Love and The Christian’s Justification IV: Faith Working Through Love

To begin this next post, I want to start by reiterating a passage from the writings of Saint Gregory the Great. He is meditating on Saint Paul’s reflection of what love is (cf. 1 Cor 13:4-6; ‘love is patient, love is kind’ etc.), and uses it to identify the Christian, namely, as one who

shows his patience by bearing wrongs with equanimity; his kindness by generously repaying good for evil. Jealously is foreign to him…His conduct is blameless…He is not ambitious…He is not quick to take offense…He harbors no evil thoughts.[1]

It is true that Christianity is radically eschatological. But when the only question floating in one’s mind is “How am I saved?” or “How am I justified?”, I think that there is a great mis-interpretation of the Gospel. Thinking only as such is harmful and misses the wholeness of the Christian message: for the Gospel is not about getting into Heaven, but rather about living within the Lordship of Christ (=Kingdom of God), and therefore does it necessarily entail an eschatological component. Following Jesus Christ is about an “abundant life” (cf. Jn 10:10) and living in the “newness of life” (cf. Rom 6:4). It is about the good life, and therefore joy, meaning and truth—which the human heart innately longs for. Hence it is about the other. This Gregory attests to. His testimony makes clear the importance of love and that to be a Christian is to transmit love. Obviously, the most authentic love is one that communicates Jesus Christ. Thus, it is Christ’s charity that we are called to live and participate within. This requires eschatological hope in Christ, that He is in fact the Son of God—the One who shows the way into true life, peace, and victory. Without hope, Christian faith becomes void—it would be believing in an empty message. And so the Council of Trent states: “[F]aith, unless hope is added to it and charity too, neither unites him perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of his body”.[2]

Because justification entails sanctification—uniting oneself “perfectly with Christ”—we could say that justification is through faith, of course, but precisely because it is through faith is it through charity and hope too. As the fundamental orientation of man’s being, faith—with hope—involves works: Trent says that good works are not unlike the “co-operation” of faith.[3] Likewise, Saint James writes, and for the same reason, that faith “if it does not have works, is dead” (Jam 2:17).

There is a great passage in the Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). This has been the central message of each post in this series. Man is saved by faith working through love. Saint Paul’s writing eliminates the possibility of separating by a firm wall justification and sanctification, faith and love. Trent uses this passage in order to develop the Church’s doctrine:

“From apostolic tradition, catechumens seek this faith from the church before the sacrament of baptism when they ask for the faith that gives eternal life; and this, without hope and charity, faith cannot give. Consequently, they immediately hear the word of Christ: If you would enter life, keep the commandments. Thus, receiving true and christian justness in exchange for that which Adam…lost for himself and for us, the reborn are immediately ordered to preserve the justice freely granted to them through Jesus Christ in a pure and spotless state like a best robe, so that they may carry it before the tribunal of our lord Jesus Christ and possess eternal life”.[4]

Nonetheless, this is where another difference exists betweent he Catholic and Protestant position. If it is the case that what “counts for anything” (cf. Gal 5:6) is faith working through love, then it follows that charity and service (living as Christ lived, cf. Mk 10:45) clearly enhance the life of the Christian. (Here the Protestant would disagree.) Authentic charity and service originates from the goodness of God; thus it seems understandable that in the genuine giving of oneself to others, man is following Jesus Christ and so walking toward—closer to that goal of—perfection, happiness. The Council states:

If anyone says that justice once received is neither preserved nor increased in the sight of God by good works, but that the works themselves are no more than the effects and signs of the justification obtained…let him be anathema.[5]

Contrary to this canon, Martin Luther writes that the “Word of God cannot be…cherished by any works”.[6] This is problematic. In light of our introductory comments about love and charity, it is quite obvious that the Christian certainly cherishes the whole Gospel message in a life of charity toward God and so one another: “[L]et us love one another…Whoever is without love does not know God” (1 Jn 4:7,8). When we love, we approach God—not out of reciprocity, but because we partake in His very nature. Luther is correct that it is “foolish” to believe “that justification is acquired by works”.[7] However, he is wrong to consider good works as merely the effects and signs of the justification obtained. For, when man loves, he walks closer to God via the Bridge that is Jesus Christ.

There is one more passage from Scripture that I think would be benefical to consider here. The Prince of the Apostles writes: “The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:7-8). Here, Peter is first declaring the eschatological content of the early Christians—there was a serious sense that “the end of all things is at hand”. He therefore, for this very reason, encourages Christians to be lovers “because love covers a multitude of sins”. Perhaps the Protestant will point out here that Peter is writing to Christians, to people who have already been saved by faith. If this were the case, however, why would there be any sense to prepare oneself for “the end”? Why would Peter encourage Christians to love for the sake of holiness? Moreover, he locates love to be the way of glorifying God: “Above all, let your love…be intense…As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (8,10-11, emphasis added).

[1] Office of Reading for Thursday of the Eight Week in Ordinary Time

[2] Chap 7

[3] cf. Canons concerning justification, n. 4

[4] Chap 7

[5] Canons concerning justification, n. 24

[6] p. 55

[7] p. 81