Friday, May 28, 2010

The Patristic Consensus: Sola Fide

I mentioned on Tuesday that in my study of early church history I'm finding myself very encouraged by the fact that the historic core evangelical principles of sola Scriptura and sola fide are taught not only in Scripture, but also in the writings of the Church Fathers. I mentioned that evangelicals shouldn't feel like when the Apostle John died the Church was hijacked by Roman Catholics. Rather, from the close of the Apostolic age through the medieval period and up through the Reformation, God has preserved a faithful remnant of His people teaching His Word even in the most faithless of times.

We mentioned that if there was any sort of "patristic consensus," the Fathers agreed on the core evangelical doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. Tuesday we looked at sola Scriptura, and today we look to their testimony regarding sola fide: the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone, and receive absolutely no merit for our works as regards our justification.

And remember, the Fathers' writings do not establish sola fide, or any other doctrine. We don't look to them as our authority, but -- as even they themselves have counseled us -- to Scripture alone. Nevertheless, their writings do indeed affirm sola fide, and there is a great deal of encouragement that we can receive from that.

Clement of Rome (c. 30-100): “And we [Christians], 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” (Epistle to the Corinthians).

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–c. 110): “His cross, and his death, and his resurrection, and the faith which is through him, are my unpolluted muniments [legal titles]; and in these, through your prayers, I am willing to be justified” (Epistle to Philadelphians).

Polycarp (c. 69–160): “I know that through grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God, through Jesus Christ” (The Epistle of Philippians).

Justin Martyr (d. 165) in his Dialogue with Trypho: “No longer by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of a heifer . . . are sins purged, but by faith, through the blood of Christ and his death, who died on this very account.”

Athanasius (c. 296–373): “For naturally, since the Logos of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled by death all that was required.” (On the Incarnation of the Logos, 6-7, 9.)

Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398): “. . . a person is saved by grace, not by works but by faith. There should be no doubt but that faith saves and then lives by doing its own works, so that the works which are added to salvation by faith are not those of the law but a different kind of thing altogether.” (From his Commentary on James, 2:26b.)

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67) on Matthew 20:7: “Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.” (Cited in George Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy, 230.)

Basil of Caesarea (329-379): “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ (Cited in Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, 1:505).

Ambrose (c. 339-97): “Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.” (Cited in Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy, 220.)

Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3: “God justifies by faith alone.” (Deus ex sola fide justificat). (In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Caput X, v. 3, PL 30:692D.)

Jerome (347-420): “He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.” (Cited in Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, 61.)

Chrysostom (349-407): For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent. (Homily on Ephesians 4.2.9.)

Augustine (354-430): If Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified? . . . Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). Abraham, then, was justified by faith. Paul and James do not contradict each other: good works follow justification.

Augustine (354-430): “When someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6). What righteousness is this? The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.” (Expositions of the Psalms 1-32, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31.)

Ambrosiaster (4th century), on Rom. 3:24: “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.”

Ambrosiaster (4th century), on Rom. 3:27: “Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.”

Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): For we are justified by faith, not by works of the law, as Scripture says (Gal. 2:16). By faith in whom, then, are we justified? Is it not in him who suffered death according to the flesh for our sake? Is it not in one Lord Jesus Christ? (Against Nestorius in Norman Russell, 165).

Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): “For truly the compassion from beside the Father is Christ, as he takes away the sins, dismisses the charges and justifies by faith, and recovers the lost and makes [them] stronger than death. . . . For by him and in him we have known the Father, and we have become rich in the justification by faith.” (Commentary on Hosea. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 29.)

Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (c. 467-532) commenting on Eph. 2:8: “The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity. (On the Incarnation, 1.)

For by grace you have been saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

- Ephesians 2:8-9 -

By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;
... But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.
... For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

- Romans 3:20, 21, 28 -

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is credited as righteousness.
... For this reason it is by faith,
in order that it may be in accordance with grace.

- Romans 4:4-5, 16 -

...knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus,
even we have believed in Christ Jesus,
so that we may be justified by faith in Christ
and not by the works of the Law;
since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

- Galatians 2:16 -


Bobby Grow said...

I highly enjoy Patristic Theology; probably more so than Reformation theology. Thanks for sharing this.

Have you read Lewis Ayres' book: Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology? I started it, but need to get back to it; it is an excellent work on discussing this era of Christianity.

Mike Riccardi said...

Hey Bobby,

Glad to see you over here! Thanks for stopping by!

I haven't read Ayres' book, but it definitely looks like a go-to book for the fourth century.

Just finishing up my first year in seminary, I'm in that stage where I'm interested in everything, and just wish I could read everything I see. Unfortunately, the Matrix-method of downloading information into our brains hasn't been invented yet. :-)

I'll definitely keep Ayres' book in mind if my studies ever plunge me back into patristics.

Bobby Grow said...


I understand where you're at in the seminary process; I was there once too :-). Of course leaving seminary doesn't really solve that problem; at least it hasn't for me. I want to read everything, and soak up all the great resources the Lord has blessed us here with in the West.

The book we used for Patristic Theology is J.N.D. Kelly's book: Early Christian Doctrines --- I think one of the standard textbooks on this era of theology (another must read).

Glad to have you sharing from your studies in seminary; I enjoy it, keep it up!

Mike Riccardi said...

Michael Gormley and a39greenway,

Sorry, that's not how it works here. My blog is not a bulletin board for you to cut and paste from your previous writings on your aberrant theology and pet issues. If you have something to say about what I've posted, then you can interact with that. Otherwise, move it along.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Riccardi said...

You know,

I never thought I would have to do this at my blog. After all, I get very few visitors per day when compared to the popular blogs on my blog roll. But I suppose I have to delete off-topic comments.

Please understand, I welcome interaction, participation, and discussion. What I do not welcome is spam comments, taken from something random readers have written before, in another context, and not even considering the context of the original post here.

If someone has something to say about the fathers' understanding of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone, then their comments are welcome on this post. If someone has something else to say, well... then say it somewhere else.

Thank you.