Singing the Three (or Four or Five) Solas of the Reformation
Beginning about a hundred years ago, church historians have summarized the Reformation of the sixteenth century in terms of three, or sometimes four or five, solae, or “solas”—the Latin word means “only” or “alone.” Although none of the Reformation theologians grouped the solae together in the concise way we do today, all five of these themes can be found throughout their writings:
- Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)
- Sola Fide (By Faith Alone)
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
- Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be the Glory)
Hymnwriters also have amplified these same themes. The following examples are far from an exhaustive catalog; rather, they offer some samples for meditation as the church pauses each year to commemorate the Festival of the Reformation on October 31.
Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why stagger at this word of promise?
Hath Scripture ever falsehood taught?
Nay, then this word must true remain;
By grace thou, too, shalt heav’n obtain. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, 226:1)
By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone. (ELH 226:2)
Salvation unto us is come
By God’s free grace and favor.
Good works cannot avert our doom;
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer. (ELH 227:1)
Sola Fide (By Faith Alone)
“The just shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17)
By faith we are divinely sure
That grace to us is given.
No human effort can secure
This precious gift from heaven.
’Tis God Himself who must begin
The blessed work of faith within
And lead us to the Savior. (ELH 229:1)
O for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe. (ELH 364:1)
Lord, give us such a faith as this,
And then, whate’ver may come,
We’ll taste e’en here the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home. (ELH 364:6)
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
“We receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel. They are the only true standard or norm by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.” (Formula of Concord, 1577)
Thou art the Truth; Thy Word alone
True wisdom can impart.
Thou only canst inform the mind
And purify the heart. (ELH 363:2)
Speak, O Lord, Thy servant heareth,
To Thy Word I now give heed;
Life and spirit Thy Word beareth,
All Thy Word is true indeed.
Death’s dread pow’r in me is rife;
Jesus, may Thy Word of Life
Fill my soul with love’s strong fervor
That I cling to Thee forever. (ELH 230:1)
How precious is the Book Divine,
By inspiration giv’n!
Bright as a lamp its doctrines shine
To guide our souls to heav’n,
To guide our souls to heav’n. (ELH 232:1)
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done. (ELH 589:1)
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. (ELH 250:4)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:15)
Thou art the Way, to Thee alone
From sin and death we flee;
And he who would the Father seek
Must seek Him, Lord, by Thee. (ELH 363:1)
Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus
Can my heartfelt longing still.
Lo, I pledge myself to Jesus,
What He wills alone to will,
For my heart, which He hath filled,
Ever cries, “Lord, as Thou wilt.” (ELH 379:1)
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand. (“In Christ Alone,” by Stuart Townsend,
a new song (2001) that quickly became a “Top 50” favorite in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be the Glory)
Perhaps pondering Romans 16:27, Jude 1:25, or a similar passage, Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed the letters “S.D.G.” for “soli Deo gloria [to God alone be the glory]” on the last page of his “Fugue in B Minor” in Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier. In time, “Bach” became synonymous for great music, including great music of the church. However, the letters “S.D.G.” remind us that Bach himself desired glory only for God.
All glory be to God alone,
For evermore the Highest One.
Who doth our sinful race befriend
And grace and peace to us extend.
Among mankind may His good will
All hearts with deep thanksgiving fill. (ELH 36:1)
All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessed One. (ELH 277:1)
Thine is the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the vict’ry
Thou o’er death hast won!
Angels in bright raiment
Rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded graveclothes
Where Thy body lay.
Thine is the glory,
Risen conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the vict’ry
Thou o’er death hast won! (ELH 73:1)
All glory be to God on high,
Who hath our race befriended!
To us no harm shall now come nigh,
The strife at last is ended.
God showeth His good will to men,
And peace shall reign on earth again;
O thank Him for His goodness! (ELH 35:1)
For the Grammatically Curious
Sōla is a Latin adjective in the nominative, singular, feminine case. Thus, it modifies Scriptura when Scripture is the subject of the sentence: “Scripture alone is the standard by which all doctrine is to be judged.”
Sōlā, with a long a, is in the ablative case, which in Latin denotes “by means of,” hence: sōlā gratiā and sōlā fīdē for “by grace alone” and “by faith alone.”
Sōlus is in the nominative, singular, masculine case. It modifies Christus, “Christ,” when Christ is the subject of the sentence: “Christ alone is our Savior.” In some formulations, sōlī Christō appears instead, using the dative case to mean “to Christ alone,” for example, “to Christ alone be the glory.”
As just noted with respect to sōlī Christō, sōlī, with a long i (pronounded ee in Latin), is in the dative, singular, masculine case. As a masculine form, it also can modify Deō, “God.” As a dative form, it denotes “to for for whom,” hence sōlī Deō glōria means “glory (be) to God alone.”
Now It’s Your Turn!
Did we miss one of your favor hymns which amplifies one of the solae?
If so, please share it on our Facebook page.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschool children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.
TAGS: Hymnody, Reformation