Beware of the Solists! (or) It’s Not Good to Be Alone

There are a lot of “Solos” sung by our Protestant brethren: Sola Fide (saved by faith alone); Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone is the rule of faith); sola gratia(grace works alone). (See the Protestant Logo to the right). Generally one ought to be suspicious and careful of claims that things work alone. It is our usual experience that things work together in harmony with other things and are interrelated. Very seldom is anyone or anything alone.

The problem of the “solos” emerges, it seems to me, in our minds where it is possible to separate things out. But the fact is, just because we can separate out something in our mind does not mean that we can separate it in reality. Consider a candle flame for a moment. In my mind I can separate the heat of the flame from the Light of the flame. But in reality I could never take  a knife and put the heat over to one side and the light off to the other. In reality the heat and light are inseparable, so together as to be one.

I would like to respectfully argue that it is the same withthings like faith and works, grace and transformation, Scripture and the Church. We can separate all these things out in our mind but in reality they are one. Attempts to separate them from what they belong to lead to grave distortions and to the thing in question no longer being what it is claimed to be. Rather it turns into an abstraction that exists only on a blackboard or in the mind of a (geeky) theologian.

Let’s look at the three main “solos” of Protestant theology. I am aware that there are non-Catholic readers of this blog so please understand that my objections are made in respect . I am also aware that in a short blog I may oversimplify an thus welcome additions, clarifications etc. in the comments.

Solo 1: Faith alone (sola fide).For 400 years Catholics and Protestants have debated the question of faith and works. In this matter we must avoid a caricature of one another’s positions. Catholics do not and never have taught that we were saved by works. For heaven’s sake we baptize infants! We fought off the Pelagians. But neither do Protestants mean by “faith” a purely intellectual acceptance of the existence of God as many Catholics think they do.

But what concerns us here is the detachmentof faith from works as the phrase “Faith alone” implies. So let me ask, What is faith without works? Can you point to it? Is it visible? Introduce me to someone who has real faithbut no works. I don’t think they can be found. About the only example I can think of is a baptized infant! But oops, that’s a Catholic thing!  🙂  (Pardon me for having some fun). Hence it seems that faith alone is something of an abstraction. It is something that we can separate from works only in our minds but not in reality. If faith is a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ it seems we cannot remain unchanged by our entering into that relationship with him. This change affects our behavior, our works. Even in the case of infants it is possible to argue that they are changed and do have “works” it’s just that we cannot easily observe them. Scripture affirms that faith is never alone, that such a concept is an abstraction.  Faith without works is dead (James 2:26) It is not really faith at all since faith does not exist by itself  but is always present with and causes works through love. Galatians 5:6 says: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. Hence faith works not alone, but through love. Further as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:2 if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. Hence faith alone is a null set, it is nothing in that it does not exist. True faith is never alone, it bears the fruit of love and works of holiness. Faith ignites love and works through it. Beware the solo  “faith alone” and ask where faith, all by itself can be found.

Solo 2: Grace alone (sola gratia). As for grace alone, this too is a puzzling claim since grace by its very nature changes us. Again, show me grace apart from works. That is an abstraction. It cannot be found apart from its effects. In our mind it may exist as an idea but in reality it is never alone. Grace builds on nature and transforms it. It engages the person who responds to its urges and gifts. If grace is real it will have it’s effects and cannot be found alone or apart from works. It cannot be found  apart from a real flesh and blood human who is manifesting its effects.

Solo 3: Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) – Finally beware the soloists who say Sola Scriptura! Namely the claim that Scripture alone is the measure of faith and the sole authority for the Christian. There are several problems with this.

  1. First, Scripture as we know it (with the full New Testament) was not fully assembled and agreed upon until the 4th Century and it was Catholic Bishops in union with the Pope who made the decision as to what books belonged in the Bible. The early Christians could not possibly live by sola scriptura.
  2. Secondly, until recently most people could not read. Kind of strange that God would make a book the sole rule of faith. Even today large numbers of people in the world still cannot read well.
  3. Thirdly, and most importantly, if all you have is a book,  that book still needs to be interpreted accurately. Without a valid and recognized interpreter the book can well serve to divide more than unite. It this not the experience of Protestantism which now has tens of thousands of denominations all claiming to read the same Bible but interpreting it in rather different manners? The problem is if no one is Pope everyone is Pope!  Protestantism claims that everyone alone with a Bible and the Holy Spirit can authentically interpret Scripture. Well then why does the Holy Spirit tell some that baptism is necessary for salvation and to others no.  Why the Holy Spirit tell some that the Eucharist really is Christ body and blood and others only a symbol? Why does the Holy Spirit say to some Protestants “Once saved always saved” and to others, “No” ?? So it seems clear that Scripture is not meant to be alone. Scripture itself says this in 2 Peter 3:16 our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, Our Brother Paul speaking of these things [the Last things] as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. Hence Scripture warns that it is quite possible to mis-interpret Scripture. Well then, were is the truth to be found? The Scriptures once again answer this: you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15) Hence Scriptures are not to be read alone. They are a document of the Lord through the Church and must be read in the context of the Church and with the Church’s authoritative interpretation and Tradition. As this quote says, The CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The Bible is a Church book and not meant to be read apart from the Church that received the authority to publish it from God.  Scripture is the most authoritative and precious document of the Church but it emanates from the Church’s Tradition and must be understood in the light of it. Further, faith is not alone but works through love, grace is not alone but builds on nature.

Thus the problems of singing solo seems to come down to the fact that we end up with an abstraction. Something that exists in the mind but in reality cannot be found alone. Thus to gloss on a famous passage from Genesis:

It is not good (or even possible) for grace or faith to be alone. It is not good for Scripture to be alone. I, (the Lord) will make a suitable partner for the grace of faith: works. I will make a suitable partner for the Scriptures: the Church. That is why the grace of faith leaves it’s Father and clings to its wife and the two of them becme one. That is why Scripture leaves its Father and joins itself to the Church and the two of them become one.

Ok it’s a little corny. But I couldn’t resist. In end, Beware the solos, it is not good to be alone!

Here is a brief video where Fr. Robert Barron ponders the Protestant point of view that every baptized Christian has the right to authoritatively interpret the Word of God.

34 Replies to “Beware of the Solists! (or) It’s Not Good to Be Alone”

  1. “Hence Scriptures are not to be read alone. They are a document of the Lord through the Church and must be read in the context of the Church and with the Church’s authoritative interpretation and Tradition. As this quote says, The CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The Bible is a Church book and not meant to be read apart from the Church that received the authority to publish it from God.”

    As Catholics we can agree on these matters. However, from an ecumenical perspective it is our responsibility to engage Christians of other denominations. I think it is possible to overstate the case. For instance, there is no magisterial playbook for each and every passage in Scripture. We have magisterial pronouncements on errors, and occasional commentary on scripture. But legitimate scriptural interpretation is by no means pre-circumscribed by the church.

    It is theoretically possible for a non Catholic to interpret scripture in a manner entirely consistent with the Magisterium. From that perspective, we need to be careful how we present the argument. The freedom to interpret scripture is very broad. Only when there is doubt do we rely on the Magisterium or consult with Tradition.

  2. 1. On “sola fide,” I seem to recall that Martin Luther wanted to remove the letter of James from the Bible for its statement that “faith without works is useless” (James 2:20).

    2. I have an interesting theory that “sola scriptura” is the underlying reason why a lot of evangelical protestants are so vehemently opposed to the theory of evolution. If scripture is to be taken literally (and not as the product of humans who, though divinely inspired, were still humans), to deny the literal truth of scripture is tantamount to denying God’s existence. Needless to say, we Catholics do not have this problem, because our faith can also look to reason and tradition as well as written scripture for justification and for dealing with the new and unknown. We need not sacrifice them to serve God. And He probably wouldn’t want us to, anyway! (Anthropologist Steven Jay Gould, despite the fact that he was an atheist, wrote a very thought provoking piece on the subject. He died a few years ago, and I hope he found his answers.)

    1. 1. Yes you are correct Luther did want it and several other NT Books. But friends prevailed upon him and he recanted. But he always called James “an epistle of Straw”
      2. It is true that we as Catholics do not read the Genesis accounts of creation so literally that they cannot support an evolutionary theory. However I think the evolution debate is more complicated than just scripture. I for example have serious scientific reasons for doubting the theory as currently proposed. My doubts have little to do with scripture. There are some others who oppose it for a combination of reasons. At any rate I see your point, that it is much more important to insist on the literal meaning of texts in the sola scriptura world.

  3. Regarding the Magisterium —

    It bears noting that the Magisterium has authority, but it does not have absolute authority, that is to say, it does not have the authority to arbitrarily interpret scripture or otherwise arbitrarily make pronouncements in areas of the faith or morality, it does not have the authority to dictate “policy” (as the media often describes it), nor to impose opinions on people. The Magisterium cannot simply make it up. Rather, the non-Catholic should take comfort in knowing that the Magisterium is necessarily bound by truth in love. That is why you will hear the Pope and others occasionally say, not that the Church “will not” change this or that teaching, but that she “cannot” change it. The truth is the truth, and the Magisterium is powerless to alter truth. The Pope is, after all, Peter the Rock. And whether the teachings of the Church, including the interpretation of scripture by the Magisterium, is consistent with such truth, that is, reason, is readily apparent to anyone who investigates the matter.

    Could someone, Catholic or non-Catholic, by recourse to reason, come to the same conclusions as the Magisterium? Of course they could, but the Magisterium has the added benefit of being aided by the Holy Spirit — the Paraclete, Spirit of Truth — in addition to the practical reality that they are learned experts in the field.

      1. I believe Thomas Aquinas said that what can be known by reason is not a matter of faith. He did, however, concede that each of us has a different capacity for reason, and what is a matter of faith for one person may not be for another.

  4. In regards to Sola Fide, most people quote the Epistles to counter the theory, but our Lord Jesus gave us perhaps the most definitive smack-down of Faith Alone in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

    Further, in Matthew 25:34-46 Jesus describes how works of faith (feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, etc.) will bring favor in judgment and failure to perform these works will bring eternal punishment.

    From the mouth of God himself: not one’s faith alone, but faith alive in one’s works.

      1. From the mouth of God himself

        Now Jim, you’re not playing fair. 😉

        Seriously though, here is another example of why the advocates of “sola scriptura” really do not believe it themselves. Not only Jim’s example, but also as with the Bread of Life discourse, rather than read such passages literally, some will try to downplay the actual words and try to interpret them to mean something other than their plain meaning.

        If you truly believe, if you truly have faith, you will have it, not merely in your head and on your lips, but in the entirety of your being. Such true faith will necessarily inform your actions. Such true faith means not only believing in Love, but doing love. Believing means doing, otherwise, you don’t really and truly believe.

        Jesus instructed that all of the faith comes down to this — You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, will all your mind, with all your strength, and you shall love one another as Jesus loves us. Love is an action, not merely a belief.

      2. I say this with all the greatest love for our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ —

        Luther and the other reformers did have some legitimate concerns. But too much of what they proclaimed (pontificated on?) stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding and misreading of Church doctrine. Were some in the hierarchy less than perfectly holy, yes, but much of what the reformers were protesting about simply did not exist. They were protesting and seeking to reform a charicature of the Church and Catholic theology, not the real thing.

        The whole faith versus works dispute is a perfect example of this. A more modern example would be the protest against the Church’s “worship of Mary.” Now that is a totally nonsensical dispute because the Church DOES NOT worship Mary.

        Therefore, as for arguing against Luther, et al., it is rather difficult for the everyday Catholic to do so because we do not subscribe to or believe the many things that the reformers accuse us of, and we never have. The usual everyday Catholic response to such a challenge is “Huh?? What are you talking about?” Indeed, it is as if the two (or more) sides are speaking different languages. Even when we agree on the same thing, we don’t know it because we are not speaking the same language.

  5. The Catholic Church teaches that there are seven corporal works of mercy which are: 1. To feed the hungry; 2. Give drink to the thristy; 3. Clothe the naked; 4. House the homeless; 5. Visit the sick; 6. Visit the imprisioned; 7. Bury the dead. See: Catechism of the Catholic Church at Paragraph 2447. The footnotes reference Matt. 25: 31-36; parable of the Goats and the Sheep. Protestant’s claim to Justification by faith alone on radio and tv shows reference Rom. 3:28; 4:5; 7:7, and Ephesians 2:8-9. It is wise to remember “text taken out of context, is pretext.” It is false and truth cannot contridict truth. Other citations to good works include, but not limited to the following: Rom: 2.6-11; 6:16; 8:1-14; Phill. 2:12-13, and James 2:20-26. A good analogy that faith alone doesn’t work is “marriage.” Marriage requires faith, love, and good works such as sacrifice, charity, and obedience. Martin Luther is God’s Outlaw and heritic. He removed many other Catholic teachings such as the notion that mass is a sacrifice, the intercession of Saints, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the perpetual virginity of Blessed Virgin Mary.

  6. As you have stated above, “please understand that my objections are made in respect.” My objections to your blog are also made in respect. Two questions: 1) Just wondering about your goal for this blog — are you trying to build “unity” among all Christians (as Jesus Christ our Savior prayed for), or a you trying to maintain and increase the chasm between Catholics and Protestants? 2) In your point #3, you mention: “Protestantism which now has tens of thousands of denominations.” I find it interesting that is considered “division” among non-Catholic churches, but when speaking about the differences of Catholic churches it is called “diversity.” Can you please explain this? Thank you.

    There are currently 23 sui juris churches that make up the Catholic Church. They include:
    1. Latin Catholic church
    2. Coptic Catholic church
    3. Ethiopian Catholic church
    4. Maronite church
    5. Syriac (Syrian) Catholic church
    6. Syro-Malankara Catholic church
    7. Armenian Catholic church
    8. Chaldean Catholic church
    9. Syro-Malabar church
    10. Albanian Greek Catholic church
    11. Belarusian Greek Catholic church
    12. Bulgarian Greek Catholic church
    13. Byzantine church of the Eparchy of Krizevci
    14. Greek Byzantine Catholic church
    15. Hungarian Greek Catholic church
    16. Italo-Albanian Catholic church
    17. Macedonian Greek Catholic church
    18. Melkite Greek Catholic church
    19. Romanian church United with Rome
    20. Russian Catholic church
    21. Ruthenian Catholic church
    22. Slovak Greek Catholic Church
    23. Ukrainian Greek Catholic church

    There are primarily six different rites within the Catholic church (with many variations within the different churches). They are:
    1. Alexandrian
    2. Antiochian
    3. Armenian
    4. Byzantine
    5. Chaldean
    6. Latin
    So one might ask themselves: why all the diversity? How did it happen that the Catholic Church has so many churches and rites? Why isn’t there just one church and one rite for all Catholics?

    1. Yes and add to this list some of the variations of te Western rite to include the Extraordinary form and the neocatechumenal provision. There are also rites that pertain to orders, there is also an Ambrosian rite etc etc. Now all this is differnt that having seperate churches since all the uniates acknowldege the Pope as Supreme Pontiff (Bridge Builder), and hold Catholic Doctrine. Ubi Petrus, Ibi ecclesia. Diversity in liturgy emerges from local culture and custom and the Church acknowledges the legtimacy of it within limits. I suppose the most basic answer as the why you ask is that since the Church is catholic (universal) and ancient she has acquired a rich diversity accorss space and time

  7. Just to ‘try’ to clarify for myself anyway, the fact that I referred to Aristotle’s God as an ‘abstraction’. I place this in perspective of your blog today, in a re-emphasis on the truth being The Living Truth, as Jesus said I am the Truth. When you speak about the Living Truth the same context would seem to apply. I may have my own interpretation, (within my own lights for scripture and what I read here) but I must make that distinction that my reason is thus limited to my finite perspective. It is always work for me, to look for a complementary support or denial, i.e. an authority, that can set my opinion into the broader context which would apply to others as well. I think it ‘justified’, for instance that I can take God’s wrath as my blaming God for my demerits. This would be acknowledging my situation of being an Eve within the Garden. But were I to extend this thesis, (as for instance attributing to God the ‘good’ that he gives me through his love), I would end up ‘creating’ or ‘defining’ what God IS from (as has been the criticism by Marx, etc.) my perspective alone, that is as a projection of myself. I would be Designing God, again. Perhaps it is this that can happen in the interpretation of scripture from an individual perspective. Thus the referee, (and I love Fr. Barron’s analogy) sets the individual within the game, so to speak, and a kind of ‘true evolution’ of human understanding of scripture through a rational appropriation of even the abstract truths, within the Living Truth of the Whole. This gets closer to my mind of the meaning of Logos, than that associated with what can be understood as mere abstract, or logical truth. Trust I am making some sense here. Just trying to ‘understand’. Thank you. (Is the Word considered the ‘same’ as Logos? – The Word is made Flesh, for instance. Does the Greek philosophic term ‘logos’ admit of such an event? Just wondering!) (In need of a referee!!!)

  8. If you want to look at a relationship with the Lord in terms of a relationship with a human being (as many people try to), some protestant ideas just don’t work for me. For example, Justification by Faith alone. Isn’t part of being in a relationship being considerate and trying to please the other? I don’t know that I can call someone a friend who knows something bothers me but does it anyway. Given this belief, as explained to me by a Lutheran minister, Jesus already died for my sins, even those I haven’t committed yet, and I am going to Heaven just for simply believing So, why bother being good? It’s like saying,” I love you and I know this bothers you, but I think it okay, so, sorry but I love you”. I also have an issue with the bible as the sole authority. I compare it to any modern writing like text messaging. Did you ever receive a text message and not understand what the person meant by it? Instead of asking, you try to figure it out for yourself, end up thinking they are being insulting, get all upset just to find out later it’s not what they meant at all. Same with the bible. So many passages make us uncomfortable. Naturally, we don’t like feeling uncomfortable so we find our own meaning, one WE are comfortable with. When it comes to Grace, I am even more baffled. In my opinion, receiving God’s grace is a gift. In a relationship we give a gift to show our appreciation for the consideration and affection one shows toward us. They don’t just say it, they show it through kindness and other gestures. This, in turn, grows our faith and devotion (atleast it has for me). In order to receive God’s grace don’t we have to show our affection for him? The only way I know of is by following his commandments and trying to live according to his word. I guess what I am saying is, many of the protestant beliefs seem to establish a very one sided relationship with our Lord. WE will decide what God means in the scripture etc. If I ever told someone, “We are friends but you do all the work and I’ll just say I love you”, I don’t know that I would call that a relationship. Furthermore, a relationship where we interpret some of God’s words and actions according to our own level of understanding, as it seems in the Protestant churches, removes the supernatural aspects of our Faith. We can not fathom the full extent of God’s love, mercy and understanding. To try to define it in only human or natural terms is, in my opinion, an insult to the glory of God. For example, I love the concept of transubstantiation (the belief that the wine and bread physically become the body and blood of Christ while still maintaining the look of bread and wine as opposed to the Protestant belief of consubstantiation where it is both). The sacred mysteries reinforce my faith in knowing that there is more to life than just this world. And sometimes, after a rough day, it’s that belief alone that helps me go on. Maybe I am being too somplistic or literal or maybe I wasn’t listening to the right Minister, but it just seems too easy a concept. For all of the peace, happiness, mercy and glory God shows us in this world and that which awaits in heaven, I feel like we should work a little harder. Father, feel free to correct me. Although, I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church, I find it fascinating to study and understand the beliefs of other. God Bless.

    1. Thank you Brian. Kennedy once said – Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. If I apply that ‘conception’ to my relation with ‘God’, perhaps it will get me out of the ‘Designer God’ – ‘Eve in the Garden’ – contradiction.

    2. I think you are gnerally right here. I would only take issue with one sentence in your comment: “In order to receive God’s grace don’t we have to show our affection for him?” The fact is that grace is freely offered through no merit of ours. The offer does not come because we deserve it any way. The human part of the equation comes by freely accepting what is offered. (Though even this acceptance is aided by Grace). Let’s say my arms are full of groceries and you offer me $10,000 cash for no good reason. But order to receive your free gift I have to put down the groceries and reach our and take the cash. But again, the bottom line is that the offer of grace is made freely by God through no merit of ours.

      1. Thank you Father. It was through the grace of God, in the form of suffering as I realize now, that he offered me his grace meaning the chance to turn to him. Is this correct?

  9. “Without a valid and recognized interpreter the book can well serve to divide more than unite.” And, that is exactly what has happened, particularly since the Reformation.

  10. OK, so how do you explain Annulment? When I read the Old Testament on the subject of marriage, I only see two people making a promise to each other and God respecting that as a marriage. Interestingly, Moses – alone (kind of solo Moses-o, the church-o), introduced a way out; he called it divorce. Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, the only reference to breaking the engagement to be married (even with Joseph deciding to break the engagement to Mary) was called divorce. No reference to annulment breaking the marriage was written in the Bible. The only use of the word annulment was when Jesus was pointing out that the OT priests used their tradition to nullify (annul) the scriptures. His point was clearly that using tradition to nullify scripture is wrong and the insinuation was that he will not support it. When I read writings of the early fathers of the church, I do not see them allowing divorce or annulment. And when I read about King Henry VIII, asking for an annulment from the queen because he didn’t get to pick her for his wife, I read the Pope said NO annulments.

    I realize this caused quite a problem for the church since Henry started his own church, but shouldn’t we have stayed true to the entire Old Testament definition, the definition Jesus used, and the faith that was passed down by tradition as far as the 1500s? What happened here? I want to believe it’s OK only because I want to believe the one and only church is readily and easily visible. I want to be completely confident in my faith. Where do I get the evidence that supports Annulment?

    1. Ah Henry, the anulment thing again. I am sympathetic with you as to the high numbers of annulments. The Pope thinks so too. It remains a significant pastoral problem for the Church since SO many people are in irregular situations today. I often have half my RCIA folks in need of some canonical remedy. One approach is just to turn tham away at the door and say, “Sorry, you can’t become a Catholic, even though your first marriage ended 20 years ago and your current marriage is 15 years old and stable, and even though it was a major conversion that brought you to our door. Sorry, that ill fated marriage when you were young and stupid means you can never enter the church, unless you divorce your current wife and leave your three children or agree to stop having sex.” So you see there are real people who struggle with this stuff. It isn’t just a theoretical or doctrinal matter it is pastoral one too. So what to do. The usual apporach is to file for an annulment. Now annulment as a concept is not antithetical to Scripture as you say for Jesus said, What GOD has joined together no one may divide.” Now just because two people stand before a JP or even a priest an exchange vows does not always mean it is an act of God. There are certain criteria necessary for the Church to conclude that this is a valid sacramental marriage. Maturity, freedom and due discretion are not always easy to guage. I think we too easily conclude that they weren’t present today so I am sympathetic with your concern. But the Church has the obligation to determine if the marriage in question was “What God has joined together” or not. Doctrinally the Lord Jesus has declared bound whatever God has bound. SO the question is, did God bind here? If not, we are not dealing with a true marriage and the person is free to marry. It isn’t unbiblical per se. Granted, it requires a pastoral judgement which is not always a scientific thing. Requisite maturity, due discretion and freedom cannot be measured in a test tube. So, perhaps we are too lenient today, I am sympathetic to this observation but Annulment is not per se unbiblical .

  11. Just to clarify again, because I think that I’m going to get in trouble with you. “I am that I am” is not to my mind an abstraction. “I am the truth” said by Jesus counters to my mind Pilate’s conception of a truth, which to my humble interpretation would be truth as abstraction. “What is truth”, says Pilate, a total skeptic with regards to ‘linguistic’ truth, possibly, I ‘feel’. So that’s why I believe that we have to believe. That is why, my understanding, we have to bear witness to the Truth, in preference to ‘proving’ the logical and linguistic basis of truth. I’m solo in my readings,(and possibly solo on this Blog) but I do believe, that with respect to God, I am neither a skeptic, nor am I a solipsist, not am I solo. That’s the best I can do. Thank you.

  12. As to Faith, when I am teaching our Catholic Scripture Study classes I use the phrase that “Faith is Grace actualized”. Meaning that Faith simply is not something one owns, it is something one does. Faith is cooperation in God’s free gift of Grace and indeed is a grace itself. It is the answer one gives to the Call from God. The Call is the grace; hearing is the intellect/reason; getting up and moving, eg. Abraham and Jacob, is Faith. So it seems to me that no matter how one looks at it Faith is a movement of the person towards God, movement that by definition is Work. A weak analogy would be that Grace is like Jesus driving a Cable Car and comes up next to you and calls out “hop on, I’m going where you really want to be, and this is the only ride there. So come on, it’s free.” You either belive (Faith) him or not, the proof of that is wether or not you climb aboard.

    As to scripture; it seems to me that our non-Catholic Christian brethren base their beliefs on what I call “Chapter and Verse Theology”. What this does is fracture the otherwise cohesive truth of the scriptures. They seem to spend too much time holding the minutest of details under a magnifying glass and making great proclimations as to the character of God, and neglecting the greater beauty of the entirety of the Word of God. I see the Catholic belief as a “Whole Word” theology, which simply uses all the graces that God has placed at our use. The revealed Word is so much more than the reletivly few written words in the Sacred writings. Sacred is the key word here, for the written, lived and teaching aspects of the Whole Word are only True when guided by the Holy Spirit. That is our belief as Catholics, that God spoke the world into existence in the begining and hasn’t stopped speaking since. That divine voice is constant and true in His Bride the Church. The whole sola-scriptura thing has never made sense to me. It seems to bear against the natural (read God made) ways that all humans learn and live. I think that this unnatural reality is what has caused so much division in protestism.
    Thank you Father for your blog.

    1. Good insights. Martin Luther thought it was enough to insist on the “plain meaning” of the text. But evidently the meaning isn’t always so plain as is witnesseed by the many breakups over interpretation.

      1. On Sola Scriptura and “the Word of God” —

        As Mark in Cali says, it appears that those adhere to a strict sola scriptura approach have a constricted and limited conception of what the Word of God is.

        There is, of course, the Bible, the written scriptures — which, at root, is really only inanimate ink on paper. Then there is the real Word of God — the Living Word Incarnate, through whom all things were made. To limit one’s self to the former conception of the Word, and thereby see the Faith as merely something to be believed and/or proclaimed, is to limit oneself to inanimate things. But properly understood, the Word is Living — ours is a Living Faith, it is a faith that is lived, i.e. a faith put into action, i.e. “works.”

        Unlike Islam, where it is held that a golden Koran is in heaven with Allah, there is no need for the ink and paper that make up the Bible to be in physically heaven — the Word Himself is there. And He is not a static Word, concerned merely with matters of belief, He is a dynamic Word, a Word of action.

        Sola scriptura? Sure, if what you mean by that is solely by the true fullness of the Word. Sola fide? Sure, if what you mean by that is, the fullness of the Word, a Living Word, a Living Faith, a faith that does, a faith that acts, a faith that works, not the least of which was the “work” that is the work of salvation — the Cross — in which we are all called to participate.

        It is not enough to stand by the side of the road saying “Go, Jesus!” as He passes by. Rather, we are all Simon — we must all pick up His Cross and engage in the work of salvation with Him. He has done a great deal of the work, but He ain’t going to do it all by Himself. He asks for our help. If Mary and Joseph had said to Jesus in the manger, “we believe,” and done nothing beyond that, if they had done no “works” like feeding Him, clothing Him, etc. salvation would have died in the crib. Mere assertions of belief are no faith at all. True authentic faith is alive, it is active. It is love and truth in action.

  13. I enjoyed this post, Monsignor. I do however have one slight objection, or maybe it’s just something in need of clarification. When you discuss the development of the canon of Scripture, you say the following:
    “Scripture as we know it (with the full New Testament) was not fully assembled and agreed upon until the 4th Century and it was Catholic Bishops in union with the Pope who made the decision as to what books belonged in the Bible. The early Christians could not possibly live by sola scriptura.”
    While I agree with your conclusion, your claim that it was Catholic Bishops in union with the Pope who made the decision is, in my opinion, a bit of an oversimplification of the history of the development of the canon. The development of the canon was more organic and less of a top-down, Rome-centered event. Also, your use of the term Catholic Bishops fails to mention the Eastern Churches and their bishops. Now I know that we Catholics were one with the Orthodox then, but the use of the term is a bit misleading. Thoughts?

    1. Granted “Catholic Bishops” may come off as awkward. What would you suggest as a substitute?

      Also, I do not disagre as to the organic nature of the discussion. However, at some point when agreement could not be reached as to a final agreed upon Canon the the Bishops had to step in and make a final decision along with Rome’s approval.

      1. I see your point about the bishops stepping in and finalizing the Canon. And I think that the term Eastern and Western Bishops would be a healthy substitute. Thanks for the reply, though. It is much appreciated.

  14. Monsignor–I enjoyed reading your blog on this subject as well as the several responses. As a ‘reformed catholic’ (having joined Luther’s reformation several hundred years late after being baptized Roman Catholic–but not confirmed), I have some interest in these issues.

    I think your statement in the ‘Sola Fide’ section sums it up best: “we must avoid a caricature of one another’s positions.” Indeed, this is most certainly true; however, I believe that some of your categorizations of Protestant beliefs approached such a caricature. Being only a lay person in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), I will try my best to address some of the issues I had with your exposition.

    The solas should be studied in concert with one another (at least by my understanding). Salvation comes from faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus) by Grace alone (sola Gratia) as revealed in Scripture alone (sola Scriptura).

    Faith in Christ is paramount in our salvation. This requirement is acknowledged by Catholics as well as Protestants. Mark 16:16 says succinctly: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” The requirement for salvation is belief (faith)–by the way, infant baptism is not just a “Catholic thing,” Father! 😉 Now, the discussion will move to what is faith and whether faith without works is true faith. While I agree that “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:26), Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Further, Romans 3 seems to set out that our works cannot provide salvation for us, for our works fall short on every occasion to meet God’s expectation. Romans 3:20 states, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Our works are nothing. Galatians 3 also declares that works are not a path to salvation. That said, having recieved faith (by Grace alone–more later), we are compelled to works–and even this is a gift of the Spirit. The works come as a reaction to the free gift of faith in our lives.

    Sola Gratia–our faith in Christ is by Grace alone. God’s free gift to His bride the catholic (small ‘c’) Church is given to us by Grace. It is His divine and sovereign right to give this. I do not think we have much disagreement on this one–your section on this was very short (I assume because it is a foundational belief for Roman Catholics as well). John 1:17 states, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Further, Peter says in Acts 15:7-11 that God makes His choices, sends His Spirit and causes people to believe. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 also states, ” But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (by the way, notice that the work is the Spirit’s–not man’s).

    Finally, Sola Scriptura–your first point, I believe, is moot. Although the Canon was not assembled before the 4th Century, all the component parts were there. The second point is an interesting one, and one that I have to agree with to a point. There certainly was a need for a unified Church in our history when illiteracy was the norm…but it is a fallacy to believe that even then there was a unified Church. Even the Bible points to contention between Peter, Paul, Barnabas, et al. leading to the Council of Jerusalem. Among Luther’s problems with the Roman church was that the Magisterium and sacred traditions had left behind (in some cases) the first source. With the invention of the printing press, the Holy Scripture could be read and understood. With this, of course, came problems. We, as sinful creatures, cannot and do not fully comprehend God, nor His Word (and as a man, I would say, neither does the Pope, nor his antecedents). Does the Book need interpretation? Yes, indeed–in many places I will agree that it does; however, is one human interpretation better than another? How do we measure this? By going to the Word itself to clarify and educate. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The concept of sola Scriptura only asks that one examine tradition, doctrine, interpretation, etc. against the touchstone of the Bible.

    I am afraid I may have gone on too long…but as I said, I have a great deal of interest in this. It has always been my prayer that God’s Church be united; however, I am not sure that is possible as long as sin exists in the world.

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