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Five solas

The Five solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the Reformers' basic theological beliefs in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. The Latin word sola means "alone" or "only" in English. The five solas articulated five fundamental beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, pillars which the Reformers believed to be essentials of the Christian life and practice.

Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")

Sola scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all — that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting. That the Bible requires no interpretation outside of itself is an idea directly opposed to the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Coptic, Anglo-Catholic, and Roman Catholic traditions, which teach that the Bible can be authentically interpreted only by Apostolic Tradition, this being for the Roman Catholic tradition embodied in the Magisterium, (that is the teaching authority embodied in Bishops in union with the Pope). Sola scriptura is sometimes called the formal principle of the Reformation, since it is the source and norm of the material principle, sola fide.

The adjective (sola) and the noun (scriptura) are in the ablative case rather than the nominative case, not to indicate that the Bible stands alone apart from God but that it is the instrument of God by which He reveals himself for salvation through faith in Christ (solus Christus).

Sola fide ("by faith alone")

Sola fide is the teaching that justification (interpreted in Protestant theology as, "being declared right by God", rather than "being made righteous by God") is received by faith only, without any mixture of or need for good works, though in classical Protestant theology, saving faith is always evidenced by good works. Some Protestants see this doctrine as being summarized with the formula "Faith yields justification and good works" and as contrasted with the Roman Catholic formula "Faith and good works yield justification." However, this is disputed by the Roman Catholic position as a misrepresentation; it might be better contrasted with a comparison of what is meant by the term "justification": both sides agree that the term invokes a communication of Christ's merits to sinners, where in Protestant theology this is seen as being a declaration of sinlessness (while not necessarily being so — "simul justus et peccator"(simultaneously justified and yet a sinner) for Luther), Roman Catholicism sees justification as a communication of God's life to a human being, cleansing him of sin and transforming him truly into a son of God, so that it is not merely a declaration. The Sola fide doctrine is sometimes called the material cause or principle of the Reformation because it was the central doctrinal issue for Martin Luther and the other reformers. Luther called it the "doctrine by which the church stands or falls" (Latin, articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae). This doctrine asserts the total exclusion of any other righteousness to justify the sinner other than the "alien" righteousness (righteousness of another) of Christ alone. Sola fide excludes even the sinner's own righteousness of sanctification or his "new obedience" from his justification.

Sola gratia ("by grace alone")

Sola gratia is the teaching that salvation comes by God's grace or "unmerited favor" only — not as something merited by the sinner. This means that salvation is an unearned gift from God for Jesus' sake. While some maintain that this doctrine is the opposite of "works' righteousness" and conflicts with some of the aspects of the Roman Catholic doctrine of merit, it might be asserted that this article, taken at face value, conflicts in no way with Roman Catholic teaching; while the doctrine that grace is truly and always a gift of God is held in agreement between both views, the difference in doctrine lies mainly in two facts: that of God as sole actor in grace (in other words, that grace is always efficacious without any cooperation by man), and second, that man cannot by any action of his own, acting under the influence of grace, cooperate with grace to "merit" greater graces for himself (the latter would be the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church). This doctrine asserts divine monergism in salvation: God acts alone to save the sinner. The responsibility for salvation does not rest on the sinner to any degree as in "synergism" or Arminianism. Lutheranism holds that this doctrine must not be maintained to the exclusion of gratia universalis (that God seriously wills the salvation of all people).

Solus Christus ("Christ alone")

Solus Christus is the teaching that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and that there is salvation through no other (hence, the phrase is sometimes rendered in the ablative case, solo Christo, meaning that salvation is "by Christ alone"). While rejecting all other mediators between God and man, classical Lutheranism continues to honor the memory of the Virgin Mary and other exemplary saints. This principle rejects "sacerdotalism," which is the belief that there are no sacraments in the church without the services of priests ordained by apostolic succession under the authority of the pope. Martin Luther taught the "general priesthood of the baptized," which was modified in later Lutheranism and classical Protestant theology into "the priesthood of all believers," denying the exclusive use of the title "priest" (Latin, sacerdos) to the clergy. This principle does not deny the office of the holy ministry to which is committed the public proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. In this way, Luther in his Small Catechism could speak of the role of "a confessor" to confer sacramental absolution on a penitent. The section in this catechism known as "The Office of the Keys" (not written by Luther but added with his approval) identifies the "called ministers of Christ" as being the ones who exercise the binding and loosing of absolution and excommunication through Law and Gospel ministry. This is laid out in the Lutheran formula of holy absolution: the "called and ordained servant of the Word" forgives penitents' sins (speaks Christ's words of forgiveness: "I forgive you all your sins") without any addition of penances or satisfactions and not as an interceding or mediating "priest," but "by virtue of [his] office as a called and ordained servant of the Word" and "in the stead and by the command of [his] Lord Jesus Christ" [The Lutheran Hymnal, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941), p. 16]. In this tradition absolution reconciles the penitent with God directly through faith in Christ's forgiveness rather than with the priest and the church as mediating entities between the penitent and God.

Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")

Soli Deo gloria is the teaching that all glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through his will and action — not only the gift of the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus on the cross but also the gift of faith in that atonement, created in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. The reformers believed that human beings—even saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy—are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them. That is that one should not exalt such humans for their good works, but rather praise and give glory to God who is the author and perfecter of these people and their good works.

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