Feb 19th – Advice From St. James & Faith vs. Works

Father Linsky shared thoughts and led discussion on the New Testament epistle by St. James, a letter from, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion:” The New Testament – New Catholic Version I distributed to you a year or so ago has a nice essay about the epistle of James on pages 376 and 377.

Martin Luther famously objected to the epistle. You can read his reasoning here as expressed in this screen shot of the quote found at that link.

Luther’s rhetoric seems a bit Trump-like, and he was, of course, incorrect in his conjecture about the authorship and author motivation. I guess he was still upset about that indulgences controversy.

As Father Linsky pointed out, this book is comparable to the OT wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Sirach, lots of Godly advice on how to live. As such, it is not a Gospel, proclaiming fundamental theology but is addressed to converted Jews who have suffered persecution and rejection and have scattered. They have believed and are believing, having paid a high price, and James is giving practical advice on following the instructions by Jesus to love God and neighbor and to obey his commands. That is the main piece of advice we have from Mary also: “Do whatever he tells you.” – John 2:5. And it is the example set by the Apostles.

St. Paul is often credited with claiming faith alone is adequate for salvation while James proclaimed that works are key. Neither is true and neither position was claimed by either of those men. Here is the most famous “faith alone” theological statement by St. Paul (Ephesians 2:8-10)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;  it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

And here is the wisdom of St. James (James 2:14-17):

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

It seems to me both are saying that faith and works are opposite sides of the same coin, a perfect example of the “because – therefore” principle, God, of course, being the cause.

I have always liked the James epistle because it seems clear and easy to understand. I have thought about the faith – works issue and wrote a short paper about it and about Luther and Pope Leo X while at the Lutheran seminary 18 years ago and then posted it on my blog, with some introduction, shortly after being received into the Catholic Church. If interested, you can find it here: http://www.lastofall.net/2012/02/luther-good-works-and-favorite-bible.html It’s a ten or fifteen minute read.

In case you think Luther was nothing but a grouch, the paper includes this quote from him about a book in the Bible which he valued highly:

I don’t even have Psalm 95 memorized so don’t plan to tackle Romans.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s