When I read the OP I was immediately reminded of a protestant bible study I attended where, whenever the topic of moral laws came up, someone would quickly say “It’s impossible to keep the law”, and everyone would nod in agreement, and agree that only grace and faith could justify a person. There was also an undercurrent of “We can’t keep the law, so it’s not that important to try”.
So, I was delighted to see the Catholic statement, from the Council of Trent, which directly addresses the issue! I think that my experience in the protestant bible study explains what the council was addressing.
Now, what does this mean exactly? (1) Is it referring only to outward keeping of the commandments? Jesus said even hate or calling one’s brother a fool is murder. (2) Does it refer to God counting the obedience as perfect because of Christ? (It doesn’t say so.) *(3) *Does it mean it is possible to be a completely sinless person in this life? I can’t recall where but it seems that the Catholic Church teaches that nobody can completely free the flesh from the inclination to sin (concupiscence.)
(Numbers added by me).
That is a very insightful and well framed question!
(1) In Catholicism the commandments of God are contained in the ten commandments, which are the natural law written in the heart of man, and apply to all people. Jesus’ command for inner, as well as outer, observance also apply. In confession we are as much obliged to confess evil thoughts as evil deeds.
So, we must keep the whole of the commandments. Jesus makes this possible through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, and we cooperate with grace through prayer and good works. (ie. “infused righteousness”)
Numerous scripture passages apply here, including those already cited in this thread
(2) No. That sounds like protestant “imputed righteousness”. I don’t know whether Catholicism gives some weight to “imputed righteousness”, but it certainly does not replace the need for personal sinlessness, in thought and action.
(3) I hope someone else can answer this! Catholics believe that a person can achieve, with God’s grace, sanctity in this life, however I’ve wondered myself what happens to the last traces of concupiscience, and why even saints keep confessing right to the end of their lives. To me it is mainly an academic issue, as I know that my mission now is to act and pray as if sanctity were possible. I’ll think about the last traces of concupiscience when I get there!
Of course, purgatory is the remedy for our failure to be perfect in this life.
This command of Jesus was one of the major issues which unsettled me as a protestant, and kept challenging me, and I only saw it being meaningful in Catholicism.