The following article was written by the accomplished theologian Alexei Stepanovitch Khomiakov. Khomiakov (1804 - 1860) was a solid, brilliant thinker of great originality, and multifaceted talents and interests. He was a poet, a dramatist, and a publicist. Khomiakov had an exceptional education, and was a knowledgeable person of enormous erudition in an extremely wide range of fields. As a theologian, he was extremely well read in the works of the Holy Fathers and in the History of the Church. As a philosopher, he knew the contemporary thinkers. As a historian (who left us his interesting 3-volume work, Notes on World History), he was, one may state, universally well read.
Is one saved by faith alone, or by faith and works?
This argument, an argument that in the light of Apostolic Tradition is so obviously pointless, has never troubled the Church, and in fact could never trouble It. In fact, faith is not an operation merely of comprehension, but an operation of the entire intellect and reason; i.e. of internally united comprehension and will. Faith is at the same time both life and truth; it is an operation by which man, condemning his own imperfect and evil character, seeks to unite with a moral being, with the righteous Jesus, with God Incarnate, with God-Man. Faith, in its very essence, is a moral imperative; a moral imperative that would not also entail a striving for discovery would thereby condemn its own impotence, or, more precisely, its nothingness, its non-being. Discovery of faith is precisely the matter, for a prayerful sigh, just barely conceived in the depths of a grieving heart is a matter like unto martyrdom. They are distinguished from one another only in the times and situations through which God deigns to allow a person to utilize the gifts of grace.
What work could the thief, nailed to the Cross, have performed? Or was his work, his simultaneous repentance and confession insufficient? Or does God show mercy by removing [him]? Thus, both those who say that faith alone is not a saving faith, that works are also needed, and those who say that faith without works is salvific are foolish: without works, faith is dead, is not true faith, for in true faith Christ is truth and life; if it is not true, then it is but false and external knowledge. And can falsehood save? If [faith] is true, it is alive, i.e. performing works, and if it is performing works, then what other works are needed? The God-inspired Apostle stated, “Shew me thy faith [of which thou boastest] without thy works, [as] I will shew thee my faith by my works.” Does he recognize two different faiths? No, he condemns foolish boasting. “Thou believest that there is one God; the devils also believe, and tremble.” Does he then recognize the faith [held by] devils? No, he proves the lie in boasting of a quality even demons possess. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Is he comparing faith with body and works with spirit? No, for that would be a false analogy. However, the meaning of his words is clear. As a soul-less body is no longer a person and cannot be called a person, but rather a corpse, so faith without works cannot be called true faith, but only false faith, i.e. external knowledge, knowledge that is fruitless, and is attainable even by demons. What is written plainly must also be read plainly. Thus, those who cite the Apostle as proof that there is dead faith and live faith, that there are two distinct types of faith, do not grasp the meaning of the Apostle’s words; they in fact oppose, rather than support [those conclusions]. Likewise, when the great Apostle to the nations says, “[what use is it without love, even] though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains…” he does not affirm that without love such faith is possible; rather, in that assumption, he states that [such faith] would be useless. The Sacred Scriptures should not be read with a spirit of secular wisdom, debating over terms, but with the spirit of Sophia, God’s Wisdom, and candor and simplicity of soul. In delineating faith, the Apostle states, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” (not only that which is expected in the future); if we have sure hope, then we wish for; if we wish for, we love: for it is impossible to wish for what we do not love. Or do demons also possess such sure hope? — Hence there is but one faith, and when we ask “Can true faith save without works?” we are posing a foolish question, or to put it another way, no question at all, for true faith is a living faith that performs works: it is faith in Christ and Christ in faith.
Parish Life, a monthly publication of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC