Why say "Sola Fide"?

I have had a few discussions about faith with non Catholics on this forum, and I have found that all who I have discussed this with have meant by “faith” essentially what I mean (as a Catholic) by “faith, hope, and love.” So I have been wondering, why say faith alone can save us instead of saying faith, hope, and love? I have noticed misunderstanding about this even on the part of those who say only faith. It seems to imply that intellectual assent alone is sufficient for salvation. @JonNC and @Hodos might be interested in this.

Defining faith as intellectual assent alone would be where the Roman Catholic apologist is attacking a straw man, either purposefully or in ignorance. When you read the Reformers’ own writings I think you will find that they do not imply that faith is defined by intellectual assent alone.

When you read the Augsburg Confession’s article on Justification for example:

“Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by his death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Romans 3 and 4).”

As you can see here, the Reformers are not advocating for an intellectual knowledge only but a fearful trust in Christ, that apart from him, we cannot of our own strength be counted as righteous before God. Knowing that Christ died for our sins, and putting our trust solely in his hands as he has promised are two different things.

The Reformers however did not believe this was a justification for licentiousness as is often alleged.

“Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.”

So while we agree that works are necessary for one to live out his vocation in the Christian life, we do not conflate sanctification with justification before God. We also don’t ascribe justification to our effort.


It is really impossible to have an argument with a Protestant on sola fide or sola scriptura without knowing exactly what tradition of Protestantism they come from. Those two things are the backbone of Protestantism however the reality is some groups like High Church Anglicans or Lutherans are probably closer to the Catholic Church in theology than they are to some others in the broader Protestant community. There is no single Protestant theology.


I have already agreed that what you mean by faith is similar to what I mean by the supernatural virtues. However, I think that faith implies mere intellectual assent, not the supernatural virtues. My question could be restated as: wouldn’t it be more clear to speak of the supernatural virtues instead of faith?

I think if you go back to the supernatural virtues as you call them, you will find that Paul is discussing these in the context of the members of the body of Christ working with one another for orderly worship. It is not using it in the sense of describing justification. So in my opinion, no, I think that would actually make the doctrine of justification less clear instead of more clear.

The basis of our justification is faith alone in Christ. Our own merit cannot justify us. It is in that sense that faith is “alone.” However, in totality of salvation, faith is never alone. If we have been truly regenerated–made a new living creation in Christ Jesus- then we cannot live a life without love and charity. It is impossible.


Gotta have excuses to say the Cathlicks are wrong.

(Yes, I mean that.)

From my experience, by faith, you mean faith hope and love. An intellectual assent is not enough, and that is what faith alone seems to imply.

With my understanding of your view, one must have faith in Christ, hope in your salvation, and love of Him for justification. How is saying that less clear than saying we are justified by faith alone? That implies intellectual assent alone.

I agree. I do not define having faith in Christ as “intellectual assent”. To me, intellectual assent would be the following:

  • Praying a sinner’s prayer with no internal faith or repentance

  • Affirming a creed, confession or doctrinal statement with no internal faith or repentance

  • Joining a church with no internal faith or repentance

  • Believing that God and the Bible makes sense but having no internal faith or repentance

  • Following the ten commandments and other religious rules out of a feeling of obligation but with no internal faith or repentance

Faith, on the other hand, is this:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Alister McGrath writes about 3 important points regarding Martin Luther’s definition of faith:

These three points are: 1. Faith has a personal, rather than a purely historical, reference. 2. Faith concerns trust in the promises of God. 3. Faith unites the believer to Christ.

McGrath, Alister E… Historical Theology (p. 156). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

In regards, to the first point McGrath writes:

First, faith is not simply historical knowledge. Luther argues that a faith which is content to believe in the historical reliability of the Gospels is not a faith which justifies. Sinners are perfectly capable of trusting in the historical details of the Gospels; but these facts of themselves are not adequate for true Christian faith. Saving faith concerns believing and trusting that Christ was born pro nobis – born for us personally – and has accomplished for us the work of salvation.

McGrath, Alister E… Historical Theology (p. 156). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


Because I don’t think that is what Paul is getting at in that passage. Paul has a specific issue that he is speaking to in the passage where you are pulling Faith, Hope, and Love as a triad, and it does not appear that you are using the terms in the same way. I find that confusing. But if that’s how you want to describe justification, that’s your prerogative. It just seems you are trying to pound a couple puzzle pieces that have different pictures on them together, if that makes sense.

So your view of justification is faith as in intellectual assent alone? I am having a hard time seeing where you are coming from here.

Just to clarify here, this is what I believe to be necessary for justification, at least in extraordinary circumstances.

  1. The will and the intellect must assent to the deposit of truth that God has revealed to them because He has revealed it to them. This is what I call faith.
  2. The will and the intellect must see the Beatific Vision (Heaven) as desirable, difficult to reach, and possible to reach. This I call hope.
  3. The will must will what it believes God wishes, because He wishes it. This I name love.
    Do you agree with this?

I believe that faith in Christ is necessary for justification. Faith includes hope (“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for”). Faith unites us to Christ, so by faith we receive all that Christ has. He is full of grace and life and love, and through faith so are we–not merely rhetorically. We become like him in truth.

It is still possible to have faith and hope, but not love. I was once a living example of that.

No, it isn’t. Not in the historic Protestant conception of faith. To use an oceanic analogy, faith is not about believing that a ship exists; it is about getting inside the ship and entrusting ourselves to it. If we only believe that Jesus exists but do not entrust ourselves into his care, then we neither have faith, nor hope nor love.

Faith, hope and love are all connected. You really can’t have one without the other. They are not sold separately. Romans 5:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

So why say faith alone? Faith is very often interpreted as just intellectual assent. Why not allow faith to take it’s implied usage and just say faith, hope, and love? It’s much more clear.

God does all the work needed for salvation. We simply receive it by faith. Yes, there is a real change that occurs, but this is because we are receiving the benefits of Christ in our lives and are being conformed to his image.

… hope and love. Faith implies intellectual assent, which is why we only use it to say intellectual assent. I am not trying to make a doctrinal point here; I am just suggesting a change of terminology for greater clarity.

And yet it has theological implications. There is a reason that Luther and the other Reformers latched on to sola fide terminology because they were explicitly rejecting a Roman Catholic theology that they saw as one built on human works (I’m not trying to debate 16th Century Catholic theology and how it is or isn’t different today; just stating what was the obvious beef that Protestants had with Catholic teaching at the time).

If we were to say that justification is based on love, then we were to open the possibility of trying to perform works of charity in order to merit justification, which is the exact opposite of Protestant teaching. We love others not because we seek merit or reward or because we want to be saved but because Christ loved us. Loving others or attempting to love others simply because you feel obligated by divine commandment and fear divine punishment is not love and it is not justifying.

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