In his most recent catechesis on St. Paul, the Holy Father said: “[F]aith, if it is true and real, becomes love, charity—is expressed in charity. Faith without this fruit, without charity, would not be true faith. It would be a dead faith”. (www.zenit.org, Nov. 26).
But there is a sense in which it cannot be said that “faith . . . without charity would not be true faith,” for the Church anathematizes anyone who would say that “when grace has been lost through sin, faith too is always lost at the same time, or that the faith which remains is not true faith even though it is not living, or that he who has faith without charity is not a Christian” (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, canon 28, emphasis added).
This does not mean that Pope Benedict has taught heresy. From the full context of the talk it is clear that when he says “true faith” he is referring to what St. Thomas and theology call fides formata. Fides formata is the virtue of supernatural faith when through infused charity an act of faith truly can merit the end for which it was divinely bestowed, namely the attainment of the First Truth in the beatific vision. When, because of lack of charity, faith once infused as the first fruit of now lost sanctifying grace cannot “do” what God meant it to do, then it fails to be fully ordered to its ultimate end, and in that restricted sense it can be considered as not being “true faith”.
Still, we must not forget that faith is a virtue and act of the intellect whose proper object is God the First Truth, even when sanctifying grace and charity have been lost through mortal sin (provided the sin is not against faith). The sinner in the Church still has an infused supernatural gift in his intellect, a basis for salutary repentance before the true God truly known. In them, Mother Church sees Christian souls who still have “true faith”.