Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue (Part 2)
What sola fide really means
This post is the second part of what I can deduce from a book, Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue, written by Prof. Anthony N.S. Lane (first published in 2002).
After stating the three distinctive features of Protestant Justification, Prof. Lane elaborates the famous Protestant phrase, sola fide or by faith alone. Relying mostly on what John Calvin wrote in Institutes of Christian Religion (Inst. for short), the following are his statement and my comment (all his statements are in italic with added emphasis):
Justification is by faith alone not because of what faith merits or achieves but because of what it receives.
Faith does not take its power to justify from that working love [Galatians 5:6]. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but in that it leads us into fellowship with righteousness of Christ (Inst. 3:11:20).
The Reformation stress on faith alone was not intended to affirm that faith is to be found on its own but rather to stress that it is only in Christ that we are acceptable. Justification is by faith alone, sola fide, but this faith does not stand alone, is not nuda fides. Hence Prof. Lane declared the famous phrase, also echoed by a number of Protestants, “by faith alone but not by faith that is alone”: The fact that justification is by faith alone does not mean that one can be justified with faith alone. Why call it justification by faith alone then? As far as I can evaluate this “contradiction” comes from making distinction between Justification (which is by faith alone in Protestantism) and Sanctification while at the same time treating these two inseparable (refer to part 1 of my post). Catholics who consider Sanctification as integral part of Justification do not end up with the same contradiction. Our Justification comes from the grace of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1996). Both our faith in Christ and our Sanctification, these two being part of Catholic Justification, come from His grace. The next two are re-paraphrasing of the same concept “by faith alone but not by faith that is alone”.
Justification is not by works, but nor is it without works (Inst. 3:16:1). ‘We dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them. This alone is of importance: having admitted that faith and good works must cleave together, we still lodge justification in faith, not in works (Inst. 3:16:1).
Salvation is by Christ alone, but this does not preclude the need for our contribution. There are a number of Protestants and “Bible only” Christians out there who would oppose this statement – it sounds too Catholic and indeed it is! Keep in mind that Catholics believe our contribution also comes from God’s grace – we cannot do it unless we are first moved by His grace.