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Faith is not alone, Scripture is not alone, Grace is not alone. We ought not separate what God has joined.

January 15, 2015 52 Comments

011515There 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), and sola gratia (grace 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 many things work together in harmony, that things 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 something out in our mind does not mean that we can separate it out in reality.

Consider, for a moment, a candle flame. In my mind, I can separate the heat of the flame from its light. But in reality, I could never take a knife and put the heat over on one side and the light on the other. In reality, the heat and light are inseparable, so together as to be one.

I would like to argue respectfully that it is the same with things 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 becomes 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 with respect. I am also aware that in a short blog I may oversimplify, and thus I 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 each avoid a caricature of the other’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 detachment of faith from works that 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 faith but no works. I don’t think one can be found. About the only example I can think of is a baptized infant! But, oops, that’s a Catholic thing, since most Baptists and Evangelicals who sing the solos reject infant baptism.

Hence it seems that faith alone is something of an abstraction. Faith 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 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 abstractionFaith without works is dead (James 2:26). Faith without works 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 the null set. True faith is never alone; it bears the fruit of love and the works of holiness. Faith ignites love and works through it. Beware of 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 puzzle, since grace by its very nature changes us. Again, show me grace apart from works. Grace without works is an abstraction. Grace cannot be found apart from its effects. In our mind it may exist as an idea, but in reality grace 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 its 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 those who say, “sola Scriptura”! This is the claim that Scripture alone is the measure of faith and the sole authority for the Christian, that there is no need for a Church and no authority in the Church, that there is only authority in the Scripture. There are several problems with this.

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 which books belonged in the Bible. The early Christians could not possibly have lived by sola scriptura since the Scriptures were not even fully written in the earliest years. And though collected and largely completed in written form by 100 AD, the set of books and letters that actually made up the New Testament was only agreed upon by the 4th Century.

Second, until recently most people could not read. Given this, it seems kind of strange that God would make, as the sole rule of faith, a book that people had to read on their own. Even today, large numbers of people in the world cannot read well. Hence Scripture was not a read text per se, but rather one that most people heard and experienced in and with the Church through her preaching, liturgy, art, architecture, stained glass, passion plays, and so forth.

Third, and most important, if all you have is a book, then that book needs to be interpreted accurately. Without a valid and recognized interpreter, the book can serve to divide more than to unite. Is 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 then everyone is Pope!  Protestant “soloists” claim that anyone, alone with a Bible and the Holy Spirit, can authentically interpret Scripture. Well then, why does the Holy Spirit tell some people that baptism is necessary for salvation and others that it is not necessary? Why does the Holy Spirit tell some that the Eucharist really is Christ’s body and blood and others that it is 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 itself warns that it is quite possible to misinterpret Scripture.

Well then, where 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 passage says, The CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of truth. The Bible is a Church book and is not meant to be read apart from the Church that received the authority to publish it from God Himself.  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. And grace is not alone but builds on nature.

Thus the problems of “singing solo” seem to boil down to the fact that if we separate what God has joined, we end up with an abstraction, something that exists only in the mind (but in reality cannot be found alone).

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

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Comments (52)

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  1. A. Martin says:

    Msgr., my direct experience with the Protestants leads me to a different conclusion. Your arguments are absolutely true but that is simply not their motivation. Protestantism offers a real close community formed on a common belief (Jesus) that is adaptable to the wants and needs of man. They, in their minds, are justified without the consequence of sin. Underneath their surface “solos” is a profound premise that man is so humanly flawed that they can never earn Divine Salvation (Total Depravity); therefore, God must simply accept them by their belief in Him alone. They perceive they have Heaven insurance. Now that, Msgr., is heart of the matter.

    • Repent and Believe the Gospel! says:

      “Once saved always saved” theology.
      Just believe in Jesus and that’s it? Nothing more to be done?

      Good analysis Msgr.. Good analysis A. Martin!
      Maybe we need to look at these verses (below). Here is summary of what we need to do:

      “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to EVERY MAN according to his WORKS. [13] I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. [14] Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb [BAPTISM & CONFESSION]: that they may have a right to the Tree of Life [HOLY EUCHARIST], and may enter in by the gates into the city. [15] Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and unchaste, and murderers, and servers of idols, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie.” – Revelation 22:12-15

      But, But, But, But…How can we eat from the Tree of Life? Do we have a Time Machine to go back into the Garden of Eden?

      No, we don’t have a Time Machine…..that means the Tree of Life has been restored!

      For without the Tree of the Cross, there is no redemption, the gates of heaven will not open, and there is no resurrection. The Tree of the Cross is The Tree of Life.

      “The fruit of the Just Man is a Tree of Life: and he that gaineth souls, is wise.” – Proverbs 11:30

      So who is this JUST MAN?

      “Now, the centurion [at the foot of the Tree of the Cross], seeing what was done, glorified God, saying: Indeed this was a Just Man.” – Luke 23:47

      You know where to find me…..I solved the Rubik’s Cube!

  2. David F says:

    This one is truly brilliant.

  3. Greg Krehbiel says:

    Respectfully, Monsignor, you’re missing the point. The Protestant formulation is that we are justified by faith alone, but that faith is never alone.

    It comes down to what Protestants mean when they use the word “justify.” They mean “declare righteous,” where Catholics mean that, but also mean “make righteous,” which Protestants would put under the label of sanctification.

    So is it just wrangling over words? I say no. I say that it comes down to this question — on what does God’s favor towards you depend? Does it depend entirely on his grace, and you are merely receiving it, or does it depend of something inside of you?

    Faith is the sole instrument of justification (the Protestant says) because faith is the way you receive a gift. You’re not trusting in anything inside yourself. Everything you depend on for your standing with God is what God has done for you.

    Protestants are very suspicious of the Catholic view because it makes the believer look inside himself for his trust in his justification. “God is pleased with me because of something in me — grace in me, or works I have done, etc.” The Reformers insist that believers look to what Christ has done, and to that alone. Not that justifying faith is ever alone, but that faith is the way we receive what Christ has a done.

    • But does this not still beg the question that I have raised: Is faith ever alone? I am appealing to something we used to call reality (before the Cartesian revolution) and asking with James “show me faith without works” He intellectually conceives of such a concept and then calls it “dead” IOW it does not exist at all. So how can some one be saved by something that does not exist at all? I don’t disagree with the fact that God’s favor does not depend on my works or something already inside of me.

      I also suppose that Catholic and Protestant theologians could sit in a room and make enough distinctions and hold dozens of things equal and eventually say, in some very restricted sense we all agree and sola fide can be understood in a Catholic sense too. But the work necessary and the inability for average people in the pew to understand all the restrictions, distinctions, qualifications etc returns me to my main point that using the word “alone” (sola) is a bad idea and that most (average) people use it in a way that is inaccurate and divides what cannot be divided.

      So, as my article sets forth there is more than soteriology on the table here. Sola fide has fueled the whole faith/works debate too (for the reasons stated and more). So I don’t think we can isolate the phrase as merely a soteriological matter, as I think you do in your response. The notion of faith “alone” extends well beyond the moment of “justification” in the average Protestant mind, at least the ones I have heard.

      So again my fundamental question, Is faith ever alone? I think Scripture raises the possibility of “faith alone” (in James) only to dismiss it, calling it dead (in effect non-existent) to which I would add, an intellectualization, an abstraction. IOW Scripture does not consider faith alone an adequate formulation and that really should end the discussion. Of course it does not, but to my mind it should and I think sola (alone) is a word to avoid, is an overreaction to perceived Catholic excesses, in the end a far too-sweeping assertion. Even if one carves out a specific context (highly theologized) of the soteriological moment of justification (as I think you are doing), the wider conversation of faith/works shows that the concept doesn’t stay in that isolated stovepipe but bursts forth into flawed notions of faith without works which scripture plainly rejects. No wonder that scripture dismisses the notion as an inadequate formulation, and I would add unwise.

    • A. Martin says:

      Well said, Msgr. and Greg,

      The only place the Protestant community can go is to a “all purpose call” by God on Faith. If you accept this premise, it creates a real need to redefine exactly who is the “elect”. I think they are forced to replace good works with a receptiveness to the Scriptures. Doing this covers it all, leaving the Bible free for personal interpretation. Ironically, in doing so, they have created a rule for the rule less.

      I have a hard time seeing where they are going in this contradiction.

    • Michael B Rooke says:

      Luther inserted ‘ allein ‘ – ‘alone’ into Romans 3 :28. Faith alone came from Luther.

  4. Martin Gerber says:

    I believe, as a Catholic, that we are saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ lived out in Charity. It might be a simple formula, but I think it is correct.

    So many Cathoics see themselves as going to Heaven because thay visit hospitals, help at the soup kitchen, etc. They have a list of works. They usually never mention Christ or Grace. It is a combo that work together. Ultimitely, it is God’s decision.

  5. David F says:

    I like the the analogy of the car: faith is the engine: crucial and central. However I still need a transmission to go anywhere. I think the concepts of harmony and inseparable unity are reflected most fundamentally in the Trinity itself. Not that I understand God that well, but what we do know is that it’s easy to look to only one of the 3 Divine Persons and neglect the other two. Yet their divine harmony is beautiful, mysterious (in the way you mean in your earlier post) , and at the root of all God’s great works.

    Love your site, love your words and thank you for for blogging.

  6. Historian says:

    An addition to your list: Sola 3a: WHICH book do you follow? There are now over 1000 different “bibles” in circulation. There are a number of versions of Catholic “bibles,” hundreds of versions of Protestant “bibles”, and still more holy books that are sort of a bible (Urantia Book, for example, or the Gospel of Mary Magdelene). Where you stand depends much on what you read….

  7. Iacomus says:

    Well done. The logo in the picture is self contradictory unless its creator believes Word, faith and grace are one and the same. As to ‘Word alone’, the Holy Spirit, speaking through our first pope says “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20). I’ve always wondered how our separated brethren reconcile this or if it, too, is simply set aside.

  8. Timothy says:

    I would also point out 2 other passages in regards to Sola Scriptura. 2 Thess 2:15 says to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

    By either oral Tradition OR by the written word. It still seems odd that our Protestant brothers don’t acknowledge that the good news HAD to have been passed on orally for decades if not centuries. And most of humanity was illiterate for most of the Church’s history. Is it any coincidence that when people began reading Scripture, they were soon misreading it? The Reformation and its adherents come only 80 years after the Gutenberg press in 1439 and the beginning of widespread literacy.

    Second, I is the story of the Ethiopian in Acts 8 who is trying to read and understand Scripture on his own to no avail. Acts 8:30-31 “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” Even Scripture tells us we need the Church–here represented by one of the 12 Apostles– to help explain Scripture.

  9. Clyde S. Dale says:

    I try not to overthink these things. It seems so simple to me. Have faith. Pray. Do good works so we are placed among the sheep and not the goats. Forgive and be merciful. Welcome others. Slide over to make room in the pew for the latecomer and give them a smile. Participate fervently in the sacraments. Am I on track here?

  10. one anonymous says:

    Our Faith is no Faith unless it manifests itself in the deeds of Love that flow forth from that very Faith. Faith without Love is dead and so too works without Love is also dead. Jesus is Love and our very Faith IS Jesus in us. And Jesus in us Loves and the result of His Love are deeds of compassion. Without Jesus in us there is no work of Love. Without Jesus in us there is no Love in our work. But it is all there in Scripture, I am not making this up,

    Do our works count for something, of course, because after all they are not our works but the works of Jesus Christ in us. And do the workers get paid? Oh yes! They are paid by the Master, even the eleventh hour workers they are paid the same wage according to God’s generosity, yes, according to HIS Good Will! But who can be paid who is not willing to work? How can God be generous to us? It is not hard, without Jesus Christ in us we are nothing, we have no Faith. The evidence of Christ in us is HIS Love which can do nothing else but Love others, in kindness, compassion, forgiveness, prayers and Truth told in sincerity…. all that IS the Love of Jesus Christ for us also.

    • one anonymous says:

      Am I wrong? Tell me. In Truth and Love please show me.

      • RLM says:

        That is perfectly correct. Our works are Christ’s work in us and therefore count. They are not separated into ‘our works’ versus ‘Christ’s works’ but are one.

        • one anonymous says:

          Thank you so much RLM!! I comment fairly often but rarely get a reply so I wanted to thank you (and I would certainly thank you whether you agreed with me or not!!). I hope it is not going on too much to go into more detail on my comment. I wanted to add that Christ comes to dwell in us who are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” not to consume us, not to overtake but instead to complete us. In our union with Christ we are One even as He and the Father are One, we are complete in fellowship, in union with God, just as He has always intended. Separated from God by sin, we yearn for this union and Jesus has brought us to Himself that we may be united with Him and the Father, no longer separated by sin and death. Thank you Lord!!

          1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

  11. Dan Gallup says:

    Greg, you are entirely accurate in your description of modern Evangelical theology on justification. And now a question for you: If we are justified by faith alone, but that faith is never alone, then how is that not a Catholic understanding? Your answer: protestants argue justification is a “declaration of righteousness.” Declared by whom? By God of course. So now God declaring something to be true. If this is nothing more than a legal fiction, then God is lying. If God is telling the truth, then faith, which is never alone, is the basis upon which God declares the believer righteous.

    Now, according to your analysis, which correctly describes Evangelical thought, faith is the instrumental cause of justification. But this faith is never alone. Now let us discuss how it is possible that one is justified by faith alone but faith is never alone? What is such an entity?

    I have asked this question for years, and have never received a coherent reply, even from my protestant seminary professors. You answer, “faith is the way you receive a gift.” WHY did you receive that gift? is this not the work of GRACE in the soul? And if is the work of GRACE in the soul, then it is clear why faith alone is a chimera. Your reply, now, it is the “way” you receive the gift. OK, what “way” are we talking about that does not presuppose 1. the Grace of God active in the soul? and 2. Human cooperation with that grace?

    And if it is the Grace of God operative in the soul, then the justification, this “declaration of righteousness,” is a declaration of God’s work in the believer with the consent of the believer. And GRACE changes a man, and makes him a new creature.

    You object: “you’re not trusting in anything inside yourself.” Well and good, but then how is one saved? Does one wake up one morning and find oneself saved? That is not the experience of any protestant I know. Moved by grace, a person makes a faith commitment. Greg, that depends on “something inside of you” but it is not something that can in any way be a basis for boasting. And that is good Catholic theology. Any works which could be a grounds for boasting are legalistic. I do this and God is obligated to do this for me, as an employer pays and employee. Faith working through love is the obedience a patient shows a doctor in following the prescription to get well. Works are involved, but not in any legalistic sense. The patient, though obedient to the doctor, is dependent upon the doctor to get well.

    So there is a bottom line: justification, what you consider means “declare righteous,” is also a chimera, if by such a declaration God is not creating a new creature. God does not declare something to be true that is in any way a legal fiction ( I am well aware of the doctrine if the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon the believer). or a fiction in any other sense.When God speaks, His work is done. And it is done in the soul of the believer with the believer’s cooperation. So to declare righteousness, and to make righteousness in the end is a distinction useful in polemics but nowhere else.

    May I end by saying your comment on Catholics looking inside themselves “for his trust in his justification” is poorly stated. Proper self-examination is an important principle in the spiritual life and is thoroughly scriptural. What you really mean is “assurance of salvation,” which is an important topic but best left for another time. If all is of Grace, the Catholic looks to God for his salvation, but knows that the best evidence of the genuineness one’s salvation is the operation of a good conscience, brotherly love, and, yes, keeping the commandments. The entire book of I john was written to make this very point: We know we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. It is not inconsistent to say all depends on Grace, but also upon human cooperation with Grace. And that is a good Catholic proposition, and thoroughly Biblical.

    • RLM says:

      Excellent.

    • Shane Leslie Mattison says:

      Then you are calling St Paul in his great treatise of Justification a liar, and to do that is a crime against the Gospel Doctrine of God. It is not enough as Catholics to repeat ad nauseum st james when he makes one or two tiny statements about how sincerity is judged and then to ignore entirely St Paul’s whole foundation of the Gospel Doctrine of God in Galatians – and Romans particularly. To do this is a crime against the Gospel Doctrine of God. “You that would be justified by works, do ye not know that you are obligated to obey the whole Law?” “For it is by grace through faith that ye are saved, not of works lest any man should boast.” Its high time we stop acting medievally by saying like a spoiled child that we are right and Protestants are wrong. Meanwhile they are giving the glory entirely to God, but often we are not – certainly not by quoting James and yet violating the whole tenor of St Paul’s Gospel Doctrine, which is to him, “another gospel” which is not THE good news at all. I would much rather hear the story of unification with the Orthodox by admitting that we have often made the Pope into a kind of idol. When Innocent III declared pompously that he was ‘Emperor of the Universe’ THAT was a major problem not only with Protestants but with the Orthodox as well. Let’s just stop this, “we are right and Protestants are wrong” childishness.

  12. C Beltz says:

    I’m glad I’m Catholic, because I would make a terrible Protestant. Catholicism is easy and natural to me. I see the logic in it and that brings me peace. I like that there are three “solas” working together as one. Like a trinity. Hmmmm

  13. Daniel T says:

    One of the things that is very important to keep the Protestant “perspective” is to deny Free Will. That a person cannot even chose to be a Christian – or to not be one. That the sovereignty of God is completely at work. The human element is completely nonexistant. It is hard to overstate this point.
    One of Luther’s most famous works was titled “Bondage of the Will.” In this book he argued against the Catholic position (as defended by Erasmus) and against the position of St. Augustine and the other church fathers. Therefore, a consistent Protestant will deny even the ability to assist – that it is rather more a death to life that God has done at some time in the past. That a dead person cannot assist in his own resurrection.
    Of course the idea that there is no free will is what becomes absurd – but I believe that this is a vitally important part of the discussion – are we free to live for (or reject) Christ? Or are we bound to one or the other?

    Great article Monsignor – and great discussion. Thank you!

  14. Richard Connell says:

    As James go on to say, even the devils in hell have faith: James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is only one God; that is well enough, but then, so do the devils, and the devils shrink from him in terror.”

    There have been serial killers that have gone around killing people based on their lone understanding of the bible. What is the Protestant basis for condemning their heinous crimes?

    Oh, also, that quote from 2 Peter, 2 Peter 3:16, is important for another reason, in that St. Peter describes the letters of St. Paul as part of scripture. That was a powerful confirmation by St. Peter of St. Paul’s ministry and the first effort by the Church, speaking through St. Peter, to define the canon of scripture–that the Epistles of St. Paul are part of the canon. Interestingly, Martin Luther wanted to remove 2 Peter from the bible, which would have removed the biblical basis for St. Paul being in the bible, on which so much of Protestants doctrine hangs.

    • I worry about your one point. I’m just not sure we ought to go the serial killer route. I think any good Protestant could easily condemn such crimes. IOW I don’t think we ought to use such ungracious and extreme examples. Your scriptural points are well taken.

      • Richard Connell says:

        The extreme example is the argument ad absurdum. At the time of the Reformation, when Protestants were slaughtering Catholics, someone, in his dying breath, might have said to one of the Anglican henchmen, “but what will you do when your church accepts so-called same-sex unions?” Your point is well taken, nonetheless.

  15. John Chrysostom says:

    I get your point, but to some extent this is a strawman of what protestant theologians have in mind with these solos. I agree with you on sola scriptura and sola fide, but the Church has always taught sola gratia — see the canons of the Second Council of Orange. All ‘sola gratia’ entails is a condemnation of Pelagianism. It isn’t to say that grace happens in a vacuum, but that it is only by grace, and not our own merit, that we come to faith in God. Obviously the products of that grace are manifold, but to say that that refutes sola gratia is (perhaps deliberately) to misunderstand what the doctrine entails. I would urge you to be a bit more careful in discussing these matters.

    • Yes, theologically one can set the parameters so that Sola Gratia has a Catholic understanding. However, once again I am not dealing with theologians per se but with average people who bat these phrases around. Thus my problem is more etymological or linguistic. Grace is not alone. It does not however in thin thin air or the vacuum of space. It is intimately tied with its effects, even if distinct. In this sense it is not alone. Once again I say, “alone” is an unwise and inapt word to use. Hence I might say I am saved only by the grace and mercy of God. Ok that is fine. But to save I am saved by grace alone has linguistic dimensions that are fuzzy. For grace in this case is not alone, it is is me if it is saving and transforming me. We are saved by grace through faith. Grace works through faith and charity. So as above, I suppose we could set up a lot of qualifiers and hold many things equal and make lots of distinctions and somehow understand sola gratia in a Catholic way. But I can almost assure you that 99.9 % of those who use this expression do not mean in that way, they use the phrase to sever faith and works and grace and works. At least in my experience they certainly don’t mean what 2nd Orange meant. Also, is the exact phrase “sola gratia” used in reference to justification by Orange?

      • John Chrysostom says:

        No, the precise phrase isn’t used, but the theology is clearly there. I’m not sure how most people use it, but the way that Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon used it is absolutely consistent with Catholic theology. I get your point, but does anyone actually think that grace is *alone* in the sense that you are talking about? It still strikes me as a strawman. I’ve been around plenty of evangelical types and they pretty much all have in mind condemnation of Pelagianism when they say sola gratia (though they don’t know it is called Pelagianism and they aren’t aware that the Catholic Church condemned it 1000 years before the Reformation)…

  16. Robert F. says:

    Msgr, could you discuss the point that Greg Krehbiel replied ” Protestants are very suspicious of the Catholic view because it makes the believer look inside himself for his trust in his justification. “God is pleased with me because of something in me — grace in me, or works I have done, etc.” , and help him understand that is not what Catholics believe but what Protestant’s think that Catholics believe. Great article as always. Thank you so much.

  17. Shawn Narshall says:

    Many ‘Protestants’ despise Catholics and Catholicism and will not even acknowledge that Catholics are Christian. If one thinks of Protestantism as man building a tower to God by individual interpretation of Scripture(whence did it come?) it is little wonder that little wonder that Protestantism has devolved into a Tower of Babble, in 30,000+dialectics.
    My experience of Catholicism is that the faithful in our Church are unusually empathetic to other Christian sects and no energy is dissipated in attacking them. How many times have I seen TV preachers using their interpretation of the bible to prove the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon?
    On my first job working construction as a teenager a young man from Southern Virgina was curious about Catholicism and what it was. Told him it was simply Christian and this mild mannered fellow looked like he was going to hit me, just a reaction, as if I had mortally insulted his faith. A week later he told me he asked his pastor about it and he had allowed as Catholics were somewhat Christian! We have some ‘fundamental’ differences with Protestantism.

  18. Steve brien says:

    Can’t we all just get along. What is opinion leads to divide. The truth is Christ loves everyone, through His grace we are given faith to be let by the Holy Spirit into His arms. I know we all get scared sometimes, that we feel we must defend the church. I believe there is room here for all of us. How can we judge if we are not the Creator.

    It is true grace is given and faith abounds, and with faith in your soul the yearning for peace and to do good words are driven everyday. It’s ok to worry about maintaining the principals and beliefs of the church.

    Oh, one more thing, I am not an educated man, but I know the Love of the Lord. Let’s just hold hands together pray, love, respect each other, and remember it’s ok to give yourself a break, be caused you were loved before you were born!

  19. Elsie Arsie says:

    Msgr. Pope, thank you for your beautiful article. Can you please answer a question for me? In all discussions I have read on sola fide, I have never known anyone to quote John 6:28-29: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'”. Doesn’t that mean that faith is a work? And, if so, why is it never a part of the discussion?

    May God continue to bless you.

  20. TONY CAMILLO says:

    The more I think, the more I can not think.
    So I follow ‘where my treasure is….there my heart will be!’ and my treasure is Jesus…so ‘Here I am Lord’ and that’s it! …………………………I’ve found ‘what I am looking for’…

  21. Daniel O'Connor says:

    I suppose you could say that one is saved by grace alone — for all things are grace — but such a saying should not be without careful qualifications to guard against any Quietist interpretation, as Msgr. has done here well.

  22. Gerhard says:

    So, does the Protestant mindset also reject the merits of the Saints? What about the merits of St Mary, as Our Lady is traditionally (sic) referred to by Anglican Protestants? Are their works on a par with Hitler’s works? If God ignores our works but weighs our faith only, surely the devil is overdue for canonization?

  23. Ed says:

    The Reformation created the three solos in opposition to the Catholic Church. Catholics would be better served by St. Paul’s advice: “And now there remain these three: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.”(1 Corinthians 13:13).
    “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”(Galatians 5:6).

  24. Cliff P. says:

    One doesn’t have to read very far into Msgr. Pope’s articles to begin to note the fallacies in his blog.

    For one he uses clever literary devices to make his point of “separating” the “Solas” They were certainly not intended to be used separately, but all in one sentence. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, & Sola Gratia, as the basis for understanding salvation and forgiveness. One cannot operate independently of the other Solas with only one of these premises. In my mind, this negates his entire argument against the Solas.

    Secondly, no ecumenical dialogue will get any where with Catholics always accusing the other side of heresy or wrong doing. The Catholic Church must do the “Christian” thing and admit once in a while they made a mistake, instead of always taking it out on Protestants. I can admit that Luther had his emotional moments and said a few things he should not have said, but none-the-less he was right in calling evil practices and sin into account.

    To me the Lutheran view of Christianity is the correct one, and I am proud I am a product of the Reformation.

    • Once again, an interesting linguistic disconnect for me, that there should be three “alone -s” The Word alone suggests one thing, a kind of sine qua non, not three. And strange linguistic notion if our commenter is right, the three alones must be read together. I think Cliff is actually making my point and also misusing the word fallacy which does not seem to apply (in the logic sense) based on his subsequent comment. I think he means to use the word error, or perhaps misunderstanding, but I am only guessing.

      Readers should know that I have edited the 3rd thing out of Cliff’s comment since he raises issues extraneous to this discussion and unnecessary.

      • Cliff P. says:

        You are right Msgr. fallacy is not the correct term, but you must forgive my literary shortcomings, as theology is my second career. My first gift is math, which is a different discipline. In math, every thing must add up.
        So fallacy could be replaced by error or misunderstanding of Luther’s intent. But, my math training tells me something didn’t add up in your article

        But we do indeed need more dialogue on historic divisive issues, because today there is more agreement than disagreement on controversial issues.

        God’s Peace!

        • Gerhard says:

          Sola scriptura does not add up because you need a central authority to say what it means. You need that because our Lord said he was “the Truth”, not the truths. There’s only one, objective, Truth. If everyone, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, can each reach a different interpretation of a question where is the Truth? The Holy Spirit would not be very efficient, would He? It is the central interpretative authority (the “Magisterium”), that Our Lord Himself established, which is the fulcrum to the balance. Without it, the whole thing collapses. That’s why pronouncements about what “real islam” teaches are so hollow, because there’s nobody with the authority to say what it should be, your word is as good as mine on that. So we need to find the Magisterium. It’s in the Catholic Church. Come and see. You’ll be pleasantly surprised and not disappointed!

    • Lloyd Cadle says:

      I was a Lutheran (LCMS and WELS) for seven years and a Protestant for 23 years. Lutheran theology is not Apostolic, so the Sacraments are not valid. Luther’s new invention of a Law-Gospel hermanuetic leads to un-biblical antinomianism and a lack of repentance. If a person believes in Christ, and is not seriously confessing their sins, they will not enter heaven, no matter how much one time imputation they think that they have.

      Luther was a rebellious person that refused to listen to the authority that God had established. He took out the 7 deuterocanonical books that the Church had used for 1500 years, and he also wanted to remove 2 Peter, 2 John, Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, Esther and James because they were too Catholic and didn’t fit his new theology.

      Luther’s rebellion led to a sola scripura new teaching that has led to some 40,000 ecclesial christian communities which all have variant teachings on everything that the Bible addresses. Each one of these protestant denominations are started by a man just like Luther. They are all reformers, led by the spirit and don’t agree on much of anything as they follow Luther’s sola scriptura.

      The results of Luther have been nothing short of chaos.

  25. Annette Strachan says:

    Terrible Sufferings.

  26. Annette Strachan says:

    Msgr’s blog of January 24, 2012 – On the Indefectibility and Infallibility of the Church – As seen on T.V is interesting.

  27. Will says:

    This may sound silly, but I cannot seem to see the need for Faith and/or Scripture if we are saved by Grace alone. The same is also true for either one of the other solos. Once you add the word «alone», logically there is no way out.

    Thank you Monsignor! Excellent post!

    • Cliff P. says:

      As I mentioned earlier to Msgr. the Solas were never meant to be alone. That is a misunderstandings that Catholics make. Is it meant as a slur against Protestants, I am not sure? Or undying commitment to Catholic theology?

      • Slur ?? Please. Stop taking things personally and lets leave the thin skin behind. Just linguistically three “alones” is a strange phrase. If something is alone, it is alone, it is one thing, if it alone is needed why are two other things needed? Will’s question is valid given your formulation and he was polite in asking it.

        But frankly my problem isn’t with Protestantism here, it is with you and your stmt “The solas were never meant to be alone,” as if to say alone is not really alone. Why not call them the “triple requirement or something? Do you understand saying the Solas were never meant to be alone” is odd sounding and I have not another Protestant speak this way.

        Perhaps an easier solution to your strange phrasing is to say that the solas are speaking to different aspects of our life. Thus, sola scriptura speaks to the question of authority, sola gratia speaks to the “How” of salvation and sola fide the way of salvation. But really I shouldn’t be doing your work for you.

        BTW is proposing a better solution to you I do not say I agree with the Protestant answer but I think you ought to find a better way of defending your view than to speak univocally regarding the “solas” instead of equivocally, or more precisely, contextually. You need to do better than this.

        • Cliff P. says:

          This reply was never meant for you and I am surprised at your abrasive attitude. I am sorry I even commented on this thread, as dialogue is not meant to happen here. I guess if the hostilities of the 16th century need to be fanned into flames again, so be it. This will be my last visit to this site. Thank you!

          • Stop taking everything so personally. All the points are on target. How do you answer the critique? That’s the “di” in dialogue you’re turn to answer the points or refute them not get all personally offended. Really you have to do better than this. I have indicated respect for the Protestant view (though disagreement). I do not however think you do that position justice by using logic like the alones are meant to be together. You have consistently refused to answer this critique and tried to make me or others into meanies. Please Speak to the issue and avoid all the personal stuff.

  28. Bill Hylton says:

    It seems to me that to believe faith alone is sufficient for salvation belies the life and acts of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It puts an interpretation of St. Paul’s writings in direct conflict with the Gospels. To give just one example, after Jesus related the parable of the Good Samaritan, he gave an order, “Go you and do the same.” He didn’t say that to praise Samaritans. They were outcasts to the Jews, which is the very reason he used the Samaritan in the parable. He made an outcast Samaritan a hero. What better way to shame the self-righteous Jews into doing good “works”? I cannot understand how some Protestants can insist it is meaningless.

  29. JAMES CHEMPLAYIL says:

    The real “poor in spirit” may be the Protestants, As Catholics we have all these truths known to us and yet not practising, but then who will be justified more? Remember we are made holy on account of the sinners? this is not the measure, the sinners are under the clutches of the enemy and suffering more in order that the righteous may remain stainless, yet we condemn them, We have to learn to love them with their shortcomings and together we should try to bring them out of the Clutches of the enemy.
    Bless all

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