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. The practice is commonly attributed to the Roman Catholic Church as an act of both penance and charity. The Methodist church additionally teaches that the Works of Mercy are a means of grace[1] that aid in sanctification.[2]

The Works of Mercy have been traditionally divided into two categories, each with seven elements: 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 are enjoined by many Christian denominations on their adherents, including Orthodox Christianity, Lutheranism, the Anglican Communion, and Methodism.

In his 1980 encyclical Dives in misericordia, Pope John Paul II said, "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]

Biblical basis[edit]

These works 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). They are also required as a matter of obedience to the second of the two greatest commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:35-40).

In Matthew 25:34-46, Jesus insists upon the necessity of observing 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.


The Seven 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 Shelter the Homeless
  5. To visit the sick.
  6. To visit the imprisoned
  7. To bury the dead.

The Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy[edit]

Just as the Corporal Works of Mercy are directed towards relieving corporeal suffering, the even more important 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, Works of Mercy, are a prudential means of grace.[7] Along with Works of Piety, they are necessary for the believer to move on to Christian perfection.[8] In this sense, the Methodist concern for people at the margins is closely related to its worship.[9] As such, these beliefs have helped create the emphasis of the social gospel in the Methodist Church.[10]

Works of Mercy
  1. Doing Good[7]
  2. Visiting the Sick and Prisoners[7]
  3. Feeding and Clothing People[7]
  4. Earning, Saving, Giving All One Can[7]
  5. Opposition to Slavery[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Stephen Bowden. Encyclopedia of Chrl= Oxford University Press. 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. ^ 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. ^ a b c d e f "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. 
  8. ^ "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. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]

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