Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus & the Five Solas
Updated: May 31, 2019
Here at Idol Killer we’ve dedicated a good portion of our articles to promoting classic Christian orthodoxy, as well as addressing the origins of various doctrinal errors (that’s a kinder way of saying heresy). Several such articles focus on the corruption of the State Church of Rome and its promoting of Augustinian philosophy, extending well beyond the Reformation and into modern theology.
A Little Background
Greek was for a time the prevailing language of the known world. Early Christians spoke and wrote in Greek, even the Old Testament was translated into Greek and became known as the Septuagint. However, over time Rome and Christendom began moving towards Latin. The reason was rather simple: not everyone spoke or could read Greek and Hebrew and Latin was a language growing in use.
In 382 Jerome, a Christian priest who was equal parts theologian and historian, began correcting the existing Latin translation of the New Testament, known as the Vetus Latina. He then went on to translate the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, rather than the Septuagint. This was a controversial move at the time as men like Augustine believed the Septuagint was actually inspired. However, upon reading Jerome’s translation his critics, Augustine included, received it rather warmly.
The widespread use of Latin by the Church really began in the fourth century with the split of the Roman Empire. From that point forward Roman Catholicism and eventually its Reformers would hold on to much of these Latin traditions.
The earliest known use of Abracadabra dates back to the second century. There a Roman tutor named Serenus Sammonicus included it in his Liber Medicinalis. There he instructs the reader to treat malaria and other diseases by inscribing the term on an amulet in such a way as to depict a descending triangle.
While the exact origin is up for debate, experts suggest the term likely is derived from the Greek word Abraxas, originally spelled “Abrasax”. It was a term of importance within the Gnostic teachings of Basilides.
In both Greek and Hebrew the term has seven letters which equal to 365, as in the number of days within a year, but also the princeps of the 365 spheres ruled by the “Great Archon”, with the 7 letters spelling Abraxas representing the 7 classic planets – the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Augustine, a former Gnostic Manichaean, was well aware of the term and why it was viewed as a sacred name among the Gnostics.
Abraxas would eventually come to be pronounced Abracadabra, still carrying with it the superstition of invoking a Gnostic deity. Even into the 1660’s when London experienced a massive case of Bubonic Plague Londoners would often post the word on or above their doorways in an attempt to ward off such sickness.
Today, Abracadabra isn't so much superstitious as it is relegated to the realm of performance magic, as a magician says the “magic word” which they claim gives them power over the natural realm.
In Latin, specifically the Catholic Liturgy of the Eucharist, there is a phrase "Hoc est enim corpus meum", meaning "this is my body". For those misunderstanding or seeking to mock the notion of transubstantiation they would write it off as a deceptive magic trick, or Hocus Pocus. This is what is referred to as Dog Latin, meaning the creation of a phrase in imitation of Latin.
For non-Catholics they saw the claim that a wafer and wine were said to be transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus following an incantation and so it was the wording they focused on and its supposed power.
The Five Solas
The Five Solas are five Latin phrases that eventually would come from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Though the solae were not systematically articulated until 20th century. As the Reformation itself came from Roman Catholicism it carried with it many of Rome's errors as well as its esteem of Latin phraseology. Thus what better way for a Reformed Roman Catholic to express and summarize their beliefs than via Latin? What better way to give your beliefs the appearance of long standing tradition than by utilizing Latin?
"Sola" is Latin meaning "alone" or "only". Now the phrase "Five Solas" on its face is somewhat of an oxymoron like the Lone Rangers, as a plurality negates any notion of being alone. However, within the Reformed tradition they use these points as a rebuke against the errors they perceived with Roman Catholicism. A Reformer is always quick to note it is "Sola" and not "Solo", however this is really a distinction without a difference as both mean "alone."
1. Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone” 2. Sola fide: “Faith alone” 3. Sola gratia: “Grace alone” 4. Solo Christo: “Christ alone” 5. Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone”
Not done yet... modern Reformed scholars are pushing for the inclusion of additional solas: Sola Ecclesia "the Church alone", Sola Caritas "Charitable-love alone" and Sola Spiritus "in the Spirit alone"... and still utilizing Latin.
By now you may see where we are going with this article, or you may be scratching your head and asking "Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus and the Five Solas... what's this supposed to mean?"
Whether a term originates from Gnosticism, or from those who have arguably embraced elements of Gnosticism, we see a common trend among adherents. That is they seek to ellevate particular doctrines by imbuing certain phrases with a sense of power and authority. It is a bit of a parlor trick, a little hocus pocus if you will.
Do you have a doctrine you seek to validate? Well then Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus.. POOF! Now there's an air of legitimacy around them.
Latin, along with Greek, was the language of scholarship in Western Civilization. As a result most of our scientific and technical words are based on Greek and Latin. As we addressed, the Five Solas were not systematically articulated until 20th century! Yet, these modern Reformers used Latin phraseology to describe these concepts. When they add more Solas, they will persist in their utilization of Latin, and the average layperson will see these Latin phrases and wrongly conclude these are ancient Christian orthodox terms and beliefs and thus never stop to question their validity. Latin phraseology doesn't make a concept sound, nor ancient.
Are the Solas Bad?
There is nothing wrong with teaching the importance and reliability of Scripture. Nor is there anything wrong with teaching the necessity of faith, an appreciation for God's grace, the exclusivity of Christ as Redeemer and Savior, or that God deserves Glory.
No, the problem arises with all of the other implications Reformers pack into these terms. They incorporate gnostic themes and anti-Christ philosophies, cramming them into terms which appear Biblical and sound. Thus they sneak the poison in subtly, indoctrinating those who are not grounded in Biblical truth... substituting anti-Christ philosophy for Christ and the truth of Scripture.