Soli Deo Gloria

Soli Deo gloria is a Latin term for Glory to God alone. It has been used by artists like Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Christoph Graupner to signify that the work was produced for the sake of praising God. The phrase has become one of the five solae propounded to summarise the Reformers’ basic beliefs during the Protestant Reformation.

As a greeting, it was used by monks in cistercian and trappist monastic orders in written communication.

As a doctrine, it means that everything is done for God’s glory to the exclusion of mankind’s self-glorification and pride. Christians are to be motivated and inspired by God’s glory and not their own.

Meaning and related terms

The three words Soli Deo gloria (abbreviated S. D. G.) have meaning in Latin as follows: soli is the (irregular) dative singular of the adjective “lone”, “sole”, and agrees with the dative singular Deo, (in the nominative dictionary form Deus), meaning “to God”; and gloria is the nominative case of “glory”, “gloria”.

Soli Deo gloria is usually translated glory to God alone, but some translate it glory to the only God. A similar phrase is found in the Vulgate translation of the Bible: “soli Deo honor et gloria“. This is grammatically the same as the signature of Bach and Handel, but using the dative “to the only God” then two nominative subjects “honour and glory.” The verse reads differently in Greek and English because of the additional adjective “wise”: ἀφθαρτῷ, ἀορατῷ, μόνῳ, σοφῷ Θεῷaphthartôi, aoratôi, mónōi, sophôi Theôi—”to the immortal, invisible, unique, wise God.”

Musical and literary usage

The Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the initials “S. D. G.” at the end of all his church compositions and also applied it to some, but not all, his secular works. This dedication was at times also used by Bach’s contemporary George Frideric Handel, e.g. in his Te Deum. The 16th century Spanish mystic and poet St. John of the Cross used the similar phrase, Soli Deo honor et gloria, in his Precautions and Counsels.

In tribute to Bach, the term was also chosen by Sir John Eliot Gardiner as the name for his own record label after leaving Archiv Produktion, to continue and complete his Bach cantatas project.

Aaron Shust’s 2009 song “To God Alone (be the Glory)” was inspired by Bach’s writing “S.D.G.” at the bottom of his musical scores.

Protestant usage in the Five Solae

Together with sola fidesola gratiasola scriptura and solus Christus, the phrase has become part of what is known as the Five Solae, a summary statement of central tenets of the Protestant Reformation. Although these individual phrases have been used for centuries, it is not clear when they were first put together.

Other denominational views

In Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology, the term latria is used for the form of adoration and glorification directed only to the Holy Trinity. The term dulia is used for saints in general and hyperdulia (below latria, above dulia) for the Virgin Mary. The definition of the three level hierarchy of latriahyperdulia and dulia goes back to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.


Soli Deo Honor et Gloria is the motto of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, and appears on their gate at the entrance to St Helens Place, City of London. Soli Deo gloria is the motto of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory, a Christian Community of friars of the Episcopal Church founded within the Anglican Communion in 1969; of Wheaton Academy, a high school located in West Chicago, Illinois, which was founded in 1853; of Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas, founded in 1898; of Concordia College (Moorhead, Minnesota); of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa; of Dordt College, Iowa founded in 1955; of the American Guild of Organists; of the Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee; of Ursuline High School, a Catholic high school located in Youngstown, Ohio which was founded in 1905; and of the Bishop’s Stortford College, a British public school founded in 1868 in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. It is also imprinted on the South African 1 Rand coin.

Soli Deo Gloria

Soli Deo Gloria

Why is soli Deo gloria important?

Soli Deo gloria is one of the important doctrines emphasized during the Protestant ReformationSoli Deo gloria, along with the other four solas of the Reformers, separates the biblical gospel from false beliefs. The Latin word soli means “alone” or “only” (soli is the root of our English word solitary); and the phrase Deo gloria means “the glory of God.” So, soli Deo gloria means “to the glory of God alone.”

Soli Deo gloria has reference to our salvation in Christ. When the Reformers spoke of our salvation “to the glory of God alone,” they emphasized the grace of God. Salvation is all of grace, not of our works (Ephesians 2:8–9). A key phrase in Ephesians 2:9 is “so that no one can boast”; that is, God’s grace in providing salvation excludes all human pride and boasting. In making his case for justification by faith, apart from the Law, Paul writes, “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith” (Romans 3:27, NLT).

There is no room for the glory of man in God’s plan for salvation. The glory is God’s alone. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If it were possible for someone to attain salvation through the works of the Law, then he would have something to boast of (Romans 4:2); but it is impossible. We cannot save ourselves. We who were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1) could do nothing to help ourselves toward life. But, praise the Lord, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The glory is God’s, not ours. Soli Deo gloria.

The salvation of sinners was God’s idea, the accomplishing of that salvation was God’s work, the granting of that salvation is God’s grace, and the fulfillment of that salvation is God’s promise. From beginning to end, “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8, ESV; cf. Revelation 7:10). Jesus likened salvation to a new birth (John 3:3); as an infant can take no credit for his own birth, so we can take no credit for our being “born again.” King Hezekiah was not credited with saving Jerusalem from the Assyrians (2 Kings 19); God was the One who defeated the enemy. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not credited with saving themselves in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3); God preserved them in the flame. The glory belongs to God alone. Soli Deo gloria.

In Reformed theology, the doctrine of soli Deo gloria is closely related to the doctrine of irresistible grace. God’s grace drew us to salvation and even enabled us to believe. Yes, we repented of our sin, but only because God’s grace enabled us to repent. We placed our faith in Christ, but only because God’s grace enabled us to have faith. There is no work that we can do to in any way earn our salvation or help secure it for ourselves. We are called and kept by the power of God alone, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Soli Deo gloria.

The German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) understood that music was a gift from God to be used for the glory of God. Beneath all of his compositions of sacred music, Bach penned the initials SDGsoli Deo gloria. In his vision of heaven, the apostle John saw “the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, / to receive glory and honor and power’” (Revelation 4:10–11). Even the elders of heaven do not keep their crowns; they give glory where glory is due—to God alone.

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