Weedon on the Fathers on the Lutheran "Solas"

I meant to post about this a while back, but didn’t get to it. Last week, Pastor Weedon posted a selection of passages from the Church Fathers attesting to the Reformation “solas” (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia) and several other doctrines supposed to be distinctively Lutheran in the Patristic Tradition of the Church. He says of these:

Many times, Lutherans are challenged with: “Well, where was Lutheranism before Luther?” The implication is that Rome or the Eastern Orthodox have some sort of “corner” on the great church Fathers. But Lutherans have never believed this to be true. The Fathers repeatedly present the same or quite similar approaches to doctrine as the Lutheran Confessions do. Here are some citations from the Fathers that may be of help in dispelling the notion that “Lutheranism” is a johnny-come-lately to the Church scene.

He adds that “I don’t believe at any place I’ve ignored context”.

Well, Pastor Weedon, I beg to differ. I think that in fact you are taking the writings of these men out of context. Not in respect to what they teach, but in respect to who they are as teachers. Each of the Church Fathers you quote were members of the Catholic Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Each of them would have been horrified to have what they teach here used in anyway against the authentic tradition of the Church. None of them would have for a moment considered that any of these doctrines required schism from Holy Mother Church. In other words, they taught these doctrines, but they were not Lutherans.

I suggest, Pastor Weedon, a good hard look at Louis Bouyer’s “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism”. There he confessed, he did not deny, but he confessed that the key insights of the Reformers with regard to sola fide, sola Gratia, sola Scriptura are indeed authentic Catholic doctrines. It is not the doctrines themselves, but the way in which they are applied and the way in which they were pitted against the Church herself that was specifically Lutheran.

So nothing is proved re the “pre-existence” of Lutheranism prior to Luther. It is pure anachronism to try to read the Fathers in the light of the Lutheran reformation. What you are hearing them teach and say, Pastor Weedon, is, I think you will find, pure and holy Catholic doctrine, not some kind of proto-Lutheranism. And what you have proved is that the Fathers give no-one an excuse to remain outside of communion with the Catholic Church simply on account of the doctrines of sola fide, sola gratia and sola scriptura. In other words, you can (and should) hold these doctrines (in the proper sense) as a Christian in full communion with the Holy See.

The men who taught these things were Catholics, not Lutherans, Pastor Weedon. I challenge you that God is calling you also to enter the Catholic Church and to come to know the true meaning of these teachings in the context of the fullness of the Faith.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Weedon on the Fathers on the Lutheran "Solas"

  1. William Weedon says:

    If the Roman communion actually taught these things, my friend, you MIGHT have a case. I think they’d dump communion with Rome faster than a hot potato if they heard the faith on these points falsified, as I believe Rome does falsify it. I’m not saying that to be ornery, but it’s just the truth. When’s the last time you heard a priest preach that we are justified by faith alone, the way that St. John Chrysostom repeatedly proclaimed it?

  2. Peter says:

    Various splinter groups constantly point back to statements in history to justify their particular emphasis on the faith. Catholics, for the most part, are mildly bemused by such arguments because they assume that all those things are true, and always have been, but they wonder why a affirmation of a particular emphasis in the faith justifies the wholesale rejection of other emphases which are assumed, affirmed and upheld by the very sources they cite.

    G.K. Chesterton said it best (as usual) in his chapter “the sequal to St Thomas” in his Life of St Thomas.

    “The difference, like every difference between Catholics, was only a difference of emphasis… but there is emphasis and emphasis; and a time was coming when emphasising one side was flatly contradicting the other.”

    Catholics are not different because they deny the emphasis of various Protestant groups, they are different precisely because they do not allow these individual emphases to discount all other valid emphases.

  3. William Weedon says:

    Well, you all would have to have believed something like that or you wouldn’t have become Roman. But at least as far as Lutherans go, the “splintering” came when Rome showed the door to those who had this particular “emphasis” and then proceeded to pronounce an anathema that would strike those who upheld the same emphasis seen in the fathers. You’ve made your peace with those anthemas, but I’ll be darned if I know how.

  4. Schütz says:

    Because the anathemas do not mean what you take them to mean, Pastor William. When “faith alone” is anathematized (for eg.), it is for a given understanding of “faith”, as the Joint Declaration has pointed out. Luther, for instance, understood faith as “fiducia” even more than “fides”, as something of the heart rather than of the head. Catholics have come to understand that for Lutherans the “faith alone” which justifies is never faith without caritas–which is precisely the point of the Tridentine anathemas.

    This is only an eg. I could give others. You must read Bouyer, dear chap.

    And as for preaching, well, Australian Catholic priests (I don’t know about the rest of the world) are bad preachers full stop. I must say it has been a while since I have heard a decent sermon on the Trinity or the Resurrection, but that doesn’t mean that the Church doesn’t teach these things as articles upon which the Church stands or falls! And just because Catholics are bad preachers (or singers for that matter) is no reason to break fellowship with them!

    I would really recommend that you actually read some of our modern preachers too, like Archbishop Chaput, or Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, or the Holy Father himself, and you will see that the true faith is proclaimed, and that those doctrines dear to the heart of Lutherans are not “falsified”.

    It is all a matter of “thinking with the Church”. The Church would not for a moment have thought of condemning the spiritual insights of Martin Luther if he hadn’t turned them around into cudgels with which to bash the Church herself. Doctrines of faith, grace, Christ and the Scriptures are there to be preached, not to be used as polemics. The Fathers of the Church whom you cited were certainly not engaging in polemics. They were simply preaching the faith of the Church.

    And while we are at it, it should be known that the Church fully accepts all these passages you have quoted from these Church Fathers. It is not as if Catholics are ignorant of these passages. They are in our tradition also, you know. The condemnations of the 16th Century do not touch these Patristic statements. Now ask yourself why that is.

    You can conclude only this: that these doctrines are Catholic doctrines, and if you see them in conflict with the Catholic faith then you either 1) do not rightly understand the Catholic faith, 2) do not rightly understand these doctrines. It’s one or the other.

  5. Past Elder says:

    With the new year, I had resolved not to post here any more. I cannot let this pass, however. I will leave a Lutheran defence against this nonsense to Pastor Weedon or others who may jump in also far more capable of it than I.

    I will simply say in this context the only point I ever had to make here: if you think the church to which you have attached yourself is THE Catholic Church teaching THE Catholic Faith, if you thing the church to which you have attached yourself has not disconnected from the Catholic Church and Faith (upper case intended, I mean Rome) with at least equal seriousness as Luther or any other Reformation leader, if you think the ancient Fathers cited would call this church “home”, if you think Chesterton would find this church anything like what he converted to as “home”, if you think the Joint Declaration demonstrates anything but that “Catholics” who no longer believe Catholicism and “Lutherans” who no longer believe Lutheranism can “agree” on anything, if you think this church has done anything in recent decades other than what it did to these Fathers themselves, which is, move on to something else while claiming it is the same thing on no other basis that it is they who say so therefore it must be true, then you have fallen into an illusion and delusion far worse than any of which you seek to impute to Pastor.

    This vile barge of bilge that boasts itself the barque of Peter has never in its history more earned the name Whore of Babylon — false to the Gospel, the Fathers, the catholic faith, the catholic church and now even the Catholic Faith and the Catholic Church, even Christ himself, all the while claiming to be one with it throughout as it elevates men and an institution as the chief object of faith apart from which faith the whole delusion and illusion crumbles for the nonsense it is.

    Here is your challenge: Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

  6. Isabella says:

    I say this not to be harsh, polemical or argumentative, but PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE.

    I wish the Roman Catholic church, right down to it’s last member would quit treating non catholics like
    Nothing means what it clearly says, or it’s changed since the last pope interpreted it;
    Anti-Catholic bigotry prejudices us from understanding anything because we and don’t think with the “mind of the Church” our thoughts are worthless.
    Why bother with us if we don’t speak the same language.

    I have been trying with all my heart, soul, strength and mind; not to mention thousands of hours of reading (mostly straight from original sources-unabridged), study, prayer.
    Church Fathers, Theologians, commentaries, 4 or 5 versions of a history of a certain period or event to dig out a grain or two of unvarnished truth.

    I AM DEEP IN HISTORY, and you know what…Newman was wrong.

    To be deep in history IS NOT to cease to be Protestant…to be deep in history is to cease being satisfied with shallow phrases like “thinking with the mind of the Church”; or “the gates of Hell will not prevail against the True Church”
    I have tried to trace this doctrinal development without much success and I yet to meet one Catholic who rarely fails to invokes development of doctrine, but can’t give satisfactory explanation of it (most haven’t even read Newman), let alone give me an example.

    And now they are publishing abridged (not even abridges-it’s more like random quotes to support a particular Roman Catholic Dogma) sound-bites of the Fathers, proof-texting them with such finesse, and without regard to context , you never would think that is something they condemn the Protestants for doing with Scripture. (except most Protestants have read and have access to the full original source)

    SEE BELOW for the rest (sorry, this has been perking for awhile)

  7. Isabella says:

    To be deep in history breaks my heart;
    It breaks for all those robbed of the riches of Christ, who starved in the midst of plenty,
    People broken, to the point of despair from slamming into wall after brick wall, all erected by the Church, trying to reach the only thing that the heart longs for…Christ, who is the Church.

    The only true development of Doctrine I have seen, was unintentional, unfortunate, and (and who knows, maybe even providential) and only should not have happened if those who shepherded the shepherds and sometimes the the sheep had been faithful to their calling;
    And neither would the righteous anger of a clear thinking, humble, faithful German, who had faults, and whose soul suffered from the sickness of sin; yet no one, if he were honest, would argue that Luther didn’t seek out the True Physician and the True medicine, and relied on the Mercy of God for everything.

    There is a reason the scriptures warn Fathers not to provoke their children to anger.
    And if the Catholic church judges Luther, they must judge themselves first, for they created him as sure as parents did a child, and provoked and frustrated this man whose main weakness was compassion for the sheep; He should never have had to choose between their salvation and obedience to authority.

    So the only valid doctrinal development, as defined by Newman, took place when this unique point, circumstance in history demanded it,;
    And it was not one man’s calculated innovation, nor did it give up one iota of the deposit of Faith; was it of the Holy Spirit….I would not dare to judge.

    One of your own Catholic authors, Karl Adam, inadvertently captured and described this development in his book- Roots of the Reformation:

    …Luther’s abandonment of belief in the Church was not a conclusion reached in the cold, clear light of critical thought, but in the heat of religious experience; indeed, his whole development was less a matter of intellectual insights than of emotional impressions. From the sheer intellectual point of view, Luther never abandoned the idea of the one true Church. His theological thought did not touch on the erection of a new Church, but on the renewal of the old. Even in 1518, when he had to give an account of himself to the Cardinal-Legate Cajetan, he declared: “If any man can show me that I have said anything contrary to the opinion of the holy Roman Church, I will be my own judge and recant. And in the Commentary on a Certain Article in 1519 he commits himself, entirely according to the mind of St. Augustine, to the principle that one may not “for any sin or evil whatever that man may think or name, sever love and divide spiritual unity, for love can do all things.”

    btw, I know Schütz, that you know I am no longer a Lutheran for many reasons, so you know this is not a denominational defense; I’ll leave that to Pastor Weedon; but I don’t think that’s the central issue here.

    Forgive me if I offend, that is not my purpose;
    we’ve corresponded before and I think you know that I could not hate Roman Catholics/Church any more than I can hate my own flesh and blood. I am just weary and frustrated by the whole thng.

    I find it disturbing that Rome can not admit even admit gross error, ever, without qualifying it with some vindication of why they were “really” partially right or right in another sense of the concept “right” in some obtuse sort of way.

  8. Schütz says:

    Past Elder, all I can say is: Welcome back Kotter! (I would sing the song if I could…)

    Isabella, where on earth did all that come from? I hear the hurt, I’m just not sure what sparked it in this particular instance. And if there is one thing for certain, ex-protestant Catholics–from Newman to Karl Adam to Louis Bouyer to Scott Hahn to Marcus Grodi to Peter Holmes and David Schütz–continue to hold in high regard their fathers (and mothers) in the faith whom they revered when they were protestants. We certainly know and acknowledge that Luther scincerly “sought out the True Physician and the True medicine, and relied on the Mercy of God for everything.”

  9. William Weedon says:


    I have no interest in defending a denomination whatsoever. But I do believe in the Christian Confession of the Book of Concord simply because it is the catholic faith. I really appreciated your response – and I think I understand well the frustration.


  10. William Weedon says:

    By the bye, on the history question I agree that Newman was wrong – and apparently so did Cardinal Manning. “We must overcome history with dogma.”

  11. orrologion says:

    Having in mind those who interpret the text according to their own premises, a modern scholar has remarked that their interpretation is like ‘a picnic to which the evangelist brings his text’, and they supply the meanings.

    – Graham N. Stanton, “The Communities of Matthew”, Interpretation 46:2 (1992): 380, quoted in Veselin Kesich, Formation and Struggles: The Birth of the Church AD 33-200 (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press), p. 109.

    Of course, this means we can all disagree about who the revisionists are projecting their assumptions onto the text.

  12. orrologion says:

    The real issue regarding patristic or scriptural proof-texting is whether a text speaks for itself or must needs have context, and then where that context is to be found. For instance, should someone come across my notes, letters and essays regarding faith from when I was a teenager and college boy do they speak for themselves or would the best ‘interpreters’ be my wife and family, perhaps my spiritual advisors at the time? The same context is provided to Luther’s Table Talk – we don’t just take the notes, we look at the rest of his work, the work and comments of his colleagues, as well as the living continuity of the communities he inspired to see what he ‘really’ meant. So, too, with the Church. Given the paucity of extant written materials from the early centuries of the Church, do we fill in the gaps of our documentary evidence on our own or do we look to the communities claiming descendence from these holy men and women? Do we that accept the reliability of the Old and New Testament Scriptures over and against overweening historical-criticism then appeal to ‘playing telephone’ as the reason why the Church allowed Herself to be tainted with error over the years? Should we not rather, if we actually believe the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, accept that the ecclesial bodies in direct, lineal descent of the apostolicly founded churches (pl.) as trustworthy testimony to apostolic doctrine and practice? The fact that these communities are appealing to themselves and their modern (and perhaps even centuries old) views as ‘proof’ of apostolic practice is not circular reasoning, it is in fact a witness to belief in the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

    Of course, there is then the constellation of arguments separating those communities with lineal, visible descent back to Apostolic times. But, this is a rather limited set of disagreements when compared with the pot pourri of Protestantism and other more newly created faith groups and their differences with the ancient churches of Rome, and the Eastern and Oriental churches.

  13. Past Elder says:

    If you do not know where what Isabella said comes from, then you do not know the church to which you have attached yourself.

    You won’t hear much of Cardinal Manning these days. He has no place in modern Rome. There will be no more Cardinal Mannings. There can be no more Mannings.

    At least the Orthodox commentators are Orthodox, and not spewing something else claiming it’s Orthodoxy. For all the differences I may have with them, their church retains integrity, and if Rome cannot hear us “Protestants” perhaps it will hear the East.

  14. Peter says:

    “At least the Orthodox commentators are Orthodox”

    This made me chuckle. Orthodox by which rule or standard? Orthodox according to you, or some slightly more ojective criterea?

    I wonder, if we somehow suppose the Pope to be unorthodox, should we declare him not in communion with… well… himself?

  15. Past Elder says:

    Orthodox according to Orthodoxy, yes, a slightly more objective criterion.

    Or to have a little Nietzschean fun — they didn’t need a Newman to show them how to make black a deeper understanding of white, or white a development of black. Sorry, you guys don’t have fun.

    So long as you mistake Benedict or whoever occupies the papacy as Peter, and Peter as the Rock, you won’t, either. If you need to call a man the Rock, I suggest Duane Johnson. The pope is quite in communion with himself, that’s not the problem; it’s what he is not in communion with that’s the problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *