Archive Authors Eric Parker Natural Law Nota Bene

Martin Bucer (†1551) on Faith and Virtue

In the 1520s and 30s Protestants were embroiled in polemics against Roman Catholic theologians. One of the many debated issues regards the nature of faith and the controversial Protestant claim that God justifies sinners by faith alone. As Martin Bucer points out in 1532 in his commentary on the Psalms (Sacrorum Psalmorum libri quinque) Catholic polemicists believed that the “sola” in “sola fide” denotes unformed faith, that is, a faith that does not include works or the other virtues. Thomas Aquinas and other Medieval scholastics had argued that faith must first be “formed” by charity before it becomes meritorious. So, to the traditionalists in the church “sola fide” was synonymous with unformed faith, or “dead faith” as the Epistle of James terms it. Thus, Protestant-Catholic polemics tended to focus on the exact nature of this “faith” that Luther was on about.

Below I’ve translated a passage from Bucer’s above mentioned commentary on the Psalms in which he attempts to explain the connection between faith and the other virtues. Bucer does not name any of the other virtues but he certainly had the cardinal virtues in mind – i.e., Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude. He is primarily concerned to demonstrate the unity of faith and charity in the life of the regenerate Christian and that “sola fide” does not mean “dead faith” or faith without virtue.

Martin Bucer: De Fide

Id enim ubi per Spiritum Dei contigit, Deum ex todo corde, ut quo nihil melius nobis credimus, amamus: hic tum amor totos Divinae voluntati conformat, reprimit cupiditates rerum seculi, accendit desideria cælestium, studium excitat, & producit virtutum omnium. Nam efficit ut sicut Deo nihil habemus charius, ita quoque nihil prius sit quam ei per omnia probari. Hinc est quod Servator primum totius Legis caput a quo omnia reliqua pendent, fecerit praeceptum de dilectione Dei ex todo corde, etc. Ut itaque sola fide Deum rite cognoscimus & ad amandum eum rapimur: ita sola utique fide veram iustitiam & virtutes universas adipiscimur, quia ipsius dilectionem omnium parentem consequimur […] Si enim nos fides iustificat, reddit utique iustos, adfert iustitiam, hoc est, simul omnem virtutem.1


For when it happens [that we are persuaded] by means of the Spirit of God, then we love God from our whole heart as that than which nothing is better for us to believe in. At that time our love conforms completely to the divine will, it restrains our lust for temporal [seculi] things, enflames our longing for celestial things, excites our desire, and produces all of the virtues. For [love] brings it about that just as we have nothing of higher value than God, so also nothing is superior than to be confirmed in [love] by means of all [the virtues]. It is for this reason that the Savior makes the first head of the whole law, upon which all of the rest hang, the precept concerning the love of God from the whole heart, etc. And so, considering we rightly know God by faith alone and are ravished from loving him, so we certainly arrive at true justice and all of the virtues by faith alone, because we imitate his love, the father of all things […] For if faith justifies us then it certainly renders us just, and it produces justice, that is to say, [it produces] all of the virtues at once.

  1. Martin Bucer, Sacrorum Psalmorum libri quinque, ad ebraicam ueritatem genuina uersione in Latinum traducti, (Argentoratum, 1532), 20.

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.