The Necessity of Faith for Justification
1. THE LUTHERAN HERESY VS. THE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH. -- The Protestant Reformers, notably Luther and Calvin, did not deny that justification is wrought by faith, but they defined justifying faith in a manner altogether foreign to the mind of the Church.

a) They distinguished three kinds of faith: (1) belief in the existence of God and the historical fact that Christ has come on earth, suffered, and ascended (fides historica); (2) the sort of trust which is required for exercising the gift of miracles (fides miraculorum); and (3) faith in the divine promises with regard to the remission of sin (fides promissionum). The last-mentioned species of faith they subdivided into general and particular. Fides generalis is that by which we believe that the righteousness of Christ "covers" (but does not wipe out) our sins. Fides specialis or fiduciary faith (fiducia) is that by which a man applies to himself the righteousness of the Redeemer, firmly trusting that his sins are for Christ's sake not imputed to him. Thus the Reformers erroneously transferred the seat of justifying faith from the intellect to the will and completely subverted the Catholic notion of faith as an intellectual assent to revealed truth.

b) To this fundamental error the Fathers of Trent opposed the orthodox doctrine that (adults) "are disposed unto justice when, excited and assisted by divine grace, receiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised, ..."(782) and they solemnly anathematized those who assert "that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sin for Christ's sake, or that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified."(783)

Hence it is de fide that the faith whereby man is justified, is not a confident persuasion of being esteemed righteous in the sight of God, but a dogmatic or theoretical belief in the truths of Divine Revelation.

2. REFUTATION OF THE LUTHERAN DOCTRINE OF FIDUCIARY FAITH. -- Whenever Sacred Scripture and Tradition speak of justifying faith, they mean a dogmatic belief in the truths of Revelation, -- that faith which the Protestants call fides historica.

a) Christ Himself solemnly commanded His Apostles and their successors to preach the Gospel to all nations, and before baptizing them to convert them to a firm belief in certain specified truths which no man may reject except at the peril of his eternal salvation.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) Mark XVI, 15 sq.: "Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel(784) to every creature: He that believeth [i.e. in the Gospel] and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned." Agreeable to this injunction St. John declares it to be the object of his Gospel "that you may believe that(785) Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his name."(786) The Gospel is written "that we may believe." What must we believe? That "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." This is a revealed truth by firmly believing which we shall be saved. When the treasurer of Queen Candace begged to be baptized, Philip the deacon said to him: "If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest." The eunuch replied: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," whereupon Philip baptized him.(787)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) St. Paul in his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians eloquently insists on the necessity of faith, not a mere fides fiducialis, but a believing acceptance of Divine Revelation. Cfr. Rom. X, 9 sq.: "For if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart we believe unto justice, but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."(788) We must confess with the mouth and believe with the heart. External profession and internal faith go together and have for their common object a certain truth open to our knowledge, viz.: the resurrection of Christ, -- a dogma in which the whole teaching of the atonement lies imbedded.

The character of justifying faith is still more plainly evident from Heb. XI, 6: "Without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God [he that is to be justified], must believe that He is [the existence of God], and is a rewarder to them that seek Him."(789) The Apostle here clearly asserts both the necessity of justifying faith and the minimum of doctrine to be explicitly "believed," viz.: the existence of God and eternal retribution.(790)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER GAMMA}) The Lutherans appeal chiefly to Matth. IX, 2, Luke XVII, 19, Rom. IV, 5, and Heb. XI, 1. But not a single one of these texts represents fiduciary faith as the instrumental cause of justification. The word {GREEK SMALL LETTER PI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA} occurs no less than eighty times in the Synoptic Gospels and in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, but there are only six passages in which it could possibly be construed as synonymous with fiducia, and in none of these is the interpretation entirely certain. Not once does the New Testament employ {GREEK SMALL LETTER PI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER FINAL SIGMA} in the sense of "fiduciary faith," i.e. a confident persuasion of one's own righteousness.(791)

b) Tradition is in such perfect agreement with Scripture on this point that the Reformers did not venture to deny that their doctrine ran counter to the time-honored teaching of the Church. The Fathers unanimously insist on the necessity of dogmatic faith as a requisite of justification.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, who is regarded as "the best theologian of his time" (468-533),(792) in his golden booklet De Fide seu de Regula Verae Fidei ad Petrum, says: "I rejoice that you take care to preserve the true faith without which conversion is useless, nay, impossible. Apostolic authority tells us that we cannot please God without faith. For faith is the foundation of all good [works]; it is the beginning of human salvation, and without it no one can obtain a place among the children of God, because without it no one can obtain the grace of justification in this world or possess eternal life in the next."(793) St. Fulgentius was a faithful disciple of St. Augustine, and the whole trend of his treatise shows that by vera fides he understands not the Lutheran fiducia propriae iustificationis, but Catholic belief in revealed truth.(794)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) This teaching is corroborated by the ancient practice of instructing the catechumens in the truths of revelation and requiring them to make a public profession of faith before Baptism. It was because they believed and professed the true faith that the early Christians, who knew nothing of the Lutheran fides fiducialis, were called "faithful" (fideles, {GREEK SMALL LETTER PI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH OXIA}), to distinguish them from false believers or heretics (haeretici, {GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH DASIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER KAPPA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH VARIA}, from {GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH DASIA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA WITH PERISPOMENI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER THETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA} to choose), who denied some portion or other of the orthodox creed.

c) In analyzing the notions of fides and necessitas theologians distinguish between fides explicita and fides implicita, and between necessitas medii and necessitas praecepti.

Fides explicita is an express and fully developed belief in the truths of revelation; fides implicita, a virtual belief in whatever may be contained in a dogma explicitly professed. I make an act of implicit faith when I say, for instance: "I believe whatever the Church teaches," or: "I heartily accept whatever God has revealed."

The necessitas medii is based on the objective relation of means to an end, and consequently binds all men, even the ignorant and those who are in error without their own fault. Such, for example, is the necessity of the eye for seeing, of wings for flying, of grace for performing salutary acts, of the lumen gloriae for the beatific vision. The necessitas praecepti, on the other hand, is founded entirely on the will of God, who positively commands or forbids under pain of grievous sin, but is willing to condone non-compliance with his precepts when it is owing to guiltless ignorance. This applies to all positive divine precepts, e.g. the law of fasting and abstinence. It is to be noted that the necessitas medii always involves the necessitas praecepti, because God must needs will and impose upon us by positive precept whatever is objectively necessary as a means of salvation.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) The first question that arises with regard to this twofold faith and necessity is: Are sinners preparing for justification, and the faithful in general, obliged by necessity of precept to believe explicitly all revealed truths? The answer is, No; because this is practically impossible, and God does not demand the impossible.

Generally speaking, it is sufficient to have an explicit knowledge of, and give one's firm assent to, the more important dogmas and moral precepts -- the twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed, the Commandments of God and the Church, the Sacraments (as needed), and the Our Father. All other revealed truths need be held only fide implicita.(795) More is of course demanded of educated persons and those who are in duty bound to instruct others, such as priests and teachers.(796)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) A more important and more difficult question is this: Are there any dogmas, and if so how many, which must be believed by all men fide explicita and necessitate medii? St. Paul says: "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and is a rewarder to them that seek Him."(797)

With but few exceptions,(798) Catholic theologians maintain that the Apostle in this passage means theological faith, based upon supernatural motives. This interpretation is borne out by the context, by such parallel texts as John III, 11 sqq., 32 sqq., 2 Tim. I, 12, 1 John V, 9 sq., and by the decisions of several councils.(799) There can be no reasonable doubt that all men, to be justified and saved, must have an explicit belief in at least two dogmas, viz.: the existence of God and eternal retribution. Pope Innocent XI condemned the Jansenist proposition that explicit belief in divine retribution is not necessary for salvation.(800)

Are there any other dogmas which must be explicitly believed necessitate medii? The only dogmas which might come in question are: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the immortality of the soul, and the necessity of grace. The last-mentioned two may be omitted from the list, because St. Paul does not mention them,(801) and for the additional reason that belief in immortality is included in the dogma of eternal retribution, while the necessity of grace is inseparably bound up with the dogma of Divine Providence, which in its turn is but a particular aspect of eternal retribution.(802) Hence the only two dogmas in regard to which the question at the beginning of this paragraph can reasonably be asked, are the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation.

Theologians are divided in the matter. Some maintain that no human being can or could ever be saved without explicit belief in both the Trinity and the Incarnation. Others(803) hold that this necessitas medii did not exist under the Old Covenant. A third school(804) avers that no such necessity can be proved either for the Old or the New Dispensation.

The first of these three opinions is excessively rigorous and intrinsically improbable. The Jews had no clearly revealed knowledge of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and consequently were under no obligation to believe them. As the divinely constituted guardians of the Messianic prophecies, they were bound to believe in the Redeemer, though only necessitate praecepti. The gentiles were dispensed even from this.

The second opinion, which limits the necessitas medii to the New Testament, lacks solid proof. The Scripture texts cited in its support merely prove the efficaciousness of belief in Christ,(805) or the duty of embracing that belief on the strength of the Apostolic preaching,(806) or, finally, the impossibility of redemption except through the mediation of Jesus;(807) -- all truths which in themselves have nothing to do with the question under discussion.

The third and most probable opinion is that even under the New Covenant, explicit faith in Christ, and a fortiori in the Divine Trinity, cannot be regarded as an indispensable medium of justification and salvation, (1) because St. Paul does not mention these two dogmas in the decisive passage, Heb. XI, 6; and (2) because a supernatural act of justifying love and contrition may be inspired by belief in the existence of God and divine retribution; and (3) because this latter belief implicitly, by way of desire (fides in voto), includes belief in Christ and the Trinity.(808) Nevertheless it must be held that an adult who desires to be received into the Church and is baptized in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, is bound to believe in the Trinity and the Incarnation by more than a mere necessitas praecepti, namely, by what is technically called necessitas medii per accidens, a necessity from which God dispenses only in exceptional cases, when it is either physically or morally impossible to elicit an act of explicit faith.(809) It is for this reason that the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office decided, February 28, 1703, that missionaries are bound to explain to all adult converts who have the use of reason, even though they be near death, those mysteries of the faith which are necessary for salvation necessitate medii, especially the Trinity and the Incarnation.(810)

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