'Dead Faith'

As many of the apologists and posters on CA are well aware, the seemingly never-ending debate with Protestants concerning ‘Faith Alone’ and ‘Works’ seems to be as acute now as it was when highlighted in the 15th century.

What I’d like to know is; beyond the debate of justification taking place in theory and argument, what would non-salvific ‘Faith Alone’ look like? It seems to me that unless concrete examples are given so that other Christians can relate to what St. James warns about no quarter will be given in this debate.

It is on this forum. This forum is not exactly representative of the wider world. That’s one reason I find it fascinating–there are lots of people here who care about stuff I care about but which is considered irrelevant by many people “out there in the real world.”

What I’d like to know is; beyond the debate of justification taking place in theory and argument, what would non-salvific ‘Faith Alone’ look like? It seems to me that unless concrete examples are given so that other Christians can relate to what St. James warns about no quarter will be given in this debate.

It would look, for instance, like those Italian bandits well known to 19th-century Protestant propaganda (but also mentioned by Newman, I think), who wore images of the Virgin around their necks while committing murder and robbery.

Or like the woman in the 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder who swears to her husband on a Rosary that she was raped (rather than consenting to commit adultery), and when questioned as to why she would care about Catholicism when she is divorced and remarried she answers, “My faith is very important to me.”

In other words, in Catholicism as I understand it acceptance of Church teaching, reverence for holy things, etc., is considered to be a sign of genuine faith that is a gift of God. It won’t save as long as it isn’t formed by charity, but it forms the foundation and starting point, a bridge that God’s grace can use to bring believing sinners to repentance.

In Protestantism, on the other hand, at least in its evangelical forms, such “faith” is not considered real faith at all, and is likely to be seen as hypocrisy (as is implicit in the question put to the woman in the movie I cited).


Hence one of the reasons for the split right? The only way I know to respond to this, is simply to use plain old logic. Lip service is just that, lip service. Those who argue faith alone is sufficient are simply fooling themselves. It is like saying “I love you” and never showing it in actions.

Really and truly, taking the leap of faith in this argument is the very same as taking a leap of action or works. It is very simple. Walk the walk… everything else is simply hot air. Think of working “good works” as faith too.

This is the difference. Clinging to words and ideas with no action or physical repentance is just clinging to print on a page with hollow intent. Period. It is up to them in the end to accept this. It is up to them to get off their duff and get into action. The End.

John gives an example of what faith alone looks like:

*If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? 17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. * John 2

Dear OP, as John’s example shows, this person with faith alone has no love. Love is what is in question here.

And as Jesus showed us, Love is sacrifice. Love is not just a thought, it is an act of sacrifice for the benefit of God and his creation.

So, by your own description, you are forming your understanding of Catholicism based on what criminals do in fictional movies, rather than say for example taking a look at The Little Sisters of the Poor.


You asked:

what would non-salvific ‘Faith Alone’ look like?

Fortunately St. Paul and the CCC tell us.

1st CORINTHIANS 13:2b-3, 13 2 and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. . . . 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And here is what St. Paul DOESN’T say . . . .

NOT 1st CORINTHIANS (Phantom Verse) 2 and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am still justified anyway. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain heaven because I am justified by faith alone. . . . 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is faith so it fits into a man-made doctrine of sola fide.

The point is, they may LOOK quite alike on the outside.

But obedience to God’s commandments factors into the situation.

That’s WHY the very first and the very last time St. Paul uses the word “faith” in Romans, he talks about “the OBEDIENCE of faith” (Romans 1:5 & Romans 16:26).

Jesus says the same thing: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15 and John 15:10)

Some will object saying: “I do good works because of my faith!”

And that is great. But you better be doing them because of charity too. If you aren’t, . . . if supernatural charity does NOT reside within you . . . you are “nothing” and you GAIN “nothing” either.

CCC 1853c . . . in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.

“Charity is the form, mover, mother, and root of all the virtues.” - St. Thomas Aquinas

Faith, hope, and charity are supernatural (above the senses) graces. Grace escapes our experience. The CCC discusses this concept too . . .

**CCC 2005 ** Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.56 However, according to the Lord’s words "Thus you will know them by their fruits"57 - reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

[INDENT]A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: "Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.’"58 [/INDENT]

I hope this helps.

God bless.


It’s epitomized by St James by demons who know there’s a God but still don’t care. An example for humans is given in Hebrews 6:
4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6and who have fallenc away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.**

As well as the Parable of the Sower in Matt 13 or the lessons of branches that were grafted in but later cut off in John 15 and Romans 11.

From a Lutheran perspective, Luther says this in his commentary on Galatians, responding to 5:6.

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.

Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, “In Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing,” i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, “If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing,” is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.

And our confessions comment further:

  1. Accordingly, we also believe, teach, and confess that when it is said: The regenerate do good works from a free spirit, this is not to be understood as though it is at the option of the regenerate man to do or to forbear doing good when he wishes, and that he can nevertheless retain faith if he intentionally perseveres in sins.


You’re arguing against a straw man.

Protestants (insofar as one can generalize–certainly this is true of all the major Reformers and all the major Protestant traditions) did not believe that a faith that exists without works saves. There’s a reason why the term sola fide is ablative: “by faith alone.” It’s about the instrumentality of faith. Love and good works do not contribute to justification in classic Protestant theology, but true faith will always go along with love and will always produce good works.

Until you understand this, you can’t communicate effectively with Protestants. You are in the same boat as a Protestant who asks Catholics, “Why do you think Mary is greater than Jesus?”

The question is actually the other way round: Catholics, not Protestants, believe that true faith can exist without love and good works. Neither Catholics nor Protestants believe that such a faith saves. But Catholics believe that it is real faith, a gift from God that needs to be formed by love in order to be salvific. Protestants believe that it’s just another opinion. (You may be able to find some modern Protestants, especially Baptists, who believe otherwise, but they are far from representative.)


Well, the woman wasn’t a criminal, but you are missing my point. I am giving examples of dead faith. I would expect that most of the Little Sisters of the Poor have living faith, although there may be some whose piety is just legalism. But I wouldn’t go to them for an obvious example of dead faith.

Probably I chose poor examples, but I was going for colorful and dramatic ones.

How about “a respectable Catholic who goes to daily Mass and thinks that this makes him/her better than everyone else–a person whose religion is about pride rather than about love?”

Again, this is not my picture of Catholicism–it’s my answer to the question of what non-salvific faith looks like in Catholicism.

I’m picking Catholic examples only because a clear example of dead faith needs to be someone who accepts everything the Church teaches.


Thanks for the clarification. I did miss your point. :o This internet forum thing makes it hard to ‘see’ when someone is being clever, or sarcastic, or being the devil’s advocate, etc. There’s no face to read, except for these silly little things: :whacky:

In all your examples (those bad ones you gave first :rolleyes:) and the new ones :dancing: which are much better, we see that in all cases, what is lacking is love. :heart:

Frankenfurter, what I think you are still missing is that I gave those “bad” examples because they are the sorts of examples Protestants typically give.

What you may not realize is that many Protestants, particularly those from a Wesleyan background, object to Catholicism not because people care too much about holiness but because in their view most Catholics “live like the devil all week and then go to confession” (this is more or less a quote from my wife’s grandfather, a Protestant seminary president in the Wesleyan tradition–it’s also the sort of thing I heard my grandmother say about Catholics).


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.