Martin Luther and the Four Salvation “Solas”

Martin Luther launches Protestantism in the sixteenth century on a foundation of five “solas” – the Latin word meaning “alone.”  One of these is “sola-Scriptura,” which deals directly with authority.  That topic will be covered at a later time.  The other four “solas” are related to a Protestant understanding of salvation.  Simply stated, the Protestant view is that salvation is by faith alone (sola Fide) through Christ alone (solus Christus) by grace alone (sola Gratia) for the glory of God alone (Sali Deo Gloria). 

As Catholics, can we agree with any of that statement, or do we reject all four of the salvation “solas”?  In some cases, the answer to that can be “it depends.”  Let’s look at them individually.

Salvation is by faith alone (sola Fide) through Christ alone (solus Christus) by grace alone (sola Gratia) for the glory of God alone (Sali Deo Gloria).  “Salvation is by grace alone.”  Catholics can very much agree that salvation is by grace alone.  In the Catholic view of salvation, God’s grace is both the initiator and sustainer of our salvation, we have no hope without it, it is everything.  The Catechism quotes St. Therese of Lisieux in this regard – “Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift.”  So we can offer a big “Amen” to the belief that salvation is by grace alone and here find common ground with our fellow Christians.

Salvation is by faith alone (sola Fide) through Christ alone (solus Christus) by grace alone (sola Gratia) for the glory of God alone (Sali Deo Gloria).  “Salvation is through Christ alone.”  As Catholics we believe that there is no salvation without Christ.  This is an idea we can agree with in principle, but that can also depend on exactly what people mean by Christ “alone.”  For example, we cannot accept this view if it requires us to deny that Christ works in and through the Church and the Sacraments.  From our perspective, these are gifts that Christ himself provided to assist us to grow in holiness, so they are not somehow separate and distinct from Christ himself.  We also believe that sanctification is neither a by-product nor an optional aspect of salvation – it is the very heart of what it means to be saved.  Some Protestants profess that if you believe these gifts are necessary for salvation, that is denying salvation through Christ alone, so you are not saved.  Since we believe that Christ himself established the Church and the Sacraments, we would disagree with that view.

We also cannot deny that while Christ is the principle cause of our salvation, he often uses secondary causes to bring forth His plan. CCC308 says that “The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator.  God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes.

An example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when St. Paul states that “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”  Catholics would not see this verse as Paul professing that he himself is our savior.  Nor is he denying that we are saved through Christ alone.  He simply recognizes that he is the instrument that Christ is using to bring forth his plan of salvation.  Christ is the first and principle cause; he is working through St. Paul as a secondary cause to save people.  When Catholics speak to the assistance we receive from the angels and saints, some want to insist that means we do not believe in salvation by Christ alone.  From our perspective we are simply allowing Christ to work through secondary causes that are his gifts to help us.

So in short, can we accept a statement that salvation is through Christ alone?  Yes we can, as long as the intent is not to deny that Christ works through the Church, the Sacraments, and other people as secondary causes in order to save us.

Salvation is by faith alone (sola Fide) through Christ alone (solus Christus) by grace alone (sola Gratia) for the glory of God alone (Sali Deo Gloria).  “Salvation is for the glory of God alone.”  As Catholics we can absolutely agree with a belief that salvation is for the glory of God alone, as long as we don’t deny or fail to recognize that it is God’s desire to share His glory with us, and that this is no way “takes away” from the glory of God.  In Romans 5:2 St. Paul writes “Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  Sacred Scripture is full of examples that express the truth that the destiny of our salvation journey is to share in the glory of God (John 5:44, 17:22, Romans 2:7, 2:10, 9:23, 1 Corinthians 15:43, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:17, Colossians 3:4, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:14, Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 1:7, 5:1, 5:4, 5:10, 2 Peter 1:3).

Salvation is by faith alone (sola Fide) through Christ alone (solus Christus) by grace alone (sola Gratia) for the glory of God alone (Sali Deo Gloria).  “Salvation is by faith alone.”  In general, this is where we most diverge with Protestant belief.  As defined by traditional Protestantism, salvation by “faith alone” generally asserts that God’s pardon for sinners is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all “works.”  God grants the sinner judicial pardon, or “justification,” which is received by “faith alone.”  Faith is receiving Christ and all his benefits.  Christ’s righteousness is imputed (or given) by God to the believing sinner so that pardon of the sinner is based not on anything the sinner does but upon Christ and his righteousness alone.

Catholics reject sola-fide as defined by most Protestants to be both unScriptural and not the legitimate Gospel.  For this reason, many Protestants profess that Catholics preach a “false” Gospel.

However, this is not as simple of a line as one might think.  At least some of the problem revolves around the way we use terminology associated with salvation, and what we mean by specific phrases or words.  We often use the same language but there can be nuances in meaning that when explored can often bring us closer to some Protestants than we realize.  And because of these differences in meaning, Protestants can often make some assumptions about what Catholics believe that are inaccurate.  In addition, within Protestantism itself there can be much disagreement.

Over the next many posts we will be exploring these questions.  What does it mean to say we are “saved”?  What are we being saved from?  Is salvation a one-time event that occurs, or is it a process?  What role does sanctification play in salvation?  What is the difference between imputed and infused righteousness?  What is grace and what does it do?  What exactly constitutes a “work” in the first place?  And perhaps the most important question of all – what exactly does the Bible mean when it speaks to having “faith” in Christ?  We’ll delve into what Sacred Scripture has to say about all of these topics and discover the very Biblical roots of what Catholics believe and why.

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