A collection of some of our articles on pre-Reformation beliefs can be found here. On justification in particular, see here and here, for example.
Given that some of the advocates of justification through works prior to the Reformation expressed their view in opposition to people in their day who were arguing for justification through faith alone, why would you claim that nobody believed in justification through faith alone during that timeframe? When a church father criticizes people who believe in justification through faith alone, who is he addressing if no such people existed? It seems that a lot of people who make the claim you're making either aren't aware of this sort of evidence or haven't given it much thought. You can't have church fathers or other pre-Reformation sources criticizing people who advocated sola fide in their day if nobody was advocating sola fide. At a minimum, then, you ought to acknowledge that there were some such advocates of the concept prior to the Reformation.
A common response at this point is to acknowledge what I've said above, but then dismiss all of the pre-Reformation advocates of sola fide as heretics. But that approach won't work either. First, the mainstream sources who criticize such advocates of sola fide don't claim that all of these people were heretics. The assumption that they were all heretics is dubious. Secondly, some of the people criticizing them acknowledge the orthodoxy of the sola fide advocates, despite their criticism of those people. Third, the pre-Reformation advocacy of sola fide comes from some mainstream sources as well, not just sources who were criticized by the mainstream. It's true that justification through works was a more popular view among professing Christians prior to the Reformation, as it is today and as it is among humans in general. Justification through works is a popular concept. (So are a lot of other errors.) But justification through faith alone was one of the views that existed during the era between the apostles and the Reformation, alongside the many and contradictory forms of justification through works that existed during that timeframe.
We should also keep in mind that while the absence of a doctrine during the patristic era or the medieval era, for example, would be significant, an absence from the Bible would be even more significant. The Bible has more authority than later sources, and its books were written over a period of more than a thousand years. If you (erroneously) think that justification through faith alone was absent during the patristic centuries, for instance, and that fact is significant in your eyes, then the absence of justification through works in a more authoritative source that covers a longer period of time (the Bible) should seem even more significant to you. There's no way to avoid addressing the Evangelical appeal to scripture. While other data, like the patristic evidence, is significant and should be addressed, the Biblical evidence is even more significant. Asserting that nobody believed in sola fide between the apostles and the Reformation doesn't get you far. You need more than an assertion, and you need to address other lines of evidence, such as the Bible.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Sola Fide Between The Apostles And The Reformation
In case it would be helpful to some readers who aren't following the discussion, here's something I wrote in the comments section of a recent thread: