Typical Arguments used against Catholic Teaching
A longstanding disagreement between the Church and her critics concerns the nature of faith and its relationship with works. The Church has been accused of teaching that man can add to the Work of Christ upon the Cross and indeed must add to it if salvation is to be achieved. The Catholic is often caricatured as earning his or her way into God’s favour and a place in heaven by reason of personal merits and Works. From this standpoint Catholicism appears to make the ‘Finished Work of Salvation’ made by Christ at Calvary devoid of power to save and deficient in extent.As devotions upon beads often carry Indulgences which work to our good or the good of the departed, it is important that a clear understanding of the teaching of the Church concerning Faith and Works is reached.
The Sacrifice of Jesus and the Work of His Church
The catholic understanding is that the Sacrifice of Christ at Calvary is eternally present in its power to save and also limitless and complete in its merit. It has no need of any addition and is incapable of being improved or made more fit than it actually is.
‘Christ Jesus died for sinners so that all who believe in Him should not perish in their sins but have everlasting life.’ (cf Jhn 3:16)
The bloody Sacrifice of Calvary can never be remade, repeated, or added to. However, the Church continues to plead that sacrifice at every Mass; the same sacrifice being presented at each Mass to the Father on behalf of mankind. This is not a different sacrifice, nor a repetition of the Sacrifice at Calvary but rather the same sacrifice. The link between Calvary and the sacraments, especially in Confession and the Mass is implicit in Scripture and has been consistently taught by the Church. Early Christians understood the Eucharist to be a sacrifice and recognised the inner nature of Christ’s words:
‘Do this in remembrance of me’ - Touto poieite tan eman anamnasin; (see Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24–25)
The protestant Early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes that in the early Church
“the Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice. . . . Malachi’s prediction (1:10–11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have “a pure offering” made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Didache (c indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist … “It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfilment of prophecy demanded a
solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, ‘Offer this.’ . . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection”
(J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 196–7).( taken from: www.catholic.com)
From Calvary flows divine mercy, entered into by means of baptism and reinforced by the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist. At Mass, washed clean and forgiven, Christians are fed by Christ with His true self under the forms of bread and wine and thus strengthened and sanctified for daily life and work.
The following extract from The Baltimore Catechism outlines the teaching of the Church on the relationship between Calvary and the Mass:
Q. 917. What is the Mass?
A. The Mass is the un-bloody sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ.
Q. 919. What is a sacrifice?
A. A sacrifice is the offering of an object by a priest to God alone, and the consuming of it to acknowledge that He is the Creator and Lord of all things.
Q. 920. Is the Mass the same sacrifice as that of the Cross?
A. The Mass is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross.
Q. 921. How is the Mass the same sacrifice as that of the Cross?
A. The Mass is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross because the offering and the priest are the same; Christ our Blessed Lord; and the ends for which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered are the same as those of the sacrifice of the Cross.
Q. 922. What were the ends for which the sacrifice of the Cross was offered?
A. The ends for which the sacrifice of the Cross was offered were:
First to honour and glorify God;
Second to thank Him for all the graces bestowed on the whole world;
Third to satisfy God’s justice for the sins of men;
Fourth to obtain all graces and blessings.
The human response
Because death (the consequence of sin) has been annulled through the perfect obedience and sacrificial offering of Jesus, so Christians are called to respond to this by the process of Justification; so living their lives in faith and by works that the Merits of Christ and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit bring them at last to heaven. The Sacrifice upon the Cross was never intended to be efficacious for those who would neither believe in or live in Christ. Neither can exist without the other if salvation is to be received. Salvation is a lifelong process of configuration into holiness and being fit for heaven where only holiness can dwell. Man responds to the Sacrifice of Christ at Calvary and so begins the process of actual Justification. Here the greatest conflict arises between the teachings of the Church and those of the 16th century reformers. It concerns the central doctrine of Justification; being ‘put right’ with God and the process by which this occurs.
Justification: the method by which man reaches heaven
Justification is achieved by Christ standing between God (who is righteous) and man (who is sinful) and offering the Atonement (the ‘At-One-ment’) of himself on behalf of sinful man; taking upon himself the punishment (or consequences) of the sin of man. The punishment or wages of which is death.
a) Forensic Justification (Protestant teaching)
Christians who follow the teachings of Luther or Calvin teach that Man responds by believing but remains sinful. The significant change for man after confessing faith is that he is now counted as righteous by God through the sacrifice of Jesus, and thereby has gained eternal life. This is known as legal or Forensic Justification.
b) Actual Justification (Catholic teaching)
The Church teaches, in accordance with her Scriptures that Man responds both by believing and by cooperating with the Sacrifice of Jesus. A life filled with Good Works prompted by the Holy Spirit initiates the process of Justification which results in eternal life if that relationship with God is maintained. This teaching is known as Actual Justification. It is real in that man is expected to change in order for the salvation to be completed; to ‘run the race’ (Heb 12:1. I Cor 9:4) so as not to lose the prize. If Calvary had been a ‘quasi-magical’ act then the prize could of course never be lost.
The part we have to playe in accepting salvation
We are to ‘make up in our own bodies the sufferings of Christ’. Saint Peter indicates the true significance of Christian suffering and shows that suffering for Christ is a sharing in His suffering and that this will lead to holiness. (I Pet 5:10, 4:13)
The Work of Christ upon the Cross is completed and He now makes intercession for us in heaven, pleading the power of His own Blood for our sins. Humanity continues in its response to this sacrifice as each individual Christian responds in turn and cooperates with Christ.
We must cooperate in the Work of God
It is here that the significance of Good Works becomes apparent. No work can add to the all sufficient sacrifice made by the Saviour upon the Cross. This is the source and origin of all that is good within the Church. The necessity for faith in that sacrifice does not add to it as faith is not a work having its origin in man. Neither do the Good Works of an individual add to the Sacrifice which is in itself complete. Rather, like Faith, these Good Works are the necessary product of the application of the benefits of the Sacrifice to the life of the individual believer. Neither Faith nor Works can be missing if salvation is eventually to be won. If faith is the primary response to Calvary, works are the evidence that this response is authentic and fruitful. There can be no exaltation of one above the other; both are necessary for salvation. Both Faith and Works can become false indicators of the relationship of a Christian with God. When personal faith is exalted above the Church and her teachings or when Good Works become simply a means of self-glorification, true God-centred Faith and Works are absent.
Good Works offered in true Faith become indicators of holiness and sanctification and serve to configure the individual or produce growth leading to salvation. All acts of goodness and devotion are evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian and the willing co-operation of that individual with Christ which will lead at the last to heaven. No Work or act that comes from man can aid salvation unless it is prompted and motivated by God Himself. and both Faith and Works have their origin and impetus in and through Him alone. It would be false to assert that a man is saved by Faith if that faith were motivated by himself. Faith is a result of the call of God and is the response of man to God. Likewise it would be erroneous to claim that Works can save a man if those works are solely of his own making. Works must flow from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and glorify God not the man. Works are true Love or Charity. In I Cor 13:13 Saint Paul informs us that Charity is greater than both Faith and Hope
Prayers on behalf of others whether living or departed may be classed as Good Works in that they are prompted by the Holy Spirit and show evidence of His in-dwelling in the human heart. In this way such prayer and devotion using beads or otherwise may be described as Good Works flowing from Christ.
Is faith simply a matter of belief and nothing more?
A person must have faith in order to be saved from death and receive eternal life (Heb 11;6) but faith is more than simply believing and trusting in God (I Cor 13:1-3). It is:
• an assent to the truth revealed by God (I Thess 2:13)
• an act of obedience to Him (Rom 1:5, 16:26)
• working in love (Gal5:6)
• a lifelong process (Ph2:12) and not a one time event as claimed by the reformers.
• not magically secure (I Cor 9:24-27, II Cor 13:15) but dependent upon man’s continued obedience.
• referred to by Jesus when he told His disciples to ‘remain’ in Him (Jhn 15:1-11)
A person is not saved once and for all by the simple act of belief in the saving death of Jesus. Indeed, nowhere in the Scriptures is faith described as ‘faith alone’ other than in the letter of Saint James where the notion is condemned.
What shall it profit,my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? (James 2:14. cf v17-26)
The faith of a Christian is precarious, not because Christ’s Work is not all sufficient, but because the response made by man does not always remain constant. In other words we sin. Faith can be: shipwrecked (I Tim 1:19),departed from (I Tim 4;1), disowned (I Tim 5:8), wandered from (I Tim 6:10) or missed (I Tim 6:21) So then, Faith can be precarious and must be accompanied by Works which give evidence of the response of the individual to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. The Work of Christ is perfect but the response of man is weak. This implies no reflection upon the sufficiency of the Sacrifice to save man but rather indicates a recognition of the weakness of the human response; a response God has willed as a co-operation with Christ. Faith accompanied by Works is that true response.
The True Value of Works
Christians must have more than intellectual belief and a love of God which remains private. Faith must be shown in right belief and loving action. Each of us will be judged according to the following: actions (Matt 25:31-46), thoughts (Matt 1518-20) and words (James 3:6-12)
Abraham whose faith consisted of both belief and action
The reformers argued that Abraham was a clear example of one who was justified by faith and pointed to Rom 4:3 where Abraham is declared righteous through his faith (Gen 15:6) However, a closer examination of the story of Abraham shows a man for whom belief was never far from action. He obeyed God and took a journey into the Promised Land; he built an altar as requested and offered sacrifice. Abraham was not simply a believer but a man of action. This was the faith that caused him to be declared justified by God. Faith is more than simply belief and acceptance, it is belief revealed in action and mercy. We might describe Abraham as justified by faith working in love (Gal 5:6). Abraham’s work for God was directed by God Himself. It was not simply Abraham’s own efforts on behalf of God. The important thing is that the Patriarch made a response to God which can be seen firstly in his belief and secondly in his actions: this was the faith that saw him accepted as righteous.
Man cannot earn salvation and the Catholic Church has never taught that he can. Faith is an inheritance (Gal5:21), freely given to us (I Jhn 3:1) if we remain in Christ (Jhn 15:1-11). But this faith can be lost (James 1:17) because it is effected not only by the work of Jesus on the Cross but by weak man’s response throughout his life.
Chaplets as Works for God
Blessed John Henry Newman – Chaplet of Conversion – pray for discernment
Offering worship to God is an indication of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and is therefore a work both meritorious and pleasing to God, for no one can offer true prayer without the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit. A sincere and prayerful intent during the offering of a Chaplet may therefore serve to continue the saving work of Christ within us, in the sense that by prayer and adoration, petition and reparation we are brought closer to God and made afresh in His image.
We are made to ‘practice what we preach’ in that the words we use as we offer a chaplet serve to configure our thoughts and lives to a greater degree of holiness. This is not, of course, to say that a Chaplet is a magical aid to holiness but rather to recognise that we become what we think and do. In other words, by offering worship to God we gain a greater part of His image within us. We grow daily in becoming the sons and daughters of God which we were named at our baptism. In our prayer and works we are further configured by the Holy Spirit into the reality. This process the Church calls Sanctification.
Chaplets are usually and rightly seen as vehicles of praise, adoration, petition or reparation. As each of us is different it is important to use those chaplets which help us to grow in faith. We each has a favourite saint and there is often a chaplet offering a means of praying to that saint. It might also be profitable to use the chaplets which best seem fitted to aid in this growth of holiness; the ones which seem best suited to draw one closer to heaven.
Through the centuries many chaplets have been enriched with indulgences either for the one who recites or for the Souls in Purgatory.This is a further way in which the work of Jesus in restoring all things to perfection might be aided by our prayers.
‘Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ James 2:18