Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Five Solas

We hear today of "The Five Solas" which are, Faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone and Glory to God alone.  So let us look first at a summary of these five "alones."  Please note, the source I chose clearly holds to an anti-Catholic proposition.

Faith alone (Sola Fide)

Justification (that is, becoming right before God) comes through faith only, not good works, though in the classical protestant scheme, saving faith will always be accompanied by good works. This doctrine can be summarized with the formula "Faith yields justification and good works" and is contrasted with the Catholic formula "Faith and good works yield justification." This doctrine is sometimes called the material cause of the Reformation because it was the central doctrinal issue for Martin Luther.

Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura)

The Bible is the only inspired and authoritative Word of God and is accessible to all (that is, perspicuous and self-interpreting). This doctrine is directly opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church that Scripture can only be authentically interpreted through Holy Apostolic Tradition by the "Magisterium" (that is, the teaching authority of the Pope and bishops at church councils). This doctrine is sometimes called the formal cause of the Reformation because it was the underlying cause of disagreement over sola fide.

Christ alone (Solus Christus)

Christ is the exclusive mediator between God and man. Neither Mary, the saints, nor priests (other than Christ himself) can act as mediator in bringing salvation. This doctrine is contrasted with the Catholic doctrines of the intercession of saints and of the mediation of the priests.

Grace alone (Sola Gratia)

Salvation comes by grace only, not through any merit on the part of the sinner. Thus salvation is an unearned gift. This doctrine is a response to the Catholic synergistic doctrine whereby acts of man become meritorious by cooperating with God's grace.

Glory to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

All the glory is due to God alone, since he did all the work — not only the atonement on the Cross, but even granting the faith which allows men to be saved by that atonement. The Reformers believed that human beings (such as the Catholic saints and popes) and their organizations (the Church) were not worthy of the glory that was bestowed on them.

(Source:   http://www.theopedia.com/Five_Solas)

Before I get going let's clarify.  The concept of "five solas" or "five alones" seems quite contradictory, even silly on the surface.  What is really going on here is each of the "solas" speaks to something different.  They are not all about salvation or justification, e.g. soli Deo gloria simply says all glory to God alone.  The "Five Solas" are really about presenting a counter argument (a protest) to the Catholic Church.  No one ever heard of "The Five Solas" until sometime after Luther came on to the scene.  So for over 1500 years of Christendom, these five pillars - or foundations - of Protestantism were unknown, especially as a group of "solas."  Now this being said, not ALL the "solas" are contrary to Catholic theology which I will explain as I go.  Keep in mind, these are only my own summaries - entire books can be (and have been) written on these individual topics.

Sola Fide - Faith Alone
Well literally speaking, this statement is outright denied by Scripture.  James 2:24 explicitly states:  "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." (NIV) This verse in Scripture is actually the ONLY PLACE where the words "faith" and "alone" are used together and they are in explicit denial of "faith alone."  However, you will notice the caveat my source above used as do many other Protestants, like R.C. Sproul “justification is by faith alone, it is not by a faith that is alone.” (Sproul, 26, Faith Alone).  Well that caveat pretty much destroys the whole "alone" notion, now doesn't it!  If the faith is not alone, then it's not sola fide, period.  Protestants will go round and round with all sorts of rationalizations about this but in the end, sola fide is a flat out lie and unequivocally denied by Scripture in the ONLY PLACE those words are used by Scripture.  

Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
As for this subject, there are several definitions of sola scriptura and the above quoted and cited source is just one.  Others would include the definition of AOMin.org (James White) which, I believe, is a bit better of a definition than most.  White puts it this way: "The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church." (White, 59, The Roman Catholic Controversy).  White also puts it this way: "Sola scriptura  teaches that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church." (White, vintage.aomin.org/SS.html).  This second definition seems more concisely worded.  The most obvious challenge to this "regula fide" or RULE of faith - is if sola scriptura were a true and infallible teaching - then it would be taught by Scripture, right?  Well it's not!  Protestants will clamor all over verses which point to sufficiency of Scripture - but sufficiency is not sola!  You can find more articles on this subject by clicking here.

Solus Christus - Christ Alone
On this point Catholics are really in fundamental agreement with Protestants!  Of course Protestants like to paint a picture of other mediators to our salvation - but the reality is the Catholics adhere to the fact that our salvation is due to the mediation of Christ alone.  The fact that we accept the "Communion of Saints" (part of the Apostle's Creed -click here for a non-Catholic source) which is professed by many Protestants!  Of course they don't define the "Communion of Saints" in the same manner Catholics traditionally have, throughout Christendom, but their denial is novel in the overall picture.  Asking others, Saints who have gone before us or saints among us, does not replace Christ as our sole Mediator for our salvation, which is the fundamental definition of solus Christus.

Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
Again, this is a concept with which Catholics do not fundamentally disagree with Protestants.  Catholics do not believe that we can earn our salvation through our own merits.  Salvation is due solely to the grace of Christ on the Cross, and more importantly, His Resurrection and victory over death and Satan.  Anti-Catholics will try to paint a picture of "works-salvation" and force their straw man argumentation upon Catholics - but Catholics do not believe in a "works-salvation" system, regardless of how hard our opponents try to force that square peg into a round hole.  

Soli Deo Gloria - Glory to God Alone
Well, again, without the polemics thrown in - Catholics agree!  To God alone goes the highest glory.  I can hear it now, "Scott added the disclaimer of the 'highest' glory, and the statement is 'glory to God ALONE!'"  We must point out the short-sightedness of such a proposition.  Glory is, afterall, "honor" and Scripture tells us we're to "honor our father and mother," which is a FORM of "glory" given to our parents.  The fact is the English word "glory" is an imprecise word.  Catholics use the more precise Latin terminology to distinguish the glory given to God as "latria."  Latria is only given to God, and is that praise and honor due only to the One who is worthy of our latria.  So while Catholics would agree fundamentally with "soli Deo gratia," the better Latin phrase would be "soli Deo latria."


  1. The Five Solas cannot be harmonized with Catholic teaching because the Protestant means something very different by most if not all of them than what the Catholic allows. If one wanted to redefine them from their traditional sense, one could come up with a Catholic version of those same five solas. But the problem there would be that it would confuse folks, since terms like "Christ Alone" are widely understood in the Protestant sense. It's the same reason why Protestants shouldn't call themselves "Catholic" in public, even if they believe they are the real Catholics (and that Rome are false ones), because the common usage refers to Roman Catholics and thus would confuse many.

    Also, while there are Five solas, really, the last three are part of Sola Fide.

    A more effective approach to dealing with the Five Solas is to point out what Protestants *really* mean by them. For example, "Christ Alone" sounds really Christian on the surface, but what Protestants mean by this is that Christ substituted Himself in their place and received the punishment they deserved, meaning Christ effectively was damned to hellfire in their place, since hellfire is what they deserved. This is blasphemy but is well hidden by the flowery sounding "Christ Alone". The terms "Grace Alone" and "God's Glory Alone" fit closely with this.

    Many Protestants would object in horror to the above claim, but that's when the Catholic steps in and shows them what's what and that most Protestants have no idea what Sola Fide and other solas *really* mean. For example:

  2. Hi Nick,
    Thanks for the comments. I have nothing against the approach you propose - my goal though, in writing this article, was to show that there ARE some commonalities between Catholics and Protestants, at least on a fundamental level, regarding at least SOME of the "Five Solas." While I was looking around non-Catholic sites/blogs, I found one where I left a comment - let's see if he comes over and adds a comment or two here.

    In JMJ,

  3. I'm involved in a little discussion about this topic with someone named John here. Feel free to add comments either there or here (or both places!).

  4. Scott,
    I did go over "there". Not only is it clear, to me at least, that he doesn't understand what the Catholic Church teaches but it looks like he doesn't understand "reformation" history. It wasn't about any high moral or religious issue, ie, the sufficiency of Christ. That would be what one would call revisionist history. If he was trying to make some kind of references to indulgences in his remark, he is quite mistaken. Now, you and I both understand the politics involved in Luther's break with the Church, his horrendously bad example of a lifestyle, and his erroneous, heretical teachings, but apparently this "history" is still sugar coated for, and whitewashed by those who still worship the "reformation".

    Heaven forbid we should see the commonality in the beliefs of all Christians. Heaven forbid *any* protestant admit that their doctrines are firmly seeded in the Church built by Christ.

    It doesn't matter what you were before you converted. It doesn't matter how much schooling or study you did. Obviously you hadn't learned your *faith* properly or you wouldn't be (gulp) Catholic, now would you? So, you couldn't possibly understand what the five solas mean, now can you?

    I agree with you that his space analogy falls way short of the mark. The fuel alone got them to space. Really? Fuel mixed with oxygen and then burned. Actually it is quite good. Faith along with works (useless works being burned up at the judgement) brings us to our destination. It actually does work, just not for sola fide or sola scriptura or any of the solas.

  5. Dear CathApol,

    Please add www.catholicheritage.blogspot.com to your blog list.

    God bless the work!


  6. Hi Maeve,
    I changed the template and that feature went away, I'll see about adding it back in. For now I've made your URL a "link" in this response:


    May God bless you!

  7. Sir, could you please then define for me what the sole antithesis's are between the Protestant and Catholic religion? 

  8. > JS: Sir, could you please then define for me what the
    > sole antithesis's are between the Protestant and Catholic
    > religion?:  
    There is no single or "sole" antithesis - but perhaps the biggest is that of authority.  Catholics accept the authority which Jesus Christ left his people, and that is the Church which He promised to build in Matthew 16:18-19.  Protestants (most of them), on the other hand, accept an invented concept of "sola scriptura" which was virtually unheard of until the 16th century - when Protestants needed to come up with a different authority than the Catholic Church which they just left.  The fact remains, that Jesus didn't leave us a book, He left us a Church - and the Church gave us the book.

  9. Man is justified through faith
    alone. Its just that works and faith cannot be divorced. Obviously if you're
    a Christian then you will bear fruits showing such yet we are not justified by
    works alone. Mathew 3:10 "... Every tree therefore that does
    not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." If you’re
    a Christian you will bear good fruit, but we will not be justified solely by
    that. “Nothing to your feet I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” 

  10. I take it that you believe the biggest point of antithesis then would be on sola fide.  Are you aware that the ONLY place in Scripture where the words "faith" and "alone" are used together is in OPPOSITION to sola fide?!  "
    You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." James 2:24 (NASB).

  11. Sir, word order is irrelevant here, I am talking about the meat of this argument, that we are not saved by our works, it is an act of God's free grace (Romans 5:15- ...and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.")  and the death of his only son that we are justified unto God. Obviously if we are truly Christians then we will manifest that belief through our actions. But we are not saved by are actions, we demonstrate that we are among the saved by are actions but are works do not save. The verse I used above clearly implies that we did not earn it salvation, it is free.

  12. The Catholic Church does not teach that we can work or earn our way to Heaven that is a huge misconception on the part of the Protestant community.  The Church teaches that it is not either/or it is BOTH/AND.  We agree that salvation is by the grace of God alone.  We agree that it is a free gift.  However, As St. James and in turn Scott tried to point out that faith without works is a DEAD faith and it cannot save you or anyone else.  There is no saving faith without good works ("When you help the least of these My brothers, you've helped Me," Our Lord Jesus, paraphrased from memory).  And, the Church acknowleges that good works without Faith is of no salvific value.

  13. Hello Joshua,
    I agree, God's gift to us is free.  We do not earn or work our way to salvation.  The problem is you are mixing terms here.  James 2 clearly states that we are justified by works.  Justification is not equal to salvation - it is a process unto salvation.  I know that sounds like works/salvation - but it's not.  The very concept of being "saved" is by God's Grace through the work of His only begotten Son, who died for us.  But we are sinful human beings, we ALL sin, but that's not ALL we do!  When in a state of grace, good works help keep us in His Light and Grace so that we might not fall again - but we will, we always do, we're sinners.  Good works are beneficial to our soul - but works alone cannot save us - and neither can faith alone, which is the theme of James 2:24.

  14. Greetings Cathmom5,
    That would be Matthew 25:40,  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (DRB)  
    I would also point out to Joshua that he's proving my point that there's no sole antithesis between Catholic and Protestants.  I pointed out one, he pointed out another - but the one he pointed out is, as you explained, more of a misconception of Catholic teaching on the matter and an over emphasis upon particular verses out of the context of the rest of Scripture.


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