A friend of mine has been involved in a three-year running debate with some Reformed friends. When he challenged them to find among the Fathers any who taught salvation by faith alone, he got an uncomfortable silence for a while, and then a short list, which he forwarded on to me.
The list includes a couple of brief, pithy statements, most of which amount to denying that human merits are sufficient to save us (ummm...., and that is contradicted by what Catholic teaching?) - only two quotes actually use the term 'faith alone,' and these belong to Ambrose and Bernard (Bernard the Church Father?). Here's the Ambrose quote:
"Without the works of the Law to an ungodly man, that is to say, a Gentile, believing in Christ, his 'faith is imputed for righteousness,' as also it was to Abraham. How, then, can the Jews imagine, that through the works of the Law they are justified with the justification of Abraham, when they see that Abraham was justified, not by the works of the Law, but by faith alone? There is no need,
therefore, of the Law, since through faith alone, an ungodly man is justified with God" (Epistle to the Romans iv.v.).
Pretty harmless quote, really, when it comes to touching upon the Catholic doctrine of justification. But, at my friend's request, I took to researching this one first. Well, I didn't get very far. Why? Ambrose didn't write an 'Epistle to the Romans.' Chronologies of his works (found here
, among others) reveal nothing which could even be remotely misconstrued as such a source; a Latin list of his exegetical
works reveals nothing of the sort. A narrow google search
is similarly unfruitful. A google search
utilizing the actual text of the quote brought up a few pages, but these were all Protestant anti-Catholic polemics, which simply repeat the quote without providing any documentation. Now, granted, we haven't left the internet for the wide world of vellum pages yet, but at the very least we could have expected to discover its existence, if it really did exist. As I told my friend, I'm not denying that it exists (wouldn't want to propose the unverifiable universal negative), I'm just saying that until it is proven that it does
exist, it's off the table.
It's these sorts of quotes, passed down from generation to generation of polemicists, long after losing whatever tenuous link (even if misplaced) to any solid documentation they once may have possessed, that wreck any attempt to engage in serious historical discourse over sources.