The common Catholic apologetic against sola fide is that St. Paul was talking about "Works of the Law", so assuming Catholics don't believe that works of the law save someone why are there precepts of the Church?

Considering the soul of a person who does everything proclaims their believe in Jesus and excels at everything, but fails to keep the precepts of the Catholic Church: If it is a mortal sin to violate the precepts of the Church; and following a precept is technically a "work of the law" in the New Testament, is it right to say that the Church teaches that works of the law save you?

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    I don't understand this question. Isn't it equivocating the term "law" between Paul's 1st century meaning (i.e. Jewish ceremonial / civil law) and Catholic church canon law? My understanding is that canon law has to do with "bind" and "loosen" kingdom key; completely different than Paul's meaning of "works of the law" which has to do with how to be justified (soteriology). Oct 25, 2022 at 16:04
  • @GratefulDisciple that might be the answer, although it's not very satisfying, if the Catholic Church can just go and redo all the same foibles of the Pharisees then what kind of leaven are we supposed to beware of
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 25, 2022 at 16:21
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    I was not familiar with the term "precepts of the church", but once I look it up I understand the question now. I hope you don't mind me linking it in the question. Oct 25, 2022 at 16:24
  • I don't understand the question. Links to the "common Catholic apologetic" and St Paul's "Works of the Law" would certainly be useful. And the second paragraph is a really complicated sentence. Oct 25, 2022 at 17:00
  • @andrew I may have left out a step - I was trying to avoid a total strawman fallacy, but that's obviously all I've got there.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 25, 2022 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


Works of the law refers to the Torah. I see that GratefuleDisciple already explained in the comments that the question is equivocating on law.

The precepts of the Church are there to provide a clear path to sanctity for the faithful, and any of the obligations can be abrogated for a grave enough reason. Her precepts are not nearly as rigorous as Jewish ceremonial law, and to equate the two is disingenuous. If you aren't following the precepts of the Church, you aren't even doing the bare minimum required of you as a Christian.

What are the precepts?

  1. Attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. It is commonly understood that Christians are free to miss Mass on Sundays or Holy Days for a grave enough cause. This is unlike Jewish law, which doesn't make exceptions that can be discerned with prudence. Furthermore, the general obligation to attend Sunday Mass is in accordance with the commandment "honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy." Catholics do not understand the Ten Commandments to be part of the ceremonial law. These are moral laws that exist for Christians as much as they did for pre-Christian Jews. Many Protestant denominations, despite their sola fide beliefs, agree that Christians ought to follow the Ten Commandments. Holy Days are usually there to inculturate the faithful. Some, like Christmas and All Saints Day, are universally obligatory, but most Holy Days are determined by the local bishop(s), and usually have some pertinence to the Catholic culture of the particular diocese or nation. Following moral laws is not the same as works of the law, since moral laws are timeless and binding on all people, even non-Christians.
  2. Confess your sins at least once per year. The purpose of this precept is to foster a spirit of repentance and a habit of self-examination (formally called an "examination of conscience") in the faithful. This precept also protects the faithful against the sins of pride and presumption. If one is so proud that he cannot think of any sins which should be confessed since this day one year ago, then pride and presumption are the sins he ought to be confessing.
  3. Receive communion at least once per year in the Easter season. This commandment is given by Our Lord directly in Scripture. "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life within you." The Church commanding us to do what Jesus commanded us to do is clearly unproblematic.
  4. Observe penitential days set by the Church. Penance teaches us to rely on God. Without the comforts our flesh craves, we have to turn to Him for spiritual consolations. Jesus said that the time was coming when His disciples would fast, so it should come as no surprise that the Church in her wisdom prescribes days of fasting for all the faithful. One does not sin by breaking these fasts unless one does so knowingly, since this is the sin of disobedience (because the Church is a spiritual mother, it is a kind of violation of the commandment to honor one's father and mother).
  5. You shall help to provide for the material needs of the Church. Almsgiving is a corporal work of mercy. As such, it is in no way something which can be characterized as a "work of the law." Rather, it is a work of charity. Works of charity are required of Christians.

In summary, the precepts of the Church are not legal prescriptions in the same sense as Jewish law, which was meant to set the Jews apart from the rest of the world, from the Gentiles. Rather, the precepts of the Church are aimed at forming the faithful in doing the bare minimum that constitutes a truly Christian lifestyle, and thereby saving their souls.

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