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Salvation by faith/works QUESTION from Sue Szoke April 4, 1999 Dear John-Paul:
I am praying the Divine Mercy Novena for the first time. In reading the booklet Devotion to the Divine Mercy published by Divine Mercy Publications Ltd., Ireland, the following paragraph from page 41 confused me:
One of the purposes for which Our Lord ordered Sister Faustina to paint a special image of himself as the Divine Mercy is...to be a reminder of the demands of My Mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works (of mercy) (II,163).
I think the (II,163) is a reference to the Diary of Blessed Faustina, which I don't have. I am hoping you have access to a copy or can explain the statement ...even the strongest of faith is of no avail without works.
This seems to mean that salvation is ONLY by faith AND works, and that salvation can NEVER be by faith ALONE. Here's a question: if a person is baptized into the Church but dies before he has an opportunity to do a single work, isn't that person saved? This could be an adult on their deathbed, or someone who meets with an untimely death. A second category of individuals would be infants baptized shortly after birth who die while still in infancy, never having reached an age to understand and be capable of works.
I understand salvation to be by faith (God's grace/gift to us) and works to be a natural next step in our walk with God, in the imitation of Christ. When we perform works of mercy, from the tiniest prayers to martyrdom, isn't it appropriate to recognize that we are cooperating with God's grace prompting us, supporting us, and ultimately seeing us through the whole act? (So that we aren't tempted to get inflated opinions of ourselves, thinking we did our works entirely on our own).
So...for the person who dies before having done a single work, isn't salvation by faith alone?
Thank You and God Bless.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on April 9, 1999 Dear Miss Szoke:
I looked up the reference in my copy of the Diaries. Here is the full context:
I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first – by deed, the second – by word, the third – by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pay reverence to My mercy. Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy, and I demand worship of My mercy through the solemn celebration of the Feast and through veneration of the image which is painted. By means of this image I shall grant many graces to souls. It is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works. Jesus is quoting from the Apostle James. One of the primary themes of St. James’ letter to us is that faith without works is dead.
Quoting from James 2:14-17:
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if is has no works, is dead. Martin Luther, not content to accept Scripture as written because Scripture did not support his personal opinions, calls the Book of James an epistle of straw and wants to rip it out of the Bible. He did succeed in ripping out seven books from the Old Testament, but he never succeeded in getting rid of James. But when Luther translated the Bible into German he added words to Romans 3:28:
For we hold that a man is justified by faith (Luther added ‘alone’) apart from the works of the law. The phrase faith alone does not exist in the Romans passage but it does in the Book of James. In fact the Book of James is the ONLY place where this phrase faith alone exists. St. James says:
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. . .For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead (James 2:24,26) It might appear that St. Paul and St. James are contradicting each other. They are not. Paul is saying that one cannot be saved merely by following the law (such as the Mosaic law of circumcision).
St. James is saying that if we have a real and genuine faith, then we WILL do good works – works of love. This is affirmed by St. Paul too in Galatians 5:6 (faith working through love). St. Paul also tells us that faith without love is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we WILL keep his commandments (John 14:21). Jesus tells the rich man how to be saved by keeping the commandments (Matthew 19:16-17).
Now with this background, on to your questions.
First, works are not a natural next step. That would be like saying first comes the body and the next natural step is to bring to the body the spirit. The body and spirit are intertwined from conception, they CANNOT be separated. If they are separated, the body dies (James 2:26).
Same with faith and works. Faith and works are intertwined from the beginning. If works is separated from faith, then faith is dead (which means you don’t really have it).
It is important to first understand that works is not just a mature application of faith. Works MUST be present and manifested or you do not have the faith, and thus are lacking justification (salvation).
Now as to persons who are not in position to exercise works due to their coming to the faith on their deathbed, I would suggest that they do exercise a work – the work of loving God. As for a baby, a baby is not accountable until the age of accountability for actual sins; original sin was washed away with baptism; and if not baptized the innocence of the child God receives according to His mercy. As the child grows in the love and faith in God, and in maturity of age, we should see him beginning to perform works too.
But apart from that speculation of a dying person doing a work of love as loving God, if a person comes to the faith and does not have a chance to manifest a work, they are still saved. I would call it a work of desire, similar to baptism of desire. They desire in their hearts to express their faith in the works of love, but are not able to do it. God reads their hearts and knows this desire.
Thus the salvation is not strictly by faith alone in this case, in my opinion, but by faith AND the desire of the heart to do the works of love if one could.
For the rest of us, we better start working out our salvation in love :-)
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