Friday, January 2, 2009

Understanding Catholic Teaching :- Faith and Works

There is a lot of mis-understanding and mis-representation of what the Catholic Church teaches regarding faith and works.  There is plenty of mis-information on this very topic that is circling the internet, shared in Protestant circles, and unfortunately in Catholic circles as well.  This is going to be my attempt at sharing with you the official Catholic Teaching on Faith and Works...therefore, as you can imagine, I will be using a lot of sources, just to make sure I get this right.  As always, please feel free to correct this young Catholic Candidate that will be joining the Church this Easter.


Justification, the process by which God declares us to be righteous before Him, is a gift from God.  It can never be earned.

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.(CCC 1992)

Do Catholics believe that justification can be earned or merited?  No.  That was part of the Pelagian heresy, that the Catholic Church fought against in the 5th Century:

In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, because humanity does not require God's grace for salvation (beyond the creation of will), Jesus' execution is devoid of the redemptive quality ascribed to it by orthodox Christian theology. (Wikipedia Pelagianism)


So then do Catholics believe that we are justified by faith?  Yes.  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, justifies man before the throne of God.  Do Catholics believe that we are justified by faith alone?  To be fair, let us first come to a common understanding of what is meant by faith alone.  According to Wikipedia:

The doctrine of sola fide or "faith alone" asserts God's pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith or belief alone, to the exclusion of all human efforts or works...Faith is seen as passive, merely receiving Christ and all his benefits, among which benefits are the active and passive righteousness of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia: Faith Alone)

Note:  This definition in no way does a fair job in defining all of the various levels of Protestant beliefs when it comes to faith alone, but for the topic of this post, I think that it will suffice.

Catholic teaching tells us that works are a part of our justification, because it is what completes the faith (James 2:22).  Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17).  Catholic teaching also says that we are justified by faith and works (James 2:24).  The two operate together in harmony.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI, gave a general address, The Doctrine of Justification: from Works to Faith.  This document serves as a great source for Catholic Teaching regarding Faith and Works.

I just recently came across an interview from Catholic convert, Francis Beckwith, who served as the President of the Evangelical Theological Society (an association of over 4,300 Protestant Theologians).  In this interview, he is asked a question about justification.  Here is his reply:

Then when I read the Fathers, those closest to the Apostles...To be sure, salvation by grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there. And to be sure, our works apart from God’s grace was decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Wednesday,” to quote a famous Gospel song, but that it was the grace of God working through me as I acquiesced to God’s spirit to allow his grace to shape and mold my character so that I may be conformed to the image of Christ. I also found it in the Catechism...

Catholicism does not teach “works righteousness.” It teaches faith in action as a manifestation of God’s grace in one’s life. That’s why Abraham’s faith results in righteousness only when he attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.

Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.  

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.

For example, Trent talks about the four causes of justification, which correspond somewhat to Aristotle’s four causes. None of these causes is the work of the individual Christian. For, according to Trent, God’s grace does all the work. However, Trent does condemn “faith alone,” but what it means is mere intellectual assent without allowing God’s grace to be manifested in one’s actions and communion with the Church. This is why Trent also condemns justification by works.  

Another great source of what the Catholic Church teaches by faith and works is from an article titled, Aren't we Saved by Faith Alone.  This is a very light read and is in the form of a conversation between two people.  It does a much better job of explaining the Catholic position than I could ever hope to do.

For a long time now, the Catholic teaching of faith and works has been misunderstood.  Unfortunately, for most of my life as a non-Catholic, I have been a source of the confusion as oppose to having a better understanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.  Regardless if you believe what the Catholic Church teaches or not, please take the time to get a better understanding of what She actually teaches before sharing it with others, forming an opinion about it, or attacking it completely.

God bless you all...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

What magnificent doublespeak!

Dan

Carlus Henry said...

Dan,

Thanks for the comment. What exactly do you find to be doublespeak? Can you be more specific?

Anonymous said...

"Justification, the process by which God declares us to be righteous before Him, is a gift from God. It can never be earned."

"Catholic teaching tells us that works are a part of our justification."

Just reading the text of these statements shouts that there is a contradiction. But that's not the doublespeak.

The doublespeak, if that's the term for it is salylint that works done under the Moasic Law could not and do not justify but works done because grace is at work in the human heart are by Catholic teaching part of our justification.

I did not realize until now that is how the Catholic Church gets around the clear teaching of scripture. It's in your post and in the piece from the current Benedict for which you provided a link.

Dan

Carlus Henry said...

Just reading the text of these statements shouts that there is a contradiction...

If that is the case, then I don't think that you understood me. Either that, or I did not adequately define the teaching of faith and works.

...works done because grace is at work in the human heart are by Catholic teaching part of our justification.

That is exactly right, as far as Catholic teaching is concerned. Now you are leading me to believe that you do understand Catholic Teaching. So maybe a definition of grace is worthwhile.

For a simple definition of grace, you can think of it as the power of God moving us to holiness. This is a total gift of God as well, and working with that grace will bring you closer to holiness, which is what God is asking all of us to be - holy.

For a more detailed definition of grace, please see Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church starting with #422.

I did not realize until now that is how the Catholic Church gets around the clear teaching of scripture.

There is nothing contradicting the Catholic Church Teaching and Scripture. The Bible clearly states that we are saved by faith and a part of that faith is works. Can works justify without faith? No. Can faith justify without works? No. They go hand in hand. (Romans 3:21-31, James 2:14-26).

By reading the scriptures, you see, there is no contradiction. The Church has been teaching the same things since the scriptures were written, and it continues to teach the same thing now.

God bless...

Anonymous said...

"The Bible clearly states that we are saved by faith and a part of that faith is works."

Compare that statemen with Ephesians 2:8-9 and tell me what you come up with.

Dan

Carlus Henry said...

Dan,
"The Bible clearly states that we are saved by faith and a part of that faith is works."

Compare that statemen with Ephesians 2:8-9 and tell me what you come up with.


Okay, I will answer your question, and then you can answer mine. This will be a good way to share information, agreed?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.(Eph 2:8-9).

This is a great Scripture verse, and I believe it 100%. For example, Catholics consider a person to start their salvation, when they enter the Body of Christ, through Baptism. We baptize infants. Of course there is nothing that an infant has done in order to deserve this beginning of salvation. This is not a "work" of their own that they can boast of.

Once again, Paul is dressing up his discussion with the Church at Ephesus in order to combat that Judaizers who were boasting in front of the Gentiles because they followed the Mosaic Law of circumcision. You can see evidence of this later on in Eph 2:11-22. Just like you and I, when we are going to start talking about something, we present some evidence first, and then we explain how that evidence can be applied to the current situation. Paul, for the most part, was saying, no one deserves salvation because of something that the person has done...Now you people known as Gentiles, formerly known as uncircumcised, you are no longer set apart from the Jews, because Jesus, the one who abolished the old law (including the difference between circumcised and uncircumcised) is calling us Jews and Gentiles to be one.



In order to understand Catholic Teaching regarding this, I would recommend this article: Faith and Works

Here are some highlights that speak to this verse:

Even if we assume that Paul is speaking of "good works" when he says we have not been saved by works, this in no way conflicts with Catholic theology. Notice that the passage speaks of salvation in the past tense-"you have been saved." In Greek this is the perfect tense, which denotes a past, completed action.

We know from other passages in Paul that salvation also has present and future aspects, so the kind of salvation Paul is discussing in Ephesians 2:8-9 is initial salvation. It is the kind which we received when we first came to God and were justified, not the kind of salvation we are now receiving (cf. 1 Peter 1:8-9, Phil. 2:12) or the kind we will one day receive (cf. Rom. 13:11, 1 Cor. 3:15, 5:5).

I hope that I and the article mentioned explains how Catholic teaching is completely in line with Scripture.

My turn for a question. I am assuming by your question that saving faith has nothing to do with works. How can good works not be a part of saving faith, (because let's face it, that is the only type of faith that is going to count), when you look at James 2:17, James 2:20-22, James 2:24...especially James 2:24?

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

Carlus Henry said...

Also...

Just in case someone out there does not get a chance to read the whole article I mentioned in the last comment, I think that it is worth mentioning the ending statement:

Thus if one uses the language of the Bible, one would say that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law . . . not by faith alone . . . for faith apart from works is dead . . . but faith working through love" (Rom. 3:28, Jas. 2:24, 26, Gal. 5:6).

God bless...

Anonymous said...

You are still trying to 'prove' Catholic teaching, because that is your chosen 'religious' path.

Carlus Henry said...

Anonymous,

You are still trying to 'prove' Catholic teaching, because that is your chosen 'religious' path.

Yes. I am trying to explain the faith. That is what this whole blog is about. Explaining the faith openly and honestly, especially for those who do not understand it.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said,

There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.

God bless...

Carlus Henry said...

Anonymous,

There were some things in your last comment that I care not to publish. Here are the parts that I will respond to:

Because I don't embrace the Catholic as THE church, I hate it?

That is not what I meant by quoting Bishop Fulton Sheen. I am sorry if I offended you. All I meant by the statement is that there is a lot of confusion about what the Catholic Church actually teaches. I did not mean to imply that you hated the Catholic Church.

I love the whole of scripture too much to embrace any organization.

Can you explain this more?

More importantly, scripture alone intimidates you, I think and that does matter

Scripture alone does not intimidate me because it is not something that I think anyone believes in, really. For those people who profess Scripture Alone, to me, what they are really saying is My Interpretation of Scripture Alone. For my thoughts on that, you can refer back to the post: Sola Scriptura or My Own Personal Interpretation.

God bless...

Anonymous said...

Actually I could have phrased that better. It goes back to Sola Scriptura - and what scripture says of itself.

If scripture did not intimidate you,you would actually use it in your argument instead constantly defering to Catholic teaching and Wikipedia.

Carlus Henry said...

Anonymous,

If scripture did not intimidate you,you would actually use it in your argument instead constantly defering to Catholic teaching and Wikipedia.

I am not intimidated by Scripture. When I posted this article, my intention was to show authentic Catholic Teaching. That is why I quoted from the Catechism and other various Catholic sources....not meaning that Wikipedia is an authentic Catholic source, of course :)

With all do respect, I am still looking for an answer to my previous question.

My turn for a question. I am assuming by your question that saving faith has nothing to do with works. How can good works not be a part of saving faith, (because let's face it, that is the only type of faith that is going to count), when you look at James 2:17, James 2:20-22, James 2:24...especially James 2:24?

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)


How do you interpret these scriptures?

God bless.

1godsgal said...

Hi Carlus....I answered your question at my blog a little bit. Hope that's ok. There is alot to it and I didn't want to clog your blog :)

Debs

Carlus Henry said...

1godsgal,

Of course that is okay. Very late last night, I noticed your post. Be sure that I will get a chance to comment.

God bless...

Anonymous said...

I ran across this post as I was talking with my mother-in-law (a Catholic) about this very topic.

I wanted to post a quick answer to your question about James 2:24.

In brief, the answer is that James is talking about the fruit of justification (works), not the root of justification (faith). This is clear in the text.

In contrast, Paul talks about the root of justification (faith) in Romans 3:28 and elsewhere.

Put another way, James was writing about justification before man while Paul was writing about justification before God.

My earnest question to you: If you do not accept this answer to your question about James 2:24, then how do you reconcile the apparent contradiction between that verse and Romans 3:28 (and others)?

May God bless you with wisdom and discernment as you consider your church home.

Carlus Henry said...

Anonymous,

Welcome to the conversation. I can't really tell if you have been here before or not, so just in case you are new, welcome.

In brief, the answer is that James is talking about the fruit of justification (works), not the root of justification (faith). This is clear in the text.


This is not a new concept to me. I just do not accept that James is talking about justification before man as oppose to justification.

Examining the scripture, we can see clear themes in James 2, including:

- faith is not enough. Without works it is dead and useless. James 2:17,20
- Abraham was showed to be right with God by his actions. James 2:21
- faith and actions working together. Actions complete the faith. James 2:22

Put another way, James was writing about justification before man while Paul was writing about justification before God.

We are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. James 2:24

The last one is the clicher. If James was writing about justification before man, then why mention that we are made right before God by what we do? He should have said we are made right with man, by what we do.

My earnest question to you: If you do not accept this answer to your question about James 2:24, then how do you reconcile the apparent contradiction between that verse and Romans 3:28

There is no contradiction. Scripture is Truth, and it cannot contradict.

So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. Romans 3:28

What law? Mosaic law. Why do I say this? Because the scriptures preceding say it.

Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles,[c] are under the power of sin...Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.Romans 3:9,19-20

It is then that we find in Romans 3:27,28 we find:

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. Romans 3:27-28

We can even know that St. Paul then continues to make the distinction, completely expressing the Mosaic Law because of what he says in v29

After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. Romans 3:29

This line makes no sense, unless he is trying to draw a distinction between Jew and Gentile. And of course we know that the difference between Jew and Gentile is the Mosaic Law that was commented on earlier.

No discrepencies at all.

Thanks for your prayers...I can use all that I can get. I will also pray for you as well, as you discern the scriptures seeking God's truth.

God bless...

René Lafaut said...

Salvation involves two important aspects: doing away with guilt felt and sinful acts done. As far as guilt is concerned it is forgiven through faith in Jesus by God’s mercy. As far as sinful acts are concerned they are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit through faith in Jesus. In other words: sinful acts are replaced by good works. Saving “faith” is completed by good “works” that are in-fused with God’s grace. So we are saved from our guilt through faith in Jesus; and we are saved from performing sinful acts by replacing them with good works with God’s help through faith.
Works are not a way of earning salvation. It never will be. It is best to see salvation, as a free gift and that good works are a response to. We are saved unto good works that God prepares in advance for each of us to do. We don’t have a works-righteousness or a righteousness that is rule-based... we have a righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus. All the changes from darkness to light are done through a faith that doesn’t give up for anything. Faith is the key to doing away with guilt and it is also the key to replacing dead works with good works.

Carlus Henry said...

Renee,

First off, my apologies for not publishing and responding sooner. Life has been busy :D.

I agree with everything that you said. Thanks for contributing...