Hi, guys —
I have been looking into Catholicism but I am confused on some things.
- What do Catholics believe regarding the five Solas (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria)?
- I know they summarize the Reformation's theological convictions but what does Catholicism believe about them?
What do Catholics believe about the five Solas (Scriptura, Fide, Gratia, Christus, and Deo Gloria)? }
This is too broad a question to address in a forum such as this, but I'll summarize some things.
Sola Gratia — I am less familiar with the Protestant objection here. Catholicism has always in its doctrine acknowledged that all our merits before God are a pure gift (grace). See the Catechism No. 2011 (under the previous Catechism link) and the heading to No. 2006:
- Catholicism does not believe in Sola Scriptura. It is not only unbiblical, it contradicts Scripture (See 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 1 Timothy 3:15 for starters). Do a search on our site for "sola scriptura" or bible or tradition and you may find some additional insights.
Christianity arose in a milieu which was largely oral. Because books were exceedingly expensive — paper had not yet been invented nor had the printing press — literacy levels were low. The assumption that every Christian believer had a personal Bible to refer to at their whim is naive and erroneous. John 1:1 says that Jesus is the Word of God, not Scripture, and whenever the Word of God is referred to in Scripture, the sense is never exclusively the written word but is often oral and from time to time something entirely transcendent like John 1:1 (See also Hebrews 4:12).
This is not to say that we reject Scripture. We believe Scripture is the inspired, inerrant written Word of God. St. Jerome said,
Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
But we interpret Scripture in light of our tradition in the context of 2,000 years of our Christian community. It's not just, here's a Bible, read it for yourself, and come up with your own conclusions. If someone comes up with a new interpretation of a key Scripture that contradicts what's been believed for 2,000 years, we tend to reject that interpretation, especially if it chips at the foundation of the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).
- Sola Fide — Much ink has been spilled over this issue in the last 500 years. Protestants have gone all over the map with this doctrine. What Catholicism essentially believes is that we are saved by faith working through love (See Galatians 5:6). If by faith alone you mean faith formed by charity (Christian love, agape in Greek), we can accept justification by faith alone in that sense (though for various reasons we would avoid using the formulation), but if it's faith apart from charity, we cannot.
One important point is that we firmly believe that nothing that precedes justification of the wicked merits justification:
"[N]one of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, then is it no more by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle saith, grace is no more grace."
(Romans 11:6, Council of Trent, Session 7, Decree on Justification, Chapter 8, Buckley, T. A. (1851). The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (p. 35). London: George Routledge and Co.)
There is some confusion here because Catholicism admits to degrees of justification, whereas Protestantism, in general, does not. In other words, we believe it is possible for someone who is just, to become more just (i.e. more justified) by doing deeds of charity by grace through faith, but for Protestantism, you're either justified (a saint) or unjustified (a wicked sinner). There are no degrees. Taking Catholic teaching and applying it to Protestant assumptions is mixing apples and oranges.
For further information, I would refer you to:
"You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts."
St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 102,7:PL 37,1321-1322
Sola Christus — I am even less familiar with the Protestant objection here, I suspect it has to do with saints and such. This is rather complicated in its detail so I'll be brief, but my observation is that Catholicism believes that Jesus is something akin to a pioneer (Hebrews 12:2) who opened the way for us to share in his own divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4) and imitate Him (cf. John 14:12). Jesus Christ in almost every way is, through grace, our goal and our destiny.
The very term Christian means little Christ. We are all Messiahs in the one Messiah. St. Paul talks about making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). He doesn't mean of course that Jesus's sufferings were insufficient, but He is saying that we have an opportunity, through our sufferings, to share in Christ's sufferings (2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 3:10, 1 Peter 4:13) and thereby help the Church. I could go on and on but my point is that in Catholicism, we share in Christ's divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and become like Him, Our Elder Brother. We are adopted as sons and become by grace what Christ is by nature.
- A lot of talk, but what does this have to do with Sola Christus per se?
In Protestantism, Christ is singled out as the one who does all the work and we are just along for a free ride, so to speak. In fact, to even speak of filling up in [our] own flesh what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24) is blasphemous. No one can even attempt to do what Christ did.
In Catholicism, however, Jesus is the pioneer and got the ball rolling, but invites us by grace to share in His mission (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Consequently, in Protestantism, the intercession of the saints is seen as competition with Jesus, but in Catholicism, we see it as cooperation by grace.
All of this by grace, in and subordinate to Christ. We aren't working independent of Him to compete with Him but working with Him, as a young son or daughter works with his or her dad to accomplish a task. Christ is not jealous of the saints interceding for us — He's pleased as punch!
Sola Dei Gloria — here I'm puzzled, since some of the greatest Catholic saints have adopted something like this for their slogan, and I see nothing wrong with it — the Jesuits have as their motto Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or To the greater glory of God, for example but if we want to argue, I'd adduce that the previous argument given for Sola Christus — all the glory ultimately goes to God through Christ, assumes that we who have shared by faith in Christ's mission also share in that glory (2 Corinthians 4:17, Colossians 3:4, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). You cannot separate Christ and his Church; they are one. You cannot pit them against one another, saying that for God to be glorified, his people cannot be, or if his people are glorified, the Lord cannot be.
To the Protestant either/or, the Catholic rejoinder is both/and.
So there you have it. If you have any specific follow-up questions hit Reply All and we'll try to field them.
I recommend a book for you called Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Dr. Alan Schreck. It does a great job of explaining, in a kind and winsome style, Catholic beliefs to a Protestant audience.