In Hebrew, the word kodesh (קֹדֶשׁ) meant to ‘set-apart’ for God and carried a connotation of the Jewish marriage. Kodesh is translated into English as the word holy, which dates back to the 11th century Old English word hālig, which meant ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’. Thomas Aquinas defines holiness as that virtue by which a man’s mind applies itself and all its acts to God. Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy. Sanctification is not possible without divine grace. Grace is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call and is a participation in the life of God, which is poured unearned into human beings, whom it heals of sin and sanctifies. The means by which God grants grace include revealed truth, the sacraments, the hierarchical ministry, prayers, good works, and sacramentals. It is by God’s grace alone and not because of any merit on our part that we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works. Both the Council of Orange (529) and the Council of Trent affirmed that we are “justified gratuitously, because none of the things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification.”
St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae, distinguishes between sanctifying grace and actual grace. Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a permanent and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. If sanctifying grace dwells in your soul when you die, then you can live in heaven (though you may need to be purified first in purgatory; cf. 1 Cor. 3:12–16). If it doesn’t dwell in your soul when you die—in other words, if your soul is spiritually dead by being in the state of mortal sin (Gal. 5:19-21)— you cannot live in heaven. You then have to face an eternity of spiritual death: the utter separation of your spirit from God (Eph. 2:1, 2:5, 4:18). Actual grace refers to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification. You can obtain supernatural life by yielding to actual graces you receive. For instance, God may move you to repentance, but it’s up to you to respond and seek out confession, where the guilt for your sins is remitted (John 20:21–23). Through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation to God, you receive sanctifying grace. But you can lose it again by sinning mortally (1 John 5:16–17). Sanctifying grace implies a real transformation of the soul, although we’re still subject to temptations to sin (concupiscence). Once sanctifying grace enters one’s soul, it can be increased every time one responds to actual grace by doing good works: receiving Communion, saying prayers, performing corporal works of mercy.
According to Scripture, sanctification and justification aren’t just one-time events, but are ongoing processes in the life of the believer. As in Hebrews 10:14: “For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Justification is also not a one time event, but rather a life long process tied closely with the process of sanctification. This process of justification can be illustrated through Scripture. Our initial justification – that moment of our conversion – requires no works on our part but rather God’s grace alone along with our response in faith, as in Eph. 2:8-10, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” It should be noted, however, that Paul did not say ‘faith alone’ and the “works” he is referring to is probably “works of the law” as Paul usually adds the phrase of the law, as in Romans 3:20 and 28 and Galatians 2:16, when talking about the Mosaic law of circumcision, as in Galatians 5:2, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” (cf. Romans 2:6-11, 17-21, 25-29, 3:21-22, 27-30, .Eph. 2:11-19).
Although works are not required for our initial salvation, our growth in righteousness is not finished. Scripture also speaks of salvation in a present (1 Peter 1:8-9, Phil. 2:12), and future tense (cf. Rom. 13:11, 1 Cor. 3:15, 5:5). It is here that works come into play as Paul says in Philippians 2:12 you must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” After our initial justification and entrance into the membership in the Body of Christ, God’s grace begins working in us, helping us continue to grow in righteousness through the process of sanctification. This is only possible if we cooperate with that grace by our faith working through love (1 Cor. 13). Our own works can never justify us, but works that grow out of faith in Christ are part of our justification. James 2:14–26 shows that works are more than mere evidence of faith. Works actually justify. If works of faith are not a part of our justification, then it is hard to understand why James would say, as he does, that “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (Jas. 2:21). You may remember how Paul said that Abraham was not justified by works but by faith. Paul means that Abraham was not justified by keeping the Old Testament law, while James means that Abraham was justified by doing a work that grew out of his faith in God. “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works” (Jas. 2:22). And then in verse 24 James concludes again, “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
One must continually seek God’s grace and continually respond to the actual graces God is working within us, just as Paul instructs us: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:12–16).
The Historical Development of the Doctrine:
2 Corinthians 7:1
“purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit and strive for perfect holiness out of fear of God.”
“strive for that sanctity without which no one will see the Lord”
1 Thess. 4:3-7
“It is God’s will that you should be holy; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you”
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work”
Church Father Quotes:
Pope St. Clement I of Rome (Martyred 99 A.D.)
“Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being humble and self- controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words….Why was our Father Abraham blessed? Was it not because of his deeds of justice and truth, wrought in faith?…So we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, were not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the almighty God justified all men.” –Letter to the Corinthians 30:3, 31:2, 32:3-4 (Written 96 A.D.)
“Give studious attention to the prophetic writings, and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither has eye seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man. For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries and fornications and homosexualities and avarice and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, and in the end such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” –To Autolycus 1:14 (Written 181 A.D.)
St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.)
“When we hear, ‘Your faith has saved you,’ we do not understand the Lord to say simply that they will be saved who have believed in whatever manner, even if works have not followed. To begin with, it was to the Jews alone that he spoke this phrase, who had lived in accord with the law and blamelessly and who had lacked only faith in the Lord” –Stromateis or Miscellanies 6:14:108:4 (Written 202 A.D.)
Origen of Alexandria (184-253 A.D.)
“Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in him; and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the epistle bearing the name of James”. –Commentaries on John 19:6 (Written 225 A.D.)
St. Cyprian of Carthage (200-258 A.D.)
“You, then, who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself from Christ gold purified in fire, for with your filth, as if burned away in the fire, you can be like pure gold, if you are cleansed by almsgiving and by works of justice. Buy yourself a white garment so that, although you had been naked like Adam and were formerly frightful and deformed, you may be clothed in the white garment of Christ. You who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the salve of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” –Works and Almsgiving 14 (Written 252 A.D.)
St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage (280-345 A.D.)
“Great is the gift which he that is good has given to us. While not forcing us, and in spite of our sins he wants us to be justified. While he is in no way aided by our good works, he heals us that we may be pleasing in his sight. When we do not wish to ask of him, he is angry with us. He calls out to all of us constantly; ‘Ask and receive, and when you seek, you shall find’” –Treatises 23:48 (Written 336 A.D.)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 A.D.)
“Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. Faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither is righteous living secure in itself of salvation, if it is disjoined from faith” –Homilies on Ecclesiastes 8 (Written 335 A.D.)
St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.)
” ‘He that believes in the Son has everlasting life.’ ‘Is it enough, then, to believe in the Son,’ someone will say, ‘in order to have everlasting life?’ By no means! Listen to Christ declare this himself when he says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven’; and the b.asphemy against the Spirit is alone sufficient to cast him into hell. But why should I speak of a part of our teaching? For if a man believe rightly in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, but does not live rightly, his faith will avail him nothing toward salvation” –Homilies on the Gospel of John 31:1 (Written 391 A.D.)
St. Jerome (345-420 A.D.)
” ‘But since in the Law no one is justified before God, it is evident that the just man lives by faith.’ It should be noted that he does not say that a man, a person, lives by faith, lest it be thought that he is condemning good works. Rather, he says the ‘just’ man lives by faith. He implies thereby that whoever would be faithful and would conduct his life according to the faith can in no other way arrive at the faith or live in it except first he be a just man of pure life, coming up to the faith by certain degrees” –Commentaries on Galatians 2:3:11 (Written 386 A.D.)
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.)
” ‘He was handed over for our offenses, and he rose again for our justification.’ What does this mean, ‘for our justification’? So that he might justify us, so that he might make us just. You will be a work of God, not only because you are a man, but also because you are just. For it is better that you be just than that you are a man. If God made you a man, and you made yourself just, something you were doing would be better than what God did. But God made you without any cooperation on your part. You did not lend your consent so that God could make you. How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but he does not justify you without your willing it” –Sermons 169:13 (Written 400 A.D.)
” ‘But we know that God does not hear sinners; but if any man is a worshiper of God and does his will, that man God will hear.’ He still speaks as one only anointed. For God does listen to sinners too. If God did not listen to sinners, it would have been all in vain for the publican to cast down his eyes to the ground and strike his breast saying: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And that confession merited justification, just as the blind man merited enlightenment” –Homilies on the Gospel of John 44:13 (Written 416 A.D.)
St. Caesar of Arles (470-542 A.D.)
“I beg you, beloved brethren, let us consider more attentively why we are Christians and bear the cross of Christ on our forehead. For we ought to know that it is not enough for us that we have received the name Christian, if we do not do Christian works. If you say a thousand times that you are a Christian and continually sign yourself with the cross of Christ, but do not give alms according to your means, and you do not want to have love and justice and chastity, the name of Christian will profit you nothing….Above all, as I already said before, give alms to the poor according to your means. Present offerings to be consecrated on the altar; a man of means should blush to communicate in the offering of another. Those who are able should give either candles or oil which can be put in lamps. Know the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer yourselves and teach them to you children. I do not know how a man can call himself a Christian…when he neglects [this]” –Sermons 13:1-2 (Written 540 A.D.)
Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604 A.D.)
“Neither faith without works nor works without faith is of any avail, except, perhaps, that works may go towards the reception of faith, just as Cornelius, before he had become one of the faithful, merited to be heard on account of his good works. From this it can be gathered that his performance of good works furthered his reception of faith” –Homilies on Ezekiel 1:9:6 (Written 593 A.D.)
Ignatius of Antioch
“Be pleasing to him whose soldiers you are, and whose pay you receive. May none of you be found to be a deserter. Let your baptism be your armament, your faith your helmet, your love your spear, your endurance your full suit of armor. Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you” (Letter to Polycarp 6:2 [A.D. 110]).
“We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man’s actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power” (First Apology 43 [A.D. 151]).
Tatian the Syrian
“[T]he wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself; and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds, since it was in his free choice that he did not transgress the will of God” (Address to the Greeks 7 [A.D. 170]).
Athenagoras of Athens
“And we shall make no mistake in saying, that the [goal] of an intelligent life and rational judgment, is to be occupied uninterruptedly with those objects to which the natural reason is chiefly and primarily adapted, and to delight unceasingly in the contemplation of Him Who Is, and of his decrees, notwithstanding that the majority of men, because they are affected too passionately and too violently by things below, pass through life without attaining this object. For . . . the examination relates to individuals, and the reward or punishment of lives ill or well spent is proportioned to the merit of each” (The Resurrection of the Dead 25 [A.D. 178]).
Theophilus of Antioch
“He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works [Rom. 2:7], he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither eye has seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man [1 Cor. 2:9]. For the unbelievers and the contemptuous and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity . . . there will be wrath and indignation [Rom. 2:8]” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).
Irenaeus of Lyons
“[Paul], an able wrestler, urges us on in the struggle for immortality, so that we may receive a crown and so that we may regard as a precious crown that which we acquire by our own struggle and which does not grow upon us spontaneously. . . . Those things which come to us spontaneously are not loved as much as those which are obtained by anxious care” (Against Heresies 4:37:7 [A.D. 189]).
Tertullian of Carthage
“Again, we [Christians] affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man” (To the Nations 19 [A.D. 195]).
“A good deed has God for its debtor [cf. Prov. 19:17], just as also an evil one; for a judge is the rewarder in every case [cf. Rom. 13:3–4]” (Repentance 2:11 [A.D. 203]).
Hippolytus of Rome
“Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment,’ and the justice of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“The Lord denounces [Christian evildoers], and says, ‘Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity’ [Matt. 7:21–23]. There is need of righteousness, that one may deserve well of God the Judge; we must obey his precepts and warnings, that our merits may receive their reward” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 15, 1st ed. [A.D. 251]).
“[Y]ou who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the collyrium of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” (Works and Almsgivings 14 [A.D. 253]).
“Let every one train himself to righteousness, mold himself to self-restraint, prepare himself for the contest, equip himself for virtue . . . [and] in his uprightness acknowledge the true and only God, may cast away pleasures, by the attractions of which the lofty soul is depressed to the earth, may hold fast innocence, may be of service to as many as possible, may gain for himself incorruptible treasures by good works, that he may be able, with God for his judge, to gain for the merits of his virtue either the crown of faith, or the reward of immortality” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes 73 [A.D. 317]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
“The root of every good work is the hope of the resurrection, for the expectation of a reward nerves the soul to good work. Every laborer is prepared to endure the toils if he looks forward to the reward of these toils” (Catechetical Lectures 18:1 [A.D. 350]).
“It is our task, according to our different virtues, to prepare for ourselves different rewards. . . . If we were all going to be equal in heaven it would be useless for us to humble ourselves here in order to have a greater place there. . . . Why should virgins persevere? Why should widows toil? Why should married women be content? Let us all sin, and after we repent we shall be the same as the apostles are!” (Against Jovinian 2:32 [A.D. 393]).
Augustine of Hippo
“We are commanded to live righteously, and the reward is set before us of our meriting to live happily in eternity. But who is able to live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith?” (Various Questions to Simplician 1:2:21 [A.D. 396]).
“He bestowed forgiveness; the crown he will pay out. Of forgiveness he is the donor; of the crown, he is the debtor. Why debtor? Did he receive something? . . . The Lord made himself a debtor not by receiving something but by promising something. One does not say to him, ‘Pay for what you received,’ but ‘Pay what you promised’” (Explanations of the Psalms 83:16 [A.D. 405]).
“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).
“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (ibid., 194:5:19).
St. Prosper of Aquitaine
“Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ’s grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice, but never in the absence of God’s help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine 6 [A.D. 431]).
Council of Orange II
“[G]race is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed, but grace, which is not due, precedes [good works], that they may be done” (Canons on grace 19 [A.D. 529]).