14 More Church Fathers vs. Faith Alone

‘The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it.’ (CCC 1816)

Michael Pacher, ‘Altarpiece of the Church Fathers,’ 1471-1475
Michael Pacher, ‘Altarpiece of the Church Fathers,’ 1471-1475 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I continue documenting in this two-part article some of the very best quotations from the Church Fathers, illustrating the universal patristic consensus against “faith alone” (sola fide) and in favor of the Catholic view regarding faith and works as organically connected, and infused justification (no separation of justification and sanctification).

Athanasius (c. 297-373) But each one will be called to judgment in these points — whether he have kept the faith and truly observed the commandments. (Life of Antony, 33)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379) Eternal rest awaits those who have struggled through the present life observant of the laws, not as payment owed for their works, but bestowed as a gift of the munificent God on those who have hoped in him. (On Psalm 114, no. 5; in William A. Jurgens, editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2 [Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1979], 22)

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-387) For the time to come ye must behave yourselves worthily of this grace both in words and deeds, that you may all be enabled to enjoy the life everlasting. (Eighteenth Catechetical Lecture, 33)

Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330 – c. 390) For our salvation is not so much a matter of words as of actions ... (Oration 43, 68)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 394) For faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither, however, is righteous living secure in itself for salvation, if it is disjoined from faith. (Homilies on Ecclesiastes, 8; Jurgens, ibid., 45-46)

Ambrose (c. 336-397) In the Day of judgement our works will either succour us, or will sink us into the deep, weighed down as with a millstone. (Letter II: To Constantius, a Bishop, 16; from The Letters of S. Ambrose, Oxford: 1881)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407) How then can one be saved? it may be asked. By application of the countervailing remedies: alms, prayers, compunction, repentance, humility, a contrite heart, contempt of possessions. (Homily 41 on Matthew 12:25-26, 6)

Jerome (c. 343-420) God created us with free will, and we are not forced by necessity either to virtue or to vice. Otherwise, if there be necessity, there is no crown. As in good works it is God who brings them to perfection, for it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that pitieth and gives us help that we may be able to reach the goal. ... It was useless to warn them to add works to faith, if they could not sin after baptism. ... (Against Jovinian, Bk. II, 3)

Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) Paul did not say we hold because he was himself uncertain. He said it in order to counter those who concluded from this that anyone who wished to could be justified simply by willing faith. (Pauline Commentary From the Greek Church; commenting on Romans 3:28; in Gerald Bray, editor, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VI: Romans [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998], 104-105)

Augustine (354-430) This question, then, seems to me to be by no means capable of solution, unless we understand that even those good works of ours, which are recompensed with eternal life, belong to the grace of God, because of what is said by the Lord Jesus: Without me you can do nothing. [John 15:5] And the apostle himself, after saying, By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast; [Ephesians 2:8-9] saw, of course, the possibility that men would think from this statement that good works are not necessary to those who believe, but that faith alone suffices for them; and again, the possibility of men’s boasting of their good works, as if they were of themselves capable of performing them. To meet, therefore, these opinions on both sides, he immediately added, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10] (On Grace and Free Will, ch. 20; written in 436 or 427, just three or four years before he died)

John Cassian (c. 360 – c. 435) The beginning of our good will is given to us by the inspiration of the Lord, when he draws us towards the way of salvation either by his own act, or by the exhortations of some man, or by compulsion; and that the consummation of our good deeds is granted by him in the same way: but that it is in our own power to follow up the encouragement and assistance of God with more or less zeal, and that accordingly we are rightly visited either with reward or with punishment, because we have been either careless or careful to correspond to his design and providential arrangement made for us with such kindly regard. (Conference 3, ch. 19)

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444) It is a true saying, that the fruit of good deeds is honorable. For those who wish to lead lives pure and undefiled as far as is possible for men, Christ will adorn with his gifts, and grant them an abundant recompense for all their saintly deeds, and make them partakers of his glory. (Commentary on Luke, v. 9:1-5; translated by R. Payne Smith, Oxford University Press, 1859)

Pope Leo the Great (c. 400-461) You ought all to help one another in turn, that in the kingdom of God, which is reached by right faith and good works, you may shine as the sons of light ... (Sermon 33, 5)

Theodoret (c. 393 – c. 466) Well-doing is for a time, but the reward is eternal ... Paul wanted to show that there are many rewards for those who are good. (Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans; commentary on Romans 2:7; in Bray, ibid., 60)