Why don't we just admit that we are saved and justified by works?

Hello, good folks. I’m hoping that I can get feedback on a way that I think might explain the Catholic view of soteriology. I’d like especially to know if this approach is entirely orthodox.

First, I do understand that this doesn’t entirely present all the nuance of Catholic beliefs on faith and works, but I think it presents a large enough slice that it can explain our understanding to non-Catholics.

Here it is:

We understand that salvation is from Grace through Faith (Eph 2:8).
What then of works? We are, in some sense at least, saved (also) by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24).

Ro 2:6 For he will render to every man according to his works:
7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

Salvation is a free gift of God (Romans 6:23), but we can refuse that gift by greatly (mortally) sinning (1Jo 5:16, and many others).

We believe that we can sin not only by commission, but by omission.

The Confiteor:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and** in what I have failed to do**,

We also know that God has set before us works for our doing:
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Therefore, if we do not do good works, and if we do so deliberately and constantly, insofar as these are things that we should do and are able to do, we are in danger of mortal sin, which could rob us of our salvation.

I know there’s much still unsaid. Could you help me flesh out this description, please?

The only requirement for salvation is to die in a state of Grace. If we have not committed a mortal sin since our Baptism or last Confession, we’re saved. This is the doctrine of the Church, and we should never loose focus on this essential truth, which is at the very heart of salvation theology.

We don’t need faith. We don’t need works. All we need is Grace.

It is possible that failing to do a particular good work may constitute a sin of omission. Given perfect knowledge and consent, such a sin could be mortal in nature. But such a sin could only come from failing to do something that we are morally obligated to do. If we see a child in danger, and we could help but do not, this could be mortally sinful. But we have no moral obligation to work in a soup kitchen. Such good works are meritorious, but have nothing to do with salvation (a billion such works alone could not obtain salvation).

I have to admit, as Protestant who has studied RC doctrine, reading the statement “We don’t need faith” shocks me. If salvation comes by grace through faith, as St. Paul taught, how can we not need faith? Is there an official RC teaching on this?

We only need faith. BUT works are inherently included in that statement, because faith without works is dead.


I can’t give you more verses than you have there.

But perhaps the following framework will help you as it has helped me to put them all together.

If one realizes that every work one does has two separate stages, that is, to will, and then to do, and that God’s Grace is needed for each step (God works in us both to will and to do), one can see that the willing part might be what God really wants us to be involved in, inasmuch as the doing is already totally determined by God.

So the assent of our will to do the work, the first step, seems to be the best we can do in respect to works, yet God will give us credit for that, and also, this submission of the will causes an enlivening of faith, leading to perseverance.

OTOH, refusing to give assent of the will, resulting in fewer or incomplete works, or giving assent to urgings of the flesh, the world, or the devil, removes life from our faith, with the possible final extinguishing of a living faith (mortal sin).

Assent of the Will, then is the key, which possibility of assent is given to us with the gift of faith.

This evades the standard Protestant objection to the merit of works in gaining salvation, in that in this framework it is not the final work which gains salvation, as if our actions are buying God’s graces, but that the works, in their being assented to, are keeping our faiths alive, and are maintaining ourselves able to accept sanctifying grace.


There’s two definitions of works, which I assume that’s where our arguments come from. One definition of works is doing works to obtain grace (perhaps was the old way with the pharisees helping the poor and then a trumpet blows so everyone knows). The Catholic view of works is through love (the good Samaritan, etc.). Of course, James says faith is a measure of his works, which involve helping the poor and such. If these two definitions would be realized in discussions more, there would be less fights. I think it’s confusion over what “works” means, and you need to define it before digging deeper. At least, I’m finding that much more helpful. Most protestants (such as myself before) thought Catholics did works to obtain grace. Jesus already died for you and gave you grace as wide as his arms stretched on the cross! I had to be given definitions and then I began to understand, and the rest was history. It’s just confusion. So define, define, define.

No, you wont find this Teaching.

I would think David should retract that statement.

There is only one good work which obtains our salvation…Jesus Christ. If we believe in Him, we participate in His work. We do so because we truly believe in Him. Not a mere belief as James told us is not beneficial to our salvation, but faith working in love.

Remember, the gifts of bread and wine we offer at Mass represent our good works and labor and our joy in fellowship. They are offered in the one eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whom the father accepts. Jesus accepts these works done in our faith of His forgiveness of sins and resurrection and blesses us with the Holy Communion of His body and blood.


I’m not so sure that faith can be separated from work. If a person believes, that right there is a work. Faith is work. So it would be a contradiction to say faith without works.

An angel taught this prayer to the 3 little children at Fatima:
“I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you, for all those who do not believe in you, hope in you, and do not love you.”

That is a work, prayer.

A lot of this confusion comes from Western minds trying to understand an ancient Eastern culture.

In these cultures, a man’s life was viewed as a totality; his beliefs were inseparable from his actions, and one was considered to flow directly from the other. The emphasis given to feelings, emotions, “peak experiences”, etc. in Western culture is not something that was current then. Phenomena like faith, which we see in emotional terms (“I attended a lecture by parson X, and I had such an intense experience; I decided to believe!”) were not the norm in these social settings.

Take the Eastern concept of an arranged marriage. Even if the couple was not “in love” (in the popular sense) at the time of marriage, husband and wife had certain obligations to each other. For all practical purposes, they had to treat each other as if they were “in love”. Love, in such a culture, is more an act of the mind and will than of the passions alone, and the same can be said of faith.

Of course, the human will, unaided, cannot reach this level of faith (or love); it requires the grace of God, which is given as a free gift. However, man can and does resist this grace, impairing his ability to love or believe.

Once this is understood, a lot of the confusion disappears. Abraham both believed in God, and acted accordingly (leaving his homeland; the sacrifice of Isaac). Elijah both believed in God, and acted accordingly (praying for rain; bringing his people back to the true faith). Moses both believed in God, and acted accordingly (leading and correcting his people; acting as the first ruler of the nascent Israelite nation during and after the Exodus). Faith and works are a totality, and both spring from and are nourished by grace. To separate “faith” from “works” is a product of the more “emotional” Western mind, and would have made little sense to an ancient Easterner; if Abraham, Elijah or Moses were reading this thread, they would have either scratched their heads in puzzlement or laughed.

The Catechism - the most feared, hated, or at least the most ignored document on planet earth.


I want to repeat what Fred Conty has pointed out, using some different words.
The greatest commandment is to love our Lord with all we have to do so with, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So our motive is to serve God, and not to be thought well of by others, or obtain their gratitude, for example. That would be works without faith. As christians, our faith and works go together, as the great commandment requires.

DavidFilmer #2
We don’t need faith.

If this was true, why is **Can 205 **emphatic: “Those baptised are in full communion with the Catholic Church here on earth who are **joined with Christ in His visible body, through the bonds of profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance.”? **[The Code of Canon Law].

I will do nothing of the kind, unless you can actually cite my error.

An infant who receives Christian Baptism, but soon dies, is assured salvation. This is the doctrine of the Church. An infant is incapable of faith, so nobody can say that faith is a requirement of salvation.

Suppose a person was endowed with Christian Baptism as an infant, but his parents died and he was raised by atheists. He reaches adulthood without committing mortal sin (the likelihood of that is something that the Church has NEVER defined, but whether we thnink it likely or unlikely, it is certainly possible). He dies.

According to Catholic doctrine, he goes to heaven. PERIOD. He NEVER had faith. He had Grace (by virtue of a Baptism that he has no personal knowledge of).

I will GLADLY retract my statement (and genuinely and publicly thank you on this forum for correcting my error) if you can actually show that I have said anything that is in error.

I’m waiting.

DavidFilmer #13
An infant who receives Christian Baptism, but soon dies, is assured salvation. This is the doctrine of the Church. An infant is incapable of faith, so nobody can say that faith is a requirement of salvation.

Such smugness prostitutes the truth.

As the revered Fr John A Hardon, S.J., affirms: “As a divinely conferred power of the spirit, the virtue of faith is already present in a newly baptised infant. [The Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacrament of Baptism, Canon 13: Denzinger 869 (1626)].”

Further, as “the Master states without reservation that ‘he who believes and is baptised will be saved; and he who does not believe will be condemned (Mk 16:16). Echoing this injunction, the apostle explains why faith is so necessary for salvation. ‘Only faith,’ we are told, ‘can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.’ Indeed, ‘it is impossible to please God without faith’ (Heb 11:1, 6).” The Catholic Catechism, Doubleday, 1975, p 32-33].

Faith, hope, and charity are graces from God that we receive when we are Baptized.

CCC 1813 The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.77

Faith, hope, and charity are infused graces as a pure gift from God.

Babies can possess faith, hope, and charity through Baptism (ordinary means).

Babies usually cannot display the faith they possess. Admittedly technically nobody can “display” faith but I think you know what I mean here (i.e. such as “show me your faith” - James 2).

In the Gospels there seems to be one exception to this “display” of faith of an infants’ though (on Palm Sunday) . . .

Hosanna to the Son of David!

MATTHEW 21:14-17 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and **the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” **they were indignant; 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

We don’t know for sure if these infants were Baptized (as Jesus and His disciples were already Baptizing—see John 4:1-2) or if these “sucklings” had their faith (that they apparently displayed) given via extraordinary means.

Incidentally, even though it is not recorded in Exodus, this event probably occurred after Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea too and was probably a prefigurement of what occurred on Palm Sunday which is WHY the Pharisees in the hardness of their hearts were so irritated (this subject has fascinated me and I have done a whole study on this issue).

WISDOM 10:1, 18-21 1 Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression, . . . . 18 She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters; 19 but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea. 20 Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to thy holy name, and praised with one accord thy defending hand, 21 because wisdom opened the mouth of the dumb, and made the tongues of babes speak clearly.

Anyway more about the SUPERNATURAL virtues of faith, hope, and charity from the CCC (I’ll repeat CCC 1813 as it seems to fit in below too) . . . .

CCC 403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”.291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

CCC 1250b . . . . The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51

CCC 1813 The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.77

CCC 1266 The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:

  • enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
  • giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
  • allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.
    Thus the whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in Baptism.

HEBREWS 11:6a 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him. . . .

Faith is an action, but not a work, as is praying.

As someone mentioned above the understanding of what a “work” is has to be looked at Biblically, culturally. So, for an example that shows a parallel, no work was to be done on the sabbath, A person could still “do” things, but were not to work. They would breathe, think, pray, faithe, etc… and not be breaking sabbath.


I do not like pointing out errors. I have enough of my own to deal with. Yet, I think you should see faith as a gift. How babies accept it or reject it, is within God’s judgement alone. Men of the Church struggled long ago to determine how infants were received by God…using the term Limbo to basically show our ignorance of the soul. The Church does not Teach Limbo and it does not Teach children are going to heaven without faith.

CCC 1253, 1254
Baptism is the Sacrament of faith…

I would think the burden of proof lies with you. You are creating a doctrine based on what we dont know about infants. Yet the Church Teaches faith is a gift. And this gift is assured through baptism. Though without baptism of an infant, we do not assume the child will perish! CCC 1260. This faith must grow as we are all tested and working love must accompany faith.

Jesus said, " Let the children come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God."

Peace David,

Also, infants and children seem to have a pure and absolute faith and trust in everything, until they are taught differently either through experiences or from an outside source like their parents. This is one of the reasons parents often tend to work really hard to have their children not trust and talk to every stranger they meet on the street, as their natrual inclination is to trust them. Like their hearts are completely open to the lord and all of his creations from the start, and as we grow older, the devil works as dilligently as he can to try to harden it, with the hopes that he can harden it enough to turn us from the Lord.

I agree with this part, although I don’t entirely agree that it is a confusion in the western culture only. I think this division is seen in both St. Paul (for example, Romans) and St. James’ Epistle, both addressing the fact that some emphasized one side of the coin versus the other. I think that my explaination gives a harmony to the two, albeit in an imperfect, (perhaps over-)simplified explaination.

Perhaps. When I think of what “faith” means, to me it includes an element of belief. When I say “you don’t need faith,” what I’m really saying is that you don’t have to accept or believe in God in order to obtain salvation (which is true).

But my point remains: we will be assured salvation if we receive Christian Baptism and avoid (or confess) all mortal sin. There is nothing else that is specifically required of us. The economy of salvation is really quite simple.

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