Ethics Based on a Friendship, Says Pope
Notes That Faith Without Works Is Dead
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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Christian ethics is not a series of commandments, but springs from friendship with a person -- with Christ, Benedict XVI says.
The Pope affirmed this during today's general audience in St. Peter's Square, during which he continued his catecheses on the life and thought of St. Paul.
Taking up again the theme of last week -- justification -- the Holy Father explained that though justification is a gift of God in response to faith, faith that does not show itself in charity is dead.
"St. Paul tells us: It is not our works, but our faith that makes us 'just.' This faith, nevertheless, is not a thought, opinion or idea. This faith is communion with Christ, which the Lord entrusts to us and that because of this, becomes life in conformity with him," the Pontiff explained. "Or in other words, faith, if it is true and real, becomes love, charity -- is expressed in charity. Faith without charity, without this fruit, would not be true faith. It would be a dead faith."
He added that confusion on this point has led to many misunderstandings in the history of Christianity.
"Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called to live in the love of Christ toward others, because it is by this criterion that we will be judged at the end of our existence," Benedict XVI said. "In reality, Paul does nothing more than repeat what Jesus himself had said, and which we recalled in the Gospel of last Sunday, in the parable of the Final Judgment."
He continued: "From this perspective, the centrality of justification without works, primary object of Paul's preaching, is not in contradiction with the faith that operates in love. On the contrary, it demands that our very faith is expressed in a life according to the Spirit. Often, an unfounded contraposition has been seen between the theology of Paul and James, who says in his letter: 'For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.'
"In reality, while Paul concerns himself above all with demonstrating that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James highlights the consequent relationship between faith and works. Therefore, for Paul and for James, faith operative in love witnesses to the gratuitous gift of justification in Christ."
The Pope contended that Christians of today face the same temptation confronted by the community of Corinth.
"Those Christians thought that, having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, 'everything was licit.' And they thought, and often it seems that the Christians of today think, that it is licit to create divisions in the Church, the body of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharist without concerning oneself with the brothers who are most needy, to aspire to the best charisms without realizing that they are members of each other, etc.," he said.
"On the contrary," the Holy Father continued, "following St. Paul, we should renew our awareness of the fact that, precisely because we have been justified in Christ, we don't belong to ourselves, but have been made into the temple of the Spirit and are called, therefore, to glorify God in our bodies and with the whole of our existence. It would be to scorn the inestimable value of justification if, having been bought at the high price of the blood of Christ, we didn't glorify him with our body."
Thus, the Pontiff explained, "Christian ethics is not born from a system of commandments, but rather is the consequence of our friendship with Christ. This friendship influences life: If it is true, it incarnates and fulfills itself in love for neighbor. […] Let us, therefore, be overtaken by the reconciliation that God has given us in Christ, by God's 'crazy' love for us: No one and nothing could ever separate us from his love. With this certainty we live. And this certainty gives us the strength to live concretely the faith that works in love."