Relying Solely on the Mercy of God


Augustine, Confessions, Book X Chapter XXXII:

And no one ought to be secure in that life, the whole whereof
is called a trial, that he who hath been capable of worse to be made
better, may not likewise of better be made worse. Our only hope, only
confidence, only assured promise is Thy mercy

Highlights are mine.

Here Augustine states we are to rely solely on God’s mercy. Not Mary, not our works, not our faith, not Scripture, not tradition, not the church, not the Pope, not the Sacraments, but on the mercy of God.

Can this statement be said to be in accord with Catholic theology? Can it be said to be in error with respect to Catholic theology? Does Trent refute it? Does Trent confirm it?


I would say that Catholic theology of the mercy of God comprehends Mary, faith, works, Scripture, tradition, Church Church, her Ministers, Sacraments . . . . All of these things are gifts of his Mercy.

The highlights did not show up when I went through your link. But in any event, in this long document, taken fully, I did not read a doctrine of ‘saved by mercy alone’ as if mercy were not the inclusive condition of grace.

As for Trent, you could search the canons to find your answer about that. Be careful in reading Trent: be sure that you read what is ACTUALLY written. E.g, people say that Trent denies “salvation by faith” but it really says that it is specifically “faith alone” that is rejected. Trent does not say we are saved by works but that to deny that works are part of faith is “anathema.”

I hope this link is accurate and that the documents are “clean” – I can’t vouch for the web site.


Was’nt Augustine a Catholic.


The link at New Advent appears to be down. Here is another link:

As for Trent, it is difficult to read and I have not yet attempted to systematically study it.


A bishop.


I just fisished reading “The Confessions” or part of it for my morning devotions so thanks for posting. I do not find anything contradictory here because everything stems from the mercy of God, life itself is a gift of Gods mercy.

So God who is rich in mercy has created works beforehand that we may walk in them, this synergy or partnering with God is a reality stemming from Gods mercy, that we are His hands and feet created to do good works in Christ Jesus.

The Church is the full reality of this synergy built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being the conerstone. So we see that Jesus Christ Himself instituted various offices that His mercy and glory may be manifested to the rulers and authorites of this world through the Church which is the Cathoic Church, his agent of mercy, the Church and Christ are inseperably linked.

What is the greatest reality of Christs love in the world? That we lay down our lives for one another and in doing so the world would see Christ. So His mercy is reflected in His creatures doing His will, being His hands and feet and in laying down their lives for one another.

Now, the sacraments are channels of mercy and grace and this is how Christ operates through His Church, via the sacraments which are gifts of the mercy of God, Augustine surely would not deny this and you must take time to read his complete works to get the fullness of his thoughts. Gods mercy is also reflected in Sacred Scripture which is our source of spirtual food, in Mary, a sinless creature who guides us along the road to salvation, and on and on, all stems from the great mercy of God, creatures have no power in themselves, only that which God gives, it’s all His mercy!


Beautifully stated.


Augustine was known as the Doctor of Grace, as he believed strongly human free will on its own was not capable of giving us either salvation or happiness, but only the sheer mercy and grace of God are what save man after the fall. Augustine also developed the doctrine of original sin against the Pelagians who believed we could save ourselves via our own moral virtue and effort. To Augustine, salvation was a free gift from God we didn’t deserve or merit, especially after the fall. Some of the more extreme versions of Augustine’s ideas were not affirmed, though the church accepted his ideas about grace and original sin. Catholic theology then tends to follow either Augustine, or Aquinas, or more recently, the Greek Fathers, such as Athanasius, the Cappadocians, or Iranaeus, or in its more daring forms, attempts to harmonise all three influences.

I think it is accurate for the Church to say salvation comes from God’s mercy rather than through our own effort.


First of all, where does Augustine mention Mary? You’re saying Augustine is saying we are not to rely on the gifts of God, which Mary, our faith, Scripture, etc are. It simply isn’t true. All of these things you say we may not rely on are gifts of God. I would contend, that to reject His gifts is to reject Him. These gifts ARE His mercy!

Augustines’ statement does not appear to conflict with the truth, yours however is far from the truth.


There is a difference between a fountain and a stream, between a source and what flows from it, between a Creator and a creation. Your statement seems to confuse the two. We are to rely on Him, not on His creation. From your statement you would seem to think we should worship the created things, not the creator, because to reject them is to reject Him. His mercy is primary; the gifts are an effect of His mercy. The gifts are useful and good - I am not attacking them - but it is an error to put our faith in them rather than in the Giver of the gifts. Otherwise we have a license for idolatry.


What if He specifies a particular conduit for His grace. Is ignoring that reality a show of lack of faith in Him.


Focusing on the conduit instead of the source is a lack of faith in Him. The conduit is not the source. The bucket used to draw water from the well is not the well. Trusting the sacraments instead of the One who instituted them is idolatry. Trusting man instead of the Maker of man is an error.

You can trust water that comes from a good well because it comes from a good well; you can trust a sacrament He instituted because He instituted it; you can trust a man He sent because He sent him. None of these are an intrinsic trust, based on the nature of the thing itself - all of these trusts are derived, secondary, dependent upon the source. And all of these trusts are limited. The water can become foul, the sacrament ineffectual, the man treacherous. The trust has to remain with the source.


What if He says to you that this conduit is Him. Can it ever then become foul or ineffectual.


Gods grace is like flowing water. It doesn’t matter if I drink water as it rains from the sky, or if I drink it from a lake, or stream, it is still the same water. I am saying the water doesn’t change because of where I personally receive it. Grace comes from God, yet it flows through you and I, even Mary, shudder the thought! If I receive His grace through your words, I am not worshipping you, I am worshipping Him! He uses you, me, Mary, all His saints. We cannot say we are only going to accept His grace through… pick any one source, since He is the source of ALL grace. We do not “worship” anyone, as a God, except for God. To reject His gifts is to reject Him. To use you as a guide, I am accepting a gift from God. I understand you are only a human, and as such may not be right all of the time, but you know what? I see the love for God in you. To reject this love is to reject Him. Do I think you are God? Absolutely not! Am I inspired by your love for Him? Absolutely! That doesn’t make me an idolater. You are a gift from God to me, I don’t confuse you for God, nor do I confuse your message as “The” Word of God. I take your love as His gift.


Are you suggesting that the sacraments can be separated from their Author?

You can trust water that comes from a good well because it comes from a good well; you can trust a sacrament He instituted because He instituted it; you can trust a man He sent because He sent him. None of these are an intrinsic trust, based on the nature of the thing itself - all of these trusts are derived, secondary, dependent upon the source.

That is perfectly consistent with Catholic teaching.

And all of these trusts are limited. The water can become foul, the sacrament ineffectual, the man treacherous. The trust has to remain with the source.

In the Body of Christ, his Church, we have an incarnational faith. We are not anti-materialists, because creation was “good” in its beginning, and in Christ, matter becomes an instrument of grace rather than an instrument of death as it did in the Garden of Eden. We trust the sacraments precisely because they DO depend on the Source. And we have in Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church, the assurance that the water will not become foul, or the sacrmanet ineffectual.

As for “treacherous” men, the Church determined against the Donatist controversy in the 4th & 5th centuries, that the character of the minister does not render sacraments invalid cause it is God who effects the sacraments.


Of course, no Catholic is going to trust in the creation more than the Creator, that’s not even an issue. But, did Jesus not say to His disciples, “If they reject you they reject me”, and again, “Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me”? The synergy bewteen Christ and His Church cannot be ignored, Saul persecutes the Church, Saul persecutes Jesus Himself. With that, do we have license to focus on Jesus and reject His Church or deny it as the primary conduet of His grace and mercy? I say no way! For through the Church He has chosen to make His glory known to rulers, powers and authorities.


No one gives credit to a window for the light it allows to pass through, when the light is the thing needful and where the focus should be. God creates the window for light to pass through, places it so it will, and then shines the light through. A window does not produce light on its own. When, to use weight as an analogy, something contributes the weight of a feather (or less) and God contributes infinite weight, it is appropriate to acknowledge the significance of each. The mercy all belongs to God.

I’m not ignoring any cooperation between the Church and Christ. He is the One acting through the Church. But He is the One acting. Likewise the Sacraments are only valid as He acts in them. Our focus is to be on Christ, not on the Church. One thing I really respect about the Mass is the focus on Christ.

I think all of us can be tempted to commit some form of idolatry, whether of the Church or something else. Putting our faith in something besides Christ is dangerously close to idolatry. I have heard Catholics wearily repeat their denials of idolatry, particularly regarding the BVM, but I have yet to hear a Catholic admit that they can be susceptible to idolatry, and then describe how they guard themselves against that temptation. But you, being human, must at times experience the temptation, and, being Christian, have found the grace to avoid it. Or flee it. Or resist it.

Don’t you think that relying on any gift, rather than on Christ’s mercy is problematic? And there is a difference. I know the Giver became the Gift, the Priest offered Himself up to His Father, and that there is a continuity of the Giving. But a focus on the outward elements of that communication rather than the essential truth is, to me at least, problematic.


I am completely in agreement with you and have no contention with what you are saying. All mercy comes from God as do all His gifts. I also agree that Catholics just like anyone else can fall into idolatry if they take their focus off of Christ and His power working through the Church, no problem there.

On the other hand, as a convert, I have yet to meet a Catholic who denies all power comes from Christ, and I have yet to meet a Catholic who worships the gifts rather than the giver. What I have found is a steady stream of deeply devoted believers who love Jesus Christ deeply, don’t let outward appearences fool you.

Again, when I enter the confessional for instance, though I see my priest, I know it’s Christ operating through him, my priest knows this as well, he is only an instrument and has no power to forgive on his own merit. On the other hand, I have a deep respect for my priest as a conduet of the mercy of God, he’s a chosen instrument, he is set apart and has an office given by Christ that I do not have and I submit to that office because Jesus Christ instituted the priestly office to work in the same capacity that He did on earth.

The beauty of the Catholic Church is that it captivates all of our senses, sight, sound, smell, touch, and every aspect of the Mass using our God given senses to direct our body, soul, mind and spirit to the Church in heaven worshiiping before the Lamb of God.

This is a very biblical concept and runs all through the OT. The beauty of the incarnation is that God did become a man, not partially, but fully. Jesus knows what we need as humans to be able to enter into the fullest aspect of worshipping Him while still pilgrims on earth. This is not idolatry, this is God using all of our senses to find Him and worship Him in the fullest sense possible and the Mass is the highest expression of worshipping Jesus, it’s completely Christo-centric in it’s very nature.


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