Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Catholic affirmation/understanding of “faith alone”

I have been blogging a little over 2 years now. One of the reoccurring themes I have discerned in the ongoing dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals is the concept of “faith alone”. I am convinced that many on both sides of the ‘Tiber’ misunderstand and/or misrepresent each other’s position on this issue. In this post, I am going to present a Catholic affirmation/understanding of “faith alone”.

From the Vatican approved document, ANNEX TO THE OFFICIAL COMMON STATEMENT, we read:

C) Justification takes place “by grace alone” (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified “apart from works” (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). "Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts“ (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th.II/II 4, 4 ad 3).The working of God’s grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore, we are called to strive (cf. Phil 2:12 ff). “As soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit...” (The Formula of Concord, FC SD II,64f; BSLK 897,37ff). [Document accessed online, 11-05-09 – bold emphasis mine.]

From Joseph Fitzmyer’s commentary on Romans 3:28:

At 3:28 Luther introduced the adv. “only” into his translation of Romans (1522), “alleyn durch den Glauben” (WAusg 7.38); cf. Aus der Bibel 1546, “alleine durch den Glauben” (WAusg, DB 7.39); also 7.3-27 (Pref. to the Epistle). See further his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, of 8 Sept. 1530 (WAusg 30.2 [1909], 627-49; “On Translating: An Open Letter” [LuthW 35.175-202]). Although “alleyn/alleine” finds no corresponding adverb in the Greek text, two of the points that Luther made in his defense of the added adverb were that it was demanded by the context and that sola was used in the theological tradition before him.

Robert Bellarmine listed eight earlier authors who used sola (Disputatio de controversiis: De justificatione 1.25 [Naples: G. Giuliano, 1856], 4.501-3):

Origen, Commentarius in Ep. ad Romanos, cap. 3 (PG 14.952).

Hilary, Commentarius in Matthaeum 8:6 (PL 9.961).

Basil, Hom. de humilitate 20.3 (PG 31.529C).

Ambrosiaster, In Ep. ad Romanos 3.24 (CSEL 81.1.119): “sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei,” through faith alone they have been justified by a gift of God; 4.5 (CSEL 81.1.130).

John Chrysostom, Hom. in Ep. ad Titum 3.3 (PG 62.679 [not in Greek text]).

Cyril of Alexandria, In Joannis Evangelium 10.15.7 (PG 74.368 [but alludes to Jas 2:19]).

Bernard, In Canticum serm. 22.8 (PL 183.881): “solam justificatur per fidem,” is justified by faith alone.

Theophylact, Expositio in ep. ad Galatas 3.12-13 (PG 124.988).

To these eight Lyonnet added two others (Quaestiones, 114-18):

Theodoret, Affectionum curatio 7 (PG 93.100; ed. J. Raeder [Teubner], 189.20-24).

Thomas Aquinas, Expositio in Ep. I ad Timotheum cap. 1, lect. 3 (Parma ed., 13.588): “Non est ergo in eis [moralibus et caeremonialibus legis] spes iustificationis, sed in sola fide, Rom. 3:28: Arbitramur justificari hominem per fidem, sine operibus legis” (Therefore the hope of justification is not found in them [the moral and ceremonial requirements of the law], but in faith alone, Rom 3:28: We consider a human being to be justified by faith, without the works of the law). Cf. In ep. ad Romanos 4.1 (Parma ed., 13.42a): “reputabitur fides eius, scilicet sola sine operibus exterioribus, ad iustitiam”; In ep. ad Galatas 2.4 (Parma ed., 13.397b): “solum ex fide Christi” [Opera 20.437, b41]).

See further:

Theodore of Mopsuestia, In ep. ad Galatas (ed. H. B. Swete), 1.31.15.

Marius Victorinus, In ep. Pauli ad Galatas (ed. A. Locher), ad 2.15-16: “Ipsa enim fides sola iustificationem dat-et sanctificationem” (For faith itself alone gives justification and sanctification); In ep. Pauli Ephesios (ed. A. Locher), ad 2.15: “Sed sola fides in Christum nobis salus est” (But only faith in Christ is salvation for us).

Augustine, De fide et operibus, 22.40 (CSEL 41.84-85): “licet recte dici possit ad solam fidem pertinere dei mandata, si non mortua, sed viva illa intellegatur fides, quae per dilectionem operatur” (Although it can be said that God’s commandments pertain to faith alone, if it is not dead [faith], but rather understood as that live faith, which works through love”).

The phrase also occurs in the writings of Pelagius, Expositio in ep. Romanos 3:28 (ed. A. Souter, 34 [PL 30.663B-C, 692D; PLSup 1.1129]), who argues against sola fides. But his argument shows that the phrase was already current. [Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans - A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary, (New York: Doubleday, 1993) pp. 360-361.]

So, as the above evidence demonstrates, there is a Catholic sense to the phrase “faith alone” (even though the exact phrase itself is not in the Bible); but, on the other hand, there is also a sense to the phrase “not by faith alone” (which IS in the Bible): “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Along with Sacred Scripture, the Catholic Church affirms and embraces both concepts.

Grace and peace,



Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I can only a "liberal traditonalist" that there is indeed two senses: "Faith alone", and "not by faith alone". I will not sacrifice the one for the other. I believe in both as you plainly do too. I thank God for our friendship which seems to be based on truths that give us good reason to hope we might be friends forever! God love you Dave.


Tap said...

yeah there are two different ways of meaning faith alone, those fathers did not have to contend with the specific way "faith alone" was used in the reformation so they were less than careful when expressing their thoughts.

just like Irenaeus other pre-Nicene Fathers, might have been less than careful about their expression of the "dignity" & "Godhood" of the Son because they did't have to deal with the Arian heresy at the time.

It's funny, this just reminded of Athanasius' letter to Serapion, that i read (because of all the brouhaha with TF) he makes a point that we'd all take to heart;

"Do not however consent to give a copy of these to any one, neither transcribe them for yourself (I have signified the same to the Monks also); but as a sincere friend, if anything is wanting in what I have written, ,b>add it,/b>, and immediately send them back to me..."
"...and also to perceive that it is not safe for the writings of a private person to be published (especially if they relate to the highest and chief doctrines), for this reason;—lest what is imperfectly expressed through infirmity or the obscurity of language, do hurt to the reader. For the majority of men do not consider the faith, or the aim of the writer, but either through envy or a spirit of contention, receive what is written as themselves choose, according to an opinion which they have previously formed, and misinterpret it to suit their pleasure."

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Just wanted to let you know that your friendship is much appreciated and cherished from my end…

May God love and bless you are yours too.

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...

Hi Tap,

Your mentioning of St. Athanasius’ letter to Serapion brought to mind THIS THREAD; have had a chance to read it?

Grace and peace,


Tap said...

Just read it, and couldn't stop laughing at this comment:

Now, what TF and Bill Webster want their readers to believe is that Athanasius was instead saying this: “aside from these scriptural utterances, let us also consider some more scriptural utterances"

Keep doing what you are doing.

God Bless

Red Bane said...