Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are two Latin terms that became popular among the Protestant Reformers.
“Sola Fide” means “by faith alone.” Ultimately, we cannot save ourselves. It is God who saves us through Jesus sacrificing his life for us on the Cross. The Protestant reformers misunderstood Catholic teaching to think that Catholics believe we are saved by our works. A proper understanding of what our Catholic faith says about faith and works is rooted in James 2:14-26.
James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” If we have faith, we will do good works. It is faith that saves us but our works demonstrate our faith (cf. James 2:18).
Note, I showed how this understanding is rooted in the Bible. That leads us to the second term, “sola scriptura”, which means “by scripture alone.” Protestants felt that Catholic teaching had incorrectly added to what God had revealed in the Bible. This would go against Deuteronomy 4:2, “In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” (see Deuteronomy 4:1-8).
However, it is never the intention of our Catholic Church to add or subtract to what God has taught and revealed. Yes, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that explains what our faith teaches. However, this catechism was not written to add to what God has taught. The goal of the catechism, the goal of all Catholic teaching, is to help us understand how God calls us to apply what was written in the Bible 2,000 years ago to life today. When the human authors wrote the Bible, they were inspired by God to know what to write about. Through the Holy Spirit, God continues to guide the Church. We need to pray for the Spirit to continue to always inspire the Church and each of us as individuals to listen with our heart and soul to what God is saying to us.
The Bible is important. What is revealed in the Bible is crucial to us knowing how God calls us to life. For instance, our belief that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus comes from Jesus’ own words, this is my body, this is the chalice of my blood, in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:14-20 (Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Our call to celebrate Mass comes from Jesus’ words, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25). Our need for the Eucharist comes from Jesus’ words in the Bread of Life Discourse, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55).
Everything we believe about the Eucharist is rooted in Jesus’ words as found in the Bible.
Then why doesn’t everyone who believes in the Bible believe in the Real Presence of Jesus? Honestly, I don’t know.
Today there are people who say they are spiritual but not religious, meaning they do not follow formalized religion. They may pray on their own. They may even read the Bible but on what basis do they interpret the Bible? Now, of course, everyone who is baptized has received the Holy Spirit with the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Still, one must have the background to understand what is written in the Bible. We rely on the magisterium of the Church as guided by the Holy Spirit.
The word “magisterium” refers to the teaching authority of the Church. However, one should realize that “teaching authority” here does not refer to theologians who are college teachers. The magisterium lies in the pope and bishops as successors to the Apostles” (see definition of magisterium in the Catechism).
One final comment on “sola scriptura”. If you believe only in what is found in the Bible, who determines what is in the Bible? In my previous article, “Are All Bibles the Same?”, I addressed the question of different translations of the Bible as well as why the Catholic Bible has seven more books in it than Protestant Bibles. Here I will simply that it is the magisterium of the Catholic Church, depending absolutely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, set which books are in the Catholic Bible. Protestant scholars may provide an explanation for why the seven books are not in Protestant Bibles but on what authority? The Bible did not magically appear from Heaven. The writing of the Bible is inspired by God and the books contained within it i the Catholic understanding come from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the magisterium.