The Protestant doctrine of sola fide is, of course, established in the teaching of the New Testament. Our authority in all matters is solely found in the Scriptures (hence, the Reformation principle of sola scriptura). Thus, we are convinced that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone because that is precisely what the Bible teaches.
But is there a witness to the great Reformed principle of sola fide in early church history? OR was Martin Luther the first to introduce the idea in the early 1500s (as many Roman Catholics claim)?
In order to answer those questions, we have listed twenty-one quotes from early Christian leaders below. Such a list (though not authoritative) is nonetheless confirming for those who embrace a Reformed soteriology.
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1. Clement of Rome (c. 30–100): And we [Christians], too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
2. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–115): His cross, and his death, and his resurrection, and the faith which is through him, are my unpolluted muniments [legal titles]; and in these, through your prayers, I am willing to be justified.
3. Polycarp (c. 69–155): I know that through grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God, through Jesus Christ.
4. Justin Martyr (d. 165): No longer by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of a heifer . . . are sins purged, but by faith, through the blood of Christ and his death, who died on this very account.
5. Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398): This does not mean that works can be put before faith, because a person is saved by grace, not by works but by faith.
6. Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67): Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.
7. Athanasius (295–375): By surrendering to death the body which He [Jesus Christ] had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, He immediately abolished death for His human brothers by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Logos of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled by death all that was required.
8. Basil of Caesarea (329-379): Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ.
9. Ambrose (339–97): Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.
10. Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3: God justifies by faith alone.
11. Jerome (again): He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.
12. Chrysostom (349–407): But what is the “law of faith?” It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God’s power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only.
13. Chrysostom (again): For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent.
14. Augustine (354-430): If Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified? . . . Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). Abraham, then, was justified by faith. Paul and James do not contradict each other: good works follow justification.
15. Augustine (again): When someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6). What righteousness is this? The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.
16. Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384): God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins.
17. Ambrosiaster (again), on Rom. 3:24: They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.
18. Ambrosiaster (again), on Rom. 3:27: Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.
19. Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): For we are justified by faith, not by works of the law, as Scripture says (Gal. 2:16). By faith in whom, then, are we justified? Is it not in him who suffered death according to the flesh for our sake? Is it not in one Lord Jesus Christ.
20. Cyril of Alexandria (again): For truly the compassion from beside the Father is Christ, as he takes away the sins, dismisses the charges and justifies by faith, and recovers the lost and makes [them] stronger than death. . . . For by him and in him we have known the Father, and we have become rich in the justification by faith.
21. Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (c. 467-532) commenting on Eph. 2:8: The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity.
Source: PULPIT MAGAZINE