Bridging the "Faith Alone" Divide


Catholics and Protestants disagree mightily on the doctrine of justification. However, a closer look at the concepts involved reveals that the two sides are much closer in understanding than the fireworks suggest.

To begin, Catholics accept three theological virtues: faith, hope & charity.

Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us…because he is truth itself. (CCC 1814)

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1817)

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (CCC 1822)

In common Catholic usage, faith is unconditional belief in God, hope is unconditional trust in God, and charity is unconditional love for God.

The Catholic definition of faith (from the Greek, pistis) is derived from the sense found in Romans 14 and James 2; namely, that “faith” means intellectual acceptance of a body of theological beliefs known collectively as “the faith”.

This definition is supported by scripture in three ways: 1) the Romans 14 sense of pistis is the more common one in the New Testament; 2) the New Testament contains more than 40 references to “the faith”, so the connection between pistis and intellectual belief is very strong in this usage, and 3) this view of pistis has the advantage of maintaining the distinction between faith and the other two theological virtues and prevents blurring of their characteristics.

Viewing the definitions given above, one will note the similarities between the Catholic virtue of hope and the common Protestant definition of faith; that is, an unconditional trust in Jesus Christ and reliance on the Holy Spirit instead of on one’s own strength. At the same time, Protestants should have no problem accepting the idea that faith—as they define it—must also contain the intellectual assent to God that Catholics call faith since they should agree that a person with saving faith must believe whatever God says. Thus, the Protestant idea of faith includes what Catholics call faith (intellectual assent) and what Catholics call hope (trust in God).

Further, if a Protestant accepts the idea that saving faith is that which works in love (charity) as expressed in Galatians 5:6, then the Protestant and Catholic positions are equivalent. The reason is that a faith which works by charity produces acts of love. But a faith that produces acts of love is a faith that must include the virtue of charity since the virtue of charity is the thing that enables us to perform acts of love in the first place. Thus, the Protestant idea of faith includes what Catholics call charity.

Putting this all together, we see the following:

Protestant idea of faith = Catholic idea of faith + Catholic idea of hope + Catholic idea of charity

From this formula, we can see that Catholics rightly reject the idea that one can be justified by intellectual belief only. So do Protestants. Misunderstandings occur when Catholics reject justification by “faith alone” according to their definition of faith while Protestants cling firmly to this doctrine according to their definition of faith.

Therefore, if Catholics and Protestants come to a mutual understanding of one another’s terminology and the definitions of these terms, they can also agree on what does and does not constitute the faith needed for justification. Justification by Faith Alone (or sola fide) does not need to be a bitterly divisive issue separating Catholics and Protestants.

*Adapted from “*Justification: By “Faith Alone”?” by James Akin.


You still have a process vs. event differential that is significant.


Fine. I will work on that. :slight_smile:

What about the rest of what I wrote?


Process= Totality of Scripture

Event = Romans 10:9


Faith comes by hearing.

We hear His Word of Love.

Love is heard by faith.

His love contains all that we need to be saved: power of the Gospel, light, kindness, patience, not rudeness, peacefulness, endurance, sobriety, chastity, truthfullness, wisdom, gifts of the Holy Spirit, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and all the other needed gifts.

When we accept or believe His love, then that faith can save us.

Love is the greatest.

Love is first.

Love is in charge of faith.

It is His love that is in charge of faith (Rom. 5: 5).

His love saves us.

His love uses faith, hope and all of the above mentioned.



Virtue has nothing to do with salvation.
And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Matthew 9:11-13
Catholics are fond of talking about virtue and virtues. I was curious so I searched for “virtue” in the ESV version of the Bible. A grand total of one hit came up.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
2 Peter 1:5
Virtue is a supplement to faith. Knowledge is a supplement to a supplement.


theological virtue
*–noun *one of the three graces: faith, hope, or charity, infused into the human intellect and will by a special grace of God.

Still have an issue with this?

Faith. Hope. Charity. Given by a special grace of God.

What’s to argue with? :shrug:


Doesn’t God give us the grace to have the faith and to do His works? I would answer yes, therefore the works we are doing are a gift from God and not of ourselves, lest we boast and that we were created for and God prepared in advance for us to do good works, all because of His gift of grace to us.
Eph 2:8-10
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them."

Randy’s example from Jimmy Akin is correct.
The Protestant idea of faith = Catholic idea of faith + Catholic idea of hope + Catholic idea of charity


Whether a Catholic will condemn the idea of justification by faith alone depends on what sense the term “faith” is being used in. If it is being used to refer to unformed faith then a Catholic rejects the idea of justification by faith alone (which is the point James is making in James 2:19, as every non-antinomian Evangelical agrees; one is not justified by intellectual belief alone).
However, if the term “faith” is being used to refer to faith formed by charity then the Catholic does not have to condemn the idea of justification by faith alone. In fact, in traditional works of Catholic theology, one regularly encounters the statement that formed faith is justifying faith. If one has formed faith, one is justified. Period.
A Catholic would thus reject the idea of justification sola fide informi but wholeheartedly embrace the idea of justification sola fide formata. Adding the word “formed” to clarify the nature of the faith in “sola fide” renders the doctrine completely acceptable to a Catholic.


In common Catholic usage, faith is unconditional belief in God, hope is unconditional trust in God, and charity is unconditional love for God.

Faith, Hope, and Charity (Belief, trust, and love for God) are infused into the human intellect by grace.

Protestant idea of faith = Catholic idea of faith + Catholic idea of hope + Catholic idea of charity

From this formula, we can see that Catholics rightly reject the idea that one can be justified by intellectual belief only.

OK, we are justified by the Faith, Hope, and Charity (Belief, trust, and Love for God) that is infused into the human intellect by grace.

Alright now… is that it? Are we done talking about salvation, or is there another shoe to drop?


That’s the article I condensed.

Good eye. :thumbsup:


Heh…given the battles that have gone on for 500 years on the doctrine of sola fide, you make it sound like no big deal to resolve this issue. :yawn:


So I was reading this article very thoughtfully. It all sounded pretty reasonable. Then I got to this line at the end.

Without going into the subject of what kind of justification is being discussed here…

My honest reaction was: cr*p! What a waste of time.

What kind of justification? Without going into what kind of justification we are discussing, the rest of the article is pointless. I could almost agree with the rest of the article, but I’m pretty sure justification doesn’t mean what Mr. Akin thinks it means.

Any links that explains what kind of justification Mr. Akin was talking about?


What is interesting about you posting this article is the what the result has been to such claims.

If any Catholics here believe the conclusion of this piece, they would forever cease to rail against Sola Fide and non-Catholic Christains for holding it.

If it is basically the same as the RCC teaches, then where do Catholics get off in attacking others for clinging to Church teaching?

Will Catholics here on CA and offline now stop attacking Sola Fide?

Nope. Just look at a few of the resent threads.

No Catholics really believe Jimmy, it seems to me.



What is this tremendous anger you have towards Catholics?? You hang out here an awful lot. Should I go to protestant forums and badger them with my 2000 years of ammunition??



Your questions here are insightful, and I would like to address them.

Catholics must resist the slogan "faith alone’ for several reasons.

  1. It is not Biblical. James 2:24 shows this in no uncertain terms.
  2. It is devisive. Even the intramural squabbles among non-Catholics over antinomianism shows that “faith alone” is problematic.
  3. It is confusing. And here, I hope you’ll indulge me as Mr. Akin addresses this point better than I could:

Why, then, do Catholics not use the formula faith alone in everyday discourse? There are two reasons:

First, whenever a theological tradition is developing, it must decide which way key terms are going to be used or there will be hopeless confusion. For example, during the early centuries it was decided that in connection with Jesus identity the term God would be used as a noun rather than as a proper name for the Father. This enables us to say, Jesus is God and be understood.

If the term “God” were used as a proper name for the Father in this regard, we would have to say, Jesus is not God. Obviously, the Church could not have people running around saying Jesus is God and Jesus is not God, though both would be perfectly consistent with the Trinity depending on how the term “God” is being used (i.e., as a noun or a proper name for the Father). Hopeless confusion (and charges of heresy, and bloodbaths) would have resulted in the early centuries if the Church did not specify the meaning of the term God when used in this context.

Of course, the Bible uses the term “God” in both senses, but to avoid confusion (and heretical misunderstandings on the part of the faithful, who could incline to either Arianism or Modalism if they misread the word “God” in the above statements) it later became necessary to adopt one usage over the other when discussing the identity of Jesus.

A similar phenomenon occurs in connection with the word “faith”. Evangelical leaders know this by personal experience since they have to continually fight against antinomian understandings of the term faith (and the corresponding antinomian evangelistic practices and false conversions that result). Because faith is such a key term, it is necessary that each theological school have a fixed usage of it in practice, even though there is more than one use of the term in the Bible. Evangelical leaders, in response to the antinomianism that has washed over the American church scene in the last hundred and fifty years, are attempting to impose a uniform usage to the term faith in their community to prevent these problems. (And may they have good luck in this, by the way.)

This leads me to why Catholics do not use the formula faith alone. Given the different usages of the term faith in the Bible, the early Church had to decide which meaning would be treated as normative. Would it be the Galatians 5 sense or the Romans 14/James 2 sense? The Church opted for the latter.

Consequently, Catholics will not in common practice use the term “Faith Alone” though we can agree with it when properly undestood.

It is incumbent upon those Protestants who cling to that slogan so dearly to recognize the problems described above and to abandon their attempts to teach a biblical concept in language that is itself unbiblical.

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


Well, I don’t think it is a waste of time, in that Jimmy Akin makes the point that all Christians believe that faith, hope and charity [love] in Christ are necessary components to receive eternal life, save the antinomiams; of which there are some on this forum.
If one accepts “faith” as a verb, which includes hope and charity then faith alone isn’t a problem. During the reformation sola fide was being touted as merely mental assent being enough to justify without having to act upon that faith (antinomianism); that’s what Trent condemned and what most Christians today do also.

As far as justification is concerned, that is problematic between Catholics and some Protestants. As I’m sure you know Catholics believe justification is a process, begining with
initial justification (baptism for most) and which procedes throughout ones life that as one is faithful to Christ, one is justified and sanctified in a process with which one must endure to the end in order to receive salvation.

Any links that explains what kind of justification Mr. Akin was talking about?

Here is one written by Jimmy Akin which addresses the similarities between the Lutherans and Catholics, but it doesn’t water down the differences between the two groups and shows the Catholic postition. I just skimmed it and will try to read it sometime soon. :slight_smile:



You must understand that justified in James 2 is different from “justified” in Romans…I have shown this in several postings now…

1344 δικαιόω [dikaioo /dik·ah·yo·o/] v. From 1342; TDNT 2:211; TDNTA 168; GK 1467; 40 occurrences; AV translates as “justify” 37 times, “be freed” once, “be righteous” once, and “justifier” once. 1 to render righteous or such he ought to be. **2 to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered. **


3 to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be.
Again…this is a past event in the life of a Christian…

Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Romans 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

1Co 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, **but you were justified **in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Romans 6:7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

This ties in with Romans 7:1-6 where is shows that we became dead to the law…it no longer has jurisdiction over us…we are no longer under its curse/penalty…no longer “in our sins” as this text suggests…

1Corinthians 15:17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

You are either in your sins…or not in your sins as this suggests. And one who has died to the law is no longer in their sins.

And those whom he justified, he glorified…

Romans 8:30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

By the way - Paul recognized there would be issue with antinomianism due to “faith alone”…

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!

The fact that he made such statements only strengthens our position.

Have a great day!


What dictionary did you use to get that definition of justification?

God Bless,


The best way to explain salvation is through sacramentality. The world is sacramental. In other words, in my daily life I have the chance to encounter God. This is because creation is good. God created and it was good.

The past and the future are irrelevant. You can almost say that they are non-existant. The past is unchangable and it is really unobservable. The future may not even come. Therefore, as Jean Pierre de Caussade said, abandone the past to Gods measureless mercy and the future to His loving providence. Do not worry about what the future holds simply do what is right now and let God worry about your future. As Christ said, ‘Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things [the needs of life] shall be yours. Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow for tomorrow shall be anxious for itself. Let the days own troubles be sufficient for the day.[Matt.6]’ What matters is this moment. This is the definition of faith. Faith is the trust that God will provide the strength and what is necessary for salvation. It is also the trust that He forgives those who love Him.

In this moment you have the ability to encounter God(this is the essence of a sacrament). As Christ said in Matt.25, ‘what you did unto the least of my brethren you did unto me.’ You encounter God in the things of creation, in other people, and especially the liturgy of the Church(the Mass). When we encounter God we are to act with love. By imitating Christ we become lights as Christ was the light. As He said, ‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill can not be hid, nor do men light a lamp and set it under a bushel but on a stand. Let your light so shine that men might see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.[Matt.5]’ As part of Gods creation you are a sacrament of His salvation. When you encounter others you are a sign of Gods presence to them.

Salvation is a process of being made like Christ through our participation in the sacramentality of life. That requires our participation. We have faith that God will provide us with the strength to do His will and we simply conform ourselves to His will. In this moment I have to do what is Gods will for me. If I don’t then I am sinning. Ephesians2;8-10 is the perfect verse to explain this.8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Works have been prepared for us in advance. This does not say that we were preordained to salvation. What it says is that God established that we would suffer these pains or be put in this position to do good that we might participate in the sacrament of life, the sacrament of Gods presence(Grace). We approach the sacrament of life with faith. We then simply do what we are called to do. As the council of Tent says, faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification.’ It is our encounter with God’s Grace(God’s presence) that we recieve salvation.

But James tells us that faith without works is dead and that a man is justified by his works and not by faith alone[James2]. Faith requires a man to participate in the sacrament of life. You can encounter a foretaste of communion with God in this life, but it can only be done if we submit ourselves to the will of God.

So is it faith alone or is it faith and works? It is Grace alone, or the presence of God alone, as Paul indicates. But faith and works are so intertwined that you can not seperate them. You can not say it is faith alone because God requires our acceptance of His will.

This is my interpretation of the scriptures for faith and works. You obviously need to include the doctrine of deification.

If you want to learn about the idea of the world as sacrament read about the spirituality of the early Syrian Christians(St. Ephrem is one of them). This is the spirituality of the Maronite Catholics. Alexander Schmemann, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, approached theology from the perspective of the sacramentality of the world. ‘For the Life of The World’ was a great book that gives this perspective. There is also a Malankara Catholic priest named Mathai Kadavil who wrote a book about the sacramentality of the world according to the perspectives of the west and east and ancient Syrian Christianity.

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