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The five solae (from Latin, sola, lit. "alone"; occasionally Anglicized to five solas) of the Protestant Reformation are a foundational set of Christian theological principles held by theologians and clergy to be central to the doctrines of justification and salvation as taught by the Calvinism and Lutheranism branches of Protestantism, as well as in some branches of Pentecostalism.[1][2][3][4][5] Each sola represents a key belief in these Protestant traditions that is distinct from the theological doctrine of the Catholic Church, although they were not assembled as a theological unit until the 20th century. The Reformers are known to have only clearly stated two of the five solae. Even today there are differences as to what constitutes the solae, how many there are, and how to interpret them to reflect the Reformers' beliefs.


The solae were not systematically articulated together as a set of five until the 20th century;[6][non-primary source needed] however, sola gratia and sola fide were used in conjunction by the Reformers themselves.

In 1554, for example, Philip Melanchthon wrote, "sola gratia justificamus et sola fide justificamur"[7] ("only by grace do we justify and only by faith are we justified"). All of the solae appear in writings by the Protestant Reformers, but they are not catalogued together by any.[8]

In 1916, Lutheran scholar Theodore Engelder published an article titled "The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides" ("only scripture, only grace, only faith").[3] In 1934, theologian Emil Brunner substituted Soli Deo gloriam for Sola Scriptura.[9] In 1958, historian 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.[10] Later, in commenting on Karl Barth's theological system, Brunner added Christus solus to the litany of solas[11] while leaving out sola scriptura. The first time the additional two solae are mentioned is in Johann Baptiste Metz's 1965, The Church and the World.[6][non-primary source needed]

The three solae

In most of the earliest articulations of the solae, three were typically specified: scripture over tradition, faith over works, and grace over merit. Each was intended to represent an important distinction compared with teachings claimed in Catholic doctrine.[citation needed][3][page needed]

Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")

Main article: Sola scriptura

Sola Scriptura is upheld by Lutheran and Reformed theologies and asserts that scripture must govern over church traditions and interpretations which are themselves held to be subject to scripture. All church traditions, creeds, and teachings must be in unity with the teachings of scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God.[12]

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura, affirms that scripture is the only source of normative, apostolic, infallible revelation and that “all things necessary for salvation and about faith and life are taught in the Bible with sufficient clarity so that the ordinary believer can find it there and understand it.”[13]

This particular sola is sometimes called the formal principle of the Reformation, since it is the source and norm of the material cause or principle, the gospel of Jesus Christ that is received sola fide (Latin ablative, sōlā fidē, meaning "by faith alone"), sola gratia (Latin ablative, sōlā grātiā, meaning "by grace alone" or by God's favor). The adjective (sola) and the noun (scriptura) are in the ablative case rather than in the nominative case to indicate that the Bible does not stand alone apart from God, but rather that it is the instrument of God by which he reveals himself for salvation through faith in Christ (solus Christus or solo Christo).

It should be emphasized that this doctrine in no way denies tradition, reason, or experience as sources of truth. There is nothing in Sola Scriptura that eliminates other authorities, but what it does say is that there is only one authority that can absolutely bind the conscience, and that is holy scripture and that all controversies about doctrine and theology must be resolved in the final analysis by scripture.

Sola fide ("by faith alone")

Main article: Sola fide

Sola fide is summarized in the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican church, specifically Article XI "Of the Justification of Man":

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort...

Bishop Scott J. Jones in United Methodist Doctrine writes that in Methodist theology:

Faith is necessary to salvation unconditionally. Good works are necessary only conditionally, that is if there is time and opportunity. The thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 is Wesley's example of this. He believed in Christ and was told, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." This would be impossible if the good works that are the fruit of genuine repentance and faith were unconditionally necessary for salvation. The man was dying and lacked time; his movements were confined and he lacked opportunity. In his case, faith alone was necessary. However, for the vast majority of human beings good works are necessary for continuance in faith because those persons have both the time and opportunity for them.[14]

— Scott J. Jones, United Methodist Doctrine, page 190

For Luther, baptism is a work of God by which the forgiveness of sins and salvation earned by Christ's death, and confirmed by Christ's resurrection, are given to the baptized person who believes God's Word that says He is doing exactly that in baptism.[15] Infant baptism is not only appropriate, but urged: "We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God."[16]

The Bible talks about the idea of being justified by faith opposed to works,

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:28 ESV For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:17

Sola gratia ("by grace alone")

Main article: Sola gratia

Sola gratia, or "only grace", specifically excludes the merit done by a person as part of achieving salvation. Sola gratia is the teaching that salvation comes by divine grace or "unmerited favor" only, not as something merited by the sinner. A famous verse used to back up this doctrine is

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Protestant Arminians, such as Methodists, are synergists but may also claim the doctrine of sola gratia, though they understand it quite differently than Lutherans and Calvinists do.[17] Arminians believe that God saves only by grace and not at all by merit, but man, enabled by what is referred to as "prevenient grace", is enabled by the Holy Spirit to understand the Gospel and respond in faith. Arminians believe that this is compatible with salvation by grace alone, since all the actual saving is done by grace. Arminians believe that humans are only capable of receiving salvation when first enabled to do so by prevenient grace, which they believe is distributed to everyone. Arminians therefore do not reject the conception of sola gratia expounded by Lutheran and Reformed theologians, although their interpretation of it is quite different.[18]

John Owen, in A Display of Arminianism, rejects the implied belief that the understanding of the Reformed theology has any alliance between the two doctrines and Arminianism is but another form of pelagianism, known as semipelagianism.

The Five Solae

While the Reformers of the 16th century wrote of all five solae in various period writings, they are not all mentioned together in one place and were not systematically brought together until the 20th century.[6][non-primary source needed]

Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone")

Main article: Solus Christus

Solus Christus, or "only Christ", excludes the priestly class as necessary for sacraments. Solus Christus is the teaching that Christ is the only mediator between God and man,[19] and that there is salvation through no other (hence, the phrase is sometimes rendered in the ablative case, solo Christo, meaning that salvation is "by Christ alone").

The Catholic Church teaches that lay people, and even unbaptized people, can validly baptize, and may do so in an emergency, and that the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony are the people getting married, not the priest, who is only a witness to the marriage, although a witness is legally required in the modern Western Catholic church.[according to whom?] Other sacraments, according to Catholic doctrine, essentially require a bishop or at least a priest in order to be valid.[citation needed]

With regard to Lutheran theology, while rejecting all other mediators between God and man, classical Lutheranism continues to honor the memory of the Virgin Mary and other exemplary saints.[according to whom?] This principle rejects sacerdotalism, the belief that there are no sacraments in the church without the services of priests ordained by apostolic succession.[citation needed] Martin Luther taught the "general priesthood of the baptized", which was modified in later Lutheranism and classical Protestant theology into "the priesthood of all believers", denying the exclusive use of the title "priest" (Latin sacerdos) to the clergy.[This quote needs a citation] This principle does not deny the office of the holy ministry to which is committed the public proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.[according to whom?] In this way, Luther in his Small Catechism could speak of the role of "a confessor" to confer sacramental absolution on a penitent; the section in this catechism known as "The Office of the Keys" (not written by Luther but added with his approval) identifies the "called ministers of Christ" as being the ones who exercise the binding and loosing of absolution and excommunication through Law and Gospel ministry.[citation needed]

This binding and loosing is laid out in the Lutheran formula of holy absolution: the "called and ordained servant of the Word" forgives penitents' sins (speaks Christ's words of forgiveness: "I forgive you all your sins") without any addition of penances or satisfactions and not as an interceding or mediating "priest", but "by virtue of [his] office as a called and ordained servant of the Word" and "in the stead and by the command of [his] Lord Jesus Christ".[20][original research?] In this tradition absolution reconciles the penitent with God directly through faith in Christ's forgiveness rather than with the priest and the church as mediating entities between the penitent and God.[according to whom?]

Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")

Main article: Soli Deo gloria

Soli Deo gloria, or "glory to God alone", stands in opposition to the veneration perceived by many to be present in the Roman Catholic Church of Mary the mother of Jesus, the saints, or angels.[according to whom?] Soli Deo gloria is the teaching that all glory is to be due to God alone,[21] since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action – not only the gift of the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus on the cross, but also the gift of faith in that atonement, created in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit.[citation needed] Some Reformers[weasel words] believed that human beings – even saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy – are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them; that is, one should not exalt such humans for their good works, but rather praise and give glory to God.[according to whom?]

Additional Solae

More recently, certain scholars have suggested that there should be additional solae on the list: Sola ecclesia ("the Church alone"), Sola caritas ("Charitable-love alone") and Sola Spiritus (In the "Spirit alone").[22] At the other end of the spectrum, emerging from the Imiaslavie and Primitive Catholicism streams, some Christians now affirm the “Sōlum Nōmen” position that the Holy “Name Alone” is All-sufficient, based upon the insight Jesus is “the one name that contains everything”.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Wisse, Maarten (2017). "PART I: Systematic Perspectives – Contra et Pro Sola Scriptura". In Burger, Hans; Huijgen, Arnold; Peels, Eric (eds.). Sola Scriptura: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Scripture, Authority, and Hermeneutics. Studies in Reformed Theology. Vol. 32. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 19–37. doi:10.1163/9789004356436_003. ISBN 978-90-04-35643-6. ISSN 1571-4799.
  2. ^ Barber, John (2008). The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture. Academica Press. p. 233. ISBN 9781933146348. The message of the Lutheran and Reformed theologians has been codified into a simple set of five Latin phrases: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).
  3. ^ a b c "Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed". Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  4. ^ "The "Solas" of the Reformation" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  5. ^ Dyer, Ann; Kay, William (2011). European Pentecostalism. BRILL. p. 295-296. ISBN 9789004216365.
  6. ^ a b c Metz, Johan Baptiste, "The Church and the World", p. 143.
  7. ^ Melanchthon, Philipp (1834). "Philippi Melanthonis Opera quae supersunt omnia - Philipp Melanchthon". Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  8. ^ [1] Archived May 31, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Brunner, Emil (1934). The Mediator: A Study of the Central Doctrine of the Christian Faith - Emil Brunner, Olive Wyon. James Clarke & Co. p. 295. ISBN 9780718890490. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  10. ^ "the New Cambridge Modern History". 1958. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  11. ^ Brunner, Emil (2002). Dogmatics: Volume III - The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith & the Consummation - Emil Brunner, David Cairns, T. H. L. Parker. James Clarke & Co. p. 221. ISBN 9780227172193. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  12. ^ "Sola Scriptura?". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 15 May 2006. Retrieved 26 May 2024. [M]any passages...state sola scriptura, such as Revelation 22:18-19. If we cannot add anything to the words of Scripture and we cannot take anything away from them, that is Scripture alone.
  13. ^ Reformed Dogmatics , 2:209–10.
  14. ^ Jones, Scott J. (2002). United Methodist Doctrine. Abingdon Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780687034857.
  15. ^ "Luther's Small Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther". Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  16. ^ "Holy Baptism". Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  17. ^ Olson, Roger E. (20 September 2009). Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. InterVarsity Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780830874439. Arminians do not think so; they hold a form of evangelical synergism that sees grace as the efficient cause of salvation and calls faith the sole instrumental cause of salvation to the exclusion of human merits.
  18. ^ See "Myth 7: Arminianism Is Not a Theology of Grace" in Roger E Olsen, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, 2006.
  19. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: 1 Timothy 2:5 - New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2022-06-30.
  20. ^ The Lutheran Hymnal, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941, p. 16
  21. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: Psalm 115:1 - New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2022-06-30.
  22. ^ "The Seven Solas: Toward Reconciling Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic Perspectives | Virtueonline – The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism". 2009-12-31. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  23. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church - IntraText".