Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seeds Of The Reformation


BOP = Jacques Le Goff, The Birth Of Purgatory (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986)

COR = Thomas Scheck, Origen: Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, Books 1-5 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2001)

ECD = J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978)

EVT = D.H. Williams, Evangelicals And Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005)

JBF = H. George Anderson, et al., edd., Justification By Faith (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985)

JIP = Bruce McCormack, ed., Justification In Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006)

JPJ = Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament XI: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000)

RRC = Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle Of Roman Catholicism (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1959)

RTS = Leonard Verduin, The Reformers And Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1964)

Catholics often claim that nobody advocated justification through faith alone between the time of the apostles and the Reformation. Recently, a Catholic poster here, by the screen name of Sean and Stephanie, wrote:

Ah, so that is how you define 'Christian.'

Apparently there were no Christians before Luther nor is Christianity taught in the bible.

He made those comments in response to something Gene Bridges had said concerning Calvinist and Arminian agreement about justification through faith alone. Thus, Sean and Stephanie was suggesting that both Calvinist and Arminian understandings of sola fide are absent from pre-Reformation church history and the Bible. Later, Sean and Stephanie added "Lutheran soteriology" to the list. He also criticized the view that one can be "justified, but not sanctified". And he tried to shift the topic of discussion by bringing up the subject of imputed righteousness. He cited a passage from a book by Alister McGrath, a passage frequently mentioned by Catholics, and said:

Alistair McGrath's findings are a big problem for the Protestant position although his findings are not unique.

Notice what we have, then. We have a Catholic suggesting that Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran, and antinomian understandings of sola fide are absent from the Bible and pre-Reformation church history, accompanied by an appeal to the scholarship of Alister McGrath.

Those of you who have followed Catholic apologetics closely in recent years should recognize Sean and Stephanie's approach. It's common. Some Catholics are knowledgeable enough to avoid some of Sean and Stephanie's missteps, but his approach probably represents the large majority of those who are active in Catholic apologetics today.

Is it true that nobody advocated justification through faith alone between the time of the apostles and the Reformation?

The Bible

This post is primarily about sola fide in sources between the apostles and the Reformation. For those who are interested, we have many posts in our archives addressing the Biblical evidence for justification through faith alone. See, for example, my posts here, here, and here.

My View

Since Sean and Stephanie issued a broad criticism of many different forms of justification through faith alone (Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and antinomianism, along with some criticisms of sola fide that were unspecified), I'm going to be addressing evidence for a broad range of views prior to the Reformation. I don't agree with all of these views. I'm not a Lutheran, and I disagree with antinomian views of justification that reject or underestimate the significance of sanctification in this life. I agree with Calvinism (and some Arminians) that justification can't be lost, but I'm going to be citing pre-Reformation sources who held other views as well, since Sean and Stephanie included Arminian notions of sola fide in his criticism. I'm not claiming to agree with every pre-Reformation source I cite.

And while I consider imputed righteousness an important doctrine, it's not the subject I'm primarily addressing here. I don't consider belief in imputed righteousness essential to salvation. Notice that I referred to belief in imputed righteousness. Imputed righteousness itself is essential. Nobody is justified without it. And belief in the concept is important. I think every Christian should be taught it. But belief in something can be important without being essential. Even though imputed righteousness is essential and belief in it is important, the primary subject of this post is justification through faith alone.


Since Sean and Stephanie thinks that Alister McGrath's conclusions are "a big problem for the Protestant position", then let's consider what other scholars have said. (Note, too, the important qualifications McGrath has made, as discussed by James Swan here. Matthew Schultz cited Swan's article in one of the threads linked above, and Sean and Stephanie ignored it. See, also, the many posts in the archives of Swan's blog that address this subject.)

Jaroslav Pelikan wrote:

"Every major tenet of the Reformation had considerable support in the catholic tradition. That was eminently true of the central Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone….That the ground of our salvation is the unearned favor of God in Christ, and that all we need do to obtain it is to trust that favor – this was the confession of great catholic saints and teachers….Rome’s reactions [to the Protestant reformers] were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone – a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers – Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition.” (RRC, 49, 51-52)

James Swan quotes the following from another book Pelikan wrote, one that I haven't read:

"Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification."

Many other scholars have made comments similar to Pelikan's. One of the best brief overviews of this subject that I've seen is Nick Needham's chapter in JIP, 25-53. Needham makes many points relevant to this post, including the following:

"The language of justification occurs reasonably often in the fathers. What does the language mean? Although it does not always have the same precise connotation, it seems clear that there is a very prominent strand of usage in which it has a basically forensic meaning....The forensic framework of this justification language is further illustrated by another strand of patristic teaching that employs the concept of imputation - reckoning or crediting something to someone's account, a synthesis of legal and financial metaphors, where the books that are being kept are 'judgment books.'" (27-28, 32)

Earlier this year, Timothy George had a discussion with Francis Beckwith at Wheaton College, on the topic "Can You Be Catholic And Evangelical?". During the discussion, George appealed to a passage in Augustine for support of the concept of imputed righteousness. Karlfried Froehlich wrote:

"Parallel to a strong use of Augustinian transformation language, Bernard of Clairvaux reflected this forensic tendency. Protestants have often noted Bernardine texts which seemed to emphasize imputative justification." (JBF, 157)

Leonard Verduin wrote:

"In fact, a chorus of protest resounds across the ages, contesting all that feeds the idea of salvation by sacramental manipulation, and sustaining all that which belongs with the formula of salvation by believing response to the preached Word....In the year 1025 some 'heretics' were located in the vicinity of Liege...They said that 'There are no sacraments in the holy Church by which one can attain unto salvation.'" (RTS, 142-143)

Thomas Scheck argues that there were people in Origen's day who believed in some form of justification through faith alone. Though Origen rejected their view, he considered them Christians:

"With believers in mind he [Origen] rejects the view that justification is by faith alone, apparently because certain Christians were denying a future judgment based upon works....In 8.2 Origen again shows awareness of persons who do not seem to be heretics, but who do not understand the inextricable link between faith and good works. He refers to them as he expounds Rom 10.9, where it is evident that Origen rejects their theology, insisting that belief in Christ's resurrection and public confession of his lordship profits one nothing if his resurrection is not realized in the life of the believer....Gnostic and even some Christian exegetes used the 'faith alone' formulation to deny the doctrine of a future judgment according to works, but Origen repudiates this tactic." (COR, 34-35, 38)

D.H. Williams comments:

"The doctrine of justification by faith did not originate in the period of the Reformation, nor is the teaching a unique emblem of Protestantism. Evangelical scholars Timothy George and Thomas Oden have rightly observed that justification by faith was not a new teaching invented by the Reformers. Apart from New Testament documents, justification by faith finds its roots in the early church. Stated positively, the exegesis of justification by faith is a catholic and pre-Reformation teaching, and the Reformers themselves found precedents for this teaching in the early fathers, even as they went in new directions with these ideas." (EVT, 129)

Similar comments have been made by many other scholars.

Sometimes what's being addressed is a particular strand of thought within pre-Reformation sources that was accompanied by other views, sometimes inconsistently. Patristic scholars and others who work in relevant fields often note that these sources were inconsistent or sometimes only partially agreed with the Protestant concepts in question. Karlfried Froehlich refers to "all kinds of combinations between Augustinian, Thomist, Scotist, and nominalist elements" in medieval sources (JBF, 160). Robert Eno refers to how Origen is "not an easy author to interpret" and "less orderly and consistent" (JBF, 112) than other sources. Similar comments are often made in the scholarly literature about other pre-Reformation sources as well. In some cases, these men acknowledged their own inconsistencies. Augustine, for example, often acknowledged that he had changed his position over time on some theological issues. And scholars note his inconsistencies even where he doesn't admit them. Citing an inconsistency with Protestant belief in one portion of a church father's writings doesn't prove that he never agreed with that belief elsewhere.

You might disagree with the judgments of the scholars I've cited above or agree with them, but consider their conclusions insignificant. In some cases, I don't know much about the accuracy of the claims these scholars are making. Most of my research has focused on the earliest centuries of church history, not the later patristic centuries or the medieval era. And I haven't studied the doctrine of imputed righteousness as much as I've studied justification through faith alone. I don't know much about some of the claims made by the scholars I've cited above. The point I'm making here, though, is that scholars can be cited making comments that go in the opposite direction of what Catholics so often cite from Alister McGrath and others.

Some Of The Relevant Sources

One of the earliest patristic sources, Clement of Rome, wrote:

"And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing, and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But rather let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work." (First Clement, 32-33)

What must be read into the text in order to reconcile Clement's comments with Catholicism? We have to assume (1) that he only meant to exclude works that are somehow deficient (such as graceless works) when he referred to works "wrought in holiness of heart", (2) that he meant "faith and baptism", "faith and works", or something similar when he referred to "faith" as the means of attaining justification, (3) that the reference to "that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men" isn't meant to deny that baptism and other requirements have been added to faith since the Old Testament era, and (4) that Clement went on to tell his readers not to use the gospel as an opportunity to avoid good works just after telling them that we're justified through a combination between faith and works. Not a single one of those conclusions is likely, and the combination of all four is even more unlikely. What Clement seems to be communicating is justification through faith alone.

Sometimes Catholics will cite chapter 12, where Clement remarks that "On account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab the harlot was saved." But read the context. Clement is addressing salvation in the sense of safety from the Israeli invasion, not the attaining of eternal life. Clement goes on to quote Rahab saying to the Israeli spies, "keep ye me and the house of my father in safety" (12). Clement then quotes the spies saying, "It shall be as thou hast spoken to us. As soon, therefore, as thou knowest that we are at hand, thou shall gather all thy family under thy roof, and they shall be preserved, but all that are found outside of thy dwelling shall perish." (12) The salvation in question is physical, not spiritual. Rahab wasn't asking the spies to give her eternal life. Clement is addressing the benefits of godly living and the consequences of ungodliness in general, not merely how a person is justified.

Catholics sometimes cite Clement's reference to "being justified by our works, and not our words" in chapter 30 of First Clement, but he's addressing justification in the sense of vindication, such as we see in Luke 7:35, not in the sense of attaining eternal life. He says, "Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others", which is a reference to vindication, not a reference to the attaining of eternal life.

Clement was no antinomian, as passages like chapter 58 illustrate. But the same could be said of a Presbyterian or Methodist, for example. In light of what Clement says in chapters 32-33, a Catholic reading of First Clement isn't the most likely interpretation.

Another of the earliest patristic sources, The Epistle To Diognetus, refers to the substitutionary nature of Jesus' work and His righteousness in particular (9). He even refers to how His righteousness "covers our sins", in language reminiscent of the dunghill analogy often attributed to Martin Luther.

In the earliest extant treatise on baptism, Tertullian addresses a large variety of views held by various individuals and groups. Among the views he addresses is the belief that "Baptism is not necessary for them to whom faith is sufficient; for withal, Abraham pleased God by a sacrament of no water, but of faith." (On Baptism, 13)

Nick Needham writes about patristic sources who held a view that "effectively makes initial justification itself a twofold process: faith introduces us to salvation, and baptism perfects the introduction" (JIP, 42). He cites Origen, Basil of Caesarea, and Cyril of Jerusalem as examples. He goes on, "Basil's use of 'seal' imagery may indicate that he regarded baptism as the public and official declaration of a justification that until then has been private and unofficial" (42). He notes that their view (the view of Basil and others) is inconsistent with the views of some other fathers (n. 49 on 42), a point that Thomas Scheck also makes (COR, n. 376 on 350, n. 411 on 354).

In the seventh century, Andreas records the comments an earlier Christian author made about faith and baptism:

"Now someone might object to this and say: 'Did Paul not use Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by faith, without works? And here James is using the very same Abraham as an example of someone who was justified, not by faith alone, but also by works which confirm that faith.' How can we answer this? And how can Abraham be an example of faith without works, as well as of faith with works, at the same time? But the solution is ready to hand from the Scriptures. For the same Abraham is at different times an example of both kinds of faith. The first is prebaptismal faith, which does not require works but only confession and the word of salvation, by which those who believe in Christ are justified. The second is postbaptismal faith, which is combined with works. Understood in this way, the two apostles do not contradict one another, but one and the same Spirit is speaking through both of them." (JPJ, 32)

Augustine refers to a large variety of views of justification that existed in his day (The City Of God, 21:17-27). Here are some of his comments:

"But, say they, the catholic Christians have Christ for a foundation, and they have not fallen away from union with Him, no matter how depraved a life they have built on this foundation, as wood, hay, stubble; and accordingly the well-directed faith by which Christ is their foundation will suffice to deliver them some time from the continuance of that fire, though it be with loss, since those things they have built on it shall be burned. Let the Apostle James summarily reply to them: ‘If any man say he has faith, and have not works, can faith save him?’” (The City Of God, 21:26)

Antinomian concepts of justification through faith alone seem to have been common long before the Reformation. After Augustine's day, Bede writes against those who believe "that it does not matter whether they live evil lives or do wicked and terrible things, as long as they believe in Christ, because salvation is through faith" (JPJ, 31).

Sometimes sources who expressed a form of justification through works in some places in their writings advocated a different view elsewhere. For example:

"Jerome develops the same distinction, stating that, while the Devil and the impious who have denied God will be tortured without remission, those who have trusted in Christ, even if they have sinned and fallen away, will eventually be saved. Much the same teaching appears in Ambrose, developed in greater detail." (ECD, 484)

“Saint Jerome, though an enemy of Origen, was, when it came to salvation, more of an Origenist than Ambrose. He believed that all sinners, all mortal beings, with the exception of Satan, atheists, and the ungodly, would be saved: 'Just as we believe that the torments of the Devil, of all the deniers of God, of the ungodly who have said in their hearts, 'there is no God,' will be eternal, so too do we believe that the judgment of Christian sinners, whose works will be tried and purged in fire will be moderate and mixed with clemency.' Furthermore, 'He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.'" (BOP, 61)


  1. Jason -- This is my first comment here so let me thank you up front for your hospitality in hosting this discussion and welcoming comments from such as us Catholics.

    But I must say it seems you're barking up the wrong tree in describing something that we Catholics believe and teach quite clearly.

    We believe that the thief on the cross was saved apart from baptism or any other good works. His confession of faith in Jesus was quite enough for Jesus to welcome him into the kingdom.

    Now the life of the average Christian will involve
    much more than those final moments of the thiefs life, but the basis onwhich we believe we will be received into heaven as is precisely the same as the thief -- the undeserved mercy of god won for us by the sacrifice of Christ.

    Any works we do in this life that have any merit only have merit because of jesus' work. We hope to hear "well done my good and faithful servant" not because we were so good but because Jesus' work made it possible for us to be accepted by god.

    So faith is the beginning middle and end of catholic soteriology. It's no surprise at all that you can find this in the fathers.

    1. Actually Catholics believe the so-called "good thief" was saved by becoming good enough to be with the Lord, since perfection of character/no uncleanness/attachment to sin is required to see God ("we will go to Purgatory first, and then to Heaven after we are purged of all selfishness and bad habits and character faults." Peter Kreeft, Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer, p. 224), which premise begets purgatory.

      Which state is what baptism (and thus Bap. Of Desire) is believed to render one, so that "If one were to die immediately after Baptism, he would go straight to Heaven (assuming one presents no obstacles). -;

      (Yet due to a remaining sinful nature which cannot be made subject to God, baptism does not remove all character defects, with attachment to sin, making one perfect in character, for which purgatory is said to be needed for.)

      Thus one must have already attained to the condition if, like the contrite criminal in Lk. 23, one went directly to be with the Lord. Which is what Scripture consistently says wherever it manifestly speaks of the afterlife: (Lk. 23:43 [cf. 2Cor. 12:4; Rv. 2:7]; Phil 1:23; 2Cor. 5:8 [“we”]; 1Cor. 15:51ff'; 1Thess. 4:17) Note in the latter case all believers were assured that if the Lord returned, which they expected in their lifetime, so would they “ever be with the Lord.” (1Thes. 4:17) though they were still undergoing growth in grace, as was Paul. (Phil. 3:10f)

      Thus one begins his journey in the Catholic salvation system with becoming good enough to be with God via sprinkling=-regeneration=infused charity=sanctification= justification (as if Abraham became born again when God counted his faith for righteousness in Gn. 15:6, or the penitent publican in Lk. 18 or the contrite criminal in Lk. 23).

      And with practical sanctification as the cause for justification and perfection of character (nothing unclean) necessary to be with God, thus the salvation process usually culminates with the baptized who dies in grace suffering "purifying torments" commencing at death in order to enter Heaven.

    2. Instead, in Scripture it is on Christ's account, not because he is practically good enough, that one is justified by faith, accepted in the Beloved and seated with Christ, (Eph. 1:6. 2:6) and has direct access now to God in prayer, (Heb. 10:19) and will be with the Lord at death or His return. With the only postmortem (or post-resurrection) suffering by believers is that of the judgment seat of Christ due to the loss of rewards and the Lord's disapproval, which one is saved despite of, and which does not occur until the Lord's return. (1Cor. 4:5; 2Tim. 4:1,8; Rev.11:18; Mt. 25:31-46; 1Pt. 1:7; 5:4)

      James teaches a faith which does not effect obedience is not salvific, and faith can be equated with works as it is faith in action, and it justifies one as a being a believer, but Catholicism equates the effect of justifying faith with being the actual cause of.

      Man could not and would not believe on the Lord Jesus or follow Him unless God gave him life, and breath, and all good things he has, (Acts 17:25) and convicted him, (Jn. 16:8) drew him, (Jn. 6:44; 12:32) opened his heart, (Acts 16:14) and granted repentance (Acts 11:18) and gave faith, (Eph. 2:8,9) and then worked in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure the works He commands them to do. (Phil. 2:13; Eph. 2:10)

      Thus man owes to God all things, and while he is guilty and rightly damned for resisting God contrary to the level of grace given him, (Prov. 1:20-31; Lk. 10:13; 12:48; Rv. 20:11-15) man can not claim he actually deserves anything, and God does not owe him anything but damnation, except that under grace — which denotes unmerited favor — God has chosen to reward faith, (Heb. 10:35) in recognition of its effects.

      Which means that God justifies man without the merit of any works, which is what Romans 4:1-7ff teaches, with “works of the law” including all systems of justification by merit of works, “for, if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (Galatians 3:21)

      Thus the penitent publican and the contrite criminal, both of whom abased themselves as damned and destitute sinner and cast all their faith upon the mercy of God (which ultimately is Christ), were justified, and as such could go directly to be with the Lord at death, even before they did any manifest works of faith. But works justify one as being a believer, and fit to be rewarded under grace for such, (Mt. 25:30-40; Rv. 3:4) though only because God has decided to reward man for what God Himself is actually to be credited for.

      Statement such as Trent's Canon 32 fosters RC faith in their own goodness and works for salvation, which shortened, teaches, "If anyone says that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God does not truly merit eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself, let him be anathema."

      With such emphasis on merit as if it was the actual cause of justification due to being good enough, no wonder RCs say such things as,

      I feel when my numbers up I will appoach a large table and St.Peter will be there with an enormous scale of justice by his side. We will see our life in a movie...the things that we did for the benefit of others will be for the plus side of the scale..the other stuff,,not so good will..well, be on the negative side..and so its a very interesting job Pete has. I wonder if he pushes a button for the elevator down for the losers...and what .sideways for those heading for purgatory..the half way house....lets wait and see.... —

  2. Matt,

    You may not have read any of the articles I linked regarding the Biblical evidence, since my post focuses on post-Biblical sources. But the articles I linked on the Biblical data do address issues like the ones you're raising.

    I realize that Catholicism makes exceptions for people like the thief on the cross. But that's not the normative means of justification in Catholicism.

    I also realize that Catholics acknowledge the involvement of God's grace. But if works are absent from Genesis 15:6, Acts 10:44-46, Galatians 3:2, and other relevant passages, then saying that the works are preceded by and accompanied by grace doesn't make sense. There are no works for grace to accompany in such passages. Or if Titus 3:5 and First Clement 32 exclude righteous and holy works, why would we conclude that only works that are in some manner deficient are being excluded? It would be possible to read those passages that way, but that wouldn't be the most reasonable way in which to read them.

    I cited scholars saying that Protestant views of justification are found in these pre-Reformation sources. They don't say that Catholic views that are somewhat similar to a Protestant view are there. Rather, they refer to Protestant views.

    And I included examples of advocates of some form of sola fide who were opposed by men like Origen, Augustine, and Bede. If you're going to suggest that men like Origen, Augustine, and Bede were Catholics, then why are we supposed to believe that the opponents they're responding to held the same Catholic view of justification? Why would two parties who held the same view be arguing with one another? Are you saying that you agree with the antinomians and other sources I cited advocating some form of sola fide? You agree with all of them? How can you agree with all of the sources involved when those sources didn't agree with each other?

    You write:

    "So faith is the beginning middle and end of catholic soteriology."

    No, the normative means of justification in Catholicism begins with baptism (and grace and faith, but my focus here is on the inclusion of works) and continues to involve works thereafter. Catholicism allows for sola fide in some exceptional cases, but that's not the norm. We see that in the Catechism Of The Catholic Church (1129, 1212-1213, 1215, 1227, 1254, 1257, 1263, 2010, etc.) and in the Council of Trent (session 6, On Justification, canon 24), for example.

  3. Hi Jason,

    Of course, the "nature" of justification is what McGrath is talking about. For Luther and Calvin, it was precisely this "forensic" nature, which Paul wrote about.

    And there is no question that the biblical language is forensic. And as has been noted, certain Roman Catholics who are willing to be honest with the Scriptural record have admitted that, yes, "justification" in both Old and New Testaments is a forensic act, a legal declaration by God.

    Fesko writes, "While individual Roman Catholic theologians have acknowledged the forensic nature of justification and hence the foundational nature of imputation, it is the magisterium that must acknowledge the doctrine. The whole debate, however, over the question of imputed versus infused righteousness is not one that will be solved only by exegeting the relevant NT texts (e.g., Romans 4:1-8, 5:12-19, 1 Cor 15:20-28, 2 Cor 5:20-21). The question of Adam's original state in the initial creation must also figure in the debate.

    "It seems as though much of the debate over infused versus imputed righteousness hinges upon the presuppositions of each party. The typical Reformed understanding is that Adam was created upright, or righteous, and that God justified, or declared righteous, the initial creation as well as man in his declaration that everything was "very good" (Gen 1:31). We see the Westminster Larger Catechism echo this point when it states that God created man in "righteousness, and holiness, having the law of God written in their hearts, and the power to fulfill it" (q.17). By way of contrast, the typical Roman Catholic understanding of Adam's original state holds to the necessity of infused righteousness. Roman Catholic theologians typically hold to the idea of the "donum supperadditum" ("super-added gift"). Medieval Roman Catholic Theologians, for example, argue that the donum superadditum was a part of the original constitution of man, that it represented his original capacity for righteousness. We see, then, from the outset, that man in his unfallen state required infused righeousness in the form of the donum superadditum. If man requires infused righteousness in the prefall state, then he would most assuredly require it in his sin-fallen but redeemed state. (This is from Aquinas, Summa, Ia q. 95). The original state of man, then, is an issue that must feature in any dialogues over the question of imputation." (Fesko, "Justification," 371-372).

    Fesko continues:

    "We have seen throughout this study that the RCC typically confuses the categories of justification and sanctification. This confusion is due to several factors, such as Augustine's initial formulation of justification, namely that it included both the declarative and transformative, a formulation which was later reiterated in the council of Trent, as we saw above. Once again, the issue does not hinge solely upon the definition of categories of systematic theology and terms in the NT. Yes, some Roman Catholic theologians have acknowledged that when Paul uses the "dikai-"word group that he has its forensic or declarative meaning in mind. Hence justification cannot be a transformative process; it cannot include sanctification but is a once-for-all declaration of the sinner's righteousness. However, though individual theologians may affirm this important point, the magisterium will not do so until it exposes one of its fundamental presuppositions as unbiblical.

    To be continued

  4. "At the radix of the Roman Catholic understanding of justification is not simply the teaching of the early church, but ultimately, and once again, its conception of man's original created state. Aquinas, for example, begins his discussion on the being and existence of God, not in terms of what Scripture has revealed concerning God, but in terms of ontology, particularly Aristotelian ontology (Summa, Ia IIae q.113a.8.) While the Aristotelian categories as a point of contact with the unbeliever is one issue, debatable at that, the use of Aristotelian ontology as the starting point for unpacking God's being and attributes and one's anthropology is a beast of an entirely different stripe. Recall from the chapter on prolegomena that Francis Turretin rejected Aquinas's ontologically framed discussion of the being and attributes of God and instead opted for the twin foci of covenant and Christology as the means by which God has revealed himself ...

    "Turretin's point is that theology is not revealed to us in terms of ontology but in the Word of God, which comes to us through Christ and covenant. Turretin is not alone in this criticism." (Fesko 372-373).

    Further down, Fesko gives some ramifications of this.

    "Van-Til notes in this regard, 'Romanism makes the effort to attach a Christian faith principle to a non-Christian principle of reason. The result is a compromise with the non-Christian principle f the autonomous man.' Inherent in Aquinas's understanding of man's original state, namely the pristine condition of his reason both before and after the fall, is reliance upon Aristotle. For the historic Reformed faith, however, there are only two kinds of people in the world, covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers. Van Til explains that covenant-keepers make man in God's image, whereas covenant-breakers make God in man's image.

    "According to Roman Catholic thelogy, then, one does not find man in covenant confronted with the revelation of God, and bound either to obey or disobey. It was Calvin, for example, who taught that man cannot know himself without knowing himself as a creature of God. Instead, Aquinas and Roman Catholic theology begin first with the concept of being and then only later introduce the Creator-creature distinction."

    Fesko continues with several more citations from Van Til, to the effect that Catholic theology "virtually asserts that the faith principle (in the Word) must be adjusted to the principle of reason that is already at work..." As well, "the meaning of a finished incarnation as an individual fact in history could never be made reasonable. The incarnation is a process continued in the church as the whole human personality is in the process of divinization....There cannot be one finished fact in history by virtue of which men are made righteous and holy in principle."

    As a practical out-working then, my understanding is that there are several key differences which don't get mentioned:

    "Grace" actually means different things when Catholics and Protestants talk about it.

    This is reflected from the very beginning; in the Protestant schema, man was "good" when God created him. So Christ's sacrifice, for Protestants, brings man through forensic justification, a declarative act of God, restoring man back to the "very good" that he had "in the beginning."

    In the Catholic scheme, man as created wasn't yet "good enough." He was merely neutral. There was a "super-added Grace" that gave him a kind of supernatural character that enabled him to "fellowship with God."

    So the sacramental treadmill -- beginning with an "infusion" of grace (a little squirt of this good oil that is yours to maintain by staying in "a state of grace") which does "make you righteous," but then it must be maintained through life -- being a "good Catholic," it can be "added to" (through the "increase of merit") -- this is required not by God in the Word, but by the Aristotelian/Thomist necessity to maintain human reason as a principle above and controlling God's Word.

  5. (Michael Horton also writes about this in more detail in "Covenant and Salvation).

    It should be noted, too, that Aquinas made other errors, and incorporated them into his theology. He believed that “Pseudo-Dionysius,” a fifth century neo-Platonist, was actually “Dionysius the Areopagite” from Acts 20. As well, he accepted many of the forgeries of the middle ages as if they were genuine items.

    I’d like to make an appeal to Matt, Sean, and the other Catholics who might show up at this point: Are you entirely comfortable knowing that Catholic theology is tainted by such things as this: That actual starting points and presuppositions that have their roots not in God’s word, but in Aristotle’s understanding of being – Aristotle who had no conception of the God of the Bible – consider what you are embracing into the heart of your salvation.

    Look at this stuff and see it for what it is; turn away from the Catholicism in which, as Calvin has put it, “satan has polluted everything that God has appointed for our salvation.” (Institutes 4.1.1.)

  6. If we are to discuss the seeds of reformation, we must also discuss the philosophical presuppositions that led to the hermeneutic of the "solas."

    Why is it that my Reformed brothers and sisters do not discuss the nominalism that underlies their doctrine of imputed righteousness? I would love to hear more about this from their point of view.

    It seems to me that the great hermeneutical divide between Catholics and Protestants centers on whether we are able to eventually participate in the life of the Triune God(a la realism) or whether we are able to do so only indirectly, by imputation (a la nominalism).

  7. Beth B wrote:

    "If we are to discuss the seeds of reformation, we must also discuss the philosophical presuppositions that led to the hermeneutic of the 'solas.' Why is it that my Reformed brothers and sisters do not discuss the nominalism that underlies their doctrine of imputed righteousness?"

    This thread is a response to some claims a Catholic made about the history of justification through faith alone. It's not a thread about the history of every concept relevant to Protestant beliefs about justification.

    Justification through faith alone and imputed righteousness are related issues, but are distinct. A person can believe in the former without believing in the latter. (I believe in both.) And different people believe in the concepts for different reasons. A modern Christian who thinks the Bible teaches imputed righteousness can believe in the concept for that reason, even if he doesn't know much about nominalism or rejects it.

  8. I'm not sure if Clement can be said to understand justification in the same way that you and I do (though his view of it is certainly inconsistent with Rome's). In Chapter 34 of his letter, he writes:

    "The good servant receives the bread of his labour with confidence; the lazy and slothful cannot look his employer in the face. It is requisite, therefore, that we be prompt in the practice of well-doing; for of Him are all things. And thus He forewarns us: "Behold, the Lord [cometh], and His reward is before His face, to render to every man according to his work." He exhorts us, therefore, with our whole heart to attend to this, that we be not lazy or slothful in any good work. Let our boasting and our confidence be in Him. Let us submit ourselves to His will."

    and, in Chapter 35,

    "How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendour in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! And all these fall under the cognizance of our understandings [now]; what then shall those things be which are prepared for such as wait for Him? The Creator and Father of all worlds, the Most Holy, alone knows their amount and their beauty. Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those who wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? If our understanding be fixed by faith rewards God; if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing and acceptable to Him; if we do the things which are in harmony with His blameless will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity, along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering, and evil-speaking, all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vainglory and ambition."

    In both of these passages, Clement seems to suggest an eschatalogical judgment based upon one's works. In Chapter 34, the reward of eternal life is likened to the bread of the good servant's labor, which suggests that the good servant's own merits enter the picture. Similarly, Chapter 35 has Clement offering a list of things necessary for being saved. It seems that this list is causally connected to salvation too since Clement offers them in response to the question "[H]ow shall this [earnestly striving to be found in the number of those who wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts] be done?"

    Given this prima facie problem, do you think that there is a plausible way of reconciling Clement's words in Chapter 32 with those in Chapter 34 and 35? Thanks.

    1. Midas,

      Your comments are relevant to some of my points about First Clement, but not others. For the benefit of the readers, I want to outline what's at stake here and what isn't.

      You haven't directly argued against my interpretation of sections 32-33 of the document. Rather, you've appealed to a potential indirect undermining of my interpretation from other parts of First Clement. You haven't explained how you'd reconcile those other sections to the ones I've cited. I'll explain how I reconcile my view of First Clement with the chapters you've brought up. But it should be noted that anybody adopting the view you're suggesting from chapters 34-35 would need to explain other portions of the document, like sections 32-33. The issue is how to make the most sense of the evidence as a whole. Even if a view other than mine would make more sense of chapters 34-35 in isolation, my view could make more sense of the entirety of the evidence. And some of my points, such as what I said about baptism, are unaffected by the issues you've raised.

      As I mentioned in my original post in this thread, I don't think Clement was an antinomian. And even if his view was closer to, say, Methodism than my position or the positions of some other Evangelicals, Clement's view would still fall under the broad category of faith alone that I was addressing. You might want to review what I explained about the context of my post in the opening paragraphs.

      I don't know what you have in mind with regard to chapter 34. Belief that true faith results in works and belief in heavenly rewards would explain the passage, and both notions are consistent with many concepts of faith alone, including my own.

      Concerning chapter 35, notice that the passage begins with references to multiple series of gifts to be obtained. He says that some gifts are already understood, whereas others have been promised for a future life in heaven that we don't yet fully understand. He then discusses how to obtain what's promised, apparently referring to the latter category of gifts (the ones not yet fully comprehended or possessed). I see no way to show that eternal life is included among the gifts he's telling his readers how to obtain. Let's assume that it is included, though. The fact would remain that he's discussing how to attain a series of gifts, not just one. I see no way to demonstrate that he had the one gift of eternal life in mind when he referred to attaining gifts through works, nor do I see any way to demonstrate that what he said about how to attain these things must be equally applicable to each gift mentioned. Since he's addressing a series of gifts, the means of attaining them can have different levels of applicability to different gifts. The passage is ambiguous with regard to the dispute over justification that we're discussing. Given what Clement says elsewhere about that issue, such as in sections 32-33, it's doubtful that he intended some form of justification through works in section 35.

      (continued below)

    2. (continued from above)

      It's also possible, though less likely, that the "life in immortality" in chapter 35 is referring to the quality of eternal life rather than the life itself. John 10:10 and 1 Timothy 6:19, for example, suggest that people can have different degrees of life or degrees of possessing it. Similarly, all of the other items that Clement lists just after mentioning life in immortality are items that can be possessed in degrees. What he would be addressing, then, is increasing the quality of eternal life, not whether a person is justified. However, I think the interpretation described in my previous paragraph is more likely. Though Biblical passages like John 10 and 1 Timothy 6 refer to degrees of life, it's more common to refer to people either having or not having life, without regard for degrees. Clement could be referring to the less common notion of degrees of life, but he probably isn't.

      Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he did intend to refer to attaining eternal life through works in some sense in chapter 35. The question would remain, how do we best reconcile such a comment with what Clement said in chapters 32-33? Making sections 32-33 align with justification through works is more difficult than aligning section 35 with sola fide. (See my discussion in my original post about some of the problems with trying to reconcile chapters 32-33 with justification through works.) Even if we assume that Clement is referring to some form of attaining eternal life through works in chapter 35, it could be taken in the sense of a traditional Protestant understanding of James 2. Works are the fruit of genuine faith. In that sense, in order to emphasize the point that faith has to be genuine in order to be justificatory, it could be said that we work for eternal life. Perseverance is a necessary fruit of justifying faith. It is a fruit, however, rather than a root.

      But I don't think what I just outlined needs to be applied to First Clement 35. Rather, I think my first paragraph about that chapter is a sufficient explanation. What I'm getting at in my paragraph just above this one is that my view of First Clement as a whole wouldn't necessarily be overturned if I'm wrong about chapter 35.

  9. Thanks for the great response, Jason. I have a follow-up question similar to this, if that's okay. According to one translation, Chapter 50 of 1 Clement says:

    "Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even to this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, "Enter into thy secret chambers for a little time, until my wrath and fury pass away; and I will remember a propitious day, and will raise you up out of your graves." Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile." This blessedness comes upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

    It seems that two things are of importance here. First, Clement, like Paul in Romans 4 when speaking about justification, quotes Psalm 32, but, unlike Paul, seems to apply it to love and not faith, since he says "so through love our sins may be forgiven us." This does not necessarily mean that Clement denies what he said about faith in Chapter 32, but, it appears that Clement would adopting a Roman Catholic view of faith, which must be informed by love in order to be saving. I know that TurretinFan says that the love being mentioned here is God's love and not ours, but I don't think that fits in with the immediately preceding context about our keeping the commandments in the harmony of love, which presumably is referring to our love. However, if love is part of what makes up saving faith, then Sola Fide is false. What do you think about this passage and its implications for the doctrine?

    1. Midas,

      Love isn't the same as works of love. I see no reason to deny that faith involves love, much as it involves repentance and other characteristics.

      As the Lord's Prayer illustrates, believers are forgiven in more than one sense. We're justified, yet we daily ask for forgiveness. We aren't daily losing our justification. Rather, there are disruptions in our relationship with God that require restoration. We're forgiven in order to enter God's family (justification), then we're forgiven within the family on a regular basis in order to restore full fellowship (as illustrated in the Lord's Prayer). Notice that Clement quotes more of Psalm 32 than Paul did. Clement goes on to quote what David said about an absence of guile in the individual's mouth. Just before that quotation, Clement had referred to walking in the commandments. He's addressing growth in the Christian life, not how to attain justification. The two are related, but not identical.

      Keep in mind, too, that the ancient Christians often cited scripture in what we might call a typological sense. A passage about David will be applied to Jesus, for example. Similarly, a passage on forgiveness might be applied to justification in one context and sanctification in another context. Two authors might use the same text in significantly different ways, yet agree on the larger issues involved. Even a single author might use the same text in two significantly different ways.

      If you look at the surrounding context in First Clement, it looks as though he wanted to both warn unbelievers about their need for the first type of forgiveness and encourage believers to pursue the second type. There is discussion of God's love and his work in bringing about the first type of forgiveness, but there's also encouragement for Christians to work toward the second.

  10. I recently came across the following rendering of chapter 32 of First Clement. This is Maxwell Staniforth's translation, edited by Andrew Louth. Notice that Staniforth expresses Clement of Rome's sentiments by adding the qualifier "alone" to faith:

    "Similarly we also, who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which alone Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time." (Early Christian Writings [New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1987], 36)

  11. Here's a post I've written on sola fide in Hilary of Poitiers.

  12. It is simple. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; Heb 12:2 or Jonah 2:9, Salvation is of the Lord.

  13. In a post here, I've expanded on the evidence for belief in justification apart from baptism at the time of Tertullian.

  14. Romans 4:5 says that God justifies an ungodly man who does not work. Roman Catholicism says God justifies a godly man who works. Read Roman Catholic theology believe the opposite arrive at biblical. The reformers saw antichrist in a purported church of human achievement. The RC saw antichrist is divine accomplishment, the gospel. Roman's 1:16 says the gospel alone, it is the power for salvation to all who believe it. Romans 10:9,10 says the immediate result of confessing and believing is righteousness and salvation.

  15. Here's more about justification in the Epistle To Diognetus.

  16. Here's a collection of resources on the evidence for belief in justification apart from baptism before the Reformation. The post includes links to material on Polycarp, Aristides, and the Odes Of Solomon, among other sources.