Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Is Catholicism a Works-Based Religion?

This was my answer to the following question over at Flyfree: "Besides James 2, what else can I use to prove that Catholicism is not a works-based religion?"
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Well, the most compelling evidence is that the Church has never taught, nor will it ever teach, that it is a works-based religion. If someone ever asserts the contrary, just ask then to show you one statement from any official document of the Church that declares that the works of man save us. Now, in response, your opponent will most likely quote something from the Council of Trent, perhaps Canon 24 from the 6th session:
"If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."
.... or from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, perhaps para. 1477:
"This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body."
.... or para. 2027:
"No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods."
But, know one thing: they take the Church out of context.

Most often, your opponent won't care to understand what the Church means by these statements, or how these statements fit into the larger context of Catholic doctrine. Instead, they are looking for something juicy that they can use to accuse the Church of believing things she simply does not believe in. Now, the Church does believe that works save, but they must be prompted by grace. This is the important distinction. If the works are of man, then you have a works-based religion. But, if the works are by grace, then you have a grace-based religion. The latter is what we find in the Catholic Church.

Now, to show you that the previously cited quotes from Trent and the CCC are about works by grace, I offer the following context:

CANON I: 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.

CANON III: If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
1993 Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight.

1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. 46

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself. 63
Note that the italicized portions are all from the catechism. I did not add emphasis myself. This shows that the Catechism itself has taken great pains to show that works are only meritorious if they are prompted by grace. This is also evident from everything else that the Council of Trent says about grace and works.

With all this, there is simply no way of accusing the Catholic Church of being a "works-based" religion. I hope that helps.

Pax Christi,

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