16 Church Fathers vs. Faith Alone

‘… when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.’ (CCC 1815)

10th-Century Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria (Menologion of Basil II)
10th-Century Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria (Menologion of Basil II) (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

I will be documenting in a 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).

Pope Clement of Rome (d. c. 101) ... we may share in his promised gifts ... if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing and acceptable to him; if we do the things which are in harmony with his blameless will ... (Epistle to the Corinthians, 35)

Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110) I also am the more encouraged, resting without anxiety in God, if indeed by means of suffering I may attain to God, so that, through your prayers, I may be found a disciple [of Christ]. (Epistle to Polycarp, ch. 7)

Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (possibly as early as 130, or as late as 180) ... you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love him, ...  presenting in yourselves a tree bearing all kinds of produce ... (ch. 12)

Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150) Have a care, then, you who serve the Lord, and have him in your heart, that you work the works of God, remembering his commandments ... work your own work, and you will be saved. (Bk. III, Similitude 1)

Polycarp (69-155) But he who raised him up from the dead will raise us up also, if we do his will, and walk in his commandments, and love what he loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness ... (Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 2)

Justin Martyr (100-165) Each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. (First Apology, ch. 12)

Theophilus (d. c. 180) Keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from him immortality, ... For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and everyone who keeps these can be saved ... (To Autolycus, Bk. II, ch. 27)

Irenaeus (130-202) Those who believe God and follow his word receive that salvation which flows from him. Those, on the other hand, who depart from him, and despise his precepts, and by their deeds bring dishonor on him who made them, and by their opinions blaspheme him who nourishes them, heap up against themselves most righteous judgment. (Against Heresies, Bk. IV, 33, 15)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) ... the elect being saved by instruction, and purification, and the doing of good works. ...  For by grace we are saved: not, indeed, without good works; but we must, by being formed for what is good, acquire an inclination for it. (The Stromata, Bk. V, ch. 1)

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) But even if the stimulus of her repentance proceeded from her faith, she heard her justification by faith through her repentance pronounced in the words, ‘Your faith has saved you, by him who had declared by Habakkuk, The just shall live by his faith.’ [Habakkuk 2:4] (Against Marcion, Bk. IV, ch. 18)

Hippolytus (d. c. 235) He, in administering the righteous judgment of the Father to all, assigns to each what is righteous according to his works. ... the justification will be seen in the awarding to each that which is just; since to those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment. ... The righteous will remember only the righteous deeds by which they reached the heavenly kingdom ... (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe, 3)

Origen (c. 185 – c. 253) So also in the race of our life we ourselves must expend labor, and bring diligence and zeal to bear; but it is from God that salvation is to be hoped for as the fruit of our labor. Otherwise, if God demands none of our labor, his commandments will appear to be superfluous. ... And in the matter of our salvation, what is done by God is infinitely greater than what is done by ourselves ... (De Principiis, Bk. III, ch. 1, 18)

Cyprian (210-258) Confession is the beginning of glory, not the full desert of the crown; nor does it perfect our praise, but it initiates our dignity; and since it is written, ‘He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved’ [Matthew 10:22] whatever has been before the end is a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation, not a terminus wherein the full result of the ascent is already gained. (Treatise 1: On the Unity of the Church, 21)

Lactantius (c. 240 – c. 320) For this reason he has given us this present life, that we may either lose that true and eternal life by our vices, or win it by virtue. (Divine Institutes, Bk. VII, ch. 5)

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328) Since therefore you know, brethren beloved, that the malignant and the unbelieving are the enemies of righteousness, beware of these, embrace faith and charity, by which all the holy men who have existed from the beginning of the world to this day have attained unto salvation. And show forth the fruit of charity, not in words only, but also in deeds ... (Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius, ch. 5, 2)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368) Election, therefore, is not a thing of haphazard judgment. It is a distinction made by selection based on merit. Blessed, then, is he whom God elects: blessed for the reason that he is worthy of election. (On Psalm 64 [65], section 5; in William A. Jurgens, editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1 [Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970], 386)

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope Francis vs. Cardinal Hollerich

EDITORIAL: The Pope’s comments regarding women’s ordination in his interview with CBS put a damper on the movement to alter the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and diaconate.