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

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Augustine on Psalm 59 (sounding like Luther)

It tickles me that sometimes when reading Augustine, I have to look at the book cover again to remind myself I am not reading Luther. Here is Augustine commenting on Psalm 59:3 "For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me"

"There are also other men strong, not because of riches, not because of the powers of the body, not because of any temporally pre-eminent power of station, but relying on their righteousness. This sort of strong men must be guarded against, feared, repulsed, not imitated: of men relying, I say, not on body, not on means, not on descent, not on honour; for all such things who would not see to be temporal, fleeting, falling, flying? but relying on their own righteousness.…“Wherefore,” say they, doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners? (Matt 9:11) O ye strong men, to whom a Physician is not needful! This strength to soundness belongeth not, but to insanity. For even than men frenzied nothing can be stronger, more mighty they are than whole men: but by how much greater their powers are, by so much nearer is their death. May God therefore turn away from our imitation these strong men.…The same are therefore the strong men, that assailed Christ, commending their own justice. Hear ye these strong men: when certain men of Jerusalem were speaking, having been sent by them to take Christ, and not daring to take Him (because when he would, then was He taken, that truly was strong): Why therefore, say they, “could ye not take Him?” And they made answer, “No one of men did ever so speak as He.” And these strong men, “Hath by any means any one of the Pharisees believed on Him, or any one of the Scribes, but this people knowing not the Law?” (John 7:45-49). They preferred themselves to the sick multitude, that was running to the Physician: whence but because they were themselves strong? and what is worse, by their strength, all the multitude also they brought over unto themselves, and slew the Physician of all.…"

And on Verse 10: Behold what is, “My strength, to Thee I will keep:” on myself I will in no ways at all rely. For what good thing have I brought, that thou shouldest have mercy on me, and shouldest justify me? What in me hast Thou found, save sins alone? Of Thine there is nothing else but the nature which Thou hast created: the other things are mine own evil things which Thou hast blotted out. I have not first risen up to Thee, but to awake me Thou hast come: for “His mercy shall come before me.” Before that anything of good I shall do, “His mercy shall come before me.”


David said...

Hi Jared,

Here's another example of a long quote with no attribution, other than you have told us it is Augustine's comments on this Psalm. I would be surprised if this commentary is not on the web somewhere. How about linking to it or minimally providing us the full name of the commentary?

Regarding the substance of the post, Catholics believe, as you do, that only by the grace of God are we capable of any good. Augustine notes that it is His nature alone in him (Augustine) that is alone good. This is consistent with Catholic theology. It is God alone who provides us that grace to do good.

I see neither smoke nor fire here.



Jared Nelson said...

Augustine of Hippo. Expositions on the Book of Psalms. First Series Vol 8 of Post-Nicene Series, pg 237-238. edited by Schaff.

Sorry I don't have the publisher info with me.

The old Latin Psalm is 58, the modern number 59:


Jared Nelson said...

I realize Augustine has a different theology than Luther on some points, even within the theology here. Yet, If I were to present the phrases in bold and ask who wrote it, Luther may be the first name to mind. I have yet to hear a modern Catholic speak out again leaning on our righteousness, nor to naturally speak about the only thing we have to offer God is our sinfulness. Even though I would have some issues in Biblical and Systematic Theology with Augustine, How I would love it if most modern Catholics sounded anything like him today.

Andrew said...

Ironically I just read this today in my book of daily meditations:

"Salvation comes from God; it is futile and harmful to nurture a presumptuous confidence in human powers; the Lord himself is salvation; he will free his people from all their sins" - Pope John Paul II

Although in general I feel - especially after studying Newman and the 19th century Catholics - that we are far too Pelagian sounding in our pastoral theology even if we never formally speak a heresy.

While the Lord does tell us to be holy as he is holy, and Christ that we are to be "perfect", we must always remember that this perfection comes from the righteousness of Christ united to our redeemed natures (at least in Catholic terms). Or as one Roman priest said "our perfection as Christians comes from us begging Christ to make us perfect".

Although I don't get why you guys always criticize us Catholics, when they Orthodox fail to even discuss grace. If a Catholic mentions it in passing before going on a large moral exhortation, the Orthodox fail to mention it at all. But my theory is that this is because you guys are trying to cozy up next to them in the hopes that they'll say you're true Christians and thus find away around Rome to unity. It's just a theory though.

The only way unity in the Church will occur is a strong Christocentric, Gracious, and Augustinian soteriology from the Catholic side, and a slackening from Calvin to Augustine on the Reformed side.

David said...


You have deleted my comment pointing out that Christ himself, in the sacred scriptures, teaches that it is our works and faith that saves us.

Is censorship the answer? Is this the response that Christ would have you make or would He call for your conversion of heart, to accept all that the scriptures teach?

You will be in my prayers.

David said...

This is the post that was deleted:

Thank you for pointing me to the Augustine commentaries. I was not familiar with those and haven't had time to take a look at the commentary on this Psalm. I will when time permits.

Regarding your comment: "the only thing we have to offer God is our sinfulness."

I hope that when I give an accounting for my life to Him, that I have more to offer than my sinful nature and/or sins.

The bible is clear that what we have done is just as important as our faith.

Matthew 7:21-23
21 Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in your name, and cast out devils in your name, and done many miracles in your name? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.

Matthew 19:16-17
16 And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? 17 Who said to him: Why do you ask me concerning good? One is good, God. But if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.

Romans 2:3-8
3 And do you think this, O man, that judge them who do such things and do the same, that you shall escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his goodness and patience and longsuffering? Do you not know that the benignity of God leads you to penance? 5 But according to your hardness and impenitent heart, you treasure up to yourself wrath, against the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God: 6 Who will render to every man according to his works. 7 To them indeed who, according to patience in good works, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: 8 But to them that are contentious and who obey not the truth but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation.

There are many more verses which tell us of the importance of good works (faith in Christ is assumed). I hope to offer to God my faith and good works when I meet Him face to face.

The bible is very clear about what is necessary for salvation: faith and works. To consider faith more important than works or works more important than faith is to ignore what the bible teaches.

Blessings to you. David

Jared Nelson said...

I haven't deleted any of your comments here. These days I don't have a lot of time to comment or delete comments.

Reformed Christians believe these statements are Scriptures are true and that by perfect, perpetual and personal obedience, God's commands in the Law would give life. However, our obedience is not perfect, perpetual or personal. Therefore: Anyone who tries to please God by obeying the Law is under a curse. The Scriptures say, "Everyone who doesn't obey everything in the Law is under a curse." No one can please God by obeying the Law. The Scriptures also say, "The people God accepts because of their faith will live." The Law isn't based on faith. It promises life only to people who obey its commands. But Christ rescued us from the Law's curse, when he became a curse in our place.

David said...

Which verses are you quoting from the bible? When you talk about "the Law", I assume you are talking about the Mosaic Law.

You are right that we do not need to obey that law. However, you have not responded directly to the verses from Matthew and Romans that I quoted above.

In John, Christ says, If you love my, you will keep my commands, right?

What are His commands? Do you consider the 10 commandments part of the Mosaic law, and therefore not applicable to our Christian life?

What does Christ mean when He says, "but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." What must one "do"?

And later in Matthew, "But if you will enter into life, keep the commandments." Which commandments? Where in the bible does it command one to offer your wretchedness to Christ and He will give you eternal life? It doesn't. He expects you to fulfill His commandments.

Paul is clear that God "will render to every man according to his works. 7 To them indeed who, according to patience in good works, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: 8 But to them that are contentious and who obey not the truth but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation."

He will render according to a man's "works". Is Paul talking about the works of the Mosaic law? No, he can't be because Paul is clear that there is no salvation through the Mosiac law. It's faith in Christ AND the works that one performs as a Christian that God examines when He judges your life.

If you work inequity, you will be damned.

One must look at the ENTIRE bible, not just pick out particular verses that seem to justify a particular theology, and ignore other verses that conflict with that theology.

Please tell me how the above verses make sense in a "faith alone" theology?

Jared Nelson said...

The verses are from Galatians 3:10-12. in them, Paul tells us how we ought to read the Scriptures. Law does not merely mean Mosaic Law anymore than Gospel only means the four gospels. Notice that Paul uses Law and Gospel as categories that are not limited by a time and place, but that manifestations of the LAw come under different times and circumstances. Thus, the "gospel" was preached to Abraham. Also, the "law" is taught before and after Moses. Both Law and Gospel hold out the promise of life. The Law hold out the promise as "do this and live" as Paul says. Paul is more specific that "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified." (Rom 2:13) So yes, those who personally, perpetually and perfectly keep the law are justified. However, as Paul goes on to say the problem is that: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12) Thus, no one has gained righteousness by the way of the law and thus the need for the justification that "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." The two different ways are analogized by Paul in Galatians 4 - Sarah and Hagar, Sinai and Hagar. and so, the promise is real from the law, but only one man has earned righteousness (namely Jesus) who then give righteousness by grace through faith: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

David said...

Can Paul's words supersede Christ's? Of course not. All scripture is inspired, God-breathed, right? You can not just hold the verses you quoted from Paul and ignore the verses I quoted from Matthew.

The scriptures are a whole and complete testimony. I find it ironic that Protestants, who hold to the bible alone, really hold only to those parts of the bible alone that prove their theology.

In other words, yes, you can point to writings in Paul that indicate we are justified by faith, but you haven't responded to Christ's own words that we are judged by our works.

What is the Protestant response to those verses?

Jared Nelson said...

David, I'm sorry but that statement is a mess. Jesus' words and Paul's words are all Logos, and thus are all Christ's words, and Christ's Spirit's words.

Paul's explanations in Galatians are not negating or contradicting Christ but explaining how life can be held out for fulfillment of the Law, which no man does, and how Christ fulfills the Law in our place to merit the life we could not that we receive by faith.

Christ's words (and all the words of the Scriptures) are true. "Do this and you will live" is true, from the mouth of Moses (ala the Law in the Torah) and the mouth of Christ (for example in the Sermon on the Mount).

Christ himself gives a similar treatment to the law and the gospel:

Mat 5:17-20 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

If you believe your righteousness can exceed that of the Pharisees, then so be it. But Christ' gives the explanation that HE came to fulfill the law, where even the pharisees (let alone me) could not keep it. Life is truly held out for perfect perpetual and personal obedience (I don't know how many times I have to say it for you to know that I affirm what Moses and Christ say) and the only one who has does that is Christ Jesus. We are either of Adam in his disobedience or Christ in His obedience:

"For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." [Rom 5:19]

May I ask you David, does you righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees? If you might fulfill the law, why did Christ have to? Is Paul wrong in Romans 3:10-12?

Andrew said...

I think you are both wrong. As a Catholic the semi-Pelagianism of David is concerning, and Jared's Calvinism likewise.

We are justified by Christ's righteousness, not our own. The Council of Trent identifies the Passion of Christ as the cause of our salvation.

The Reformation dispute is not over whether we are justified by the law or the gospel (we can't be justified by the law). It is over whether Christ's righteousness is imputed to us irrevokably on the basis of faith alone, or whether it is infused into our souls by sanctifying grace received through the sacraments and lost by mortal sin and unrepentance.

Andrew said...

Ok in reality Jared's Calvinism is not concerning, it seems quite normal for him.

Jared Nelson said...

Andrew - admit it, as a Thomist you prefer my Calvinism to Semi-Pelagianism ;)

Andrew said...

It's true. I -like Kreeft- am a bit of a Jansenist at heart.

Always best to err on the side of grace.

David said...


I think you need to read my last post again. You and I both agree that all scripture is inspired and that not one verse can contradict another.

Christ certainly fulfills the law in his perfect, sacrificial, once and for all offering on Calvary.

We both agree on that, too.

(As Catholics, we participate in the re-presentation of this perfect, once-and-for-all offering each Sunday in the mass.)

As you correctly pointed out, my righteousness counts for nothing. What I do of my own accord is futile. HOWEVER, what I do with the grace that God has given my is another matter.

All good works that we do in our life, as Christians, are a result of the graces God has given us. If we cooperate with this grace and follow His commands, then we remain in His love (John 14:15). Our response to His grace is expressed in Galatians 5:6

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love."

The law can not bring righteousness and salvation, only our faith in Christ as our savior AND our cooperation with His grace; faith working through love.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. 32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. 34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, you blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see you hungry and fed you: thirsty and gave you drink? 38 Or when did we see you a stranger and took you in? Or naked and covered you? 39 Or when did we see you sick or in prison and came to you? 40 And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. 41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me. 44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you? 45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. 46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

Our salvation depends on our faith and what we do with the grace we receive from Christ.

Blessings to you.

Jared Nelson said...

David - I may not be the one to teach you Reformed hermeneutics (partly because you don't seem to want to understand them - which is fine), so I don't know that this discussion is going anywhere. Paul teaches us how to read the truth of this passage in light of a salvation that comes "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ." there is Law and there is Gospel, and Paul tells us how the Gospel may save us unto good works, but that good works do not save us, but Christ's do.

I really don't have anything to say to proof texting. I believe Matthew 25. I believe it must be read in the canon of Scripture that teaches us about the two covenants "do this and live" and "the righteous shall live by faith." (Gal 3) I can't make you read Scripture that way, though I believe Paul teaches us we must read Scripture that way and Paul's Epistle to the Galatians is God's Word. Thanks for the comments though.