Tuesday, March 11, 2008

St. Augustine Refutes Faith Alone

In all of my investigation into Catholicism I don't know if I can believe in Sola Fide or Justification by Faith Alone anymore. It is a constant battle, and Martin Luther said that his religion would be based on Scriptures AND Augustine, so look what St. Augustine says:

"On Grace and Freewill" Ch.18
"Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle's statement: "We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law," (Rom 3:28) have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed "a vessel of election" by the apostle, who, after declaring that " in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision," (Gal 5:6) adds at once, "but faith which works by love." It is such faith which severs God's faithful from unclean demons,—for even these "believe and tremble," (Jms 2:19) as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives,—the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life. But inasmuch as we have even our good works from God, from whom likewise comes our faith and our love, therefore the selfsame great teacher of the Gentiles has designated "eternal life" itself as His gracious "gift." (Rom 6:23) "

This is written in 426-427 AD so it is important to understand that this is a historic position of the church. Just some food for thought.


  1. Not to argue with you on every front, but the issue is a little more complicated. Words in the Bible are not “one to one” with other words in the Bible, especially by different authors. Case in point: "Word of God" in John and Hebrews means Jesus. In Paul it means “message of the gospel.” Same with James and Paul, which Augustine is picking up on here. Faith for Paul is a fuller term than James uses. For James, he is denigrating “that faith” that has no fruit, showing it to be no faith at all. [you can read my explanation in the work of the Apostolic Father Clement here who explains further a justification before God, and a justification before men.] For Paul, he is assuming a faith that includes repentance which actually includes fruit or works. Augustine is picking up on the same idea here.

    The faith that justifies must be tested for fruit to ensure it is true faith, not the faith of demons. But those works testify to the faith, they do not add to salvation, though they may be said to be particular instances of salvation, in as much as each good work is God’s salvation from sin. Those good works are necessary in salvation, but they do not merit salvation (a Western scholastic theological novum). As Melanchthon said: “Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone.” It always comes with works, or it is the faith of demons. This is lost in revivalist America. Read Reformed guys who are not from America. Unfortunately “decision” has come to be synonymous with “faith” in America, which it is not.

    The formulation of “faith alone” is a development of the circumstances in Western European Christianity. Does buying indulgences add to our salvation? Show me that passage! Alister McGrath’s book Iustia Dei is indispensable on this. It is a particular feature of Western Christianity as the Magisterium of the Pope allowed the Western Church to add things foreign to Early Christianity. Thus, faith alone is a natural and orthodox doctrine in the West, while relatively unneeded in the Eastern Orthodox, as the east understands faith and works differently than in the Roman Church.

  2. Yes indulgences are stupid and do not add to salvation. I'm still not a Catholic, I'm just trying to say that I feel like EVERYONE is wrong in some way, and it's not something I've ever heard a Reformed Theologian say.

    I feel like although James is talking about someone who is professing faith and that it is for a test / hypothetical (which Calvin notes in his commentary on it which I read) , I still think Augustine clearly says here that Faith Alone is not his position. Does St. Augustine's position mean everyone believed it? no, but it's a hint.

  3. Andrew, "Indulgences" are only stupid until one understands them, especially in line with Catholic soteriology.

    From a Protestant soteriological perspective they don't make any sense at all, but then again, aren't we begging the question a little bit by assuming the Protestant definitions since that point itself is in question when we consider indulgences?

    Jared's arguments are clever, so clever in fact that I just can't believe them. But I am just coming from a position of common sense, not the "higher thought" which apparently one needs in order to believe Jared's thesis.

    As for me, clever twists and turns with long discourses between the beginning and the end do not do much to take me to the point where I can believe that when the Bible says "not by faith alone" that it really means "by faith alone....but alongside works which are just fruit." Call me crazy, Andrew. Call me a bloody loon.

    I have discussed this issue with many friends of mine who share the same mind as Jared, and regarding James 2 they say he is taling about "the KIND of faith that saves you." I heartily agree, Calvinist friend. This is precisely what the Catholic Church says: belief alone is of no avail. "Faith working in love" (Gal 5.6) is salvation for mankind. It is WE who say that St. Paul's discourses on faith imply a rich faith that includes an ontological change of the person by God's grace. Faith cannot be understood apart from this.

    This is NOT AT ALL the same thing as reducing works to be some sort of "test" of faith. Just because our Protestant brothers throw these two ideas together when they talk does not mean they are the same thing. Philosophically they are miles apart from one another.

    What is the big deal with "testing" faith anyway? Who the heck is going around "testing" people's faith? I don't do it and I do not know anyone, Protestant or Catholic, who does it. It is not God: he doesn't need any silly test. "Justified before men"? Give me a break. What man is qualified to test the faith of another man? From cursory observations of holiness or sin? I don't think so. Who is pure enough to judge another man's salvation based on "fruit"? Am I just a complete sodding moron or does this not make any sense at all?

  4. I would thank Philip for his compliments on my cleverness, if they were not meant to imply my sophistry.

    You ask who needs to be testing faith? Well, in the final analysis, only God. However, before ordination the presbytery/bishop would need some basis in believing that the candidate has true faith. Also, our faith is justified before non-believers by our works, not our words. This is why preaching on the street corner is less evangelistic than feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned or housing the homeless. Also, having us being justified by works before men and not our profession of faith means we are not praising ourselves, but letting the truth of our faith be born by others.

    The problem with calling the distinction between a justification before men and a justification before God a “higher thought” and the result of “clever twists and turns” is that this was the explanation of Clement.

    "‘Justified before Men’ give me a break”?! Well again, what an idiot Clement turns out to be:

    “Let us clothe ourselves with concord in humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words…does he that is ready in speech deem himself righteousness?…Let our praise be in God, and not ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be born by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers.”

    [notice the juxaposition of words and works? Then our justification being "born my others." So then one might be tempted to say, "look he means justification by men and God, he proves the Catholic case," then we keep reading:]

    “[The Levite priests were] great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. 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;

    [Well, crap, if we are not justified by our works, then what?:]

    “but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to Whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” (Clem XXXII)

    Good thing we have the modern Catholic Church to save us from the sophistry of the Apostolic Fathers. Clement…what a rube, who does this “too clever for his own good” Clement think he is in trying to work his way out of Trentine Catholicism. Well, he was the third Bishop of Rome (Pope if you want to be achronistic) and according to Catholics, the Clement mentioned as the student of Paul (Ph 4:3). Might Clement have known of what he speaks? Might Clement have been teaching Biblical, apostolic thought? Well, he only knew Paul directly, rather than having the benefit of the Council of Trent 1400 years later. Poor, Clement: what a sodding moron!