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THE Biblical Proof for Catholic belief in the efficacy of works September 24, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, Bible, Ecumenism, error, foolishness, General Catholic, sanctity, self-serving, Society, Spiritual Warfare, Tradition, Virtue.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an evangelical type drop by the blog and ask some pointed “questions,” which really seemed like accusations, regarding “erroneous” Catholic beliefs.  One of his questusations was just silly, claming that Catholics had “done away with” the 2nd Commandment because the Church typically numbers the 10 Commandments differently from protestants (but, they retain all the same points, and the Church’s numbering scheme is much more ancient, a significant proof of authenticity in terms of historical accuracy).  But the most serious questusation was the claim that Catholics were all wacked out because we know that our good works are meritorious of salvation.  I replied with a quote from James chapter 2 that stresses how good works are so critically important, and then I sent the guy on to a better expert than me to get a more detailed response, if he wanted to.  He came back with a 4000+ word reply, which went to spam, because the filter rightly recognizes that it is ludicrous to spend hours on a comment on a blog!

In doing so, I made two mistakes, because I didn’t send him to the best resource possible – John Salza – and also because I left out the absolutely foundational text for Catholic belief in not only the merit of good works, but their absolute necessity for salvation.  Before I begin, I will clarify, we are not Pelagians, we know that we cannot “work our way to Heaven” independent of Grace, and we know that the best we can do is to cooperate with Grace in order to do good things, but even that cooperation is a work.  Even faith is a work, silly protestant semantic games aside.  The text is, of course, Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats:

[31] And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. [32] And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: [33] And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. [34] Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:

[36] Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. [37] Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? [38] And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? [39] Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? [40] And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

[41] Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. [42] For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. [43] I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. [44] Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? [45] Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

[46] And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

To immediately rebut one possible exception, there are only trivial differences between the Catholic Douay-Reims version and the “sainted” protestant King James Version (which derived significant material from the earlier Douay-Reims).  Both versions start with Christ making a contingent affirmation: “Come……possess the kingdom prepared for you………For I was hungry…….”  And both have Christ clearly damning those who fail to observe His command to constantly engage in corporal works of mercy (which reminds me…….I need to engage in MORE corporal works of mercy!).

Now, a protestant might try to reply with one of their favorite Scripture quotes taken out of context: Eph 2:8-9, wherein St. Paul says that we are saved by faith, and not works, so that we may not “boast.”  Obviously, this is a problematic statement, because not only does this appear to make St. Paul contradict St. James as mentioned above, but it would be very difficult to reconcile St. Paul’s claim with Matt 25:31-46 as noted above, or even St. Paul with himself in Romans 2:5-8 (and this is a key bit, that underscores that Paul is only condemning a certain kind of works, not claiming that ALL works are never meritorious). In reality, this is all Calvinist total depravity nonsense, but let’s play along and see what is really going on here (the below draws from John Salza’s website and his great book The Biblical Basis for the Catholic Faith.

When dealing with St. Paul, one always has to be very careful to understand the context in which he was writing.  St. Paul was incredibly brilliant/filled with Grace, and wrote on a very deep level, but always had a certain objective in mind. One of his major objectives in the period that he wrote several of his Epistles was against the Judaizers, recent Christian converts from Judaism who wanted to foist the practices of the Old Law on the new Faith Christ had founded.  So, when St. Paul writes against “works,” he is really writing against the works of the Old Law.  This is most obvious in Galatians, but is true in Ephesians, as well. The Jewish understanding of “works of the law” was a contractual-type system wherein if they did certain works, God was obligated to do various things for them.  This was a perverse understanding to begin with, and something I’ll return to at the end.

What Paul is teaching is that, after the Resurrection, we are saved by Grace through faith in Christ, and not by any works of the Old Law. Once we accept Christ and receive Baptism and are active in the Faith, we have Grace flowing into us, which, if we cooperate with, makes our works meritorious (see Rom 5:1-5). As St. James says, faith without works is dead. What the Jews believed in, was a sort of contractual system, a system of “legal obligations” where, if they performed certain prescribed acts, God was obligated to respond in a certain way.  Far from eschewing the Old Law, the Calvinist-protestant system of “grace alone” reduces what should be a loving, two-way covenental relationship back into a legalistic, contractual one!  In a covenent, there is a constant two-way exchange, a person loving God and through that love, his fellow man, and doing good works is part of that, with God sending Grace to permit the love/good works and then following with still more Grace as good works accumulate (and, of course, sin interrupts, or even shatters this process).  Protestants reduce God, instead of being a best friend and intimate companion, to a distant contract partner, who is “obligated” to “save” someone who receives baptism or makes a profession of faith.  Ironically, the profession itself, is a work, as is faith itself, but protestants of the Calvinist/presbyterian/evangelical types pretend not to see this.

Catholics approach God as a Father who loves us, and rewards us based on that love, not an employer who “owes” us good crops, salvation, or whatever, based on our reciting some magic formula one time.

So, when St. Paul says one time in Ephesians that “we are saved through faith, and not of yourselves.” he is referring primarily to the Mosaic law (e.g., circumcision) or any work where we try to obligate God. This is to be distinguished from works performed under the auspices of Grace. There is a difference between “works of law” and “good works.” This is why James says that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24).  Also, St. Paul explicitly embraces the efficacy and NEED for good works in Romans and Corinthians.  Protestants have to make St. Paul contradict himself in order to support their erroneous belief.

Paul’s teaching that we are not justified by works of law and James’ teaching that we ARE justified by works appear to be inconsistent with each other, until you recognize that they are talking about two different systems: law and grace.

And, I think, when you couple Matt 25:31:46, the Catholic system of belief becomes quite reasonable and clear. Christ Himself made works of charity a critical aspect of our salvation, directly indicating that our salvation is dependent on those very works.  This section – taken completely in context, part of a whole series of parables regarding Heaven and salvation in Matt 25 – is very much like John 6, the famous exegesis on the Blessed Sacrament, the reception of which (If you do not EAT my flesh and DRINK my blood you shall not have life within you) Christ makes a firm requirement for salvation – yet another work!

There are numerous other examples that can be pointed to that demonstrate that works, done always in cooperation with Grace and requiring Grace to be meritorious, are necessary for salvation.  These include the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), numerous statements in Revelations (Rv 2:5, 14:13, 20:12, 22:12), Matt 10:22 (he who endures until the end will be saved – well, perseverence is certainly a work), 1 COR 3:15 where St. Paul talks of how we will be judged based on our WORKS done in this life, James 2:14 (without works, you CANNOT be saved), and many others.

I also don’t believe God has allowed Scripture to become so polluted and erroneous that we all have to dig back through 1700 year old codices and have a mastery of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic in order to comprehend His intent from Scripture.

I hope your enjoyed your latest round of ecumenism, Tantumblogo style!


1. Don - September 25, 2013


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