Why do Catholics believe that good works are necessary for salvation! Does not Paul say in Romans 3:28 that faith alone justifies!

Catholics believe that faith and good works are both necessary for salvation, because such is the teaching of Jesus Christ. What Our Lord demands is “faith that worketh by charity .” (Gal. 5 :6). Read Matthew 25:31-46, which describes the Last Judgment as being based on works of charity. The first and greatest commandment, as given by Our Lord Himself, is to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength; and the second great commandment is to love one’s neighbor as oneself. (Mark 12:30-31). When the rich young man asked Our Lord what he must do to gain eternal life, Our Lord answered: “Keep the commandments.” (Matt. 19:17). Thus, although faith is the beginning, it is not the complete fulfillment of the will of God. Nowhere in the Bible is it written that faith alone justifies. When St. Paul wrote, “For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law,” he was referring to works peculiar to the old Jewish Law, and he cited circumcision as an example.

The Catholic Church does NOT teach that purely human good works are meritorious for salvation; such works are NOT meritorious for salvation, according to her teaching. Only those good works performed when a person is in the state of grace – that is, as a branch drawing its spiritual life from the Vine which is Christ (John 15:4-6) – only these good deeds work toward our salvation, and they do so only by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ. These good works, offered to God by a soul in the state of grace (i.e., free of mortal sin, with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in the soul), are thereby supernaturally meritorious because they share in the work and in the merits of Christ. Such supernatural good works will not only be rewarded by God, but are necessary for salvation.

St. Paul shows how the neglect of certain good works will send even a Christian believer to damnation: “But if any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8). Our Lord tells us that if the Master (God) returns and finds His servant sinning, rather than performing works of obedience, He “shall separate him, and shall appoint him his portion with unbelievers.” (Luke 12:46).

Furthermore, Catholics know they will be rewarded in Heaven for their good works. Our Lord Himself said: “For the Son of man . . . will render to every man according to his works.” (Matt. 16:27). “And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42). Catholics believe, following the Apostle Paul, that “every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.” (1 Cor. 3:8). “For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name, you who have ministered, and do minister to the saints.” (Heb. 6:10). “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Still, Catholics know that, strictly speaking, God never owes us anything. Even after obeying all God’s commandments, we must still say: “We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.” (Luke 17:10). As St. Augustine (5th century) stated: “All our good merits are wrought through grace, so that God, in crowning our merits, is crowning nothing but His gifts.”

Had St. Paul meant that faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, he would not have written: “. . . and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2). If faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, the Apostle James would not have written: “Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only’? . . . For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:24-26). Or: “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). If faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, the Apostle Peter would not have written: “Wherefore, brethren, labor the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time. For so an entrance shall be ministered to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11). If faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, the primitive Christian Fathers would not have advocated good works in such powerful words. Wrote St. Irenaeus, one of the most illustrious of the primitive Christian Fathers: “For what is the use of knowing the truth in word, while defiling the body and accomplishing the works of evil? Or what real good at all can bodily holiness do. If truth be not in the soul? For these two, faith and good works, rejoice in each other’s company, and agree together and fight side by side to set man in the Presence of God.” (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching). Justification by faith alone is a new doctrine; it was unheard of in the Christian community before the sixteenth century.

Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961