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Sola Fide
by Lieut-Colonel Wendy Swan


As Luther never tired of saying, only experience makes a theologian. “I did not learn my theology all at once” he said, “but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations took me…not understanding, reading or speculation, but living – nay dying and being damned – make a theologian”. 


Medieval theologians considered faith one of the three theological virtues, along with hope and love. They emphasized faith’s cognitive content and saw it as a virtue formed by love. But to Luther, such faith is not sufficient for salvation.  As he saw it, the Reformers did not choose the term credentia (assent, belief) but fides understood as fiducia (faith, trust). Credentia tends to be an impersonal belief; the authority speaks and we submit our minds and reason to it. But fiducia, ‘trust’ is a term that applies properly only within a personal context. Fides implies both trust and love. An intellectual, static and dogmatic adherence to a set of doctrines might be seen as a form of faith, but for Luther it lacks the most important component of faith, a relationship with a person. For Christians (including Salvationists), that is the person of Christ. We have faith in Christ and it is therefore Christ who is the center of sola fide.


Early Romanists alleged that Luther frivolously added the word ‘alone’ to Romans 3:28 in his German translation of the New Testament (1522) so as to read ‘justified by faith alone’ instead of ‘justified by faith’. In reply, Luther in his Open Letter of Translating (1522) lashed out at his accusers -


“I know very well that in Romans 3 the letters S-O-L-A are not in the Greek or Latin text – the papists did not have to teach me that… these blockheads stare at them like a cow at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text – if the translation is to be clear and vigorous… it belongs there… furthermore, I am not the only one, nor the first, to say that faith alone makes one righteous. There was Ambrose, Augustine and many others who said it before me.”


Paradoxically some Catholic versions of the New Testament also translated Romans 3:28 the same way Luther did. The Nuremberg Bible (1483), Allein Durich Den Glauben and the Italian Bibles of Geneva (1476) and Venice (1538) say ‘per sola fede”.


Some facts are indeed stranger than fiction.


In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song

This cornerstone, this solid ground

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My comforter, my all in all –

Here in the love of Christ I stand.       

(Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend, 2001) 










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