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Dear Father Angelo,

Thank you for your work with the website Amici Domenicani, i would like to ask you a few things regarding justification that have been tormenting me for a long time. Could you please help me to understand what St. Paul means with the verse: “ For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” (Rom 3,28).

First things first: what does he mean by “justification”? Is it the same as salvation, or just a part, a step to it? Also with the term “law”, does he include the 10 Commandments? If so, why does the Church teach us that we need to follow them in order to be saved? (to be clear this is not meant to be a harsh statement, it’s just a doubt i have). Isn’t it also said somewhere else in the Bible that we are not under the law anymore but under the grace? (if I am not mistaken).  And why does Jesus say that the law will never pass?

Doesn’t St. Paul’s statement contradict St. James’ statement when he talks about faith and works?

What kind of works is St. James referring to: those of the law or the “evangelical law” ( if it’s even correct to use such a term) or the works of charity? Lastly why does the Church teach us that salvation comes from both faith and works?

Thank you: as you can see i am pretty confused about this, and, although i have spoken with priests educated in the matter, i just can’t wrap my head around these concepts and it seems like I only get more contradictions (even though i trust this is not the case).



1.The word justification can be misleading. 

For instance, in case of a school absence, justification refers to the reason that justifies the absence. In theology, instead, it gets its own meaning from the latin word justum facere, which means to make something right.

2. It is worth noting that justice in the context of Sacred Scripture is not simply a synonym of honesty but also of holiness, therefore the connotation of this word used by St. Paul becomes clear: justification means to make something holy.

3. And if by holiness we refer to the participation in the divine life then it’s just as clear that nobody can become holy merely by his own works, as Pelagio used to say, but only because God imparts him His own holiness.

4. One of the most serious mistakes Luther made was to think that man, with the original sin, lost his free will. I recently had the opportunity to remind our readers that in the writings of “On the Bondage of the Will” (De Servo Arbitrio) Luther declares that: “The will is a beast of burden. If God mounts it, it wishes and goes as God wills; if Satan mounts it, it wishes and goes as Satan wills. Nor can it choose its rider… the riders contend for its possession.” [Martin Luther, De Servo Arbitrio, December 1525, first English translation by Henry Cole, 1823].

Man does not participate at all in God’s work, which by the way leaves him corrupted and sinner.

In a catholic theology text written when there was no ecumenical spirit yet, I found these exact words: “ Modern Protestants have abandoned this extravagant interpretation and approached a more catholic exegesis”.

5. According to Catholic theology, grace it’s not merely an external benevolence from God that leaves man corrupted and in sin, as Luther affirmed, but it’s a supernatural reality that is ontologically connected to the soul and transforms man thus causing him to change from unjust to just, from enemy to friend, from sinner to saint.

The Council of Trent, disputing with Luther declares “the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills (1 Cor 12,11) and according to each one’s proper disposition and cooperation.” (DS1529).

6. Now that we have clarified what Protestants and Catholics mean by justification (Orthodox Christians share the same beliefs with Catholics) let’s move on to the other questions.

You ask me if “justification” coincides with salvation.

Yes, it is exactly so, because while justification forgives (not only covers, as Protestants say) sins, at the same time, infusing in us the divine life (grace) it inwardly renovates man allowing him to become holy and a friend of God.

7. In St. Paul’s writings “law” refers to the observance of the law, in its entirety, including that of the 10 Commandments.

Man’s good works alone do not earn him the infusion of God’s holy life. In the end this remains always a gift, since it’s supernatural. 

Good deeds, namely the 10 Commandments and works of charity, are necessary to keep God’s holy life within us. Jesus says: “ Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14,21), and “anyone who loves me will keep my word”. (Jn 14,23).

St. John writes in his first letter: “whoever says ‘I know Him’ without keeping His commandments, is a liar, and truth has no place in him.” (1 Jn 2,4).

It is not possible to keep God’s holy life within us while commiting sins.

It is not possible to be holy and friends with God while seriously transgressing His law.

It is precisely what the Gospel of today, Thursday of the first week of Advent proclaims: “It is not anyone who says to me: ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in Heaven”. (Mt 7,21).

8. You ask: “ we are not under the law but under the grace (if I am not mistaken)”. Well, you remember correctly because these are the words of St. Paul in Rm 6,14. Here St. Paul by “law” refers to the ceremonial law such as: circumcision, offering of sacrifices, various purifications, pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And the observance of the Commandments. All these practices can make one person say he is practicing, that he is observant; but they don’t grant him the forgiveness of sins yet, which can only come from Jesus’ sacrifice and Blood, nor they bestow the grace of the Holy Spirit that lives in us.

The forgiveness of sins and the divine life are exclusively a gift from God. They only come from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But we can keep this divine life by loving God (first 3 commandments) and our neighbor (the other seven).

9.”Why does Jesus say the law will not pass?”

Our Lord here declares that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. He is the fulfilment of the law: the commandments are the road one has to take in order to remain in His ways.

10. “Doesn’t St. Paul’s statement contradict St. James’ statement when he talks about faith and works?

What kind of works is St. James referring to: those of the law or the “evangelical law” ( if it’s even correct to use such a term) or the works of charity?”

St. James unmistakably states which works when he writes “How does it help my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them ‘I wish you well, keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? In the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.” (Jm 2, 14-17). St. Paul affirms the same thing: “since in Christ Jesus it is not being circumcised or uncircumcised that can affect anything, only faith working through love”. (Gal 5,6).

11. “Lastly why does the Church teach us that salvation comes from both faith and works?”

Because faith opens the way to the knowledge of God. Charity, on the other hand, paves the way to receive Him within us “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in HIm”. (1 Jn 4,16).

I wish you well, I entrust you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo