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It is popularly taught that the reformers declared five distinctive elements of theology that differentiated them from Rome: salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, as sufficiently taught in Scripture alone. They quoted the church fathers in support of their views to demonstrate that they weren't teaching novelties or heresies and they showed particular deference to Augustine. But did Augustine actually teach the doctrine described in the five solas?

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Short answer: no. I don't think so, anyway. –  fredsbend Jul 12 '14 at 4:08
Augustine clearly taught the necessity of infant baptism to salvation. I'll post it as an answer if I get around to looking up the quote. –  david brainerd Jul 12 '14 at 4:36
Catholics say no; Protestants say yes. –  Matthew Moisen Jul 13 '14 at 0:21

3 Answers 3

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Yes - the wikipedia article on sola fide baldly asserts that Augustine is among the "Church Fathers whom Protestant apologists believe taught the doctrine of Sola Fide (although Catholic and Orthodox apologists quote the same fathers as supporting a justification that includes works)."

Confusion in this regard, results from differing definitions of sola fide particularly between proponents and opponents. It should be correctly understood to mean: Justification comes only by grace through faith, not by any merit of works. It should not be construed so as to deny that: good works are (necessary) evidence of saving faith. Those who do so, are creating a straw man of the sola fide position, which is further clarified by:

The relationship of faith and good works is one that may be distinguished but never separated...if good works do not follow from our profession of faith, it is a clear indication that we do not possess justifying faith. The Reformed formula is, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. - R.C. Sproul (as quoted in wikipedia)

Since Protestant apologists are in a better position to define what they mean by sola fide than their Catholic and Orthodox critics, and have adopted Augustine as a champion of the doctrine, their view is to be definitely preferred in this matter.

Another answer has (prior to a most judicious edit) profferred Augustine's On Grace and Free Will as proof positive that he does not teach sola fide, on reviewing the work however, I find it thoroughly consistent with a sola fide perspective. Consider chapters 16 & 17 of this work in their entirety, that the fair-minded may judge:

Chapter 16 [VII.]— Paul Fought, But God Gave the Victory: He Ran, But God Showed Mercy.

Let us, therefore, consider those very merits of the Apostle Paul which he said the Righteous Judge would recompense with the crown of righteousness; and let us see whether these merits of his were really his own— I mean, whether they were obtained by him of himself, or were the gifts of God. "I have fought," says he, "the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 4:7 Now, in the first place, these good works were nothing, unless they had been preceded by good thoughts. Observe, therefore, what he says concerning these very thoughts. His words, when writing to the Corinthians, are: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God." 2 Corinthians 3:5 Then let us look at each several merit. "I have fought the good fight." Well, now, I want to know by what power he fought. Was it by a power which he possessed of himself, or by strength given to him from above? It is impossible to suppose that so great a teacher as the apostle was ignorant of the law of God, which proclaims the following in Deuteronomy: "Say not in your heart, My own strength and energy of hand has wrought for me this great power; but you shall remember the Lord your God, how it is He that gives you strength to acquire such power." Deuteronomy 8:17 And what avails "the good fight," unless followed by victory? And who gives the victory but He of whom the apostle says himself, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"? 1 Corinthians 15:57 Then, in another passage, having quoted from the Psalm these words: "Because for Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for slaughter," he went on to declare: "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us." Romans 8:37 Not by ourselves, therefore, is the victory accomplished, but by Him who has loved us. In the second clause he says, "I have finished my course." Now, who is it that says this, but he who declares in another passage, "So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy." Romans 9:16 And this sentence can by no means be transposed, so that it could be said: It is not of God, who shows mercy, but of the man who wills and runs. If any person be bold enough to express the matter thus, he shows himself most plainly to be at issue with the apostle.

Chapter 17.— The Faith that He Kept Was the Free Gift of God.

His last clause runs thus: "I have kept the faith." But he who says this is the same who declares in another passage, "I have obtained mercy that I might be faithful." 1 Corinthians 7:25 He does not say, "I obtained mercy because I was faithful," but "in order that I might be faithful," thus showing that even faith itself cannot be had without God's mercy, and that it is the gift of God. This he very expressly teaches us when he says, "For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8 They might possibly say, "We received grace because we believed;" as if they would attribute the faith to themselves, and the grace to God. Therefore, the apostle having said, "You are saved through faith," added, And that not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God. And again, lest they should say they deserved so great a gift by their works, he immediately added, "Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:9 Not that he denied good works, or emptied them of their value, when he says that God renders to every man according to his works; Romans 2:6 but because works proceed from faith, and not faith from works. Therefore it is from Him that we have works of righteousness, from whom comes also faith itself, concerning which it is written, "The just shall live by faith." Habakkuk 2:4

It is certainly a major counter-argument that Luther himself believed Augustine's soteriology to be deficient (evidenced in the quotes by the afore-mentioned opposing answer), an (admittedly weak) riposte is that Luther was not the only reformer to examine Augustine's work and define sola fide - other Protestant apologists evidently disagree with Luther and think Augustine's divergences from Protestant soteriology to be trivial (cf. BB Warfield's quote that was the genesis of the preceding question to this: "the Reformation was a triumph of Augustine's soteriology over his ecclesiology" and the extent to which Calvin drew from Augustine as evidenced in this Q&A).

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+1 very good articulation :) –  Charles Alsobrook Jul 14 '14 at 12:29
This answer is confused because it does not clearly distinguish just what is meant by the idea of justification sola fide. To say that Augustine taught sola fide (as the Reformers understood it) makes the definition of sola fide so broad as to be meaningless. To name two things, Augustine taught that eternal life is a reward on the basis of personal (though supernatural) merit and a belief in purgatory, which was one of the things the Reformers opposed as being most abhorrent to their doctrine of justification. –  Aerarius Feb 24 at 7:01
@Aerarius "This answer is confused because it does not clearly distinguish just what is meant by the idea of justification sola fide" - my second paragraph addresses this, what about do you think is unclear? Regarding Augustine's beliefs that you mention, most Reformers recognised that he was capable of error, but they agreed with what he explicitly taught directly on the subject of justification, and as such, the other 'errors' were irrelevant. –  bruised reed Feb 24 at 7:21


Well, at least this appears to be Martin Luther's answer

Augustine has sometimes erred and is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers...But when the door was opended for me in Paul, so that I understood what justification by faith is, it was all over with Augustine. (Luther's Works 54, 49)

It was Augustine's view that the law...if the Holy Spirit assists, the works of the law do justify...I reply by saying "No". (Luther's Works 54, 10)

As to your statement about the popular belief that the reformers (and their descendants) frequently quoted a plethora of Church Fathers to demonstrate the legitimacy of their doctrine...

This is simply not true. Augustine is for the most part the only Church Father cited by Luther and Calvin. The early reformers relied virtually entirely upon Scripture to formulate doctrine.

Reference: Calvin

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@bruisedreed Please see my edit :) –  Charles Alsobrook Jul 14 '14 at 12:19
Let us continue this discussion in chat. –  bruised reed Jul 14 '14 at 12:37

The Protestant Confession of Augsburg (1530) in Article 20 cites Augustine as a supporter of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide: “Augustine, in many volumes, defends grace and the righteousness of faith, over against the merits of works."

It would appear, however, that even today there are different opinions. Augustine, to me at least, appears to have taught what looks like a combination of the two, if not that then certainly not Sola Fide itself.

The article below (though appearing to be a personal blog, and also sources the above quote from the Confession) notes different passages Augustine wrote regarding "faith alone" AND "faith through works". http://www.willcoxson.net/faith/augprot2.htm

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