Monday, 24 October 2011

Chrysostom on Justification by Faith Alone

More wholesome teaching from John Chrysostom, here expounding Acts ch. 15:

“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that of old days God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe.” (v. 5–7.) Observe Peter from the first standing aloof (κεχωρισμένον) from the affair, and even to this time Judaizing. And yet (says he) “ye know.” (ch. x. 45; xi. 2.) Perhaps those were present who of old found fault with him in the matter of Cornelius, and went in with him (on that occasion): for this reason he brings them forward as witnesses. “From old days,” he says, “did choose among you.” What means, “Among you?” Either, in Palestine, or, you being present. “By my mouth.” Observe how he shows that it was God speaking by him, and no human utterance. “And God, that knoweth the hearts, gave testimony unto them:” he refers them to the spiritual testimony: “by giving them the Holy Ghost even as unto us.” (v. 8.) Everywhere he puts the Gentiles upon a thorough equality. “And put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith.” (v. 9.) From faith alone, he says, they obtained the same gifts. This is also meant as a lesson to those (objectors); this is able to teach even them that faith only is needed, not works nor circumcision. For indeed they do not say all this only by way of apology for the Gentiles, but to teach (the Jewish believers) also to abandon the Law. However, at present this is not said. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples?” (v. 10.) What means, “Tempt ye God?” As if He had not power to save by faith. Consequently, it proceeds from a want of faith, this bringing in the Law. Then he shows that they themselves were nothing benefited by it, and he turns the whole (stress of his speech) against the Law, not against them, and (so) cuts short the accusation of them: “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved, even as they.” (v. 11.) How full of power these words! The same that Paul says at large in the Epistle to the Romans, the same says Peter here. “For if Abraham,” says (Paul), “was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.”
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily 32 on Acts 15:1 [italics mine]


This is evidently the sort of teaching Pelikan was thinking of when he wrote the words in our previous post about justification by faith alone having 'considerable support' in the ancient, catholic tradition. And yet I just read on an Eastern Orthodox apologetics site that justification by faith alone is a 'Protestant heresy'. That may well be a justifiable (sic!) Orthodox view if one is guided solely by post-Reformation Eastern Orthodox polemics on the subject...but then, what to do with clear statements like this from one of the Fathers whom Orthodoxy most reveres? The only solution would appear to be a doctrine of 'double justification', initially by faith and subsequently by works (not unknown in the West, either!). Among the Orthodox, this position is usually accompanied by a polemic against the 'overly juridical' bent of Western theology since Augustine, which Luther subsequently inherited without question (a curious view, since Augustine certainly did not hold to a juridical/forensic doctrine of justification and Luther actually had to go around his monumental legacy to learn the doctrine from the apostle Paul). Here's an example from a modern Orthodox theologian:
'In summary, it is not an antagonistic attitude that causes the eastern Christian and patristic scholar to recoil at some notions of western and Protestant theology, it is simply that the approach employed by many western scholars (inherited from the likes of Augustine, Anselm and Luther) seems at odds with what eastern Christians believe has been safeguarded since the foundation of the Church at Pentecost. The traditional Orthodox mind is immediately suspicious of biblical interpretations that have little or no root in the early life and theology of the Church; this is true in spades of particularly the forensic notion of justification, and of its consequent bifurcation of faith and works... Because of its less juridical exegesis of Pauline soteriological statements, Eastern Christianity has never had anything approaching the kind of faith v. works controversies that have enveloped and (for both good and ill) theologically shaped the Christian West... Rather, the East has maintained a somewhat distant and even puzzled attitude toward the theological polemics which have raged over justification in terms of faith or works.'
Valerie Karras, in Justification and the Future of the Ecumenical Movement (Liturgical Press – Collegeville, MN)

It is certainly true, as Dr Karras maintains, that Orthodox theology and doctrine followed quite a different trajectory from that of the Western church - to the extent, that is, that the latter has been guided by Augustine's anti-Pelagianism. To my mind Orthodox theology represents a development of the theology of the early semi-Pelagian ascetics, some of whom brought monasticism from the East to southern Gaul (see the life and influence of John Cassian, seminal to the development of monasticism in both East and West). The West officially rejected the theology of this movement at the 2nd Council of Orange (529AD), although its influence was never expunged, principally due to the rise and rise of monasticism into the Middle Ages courtesy the Benedictine movement and its offshoots.

Tellingly, the Christian East has never rejected semi-Pelagianism; from that perspective the centrality of disputes about justification and works in Western theology over the last 500 years must indeed seem inexplicable. But can it really be said that justification by faith alone 'has little or no root in the early life and theology of the Church'!? Granted, the full exposition of the Biblical doctrine had to await the Lutheran Reformation, but there is ample evidence that the Fathers who closely expounded the New Testament in their homilies knew the doctrine. In my view, the reason why the presence of the doctrine in the Fathers is so easily overlooked is that they never succeeded in integrating it into their theology of the Christian life as a whole, a lacuna which Eastern Orthodoxy has perpetuated. That task was God-given to Blessed Martin Luther, Master Philipp Melanchthon, the Confessor Martin Chemnitz and other luminaries of the Lutheran Reformation. SDG!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Jaroslav Pelikan on the Catholicity of the Reformation

'Every major tenet of the Reformation had considerable support in the catholic tradition. That was eminently true of the central Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone…That the ground of our salvation is the unearned favor of God in Christ, and that all we need do to obtain it is to trust that favor – this was the confession of great catholic saints and teachers…Rome’s reactions [to the Protestant reformers] were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone – a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers – Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted(justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition.'

Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) The Riddle Of Roman Catholicism (Abingdon Press, 1959)[italics mine]


Not many who read the books of this erudite scholar today are aware that Pelikan was a son of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Slovak synod of that august church body to be precise. He graduated from Concordia Seminary in St Louis in 1946 and was ordained into the Lutheran ministry before going on to his stellar career in academe. Sadly, Pelikan did not remain in the LCMS, but walked a path followed by others since to liberal Lutheranism and thence out of the Lutheran fold altogether. However, in Pelikan's case he ended up not in Rome but in Constantinople (i.e. Eastern Orthodoxy). Evidently Pelikan never quite solved the 'riddle of Roman Catholicism', but just how, we wonder, did he reconcile himself to the 'faith plus works' of Orthodoxy?

Chrysostom Preaches Law & Gospel

'Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor's favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift. This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. "All have sinned," says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins. All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King's loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification.'

From 'Discourses Against Judaizing Christians' I:6-II:1.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Chrysostom on Grace Alone Through Faith in Jesus Christ

'What does he mean when he says: “I have declared your justice?” He did not simply say: “I have given,” but “I have declared.” What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone (ἀλλʼ ἀπὸ χάριτος μόνης). Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest independently of the Law.” But the justice of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (δικαιοσύνη δὲ Θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and not through any labor and suffering.'

John Chrysostom (349-407), from 'Adversus Judaeos', VII, §3, PG 48:919; translation in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 68, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Disc. 7.3.2 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1979), pp. 186-187.

See 'Lutheran Catholicity' for more patristic quotes (click on post title to view).