A Sola Fide Thought Experiment

This is a relatively quick post following along the lines of the previous post. In part, in the previous post I argued that Anthony Roger’s use of Pseudo-Jerome (actually Pelagius” Commentary on Romans) opened up a can of worms for the Protestant position. It does so in part by putting into question every proof text, either biblical or patristic, employed to support the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide. What I would like to do here is provide a short thought experiment to illustrate the point.

So let me present a typical patristic text that is often used to support the claim that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide was taught by at least some Church Fathers. (We can switch it out with any other text Protestants have used and I can make the same point.) Take the following text from St. Basil the Great.

“Now, this is the perfect and consummate glory in God: not to exult in one’s own justice, but, recognizing oneself as lacking true justice, to be justified by faith in Christ alone.” Ascetical Works, Homily 20.3

This text is used in conjunction with others to support the Protestant case. Likewise, the following text from Pseudo-Jerome (aka Pelagius’ Commentary on Romans) is often used to support that case, as I demonstrated in the previous post.

“Because they did not know that God justifies by faith alone, and because they thought that they were righteous by works of the law they did not keep, they refused to submit themselves to the forgiveness of sins, to prevent the appearance of their having been sinners, as it is written, ‘But the Pharisees, rejecting the purpose of God for themselves refused to be baptized with John’s baptism’ (Luke 7:30).” Pelagius, Commentary on Romans 10:3

Now, when the latter is used, the Protestant apologist (and sometimes their Catholic interlocutors) do not realize or know that it is actually from Pelagius as I have previously documented.

But when both are presented, the non-Protestant is supposed to take both texts as proof supporting the Protestant claim solely on the basis of the text as presented, that is, just based on the surface grammar of the text.

Now I take it, and I have argued that the Pelagian text does not mean what the Protestant Reformers meant. Plenty of Protestant and non-Protestant academics here agree with me, so I take the point to be without dispute. I simply remind readers of Dr. Clark’s remarks in the previous post.

So here is the thought experiment. Look at both texts and simply on the basis of the surface grammar as presented above try to figure out which one expresses the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide and which one doesn’t. Because remember, that is what Protestant apologists are asking the average person to do when they present these and other texts.

If you think Basil’s does but Pelagius’ does not, what is substantially different between the two texts as presented? If you think that neither does, then what do you think would need to be added to the text to put you in a position to know or at least reasonably believe that the texts express the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide? And then are any of those things present in any other patristic or biblical text?

Now remember, Protestant apologists, from laymen all the way up to the likes of trained academics like Dr. Horton and others, have already claimed that the Pelagian text expressed Sola Fide when they thought it was from Jerome. They usually retract that claim once they know it is not from Jerome (unless they are Anthony Rogers, in which case they double down on the absurd claim that Pelagius’ statements are more evidence of Sola Fide in the early church.).

But notice, nothing in the text itself changes.

Why was the text as it stood sufficient to support Sola Fide when they thought it was from Jerome, but not when they come to find out it is from Pelagius? When one changes their view as to the origin of the text, nothing in the grammar of the text changes.

So why think that either of them express Sola Fide in the first place? Feel free to leave proposed explanations or comments below.