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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

St. James commences this chapter, by exhorting the Christian converts to avoid the crime of “respect of persons,” of which he adduces an example (1, 2). The example in question, although, apparently at first sight, not quite in point, however, as explained in the Commentary, will be seen to be perfectly so (3, 4). As it had reference to the undue preference shown the rich before the poor, St. James points out how unbecoming such conduct is, being opposed to the economy of God, in reference to the poor (5), and unmerited on the part of the rich, whose vices he enumerates (6, 7). This, however, should not interfere with the respect, which the order of charity inculcates in regard to the rich, and those to whom respect and honour are due, (8). But this honour should not be carried to the extent of “respect of persons,” which the law of God condemns (9), and which, like every grievous violation of any other single precept, involves us, to a certain extent, in the guilt of violating the entire Law (10, 11).

As a remedy against all sin, he proposes the constant consideration of future judgment (12). He inculcates the necessity of showing mercy to all those, who may be involved in miseries of any kind (13).

In the next place, he treats of the principal subject of the Epistle, viz., the necessity of good works, for justification and salvation (14), and the inutility of faith alone, which he shows—firstly, by the example of the inutility of a mere speculative knowledge of our neighbour’s want, without actually relieving it (15–17); secondly, by showing the necessity of good works, for the discharge of the duty of externally professing and manifesting our faith (18); thirdly, by comparing dead faith, in a certain sense, with the faith of demons (19); fourthly, by the example of Abraham, justified through works (20–24); fifthly, by the example of Rahab (25); finally, he compares dead faith to a dead body (26).

Paraphrase

1. My brethren, do not, while professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of glory, be guilty of the crime of exception of persons; that is to say, do not attempt to unite two things which are incompatible, and which mutually exclude each other, viz., the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and the crime of exception of persons.

2. In illustration of the crime to which I refer; suppose two men come into your place of public worship, one of them a rich man, in showy apparel, and wearing on his finger a gold ring; the other, a poor man, in mean and squalid dress,

3. And that you assign to the rich man some commodious honourable seat, while the poor man is contemptuously made either to stand up, or sit down in some lowly place.

4. Do you not, by treatment so different in both cases, come to a very unfair and partial decision, and do you not found your judgment, on false estimates and erroneous reasonings.

5. See, my dearest brethren, how different from your conduct is the example set us by Almighty God in his treatment of the poor. Has he not given them a preference and selected them before the rich and powerful according to the world, to enrich them with the gift of faith and other spiritual blessings, and make them heirs of his heavenly kingdom, which he has promised to such as love him, and evince this love by their actions.

6. And those very persons, whom God himself has thus honoured and preferred, you dishonour. Moreover, do not the rich, by committing crimes against you never perpetrated by the poor, forfeit all claim to peculiar respect? Do they not violently oppress you and drag you before the tribunals of unbelieving judges?

7. Do they not, by their wicked conduct and perverse morals, bring odium on, and cause to be blasphemed, the sacred name of Christ, from which you are termed Christians?

8. If, however, in the preference shown to the rich and powerful before the poor and humble man, you follow and depart not from the order prescribed by that most excellent of precepts, in which is summed up all the rest, laid down in the sacred Scriptures, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” you do well.

9. But if this preference be of such a nature as to constitute the crime of exception of persons; then, you commit sin, being reproved as transgressors, by the law, which, in a general way, prohibits every act of injustice.

10. For, whosoever observes the entire law, except in one point, in which he mortally violates it, is become guilty, and is adjudged to eternal punishment, just as much (though not, of course, to the same extent), as if he violated all its precepts.

11. (All the precepts constitute one perfect law, emanating from the divine Legislator), for, it is the same Legislator who, for instance, prohibited adultery, that also prohibited murder. If then, thou committest not adultery, but committest murder, thou art become a transgressor of the law, of which this latter precept forms an integral part.

12. As a sovereign remedy against violating any of God’s commandments, so compose and regulate all your words and actions, as if you always kept in view that you are one day to be judged by the Gospel law, which has freed us from the yoke of the Mosaic precepts, and which requires greater perfection from us.

13. And you should particularly keep in view the future judgment of God, whenever there is question of showing or refusing mercy to our neighbour; in such a case, our own conduct will determine the nature of the judgment to be passed on ourselves. For, he shall experience a judgment without mercy, and, therefore, of condemnation, who refuses to show mercy to his neighbour; on the other hand, the mercy which we show others will have a great effect, by disarming God’s wrath, in vanquishing his just judgment, and exalting itself above his justice.

14. But of what avail will it be for a man, my brethren to have faith, and to place reliance on his faith, if he have not works corresponding with it? Will his faith, without works, be sufficient for salvation? By no means.

15. Suppose a Christian of either sex to be naked or hungry, and in want of the common necessaries of life,

16. And that any of you, aware of this want, dismiss them with the cold expression of your sympathy and good wishes for their relief, without, at the same time administering to their wants, of what avail will your knowledge of their wants be to them?

17. As, then, fine professions of regard will nowise profit the distressed, with whose wants we are acquainted, unless we administer relief; so neither will the knowledge we have from faith avail us without works, without complying with what it points out. Unaccompanied with works, it is dead in itself; for, it is destitute of the vivifying principle of sanctifying grace, whereby, we are perfectly connected with the head of which we are members, and his grace and mercy communicated to us.

18. (Another argument of the inutility of faith without works, grounded on the impossibility of externally professing our faith otherwise than by good works). Suppose two Christians, one having works and faith, the other having no works; and that the former calls upon the latter to profess his faith, can he do this? By no means. Since it is by works alone it can be manifested; whereas, the other can, from his works, give a proof of his faith, from which his works have emanated.

19. You may say that you have other means of manifesting your faith besides works, viz., the symbols and external profession of faith, the first article of which is the faith in one God, in which, you say, you believe; no doubt, in doing so, you act well, but, of what avail will this be to you? Do not the devils, forced by the conviction of evidence, assent to the same truths, and express this belief by trembling; and still, this faith is of no avail to them.

20. But, O vain man, who dost foolishly glory in thy faith without works, dost thou wish for a convincing argument to see that faith, without works is dead and useless for justification?

21. Was it not by works that Abraham our father, and the father of all the faithful, whose justification is the model of ours (Rom. 4:23), was justified, having in heart and will offered up his son Isaac, in sacrifice, from the consummation of which, he was arrested by the hand of the Angel?

22. You see, then, that faith is co-operated with the works of Abraham, it being the principle from which they emanated, and by which they were directed and regulated; while, on the other hand, his works perfected his faith, by bringing it to its destined end of justification, and by animating and increasing it in the soul.

23. And the words of Scripture, Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice (Gen. 15:6), and he was called the friend of God, were fully completed, in the full enumeration of all the causes of justification.

24. From this you see that faith is not the only ingredient in man’s justificatication, that he is justified no less by works than by faith.

25. In like manner, was it not by works that Rahab the harlot, was justified, by the exercise of humanity in saving the messengers sent by Josue to explore the land of Chanaan and city of Jericho?—(Josue, 2).

26. For, as the body without the soul to animate it is dead and devoid of all motion, incapable of any action good or evil; so, faith also, unaccompanied by good works, is dead.

Commentary

1. “Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory.” The word “glory” is, by some Commentators, connected with “faith,” i.e., the glorious faith of our Lord, &c. the connexion in the Paraphrase joining it with “our Lord,” is the more probable. Our Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2). “With respect of persons,” i.e., do not attempt to unite two things so incompatible. “Respect, or exception, of persons” takes place, whenever an unjust preference is shown to one party beyond another; (v.g.) a judge would incur the guilt of “respect of persons,” by pronouncing sentence, on account of the appearance and external circumstances of a person, without any regard to the merits of the case. Others, among whom is A’Lapide, interpret the words thus: do not believe that the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ consists in an exception of persons, so that he is honoured when to your Agapes and meetings you admit the rich only and the noble, to the exclusion and contempt of the poor and squalid, as if the glory of Christianity consisted in external pomp and show.

2. He illustrates by an example, what this “respect of persons” is, against which he has been cautioning them. Suppose “there shall come into your assembly,” in Greek, συναγωγην, synagogue, which, most probably, refers to their place of public assemblage for religious worship, like the Jewish synagogue; or, perhaps, to one of the old synagogues, converted into a place of worship tor the converted Jews; “a man having a gold ring,” which, as appears from the Greek, χρυσοδακτυλιος, was worn on his finger, a thing generally done by the rich; “in fine apparel;” in Greek, εσθητι λαμπρα, shining apparel. “Your assembly” is understood by some to refer to judicial assemblies, such having been, as they say, according to Jewish custom, held in places of worship.

3. And you assign an honourable commodious seat to the rich man, on account of his riches, while the poor man, because he is poor, is treated contemptuously, and made either to stand up or sit down in some humble, lowly place.

4. “Do not judge within yourselves.” In Greek, διεκριθητε εν εαυτοις, are you not judged within yourselves, your conscience reproaching you, and stinging you with remorse for your unjust conduct. The Vulgate reading is the more probable, as appears from the following words, “and are become judges,” &c., which are explanatory of the former. In some Greek copies, και is prefixed to this verse, “and, do you not judge,” &c., but it is omitted in the chief MSS. “And are become judges of unjust thoughts.” In the Greek, διαλογισμων, reasonings, i.e., unjustly reasoning, and concluding from false estimates, that the rich man, as such, is to be preferred before the poor. It is not easy to see what St. James means by this example. Hence it is, that Commentators are perplexed about the meaning of the passage. They cannot discover anything like great guilt, in the preference shown to the rich man in the case alluded to, nor do they see any reason for ranking it with the crime of “respect to persons,” which (verse 6) is called, “dishonouring the poor;” since, there is no great dishonour shown a poor man in having a rich man accommodated with a seat in any assembly, whether sacred or profane, before him: or of classing it (verse 11) with adultery or murder. It is on account of this difficulty, that St. Augustine and others assign to the example in question an enigmatical meaning; and say, that, it is not so much the giving of a place of honour to the rich man and refusing it to the poor, St. James here condemns, as the crime signified by this preference, viz., the preference given to the rich on account of their worldly connexions in ecclesiastical dignities and offices, before the poor, who may be better qualified for such dignities. “Quis cnim ferat eligi, divitem ad sedem honoris Ecclesiæ, contempto paupere instructiore ac sanctiore?”—St. Augustine (Ep. 29), referring to this passage. The same interpretation is adopted by Mauduit. Hence, according to them, St. James is treating of the odious crime of simony. This interpretation derives probability from verse, 5, where the Apostle would appear to allude to the selection, which God made of poor fishermen, preferably to the great ones of the earth, for exercising the exalted and sublime functions of the Apostleship. Others understand the example of the preference shown to the rich before the poor in courts of justice, which unjust sentence is signified by the preference in seats alluded to. Others understand it to refer to the crime denounced by St. Paul in the first Epistle to Cor., chap. 11, viz., the contempt shown to the poor in the Agapes or love feasts, which in the infancy of the Church were celebrated immediately before receiving the Holy Eucharist (vide 1 Cor. 11). The neglect shown the poor, on such occasions, was highly scandalous and injurious to religion, on which account, St. Paul denounces it in the strongest language. This opinion has this advantage, that it solves the difficulty without departing from the literal meaning of the text. If we understand the passage to refer to the ordinary meetings in the church, we must suppose the neglect, referred to by St. James, to be greatly aggravated by the contempt with which the poor must have been treated. This, in the infancy of the Church, must have proved very detrimental to religion.

5. He shows how opposed their conduct is to the example set us by God himself in the work of man’s redemption; “the poor in this world,” whether we regard the preachers of the Gospel, or those to whom it was first preached (vide 1 Cor. 1:26); “rich in faith,” i.e., to be rich in faith, this being the end for which he had chosen them; for, before their call, they were not rich in faith; “and heirs,” to inherit his heavenly kingdom. “That love him,” shows, that an idle, merely speculative faith, is of no avail.

6. You have dishonoured the poor, to whom God has shown such preference. From this verse, it is clear, that the example adduced cannot be understood of a mere preference in seats in any assembly, since a poor man could not look upon himself as dishonoured by such a preference, unless there were great contempt accompanying it. The example may, besides the meaning already assigned (4), be understood of a preference shown the rich before the poor in the administration of the sacraments of the Church, the souls of the poor being as valuable in the sight of their common Father, as those of the rich and powerful. “Do they not draw you before the judgment seats” of infidels?—a vice denounced in the strongest language by St. Paul (1 Cor. 6).

7. “Do they not blaspheme?” or cause to be blasphemed by the infidels (for they are themselves supposed to be Christians), the sacred name of Christ, which you bear, from him being called Christians.

8. Lest it might be inferred, from the charges which are alleged by St. James, against the rich, that he was encouraging the poor to entertain positive hatred for them, he, with a view of removing any such misconception, inculcates the virtue of fraternal charity towards all; and says, that if their preference for the rich man does not exceed the limits which the precept of fraternal charity sanctions, they sin not. In other words, if their respect for the rich be only such as they would reasonably expect to be paid themselves in like circumstances, giving honour to whom honour is due, and paying that respect which the order of charity marks out, as due to each one, according to his rank and station, they commit no sin—they act well. By others, the connexion of this verse with the preceding is made thus:—If in the distribution of ecclesiastical places of dignity and importance, you select a man who has equal qualifications and merit with a poor man, you in such a case commit no sin in preferring him.

9. But, if their preference be so unjust and unfair, as to constitute the crime of “respect of persons,” that is, treating the rich man with marked distinction and preference where he has no right, and treating others with contempt and injustice; then, they “commit sin,” and are “reproved by the law,” the law of God in general, or the law of charity, to which belongs the precept just referred to. If, in the preceding, St. James were referring to the exception of persons in courts of justice, then, “the law” would refer to special prohibition contained in Leviticus (19:15), and Deuteronomy (10:17), “respect not the person of the poor, nor honour the countenance of the mighty, but judge thy neighbour according to justice.”

10. By violating this single point they are reproved by the law as transgressors; for, “he who keeps the entire law, but offends in one point, is become guilty of all.” How this can be, has caused Commentators much perplexity, and so difficult did this passage appear to St. Augustine that he consulted St. Jerome about its meaning (in Epistle 29). “Offends in one point,” refers to a grievous offence, which constitutes a mortal sin; “is become guilty of all,” because he incurs the wrath of God, and loses his sanctifying grace and friendship, as if he violated all the commandments, and is as liable to eternal flames, as if he violated the entire law, though, of course, not to the same degree of intensity, since the pains of hell will be proportioned to the number and grievousness of our sins; or, “is guilty of all,” because he violates charity, the sum or abridgment of all the commandments—this is St. Augustine’s interpretation; or, as all the commandments constitute one perfect whole, and the entire law is made up of a chain of precepts, by breaking one link or precept, the integrity of the whole chain is broken; or, because the violation of one precept involves the contempt of the Legislator, by whom all the rest are also enjoined. This latter interpretation is rendered probable by the following verse. If we unite the two last interpretations, and say that he “is guilty of all,” by violating grievously one point; because, he violates the integrity of the law, all the precepts, or parts of which were enacted by the same Legislator, we will adopt the more probable interpretation—an interpretation, which is also most in accordance with the words of the context, for, “guilty of all,” in this verse, means the same as, “transgressor of the law” (verse 11). Some interpreters say, the words of this verse were intended by St. James as a refutation of an error of the Pharisees, viz., that by violating a few of God’s commandments, a man does not cease to be just be ore God, provided he observe the greater portion of them.

11. All the commandments form one whole, emanating from the same Legislator; therefore by violating any one, you break the integrity of this whole, and contemn the Legislator, from whom they have all equally emanated.

12. This is the remedy against sin, “as being to be judged,” the Greek, μελλοντες κρινεσθαι, means, being about to be judged. What a salutary restraint the consideration of God’s future judgment should impose upon us. Were we to consider, that for every word we utter, every action we perform, we are one day to render an account to God, with what cautious circumspection, would we not act on all occasions. “Quid sum miser tunc dicturus. Quem patronum rogaturus. Cum vix justus sit securus?”

13. “For judgment,” &c. It is not easy to see the connexion between this verse and the preceding. The more probable is that adopted in the Paraphrase, according to which, the particle “for,” has reference to some clause omitted, and the Apostle takes advantage of the mention made of God’s judgment in the preceding verse, to treat of the necessity of showing mercy to those who require it. He makes the announcement of this general truth, the connecting link between his teaching, regarding the injury done the poor in the religious assemblies, to which the preceding part of this chapter has been devoted, and the dissertation regarding the refusal to relieve their corporal wants, whereof he treats in the remainder of it. “Judgment without mercy”—which is a judgment of condemnation—“to him that hath not done mercy.” This is a general proposition, extending to all kinds of miseries, whether corporal or spiritual, which are the objects of the virtue of mercy. “And mercy exalteth,” &c. Some Expositors understand this of the mercy of God, so as to mean, that the mercy of God exceeds all his attributes. The interpretation in the Paraphrase, which refers it to the mercy that one man shows another, seems the more probable; for, this proposition would appear to announce the converse of the preceding, In the preceding, is stated, what the lot of the unmerciful man will be; a just judgment of God, without that mercy, always exhibited in his generous and merciful treatment of his elect; whereas, in this, the Apostle points to the reward of the merciful man, viz., a judgment, wherein mercy will predominate over justice; this predominance of mercy over justice, is a feature that always characterizes the judgments of God upon his elect. The Greek for exalteth itself, κατακαυχαται, means, glories against, as happens, when a conqueror triumphs over his vanquished foes.

14. The Apostle now enters on one of the principal subjects of this Epistle, viz., the refutation of the errors of the followers of Simon Magus, regarding the sufficiency of faith alone for justification. As this erroneous doctrine, so ably and clearly refuted here by St. James, is one of the fundamental errors revived by modern Reformers, it may not be amiss to explain, in a few words, the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this subject; this doctrine has been so clearly laid down by the Council of Trent (SS. vi., de justificatione).

Every Catholic admits the absolute, indispensable necessity of faith for justification. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews, 11); without it, no man was ever justified, sine qua (fide) nulli unquam contigit justificatio (Council of Trent, SS. vi., 7). Although, not absolutely the first grace (the proposition, fides est prima gratia, put forward in the Schismatical Council of Pistoia, was condemned in the Bull, Auctorem fidei); still, it is the first grace in the order of justification, of which it is “the root and foundation,” in the language of the Council of Trent (SS. vi., 8). But every Catholic denies the sufficiency of this faith, for justification or salvation. It is necessary, not sufficient. Besides faith, Catholics require other dispositions, viz., hope, fear, penance, initial charity. All these are required, as previous dispositions, before God infuses the grace of justification. These may all exist in the soul; but they do not, by any means, constitute this grace, nor do they establish any claim to it, that either on the grounds of justice or fidelity, God might not refuse. It is quite certain, however, that whenever they exist in the soul, God will, of his own goodness, gratuitously infuse the grace of justification, which is a grace inhering in the soul—this is a point of faith—and it is theologically certain, that it inheres, permanently, by way of habit. It cleanses the soul from the stains of sin whereby it is defiled, in a manner analogous to the defilement caused the body by leprosy; and according as this grace is increased, the soul becomes brighter and fairer in the sight of God; in the language of the Psalmist, “whiter than snow.” This grace of justification is accompanied with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the several gilts of the Holy Ghost. The same good works, the same acts, which, performed under the influence of divine grace and faith by a sinner before he is justified, serve only as dispositions for justification, will, when performed by the same man, after he is justified, and in a state of sanctifying grace, give him a claim, and a strict right, grounded on God’s gratuituous and liberal promise, to an increase of sanctifying grace, to eternal life, and its attainment, if he die in grace, and to an increase of glory. This is what Catholics call merit, grounded, however, on God’s grace, and his gratuitous promise, through the merits of Christ (Council of Trent, SS., ver.; Can. xxxii.)

Modern sectaries, on the other hand, maintain, that in order to be justified and saved, faith alone is sufficient; this justifying faith, according to them, consists in a firm and undoubted confidence, which each one has, that, although in sin, God does not impute to him his sins, in consideration of the merits of Christ. As for good works, they deny them a share in justifying man, they require them merely as the fruits of faith, signs of its presence; since without them, true faith, according to their notions, cannot exist.

Now, that their idea of justifying faith is wholly erroneous, will appear quite evident to any person who reads the 11th chapter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, wherein he describes this justifying faith to be the “evidence of things that appear not,” and in applying it to the several examples, he always supposes it to consist in a firm belief in the truth of God’s revelation.

Again, that, besides faith, good works are required for justification and salvation, is so evident from the following part of this chapter, that it only requires to be read over attentively, to be convinced of it. In truth, the words bear no other meaning, and on this account it was, that some of the early Reformers rejected the Epistle altogether. Finally, that true faith may exist without good works or charity, is clear from several passages of Sacred Scripture. St. John says (chap. 12:42), “many of the chief men believed in him, … but did not confess him, for they loved the glory of man more than of God,” The word, “believe” here has reference to real, true faith, as is evident from the use of the word, in the entire chapter. St. Paul tells us, that “if he had faith strong enough to remove mountains, &c.,” and had not charity, it would profit him nothing (1 Cor. 13), and that this faith can be separated from charity, is clear from chapter 7 of St. Matthew, wherein, we are told, that many will say, “Lord have we not performed many wonders in thy name,” and shall receive tor answer—“I never knew you.”

OBJECTION.—St. James does not deny the sufficiency of real faith, because he is referring to mere putative faith, “if a man say, he has faith.”

ANSWER.—He speaks of real faith; for, he adds, “shall faith be able to save him?” He therefore, supposes the person in question to have real, genuine faith.

15. The Apostle illustrates the inutility of faith and the knowledge it gives us, unless accompanied with good works, by an example of the inutility, to a distressed neighbour, of our knowledge of his wants, and of our sterile sympathy, unless it be accompanied by acts of benevolence administering to his wants. “If a brother or sister,” i.e., a Christian of either sex, “be naked,” &c., i.e., in want of the common necessaries of life.

16. “And one of you,” without relieving them, merely wishes them well, “be you warmed,” &c., “what will it profit?” which is equivalent to saying—it shall be of no profit whatever to them.

17. “So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.” In the Greek, καθʼ ἑαυτην, by itself. This is the application of the foregoing example. As kind words, and the professions of regard, even accompanied by good wishes, will prove of no avail to the distressed; so, neither will faith profit the believer; “it is dead in itself;” because, the person who only has faith, although he be a member, is still but a dead member of the body of Christ; his faith is altogether dead, as to justification. The Apostle explains this more fully in verse 26, “as the body without the spirit is dead,” &c.

From this, it by no means follows, that faith without good works is not real faith. St. James looks upon faith in this verse, as destitute of the vivifying principle of charity, or good works, by which it is enlivened or roused to action (Gal. 5:6); he compares it to a human body, destitute of the soul that animates it, which, although dead, is still a real body. So, charity is the soul or form of faith, which, although proceeding from the principle of divine grace, is, still, dead as to justification without charity, which alone perfectly unites us with Christ, our head. “Faith,” says the Council of Trent (SS. vi. c. 7), “unless hope and charity be added to it, does not perfectly unite one with Christ, nor render him a living member of his body.” Faith, even without charity, really subsists in its subject, viz., the soul of man; in its object, God and eternal glory; in its motive, revelation; but, it is dead as to justification. From this very example, it is clear, that faith can be without good works; because, as we can have a knowledge of our neighbour’s wants without actually relieving them; so, also, can we have the knowledge imparted by faith, without acting up to it by good works.

18. This is a new argument of the inutility of faith alone, without good works.—Faith cannot be manifested without them; now, this external profession is obligatory on all, both for the sake of example, and for holding that communion of saints, in which we all believe.

QUERY.—How can a man show his faith from his works, since an unbeliever can perform many good works?

ANSWER.—St. James, in the present instance, supposes both the persons in question to have faith, and that the man having works, recurs to them as a proof and manifestation of his faith. Hence, he does not infer faith from works; for, he supposes faith to have existed previously. Moreover, from works we can infer the existence of faith; because, there are certain good works, or a continued performance of them, which only a person having faith could accomplish. For, although an unbeliever may, aided by actual divine grace, perform certain good works; still, he could not persevere in performing a continued series of good works, without sin; and there are certain heroic deeds of virtue, which he could not perform at all.

19. These may be the words of the Christian having faith and works, in continuation of his appeal to the other, whom he is supposed to be addressing in the preceding verse; you may, possibly, say; you have the symbols of faith, as a means of externally professing your faith, the first article of which is to believe “that there is one God,” which is also a distinguishing point of true faith from the false belief of Paganism; or, they may be the words of St. James, adducing a new argument of the inutility of faith unaccompanied by good works, since it resembles the faith of demons, who, compelled by evidence in favour of our creed, viz., miracles, prophecies, &c., are constrained to believe the same things which we believe, and by their “trembling,” externally profess this interior conviction, without any advantage. “Thou believest there is one God.” This article being the first and most important distinguishing feature of true faith, is probably put for all the points of faith. “Thou dost well;” this act of faith is a good act, but it does not, alone, suffice as a disposition for justification, or for obtaining salvation. “The devils also believe and tremble.” The word, “tremble” is used metaphorically to express the dread, horror, and despair, with which the devils are inspired, in considering their eternal punishment and the just judgment of God.

OBJECTION.—From this verse is it not evident that St. James looks upon faith without works, or as Catholics term it, fides informis, as no faith at all; since he compares it with the faith of demons, who surely cannot elicit an act of the theological virtue of faith; for, they are not susceptible of grace, without which faith cannot exist?

ANSWER.—St. James, by no means, intends to compare the faith of devils, and that of wicked Christians, in every respect. He only compares them as to the utter inutility of both for salvation; his object in introducing the comparison does not warrant us in urging it further; and the only criterion by which we are to be guided, in judging of the extent to which a comparison can be urged, is, the scope and object of him who introduces it. There is another point, in which the faith of both is compared; viz., in their objects. The same thing is believed by the demons involuntarily, and forced by the conviction of evidence, which the sinner believes voluntarily, and freely, aided by divine grace. So tar the comparison is made, and no further; no comparison can be urged, as they say, ad vivum.

20. St. James now introduces a new argument, and undertakes to prove, from the example of Abraham, whose justification is the model of ours, the necessity of good works for justification. This argument is the more convincing, and better suited for the refutation of the error he is combating, as it was on the very same example, urged at full length by the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Romans, (chap. 4), and erroneously interpreted, the Simonians grounded their doctrine of the sufficiency of faith alone for justification. “O vain man!” i.e., foolish man, who art blind in a matter of such evidence.

21. “Offering up.” In Greek, ανενεγκας, having offered. The determined resolution to offer up Isaac, from the execution of which the voice of the angel from heaven prevented him, was accepted by God as a perfect offering.

22. “Faith did co-operate with his works.” This shows that the faith of Abraham was not an idle, inoperative faith, a mere act of belief, unaccompanied by works; that it was an active, operative faith; it was the principle of the works which Abraham performed, and it was it that regulated, how they were to be performed: and hence, in saying that Abraham was justified by works, St. James refers to works grounded on, and accompanied by faith. The words, “and by works faith was made perfect,” show that it was works which brought faith to its destined end of justification. Both one and the other mutually concurred in Abraham’s justification.

23. “And he was called the friend of God.” These words are not found in Genesis (15:6), from which the preceding words of Scripture are quoted. They are the words of St. James himself.

QUERY.—How can St. James say, “the Scripture was fulfilled, saying. Abraham believed,” &c. (Genesis, 15:6), since we find no prophecy contained in these words to be afterwards fulfilled? All that is recorded of Moses in this passage is simply historical. Again, had not these words, “Abraham believed, &c.,” reference to his believing in God’s promise regarding his son Isaac (Genesis, 15); which was prior to his sacrifice, (Genesis, 22), the matter in question here? How then say, a Scripture was now “fulfilled,” which was long before accomplished?

ANSWER.—The Scripture is said, by St. James, to be fulfilled in this sense, that when Moses (Genesis, 15:6), said, “Abraham believed, and it was reputed to him unto justice,” he omitted all mention of another ingredient and disposition for justification, viz., works. These are referred to here by St. James; all the disposition for justification are therefore enumerated, and the cause of the justification referred to (Genesis, 15), fully expressed; and so, the Scripture account of the causes of justification is “fulfilled” or complete—which is more clearly expressed in the Vulgate version, “Et scriptura suppleta est,” scilicet, quoad enumerationem dispositionum justificationis. Secondly, Although the words of Genesis, “Abraham believed,” &c., were referred by Moses to an occasion prior to that of which St. James now speaks; still, we may apply them to every subsequent act by which Abraham afterwards was justified; and hence, they were verified in the present instance also.

24. Can there be a clearer refutation of the doctrine of modern innovators on the subject of justification by faith only? St. James expressly states, that faith is not the only disposition or cause of justification; that in whatever way faith produces or concurs in justification, works concur in the same way, “a man is justified by works and not by faith only.” The word, by—(εξ)—shows that faith and works concur in the same way.

OBJECTION.—Does not St. Paul (Rom. 3, 4), say, that works have no share in justification? How, then are the two Apostles reconciled?

ANSWER.—There is no contradiction whatever between them; there is question of different works in both cases. What description of works does St. Paul exclude from a share in justification? The works performed by the sole aid of our natural faculties, or of the law of Moses, without grace or faith. These, alone, are the works which the scope of the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Romans, required of him to exclude. These, alone, are the works on which the Jews and Gentile converts respectively grounded their claims to the gospel, viz., the works they performed, before they received the gospel, or embraced the faith.

Does St. James here assert the necessity of the same works? By no means. He speaks of works performed, after they received the gospel, under the influence of grace and faith. For, he addresses men who had embraced the faith, but denied the necessity of works performed in this state. And it was to refute their error that St. James, as well as St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, wrote their Catholic Epistles, as we are assured by St. Augustine (Libro de Fide et Operibus, c. 14) If the doctrine of St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, be joined to that delivered by St. James in this, we have a full and perfect account of all the causes and dispositions of justification, viz., faith and works conjointly. No other interpretation, save that warranted by Catholic doctrine, can reconcile the apparent discrepancy that exists between both Apostles. In the Catholic interpretation, there is no difficulty whatever; although the same example of Abraham would seem to be employed for opposite conclusions. The matter is thus explained. Abraham was justified even before, Moses said of him, that “he believed,” &c. (Genesis, 15:6), as is clear from chapter 11 verse 8, of Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is stated, that he was justified by faith going forth from his native country—an event which took place long before the promise of a son was made to him. The words, therefore, “it was reputed to him unto justice,” must be understood of second justification, or increase of justice; and St. Paul (Rom. 4), adduces the mode in which Abraham’s second justification, or increase in justice took place, viz., by faith, as an argument a fortiori to prove, that to faith, independently of the works which he performed without the influence of grace or faith, his first justification, or, his translation from a state of sin to that of grace was owing (vide Rom. 4); whereas St. James employs the same example to prove the necessity of good works done in faith, for preserving, and progressing in the justification once acquired; and, of course, it is implied that they are still more necessary for acquiring first justification. Were St. Paul, in the passage referred to, to insist on the necessity of good works also, and describe all the concurring dispositions for justification, it would only embarass him, and more or less obscure his arguments against the Romans, and render them less forcible; for they might imagine, that he coincided with them in their error, respecting the efficacy of works performed before faith, for obtaining justification. St. James supplies what St. Paul, for good reasons, omitted, and removes any misconception to which the words of the latter might have given occasion. There is no other mode of reconciling the two Apostles, save that furnished by the Catholic doctrine, as above.

25. “In like manner also,” i.e., by faith, which works consummated, and by works, which co-operated with faith, as in the case of Abraham. “Rahab, the harlot;” her history is given (Josue, 2) Some persons understand this to refer to second justification. They suppose that Rahab had, already, before the arrival of the spies, conceived divine faith, and having believed in the God of the Hebrews (of whose power she already had heard, Josue, 2:11), had been justified; and that, by the act of humanity in concealing the spies, she obtained second, that is to say, merited an increase of justification. Others maintain, that although Rahab may have had faith before the arrival of the spies—in which they had, probably, more fully instructed her—still, she had been in sin; for, she is called “a harlot,” and that this act of humanity only disposed her for first justification. It might be said in reply to this reason, that Rahab was called “a harlot,” even after she ceased to commit acts of sin; because she had been previously such, and that her former appellation had been retained; just as Simon is called “the leper,” and Matthew “the publican.” To this it might also be added, that the Hebrew word for “harlot” also signifies a hostess. The former signification is, however, the more probable meaning. In this latter interpretation, we will have the necessity of works both in first and second justification; in the one case, as dispositions; in the other, as concurring and meritorious causes. It is worthy of remark, that all through, St. James supposes that, without works, no man can be justified; for, in all the examples adduced, he leaves us to infer, that if the just man did not perform good works, he would lose justice, and the sinner could not otherwise acquire it.

26. OBJECTION.—Does not this verse show that dead faith, or, as Catholics term it, fides informis, is no faith at all, as a dead man, properly speaking, is no man?

ANSWER.—Faith is compared not with a dead man, but with a dead body, which, although dead, and not animated by the soul, is still a real body. Hence, dead faith is real, genuine faith, in the sense already given in this chapter.








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