Saturday, 14 November 2009

Chrysostom on How the Thief on the Cross Was Justified by Grace Alone through Faith Alone

I just added this quote to the category 'Justification' over at Lutheran Catholicity (link available under 'My Other Blogs' in the column to the right), but I thought it worthwhile posting here as well. It is from John Chrysostom (c.347-407), or John the 'Goldenmouthed' as he was known because of his eloquence as a preacher, on how the thief on the cross was justified by grace through faith without the deeds of the law.

"Let us see, however, whether the brigand gave evidence of effort and upright deeds and a good yield. Far from his being able to claim even this, he made his way into paradise before the apostles with a mere word, on the basis of faith alone, the intention being for you to learn that it was not so much a case of his sound values prevailing as the Lord's lovingkindness being completely responsible.

What, in fact, did the brigand say? What did he do? Did he fast? Did he weep? Did he tear his garments? Did he display repentance in good time? Not at all: on the cross itself after his utterance he won salvation. Note the rapidity: from cross to heaven, from condemnation to salvation. What were those wonderful words, then? What great power did they have that they brought him such marvelous good things? "Remember me in your kingdom." What sort of word is that? He asked to receive good things, he showed no concern for them in action; but the one who knew his heart paid attention not to the words but to the attitude of mind."

John Chrysostom, Sermon 7 on Genesis, in St. John Chrysostom, Eight Sermons on the Book of Genesis, pp. 123-24 (2004), Robert C. Hill translator (for the record, Hill is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor at the Australian Catholic University, and the book is published by an Orthodox publishing house, so let us have no "this is a Protestant mistranslation" complaints!)


L P said...

Pr. Mark,

This is a side note.

You have been quoted at Ichabod (as well as I have been).

Now, are you sure you want to be associated with the likes of us folks who hold no sacred cows?


God bless you.


Mark Henderson said...

Lito, my wife's family is Hindu, so I'm used to challenging sacred cows ;0)

Seriously, whatever words I've put into the blogosphere are there for the quoting. Under what heading is this discussion taking place? I had a look at Ichabod but couldn't find it.

L P said...


The thief at the cross is an example of JBFA.


Mark Henderson said...

And how unequivocally Chrysostom puts it:
"he made his way into paradise before the apostles with a mere word, on the basis of faith alone."

Schütz said...

On reading this, I had two thoughts:

1) Of course.

2) But.

To expand:

1) Of course anyone preaching on the "Good Thief" (interesting that he is traditionally called that) would emphasise that he was saved completely by God's grace, that he had no "works" to his merit, other than his "attitude of mind", his "faith alone". We call this attitude of mind "faith" and also "repentance".

2) But, was Chrysostom proposing the thief of a model of how we should live, or as a model of the graciousness of God? I can't think that the former could be the case. The Thief's case is an exceptional one, a classic "death bed" conversion minus the bed. Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard applies also. But I don't think that Chrysostom is tryig to discourage his flock from living lives of meritorious deeds, or even to suggest that in a normal Christian life of faith lived by the Spirit, faith and charity do not belong inseparately together, nor that justification is by that kind of faith which incorporates charity. None of this can be assumed by the mere fact that he uses the formula that became so beloved of the Reformers "on the basis of faith alone".

Rather he is showing that the absense of meritorious deedsin a believer's life, when there was no opportunity of performing them, is no barrier to the justifying grace of God. Justifying Faith of the kind which the "Good Thief" showed itself embodies charity.

Mark Henderson said...

So, it's the Roman "but" now? ;o)

David, thanks for your comment. I'm actually with you right up to the point where you appear to make charity a part with faith in being instrumental in the thief's salvation..."entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem", which is my way of saying: let's just allow that when Chrysostom said the thief was saved by "faith alone" he meant "faith alone".