And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6 KJV)For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)
Then James seem to contradict him with the rejoinder that,
You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:24 KJV)
In light of this, Joseph Mizzi, writes, in opposition to what he perceives to be Catholic doctrine by taking a broadside at the former Pope, Benedict XVI by accusing him of substituting the works of faith for the works of the Law and thereby effectively negating the necessity for sola Grace altogether. In other words, according Benedict XVI, Mizzi says,
Thus when Paul says that we are not justified by the works of the Law, he was really saying that we are not justified by the Law of Moses, but he does not exclude that we are justified by the works of love.
“That’s the Pope’s argument in a nutshell,” writes Mizzi. “The Pope,” he continues,
“Rightly points out that in his epistles Paul discusses the division between Jews and Gentiles, and that now all believers are united in Christ irrespective of the ethnic background. But that was not his only concern. Paul also addresses the universal human tendency to self-righteousness, that is, our attempts to gain favor with God on account of personal works and merits.
That’s not all, Mizzi, continues,
Moreover Paul could not have limited the concept of ‘works of the Law’ to the Torah. He presented the Patriarch Abraham as the primary witness to his doctrine. He wrote:The Law of Moses served the purpose of keeping God’s covenant people, Israel, distinct from pagan idolatry, as the Pope said. But the moral aspects of the law, whether written on tablets of stone or on the human conscience, also served to expose our depravity, guilt and helplessness. ‘Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20).
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:1-5).
Thus, Mizzi concludes, that
In this context ‘works’ could not refer exclusively to obedience of the Torah, for Abraham lived many centuries before Moses. It is therefore wrong to force Paul’s concept of ‘works of the Law’ exclusively to the Law of Moses. Clearly Paul applies the same principle to works in general. Abraham could not boast before God because he was justified faith and not by works. The same applies to us all.
This argument would be convincing, indeed, if, however, the former Pope had advocated works without grace can save us. This he did not. All he was saying was that neither faith nor works operate in a vacuum—Grace, God’s grace, is foundational to all.
In that regards it should be said that each time the former Pope or any other theologian expresses an opinion on matters of faith, it is not necessary to include an elementary introduction to presumed beliefs. Grace, and the doctrine thereof being one of those.
Now, what Benedict XVI may have been alluding to is prevenient grace which according to the Cornelius paradigm is that affirmed when—
Peter opened his mouth, and said, "‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.’” (Acts 10:34-35)
Now, that’s a pretty hard one for Mizzi to wiggle himself out of; since, it should be said, God’s grace is operative here also, as I am convinced Benedict XVI would agree.