Catholic Apologetics

Protestants frequently claim that Catholicism teaches “works-based salvation”; this is not at all true, but before we get into that, Protestants make this claim mainly because they have been taught sola fide (“faith alone”), a doctrine that can be demonstrated to have been invented in the 16th century by Martin Luther.  

Before getting into the meat of the matter, we do well to consider that the only place in Scripture where the phrase "faith alone" (or anything like it) occurs is to say exactly the opposite of the Protestant teaching:

"You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)

This goes a good way to explaining why it is that this particular heresy did not really raise its head for a full fifteen centuries after the Incarnation.

(As ia common in Protestant polemics, various Protesant apologists will insist that this or that Father actually did teach sola fide.  But, as is always the case when the evidence is examined, in all cases we find that the Protestant doctrine is not suggested at all.  See for one treatment of some of James White's claims.)

Works (that is, what people actually do – how they live), so this doctrine says, play no role in salvation at all.  Sola fide is a false and unscriptural teaching, but, even so, it is not at all accurate to say that Catholicism teaches “works-based” salvation (this is yet another Protestant caricature of Catholic teaching).  The Catholic teaching regarding salvation is that it is, first of all, a free gift from God (grace) - no man can merit salvation by anything he does.  This can be readily verified from a catechism or any orthodox Catholic source.  See the Catechism here:

and also

The Council of Trent states: "We are said to be justified by grace because nothing that precedes justification, whether faith or works, merits the grace of justification. For 'if it is by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise,' as the apostle says, 'grace is no more grace’” (emphasis mine).

This does not mean, however, that good works do not play any role in salvation.  Scripture demonstrates that faith & works are bound together in the mystery of salvation - this is a theological Mystery that some confused souls are determined to simplify.

And, after all, having faith itself is a work: the act of accepting truth revealed by God, which is faith, is an act of the will.  It is doing something.

Since the notion that works do not contribute to salvation in any way does in fact flatly contradict Scripture, Martin Luther had to actually change Scripture to support it, adding the word “alone” after “faith” in Romans 3:28, as is widely known even among Protestants.  The reference to "faith" in Romans 3:28 had never before been translated as "faith alone" before Luther - no one had ever contended that that was an accurate translation of the Greek.  And that's why mainstream Protestant translations such as the King James and NIV do not include "alone" in the verse.   

(As astounding as such audacity is, it was far from his most egregious damage to Scripture - he removed six books from the Bible that had been in the Christian canon since the canon was formed, and were in Christ’s Old Testament (the Septuagint) as well.  And that was not all - he also, of course, derided James, calling it "an epistle of straw" (because of how clearly it refutes his teaching) and relegating it to a different place in the back of his Bible.  His justification for these things: “Luther will have it so!”  Protestantism's butchering of Scripture is another subsantial topic in itself.)

Regardless of how some sects regard Luther, this is all relevant, because no one taught "faith alone" (in the sense he meant it, which is the sense modern Protestants mean it) until Luther - it was his new and novel teaching.  And it is still taught by the majority of non-Catholics today, although its true that many of them have been swayed by the overwhelming Scriptural evidence into accepting that good works, mystically bound together with faith, play a role in salvation too - the Catholic teaching. 

Indeed, the only place the phrase "faith alone" actually appears in Scripture is James 2:24: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."  There is the complete destruction of sola fide in a single verse.  How could any Christian theological system teach the exact opposite?

Here is James 2:24 in full context, and with emphasis: 

So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. [18] But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. [19] Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. [20] But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

[21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? [22] Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect? [23] And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God. [24] Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only? (James 2:17-24).

So, "faith without works is dead".  Even the devils have some sort of faith, for they believe that Christ exists and is God.  (As Aquinas taught, their understanding of God is a sort of natural faith only; they are entirely bereft of the theological virtue of Faith.)

When Christ speaks of salvation vs. damnation, He sometimes speaks of faith and sometimes of works, such as the rich man who was told to sell his belongings and those he told would be lost for turning a blind eye to their fellow men in need (Matthew 25:31-46).  Let us look at one extended discourse on the subject of salvation from the Master Himself:

And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. [32] And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: [33] And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. [34] Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: 

[36] Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. [37] Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? [38] And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? [39] Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? [40] And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

[41] Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. [42] For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. [43] I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. [44] Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? [45] Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. (Matthew 25:31-56)

Here, Christ speaks not of faith but solely in terms of what people do or do not do – that is, works.

Of course, we would be very foolish indeed to formulate a theology on such an incredibly deep and complex subject – a divine Mystery – as salvation from a single passage.  So, we see that, according to Our Lord, works are certainly connected to salvation.  But that does not mean that we are able to earn our salvation – it remains a free gift from the grace of God.  Which also means that we don’t “win” our salvation via faith either – suggesting so is just as offensive as asserting that we win it via works, for in both cases it is asserted that we “manipulate” God.  But in fact He chooses us, as confusing (and unappealing to most) that is at first.

There are many more passages in Scripture that demonstrate that faith and works are both bound-up in the Mystery of salvation:

"Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5:28-29)

The Protestant may argue that a person has been saved via his faith yet will then act-out this justification by performing good works.  That is not entirely false.  However, the fact remains that Scripture states plainly that good works are indeed related to salvation; the Catholic teaching bears this out while sola fide denies it.  Remember, though, as we saw initially, that salvation is a free gift from God, which no man merits on his own, either by faith or by works: it is a matter of grace.

See also Luke 10:25-28, Romans 2:13, and Romans 2:5-11: all speak of the necessity of obeying God's law by doing good and not doing evil.

When Paul condemns the notion of “boasting” of salvation via “works”, he is referring specifically to works of The Law – he is referring to Jewish Christians who mistakenly believed they were saved by following the old Law (which the Church had declared mostly not binding upon Christians).  This becomes clear by examining the context of all such references by Paul to “works” – he usually appends “of the Law” or “through the Law”.  We know this as well if for no other reason than that James specifically states that “works” cooperate with grace in salvation, and if Paul & James mean “works” in the exact same sense, they contradict each other – but we know that the Canon of Scripture does not contradict Itself.

Luther had the confused, diabolical audacity to tell Christians to "sin boldly", but Christ has a different command: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mark 5:48).

Christ also told us that "If you love Me you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).  Again, this clearly refers to behavior, not only to belief.

In summary, the doctrine of sola fide is an anti-Scriptural invention of one man, Martin Luther, who threw out the teachings of the Apostles and the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ founded because of his personal confusion – his personal demons.  This man went so far as to preach “sin boldly” to his followers, assuring them that none of their sins mattered – a teaching so grotesque and at odds with Scripture it is almost impossible to find greater madness or greater evil. 

See also

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