09 October 2006

My need is your opportunity (questions about the Sola's)

by Dan Phillips

I put this question up over at my blog, but got a lot less feedback than I hoped. Kim was very helpful (check her responses over there), but I still have some questions I thought maybe some of you Brainiacs could answer.

Googling and my previous reading hasn't helped me here, either. So like it say -- my need = your opportunity! Without meaning to give anyone a research assignment, I wonder whether any of my erudite readers (i.e. youse guys) have links or book-citations to answer the following questions:

1. History. Who first used the Sola's? What was the earliest documented use?

2. Latin -- that is, the Latin form and meaning of the Sola's. I know some Latin words and phrases, but have not studied Latin per se. You see (for instance) both solus Christus and solo Christo. What is the grammatical difference, and why are there two? Is it "Grace alone," as subject, or (as some say), "by grace alone"? That is, are some of the phrases grammatically equivalent to Greek instrumentals? Are they all nominative, do they vary?

This is background work for a sermon I have been invited and plan to preach on the Sunday before Reformation Day. Thanks in advance -- hope this is fun for you!

Dan Phillips's signature


Steve Weaver said...

I don't need the answer to the first question. But I'm taking a class on Theological Latin now so I can answer the second question. This is exciting because I hadn't yet thought of my study of Latin grammar's association to these familiar phrases. Solus Christus is in the nominative case and solo Christo is in the ablative and has the idea of means or instrumental, hence you are correct it means "By Christ Alone".

Steve Weaver said...

Oops, I meant that "I don't know . . ." not "I don't need . . .". I would, in fact, like to know the answer to your first question.

Steve Weaver said...

Source for the grammar stuff above: A Primer of Ecclesastical Latin by John F. Collins pp. 13-14 on 2nd declension nouns

Trinian said...

Aw man, I don't remember too much about Latin, but I knew that answer! Good show, Steve.

Here's what I can add to Kim's goodness...
Sola Fide is in its ablative form (from Fides -ei).
Sola Gratia is either nominative or ablative. Most likely the latter.
Soli Deo Gloria is about where my memory stops being useful. I know it's meant to mean Glory to God Alone, but I don't know the genetive usage that would allow that for soli. I'll think about it...

Brad said...

Soli is an irregular adjective (-ius in the gen. sg., -i in the dat. sg.). Both it and Deo are actually in the dative: glory to God alone. Glory is most likely in the nominative.

Trinian said...

Many thanks to you, Brad. You don't know how much that was bothering me.

Kim said...


Thanks for the great book recommendation! That looks like one I need to purchase.


Thanks for mentioning that soli is an irregular adjective. I wondered about that. I haven't studied enough Latin to know that.

Paul Lamey said...

Don't know about the 2nd question but one answer to the first is that Melanchthon used "Christ alone" (or something like it) in chapter 20 of the Augsburg Confession that was presented in 1530. Someone with a searchable Luther sermon collection might also check his sermons on 1 Tim. 2:5 and Romans 10:4. Luther also talks about sola fide and sola gratia in a sermon entitled “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (1519).

Additionally, I read somewhere that sola scriptura came about in Luther's debates with Cajetan and Eck

I heard that Reformation scholar Frank James was once asked this question and his answer was something like, "uh?". So if a great scholar like James doesn't know then you're in good company.

GeneMBridges said...

Calvinists talking about Latin.

Calls Ergun Caner and Dave Hunt:

See, I told you they would start doing it. It's the Appian Way I tell you, the Appian Way!


DJP said...

Oh, Gene!

Actually, it might be a good opening for a priest to drop by, straighten out the Latin, tell us it's all nonsense -- and then get a bunch of LIVE Christians praying for his soul... for free!

(PS -- You really think Hunt would know it was Latin?)

Lamblion said...

Actually, Hus and Whcliffe in the early 15th century stressed Scripture as the sole rule of faith and conduct, and they did so particularly as an antithesis against the Pope and popery.

In close parallel, both Wycliffe and Luther also tied the doctrine of Predestination to their reform.

In fact, Luther's stance on Predestination did as much to upset the applecart as his 95 Thesis did, especially in a sermon he preached early on (can't recall the exact city at the moment), a sermon which antagonized the magistrates and higher-highers at that time.

In other words, Sola Scriptura and the doctrine of Predestination went hand-in-hand.

In fact, Wycliffe -- again we're in the early 15th century -- distinguished between "praedestinati (predestined) and "praecitt" (foreknown), the former applying solely to the elect, while the latter applied soley to those who were destined for hell.

In other words, according to Wycliffe, the elect were predestinated, the reprobate were foreknown in their sin and thus destined for hell.

Finally, since Wycliffe wrote prodiguously in Latin, it is likely that the term "sola scriptura" surfaced long before Luther and Melanchthon, although I haven't combed through Wycliffe's works to verify this.

It's safe to say, however, that by the time of Melanchthon and Luther this term and its connotations were well established.


DJP said...

Thanks, everyone.

But does anyone know who first made the five sola's a "thing"? One often reads how they were "the rallying cry of the Reformers," or words to that effect. Who first used them thus?

Lamblion said...

>> But does anyone know who
>> first made the five sola's
>> a "thing"?

Wycliffe and Hus both made it a "thing." It's not even murky. It's not even slightly murky. It's established fact. Wycliffe and Hus both insited on sola scriptura. It was the bedrock of their faith. Period.


Lamblion said...

I should just add, that both Hus and Wycliffe, in addition to sola scriptura, also held tenaciously to the doctrine of faith alone by Chrits alone. They also excoriated the sacraments and, by degrees, elements of the Mass, and most all of the superstitions of Roman Catholicism.

In other words, even though Luther and the later Reformers often get credited with the invention of the sola's, they were by no means to insist upon them.

As to who actually employed the exact terms, I would think that Wycliffe at least probably employed them in some context in his many writings, but I haven't verified that.

Either way, whether he actually used the terms or not, he adn Hus nevertheless stridently maintained the sola's.

In just doing a quick search on this matter, I found that even Theodoret (circa 380 AD) used the term "scripture alone" in his Dialogs, specifically Dialog 1. Of course, he obviously wrote that in Greek, not Latin, but the statement was "I shall yield to scripture alone."


Call to Die said...

Shouldn't the guys over at monergism.com be able to answer all these questions?

DJP said...

You'd think, huh, Ajlin? It's surprised me that this doesn't get more and quicker response in either site.

Jon from Bucksport said...


You have great thread going here! As an amature Latinist I love it. (I read my Latin NT at Church.)

As far as it being a "thing," I think that is a newer invention. When you talk/write in Latin all the time al la Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin then it is just normal words. One of the great reasons to study Latin is that anything you say in Latin sounds cooler, smarter and wiser than saying it in English! In medicine a lot of stuff that sounds really impressive is actually rather mundane discriptive latin.

On that note I would think that many of these solas would actually go all the way back to the anti-Nicean fathers since they were writing in Latin.

John W. Tweeddale said...


You raise an excellent question. There is need for more reflection on the origin of the so-called five solas (a somewhat unusual and confusing pluralization of the Latin!)

I concur with Jon that while the truths expressed by the five solas were strongly defended by the Reformers, the formula as we know it most likely has recent origins.

In a review of Terry Johnson's excellent 'The Case for Traditional Protestantism’, Chad B. van Dixhoorn, Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge University and Director of the Westminster Assembly Project, states the matter provocatively.

"The popular delineation of these five solas is not a Reformation idea but a modern one. That is to say, if the Reformers were told to list their core doctrines they might as readily have spoken about salvation by the Holy Spirit alone in the church alone" (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 23.1 [2005]: 119).

Likewise, several months ago at the reformation21 blog, our friends Derek Thomas (on 2/17/06) and Phil Ryken (on 2/20/06) gave similar answers.

This still does not answer the question as to who was the first to summarize the teaching of the Reformers in this way (perhaps James M. Boice and R. C. Sproul?). Surely someone needs to set the record straight!

Blessings in Christ,


Daniel said...

I think, and correct me if I am wrong Dan, that Dan is interested not so much in "who" coined "which" of the five solas and "when" each was first coined, but rather who was the first to group these five together in a formal way...

DJP said...

Thanks, Dan'l. That's really right. Beggars can't be choosers, and I'm truly grateful for all help -- but it is as if I'm asking for the first use of "TULIP," not who first articulated T, or I, or P. When did the five become the Reformed motto, and by whom?

UK67 said...

Most likely the complete forumula Five Solas emerged out of the scholastic Calvinist collective mind based on Aristotle's five categories for cause (somebody throw me a lifejacket because I'm in deep water):

material cause
formal cause
final cause
efficient cause
instrumental cause

The five categories above correlate to:

sola fide
sola Scriptura
soli deo gloria
sola gratia
solus Christus

Yes, I googled a webpage for the above, but it's my own take on it that the five categories most likely emerged from that unique-to-its-times Calvinist scholastic theology and the practictioners of it. Scholastic types were fond of Aristotle.

Maybe Willian Ames, or somebody like him.

Lamblion said...

Seeing as how Wyclilffe and Hus were condemned specifically on the sola's, such as scripture being the sole rule of faith and conduct apart from church tradition, and seeing as how this particular point along faith alone in Christ alone were specifically what the Roman Catholics argued as being heretical in Whycliffe's and Hus' theology, along with their stance on the universal priesthood of the believer, and so forth, it is of course grossly naive to suggest that the sola's were a modern invention.

Only someone who is comfortably unaware of history would make such an assertion.

UK67 said...

lamblion, I'm with you on Hus and Wycliffe and the biblical doctrine itself of the five solas. We can go further back even and speak of the Waldensians and similar groups. But for the emergence of the formula of five specific solas I'd suggest that the Aristotle lead is the best the lead. Calvinism had its scholastic theologians almost from the get go, and they'd pick up on that five category formula rather quickly. As to which one actually used it first in which (probably) Latin written work, that may be too nebulous to find. The acronym TULIP is similar regarding difficulty in finding its origin for popular use (a contest was recently run on a big forum and nobody won the prize, that I'm aware of).

Lamblion said...

I should also add that with the entrance of Tyndale and Luther and Melanchthon and Zwingli, as well as the others, such as Farel, Calvin, Beza, and so on, the sola's stand out like a sore thumb.

Just read Tyndale's "Answer to Sir Thomas Moore," or his "Obedience To A Christian Man," as well as Luther's statments in some of his earlier works, such as the "Babylonian Captivity" --

"Those things which have been delivered to us by God in the Sacred Scriptures must be sharply distinguished from those that have been invented by men in the Church, it matters not how eminent they be for saintliness and scholarship." Babylonian Captivity


"We ought to see to it that every article of faith of which we boast be certain, pure, and based on clear passages of scripture." Babylonian Captivity


"The Word of God is incomparably superior to the Church, and in this Word the Church, being a creature, has nothing to decree, ordain, or make, but only to be decreed, ordained, and made." Babylonian Captivity

Examples of "Scripture Alone" being cited by the Reformers, as in the above noted examples, could be multiplied exponentially.

As to any one Reformer stating, as was noted earlier in this thread, that a man must be saved "by the Holy Spirit alone in the church alone," suffice it to say that I have never read any such thing from the pen of any Reformer.

In fact, I suspect every Reformer would take great umbrage with that statement, as the Reformers believed that the Holy Spirit could regenerate a man outside of the church.

Again, I don't know the exact time that the Latin terminology came to be trumpted as a catechism in exactly the terms as "sola scriptura", and so on, but to deny that the sola's were the focal point of the Reformer's doctrine is to deny plain -- and might I add -- abundant historical reference.


Call to Die said...

ooh! ooh! TULIP! I got that one- the canons of Dort, right?
Did that help?

(P.S.- Sadly, my Church history prof. also doesn't know the answer to the five solas question. I'm looking for the opportunity to ask President Mohler, who should know, since he was one of the framers of the Cambridge Declaration.)

Russ said...

Just to elaborate a little more, "sola" in sola fide is an associative-instrumental ablative, which means it acts as an adverb rather than an adjective (so "sola" modified an implied verb (justification) rather than the noun faith, making "only faith" or "by faith alone" a better rendering than merely "faith alone.") Solo Christo means the same thing, but a masculine gender (fide, etc. are feminine nouns). Soli Deo Gloria is a different construction, as has been mention ("soli" is a dative).

Melanchthon spoke of justification as the material principle and Scripture as the formal principle of the Reformation, and this distinction continued (Philip Schaff uses this distinction also in Principle of Protestantism, but in a chapter filled with Latin phrases it's notable that he never uses "sola fide" or "sola Scriptura"), but as slogans, I suspect this was a 20th century idea invention. References to the "five pillars of the Reformation" might be useful rhetorically, but has no historical basis.