracts & then print whatever most applies and give it to that guy. (Hey fair is fair, right?) That search feature in the CA library will also give you access to a BUNCH of good articles that may also help. I recommend then to you. :slight_smile:

So to mess up a line from GhostBusters…“Who ya gonna believe?” :smiley:
Pax tecum,


#7

Perhaps we are saved by our faith, but our faith is demonstrated by our works?

One can have faith but without works other people would never know it. To say, “I have faith” would be to boast, as other posters have intimated.

It also ties in the the least of my brothers and other passages… you can speak your faith until the cows come home, but it is not love unless it takes form. I would think that if your speech motivates others to do works, that might count too because your faith inspired them – thus one could see that even a leader could in this way be a servant – to the productivity of the workers or even to a cause.

Alan

edit>> This brings up the issue of cloisters. I understand that even there, works are not only done, but often in silence – the language of God.


#8

check out this site:
fisheaters.com//solafide.html


#9

I heard a non-Catholic TV preacher speak about faith and belief.

Faith motivates. A person can be starving, and we can wheel up a dinner to him. He can believe the food will nourish him and save his life, but unless he actually eats of it (exercising faith) then he will not benefit from either the food or the belief.

Faith is like belief with fruit.

Works are works of faith, which can be seen or unseen. I was speaking before about how “others” can see our faith, but we also would count among “others” to use work as a “reality check” so hopefully we recognize when we are just spewing our meaningless words and not speaking them in true faith.

If a person says, “farewell, and I pray you may stay warm,” but does not give a person his coat, that’s kind of like it too is seems.

Alan


#10

[quote=AlanFromWichita]I heard a non-Catholic TV preacher speak about faith and belief.

Faith motivates. A person can be starving, and we can wheel up a dinner to him. He can believe the food will nourish him and save his life, but unless he actually eats of it (exercising faith) then he will not benefit from either the food or the belief.
[/quote]

AlanSo note that it is the action of actually eating (a work) that makes the vital (literally in this case) connection and effects the person’s salvation. :slight_smile:
Pax tecum,


#11

Hello Dan,

Of the four times scripture presents Jesus with the direct question, “What must I do to share in everlasting life?” Three times Jesus directly answers “obey the commandments”, twice He tells us to love. Through out Old Testament and New Testament God’s ten commandments are summed up with the great commandment to love God and neighbor.

The way people go to heaven is through the blood of Jesus, the reason people go to heavan is because they love God and love for God is accomplished through free from the will of God obedience to the will of God.

Please visit Jesus, What Must I Do To Share In Everlasting Life?

Luther and most Protestants directly oppose Jesus and The Father’s direct teaching on what we must do to share in everlasting life.

It is better to use Jesus direct commands to obey God if we wish to enter into life and then use St. James as back up. Jesus goes straight to the point and Jesus’ words carry more weight in many people’s minds. As His words should. Ask your Protestant friend why they oppose Jesus answer to what we must do to share in everlasting life.

Please also visit the thread Luther! Read Read! which takes a look at Luthers opposition to Jesus’ teaching. The Protestants, especially Luther, stumble over St. Paul’s writings pertaining to the law of circumcision and the Pharisee created laws. The Protestants confuse St. Paul’s writings as opposing Jesus teachings to obey God if you wish to enter into life.

Luther****The doctrine of our opponents is similar to that of the false apostles in Paul’s day.Our opponents teach, "If you want to live unto God, you must live after the Law, for it is written, Do this and thou shalt live."

NAB MAT 19:16

“Teacher, what good must I do to possess everlasting life?” He answered, "Why do you question me about what is good? There is One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied “You shall not kill”; ‘You shall not commit adultery’; ‘You shall not steal’; ‘You shall not bear false witness’; ‘Honor your father and mother’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"NAB DEU 30:15 The Choice before Israel.

Here then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.” NAB LUK 10:25

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Jesus answered him: "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He replied:

"You shall love the Lord your God
**with all your heart, **
**with all your soul, **
**with all your strength, **
**and with all your mind; **
and your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”


#12

Perhaps the best way of talking to a Protestant is understanding their language when they use the word “works.” When the word works is brought up in conversation, most every Protestant thinks of it meaning our personal works or works done outside of grace. After clarifying which type of works you are talking about, they then will understand what the Catholic means by faith and works.
Another word many Catholics and what virtually all Protestants misunderstand is what the word “merit” means it Catholic theology. The term “merit” DOESN’T mean strict earning, only Christ can strictly earn any good. We merit in an analogous sense. Merit simply means reward.

Jimmy Akin explains it this way:

A subject which is misunderstood by Protestant apologists just as much as the Catholic view of righteousness is the Catholic view of merit. A lot of this is due to the connotations the term “merit” has in Protestant minds. Normally this is taken to be a synonym in Protestant vocabulary for “earn,” however as we will see this is nothing like what the term means in Catholic theology.

In fact, it has never been what the term meant. It has only gained that connotation from its usage in post-Reformation anti-Catholic polemics. From the very beginning the term was used differently. Thus in the second century the Latin term meritum was introduced as a translation of the Greek term for “reward.” In fact, it was picked over another term (merces) precisely because it lacked the legalistic connotations of meritum.

Because meritum is simply the Latin translation of the theological term “reward,” this reveals to us a fundamental unity of the doctrine of merit and the doctrine of reward, a doctrine which even (most) Protestants acknowledge since the Bible uses the term. In fact, the Bible uses very “materialistic” terms in this regard. The three key terms for reward the New Testament uses – misthos, apodidomai, and misthapodosia mean respectively “wages,” “to deliver or pay off,” “payment of wages due.” It kind of puts a new feel on things when one brings this forward into English and one sees Jesus saying:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your wages are great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).

“He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s wage, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s wage” (Matthew 10:41).

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your wage will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (Luke 6:35).

This kind of puts a different slant on it, and the New Testament is chocked full of this kind of “profit motive” language (see C.S. Lewis’s excellent essay, The Weight of Glory for a Protestant exposition of this point), though translations often obscure the fact. In fact, one may note that Protestant translations tend to translate misthos inconsistently, as “wage” whenever the context is worldly-economic and “reward” whenever it is something promised to believers by God.

Nevertheless, though the New Testament uses highly economic language in speaking of the believer’s rewards (e.g., “He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor,” 1Co. 3:8; "The Lord will repay everyone accord to his works," Rom. 2:6),* it does not in any way intend this language to be taken to mean that Christians earn* their place before God.

Thus in Catholic theology, merit is in no way earning, but identical with the concept of reward. Brought about by God’s grace, acts which please God are done by Christians (Phil. 4:18, Col. 1:9-10, 1Th. 4:1, Heb. 13:16, 13:20-21)** and God chooses to reward the**m (Rom. 2:6, 1 Cor. 3:8, 4:6, 2 Cor. 5:10, Gal. 6:6-10, Rev. 2:23, 22:12). These elements, God’s grace, the acts pleasing to God that they bring about, and the reward God chooses to give, are the key elements in the Catholic theology of merit, as we shall see.

The doctrine of merit is thus the same as the doctrine of rewards. To help Protestant readers grasp this and cut through the linguistic confusion experienced on this point because of the associations of the term “merit” in the Protestant vocabulary, they should try substituting “reward” or “rewardable action” or “to perform a rewardable action” for “merit” in what follows. This should cut through the confusion.

The complete article is found at:
cin.org/users/james/files/righteou.htm


#13

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