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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.
These duties (clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead, give drinks to the thirsty, 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
In Methodist teaching, works of mercy are a prudential means of grace. Along with Works of Piety, they are necessary for the believer to move on to Christian perfection. In this sense, the Methodist concern for people at the margins is closely related to its worship. As such, these beliefs have helped create the emphasis of the social gospel in the Methodist Church.
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