Monday, July 4, 2005
Why Faith-Alone (Sola-Fide) Is A False Doctrine

Faith Alone is Insufficient

While faith is necessary for salvation, the intellectual assent to God’s existence and revelation is not enough, in and of itself, to save a man. “Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble,” says St. James in his Epistle (Jam. 2:19). A man could certainly believe in God, be baptized, and then live a life of sin that would condemn his soul to hell. A man could also live a holy life for many years, but then give in to temptation, commit a mortal sin, and die separated from God. Those who claim otherwise fail to understand the malice of sin and forget that Our Lord will condemn those who merely give Him lip service (cf. Matt. 7:21). More than mere belief in our Divine Redeemer is necessary to save our souls, once again, as St. James testifies: “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead” (Jam. 2:26). Catholics would do well to familiarize themselves with the Church’s timeless teachings on this matter.

Objective vs. Subjective Redemption

When speaking of the Redemption, we begin with objective redemption, which deals with Christ. Objective redemption began when Christ was conceived and completed in His Resurrection. During that period, He fulfilled the prophecies of long ago and “was offered once to exhaust the sins of many,” that is, “for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:28, 26). Three days later, He rose from the dead, and we, too, believe that if we die in Christ, we also will rise with Him (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11). This is a central truth of the Faith, one that is expressed in the Creed.

Subjective redemption, however, is also vitally important to the Christian faithful in reaching Heaven because even though Christ died for all, not everyone chooses to cooperate with God’s salvific will and thus be saved. In other words, there are people who reject Jesus and the Redemption He won for us. Our Lord Himself alluded to this truth when He instituted the words of consecration for His Precious Blood, saying, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Concerning this reality, St. Thomas comments: “The Blood of Christ has been shed for all concerning its sufficient power (quem ad sufficientam), but only for the elect as regards to its efficacy (quo ad efficiam).”

Christians have an obligation to grow in the Faith by following Christ in obtaining their salvation. We believe that salvation cannot be earned, but we do believe, as Catholics, that we have a responsibility to live a life of “faith that worketh by charity” (Gal. 5:6). Our Lord instructed the Apostles shortly before His Ascension, “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:19-20). He never told His followers to merely believe, teach others to accept Him as their “personal Lord and Savior,” then return to their previous ways of living.

By God's grace, we receive the gift of faith that allows us to believe. The works that we do, in turn, demonstrate our faith. Thus, we are saved by God's grace (cf. Eph. 2:8), but His grace in us must not be void (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10). “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also, faith without works is dead” (Jam. 2:26). Everyone, the highest kings and lowest servants alike, must put their faith into action in order to obtain salvation. Simply put, if you are in sanctifying grace you are saved, and grace is given freely by God so only He knows the state of your soul. This is precisely why frequent Confession is necessary because through this sacrament our souls are cleansed and restored to friendship with God.

Some Protestants will counter with Romans 3:28: “For we account a man to be justified by faith without the works of the law.” Notice, however, that St. Paul did not say faith alone. In his German translation of the New Testament, Martin Luther added the word “alone” to the above verse in a shameful attempt to legitimize his heresy of sola fide. Ironically, the only verse in Scripture that features the phrase sola fide (“faith alone” or “faith only”) categorically rejects Luther’s heresy: “Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?” (Jam. 2:24).

Faith and Works: Harmonizing Paul and James

To account for the apparent confusion between the Book of Romans and the Book of James is that St. Paul, in Romans, is talking about the works of the law required by the Jewish faith. In addition to the Ten Commandments, the Jews were required to follow hundreds of other legal prescripts ranging from liturgical and dietary laws to the wearing of tassels on their cloaks. According to a strict interpretation of the Mosaic law, something as small as erasing a single letter written on a piece of paper on the Sabbath would break the law. For St. Paul, the former Pharisee, the debate is obviously not about Catholic versus Protestant, but about Jew versus Gentile and the requirements under the New Covenant, which has replaced the Old Covenant. 

Remember the words that Christ spoke during His Sermon on the Mount: “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). So must we, with a sincere heart, have works that glorify God. Our works will be an outward expression of our Faith, for faith without works is indeed dead. Long before the Protestant revolt, St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) asserted inspired words which surely apply to us in the 21st century: “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since He Himself cursed the fig tree when He found no fruit but only leaves. It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions.” 

Scripture Condemns Faith Alone

Besides the above - in particular the Book of James Chapter 2 - our Lord and the apostles always affirmed that mere belief in our Lord was never in itself sufficient to merit Heaven. Faith necessitates a life lived in conformity with His grace and His Commandments. The mere act of Faith does not merit us Heaven. Heaven is only possible to those who die in the state of grace.

"Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither idolaters, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Even if the people mentioned above believe, they shall not be saved!

"Neither fornicators nor adulterers . . . shall possess the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9). "You have heard that it was said to the Ancients, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' But I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28). "Keep thyself chaste" (1 Tim. 5:22). "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

"For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). And this is in accordance with our Lord's own words in Matthew 25:31-46, where he relates that he will separate those on his right and his left based on their works. Commenting on this passage nearly a thousand years before the protestants came along, St. Augustine remarks how this Gospel passage illustrates the necessity of works accompanying the Faith we claim to profess.

Can faith alone, as the so-called Reformers assert, render man just and save him? The following is written by Fr. Goffine in his work "The Church's Year":
Faith alone, however strong, though it could move mountains, without love, that is, without good works performed for love of God and our neighbor, can never justify or save us. For, when St. Paul says, that man is justified by faith without works, (Rom. 3:28; 11:6; Eph. 2:8, 9) he means to refer to those works which were performed by command of the law of Moses, and which, as they were external and without true charity, were of no avail; he did not refer to those works which are performed in a state of grace with a lively, love-inspired faith.

Therefore the same Apostle writes to the Galatians: (Gal. 5:6) Faith only availeth which worketh by charity; to Titus: (Tit. 3:8) It is a faithful saying: and these things I will have thee affirm constantly: that they who believe in God, may be careful to excel in good works. These things are good and profitable unto men; and he exhorts the Colossians (Colos. 1:10) to be fruitful in every good work.

St. James confirms the same by saying: (James 2:17-24) So faith if it have not works, is dead in itself; by works man is justified and not by faith only. That this is the true doctrine of Christ is evident from His own words, when He says: "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and shall be cast into the fire." (Matt. 7:19) At the day of judgment Christ will demand good works from all men, (Matt. 25:35) and will not judge them only according to their faith, but by their good works, which true faith must always produce. (Apoc. 20:12)

Would Christ and His apostles demand good works, if faith alone be sufficient? "The devil's also believe and tremble," (James 2:19) they believe, but they are not saved, and their faith but increases their torments. Therefore, the assertion that faith without good works is sufficient for justification and salvation, is plainly against the doctrine of Christ and His Church, and must of necessity lead man to vice and misery, as shown by the history of the unhappy separation of the sixteenth century.
A Reflection by Father Franz Schmidberger entitled "The Errors of Luther and the Spirit of Today"
2. Sola fides (faith alone, not works)

An important objection against this Protestant error can also be raised here, first of all from Scripture itself.

a) In the Epistle of St. James we read that faith without works is dead; in the Apocalypse the dead are praised, ". . . for their works follow them." And in the Second Book of Maccabees we see the great hero Judas taking a collection for the fallen, that a sin-offering may be made; that it is a good and pious thought to pray for the dead.

b) Human nature itself reveals a connection between faith and works, as it consists of body and soul, whereby the soul is expressed in the body, the body is an instrument of the spiritual soul, and an exchange between body and soul cannot be denied. For example, if I make a genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, I proclaim the faith of the Church, that Christ truly, really and powerfully, with His divinity and humanity, body and soul under the appearances of bread, is present among us. By the same token every outward gesture, every sign of the cross and every bow, helps us to strengthen our faith. The soul is inwardly nourished by these outward signs. In this connection it is not to be forgotten that the separation of body and soul in death is only a temporary arrangement until the last day, when body and soul will again find their unity, yet distinct from one another.

Exactly the same relationship holds between faith and works. Faith expresses itself in works, as works without faith are dead, like the body without the soul. At the same time works are a true prolongation of faith, reflect back upon it, strengthen it and shape it.

c) As works belong essentially to faith, a blinding flash of light occurs in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead; God comes visibly among us; He walks around for thirty-three years in our earthly flesh, He performs miracles and makes use of outward elements as, for instance, a mud plaster in the healing of a blind man, His finger in the healing of a deaf-mute; He cries out and prays aloud for the apostles' sake in the raising of Lazarus.

And thus the Church is His visible Body; the Sacraments are visible signs, which contain and bestow an inner, invisible grace and mediate it through the work itself; works are faith made visible; our cathedrals and churches, processions and pilgrimages, our seminaries and convents, all proclaim the eternal, living Truth which has broken into time.

Because God became man, therefore we bend the knee; because He went down into the dust of the earth, we throw ourselves on the ground in holy fear. All of nature should proclaim His works, all art should be put at His service and sing the praise of the Eternal One.

When we reverence the relics of the saints, we are praying to that uncreated Love which took weak man to Itself, opened Its throne to them and surrounded them with Its grace.

Not to be overlooked in this regard, the Catholic priest binds himself to celibacy and wears the black cassock, in order to show himself to other men as a man chosen from among men, to make visible in the world the presence of God.

It is therefore clear that works are not only a short-term or a long-lasting consequence of faith; they are part of faith and thus also a part of justification. Because parts of Holy Scripture are a direct contradiction to the sola fides theory of Luther, he did away with the Epistle of St. James, calling it an epistle of straw, the Apocalypse of doubtful authenticity, and the Books of Maccabees as definitely apocryphal. He himself not only attacked celibacy, but did not hesitate as a monk with perpetual vows, to marry an ex-nun, and to proclaim up and down the land—quoting the Second Epistle of St. Peter—the general priesthood of the laity to the detriment of the structures which Christ had established with His own Blood.

If we see work therefore as sign and fruit of Christian love, then the sola fides theory must become the gravedigger of that beautiful principle which, according to St. Paul, surpasses and survives faith and hope; and it alone remains, because it is eternal.

St. James makes it clear that simply believing in the existence of God is not enough because the demons do that and they are not saved. We are saved clearly by grace - evident by our faith and the way we live our lives.

"But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath, against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God. Who will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation" (Words of St. Paul in Romans 2:5-8)

Look at the words of St. John the Baptist: "Produce good works as evidence of your repentance... Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire". And look to Jesus's own words: "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16)

We must have good works to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Only the Catholic faith teaches the true importance of good works alongside faith. Good works are essential as by these we show our Faith. Yet we know that is is ultimately God's grace in our soul (or lack thereof) at the moment of death that determines our eternal destiny.

6 comment(s):

del_button July 28, 2006 at 9:39 PM
Matthew said...

But, if you are speaking to someone and said we are saved by faith-alone, many Protestants think that you only need to say "I believe" and then you are home free. Many of them refuse to acknowledge that we have to remain in grace. We must be in grace, and if we commit a mortal sin, we fall from grace.

The important thing is not to sin, to believe, and to serve others like Jesus served.

del_button March 23, 2008 at 10:06 PM
Anonymous said...

So let me get this right.

I have to work to maintain myself in Gods Free Gift ?

Christ before he was killed stated that he had to leave so that his spirit could be dispensed to us, everyone that has faith in Jesus.

Paul, being the only one converted by Christ in person in a rather scary situation while he was on the way to persecute yet more Christians; Spoke to the Ephesians stating in book 1 chapter 2 how we as Gentiles are saved by faith and Gods good Grace. Check it out, it's good reading :)

Gods army is all volunteer.

del_button June 27, 2009 at 3:46 PM
Anonymous said...

@ Auron

I know this post is old, so maybe you'll never see it, however, it is clear that just believing in God does not produce good works. Like the Scriptures say, even the demons believe, and we don't believe that what the demons are doing are good, do we? Many of us believe in God, but do nothing about it. There is more than enough proof that simple faith in and of itself does not produce good works all the time.

del_button August 22, 2009 at 9:52 PM
Anonymous said...

Dear Matthew:
This is my second and final post. I am 32 years old and only recently converted to a Protestant denomination. I am writing because you must do something about the evil that is plaguing the Catholic Church to the devil’s delight! I don’t know why I am to write to you, but perhaps you know. The reason the percentage of the egregious acts committed by Catholic clergy is higher than any of the Protestants is this: when Catholic priests commit the greatest abomination known to humankind, they justify their acts to themselves by committing several “good” acts to “make up” for the evil they committed. The devil rejoices in this type of mentality! Percentage-wise, the Muslims, who are a close second in regard to corruption according to the scholars, do the same, as do the Buddhist countries with all the child-trafficking, as well as the Hindus. This deed and works focused mentality was invented by the Devil and only leads to the demonic acts to which I am referring. This is how the Catholic church honors the Devil! How he must laugh that a religion of Christ, which he holds captive, is his most worthy accomplishment, where the greatest evil and demons flourish. Only when we know that it is by God’s grace through faith that we are able to do good works and where the glory of God is revealed, that true good works are possible. Good works are the fruit of true faith and not the other way around. Please let God work through you to help in any way those sweet, innocent, and helpless children on whom cross wearing Catholic clergy force themselves upon in a room surrounded by crosses. These children cry out in pain and are told by the Catholic priest to be good little boys and girls for this is what Jesus wants them to do. You must stop this! Don’t you see that even those we consider the scum of the earth- those in prison for car theft, burglaries, fraud, find the “Chomos”, as they are labeled, so morally repugnant that Catholics have to be separated from the general population for their safety. What about the safety of the tens of millions of children who have been raped over the centuries by Catholic priests. Even a cursory search on this topic will show you the truth that Catholic priests have hidden among themselves in honor of the sick creed recited to keep things hidden and in secret- the very definition of corruption. Ask God to help you remove those weeds and to plant seeds of transparency. Educate mothers to not leave their children alone with Catholic clergy. Ask God to strengthen your faith so that you may do his work through His kind grace. Sola Fide.

del_button November 20, 2010 at 7:20 PM
Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
You are most mistaken. First of all Catholic priests who commit terrible acts of child and teenager abuse are a small minority, possibly less than secular and other religious people who interact with children and minors.
Secondly, your statement is not logical. For if good deeds (and confession) make up for heinous sins in Catholic Christianity, as you suggest, what then of Protestantism which asserts that faith alone is enough and a quick mental "I'm sorry Jesus, forgive me" is adequate without anything else. Surely your point attacks Protestantism more.
Finally I'd like some proof of the tens of millions of children raped by Catholics. In my life, as a child, I've known many priests and not once have I been touched by a priest. I also don't have any friends or family members who were touched by a priest but I know of a case of abuse by a teacher. It's also interesting to note that Catholic priests in Soviet ara Eastern Europe and other Communist regions of the world would make great targets to discredit the faith by exposing child abuse by the all powerful state. This has not happened, despite numerous cases of abuse of priests by state authorities and various forms of blackmail which followed to get the priests to co-operate in curbing the influence of the church.

God Bless You

del_button November 20, 2010 at 7:27 PM
Anonymous said...


This is so true. Modern Christians have failed to convert significant numbers of people in Asia because we don't practice what we preach. We have faith, but we are lazy and more akin to pagans or atheists in practical behaviour - we cherish our earthly comforts more than truly loving our enemies and leading people to Christ that way.

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