Are there records of Lutheran doctrine of faith-alone taught by theologians prior to him whether explicitly?

I read in the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Justification that Luther was influenced by certain theologians in deriving faith-alone doctrine. Who were they, and can you cite such resources with online reference that any theologian taught faith-alone doctrine? Of course, those who believe the Sola-fide of Luther might say that it was taught by apostle Paul, but I am looking for explicit systematic theology like Luther did. I am not looking for only these particular people mentioned here but anyone.

Whether Victorinus, a neo-Platonist, already defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone, is immaterial to our discussion. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that in the Middle Ages there were a few Catholic theologians among the Nominalists (Occam, Durandus, Gabriel Biel), who went so far in exaggerating the value of good works in the matter of justification that the efficiency and dignity of Divine grace was unduly relegated to the background. Of late, Fathers Denifle and Weiss have shown that Martin Luther was acquainted almost exclusively with the theology of these Nominalists, which he naturally and justly found repugnant, and that the "Summa" of St. Thomas and the works of other great theologians were practically unknown to him.


3 Answers 3


I have not found any reference which lists precisely the church fathers that Luther read (and was influenced by) other than Augustine. Certainly of the church fathers, Augustine was a strong influence on Luther's development of his theology.

Martin Luther himself said in 1516 (or 1518? He published two editions of the book) in the preface of the Theologia Germanica:

Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands from which I have learnt more of God and Christ, and man and all things that are.

This would place the author of Theologia Germanica as one of his primary influences.

However, there were several contemporaries of Luther which influenced his theology (and indeed the Reformation didn't occur out of a vacuum; Luther was not the only person thinking along sola fide lines, just perhaps the fastest to come to his conclusion.) This included Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples and Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, although it is not immediately apparent to me whether their theology specifically affected his development of sola fide or whether it was simply their approaches to hermeneutics and theology generally.

Johann von Staupitz, Luther's supervisor, and Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein von Karlstadt were both also close aquaintances of Luther who had positions on faith and salvation that were moving in similar circles as sola fide, although it appears that they did not fully accept his position. Certainly they affected his development, though.

Much of this is sourced from Luther's Development of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Only: Preserved Smith. There were presumably other influences, and you have mentioned Victorinus and the neo-Platonists so I shall not repeat them.


As I begin to answer your question, please note that it is not clear. Your question addresses the issue of faith (the third 'sola' of the reformation, "solā fide"). But as you flesh out your question it seems clear that you are really talking about the first sola ("solā gratiā"). The two are distinct from each other. The first ablative use answers the question, "what would motivate God to save me?" The answer (Eph 2, et al) is God's grace (his undeserved love toward undeserving sinners) is the only motivation God would have to save us. The third ablative use of the Reformation, "sola fide" answers a different question: "What tool does God give to me so that I can have, hold and understand this salvation?" (ⲟⲣⲅⲁⲛⲟⲛ ⲗⲏⲡⲧⲓⲕⲟⲛ). From here I will assume you are not speaking about sola fide, but instead, sola gratia.

Though the question pops up here and there in history, Luther was an Augustinian monk for a reason. Augustine, in his dealings with Pelagius, arrived at a view that we call today, "by grace alone." For a good paper dealing with Luther and Augustine, you can read through this essay: http://www.wlsessays.net/bitstream/handle/123456789/2645/KoesterGrace.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

  • leave out Augustine. There is separate question on that. I want to know from where did Luther copy his doctrine. Victorinus is mentioned explicitly. I would like to know his quotes especially.
    – Michael16
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 18:05
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    Welcome! While your efforts are certainly appreciated, this post doesn't do much to answer the question, since you say very little in direct answer to it, and then point readers to an external site – it's better to summarize the key points here, in addition to linking. And once you have more reputation points here, you'll be able to comment on questions, which is the best place to challenge the assumptions of the question. Thanks, and I hope you'll take the tour and review how this site is different from others. Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 18:30
  • @Michael16 What do you mean I want to know from where did Luther copy his doctrine. Are you taking the position that Luther was incapable of original thought, or do you actually mean "who influenced Luther's thinking and belief on" his doctrine? Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 20:29
  • @KorvinStarmast its a matter of perspective. I am sure he was capable of original thought and did not plagiarize whole theology. Though it seems that this doctrine existed prior to him (Victorinus etc) and he presented as if he received it divinely.
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 7:48
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    @KorvinStarmast I am investigating the source of these doctrines or who is the pioneer or main person behind it- and it seems it was Augustine. Only he should be given credit/blame for monergism as Luther quite plainly admitted that he was inspired by him.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 15:38

Though Birdie's answer seems to give an accurate overview, I feel there is a need to add some details regarding Victorinus and Augustin as evidence to address the question deeply.

Luther's sola-fide or faith-alone doctrine is defined as monergism which means man's efforts are vain, as he is totally incapable to be righteous; and the idea that no one was ever justified by the Mosaic law. It is based on the interpretation of Paul's arguments against works of the law can imply not just the Mosaic-covenant works but any effort to please God. I found a reference of Augustine of Hippo (5th century AD) that suggest the Lutheran interpretation. Augustine interpreted "works of the law" arguments can apply to moral-works in general - On Nature and Grace

Chapter 2 [II.]— Faith in Christ Not Necessary to Salvation, If a Man Without It Can Lead a Righteous Life

Therefore the nature of the human race, generated from the flesh of the one transgressor, if it is self-sufficient for fulfilling the law and for perfecting righteousness, ought to be sure of its reward, that is, of everlasting life, even if in any nation or at any former time faith in the blood of Christ was unknown to it. For God is not so unjust as to defraud righteous persons of the reward of righteousness, because there has not been announced to them the mystery of Christ's divinity and humanity, which was manifested in the flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16 For how could they believe what they had not heard of; or how could they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 For "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." But I say (adds he): Have they not heard? "Yea, verily; their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Romans 10:17-18 Before, however, all this had been accomplished, before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth— because there are some remote nations still (although it is said they are very few) to whom the preached gospel has not found its way—what must human nature do, or what has it done— for it had either not heard that all this was to take place, or has not yet learned that it was accomplished— but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been itself created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: "Then Christ died in vain." Galatians 2:21 For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the law of nature, which the whole human race has received, "If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain." If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God's most righteous wrath— in a word, from punishment— except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ.

Did Marius Victorinus of 4th century taught sola-fide? NO

The view among some protestants that Victorinus was the early or first champion of sola-fide doctrine might have been caused by misunderstanding his phrase faith-alone in Galatians commentary. Victorinus did make clear distinction between moral good works and the specific Mosaic-covenant works. Here is a quote from page 292 of the book Marius Victorinus' Commentary on Galatians, by Stephen Andrew Cooper

For all who live based on works of the Law are under a curse (3: 10). Forcefully, then, he has added that not only are those who live based on works not blessed, but also that those who live based on the works of the Law are under a curse. Now, as he said based on works of the Law, let us understand that there are also works which belong to Christianity, especially those works which the apostle frequently commands (and also what has been commanded to him: let us be mindful of the poor) and the additional precepts for living which are included in this apostle’s writings. Each one of these works is commanded by the apostle to be fulfilled by every Christian. The works of the Law, then, are something else: religious observances, obviously, offerings of a lamb (although the Passover has now been fulfilled through Christ); and there are further works which they do as well, pertaining to circumcision and foods to be observed or prepared.

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