Works of mercy

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Frans II Francken: The Seven Works of Mercy, 1605, German Historical Museum Berlin
Works of Mercy by Pierre Montallier, 1680

Works of mercy (sometimes known as acts of mercy) are practices which Christians perform.

The practice is commonly attributed to the Roman Catholic Church as an act of both penance and charity. In addition, the Methodist church teaches that the works of mercy are a means of grace which lead to holiness[1] and aid in sanctification.[2]

The works of mercy have been traditionally divided into two categories, each with seven elements:

  1. "Corporal works of mercy" which concern the material needs of others.
  2. "Spiritual works of mercy" which concern the spiritual needs of others.[3][4][5]

Pope John Paul II issued a papal encyclical "Dives in misericordia" on 30 November 1980 declaring that "Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called "to practice mercy" towards others.[6] Another notable devotion associated with the works of mercy is the Divine Mercy, which are reputed to be apparitions of Jesus Christ to Saint Faustina Kowalska.

In the Roman Catholic Church

Seven corporal works

The Works of Mercy, by the Master of Alkmaar made for the Church of Saint Lawrence in Alkmaar, Netherlands. The wooden panels show the works of mercy in this order: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, shelter the traveler, comfort the sick, and free the imprisoned. Circa 1504.

Corporal works of mercy are those that tend to bodily needs of others. In Matthew 25:34-40, in the The Judgment of Nations, six specific Works of Mercy are enumerated, although not this precise list — as the reason for the salvation of the saved, and the omission of them as the reason for damnation. The last work of mercy, burying the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit.[3][4]

  1. To feed the hungry.
  2. To give drink to the thirsty.
  3. To clothe the naked.
  4. To harbor the harborless (Presently interpreted as Shelter the Homeless).[7]
  5. To visit the sick.
  6. To ransom the captive (Presently interpreted as Visit the Imprisoned).[8]
  7. To bury the dead.

Seven spiritual works

Just as the corporal works of mercy are directed towards relieving corporeal suffering, the aim of the spiritual works of mercy is to relieve spiritual suffering. The latter works are traditionally enumerated thus:

  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish sinners.
  4. To bear wrongs patiently.
  5. To forgive offences willingly.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead

Though generally enjoined upon all the faithful, often, in particular cases, a given individual will not be obligated or even competent to perform four of the seven spiritual works of mercy, namely: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, and comforting the afflicted. These works may require a definitely superior level of authority or knowledge or an extraordinary amount of tact. The other three works - bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offences willingly, praying for the living and the dead - are considered to be an obligation of all faithful to practise unconditionally.[4]


In Methodist teaching, doing merciful acts is a prudential means of grace.[9] Along with works of piety, they are necessary for the believer to move on to Christian perfection.[10] In this sense, the Methodist concern for people at the margins is closely related to its worship.[11] As such, these beliefs have helped create the emphasis of the social gospel in the Methodist Church.[12]

Works of Mercy
  1. Doing Good[9]
  2. Visiting the Sick and Prisoners[9]
  3. Feeding and Clothing People[9]
  4. Earning, Saving, Giving All One Can[9]
  5. Opposition to Slavery[9]

See also


  1. John Stephen Bowden. Encyclopedia of Christianity. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 July 2011. Works of mercy are, therefore, not merely good deeds but also channels through which Christians receive God's grace.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. John Wesley. The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume VI. J. Emory & B. Waugh; J. Collord, New York. p. 46. Retrieved 5 July 2011. Why, that both repentance, rightly understood, and the practice of all good works, — works of piety, as well as works of mercy, (now properly so called, since they spring from faith,) are, in some sense, necessary to sanctification.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 The works of mercy by James F. Keenan 2004 ISBN 0-7425-3220-8 pages 9-12
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Catholic encyclopedia: Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
  5. Mercies Remembered by Matthew R Mauriello 2011 ISBN 1-61215-005-5 page 149-160
  6. Pope John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, §14, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, November 30, 1980
  7. Once referred to those who sought sanctuary or asylum, the protection from persecution or apprehension.
  8. Once referred to those who were captured by enemies and held for ransom, an exchange or barter during war or political turmoil
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 "Mission: The Works of Mercy". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 5 July 2011. John Wesley believed that "means of grace," include both "works of piety" (instituted means of grace) and "works of mercy" (prudential means of grace). He preached that Christians must do both works of piety and works of mercy in order to move on toward Christian perfection.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Mission: The Works of Mercy". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 5 July 2011. Christian Perfection is "holiness of heart and life." It is "walking the talk." John Wesley expected Methodists to do not only "works of piety" but "works of mercy"--both of these fused together put a Christian on the path to perfection in love.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. John Stephen Bowden. Encyclopedia of Christianity. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 July 2011. In this sense, Methodist concern for people at the margins is closely related to its worship.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Edward Craig. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Questions to sociobiology. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved 5 July 2011. He clearly thought that there is an experience of sanctification in which there is a total death to sin and a complete renewal of the image of God. His various qualifications concerning the nature of perfection did not, however, weaken the Methodist stress that one must press on towards perfection in this life. Much of the social activism of Methodism sprang from this stress.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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