The Five Solas: Introduction

The Five Solas1Sola is Latin for “only” or “alone”. It’s also where we get the word “solo.” are summaries of the teachings coming out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. They appear in the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin and many others. They’re widely held as a summary of Reformation theology. Depending on your modern theological bent you’ll associate them with either Lutheran, or Calvinist, teaching.

For the longest time, I thought the Five Solas were officially documented somewhere in all the writings of the Reformers. Turns out, they’re not.

Even though each one of them can be found in the writings of the Reformers, it turns out they weren’t officially documented, or systematically articulated, as the Five Solas until the early 20th century. Starting with an article by Prof. Theodore Engelder, in 1916, titled, “The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides.”

Prof. Theodore Engelder (1865-1949)

President of the Michigan District, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, 1912-1914; Professor of Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, 1914-1926; Professor of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, 1926-1946.

Read it here: Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results (Internet Archive)

Other works by Prof. Engelder are here: Prof. Theodore Engelder (1865-1949)

While the Five Solas do not appear as points in a Catechism, neither are they enumerated in Scripture as the Five Solas, they do accurately describe the teachings of the Lutheran church and many others. They are so foundational to the teaching of the Reformers and the greater Christian church; I often wonder if they were “too obvious” to document during the Reformation.

As time goes on questions arise, challenges occur and now we need to document what was once accepted as self-evident.

If that’s the case, what do you do with a theological statement you consider self-evident, but has no specific origin point and others reject? You dig into it to find out where it came from and what it really means.

What do I mean by theological origin point?

If I told you Jesus is the truth, not a truth, but The Truth, you might ask, “How do you know?” I could open the Scriptures and point to John 14:6.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 ESV

I can confidently proclaim and explain Jesus is the Truth based on this verse. That’s what I mean by theological origin point. The Five Solas don’t have this kind of origin point. They don’t appear as a unit in the Bible, or any Catechism that I’m aware.

In the Lutheran church (LCMS), our Catechism teaches the 10 Commandments, Creeds, Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Office of the Keys. In confirmation class we talked about the Five Solas, but they were not a section in the Catechism. And yet, most Lutherans can rattle them off faster than you can say, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

As I was trying to remember what I learned in Confirmation class 40 years ago, I referred to Luther’s Small Catechism. I forgot about Confession and Daily Prayer, which might explain a few things in my spiritual life.

What are the Five Solas?

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)

It is by the unearned grace of God that we are justified.

Sola Fide (Faith Alone)

We receive God’s grace through faith.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

The Bible is the Word of God. The Bible alone is the source and norm for Christian belief and practice.

Solus Christus (Christ Alone)

Christ alone is the basis for our assurance of salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)

God alone receives all glory for our salvation.

One of the immediate conundrums about the Five Solas is they are not alone. All five depend on each other. They work together to form a whole not unlike the Holy Trinity. The Father is God. Christ is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Together they are one God not three gods.

That’s a brief introduction, I know.

Coming soon – a post on each of the five, digging into the meaning, application, and pushback.


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    Sola is Latin for “only” or “alone”. It’s also where we get the word “solo.”






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