Augustine on Faith Alone
Does faith alone save or is it to be accompanied by works of love (in other word it is not alone)? Catholics believe in the latter and even will say that our good works also come and are only possible with God’s Grace that first moves us to do so. How about Protestants? Despite their adherence to faith alone principle laid down by the sixteenth century Reformers, (some) Protestants and “Bible only” Christians believe that faith that saves must be accompanied by works of love or must bear fruit – otherwise it is a false faith. Regarding this issue Augustine who lived almost sixteenth centuries ago wrote (English translation from Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers or NPNF Series 1 Volume 3, available online at www.ccel.org):
It is believed, moreover, by some, that men who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who have been baptized in the Church by His baptism, and who have never been cut off from the Church by any schism or heresy, though they should live in the grossest sin and never either wash it away in penitence nor redeem it by almsgiving, but persevere in it persistently to the last day of their lives, shall be saved by fire; that is, that although they shall suffer a punishment by fire, lasting for a time proportionate to the magnitude of their crimes and misdeeds, they shall not be punished with everlasting fire. But those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity. For Holy Scripture, when consulted, gives a very different answer. I have written a book on this subject, entitled Of Faith and Works, in which, to the best of my ability, God assisting me, I have shown from Scripture, that the faith which saves us is that which the Apostle Paul clearly enough describes when he says: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.” [Galatians 5:6] But if it worketh evil, and not good, then without doubt, as the Apostle James says, “it is dead, being alone.” [James 2:17] The same apostle says again, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” [James 2:14] And further, if a wicked man shall be saved by fire on account of his faith alone, and if this is what the blessed Apostle Paul means when he says, “But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire;” [1 Corinthians 3:15] then faith without works can save a man, and what his fellow-apostle James says must be false. And that must be false which Paul himself says in another place: “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners; shall inherit the kingdom of God.” [1 Corinthians 6:9-10] For if those who persevere in these wicked courses shall nevertheless be saved on account of their faith in Christ, how can it be true that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God?
Augustine, The Enchiridion 67