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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Good Works

James 2:22-26: You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven.”

Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Both faith and good works are necessary for salvation. This is the witness of Scripture. Martin Luther was so possessed by his “faith alone” theory that he even forcibly inserted the word “alone” into his version of the Bible. When told about his error, he responded that he would not remove it even if an angel from heaven were to tell him to do so. Catholics rightly contend that faith must be actualized with charity. We profess and make real our faith, not only with an assent of the mind and our words, but with our heart and our actions. Christ is only “our personal Lord and Savior” if we exercise necessary faith and good works. The incarnation of Christ, first into human flesh and now into our souls by grace, allows him to perpetuate his ministry through our lives. Good works have merit precisely because the Lord living in us ultimately performs them. Since faith and good works are required, it becomes an imperative that we reject the view of Luther. It does make a difference what we believe. The growing consensus on this issue between modern day Lutherans and Catholics is evidence of a positive development in mainline Protestantism as well as a reconciliatory stance with Catholicism.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

5 Responses

  1. Fr. Joe,

    I just wanted to apologize.

    FATHER JOE: For what are you apologizing?

    I’ve had a presence on the internet for about 20 years. I’ve been insulted by Protestants, Muslims and even Hindus. Ultra Trad Catholics also don’t like me much. But this is the first time I’ve been insulted by a Catholic Priest.

    FATHER JOE: You must be reading too much into curt answers. I did not mean to insult you. I wanted you to voice an answer I felt you must already know.

    It was totally unexpected and i took it very hard.

    FATHER JOE: Sorry for my part in miscommunication. Posts here are moderated and I have to grab time to respond.

    De Maria

  2. What does the catechism say? That the Sacraments are works of God.

    740 These “mighty works of God,” offered to believers in the sacraments of the Church, bear their fruit in the new life in Christ, according to the Spirit.

    Do Catechists explain to new Catholics why Scripture says that Catholic Doctrine says we are saved by “faith and works” and yet St. Paul says, 5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness. Would you classify “corporal works of mercy” as “deeds done in righteousness”?

    FATHER JOE: Sure, it is also what we call performing charity while in a state of grace. You had to already be disposed to God before receiving merit. But the good deeds can still keep us in a righteous or proper stance before God.

    But, I’ve been looking for an explicit answer from a knowledgeable Catholic for many years. And I was simply hoping that you had thought about the question.

    FATHER JOE: I am not entirely sure what your question is.

    St. Paul is talking about the works of the law…

    In Rom 3:28, but not throughout Scripture. In various places, he mentions that works do not save nor justify.

    FATHER JOE: Good deeds will not save you, that is true. Salvation is not like a bank where we hope to build up savings or procure interest. There may be many “good people” who will go to hell because they do not know Christ. We pray otherwise, but no one deserves eternal life with the Lord. It is up to divine providence as to whom will be counted among the sheep and among the goats… that and the mystery of human freedom.

    Actions of general discipleship? To what is that in reference? Works of mercy, prayer, what? I looked it up in the catechism and it isn’t there.

    FATHER JOE: As a people of faith, our works only have value or merit if we are in a state of grace. Good acts performed by one in mortal sin have no positive value and will not save us from hell. General discipleship is literally the Christian life… according to our given state of life… living as a Christian… making moral decisions… being faithful to our responsibilities… being a people of prayer and sacrifice. Those who know that the Catholic Church was instituted by Christ must join in order to be saved. Jesus is the only pontifex or bridge to the kingdom. Apart from Christ, one cannot be saved. There is no other way to the Father. But we do not presume to tell God whom he can and cannot rescue.

    He is making a distinction between Judaism and Christianity. Agreed. The Jews didn’t have the Sacraments.

    FATHER JOE: Precisely and yet the Jews did have rituals that functioned in certain ways like sacraments or sacramentals. Circumcision was an essential one for males. There really was no equivalent for females. Here, like infant baptism, there is a communal element. The child is passive. The community does as God has prescribed. Similarly a child is presented at the temple. The faith of family and a tribe suffices. Only later will it be expected that the child come to maturity will embrace the faith in an intellectual and willful way. Following the law brings righteousness, not just for the one who is obedient, but for his household. Similarly sin is viewed as an infection, touching all and polluting them. The adult male found it hard to keep all the many laws of Judaism. That is why certain Pharisees and scribes looked down upon ordinary men.

    What is the manner of initiation into the Church? RCIA


    RCIA is largely a human construct that more or less parodies what certain “experts” suspect the pattern for candidates may have been in the early days of the Church. The answer I was seeking was more fundamental… BAPTISM. Remember even an infant can be baptized and receive sanctifying grace. The child is not at the age of reason and is passive. The saving faith here is communal… the family, sponsors and the believing Church. No one comes to the font alone. No one comes to the Lord unsupported. The parents will share their faith. The righteous works they render include fidelity of the spouses, raising a family and witnessing to our faith and values. Works done in Christ make us holy. No one deserves to be saved. It is a gift. But it is a gift that God gives.

    The Bible does not read like a catechism or theology book. We must compare texts with other texts to get at the contextual meaning. When it comes to a question like justification or salvation, we look to the Gospels and what Christ said, we look at the writings of Paul (faith) and we examine the epistle by James (works). This is what makes proof texts difficult for Catholics because we are dealing with varying theologies and trying to find a certain harmony. Martin Luther so hated the letter by James that he stripped it from his translation of the Bible.

  3. Peace to you, as well, Fr. Joe.

    I’ve read the document, Fr. I’ve read several of its drafts in the years its since the council was convened. I know that you don’t know me from Adam, but I’ve been studying my Catholic Faith for 20 years.

    Now, if you’d rather I don’t ask anymore questions, let me know. But, I’ll assume you don’t mind and try to explain my difficulty.

    Titus 3:5 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

    5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

    In Rom 3:28, it says “works of the Law”. In Titus 3:5, he says, “works of righteousness”.

    And, if we think about it, which works of the law are not also works of righteousness? I can’t think of any. Even circumcision is done in obedience to God and therefore is a work of righteousness.

    But St. Paul also says, in Rom 2:13:

    Romans 2:13 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

    13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

    Doers of the Law.

    Doers will be justified. Those who keep the Law, will be justified but not by works of the Law.

    It makes sense to me. The just will be justified. Sinners who repent will be justified. Repentance is the keeping of the Law, after all.

    FATHER JOE: Sometimes Paul is talking to Jews of the diaspora and at other times he addresses Gentiles. What is the Jewish law? If I recall correctly, the Mishneh Torah lists 613 laws or commandments. Jesus gives us two, love of God and love of neighbor. The Jew was justified by obedience to the law. The Christian is justified by a faith (personal or communal) that focuses upon obedience in terms of charity or love.

  4. Is it correct then, in your opinion, to say that when St. Paul used the terminology, “justified by faith apart from works” (Rom 3:28), he was making reference to the justification which we receive in Baptism?

    FATHER JOE: St. Paul was Catholic. What does the catechism say? I do not mean to be rude, but this is Catholicism 101. St. Paul is talking about the works of the law, not the actions of general discipleship. He is making a distinction between Judaism and Christianity. What is the manner of initiation into the Church? Read the document I linked. Peace!

  5. Father, I have a theory about Luther’s misunderstanding of justification, I wish you would look at it to see if it makes sense to you.

    1st: Because, before the advent of Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Revolution, some very prominent and influential Catholics also said that justification was by faith alone.

    Basil of Caesarea (329-379)
    “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ.”

    Ambrose (c. 339-97)
    “Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.”

    Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3
    “God justifies by faith alone.” (Deus ex sola fide justificat).

    So, in my opinion, if these Church Fathers used the term “faith alone”, I conclude that there is a legitimate understanding of this term for Catholics.

    2nd: How can it be by faith alone?

    My first response, for the sake of clarification, is, “Not the Protestant way.”

    Protestants deny that works before justification avail anything towards justification. But it is clear to me, from Scripture, that unless someone keeps the Commandments and does the Will of God, he will not be justified.

    Scripture says:
    Romans 2:13
    13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

    This verse, very clearly tells me, that only those who do the Commandments will be just before God. Therefore, good works avail everything towards justification because without them, we won’t be justified.

    3rd: So what did the Church Fathers mean when they said, “justification by faith alone”?

    They were talking about that justification which occurs in the Sacraments.

    Father, you know better than I that the Sacraments are the works of God. We approach the Sacraments with a disposition of faith. But it is apart from works. We repented, we turned to God, we sought His Face, we studied to show ourselves approved, now we believe that He will keep His promise. He will wash our souls with the washing of regeneration and renewal which is Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit.

    But we don’t do anything at that moment. We only believe. And God sees our faith and credits it to us as righteousness and that is why we are called the children of Abraham (Gen 15:6).

    So, the justification which occurs in the Sacraments is what I believe the Catholic Church Fathers were talking about when they used the term “justification by faith alone”.

    4th: So, what about Luther?

    In his German Bible, Luther swapped the words, “apart from works” for the word, “alone”. My theory is that he simply did not see the Sacramental Teaching which St. Paul was making when he wrote these words. I believe that when St. Paul said, “we are justified by faith apart from works”, he was describing that justification which occurs in Baptism.

    But Luther was led astray. And the prophecy of 2 Peter 3:16-17 was fulfilled in him:

    2 Peter 3:16-17 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

    16 speaking of this as he (i.e. St. Paul) does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability.

    What do you think, Father Joe? Does that make sense?


    I could give you even more citations from the fathers because no matter whether they used the word “alone” or not, the doctrine is certain, even if misunderstood by certain Protestant reformers. Many modern day Lutherans and Catholics came to a resolution of this question back in the 1990’s. See the document on the Vatican website:

    by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church

    The document states, “Catholics teach as do Lutherans, that nothing prior to the free gift of faith merits justification and that all of God’s saving gifts come through Christ alone” (USA, no. 105).

    The argument today is less with the Lutherans than with other Protestants who have absconded with the teaching and are rigorists in its misapplication. Catholicism throughout the centuries has understood faith in a way that certain sects today would not. Yes, faith in Christ is also extended to the Church and her sacraments. Faith is assent, personal and corporate (thus we baptize babies). Faith is charity lived out with obedience. Everything we have is gift. None are saved apart from Christ. Christ can use us as his instruments, extending his saving works to us down through the centuries. These works are meritorious because they are the works of Christ. Our faith is in the Lord who died for us, rose from the dead, poured the Holy Spirit upon us and ascended to the Father. We know, within the mystery of faith and the Church, that we have never been abandoned. Those in a state of grace with faith in Christ have everything. Those without this faith, and thus lacking saving grace, have nothing.

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