Dr. Nathan Busenitz documents very well in his book “Long Before Luther” (Moody, 2017) that the idea of justification by faith alone was most definitely believed and taught by many of the early church fathers in the first five centuries of Christianity. However, what about the Middle Ages? For a thousand years between the end of the Roman Empire until Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther, did the idea of justification by faith alone in Christ alone just evaporate? Did no one believes or teach this truth?
Busenitz does a great job (again) in pouring through the writings of famous Medieval churchmen (like Anselm or Bernard of Clairvaux) and lesser known clerics (the Venerable Bede) to demonstrate that truth was not irretrievably lost. Here are a few quotes:
Idelfonsus of Toledo (c.607-667)– “Behold, he [Paul] preached the beginning of faith which, when it is in Christ, is justification for the believer…God, who makes the unclean clean and removed sins, justifies the sinner apart from works.”
Julian of Toledo (642-690)– “[This is] the righteousness of faith, by which we are justified. This faith is that we believe in him whom we cannot see, and that, being cleansed by faith, we will eventually see him in whom we now believe.”
Bede (673-735)– “The Apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works.”
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)– “Nobody will be justified in His sight by works of the law…Grace freely justifies me and sets me free from slavery to sin.”
There is much, much more in this book. So, if someone tells you that Luther made up the whole idea of justification by faith alone, tell them that there is a long line of believers in this truth stretching all the way back to the apostles. Then give them Dr. Busenitz’s book