Category Archives: New Testament

“By their fruits…” Mt 7:16-20, the role of works in salvation


Karl Keating

Faith & Salvation are gifts

“Fr. William G. Most (1914-1997) will not end up numbered among first-rank apologists, but his book Catholic Apologetics Today (now out of print) came to my attention just when I could profit from it. It appeared as I was putting together the newspaper columns that, when collected and revised, became my first book.

Every Fundamentalist I have dealt with—or so it has seemed—has faulted the Catholic Church for teaching, supposedly, that we are saved through good works. We earn our salvation by what we do.

Although I took the usual route of referring Fundamentalists to James 2:17 (“faith without works is dead”), I learned early on that that scriptural verse failed to make much of an impress on them.  A few seemed to be wholly unfamiliar with that book. That might seem unlikely, given that Fundamentalists style themselves “Bible Christians,” but many of them read (or study) only those parts of the Bible recommended to them by their preachers. Those who read the whole of the Bible often have little appreciation of the import of some passages, such as John 6, in which the Eucharist is promised and described. James’s comment on works is another. “Faith without works is dead” either is passed over or, at most, is interpreted to mean that good works have no significance higher than public affirmation of having “accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Doing good works is a good thing—but not a necessary thing.

It was through reading Most that I adopted a formulation that helped clarify the discussion. It came from his making a distinction between the way James wrote about faith and the way Paul wrote about it. They used the same word but in differing senses.

“Is it true that there is salvation in faith alone?” asks Most. “Definitely, yes!” It is “the chief theme of Galatians and Romans.” Yet James could write that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24)—a seeming contradiction.

Either salvation is by “faith alone,” as Luther so imperiously insisted, or it is not; either it comes through faith and nothing else or through faith plus something else. Which is it?

Most made the obvious point that the issue here is with the meaning of the word faith as used by the two apostles. The word was not used univocally. James “clearly uses faith to mean, narrowly, just intellectual acceptance of a revealed truth.” To faith in that restricted sense one needs to add good works. We see this confirmed by Paul himself in Romans 2:6: “He will repay to man according to his works.”

Here comes the crucial part. Most says that “Paul does not mean that works can earn salvation—but violation of the law can earn eternal ruin.” (do good/avoid evil*.  how? by doing good!) Paul does not disagree with James, but he uses a broader sense of faith: “total adherence of a person to God in mind and will. This, in turn, implies certain things.” Chief among the implications is that works have a kind of negative role to play in salvation, this being the main takeaway I had from Most. We can affirm that salvation is through faith, but salvation can be forfeited through sin. Salvation is a gift, but any gift can be rejected or returned to the giver. Something taken on by compulsion (Ed. or forced on you, i.e. slavery, the “gift” of faith) is not a gift.

Once a Christian is in the state of grace (Ed. the “readiness/worthiness/ability to receive/having received” the gift), through baptism or through repentance followed by sacramental confession, s/he is, at that moment, “saved”: were s/he to die in that state (Ed. of grace, readiness/worthiness to receive/having received), he would end up in heaven, even if with a sojourn through purgatory. But his/her state is precarious. There is no adult Christian who has not fallen out of grace through sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Someone who has not fallen short of the glory of God, however transiently, is someone who is imbued with God’s grace (Ed. “O Mary conceived without sin…”; Hail Mary, full of grace…, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, etc.); to fall short is to fall into gracelessness.

The key, then, is not to fall out of grace. This where works come in (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!), both good works and bad works. Bad works are sins. Through mortal sins (Ed. those which are serious, intentional, which “kill” the life of grace within us, the symptom being, likely, a guilty conscience, if not scrupulous) we lose sanctifying grace and thus salvation. What about good works? (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!) They don’t earn us salvation but they do something nearly as valuable: they keep us from throwing salvation away. (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!) To persist in good works is to avoid evil works, sins (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!). Those who habitually perform good works habitually avoid (but they do not necessarily always avoid) sins that destroy grace.  (Ed. “The devil’s playground…”, Prov 16:27.)

This was, for me, Most’s most valuable point. The Fundamentalist, thinking about Catholicism’s insistence that good works are necessary, thinks we believe that we bring salvation to ourselves. (Pelagianism) The Catholic can answer by saying that good works are shields against bad works (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!) (Prov 16:27.). Without good works, there is no prospect that a Christian can maintain grace in his soul, the opportunities to fall from grace being ubiquitous and, often enough, seemingly irresistible. Help is needed if they are to be resisted, and that help comes in the form of habitually performing good works, whether in the form of prayer, almsgiving, or something else.

It wasn’t that Most told me something I had not known, but he told it to me in a way that I had not seen before, at a time when I needed a clearer way to convey Catholic teaching to those who were sure the Church was teaching something contrary to Scripture.  Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering spectacles of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across spectacles that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision.”

-from https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/faith-and-works-0, this is GOOD!!!  You SHOULD read the WHOLE thing!!!  I didn’t say “easy”.  I just said GOOD!!!!

“Following the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church held an ecumenical council in the Italian city of Trent to deal with the theological questions that were being debated. The Council of Trent issued the Decree on Justification (DJ), which set forth the Catholic position on the subject…This is the case with the idea that we need to earn our place before God by doing works…According to Trent, “none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace (Ed. gift) of justification. ‘For, if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise,’ as the Apostle says, ‘grace is no more grace’” (DJ 8, quoting Rom. 11:6).

When we come to God and are justified, it happens WITHOUT ANY MERIT ON OUR PART (emphasis added). Neither our faith nor our works—nor anything else—merits justification...If you go through Trent’s Decree on Justification, or the section on justification in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1987-1995), you won’t find the phrase “faith and works.” And you won’t find the word works at all in the Catechism’s section on justification.

This may be surprising, but the fact that the magisterium does not express its teaching in this way is a signal that we need to look more closely at what it says….

…Earlier we mentioned that Protestants tend to conceive of justification as an event that occurs at the beginning of the Christian life (Ed.  “I accept Jesus Christ as my PERSONAL? (what about everybody else?) Lord & Savior! = saved) where we are forgiven and declared righteous by God, and we said that this understanding is true as far as it goes.

But in the Catholic view, there is more to justification than this.

In the first place, God doesn’t simply declare us righteous. He also makes us righteous in justification. Thus the Council of Trent defined justification as “not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man” (DJ 7).

So at the beginning of the Christian life (being “saved”), God forgives our sins and gives us the gift of righteousness.

But He’s not done with us!!!  (Ed. how is THIS NOT obvious?) He wants us to grow in righteousness over the course of the Christian life, and, if we cooperate with His grace, we will.

Catholic theology refers to this growth in righteousness using the term justification, so, in Catholic language, justification isn’t something that happens just at the beginning of the Christian life. It happens over the course of the Christian life. (Ed. Phil 2:12)

The Council of Trent harmonizes the necessity of grace and works: “If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema” (Session 6; can. 1).


-stop screaming. it’s a JOKE!!!! 🙂

Love, and the JOY of DOING (Ps 40:8, Jn 4:34) His will, in faith, by grace.  ALL is grace.  ALL is gift.,
Matthew

* Many proponents and critics of Thomas Aquinas’s theory of natural law have understood it roughly as follows. The first principle of practical reason is a command: Do good and avoid evil. Man discovers this imperative in his conscience; it is like an inscription written there by the hand of God. Having become aware of this basic commandment, man consults his nature to see what is good and what is evil. Ps 37:27, 1 Pet 3:11

Book of Revelation

When Was the Book of Revelation Written?

Most scholars today think that the book of Revelation was written around the year A.D. 95, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. Historically, though, many thought it was written earlier than that, and there is a surprisingly strong case that the book was written in the late A.D. 60s or the early part of A.D. 70. Let’s take a quick look at the evidence . . .

“Five Are Fallen”

In Revelation 17, John sees a vision of the Whore of Babylon seated on the beast with seven heads, and he is told:
[9] This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated;
[10] they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.

There’s pretty good evidence that the beast represents the Roman empire and that these seven kings represent the line of first century Roman emperors.

Assuming that identification is accurate, that gives us a pretty strong clue about when the book was written. If five of the kings (emperors) are fallen (dead) and one is (living/reigning) then that means Revelation was written during the reign of the sixth emperor. So which would that be?
Here are two possibilities . . .

The Reign of Nero?

If you start the count with Julius Caesar then the sixth emperor would be Nero:

Julius Caesar
Augustus
Tiberius
Caligula
Claudius
Nero

Nero certainly fits well with the description of the beast that is given in the book (see the two videos), but there is a possible problem: Julius Caesar was not technically an emperor. He was a dictator (meaning: the Roman Senate voted him the title “dictator”–which was an actual political office back then, before the term came to mean “tyrant”), but he wasn’t voted the title “emperor.”
Still, it’s possible that this might not have made a lot of difference from the perspective of first century Jews and Christians.

Technically, the Roman emperors weren’t kings at all (the Romans were very proud of the fact that they had ended the line of Roman kings and set up a republic), but they functioned as kings, and everybody understood that.
This is why the crowd cried “We have no king but Caesar!” during the trial of Jesus.

So if the count starts with Julius then we have reason to think Revelation was written in the reign of Nero, which was between October 13, A.D. 54 and June 9, A.D. 68.
But there’s another possibility that may be even more likely . . .

The Reign of Galba?

The first person to be voted the title “emperor” was Augustus, and he could well be regarded as the starting point of the count by people all across the empire, including Jews and Christians. If so, then this is what we would get:

Augustus
Tiberius
Caligula
Claudius
Nero
Galba

I know. You may be saying, “Who?”

Galba isn’t a very famous emperor, and one reason is that he didn’t reign very long. In fact, he reigned only a few months, during a disastrous period known as “the Year of Four Emperors,” in which Rome was torn apart by a series of bloody civil wars in which one emperor toppled another in rapid succession.
But if that’s the case then, since Galba reigned such a short time, we’d actually be able to date the writing of Revelation very precisely.

It would have to be between June 8, A.D. 68 and January 15, A.D. 69. (Galba actually began reigning the day before Nero died, because Nero had been declared an enemy of the state by the Senate and went on the lam before being coerced into committing suicide.)

So it could be that Revelation was written during a very short span in late 68 or (very) early 69.

Is there other evidence that has a bearing on this?

“He must remain only a little while”

You’ll recall that the seventh king was said to remain (reign) only a little while. Does that fit the situation?

Yes. In fact, it fits both of the possibilities we’ve mentioned.

If Nero was reigning then Nero’s successor, Galba, certainly reigned a short time–just barely over 7 months.

If Galba was reigning then, since he was reigning in the Year of Four Emperors, his own successor–Otho–lasted only a short time as well, just 3 months (from January 15 to April 16, A.D. 69).

“Do not measure the court outside the temple”

Back in Revelation 11, John was told:

[1] Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told: “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,
[2] but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.

This passage speaks of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as if it is still standing.
The text speaks of the gentiles (or nations, same word in Greek) trampling the holy city (Jerusalem) and invading the temple courtyard.

They also invaded and destroyed the temple itself, but the text speaks of this as not having happened yet, since John is told to measure the temple, its altar, and those worshipping there. So it was still functioning.
Since the temple was destroyed on August 5, A.D. 70, that also suggests that Revelation was written before this date.

Want to know more about what is arguably the most misunderstood book in Scripture?

This DVD resource, $2.99 digital format, also addresses:

Why most of Revelation doesn’t deal with our future at all
Who the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” are
How to understand the book’s “cosmic catastrophe” symbolism
Who the Beast of Revelation really was
What the meanings of 666 and the “Mark of the Beast” are
What the Woman clothed in the sun refers to (more than you might think!)
How to understand the Whore of Babylon and her opposite, the Bride of Christ
When “the Millennium” takes place
What the little-known “Middle Coming” of Christ is”

Love, & the joy only He can give,
Matthew

Is the New Testament historically true?

One of the most disturbing recent developments is the rise of a phenomenon called “Mythicism,” which is a form of skepticism so extreme it denies that Jesus Christ ever existed.

Today there are countless people, many of them young, who know next to nothing about the historical basis of the Gospels but who have encountered Mythicist websites telling them that Jesus never existed and that the whole of the Christian faith is a lie.

Many Mythicists even claim that Jesus Christ is a legend based on a pagan god.

Believe me, Mythicist writings and videos like these give people all the excuse they need to dismiss the Christian faith, letting them sneer, “Why should I take Christianity seriously? Jesus wasn’t even real!”

And Mythicists Are Only the Tip of the Iceberg!

Not all skeptics are as extreme as the Mythicists. Many may not deny that Jesus existed, but they believe that the New Testament is fundamentally unreliable as history.

In recent years, countless authors have been part of what they call “the Quest for the Historical Jesus.”

The “Historical Jesus” is supposed to be different from the “Christ of Faith.” The idea is that whoever Jesus was and whatever he did, he wasn’t the figure that the Christian faith proclaims.

Instead, the true Jesus was “encrusted” with legends and myths as the New Testament took shape, and authors of this stripe say it’s their job to peel back these layers to get back to the original “Historical Jesus” and the first generation of Christians who followed him. They claim:

  • We can’t trust the Gospels to give us the story of Jesus
  • We can’t trust the book of Acts to give us the story of the early Church
  • We, fundamentally, can’t trust the New Testament to tell us what really happened

The bad news is: People of this stripe far outnumber even the Mythicists! And so many people today are easy pickings for the skeptics!

Most people today know nothing about history. Even most Christians would be floored if asked how to argue that the New Testament is historically reliable.

This  powerful presentation reveals:

  • How the ministry of Jesus fits into real history
  • How the early Church got started—and then experienced explosive growth
  • How even tiny details you’ve never noticed mesh together to show that the New Testament is giving us real history
  • How a famous archaeologist—who started as a skeptic—became convinced key New Testament books will “stand the keenest scrutiny” and were written by “a historian of the first rank” (watch the DVD to find out who!)

Love,
Matthew

The True Vine

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O my Lord and Redeemer, grant that I may understand the deep intimate ties that bind You to us, whom You have redeemed.

MEDITATION

Jesus is the “one Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5); however, He did not will to effect the work of our redemption independently of us, but used it as a means of strengthening the bond between Himself and us. This is the wonderful mystery of our incorporation in Christ, the mystery which Our Lord Himself revealed to His apostles the night before His Passion. “I am the true vine; and My Father is the husbandman…. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:1,4).

Jesus strongly affirms that there is no redemption, no supernatural life, no grace-life for one who does not live in Him, who is not grafted onto Him. He points to the vine: the shoots will not live and bear fruit unless they remain attached to the trunk. Jesus wishes to actualize this close connection between Himself and us, a connection which is necessary for our salvation and sanctification. We cannot receive the least degree of grace except through Christ’s mediation, even as the smallest drop of sap cannot reach a branch which is detached from the tree.

Moreover, Jesus declares that, if we abide in Him, we shall not only have supernatural life, but we shall become the recipients of special attention from our heavenly Father, the “Husbandman” of the mystical vine. In fact, our heavenly Father acknowledges us as His adopted children, loves us as such, and takes care of us, precisely to the degree in which He sees in us Christ, His only-begotten, His well-beloved Son. The grace of adoption, then, is wholly dependent upon our union with Christ, a union so close that we form, as it were, a “living part” of Him, as the branch forms a living part of the vine.

COLLOQUY

“O most high and eternal Trinity, Deity, Love, we are trees of death, and You are the tree of Life. O infinite God! How beautiful was Your creature when a pure tree in Your light! O supreme purity, You endowed it with branches, that is, with the faculties of the soul, memory, intellect, and will…. The memory, to recall You; the intellect, to know You; the will, to love You…. But this tree fell, because by disobeying it lost its innocence. Instead of a tree of life, it became a tree of death and brought forth only fruits of death.

This is why, O eternal, most high Trinity, in a sublime transport of love for Your creature, seeing that this tree could produce only fruits of death because it was separated from You, Who are Life, You gave it a remedy with that very same love by which You had created it, grafting Your Deity into the dead tree of our humanity. O sweet, gentle grafting!… Who constrained You to do this, to give back life to it, You who have been offended so many times by Your creature? Love alone, whence by this grafting death is dissolved.

Was Your charity content, having made this union? No, eternal Word, You watered this tree with Your Blood. This Blood, by its warmth makes it grow, if man with his free will grafts himself onto You, and unites and binds his heart and affections to You, tying and binding this graft with the bond of charity and following Your doctrine. Since it is through You, O Life, that we bring forth fruits of life, we wish to be grafted onto You. When we are grafted onto You, then the branches which You have given to our tree bear fruit” (St. Catherine of Siena).

How encouraging it is to think, O Jesus, that my longing to be united to You is not a vain fantasy, but is already a reality! It is a reality because You have willed to graft me onto You as a shoot is grafted onto the vine, so that I live wholly by this union with You. Oh! grant that my soul may become always more closely united to You, and may always be ready to receive the vital sap of grace which You produce in me, Your branch!”

Love,
Matthew