Sola Gratia, Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria – Part III

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

In this my final article on the 5 “solas” of the Protestant Reformation I can merely reiterate most of the arguments made in the first two articles: that protestant theology bears no earthly or heavenly authority when it speaks; disagrees with itself in numerous instances and that the only glue for the Protestant is that the Catholic Church is wrong. In all 5 of the solas there is a corresponding message generated by the early Protestant theologians: the Catholic Church got it wrong and we got it right. These solas had, in fact, been used for many centuries within the Catholic Church to make arguments in defense of the faith. Now the reformers took these statements and stood them on their head so that they might become a rallying cry and even to this day you will hear arguments along these very lines.

Sola Gratia or ‘by Grace Alone’ would seemingly be an innocuous enough statement and surely Catholics might also embrace such a sentiment. But along with this statement was the insistence by Protestant theologians that excluded the need for man to cooperate with God’s Grace. In fact, it seems to deny that God has given mankind “free will” at all. For their tenet seems to imply that humans are entirely incapable of saying yes or no to God’s Grace. Catholic’s naturally took a traditional stance holding that God’s gift of free will made it necessary for man to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, a life blessed with God’s Grace or a life bereft of Grace.

Catholic thought agrees that any movement of mind or heart is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, who urges us to make our choice for God and to recoil from evil. But we need not heed these urgings. We can, in fact, choose wrongly and turn our face from God. Truly, isn’t this the essence of sin itself? To deny free will is to implicitly deny that man is incapable of sin: for without free will, how could we be held culpable?

This led to the theological stance of Calvin regarding predestination – an untenable position that would leave God to judge every human at the moment of birth and either choose to supply or deny that soul the grace needed for salvation. Such a position makes our God of Love and Mercy a God more easily characterized by a despot or tyrant. Luther’s belief that human nature was totally corrupted by original sin was echoed in his doctrine concerning predestination. These ideas were stated in the Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans: “As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it.” [1] Of course they could not answer it. In this theology God chooses to damn or save a person without any regard to the inner condition of their soul.

And likewise was their use of Solus Christus, by Christ Alone and Soli Deo Gloria, to God only be the Glory. This was primarily used to discredit the honor that we paid to Mary, the Angels and the Saints. At times it was used to berate the Catholic use of icons and relics to remind us of the greatest feats of human will known to mankind: the spiritual heroes and heroines of our Church. For the Church rightly raises these persons before us as an encouragement to our daily trials and tribulations. Perfection in a Christian sense is a heroic endeavor to seek holiness even in the face of humiliation or death. It is the best quality within the human soul that most truly reflects the fact that man was made in the image and likeness of God.[2]

I could go on and bore you with the arguments that our Saints used regarding each of these and show you the complete and utter balance in their thought but such an endeavor rarely has the desired result for those who hold positions inflexibly. One can quickly be amused by the fact that Catholic thought is not nearly so dogmatic as Protestant theology. However, we will continue to accept the teachings of our Catholic Faith because the Church has said it and She has the Authority given Her by Christ to teach us all things pertaining to God and our Salvation.

“For those who have faith, no explanation is necessary. For those without faith, no explanation is sufficient.” __ Opening lines of the 1943 Academy Award-winningSong of Bernadette,” a movie about the Marian apparitions atLourdes in southwestFrance.


[1] Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod. Concordia,St. Louis, 1932 §14.

[2] Genesis 1:26  And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.

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