Justification as a gift of God contains two things: faith on the one hand, and hope and love on the other hand. Faith alone is not sufficient. And according to the Council’s decision, it is even possible that justification may be lost by a Christian through a mortal sin, but that faith remains. Now the Reformers would say: if you are in faith, you never can lose your justification. But the Roman church understood faith in its old tradition, namely. somehow an intellectual and a moral act. Of course, if faith is an intellectual act and a moral act it can be lost, and nevertheless justification can be there; but faith according to the Reformers is the act of accepting justification; and this cannot be lost if there shall be justification.
Nothing has been more misunderstood in Protestant theology than the term sola fide – by faith alone – because this has been understood not only by the Romans but also by Protestants themselves as an intellectual act of man called “faith,” which forces God to give His forgiveness. But sola fide means that in the moment in which our sins are forgiven, we can do nothing else than receive this forgiveness, and that is what sola fide means. Anything else would destroy the activity of God, His exclusive grace.
Now this central position of the Reformers, the doctrine of grace received only – and therefore by faith alone – was first misunderstood and then rejected. This means that from this moment on, the split of the Church was final. There was no reconciliation possible between these two forms of religion – the one in which the act of our turning to God and receiving His grace is unambiguously a receptive act, in which God gives something to us and we don’t do anything; and the Catholic doctrine that we must act and prepare for it, that we must cooperate with God, and that faith is an intellectual acknowledgment, which may or may not be there. All the anathemas given by the Council of Trent in this point are based on this misunderstanding of sola fide. The central position of the Reformers was rejected and condemned, in the Council of Trent.