A chat with a friend yesterday caused me to want to think a bit more about the five solae, where they came from, why they originated and what that means to me or us. I’d love some feedback to this subject on social media… it has been so long since I blogged that I’m not sure where this post will go… Maybe twitter and facebook.
The Five solae or five solas are five Latin phrases that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the early Reformers’ basic theological beliefs in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. The Latin word sola means “alone” or “only” in English. The five solae articulated five fundamental beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, pillars which the early Reformers believed to be essentials of the Christian life and practice. All five implicitly rejected or countered the teachings of the then-dominant Catholic Church, which the Reformers claimed had usurped divine attributes or qualities for the Church and its hierarchy, especially its head, the Pope.
The five solas were not systematically articulated together until the 20th century. But “sola gratia” and “sola fide” were used in conjunction by the Reformers themselves. For example, in 1554 Melanchthon wrote, “sola gratia justificamus et sola fide justificamur” (“only by grace do you justify and only by faith are we justified”). All of the five “solas” show up in various writings by the Protestant Reformers, but they are not catalogued together by any.
In 1916, Lutheran scholar Theodore Engelder published an article titled “The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides.” In 1934, Theologian Emil Brunner substituted “Soli Deo gloriam” for “Sola Scriptura.” In 1958 Geoffrey Elton, summarizing the work of John Calvin, wrote that Calvin had “joined together” the “great watchwords.” Elton listed “sola fide” with “sola gratia” as one term, followed by “sola scriptura” and “soli Deo gloria.” Later, in commenting on Karl Barth’s theological system, Brunner added “Christus solus” to the litany of solas while leaving out “sola scriptura.” The first time the five are mentioned together is in a 1965 Catholic publication, The Church and the World.
I’ll be back soon… time is limited so for today I’ll just ask –
– Which of the five solas are the most important to you?
– Which is least?
– Would you add a sola?
– Would you remove one?
Just thinking out loud and would love to hear the thoughts of others.
My next blog will be my answers to the above questions.