‘Faith Alone’ in The Medieval Church

 Yesterday I mentioned a good book on the early church (From Nicaea to Chalcedon); today I want to highlight another excellent book on church history.  This time, the focus is on the Medieval era (600-1300).  It is volume III of Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition and the subtitle is The Growth of Medieval TheologyHere’s one part I found fascinating – and it’ll give you a short preview to (hopefully!) pique your interest.  This is a section (found on p. 27) where Pelikan is summarizing some medieval discussions of faith.  He said that Julian of Toledo (7th century)

“Declared that ‘all effort of human argument must be postponed where faith alone is sufficient.’  ‘The righteousness of faith, by which we are justified,’ consisted in this, ‘that we believe in him whom we do not see, and that, being cleansed by faith, we shall eventually see him in whom we now believe.’  His predecessor on the episcopal throne of Toledo, Ildefonsus, spoke even more strongly when he prayed: ‘God, who dost make the unclean clean and who by taking away sins dost justify the sinner without works.’  Because this passage sounded so much like the teachings of the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, it was [later] expunged from some manuscripts of Ildefonsus’s On the Virginity of Mary by ‘readers who were more pious than learned [and] who feared that by the misinterpretation of these words Ildefonsus could be accused of the heretical teaching that men could be saved by faith alone.'” [This last quote is from a 1942 book written by A. Braegelmann)

That’s a fascinating discussion – a good paper for seminary students to write!  But for now, back to Pelikan’s book.  If you’re like me, the Medieval era is the period of church history that is least familiar to you – therefore this book is a great start in learning a bit more about this era.  Because it is well written, clearly outlined, formatted, and structured, and because it is only around 300 pages, I recommend it for anyone interested in church history.  And if you were wondering, it is written at the college level, give or take.

shane lems

4 Replies to “‘Faith Alone’ in The Medieval Church”

  1. I’m glad you profiled this! It’s one of my favorite areas of study. Here are two other books that might be of interest to those who want to try and grasp the amazingly theologically productive (and socially shifting) world of the Middle Ages:

    The Middle Ages by Morris Bishop:

    Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition 400-1400 by Marcia Colish:


  2. Great stuff Shane. I know I’m speaking to the choir on this, but so many disregard the Middle Ages as completely apostate even though they have never taken the time to read anything from this time period. Like any time period, including the current day, theological writings are riddled with some really productive and fruitful works that contribute some amazing things. Of course, each period has some theological contributions that should just be rejected and ignored by God’s people. Thanks for the quote.


  3. Thanks for those other book suggesetions, Matt; and Keith, I agree with your comments. Blessings, brothers!


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