Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Justification: Is it by faith or works?

I recently found myself in a discussion with some protestants on the issue of justification, and, as Protestants do, they would pretend that it is either or; like it's either the Bible or Tradition, Christ or the Pope, that it is either faith or works. In regard to this issue I intend to show from not only the Bible, but Tradition, and the Fathers of the Early Church that it is both faith and works which contribute to the justification of man before God.

The phrase "faith alone" is found in only one place in the Bible, and oddly enough, it is refuting the Protestant view that man is justified by faith alone. The phrase comes from the second chapter of the epistle of St. James which states "you see that by works a man is justified and not by faith alone?". I'm sure that this topic has been very well covered by much better authors than myself, but as also, the error of sola fide is ongoing and still remains a big issue for Protestants, so, again, I'll treat this topic with the scripture, the Fathers, and from the Church pronouncements.

It is for good reason that Our Lord says "Every tree that brings forth not good fruits shall be cut down and shall be cast into the fire" (Matt. 7.19) because it is important for the faithful to understand that they must yield good fruit in order to be numbered among the elect. Our Lord is here giving warning to the faithful that faith without works is not enough to be saved. and, therefore, he adds: "Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven".

But, first of all, before we get carried away, just what is a "good work"? Good works are actions that are performed, while in the state of sanctifying grace, according to God's will. These are actions inspired by faith, and they are necessary for salvation, as they are the manifestation of faith, and are what is referred to in the gospel as "good fruit". This is not to say, of course, that a man may work his way into heaven, but that these works are a bi-product of faith. Christ explicitly states that those [souls] who yield not forth good fruit [works as a manifestation of their faith] shall be cut down and cast into the fire (damned). It is therefore, a great error for one to perceive that they may attain salvation simply because they yield not forth bad fruit [commit no evil].
Thus, those who do neither good nor evil, shall not see salvation, as heaven is the reward of those who have performed well, and if no good work has been done, then they may not expect a reward, as St. Ambrose illustrates in his 41st Letter: "And so He first bestows on us a gift by baptism, and afterwards gives more abundantly to those who serve Him faithfully. So, then, the benefits of Christ are... rewards of virtue"; so, we see that He only gives to those who serve him, and serve Him faithfully, and also, that the rewards of Christ are a consequence of virtue.

The Holy Ghost is the sanctifier, who sanctifies the world and men, but men can only be sanctified if they comply with that grace of the Holy Spirit through faith, hope, and love of God and his neighbor; and he must also perform other "works". It is a dogma of the Church that we must, in union with the Holy Ghost, of course, "merit" heaven by his "good works".

We see from St. Paul that God rewards good works: "If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward" (I Cor. 3:14); and "Do not therefore lose your confidence which hath a great reward. For patience is necessary for you: that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise." (Heb. 10:35-36) , and still more, he exhorts us to do good works in these words: "... run that you may obtain" (I Cor. 9:24); he describes this life as a fight, a fight that we must win in order to be saved, which means doing and not simply being: "Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life..." (I Tim. 6:12), and encourages St. Timothy, which applies to all of us, "To do good, to be rich in good work, to give easily, to communicate to others" (I Tim. 6:18), that we may attain eternal life.

Now we have seen that works are necessary, but we must also understand that it is not simply works, nor is it simply faith, as we shall now cover. We know that we cannot work our way into heaven, no matter how holy we are. This entails that one must have faith, but what if we have faith, what if we have faith enough to move the mountains, is faith all we need to be saved?
The Holy Spirit, speaking through St. James in his epistle, says "What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?
So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself" (James 2:14-17). This clearly shows how faith without works is not sufficient for salvation. He goes on to say: "Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:19-20). Once again reiterating the fact that faith without works is dead, but he also adds that the devils believe and tremble, showing once again that faith is not all that is required. St. James goes on to say: "Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?...For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead." (James 2:24-26). He states that faith without works is dead, but then adds "not by faith only" meaning that it [salvation] is by works, through faith, meaning both, he certainly does not say works only, and he does not say faith only, but that they are one, and must be done in unison with faith. Apparently we must not only believe, but we must "fight the good fight" so to speak. St. Paul says "Workout thy salvation" now we know that we can't work our way into heaven so what does St. Paul mean? He means we must not only believe BUT we must also as St. Paul says: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast: and hold the traditions, which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle... Exhort your hearts and confirm you in every good work and word." which means that we must hold the faith and keep it alive in everything we do, and do good works in faith. St. James further illustrates this: "But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work: this man shall be blessed in his deed. " (James 1:22-25). This is simply further driving home the point that we must be a doer of the word and not simply a hearer, and that the doer will be blessed in his deed.

We also notice that when eternal life is promised it is always in the future.
It is not that "we are saved" but that "we shall be saved". So, we may not in truth say "I am saved" for he is a liar unless he be in the company of the Blessed. "Which some promising, have erred concerning the faith". The Council of Trent speaks thus of this error: "If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema." (sess. VI, Can. XIII) and "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema." (Sess. VI, Can. XIV). It is said by St. Paul "That thou keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." and "But thanks be to God, that you ...have obeyed from the heart unto that form of doctrine into which you have been delivered" meaning that we must hold the faith [that means live the faith and believe it inviolately], and not simply believe. For not even the great St. Paul was assured of his salvation, he too had to "run the Race" and "fight the good fight" even though he had been so great an apostle, even though the Holy Spirit had spake through him and delivered to us many epistles in the new testament.
We must not say to ourselves that because we read scripture and sing a couple of hymns and clap our hands and listen to a pastor provide us with his private interpretation of scripture that we are going to see God no matter what. We must practice virtue and be obedient to the traditions which God has given us. We must rely on His mercy and fulfill God's requests.

It is a great error for one to perceive that it is possible to work one's way into heaven, as defined by the Council of Trent: "If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema." (Sess. VI, Can. I) Thus we see, that the Protestant perception that Catholics believe that they can work their way to salvation is complete and totally false, but that Catholics hold that one must work by grace, through faith.
The council goes on to proclaim that it is error for one to assume that he may attain salvation without observing the commandments of God: "If any one saith, that the man who is justified and how perfect soever, is not bound to observe the commandments of God and of the Church, but only to believe; as if indeed the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the commandments ; let him be anathema." (Sess. VI, Can. XX).

We know that it is impossible to please God without faith, and therefore, without it will not be saved (Heb. 11:6), Justification is accomplished by faith and works. Protestants will argue against this by citing Eph. 2.9 which states that it is not by works that we are saved, but who is saying that we are saved by works, the Catholic Church does not say this, so where do they get the idea that Catholic believe that we are saved by works? St. Paul there says that faith is a gift from God that does not include "works of the Law". But according to this Protestant logic, St. Paul contradicts himself as shown above he says we must do good works in order to attain salvation as shown above, so obviously, the interpretation that the Protestants give this is not the correct context that this verse is to be understood by. In Galations Ch. 5 we see the context that this is to be read by "faith that worketh" meaning that faith is what drives the works, it is faith that powers them, and gives them life. This verse goes on to say "faith that worketh by charity" meaning that we have faith, by love, and St. Paul also says that faith without charity is nothing, meaning, that faith is accomplished by charity, which is an act and faith, which is an act of the will, are one; thus charitable works, it's why we have charities. Faith is a gift of God, and it is not achieved by men, and it is God who causes all of this, but, however, He requires of us actions on our part in order to perfect that faith that he has so graciously given us (James 2:22). St. James says that the man who know that he must do works and does them not is a sinner, (James 4:17) meaning that it is sin not to do good works. Faith and works are to be one, to be united as the body and the spirit are one as once again St. James tells us "For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26) as St. Irenaeus, one of the most illustrious of the Early Church Fathers says: "For these two, faith and good works, rejoice in each other's company, and agree together and fight side by side to set man in the Presence of God".

All of this means that we must have both faith and works, and not simply one or the other.
We see how the argument that the Protestants use, that is the either or, is a faulty argument and falls short of a correct understanding of the scriptures according to the context they were written in. The Bible must be read as one, not simply taking verses and placing them to stand all by themselves as to serve as a rule, without a measurement, context, by which to read the rule.
And so, as we progress in our series on Justification, we will see the true context of what is meant by works, vs. works of the law, and we will see how justification is an ongoing process which is a continuing thing, and not something that happens all at once, but is something we must strive after each and every day. We will also see how justification begins on the inside, and that it is accomplished by our own dispositions and faith and is not simply what happens as a result of a divine pronouncement; so stay with us and we'll bring all of this and more to light in the near future.

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