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

The Works of Mercy or Acts of Mercy are actions and practices which Christianity, in general, expects all believers to perform, and are a means of grace,[1] which aid in sanctification.[2]

The Works of Mercy have been traditionally divided into two categories, with seven elements each: the Corporal Works of Mercy, which concern the material needs of others, and the Spiritual Works of Mercy, which concern the spiritual needs of others.[3][4][5]

These duties (e.g., feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless) are enjoined by many Christian churches on their adherents, including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Lutheranism, the Anglican Communion, and Methodism.

Beginning in the 20th century, the Catholic tradition saw an extension of the framework for the traditional Works of Mercy with the establishment of the devotion to Divine Mercy and encyclicals such as Dives in Misericordia.[5][6]

Biblical basis[edit]

These works, it is believed, express mercy, and are thus expected to be performed by believers insofar as they are able, in accordance with the Beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Gospel of Matthew 5:7).

These acts are to keep the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:35-40):

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind'. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

In (Matthew 25:34-46), Jesus discusses the importance of the first six corporal works of mercy:

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.


Corporal Works of Mercy[edit]

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 harbour the harbourless.[7] (also loosely interpreted today as To Shelter the Homeless)
  5. To visit the sick.
  6. To visit the imprisoned (classical term is "To ransom the captive[8]")
  7. To bury the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy[edit]

Though ideally applicable for all faithful, not everyone is considered capable or obligated to perform the first three spiritual works of mercy if they do not have proper tact, knowledge or canonical training to do so. The last four works are considered to be an obligation of all faithful to practise unconditionally.[4]

  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.

Divine Mercy of Jesus[edit]

In the 20th century, there was new focus on mercy in the Roman Catholic Church, partly due to the Divine Mercy devotion, due to Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938), who is known as the Apostle of Mercy, which is followed by over 100 million Catholics.[9][10][11]

In the Divine Mercy devotion one lets the love and mercy of God flow through one's own heart towards those in need of it.[10]

In Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul (Notebook II, item 742) Faustina wrote that Jesus told her:

"I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me." and that he explained that there are three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first-by deed, the second-by word, the third-by prayer.[5]

Pope John Paul II was a follower of the Divine Mercy devotion and canonised Faustina.[11][12] In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia he examined not only God's mercy, but also the need for human mercy.[6]


In Methodist teaching, works of mercy are a prudential means of grace.[13] Along with Works of Piety, they are necessary for the believer to move on to Christian perfection.[14] In this sense, the Methodist concern for people at the margins is closely related to its worship.[15] As such, these beliefs have helped create the emphasis of the social gospel in the Methodist Church.[16]

See also[edit]


  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." 
  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." 
  3. ^ a b The works of mercy by James F. Keenan 2004 ISBN 0-7425-3220-8 pages 9-12
  4. ^ a b c Catholic encyclopedia: Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
  5. ^ a b c Mercies Remembered by Matthew R Mauriello 2011 ISBN 1-61215-005-5 page 149-160
  6. ^ a b Vatican website: Dives in Misericordia
  7. ^ This rule once referred to groups or individuals who seek asylum or temporary refuge from their enemies. Today it is also applied to those who seek a temporary home, protection, shelter or general care and assistance.
  8. ^ This rule refers to the charitable act of giving kindness and consolation to those who are victims of imprisonment, captivation or other forms of both just and unjust seclusion from society.
  9. ^ Am With You Always by Benedict Groeschel 2010 ISBN 978-1-58617-257-2 page 548
  10. ^ a b Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 0-87973-910-X page 175
  11. ^ a b Butler's lives of the saints: the third millennium by Paul Burns, Alban Butler 2001 ISBN 978-0-86012-383-5 page 252
  12. ^ Saints of the Jubilee by Tim Drake 2002 ISBN 978-1-4033-1009-5 pages 85-95
  13. ^ "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." 
  14. ^ "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." 
  15. ^ 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." 
  16. ^ 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 theis life. Much of the social activism of Methodism sprang from this stress." 

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.