Historical insights – Anselm alone

 


The History of Justification by Faith Alone up to the Reformation

Thomas R. Thompson

Monergism.com

In reading Church History it’s clear that apostasy happened early. Christians added onto the Gospel – “another gospel” was being taught, from leading a moral life, to being baptized, to believing the creeds, to maintaining unity with the Bishop of Rome. Only very recently have I learned that the Gospel of grace was absent for a long time. I thought it had to be there. But even the Waldensians didn’t include Faith Alone in their 12th century confession of faith; even the early reformer and martyr John Huss didn’t see this truth.

Anselm of Canterbury was a man who knew that we could not pay our debt of sin, and that only the Lord Jesus Christ, because He is both God and Man, could do this for us and did this for us. Hallelujah!

Man cannot pay the debt owed for his sins (c. 1050)

“Until Anselm of Canterbury it was rare for anyone to speak as if he understood that man has nothing to offer God in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. The dominant thought was being baptized, or performing some act of charity was sufficient to cancel sins committed. Anselm is his writing Why God became Man, explains why this is not possible. Anselm shows man has no capability to make satisfaction to God for even the smallest of his sins.

“Anselm starts by explaining what it means to sin, and how to make satisfaction for it. He notes all the thoughts and labors of a man ought to be subject to the will of God. This is the debt that all men owe to God, and it is sin to not give Him that. No one who pays this debt sins, and anyone who does not pay it sins. Should one sin against God, it is not enough to simply return what was taken. To make satisfaction one must return more than was taken. It is not enough for someone who has injured another to restore his original condition without giving some compensation for the pain and injury suffered. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XI)

“When man sinned in the garden, and surrendered his will to the devil, he took from God whatever God planned for humanity. Therefore, according to strict justice in order to make satisfaction with God, man would need to conquer the devil to regain what was lost. Since man was conquered by the devil and stole what belonged to God, and God lost it, so by the fact of man conquering the devil, the devil loses and God regains it. In addition, man would also need to justify as many men as God had planned for the Heavenly City that was lost due to the fall. However, sinful man is incapable of this, because a sinner cannot justify another sinner. Therefore man has no capacity to merit any justice from God for the things he does. Anything man may consider offering to God is only giving to God what is already owed. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XXIII)

“It would not be until 500 years later and Martin Luther, that many would understand the full weight of Anselm’s arguments. In the light of such convincing arguments, it makes previous church council matters on reinstating lapsed Christians and the like seem rather petty. Man has no ability to do penance for any of his sins, so it seems rather foolish to construct systems whereby satisfaction is made to God based on man’s so-called merits. If the church considered this bigger problem initially, they may not have invented so many things for one to do to obtain forgiveness of sins. They did not before Anselm, nor after him. As a result the church continues to develop its merits based salvational system, until the weight of this system brings about its own collapse.”

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Answering The Catholic Thinker on Faith Alone (Sola Fide) and works


Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

“Genuine salvation is entirely of God and it inevitably results in a life of good works.”

Steven J. Cole, Bible.org


 An answer to Patrick E. Devens

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“Those who teach Sola Fide, are they not keeping back information concerning salvation? What of good works; obedience?

“My point is that Sola Fide is a doctrine that ignores God’s Word concerning the importance of obedience (good works), is not historical, and sets a Christian up with a false sense of their salvation being secured solely by their faith.”

Patrick E. Devens, The Safety-Net of Sola Fide

Patrick, I won’t be responding to every point of your post The Safety-Net of Sola Fide, but to some problems with it: most importantly, that you tend to isolate Faith Alone from the other Solas, and that you are misrepresenting the faith of many Christians.
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To begin, here is an overview of the Solas from Theopedia.com. In studying them, I believe it’s important to remember that they aren’t a creed or catechism and so they aren’t meant to set forth the entirety of the Faith.
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“The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers’ basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. “Sola” is Latin meaning “alone” or “only” and the corresponding phrases are:
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Sola Fide, by faith alone.

Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.

Solus Christus, through Christ alone.

Sola Gratia, by grace alone.

Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

“These phrases may be found individually expressed in the various writings of the 16th century Reformers, either explicitly or implicitly, but they are not found presented as a list per se. It is most likely the list of Solas came about later.”

So again, Sola Fide shouldn’t be made to stand on its own. A Reformed website Monergism.com expresses the Solas together in this way:

“We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.” 

This same website has a helpful article on Faith Alone, The History of Justification by Faith Alone up to the Reformation, which addresses your just concerns over where Sola Fide was before the Reformation. I’m studying this myself now. 

Patrick, you must know that we teach Sola Gratia as well as Sola Fide and so you can’t say that Sola Fide is deficient because it doesn’t contain or seems to ignore Sola Gratia: again, they must be taken as a whole and not separated except for the purpose of explanation. 

The Reformers on Faith and Works

Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith (Ligonier Ministries) 

“. . . faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13) It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.”

John Calvin on faith and good works (Bible.org)

“We have been clear upon the fact that good works are not the cause of salvation; let us be equally clear upon the truth that they are the necessary fruit of it. . .Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify.”

Huldrych Zwingli (AZ Quotes) 

“Our confidence in Christ does not make us lazy, negligent, or careless, but on the contrary it awakens us, urges us on, and makes us active in living righteous lives and doing good. There is no self-confidence to compare with this.”

Additional important points

While, as you correctly stated, the Lord Jesus Christ taught us how we must live as God’s, He also taught us about the preeminence of faith:

John 6

28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

29 Jesus answered, and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe in him, whom he hath sent.

The truth that the just shall live by his faith is taught in both the Old and New Testaments.

Habakkuk 2:4

“Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.

1 Peter 1:3-9

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

Hebrews 11

Genuine Bible-believing Christians (Protestants and Evangelicals) aren’t antinomians, which is the implication of your post. Yes, there are some who live as though one can sin all they like since they once “made a decision for Christ,” but that is not what the Bible teaches and what we hold. Genuine Christians aren’t lawless and don’t promote lawlessness. Christians understand Paul and James together, that is, that good works demonstrate that we have saving faith – living Faith – for as you note, even the demons know that God exists.

James 2:19

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

We also believe that Christians will be eager for good works, and we want to obey and please the Lord. We are not looking for a way out of difficulties but are carrying our cross, loving the Lord and others. Not that we have attained to these things but that God is at work within us and will complete the good work He began in us.

Philippians 2:12-14

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Titus 2:13,14

13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Again, Martin Luther did not invent Faith Alone. The Bible teaches it, and it was taught by Patristics such as Clement of Rome, Irenaeus of Lyons, and John Chrysostom:

“Similarly we also, who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time. Glory be to Him, forever and ever, Amen.” – St. Clement of Rome (? – ~101 AD) (Letter to the Corinthians,  par. 32)

“Human beings can be saved from the ancient wound of the serpent in no other way than by believing in him who, when he was raised up from the earth on the tree of martyrdom in the likeness of sinful flesh, drew all things to himself and gave life to the dead.” – St. Irenaeus (130 – 202 AD) (Against the Heresies, IV, 2, 7)

“They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed.”- St. John Chrysostom (347 – 407 AD) (Homily on Galatians 3)

HT: ACTheologian, Church Fathers on Sola Fide

Patrick, you said, “But Sola Fide is not taught anywhere in the Bible, implicitly or explicitly, as a single verse or the Bible as a whole.” At the least, please remember this passage:

Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

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Quote of the day – John Wycliffe

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A Reformation Fore-runner who taught Faith Alone  

John Wycliffe (AZ Quotes) 

“Trust wholly in Christ; rely altogether on His sufferings; beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by His righteousness. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation. There must be atonement made for sin according to the righteousness of God. The person to make this atonement must be God and man.”

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Go read! Armchair Theologian


“The claim of some is that you don’t find the teaching of Justification Sola Fide (Faith Alone) in the Church until the reformation. As before, it is not just Roman Catholics that assert this. So to put this accusation to rest I have assembled a sample of Patristic quotes below from the same source used in my prior post. . .

“. . .The point is this, Sola Fide can be demonstrated very easily in the writings of the early Church. The truth of the Reformation is not a truth added to Christianity but the very Gospel itself restored. Don’t let anyone tell you that Sola Fide is a new doctrine. . .”

Church Fathers on Sola Fide

ACTheologian

About ACTheologian
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“I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.”
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ACTheologian is a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Christian and a former Seventh Day Adventist.
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