"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, November 09, 2009

Guess the Heretic!

Some Protestants and Catholics misrepresent the doctrine of justification by faith as some entirely novel invention of Martin Luther. This is said by Roman Catholics to imply that no one before him had ever had the audacity or pure evil intentions to declare such a thing. And it is said by some non-Catholics to dismiss the church pre-1500 as irrelevant and to dismiss the idea of tradition having any proper role in aiding exegesis. But what if part of your exegesis of Scripture had to answer this question: "Has anyone before 1800, or 1500, ever interpreted this passage this way? If not, what do you have access to that they don't that would inform such a difference in interpretation?" Certainly, the doctrine of justification by faith in Luther and Calvin is more developed, but it is not novel:

"All effort of human argument must be postponed where faith alone is sufficient...the righteousness of faith, by which we are justified [consists in] 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." -Julian of Toledo, Bishop of Toledo (circa 7th Cent)

"[Justification is] thou art not only righteous, but art called 'righteous' a righteousness that justifies...The righteousness of God consists in his not sinning, but the righteousness of man consists in his being forgiven by God." -Bernard of Clairvaux, Catholic mystic (circa 14th Cent)

"God who does make the unclean clean and who by taking away sins does justify the sinner without works." -Ildefonsus of Toledo, Bishop of Toledo (circa 7th Cent)

"The beginning of human salvation comes from faith...which when it is in Christ, is justification to the believer." -Hincmar of Reims, Bishop of Reims (circa 9th Cent)

"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" -Clement of Rome, presbyter/bishop? of Rome (circa 1st Cent)

"A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are work of the law these are not based on hte foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God." -Origen, early church theologian (circa 3rd Cent)

"No one has been so foolish as to say that merits are the cause of the divine act by which God predestines...There would indeed be injustice if the effects of predestination were rendered as a debt which is due, and not given by grace." -Thomas Aquinas, Latin Theologian (circa 13th Century) *

"We believe that man is justified by faith, not by works...we understand the correlative of faith, namely the righteousness of Christ, which faith, performing the function of a hand, grasps and applies to us salvation." -Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril Lucaris, Greek Orthodox's highest bishop (circa 17th Cent.)

"no one, [Paul] saith, is justified by works, in order that the grace and loving-kindness of God may be shown. He did not reject us as having works, but as abandoned of works He hath saved us by grace; so that no man henceforth may have whereof to boast...the whole work is accomplished not of works but by faith." -John Chysostom, Greek preacher (circa 4th Cent)

*[Update: I do realize Thomas has an Augustinian idea of justification as "making righteous" but included him because the statement by itself without the identifier would be most often identified as sounding Lutheran/Reformed rather than Thomistic. Hence the title "Guess the heretic." This is only meant to show the seeds, not the full fruit of justification. The same premises that lead Thomas to his doctrine of presdestination lead Luther to his doctrine of justification. I mean no more.]


Andrew said...
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Jared Nelson said...

I was collecting a few quotes that show the seeds of the doctrine are in history. I understand Thomas was Augustinian in his understanding of justification "making righteous" which was a common Latin error due to the poor equivalent of a Latin equivalent to the Greek. Yet, Thomas had a deep understanding of the sovereign grace of God, but expressed it in terms of predestination rather than justification. Thomas neither cites justification nor do I say he does. I did include him here under a post about justification without commentary (perhaps I should have taken an extra day and added commentary), but perhaps this helps in establishing that sola gratia which lead Thomas to a strong doctrine of predestination likewise lead Luther to a biblical doctrine of justification.

As to the others, I'd look at Clement of Rome, Origen and the bishops of Toledo. Their statements do say justification by faith, not works, which would be difficult to construe as justification by works...

Jared Nelson said...

Also, Protestant theologians can talk about justification in the context of cleansing. Head 2, article 8 of the Canons of Dort, for instance. Cleansing does not equal infusion.

Jared Nelson said...

Finally, if what I cite here is ill-concieved and poor historiography, you should see the bone-headed conclusions of Jaroslav Pelikan in Volume 3 of Christian Doctrine. He says that though an Augustinian doctrine was dominant, other views, including by faith alone, existed in the Middle Ages in the Latin church. But no one really respects Pelikan as an historian.

あじ said...

I suppose one can proof-text just about any text. How about some more quotes:

    “Let us therefore cleave unto those to whom grace is given from God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being lowlyminded and temperate, holding ourselves aloof from all back biting and evil speaking, being justified by works and not by words.” — Clement of Rome, To The Corinthians (1 Clem 30:3)

    “...it is in our own power to observe what is commanded. And therefore we are rightly rendered liable to condemnation if we transgress those commandments which we are able to keep... You will find also innumerable other passages in holy Scripture, which manifestly show that we possess freedom of will. Otherwise there would be a contrariety in commandments being given us, by observing which we may be saved, or by transgressing which we may be condemned, if the power of keeping them were not implanted in us.” — Origen, De Principiis, Book 3

    For God offereth mercy upon the condition that he will mend his living. — William Tyndale (a reformer who rejected sola fide)

    “Is it then enough,” saith one, “to believe on the Son, that one may have eternal life?” By no means. And hear Christ Himself declaring this, and saying, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven”; and the blasphemy against the Spirit is enough of itself to cast a man into hell. But why speak I of a portion of doctrine? Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God”, let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. — John Chrysostom, Homilies on John

Jared Nelson said...

When positing that the doctrine did exist, not that it existed without other models, yes, proof-texting would be all that is necessary. And if I said it was the only doctrine up to Luther, then you certainly would have proved that wrong by your proof-texts. Instead, we see a diversity of opinion over the matter, not a universal singular approach, my very point and position.

Also, I have pointed out the more contextual way of looking at Clement's comments on justification here:

あじ said...

I think the problem I'm having is that your hermeneutic makes the Fathers internally inconsistent and self-contradictory. From that perspective, your "development" must necessarily be an exercise in misunderstanding if they in fact are not so incoherent.

Jared Nelson said...

Umm...yeah. The fathers are inconsistent because they are not inspired authors. Gregory and Origen flirt with Universalism. Others do not. Irenaeus is pre-millenial, most of the other fathers are not. Justin says the Trinity is explainable by analogy to fire, Irenaeus says the Trinity must not be explained by fire. To say the fathers disagree with each other in some areas is to have read the fathers. To disagree on things is to be contradictory. Do you believe the church fathers are inspired? Do you expect them to all say the same thing? Is that the basis of your hermeneutic? If so, I'm afraid you have misapplied such a premise on church fathers that ought to be reserved for Scripture alone.

Though, since you have a blog with a title that includes "anti-systematic" why are the fathers protected as systematic and the bible is not?

あじ said...

No, I mean you make each father internally inconsistent and self-contradictory. I wasn't making a comparison between the various fathers. I don't expect them all to agree on everything, nor do I consider them to be inspired. I do expect that where they are all agreed (e.g. synergism) that they are correct.

Jared Nelson said...

The criteria for inconsistancy must be determined before hand. Clement within a few paragraphs speaks of justification by works rather than words and justification by faith rather than works, which from the context speaks of justification before men and justification before God. So even though we may say he was inconsistent with himself that would not be fair, as my post on him expounds, for he was trying to explain consistency between two types of justification within the same document. Across writings, fathers can be self-contradictory, as Augustine's retractions shows that they themselves were aware of it. Time makes for development.

If you are saying "synergism" is a consistency as a premise, I'd disagree, especially with Augustine. Augustine is inconsistent with himself on this matter as he admits. We might not like that fact that fathers disagree on matters such as this, but this is the heritage we have, and we cannot just pretend it is the heritage we wish we had.

あじ said...

Synergism is consistent with the exception of Augustine. Exceptions don't make rules, nor anomalies statistics. But even Augustine was a monergist only in regards to the origin of faith, not in regards to salvation (read Dr. Phillip Cary). And he was widely criticized in his own lifetime for his innovations. So, feel free to disagree, but I can't envy anyone trying to find real disagreement on synergism in the Fathers.