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Catholic World News News Feature

Faith and works: Pope Benedict explains St. Paul's teaching November 26, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI took up the question of faith vs. works-- particularly as it is expressed in St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians-- in his weekly public audience on November 26.

Continuing his series of talks on the thought of St. Paul, the Holy Father concentrated on "the gratuitousness of justification" and the proper Christian response, which is to imitate Christ by serving others.

St. Paul is clear and consistent in teaching that man is justified by faith, not works, the Pope said. But he added that his teaching "presents no contradiction to faith working through love. On the contrary it requires that our own faith be expressed in a life in accordance with the Spirit."

"Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called to live in Christ's love for others," the Pope explained, "because it is on this criterion that we will be judged at the end of our lives."

Pope Benedict said that it is wrong to perceive a conflict between St. Paul and St. James, although the former wrote on the primacy of faith and the other emphasized the importance of good works. These are two facets of the same thing, the Pontiff said. St. Paul wrote to show that man is justified through faith in Christ; St. James wrote of the works that flow from that faith. "Hence," the Pope concluded, "for both Paul and James, faith working through love bears witness to the free gift of justification in Christ."

An improper understanding of justification by faith can lead believers into the problems that beset the early Christian community at Corinth, the Pope warned. The Corinthians "thought that having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, 'all things are lawful for them," he recalled. Similarly, the Pope continued, some Christians today are tempted by the notion that since they are justified, they need not worry about their neighbors. "The charisms unaware that we are limbs of one another, etc. The consequences of a faith not incarnated in love are disastrous," the Pope said, because it can lead to a subjective and selfish outlook.

To guard against that temptation, the Pope said, Christians should cultivate "a renewed awareness that, precisely because we have been justified in Christ, we are no longer our own but have become temples of the Spirit and hence are called to glorify God in our bodies. We would undervalue the priceless value of justification if, bought at a high price by the blood of Christ, we did not glorify it with our body, with all our lives."