Sola Fide – Part II

In my previous article I maintained that no one in the Protestant Reformation had the authority to teach any form of Christianity that opposed the legitimate teaching of the Christian Church; for these teachings were organically taught from the time that Christ founded his Church under the leadership of Peter and the apostles. Just as the Old Testament Church had grown, under the leadership of the authorities that God had chosen to lead the Hebrew people, the New Testament Church (the Christian Church) had also blossomed under the leadership of the ambassadors given her by Christ. It was, and is, incumbent upon these churches to answer the hard questions of their times and to serve as arbiter of those questions concerning faith and morals. These matters cannot be resolved by a few scholarly people nor can they be resolved by taking a vote of the people. God does not take any chances: He created a theocracy with Christ as the head of the Church speaking to the people through his appointed ambassadors. Until Christ himself takes the authority away from these persons, they remain in charge of such matters. No man can simply decide upon his own intellectual, emotional or moral convictions to wrest this power from those whom Christ has named to lead his church.

Sola Scriptura (the Bible Alone) as discussed previously cannot be the rule of faith unless it complies with the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. Christ did not give his followers a mission to write any books[1] nor did he tell anyone to use a book as a basis for ascertaining truth.[2] He told the apostles to teach the good news throughout the world and the apostles tell us that the Church is the pillar and ground (foundation) of the truth. It was only by strict adherence to this Tradition that the Catholic Church was able to declare these books “inspired by God” and include them in those sacred texts which eventually became the Bible. As such, these writings are without a doubt the Holy Scripture but we must be careful that our interpretations of these texts adhere to the Apostolic Tradition that confirmed them in the first place. If not, these writings will not necessarily conform to the teachings of Christ as received by those who walked with Christ, his living witnesses, down to our present day. If one reads the writings of the ancient Christians, the Early Fathers of the Church, all doubt should quickly be laid to rest. The Catholic Church to my knowledge is the only church where the Biblical interpretations continue to preserve these same apostolic teachings.

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

So now we come to the second of the 5 solas[3] that fueled the reformation: sola fide, by faith alone. This dictum was preached first by Martin Luther and later picked up by others including Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli. This rule declared that one is saved or justified by faith alone. It denounced the need for man to do anything to go to heaven other than believe that Christ died for our sins; we need only have faith that we are saved and that alone will be sufficient. Again this is a nice thought, it is not exactly Biblical and it certainly clashed with 1500 years of Christian teaching.

To read the arguments of the day or listen to modern defenders of Protestantism one is often struck by the accusations against the Catholic Church. Although the Catholic Church never denied the need for faith for our salvation, it was alleged that the Catholic Church taught that we were saved by works (good deeds, penance, alms, etc.). Such a thing had never been taught by the Church in such simplistic terms and these one-dimensional views only served to corrupt the Catholic position.

In an effort to give Biblical proof of the Protestant sola fide, the reformers relied heavily on the words of St. Paul and ignored passages of St. James and others and at times, Christ Himself. It is interesting to note that the passage from Romans 3:28 (“For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law.”) was rendered ‘justified by faith alone’ in the Luther Bible. But Catholics already believed that Christians were justified by faith and the certainty of that faith can only be known by how one lives their faith (the works of faith). The following is just a sample of Biblical texts that further our understanding of the issue:

  •  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. __Romans 2:5,6
  • For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of GodNot of works, that no man may glory. __ Ephesians 2:8,9
  • Charge the rich of this world not to be highminded, nor to trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God, (who giveth us abundantly all things to enjoy,) To do good, to be rich in good works, to give easily, to communicate to others, To lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the true life. __ 1 Timothy 6:17-19
  • All things are clean to the clean: but to them that are defiled, and to unbelievers, nothing is clean: but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess that they know God: but in their works they deny him; being abominable, and incredulous, and to every good work reprobate. __ Titus 1:15,16

There are many other texts that could be quoted and I do not here include quotes from the Book of James simply because both Luther and Calvin found this book to be unworthy of inclusion within their new canons of scripture. But notice that Catholics believed above all that faith is 1) a virtue; 2) a gift from God, undeserved and given to us by the working of the Holy Spirit (so that we may not boast); 3) that the fruits of faith are the good works of those who have been given this Grace (for we do not think that God’s Grace is given to a soul only to remain fruitless). To claim that the Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by works is not only mistaken it is manifestly deceitful. This is especially true when one considers that both Luther and Calvin (ex-Catholic priests) knew this to be false.

Again, this Catholic position might also be stated: that by God’s Love for us and by His unfathomable Mercy, God deigned to give us His Grace (an unmerited gift) that we might receive the virtue of Faith (a gift of God) so that by our freewill and cooperation with this Grace we might live according to His Gift of Faith and live a life inspired by the Holy Spirit (who gives us the will to produce Works of Faith). The highest of these works is the outward expression of the twofold commandment to love God and our neighbor. Now the willingness or unwillingness to respond to God’s Grace is similar in all respects to Christ’s parable about the sower of seeds: And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying: “Behold the sower went forth to sow. And whilst he soweth some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and ate them up.  And other some fell upon stony ground, where they had not much earth: and they sprung up immediately, because they had no deepness of earth.  And when the sun was up they were scorched: and because they had not root, they withered away.  And others fell among thorns: and the thorns grew up and choked them.  And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold.” __ Matthew 13:3-8    It is the same way with the Grace that God freely gives to us. Some bear fruit and some do not and it depends in great part to our will and cooperation with the Graces that God bestows upon our souls. Justification by faith alone was a novel teaching and has survived the centuries, in part, by the continuous mischaracterizations of the Catholic position.

Astoundingly, most of the wonderfully religious and pious Protestants that I have known have abounded in good works. Billy Graham quickly comes to mind as a man who has lived the gospel life while people such as Jim Jones stand in dark contrast to the goodness of Reverend Graham and his cooperation with God’s Grace. It is a fundamental principal in the Catholic Church that God has always wanted mankind to cooperate and participate in our own salvation. Christ paid the price but it is up to us to participate in His sacrifice by cooperation and thus apply his salvific Grace to our soul.

St. Paul states in Colossians 1:24   I “now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church:” It seems that St. Paul understood that his penance and suffering had merit and helped him participate in the sufferings of Christ as it applied especially to the Church which is Christ’s Mystical Body on earth. Thus we are urged to be obedient to the commandments and live a good, prayerful and penitential life: “. . . unto all the country of Judea, and to the Gentiles did I preach, that they should do penance, and turn to God, doing works worthy of penance.”[4] We are reminded in Romans 2:5,6  “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.

Now I could go on and on but it simply becomes a war of verse opposed to verse and a myriad of interpretations that any individual might choose to believe. But the same basic points that were made concerning sola scriptura diminish the impact of arguments made by individuals who would argue against the teachings held firmly by the Church Christ established; a Church that has preached the same truths uninterruptedly since his death on the Holy Cross.

Let’s recap for a moment: The Protestant leadership . . .

  • did not receive a mission from God and therefore did not have any authority to teach a new doctrine or create a new canon of scripture
  • taught new and novel interpretations of many Biblical texts
  • believed that every individual could read the Bible and decide on the meanings without recourse to an authority – leaving in their wake a type of anarchy against Church teaching – open to the possibility of countless individual doctrines and thus, new churches divided along doctrinal lines
  • fueled the coming age of enlightenment (the age of reason) which reached full swing during the 18th century, overturning structures of power that had existed for centuries
  • applied their thirst for democratic institutions, individual rights and freedom to God’s structure of the Church – a structure that was built upon the foundations of the Jewish tradition but fully realized and understood since the life and death of Christ
  • placed themselves in high levels of importance that rested solely on the desires of the people – rule from the bottom up – negating the authority that Christ had given the Church

Those who participated in the reformation did so, knowingly violating the traditional rules of faith: re-writing and eliminating writings from Holy Scripture; pretending to have more authority than the ministers who inherited their missions from the Apostles; denying the authority of the Church; ignoring the writings and witness of the ancient fathers of the Church; refuting the authority of the Church Councils; dismissing the authority of the Pope – the successor to Peter; belittling the constant trail of miracles that mark the history of the Church; while bringing disunity to Christ’s body the Church.

However, it is important to remember that those who today are raised in the tradition of the Protestant faiths are no more responsible for these violations of the faith than are we individually responsible for the original sin that we inherited from our first parents – but we do inherit it nonetheless. May unity one day reunite us all in the one body of Christ – the Church – for it is a scandal that His Church should be divided and continue to divide year after year.

The Catholic Church hopes and awaits a joyous reunion with our separated brother and sisters in Christ. “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are.” __ John 17:11

[1] Matthew 28:18-20           And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. 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.

[2] I Timothy 3:15                 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

[3] sola scriptura (the Bible alone); sola fide (faith alone); sola gratia (by grace alone); solus Christus (Christ alone) and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

[4] Acts 26:20


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