Godfrey: Salvation Sola Fide Vs Salvation By Faith Formed By Love

The medieval church consistently taught that faith, in its essence, was simply or implicitly a mental category or habit to which the believer must assent, fides informis. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Hence if anyone wishes to reduce these words to the form of a definition, he may say: ‘Faith is a habit (habitus mentis) of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, and which causes the intellect (intellectum) to assent to things not seen.’” So, for medieval theology, faith alone means mental assent to doctrinal truth. Such assent is a necessary beginning to salvation, but by no means saving in itself.

Saving faith must be more than unformed faith. To unformed faith must be added love, which gives form, life and saving effect to faith. Again Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Charity is not the intrinsic form of faith, but that which brings the act of faith to its form….” This doctrine of fides formata caritate teaches that as unformed faith perfects the intellect so formed faith perfects the will. A faith that is “formed by love” is that infused into man and makes him capable of producing good works. Thomas summarized, “Unformed faith is the cause of servile fear. Formed faith is the cause of filial fear, since it is through charity that faith causes man to adhere to God, and to be subject to him.”

The medieval understanding of faith, taught clearly by Thomas, was officially adopted by the Council of Trent. The Council declared in Session Six, Chapter 7, “For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body.” Read more»

—W. Robert Godfrey, “Faith Formed By Love or Faith Alone? 
The Instrument of Justification” in R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry


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