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.