The "Lutheran" Solas in the Fathers of the Church
By William Weedon
Some Fathers on Sola Scriptura:
“The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. St. Athanasius (Against the Heathen, I:3)
“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” St. John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC)
"Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words." St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327).
"We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings." St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection NPNF II, V:439)
“What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” Basil the Great (The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC).
“We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.” St. Basil the Great (On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 7, par. 16)
For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in NPNF, Volume VII, p. 23.)
Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God. St. Augustine (De unitate ecclesiae, chp. 10)
Some Fathers on Sola Gratia
But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all men that sin which none could escape, and blotted out the handwriting against us by the shedding of His own Blood. This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the Law, but grace abounded by Jesus; for after that the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Wherefore let no man glory in works, for by his works no man shall be justified, for he that is just hath a free gift, for he is justified by the Bath. It is faith then which delivers by the blood of Christ, for Blessed is the man to whom sin is remitted, and, pardon granted. Ambrose (Letter 73, to Irenaeus, a layman)
“After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of blessings, he has not kept to the same order: for he does not say, the wages of your good deeds, but the gift of God: to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. And so there was superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for the better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them more than before, and that through His Son.” - St. John Chrysostom (Epistle to the Romans, Homily 12, Rom 6:23)
And he well said, "a righteousness of mine own," not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence. Chrysostom (Homily on Philippians 3)
Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor's favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift. This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. "All have sinned," says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins. All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. Bu those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King's loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification. Chrysostom (Discourses Against Judaizing Christians. Discourse I:6-II:1)
Some Fathers on Sola Fide:
"Similarly we also, who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time. Glory be to Him, forever and ever, Amen." - St. Clement of Rome (Letter to the Corinthians, par. 32)
"Human beings can be saved from the ancient serpent in no other way than by believing in him who, when he was raised up from the earth on the tree of martyrdom in the likeness of sinful flesh, drew all things to himself and gave life to the dead." - Irenaeus (Against the Heresies, IV, 2, 7).
"Indeed, this is the perfect and complete glorification of God, when one does not exult in his own righteousness, but recognizing oneself as lacking true righteousness to be justified by faith alone in Christ." - St. Basil the Great (Homily on Humility, PG 31.532; TFoTC vol. 9, p. 479)
"They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed." - St. John Chrysostom (First Corinthians, Homily 20, PG 61.164)
"For you believe the faith; why then do you add other things, as if faith were not sufficient to justify? You make yourselves captive, and you subject yourself to the law." - St. John Chrysostom (Epistle to Titus, Homily 3, PG 62.651)
"To declare His righteousness." What is declaring of righteousness? Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful. So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He doth also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores (katasapentaj) of sin suddenly righteous. And it is to explain this, viz. what is "declaring," that he has added, "That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men. And be not abashed and shamefaced. For if He Himself openly declareth (endeiknutai) Himself to do so, and He, so to say, findeth a delight and a pride therein, how comest thou to be dejected and to hide thy face at what thy Master glorieth in? - St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on Romans 3)
Some Fathers on Solus Christus:
Take therefore first, as an indestructible foundation, the Cross, and build upon it the other articles of the faith. - St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture 13:38)
God is a great lover of man. He did not hesitate to surrender His Son as prey in order to spare His servant. He surrendered His only-begotten to purchase hard-hearted servants. He paid the blood of His Son as the price. O the philanthropy of the Master! And do not tell me again, “I sinned a lot; how can I be saved?” You cannot save yourself, but your Master can, and to such a great degree as to obliterate your sins. Pay attention very carefully to the discourse. He wipes out the sins so completely that not a single trace of them remains. – Chrysostom (Homily 8 on Repentance and the Church TFOTC, pp. 116,117)
"Christ is Master by virtue of His own essence and Master by virtue of His incarnate life. For He creates man from nothing, and through His own blood redeems him when dead in sin; and to those who believe in Him He has given His grace. When Scripture says, 'He will reward every man according to his works' (Matt 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but our Creator and Redeemer." St. Mark the Ascetic (ca. 425), (On those who think that they are made righteous by works – in the Philokalia)
Lutheran Approach to the Fathers:
“They were human beings who could err and be deceived.” Ap XXVI:95
“Other writings of ancient or contemporary writers, whatever their names may be, shall not be regarded as equal to Holy Scripture, but all of them together shall be subjected to it, and not be accepted in any other way, or with any further authority, than as witnesses of how and where the teaching of the prophets and apostles was preserved after the time of the apostles.” FC Ep Intro:2
“Since, then, this teaching (the AC) is clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and is, moreover, neither against nor contrary to the universal Christian Church – or even the Roman Church – so far as can be observed from the writings of the Fathers, we think our opponents cannot disagree with us in the articles set forth above.” AC Part One, Conclusion:1
“For we love and venerate the testimonies of the ancient and purer church, by whose agreement we are both aided and confirmed; but our faith must rest on the word of God, no on human authority. Therefore we do not set the testimonies of the fathers over the Scripture, but subordinate them to it.” - Chemnitz, Examen I:150
Ambrose – (340-397) bishop of Milan, famous for his commentaries on Paul’s epistles and for baptizing St. Augustine.
Athanasius – (c. 296-373) bishop of Alexandria from 328, opponent to Arianism and staunch defender of Nicene Orthodoxy
Augustine – (354-430) bishop of Hippo from 396, most influential theologian of the Western Church. Opponent of Pelagius and known therefore as the Doctor of Grace.
Basil – (c. 330-379) bishop of Caeserea from 370, opponent of Arianism. One of the Cappadocian fathers.
Chrysostom – (c. 347-407) Bishop of Antioch, Patriarch of Constantinople. Prolific writer and famous interpreter of the Scriptures. His name means “golden mouthed” from his fine oratory.
Clement of Rome – (flourished c. 96 A.D.) Bishop of Rome shortly after the Apostles
Cyril of Jerusalem – (c. 315-386) Bishop of Jerusalem. Famous for his catechetical lectures and for his attendance at the Council of Constantinople where the Nicene Creed was completed.
Gregory of Nyssa – (c. 330-395) Greek bishop of Nyssa, and brother of Basil.
Irenaeus – (c. 130-c. 200) Bishop of Lyon, early Christian apologist and disciple of Polycarp, disciple of John.
Mark the Ascetic – (c. 425) Famous ascetical writer who denounced trust in our own works.
Rev. Wil Weedon is Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, Illinois.