Sola Fide is one of the famous Protestant “solas”. It means “Faith Alone” and is the expression of the Protestant belief that we are saved by faith alone. This statement is a clear rejection of salvation by works. It’s supported by the verse, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8)
It is worth noticing that this verse is often misquoted as “It is by faith you are saved and not by works.” The correct understanding is that the verse is emphasizing God’s gift of grace primarily–not faith.
Nevertheless, salvation is by God’s grace THROUGH faith. But what is “Faith”? How do you define it? In my Evangelical upbringing “faith” was often equated in the popular understanding with the personal decision to repent and accept Jesus as Lord. That’s all well and good, but doesn’t that make “faith” a kind of good work? Something you have to do? But I thought faith was supposed to be something other than my own good works.
If “Faith” has nothing to do with my good works–even the good work of repenting and trusting in Christ–then what is “faith”? The Book of Hebrews links faith with a long list of faithful ones from the Old Testament who “walked by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) There faith is linked with faithful obedience–trusting in the Lord and living a life relying on Him. So faith in this sense if faithful, trusting obedience. Not earning salvation by doing good deeds, but doing good deeds as faith-filled action. Living faith is faith in action for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26)
In my own life I’ve relied more and more on a phrase at the heart of the Mass. In the introduction to the Peace the priest prays, “Look not on our sins, but the faith of your church.”
This packs a punch–and I like to think of it as the Catholic sola fide. “Look not on our sins, but the faith of your church.” So it is the faith of the church that saves us–not an individualistic subjective personal experience–not matter how good and worthy that might be.
What does this mean? The faith of the church is the whole shooting match. It’s the universal Catholic faith, taught, expressed and lived out down the ages in all times and in all places. It is the faith of the saints and angels. It is the faith of the martyrs in chains, on the scaffold and in their solitary agonies. It is the faith of children at their first communion, the faith of fresh faced confirmands receiving chrismation. It is the faith of an old woman receiving anointing of the sin–of countless Catholics some saintly, some sinners, all struggling–week by week receiving communion. It is the faith of penitents in the confession line, the faith of parents and godparents bringing their child to be baptized, the faith of the hopeful young priest being ordained and the beautiful young couple embarking on the adventure of matrimony.
This is the faith of the church. This is our faith.
This is the faith I am caught up in, the faith that gathers me up and bears me up on my long journey home.