Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Question for Turretinfan - Vatican II and History

Turretinfan says:
I don't think V2 is consistent with historical Catholicism.
I don't want the thread in which he said this to be diverted from its topic, which is different. However, I am curious what he means. If you're interested, Turretinfan, I invite you to spell out your view a bit more - either in comments attached to this post, or perhaps on your own blog - whichever you prefer. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Catholic View of Protestant Christians

It has scrolled off the main page, but Turretinfan has engaged my post on formal vs. material heresy, in which I argue (contrary to what he seems to think) that the Church's teaching obliges the faithful Catholic to consider Protestants to be his brothers in Christ, on the basis of their valid baptism. That post was inspired by an earlier post by him on his own blog in which (if I understood him correctly) he suggested that the opposite is true: that we are obliged to consider them to be under the anathemas of Trent. I argue that on the contrary the average Protestant today certainly cannot be held to be guilty of formal heresy, and therefore cannot be held to be under those anathemas.

I'm not entirely certain we haven't strayed a bit off course, but I thought I might mention the ongoing conversation on the off-chance that my few readers might be interested.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ratzinger - God and the World: Worth Reading

I have to say that this was very valuable reading for me. Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict has a remarkable intellect. The book takes the form of an extended conversation between the Cardinal and a German journalist. They discuss a wide range of issues related to Catholicism today, from ethical matters to the liturgy and various difficult issues of the Faith. Ratzinger's replies are clear and helpful, and often quite illuminating to me.

It seems to me that a distinctive feature of Catholic theology, as opposed to that which I knew as a Reformed Protestant, is that its focus seems to be entirely different from the Protestant venture. Protestant theology is especially systematic theology, characterized by gathering together various related teachings from the Bible and systematizing them. But Catholic theology is different. For Ratzinger as for St. Thomas, though, the task is to explain the Faith - to try and make sense out of it. Having believed the faith, the Catholic theologian now sets out to understand it: fides quaerens intellectum, or faith seeking understanding, as St. Anselm put it.

Now I have to say that I prefer St. Thomas to Cardinal Ratzinger (at least as far as he has presented himself in this book): I have more affinities of disposition, it seems, with the Saint than with the Pope. But that doesn't mean that I consider Ratzinger's work in this book to be poor - by no means. Now, having had a bit more exposure to his work than previously - when I was pretty disappointed - I might have to re-think my earlier criticism, and so I have removed that post as being possibly too ill-informed.

In any case, I think this book is a good introduction to the Holy Father's thought, in a style that is more readable than the average theological work precisely because it is a conversation.

[UPDATE] I almost forgot that one word of criticism is necessary. This book has no index! 460 pages, and no index! What was Ignatius Press thinking??? That's just an inexcusable omission from a book of this sort.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ratzinger - On the Feeding of the Five Thousand

I've never thought of this before, but the erstwhile head of the CDF tells us that the feeding of the five thousand is a miracle with Eucharistic significance.
One on hand [sic], we have the facts; on the other, a deeper dimension of symbolism in this story. People expected that in the messianic age the miracle of the manna would be repeated. The Messiah, so they believed, would prove his identity in that everyone would have enough to eat and bread would once more come down from heaven.

Jesus' intention is to transfer this manna miracle onto a different plane. And to do it with the Eucharist. With the bread in which he gives himself, and in which accordingly the multiplication of loaves takes place henceforth throughout history, down to our own day. He can, in a certain sense, be shared with others to an infinite extent (God and the World, p. 246f).
If five loaves and two fish can be miraculously multiplied so that they feed five thousand, it is no more miraculous that Christ can give us His Body and Blood throughout history. Amen!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Long Knives

Once upon a time a man named Kevin Johnson popped in here at The Supplement to register his disagreement with those who consider converting to Catholicism to be intellectual suicide. At that time, Mr. Johnson said:
I want to first register my disagreement with such a comment as well as let your readers know that such a reaction is not the only way our contributors react to such moves to Rome.
Whether that is true of Mr. Johnson's fellow contributors or of the general readership of his blog is one thing. But recently Mr. Johnson has provided personal testimony that - whatever others at "Reformed Catholicism" may think about it - he does indeed seem to consider conversion to the Catholic Church to be an act of intellectual penury at best, and maybe worse.
In my view, converting to Rome is the most Protestant of all acts. Returning to Mother Church in America is a return to the fundamental identity of Protestantism for it is only in a conscious turning of the mind toward Rome that one fully realizes the power of what some have termed "private interpretation" (source).
Now how can one be exercising an act of intellectual integrity if - according to Mr. Johnson - at the very moment when he is rejecting private interpretation in converting to the Catholic Church, he is nevertheless performing "the most Protestant of all acts" and "fully realizing" its "power"? Fine, Mr. Johnson. It may not be intellectual suicide by your lights, but your supposed irenicism flies out the window when you paint the convert as ignorant or cognitively dissonant (or both) - and that is exactly what your view expressed above does.

But even worse than this, in the same post (and in the ensuing comments) on his blog Mr. Johnson goes on to describe the abomination of the pedophile scandals as being perpetrated "by the authority of Rome."

At least we understand things - or rather, we understand Mr. Johnson - a bit more clearly. But an abuse of authority is a usurpation of authority, not an exercise of it. And notwithstanding the disgusting, revolting, vile, blasphemous evils that have been done by some in positions of authority in the Catholic Church, it is no less absurd to condemn the Church as an institution for this evil than it is to condemn the United States government as an institution because of the evils perpetrated by some of our leaders. It would be no less absurd to condemn Mr. Johnson's congregation or his session or his presbytery or his denomination as irrational because of the silly things he just said as a pastor of that congregation, and as an elder in that session and presbytery and denomination.

Maybe it's too much to hope for, but I'd like to think that we can move on from silly Donatism like this, where we imagine ourselves as somehow holier than others, and where we fancy that some group of Christians larger than none can be free of sin. The question has to do not with whether there is evil to be seen here or there. Whether we see it or not, it's probably there in some form or other, to some degree or other, wherever we loook. The question has to do with Christ and salvation and truth.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Maritain - Knowledge and Being

From Existence and the Existent:
[K]nowledge is immersed in existence. Existence - the existence of material realities - is given us at first by sense; sense attains the object as existing; that is to say, in the real and existing influence by which it acts upon our sensorial organs. This is why the pattern of all true knowledge is the intuition of the thing that I see, and that sheds its light upon me. ... Sense delivers existence to the intellect; it gives the intellect an intelligible treasure which sense does not know to be intelligible, and which the intellect, for its part, knows and calls by its name, which is being (p. 21, emphasis in original).
Our knowledge begins with sensory input, and it is true to the extent that it conforms to that which is perceived by the senses - to reality ("the pattern of all true knowledge is the intuition of the thing that I see"). Contrast this - that truth resides in the conformity of our thoughts to reality - with the presuppositionalist idea that truth consists in the interpretive grid that we impose upon the world around us. One ready example (and I don't mean to pick on the author of it, but this is the first instance of the sort of thing that I mean here that I could think of, and it was easier to find than googling something else up) may be found here, where the author writes:
Ah well, the problem with evidence is that one needs a framework in which to view it.
Well no. One obvious implication in the present context is that truth is subjective: it's a question of your perspective or framework. So how does one know that his framework is correct? That author will say that it his is true because it is (or is based upon) divine revelation. That's fine, but how does he know that he has received divine revelation? One option is that he perceives it by means of his senses, in which case his interpretive framework is initially non-existent (since it would have to be drawn from that external revelation, and he would not possess it until he had drawn it out). But if it is initially non-existent, then (according to the notion he presents above) he would need some other framework in which to view it. How does he know that other framework is reliable for drawing a new, divinely revealed framework out of the revelation? And if that other framework is reliable for that, why is it not generally reliable?

The other option I can imagine would be that this framework is directly revealed to him by God. But how does he know that God (rather than a demon, for example) has revealed it? This is intrinsically subjective - which is precisely my point.

So in the end this seems to be an inherently irrational position. Far better, it seems, is to trust the necessary reliability of our senses, which are our only source of information about the world around us. Far better to say that truth consists in conformity to reality.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On "Form" Prayers

I saw this post over at Turretinfan's but wasn't terribly interested, because I consider the issue to be pretty insignificant, and I think that the Protestant arguments that I've seen on the question are pretty weak. But I took a few minutes to read it today, and decided that it might be worth a few minutes after all.

The first thing that must be said is that Catholics by no means reject extemporaneous prayer. It is perfectly valid - as are "form" prayers (I'm not sure that "form" is the best word to use to describe prayers that one either reads or has memorized, but I'll go with it in the absence of something better). The more important thing is that we pray. The question isn't "either-or" but rather "both-and" from the Catholic's perspective. So this post isn't intended to reject the way that Protestants pray, nor even to criticize it per se (although, as will be seen, a thing or two can be said about that, too). So this isn't a "my dad can beat up your dad" post, and I'm going to pass over without particular comment on his justification of extemporaneous prayer, since we Catholics don't have a problem with it.

Turretinfan's first justification of extemporaneous prayer is Scriptural example. But the Psalms are not just Israel's song book; they are also Israel's prayer book. So we have 150 examples of form prayers in the Bible. I'll also say from personal experience: I was quite fond of praying (not just singing) the 23rd psalm. And it was extremely common in the PCA congregations of which I was a member for the corporate prayer of confession to be the 51st (or portions of it). Now I don't know what Turretinfan's experience has been in that regard, but if he has never had the opportunity to do that in corporate prayer, then I'd say he has been sadly deprived :-)

Anyway - given that Psalms are a prayer book, and not merely a song book, I'd have to say that the "tale of the tape" for his first argument is a wash: Extemporaneous 1, Form 1.

His second point is that the Our Father/Lord's Prayer
is not presented in Scripture as a form prayer to be prayed as such, but as a template for prayer. It is pray "like this" not pray "these words."

Matthew 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Luke 11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

(the more specific - Matthew, providing the interpretation for the more general, Luke)

The Greek word in Matthew is ουτως = thus, like this, in this way
The Greek word in Luke is λεγετε = lay out, relate

"Say" is not a very precise translation, even though it is accurate. In short, the point of both Matthew and Luke is to provide a template...
Okay, he lost me there :-)

In the first place, to say that it is a template absolutely does not exclude the perfect legitimacy of praying the template. Again, appealing to my own PCA experience: we prayed the Our Father/Lord's Prayer often. I may indeed be mistaken, but I would consider it to be quite shocking if Turretinfan has never prayed it himself - both privately and in public worship. And I seriously doubt that his experience could reasonably be considered typical for Reformed types; as I've said, it was a regular part of all the PCA congregations of which I was ever a member.

So the silence here is as telling as anything (and that goes for the Psalms-as-prayer book, too). Maybe Turretinfan's own congregation never prays the Lord's Prayer, and maybe they never pray the Psalms, but I doubt it. Of course, it doesn't help you to make your case against form prayers if you have to concede that you use them yourself... :-)

In the second place, the Greek doesn't require that the prayer as recorded be understood exclusively as a "template" at all, and given that Israel had a prayer book, it seems absurd to suggest that the Lord meant it as no more than a template: that would have been contrary to the experience of his people.

"After this manner" in Mt. 6:9 seems to me to be a fairly self-serving (by the KJV's translators, not by Turretinfan) interpretation. The RSV has "like this". The NASB has "in this way". The NIV has (in its dynamically equivalent fashion) "This, then, is how you should pray". Maybe the KJV was less biased-seeming in its day, but it has the whiff of an attempt to avoid legitimizing form prayers - something that was a live issue in their day, no doubt. The other versions I've mentioned seem more honest, and more consistent with what Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich say as to the meaning of ουτως when it precedes that to which it refers: "in this way, as follows" - which has no hint of this "template-only" idea. For those who are interested: the Confraternity edition has "In this manner"; the JB has "like this". Yes, it certainly can be used as a pattern as a template. No, this is certainly not its exclusive intent in Matthew - and it hasn't even been treated that way among modern Reformed Christians, either (the PCA being a good example of its continued use as a form prayer).

The same sort of thing must be said - and more emphatically - about Turretinfan's treatment of Luke 11 and the Greek there. He says, "'Say' is not a very precise translation" and would prefer "lay out" or "relate". Well, good for him. Except that the only place I could find that sort of thing as a "base" translation for λεγω is in Strong's Concordance. Even the NASB exhaustive concordance has "to say". Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich have "utter in words, say, tell, give expression to". Machen's grammar (I used this in seminary) has "say". I know my first Greek grammar (I think by Hale) had "say, tell". So unless Turretinfan is using Strong's as a lexicon, I have no idea where he's getting the idea that "lay out" or "relate" is a better translation of λεγω than "say". I would say that if the goal is to throw up a roadblock in front of using the Our Father/Lord's Prayer as a form prayer, then his suggested rendering is maybe more serviceable - but it seems to me that the Greek doesn't require that at all. The translators of the KJV, NASB, RSV, NIV, JB, and CCD all agree: "say".

In short: there is no reason based on the text to shun the use of the Our Father/Lord's Prayer as a form prayer. It is consistent with the fact that the Psalms are a song book and a prayer book, and there is certainly no good reason why it could not be done. Again, I repeat: this is not to say that it doesn't also serve as a template. But to say that it does no more than that seems silly to me.

Turretinfan's third argument:
The analogy to sermons/homilies. Just as a pastor tailors the sermon or homily for the congregation, applying the truths of scripture to his flock, the man praying applies Scriptural principles of prayer (such as the template of the Lord's Prayer) to the situation at hand.
Of course, this is fine. And we have no objection to it. But it's just crazy to suppose that literally no one in the history of God's people has ever been in a situation like mine - like ours. So of course those prayers that they've given us in writing are perfectly appropriate, particularly when they are truthful and beautiful. Is David's prayer of confession in Ps. 51 not perhaps the most perfect form of confession there is? Why on earth would I not want to use it? That would be ridiculous! It's beautiful, it's heartfelt, and it expresses exactly how I feel when I have sinned against my Lord. Yes, extemporaneous prayers are often great. And Yes, the prayers of God's people from past ages, and the prayers of the saints, are just as valuable. They give us a sense of solidarity with our fellow believers from past ages in a way that extemporaneous prayers never can.

Turretinfan's last (and possibly most disappointing) point:
Last, but certainly not least, the specific Scriptural admonition against rote prayers:

Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Have you ever witnessed a Roman Catholic praying a rosary, especially a non-Latin speaking Roman Catholic praying a Latin rosary, and most especially a very experienced and devout Roman Catholic senior citizen doing so with something to be done afterwards, or while engaged in something unrelated, such as driving?

Would you like to try to tell me that those prayers are not vain repetitions just like the prayers of the heathen? They are certainly repetitious, and they certainly seem to be based on a theory that if you say the prayer a lot you will be heard.
First off, Matthew 6:7 has nothing to do with rote prayers. It has to do with what it says: "vain repetitions" (KJV) or "empty phrases" (RSV) or "multiply[ing] words" (CCD) or "meaningless repetition" (NASB) or "babble" (JB) or "babbling" (NIV). The very fact (which I keep repeating) that the Psalms were Israel's prayer book makes this notion of a condemnation of "rote prayers" ridiculous. Should we not pray the Psalms? Is it a bad thing to be able to pray Ps. 23 from memory?? Of course not! So it's not rote prayers that are the problem.

Second, the issue cannot be with the repetition, either. Counter-example Number One: Psalm 136, where every one of all twenty-six verses repeats the statement, "for his mercy endures forever" (CCD, but something similar in any version). Now we may say that it was intended to be antiphonal (which seems a reasonable guess), or that it was "meant" to be used in public worship. We may even concede that it was primarily sung.

What then? It's okay to sing repetitively to God, but not to pray repetitively? What's the gigantic difference? Are not both directed to God? Of course they are! So it's not repetition that is a problem. Period.

In short, then, it's not praying by rote, and it's not repetition in prayer that is a problem. Well, if it's not repetitive rote praying that's the problem, then Turretinfan's argument is DOA. Sorry. :-)

So we see that Turretinfan has simply not made anything like a strong case against repetitive prayers, nor against form prayers. But something more may be said about extemporaneous prayers. I have already said that Catholics have no problem with them, and I want to repeat that now. But if Turretinfan thinks that Protestants don't pray "repetitively" when they pray extemporaneously, then I submit he has either not been paying attention or he has a rather small sampling of examples. Because I listened to what my fellow prayers said, and I know for a fact that they all - and I mean all - had habits of thought and speech that were characteristic of their prayers. This is not a bad thing. It's how we are made. We are creatures of habit. But it's just crazy to pretend that it doesn't happen. Does Turretinfan not teach his children little form prayers for meals? I'll bet he does (and if he doesn't, there are plenty of Protestants - yes, including Reformed types - who do). There is nothing wrong with this.

Well, perhaps Turretinfan will say that to pray the Psalms repetitively is only to pray Scripture repetitively. But of course, if he says that I will immediately respond that we pray the Our Father repetitively - so that this defense is a non-starter. But if he says that we should only pray Scripture, then he would be demolishing his argument against form prayers, and would be demolishing extemporaneous prayers as well. Now if he says that it's okay to pray Scripture as a form but not the prayers of godly men and women through the ages...well, I'd say that's a silly distinction without merit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

St. Augustine, Scripture, and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I haven't been paying attention to Carrie's blog here lately, for two reasons. She has been doing most of her controversialist posting over at Beggars All, where the level of discourse is such that I can't imagine ever bothering to take the time to get involved. Consequently on her own blog she has been posting less, and the posts have consisted more of flat quotations from Catholic sources - quotations of such a sort that I really don't see the need to quibble with them, since they have seemed to be reasonably honest quotations which fairly present what the Church teaches.

Recently though, she posted a quotation from St. Augustine, and I thought I'd take a look. And the first thing I discovered is that her link to the source for the quotation is wrong. (Sigh) This is not the first time she has done this by any means. I wish that she would demonstrate a little more regard for her sources than this. A correct link to the letter of St. Augustine to Volusianus is here. Aside from the fact that St. Augustine did not believe in sola Scriptura, as has been repeatedly demonstrated to Carrie to no avail, let's see what we can learn from the broader context of this letter.

One interesting thing is that St. Augustine freely quotes from the book of Sirach, calling it Scripture:
For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: "When a man has done, then he begins" (1:3, emphasis added; quoting Sirach 18:5 - not 18:6 as the New Advent page says).
So St. Augustine here recognizes as Scripture a book that Protestants reject. Interesting. But even more interesting is that in this same letter St. Augustine affirms and defends the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady. In 1:2 he quotes Volusianus, who asks about this very subject, so we can expect that St. Augustine will in fact defend it. He does.
The body of the infant Jesus was brought forth from the womb of His mother, still a virgin, by the same power which afterwards introduced His body when He was a man through the closed door into the upper chamber. Here, if the reason of the event is sought out, it will no longer be a miracle; if an example of a precisely similar event is demanded, it will no longer be unique. Let us grant that God can do something which we must admit to be beyond our comprehension. In such wonders the whole explanation of the work is the power of Him by whom it is wrought (2:8, emphasis added).
The saint defends the Perpetual Virginity by comparison with Our Lord's action in passing through the closed door of the upper room (Jn. 20:26). Now this leaves the Protestant Carrie who wants to claim St. Augustine as one of her own in a bit of a jam. Either she must concede that he did not believe in sola scriptura, in which case her appeal to him in defense of it is ridiculous; or she must say that she is wrong herself in denying the perpetual virginity of Mary, which St. Augustine has defended by the Bible ( chance of this, I suppose); or she must say that St. Augustine got the perpetual virginity wrong - but if he got this wrong, there is no reason that he could not be wrong on sola scriptura as well, and so the appeal to him as an authority is demolished on her own terms - so if she intends to use him as an "authority" to her Protestant friends, she has failed; and clearly she has failed if her intent is to "prove" something to Catholics.

Indeed, the only way that I can imagine that such quote-ripping would be useful is if context just simply doesn't matter - if only the forms of words matter. This seems pretty nominalist. It reminds me of a girl I knew back in the 80s who upon seeing a logo for a Van Halen concert (sorry, that's the best image of it that I can find) suggested that perhaps the fact that the character was holding up one finger was meant to imply that there is only one way: Jesus. Heh. Then again, maybe not. But the same adolescent, uneducated context-ripping that attempts to find references to Christ in a 1980s Van Halen logo is really indistinguishable from the context-ripping by Protestants who attempt to find Protestantism in the Church Fathers. It's just not there, and only by a ridiculous nominalistic abuse of words can they even pretend otherwise.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Even More About Sola Gratia

I took my eye off the ball in my last post and left out one thing that I think is important. But it was getting long anyway, so maybe this is better since it's something of a different approach.

Since, as we have seen, Trent has taught that all the causes of our salvation are from God and not from man, there is at least one more observation that may be made. With respect to the question of human merits (as discussed previously), these can only be described as effects of divine grace rather than as causes per se of our salvation. This accords well with what St. Augustine said (as quoted previously):
[W]hat else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?
Think about it. The causes are all from God, says Trent. Consequently our merits as discussed by Trent can only be effects of the divine causes of our salvation. Hence, as St. Augustine says, God crowns his own gifts when he crowns our merits.

Furthermore, it ought to be blindingly obvious that an effect simply cannot call forth its own cause. The very idea is silly! The thunder can't make the lightning; the fire can't strike the match that lights it. And so too we do not merit our salvation in any way that "causes" God to save us, because God is the cause of our salvation just as Trent declares. He is the cause of it in every way. This being the case it is simply ridiculous to claim that Trent repudiated sola gratia.

I think another interesting point can be made, and I was reminded of it while reading Vignaux today (p. 121):
St. Thomas's point of view was the following: 'God by himself can produce all natural effects; that other causes may also produce them is not however superfluous. This does not in fact result from a lack of power, but from an immensity of goodness: as a consequence of goodness, God wished to communicate His resemblance to things, to such a degree that they not only exist, but that they are also in turn causes.' ... His goodness explains why He bestowed efficacy on other beings. To deprive creatures of an activity that is theirs, is to slight the Creator: ... 'To take from things their proper actions is derogatory to divine goodness.' (emphasis in original)
Now the subject, properly speaking, of this passage is philosophical; yet the similarities to what we have been discussing seem obvious to me. Just as we have to till the soil (and yet God causes the grain to grow), and just as we must work for a living (and yet every good and perfect gift comes from God, who provides all that we have), so too we must obey our God (and yet He saves us through Christ). Nothing that we do can compel God to cause the wheat to grow. Nothing that we do can compel God to give us the means to provide for our families. Nothing that we do can compel God to sacrifice His Son for us as He did. Our food comes from God. Our homes and other necessaries come from God Our salvation comes from God. And yet he rewards the grace he gives us to love him.
[W]e must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace: seeing that Christ, our Saviour, saith: If any one shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst for ever; but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting. Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ. Neither is this to be omitted,-that although, in the sacred writings, so much is attributed to good works, that Christ promises, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, shall not lose his reward; and the Apostle testifies that, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; nevertheless God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits (Council of Trent, Session VI, Decree on Justification, Chapter XVI; emphasis added).
What we do matters - but when we do good, it is thanks to the grace of God.