Is Catholicism legalistic?


Notice ”to my mind”.

And of course … the fact that your ’winning’ argument is that this is CAF sort of proves my point.
You’re welcome.


I would not object if you posted it on a Lutheran forum as that is “your turf”, but for you to post that here is like you went to dinner at your neighbor’s house and insulted their parents.

I’m sorry that you and certain other posters do not seem to understand this because to me it’s a matter of basic etiquette. I am not trying to “win” any argument with you; I know you’re convinced you’re right as I am convinced I am right so it would be pointless to even try. And I am not in a “my faith’s truer than your faith” competition here, but you are supposed to be respectful when you post here, and to me, that wasn’t. Any more than if I went on a Lutheran forum and started calling Luther a heretic.

It’s one thing to discuss our faiths. It’s another thing to be rude.


Look, I’m not trying to pick a fight or argue with you. The fact that Luther proposed to remove James and a few other books is historical fact.

NOTE: I did not post a single Catholic source.


Join the club, my friend, although I can’t say any of the doctrines “scare” me. :slight_smile: They are simply differences of opinion and since I’m not calling the shots I am content to remain an observer of the Mass and a long term student of the faith.

But as to your question, is Catholicism legalistic? I attended a VERY legalistic cult for many years and can say the the RC church is nothing at all like they were. At the same time, once faith becomes institutionalized there is bound to be some overtones of that. There needs to be some sort of structure, after all, if the church is to perform the vast charity and relief efforts that it does. Personally I simply dismiss any objections my memories of this sort of thing like to bring up. Contrary to some well-meaning and not so well-meaning evangelicals I listen to on occasion, the Catholic church is a totally Christ-centered organization. I learned this by exploring it for myself instead of continuing to listen to those who wish to discredit it.

One last thought. In re-reading your post a couple of times it comes across that you are very concerned with “getting it right” with the apparent accompanying fears that failing to do so will result in some unpleasantness for you. I agree with another poster who suggested that the focus needs to be much less on our personal salvation and far more geared to being an instrument of God. I would put it this way; my life of faith is to be measured in transformation. All the Catholic teachers I read and listen to support this. Relax, my friend. Worry less and let God lead your heart.


Mine will be, you show me your faith without works, I will show you my faith by my works (read that someplace :thinking: )


A man loves a woman. Does he do for her, that which pleases her, those things she believes in and treasures, or does he state his love, then do nothing. That is a cold, dead, love, sterile and distant.
Isn’t it the same with Christ. One says he loves Christ and follows him, then does one do what Christ wants a follower to do (works), or does one sit in a church and do nothing. ( a cold, dead, sterile and distant love)
Do you think people get hung up on the commonly accepted understanding of the word “work” as a chore, a task, something obligatory?
Law (structure) is necessary for the people to set up a framework in which one lives. Mercy, is the proper interpretation of law when circumstances are vague or contradictory. Structure without mercy is a prison, mercy without structure is chaos.


Thanks for all of the thoughtful replies. I don’t think I can respond to each one individually, but it seems that what I believe is not that different than what I am reading in this thread. But I’ll pick out a few replies for comment…

I am only seeking the truth, and have spent many sleepless nights asking God to show me what to believe. After all, didn’t Christ promise that he would lead us in all truth? But I have to present as persuasively as possible my current understanding of the gospel to see if it is more persuasively refuted. If I am wrong, I want to be thoroughly convinced. I don’t want to wait for a deathbed confession; I want to know that I am in Christ and Christ is in me – now. Are we new creations in Christ or not? Have not the old things passed away, and all things been made new? “Being confident of this very thing, that he which began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

These are just examples of a much larger body of rules. Don’t get me wrong; we need these kinds of rules. My life verse is John 14:21: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Yes, we need boundaries. But there are times when I do not love God as I should. There may come a time when I am angry at a brother or sister, and that flows over into anger against God. So I decide not to attend Mass. What happens if I get hit by a truck while I am in that state? According to Catholic theology as I understand it, intentionally missing Mass is a mortal sin, so I would go to Hell.

Can people really live like that? Where is the freedom in Christ if I know that at any point in my life I may commit a mortal sin that would disinherit me as a child of God. He knows that I will fail him, and he knows when and to what extent. But if he is a loving Father, and I believe he is, will he not keep me from falling into eternal damnation? I understand that to live in habitual sin is a sign that we have not really closed with Christ. But even if are saved, we are still in a battle with our old nature, and we will fall at times. Yet if we are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), if our salvation is rooted in his grace, if he saved us while we were still sinners, why should the prospect of some future sin separate us from his love?


Current Catholic belief, which I believe is expressed in the Catechism, is that God by means known to him alone can provide a last chance opportunity for people to repent at the point of death. This is mentioned for example in the Catechism section on suicide. Presumably if you were a good Catholic who had an off day and missed Sunday Mass once and then got hit by a truck, God would give you this opportunity.

The problem with overly “legalistic” interpretations is that they discount the great mercy of God, as well as the fact that neither Catholics nor anybody else have a perfect understanding of everything God in his love is willing to do for us.
The danger in relying too much on the “merciful God” interpretation is that some people may take the idea of God’s mercy as giving them a license to commit all kinds of sins in this world and just ignore any idea of even trying to become perfect, figuring they can trust in God’s mercy later.


I agree with this. My understanding is that works are the evidence of true faith. If I have saving faith, works will necessarily follow.


Worst possible reason not to attend Mass. Don’t you believe Jesus heals?
I don’t get much sense of deep love of God from you, just legalism. You see everything from a legalistic eye, despite the fact that you accuse Catholics of it. It is pretty clear.


Obviously, the worst case scenario… But we have to understand that we are all capable of horrific sin. Are you above getting angry at God. Have you reached a state of perfection, such that you would never commit a mortal sin? If not, where is your assurance that you will be with God in eternity?


Some of us have already committed mortal sin after mortal sin, in many cases much worse things than “I missed Sunday Mass” or even “I missed Sunday Mass for X years”. We repented and came back.
We have no assurance that we won’t slip into sin again, but we pray every day to avoid such sins and try to please God.
NOT because we are afraid of going to Hell if we mess up, but because we have come to love God and don’t want to displease God or hurt dear Jesus.
We ask for strength to help us resist sin and also we ask for mercy if despite our best efforts we commit sin.
We also believe Jesus and Mother Mary will help us if we ask them through prayer.

I know I will always be a sinner. Even if I try very hard I will still commit sin. And I am pretty useless overall except for when God is using me for some purpose known only to Him.
But I believe if I love God and Jesus and Mary, they will return that love and help me.
So I don’t fear Hell so much as I fear making them unhappy with me.

It takes a while to get to this point. It is usual for people (Including me) to start out being motivated by fear of hell (or fear of purgatory if one doesn’t think one is bad enough for Hell, which is probably pride right there), and only later in their “faith journey” (<----buzzword I don’t terribly like but can’t think of a better one) do they reach the point of being motivated by love of God.


Jesus said…If you love me you will obey my commandments.


I am a practicing Catholic: practicing until I get it right! My assurance is that God will save me if I let Him. So long as I earnestly try and keep striving for and with Him, even if that means clawing my way to sanctity, then it will happen: God wills it. I will definitely fall along the way, even Jesus Himself fell three times on His way to His death, but He still got up. So must I. Simon the Cyrenian carried the cross with Him, though Christ bore the one that mattered made of humanity’s sins. So must I. But if I don’t, that’s on me. And God is a just and right judge.


Live your life in Gods Commandments and the Fruits of the Spirit. Yes, Jesus died for us, but that’s not the end of it. I pray and strive everyday to be as Christlike as humanly possible. I have a very long way to go, but God knows that I am continuously trying to improve. I am a Catholic because I believe that it is the Church that Jesus built on the Rock. I follow the Church and the doctrine because of that very reason. I do my best to live my faith everyday. That’s probably the best advice I can give you. Live your faith and God will bring you to where you need to be.


I’m talking about a system of ideas that is foreign to my religious upbringing, and not slinging ad hominin insults. In that upbringing, there is an understanding that Catholicism is engulfed in legalism. If I were not trying to overcome that understanding, I would not be on this site. I am appreciative of the many responses from others that have refuted that understanding, from whom I sense that the primary motivation for good works is love, not fear. So I am sorry that you sense no deep love of God from me, for that is also my primary motivation, to seek the truth in love, for God is love. I think you have misjudged me.


In the Epistle of James.


To an outsider (me) looking in, the RCC seems massively legalistic. Maybe not in doctrine, but certainly culturally. I see it on CAF a lot. "is X a sin’, ‘is it wrong if I do y’, ‘i missed z, will I go to hell’. It looks to me that sometimes the grace of God is preached, then wrapped in a rulebook and forgotten.
This does not take away from James, or the second half of Romans. You need grace first, continuous overflowing grace. Therefore do not sin. Yes, we fail. We all fail. If we didn’t Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been necessary.


Catholicism is not, but many Catholics are.


Wondering what might make you think that we trust in anything other that Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross? We are lambasted for having Him on the crucifix! It is foremost in our minds.

The problem in converting is that you have to unlearn what you were taught before. The reformation brought about an obsession with justification. This reflects only the mental and psychological state of those few reformers.

Everything ultimately is God’s grace, but we cannot sit back and let God do everything! Faith without works is dead just as works without faith are vain, empty. Each and every - 100% - of references to our judgment relates strictly to our works.

Look them up.

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