March 2017 Print

Good Works

by a Benedictine Monk

In Chapter Four of the Rule of St. Benedict, the monastic cloister is compared to a workshop with its tools. St. Benedict uses a workshop and a cloister as images of a man’s soul. The tools are different virtues that the intellect and the will of the soul use for sanctification.

In an admirable way, the human soul was created as the image and likeness of God, Who desires to dwell therein. Original and personal sin have disfigured this image, but God in His compassion desires to restore our souls in an even more admirable way. Through His Passion and Death, He destroys the death of our sins and restores us to life. He takes what is ugly and dead and makes it beautiful and full of life. The Light shines in the darkness and is refused by most, but to those that accept it, He grants the power to become a child of God. Over a period of a lifetime, this light is offered to our souls and in as much as we put it into practice it transforms our lives.

Our Lord dwells in our souls in order to purify them by His grace. He calls the sinful soul to penance, shows it the light of His doctrine, and promises to be eternally united to the soul that has faithfully fulfilled His commandments. This is the Catholic doctrine found in Scripture and tradition giving us great hope and peace of soul. The Rule of St. Benedict is nothing more than the echo of Scripture encouraging monks to run in the way of perfection with a heart dilated with perfect charity. In the Prologue of the Rule, St Benedict says: “What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of our Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving mercy the Lord showeth us the way of life.”

One of the most despairing miseries that Luther left to mankind was his doctrine on the justification of the soul. He states that we are saved by faith alone and all works, whether good or bad, have no influence on our salvation. Faith alone excludes hope and charity, but also contrition, firm purpose of amendment and any other good work prescribed by God. Simply reading his works, we can conclude that his mind was tormented by anxiety and scruples. Trying to escape his tortured thoughts, he developed a system to establish peace of soul by eliminating all guilt of sin, but without changing the sinner’s bad habits. Once man makes an act of faith in Christ as his Savior, he no longer has any responsibility concerning his human actions. Whatever he thinks, says or does has absolutely no value. There can be neither guilt nor merit.

As an Augustinian monk, he preached that there was no difference between venial and mortal sin thus making every fault mortal. He taught that, after original sin, concupiscence is a sin, not only a tendency. He added that, sin is inescapable and that it is not in man’s power to avoid it. Even virtuous works are sins because concupiscence taints every human action.

To his friend Melanchthon, struggling with despair, Luther replied: “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still….We must sin as long as we are what we are….Sin shall not drag us away from Him, even should we commit murder and fornication thousands and thousands of times a day” as long as we believe we are forgiven. To his disciple Jerome Weller, who was seeking help during a terrible temptation, Luther tells him to sin gravely in order to mock the devil. Jerome would have peace from the temptation if he mocked the devil with his confidence in Christ’s forgiveness by committing a grave sin. Luther teaches us to believe in forgiveness and to continue sinning to find peace. This is not peace, but despair.

God asks us to change our lives by accomplishing His will. Christ teaches us to break with sin and practice virtue in order to find peace of soul. Our Lord preached a completely different doctrine in the Sermon on the Mount and other places: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God….What you have done to the least of these you have done to Me….It is not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ who enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of My Father.”

St. Benedict has been compared to Moses because he gave his sons a law encouraging them to practice virtue. Martin Luther despised both Moses and all of the monastic rules of life because of his distorted view of man’s justification.