The five Solas, or Solae, are elements of the Protestant reformation that promoted the idea of adhering solely to five values. These included following teachings by faith, scripture, grace, Christ, and God alone. Catholic Christians reject the five Solas as they contradict many of their own teachings. This paper will evaluate the perspective of Protestant and Catholic perception of the five Solas and how they differ on the topic. To the current day, the two theologies of Christianity have both overlapping and deeply contradicting views on the topic that are essential to understand and contrast. Protestants believe that all five solas are essential while all other practices are unnecessary, and Catholics disagree as they find concepts such as Sacred Tradition, the Holy Spirit, the Church, sacraments, and veneration vital to their faith and to salvation.
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The first sola to be measured in a theological sense in this paper is that of scripture. This is because it relates deeply to the other four Solas. As such, the way in which a reader interacts with scripture can have serious effects on their perception of God, which deeply changes the theological questions of the reader (Androne, 2020). From a Protestant perspective, this suggests that understanding of scripture and the authority it represents is less obstructed by misinterpretation or corruption of others.
The pure and clear way between an individual and God is one of the primary beliefs of Protestant theology, and it is clearly visible in the scripture sola. Catholics disagree based on their belief in Magisterium and Sacred Tradition (De Maria, 2015). Catholic believers argue that the scripture cannot be interpreted by anyone, that infallibility with the texts belongs to the Church.
Secondly, though scripture is the primary method of knowledge when it comes to God, it can be followed by Christ. This is because, as cited in biblical texts, all things were created for him and that he is the ‘image of the indivisible God’. Christ can be discussed in relation to his three roles of work within the bible as a prophet, a priest, and a king. In the early chapters of Hebrews, Christ is described as ‘better than the angels’ due to his unique relationship with God. As such, he is also prone to more unique worship and is in fact enthroned for eternity due to the different nature of his whole being according to Protestants.
Catholics do not wholly agree with Jesus being the only method for communication or salvation from God. Catholic teachings often refer to the Holy Spirit and His importance, such as when Peter and the apostles received power from Him (The Five Solas, 2020). As such, Catholics receive the Holy Spirit at Confirmation and through laying of hands on charismatics. Additionally, Catholics cite the Communion of Saints as essential to salvation, which the five Solas ignore.
The Solas of grace and faith often go hand in hand and work to complement each other within Protestant theologies. The Solas here determine that through faith alone, grace alone will be able to save those that practice this principle. As such, it is important to revisit the doctrines of salvation and sin, and how the two cannot exist without the other and their influence on other beliefs. This is a well-recognized concept in the Reformation, primarily through their comprehension that the understanding of salvation at the time was flawed or untrue. This led to doubt about the overly ambitious assumption of human abilities.
John Calvin discussed how the root of the issue was visible within teachings in Rome at the time, with Calvin’s belief determining that man should find righteousness outside himself because he is already covered in sin (Lillback, 2017). This ties into the principle of sola gratia, which reminds us that as the world was created by God, salvation through grace is another recreation. In turn, sola fide is the process by which sola gratia comes about.
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Lutheran and other Reformed doctrines had slight differences in the adaptation of this model but also held much common ground. For instance, both theologies and Calvinistic practices as well recognize the value of these doctrines to be as important to the Church as human life itself. For instance, in Romans 4, Abraham is unable to be justified by works as that would give him the opportunity to boast, and as such he is able to rely on faith alone (Luther, 2017).
The Catholic church, on the other hand, believes that justification begins at baptism while salvation lasts a believer’s entire life. As such, they reject the Protestant ideology that they were saved during their lifetime, and determine that faith at the time of death and good works cement salvation (The Five Solas, 2020). The sola of grace alone has the most common factors between the two faiths, with even Catholics being in agreement that saving comes from God’s gift. However, they differ in the method of receiving this grace, as Catholics argue that grace is given in Sacraments.
The most vital and convincing arguments for the souls come from the Soli Deo Gloria or the belief of ‘by God alone’. In Protestant belief, the entire world and all creation is done for the glory of God and is not about people (Williams, 2017). Though God does save people for their benefit he does so for his own praise and glory, and He does so because it is praiseworthy. As such, glory belongs to God alone and within Protestant ideologies this is echoed through the belief that all should be attributed to the Creator and not the creation.
In fact, the fifth sola is the reason for the other four existing in the first place and the unifying force of all five. The sola Scriptura relays the sufficient word of God, the sola Christus depicts the unique glory of Christ, and God by extension. Sola gratia emphasizes that God is the savior alone and that sola fide values the works of God and Christ over our own. The Protestant theologies concerning the Solas do not actually deny any fundamental beliefs with other Christian ideologies, but simply try to maintain the purity of scripture and God’s word as they distance it from over encompassing human influence. Unlike Protestants, Catholics believe that glory given to saints does not rob God, but passes through them to Him. Catholics differ on this perception of God’s glory, as they often cite that Jesus has stated that He gave glory to the apostles (De Maria, 2015).
In Catholic beliefs, the works of the apostles may not be able to bring salvation single-handedly, they are an essential part of Christ and, therefore, partake in divine nature. Veneration, in this case, becomes a different type of glory that is offered to the saints and is not identical to the glory that is offered to God.
To this day, the ideologies disagree on the five Solas based on many intricacies and traditions. Catholics reject the belief that only aspects of the Bible should be essential to their faith, as it ignores many practices and methods that they find crucial to their religion. They believe that scripture must be interpreted by those in the Church, and that the Holy Spirit’s role is necessary to the process of talking to God. Additionally, they maintain their saints and sacraments, while Protestants reject almost all these values. Though the two Christian faiths have much in common and frequently agree on the value of certain themes, they differ greatly in their approach and perception.
Androne, M. (2020). Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation and Educational Reformer. Springer, Cham.
De Maria. (2015). Not by any of the 5 Alones. Catholic365. Web.
Lillback, P., A. An introduction to Luther, Calvin, and their Protestant Reformations. Unio Cum Christo: International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life, 3(1), 83-108. Web.
Luther, M. (2017). Martin Luther in His Own Words: Essential Writings of the Reformation. (J. D. Kilcrease & E. W. Lutzer, Ed.). Baker Books.
The Five Solas. (2020). Catholic Bible 101. Web.
Williams, G., J. (2017). The Five Solas of the Reformation: Then and Now. Unio Cum Christo: International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life, 3(1), 13-34. Web.