Legalisim and Spirit of the Law



I was wondering if anyone can maybe explain a little about why it seems Catholicism and other denominations can seem so legalistic and "letter of the law" as opposed to the "spirit of the law" and an argument opposing it? I mean the more I read Scripture it seems to me Jesus was all about the spirit of the law not the letter; He warned the pharisees about becoming too attached to the law and placing the letter of the law above the spirit. So my question is have we as a Church fallen into legalism?

The reason I ask is because a friend asked and I had no idea how to answer.:confused:


The best way to answer that question when it is put to you is to not let it stand as a general statement. What I mean is, it’s easy for someone to just make the accusation. You have to ask them to give you examples of what they mean by that and address the objections one by one.

What people usually mean by that is one of two things. The first is that the Church has two many rules. Well, how many rules are too many? Who’s to say how many is too many? Should we have NO rules? Discuss those points with them. Jesus was not against laws and rules: he was a faithful follower of the Jewish law. His problem with the Pharisees was with their hearts, not their faithfulness to the law. Jesus, being God, could read their hearts; we (not being God) cannot judge the hearts of others by their external religious practices (or lack of them). Remember, Jesus told the Rich Young Man to keep the Commandments. He told the crowds to do what the Pharisees taught them, but not to imitate their insincerity.

The other thing people often mean by this is that they think that the Church teaches (and Catholics practice) some kind of crass works-righteousness where one can “work” themselves to heaven by good deeds. The Church very explicitly does NOT teach that, as a cursory reading of the Catechism and Church documents (like from the Council of Trent) clearly show.

Either charge by critics of Catholicism shows both unclear thinking and an ignorance of Church teaching.


[quote="TradCatholic7, post:1, topic:313754"]
The reason I ask is because a friend asked and I had no idea how to answer.:confused:


Let's not forget Paul taught the specific length of a woman's hair, among other things. Problems can arise if you believe the disciplinary activities are themselves the means of salvation, rather than the tools we have to lead us toward a life of love and sanctification. If I may share another shameless plug, there are some other Scriptures in Christianity is a Religion regarding what is often thought of as legalism.



I think one of the biggest misconceptions that non-sacramental “churches” have about Catholicism is that Sacraments are works or empty ceremonies. Sacramental theology is quite a road block for those who are not sacramental, I know because I’ve been there. Its like fresh-water fish trying to understand the salt-water environment, some things look very similar but the system is quite different.

But Sacraments are not works that we do, but they are invisible graces we receive through visible things. They allow us to actually experience the spiritual through our physical senses. And one reason that is an advantage over non-sacramental groups is that we get that extra reassurance because we get to participate physically in a spiritual reality! I have seen others, and also experienced myself when I was a baptist, that there is a level of doubt about your own spiritual life when your fate depends on how much faith you have in what you interpret the Bible to mean, and that is especially challenged when you look around at all the many different denominations with their own twist on what it means.

The Early Church was obviously Sacramental, all one has to do is read the Apostolic Fathers and see that!


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit