The Seed of Glory: Catholic Teaching on Theology of Grace Pt. 3 – Aquinas and Augustine on Justifying Grace

by Aug 9, 20210 comments

3.1 Aquinas on Cardiac Righteousness and Romans 4

Link to the full series of posts here.

Much of what has already been discussed was grounded in the thought of Aquinas and Augustine. Nonetheless, it will be helpful to see their direct words and to see how the teaching of infused grace has been the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church throughout history.

First off, Aquinas clearly teaches, like the modern Catholic theologians we looked at, that works play no part in our initial justification.

  1. Then when he says, For we hold, he shows how the Jews’ boasting is excluded by the law of faith, saying: For we apostles, being taught the truth by Christ, hold that a man, whomsoever he be, whether Jew or Gentile, is justified by faith: “He cleansed their hearts by faith” (Ac 15:9). And this apart from the works of the law. Not only without the ceremonial works, which did not confer grace but only signified it, but also without the works of the moral precepts, as stated in Titus 3(:5), “Not because of deeds done by us in righteousness.” This, of course, means without works prior to becoming just, but not without works following it, because, as is stated in Jas (2:26): “Faith without works,” i.e., subsequent works, “is dead,” and, consequently, cannot justify.[1]

Aquinas also sees faith, itself, as a gift from God. Our wills coopertate in conversion, but it is only enabled to be able to coopertae because of the gift of faith God gives us.

I answer that, The justification of the ungodly is brought about by God moving man to justice. For He it is that justifieth the ungodly according to Rom. 4:5. Now God moves everything in its own manner, just as we see that in natural things, what is heavy and what is light are moved differently, on account of their diverse natures. Hence He moves man to justice according to the condition of his human nature. But it is man’s proper nature to have free-will. Hence in him who has the use of reason, God’s motion to justice does not take place without a movement of the free-will; but He so infuses the gift of justifying grace that at the same time He moves the free-will to accept the gift of grace, in such as are capable of being moved thus.[2]

And here, Aquinas says that we receive the effects of initial justification through faith alone, not through works.

  1. Another explanation refers those words to man’s justification. 171 Then to the one who works, i.e., if anyone be justified by works, the justice would be reckoned not as a gift but as his due: “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom 11:6). But to him who does not work, so as to be justified by his works, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith will be reckoned as justice according to the purpose of God’s grace, not that he merits justice through faith, but because the believing itself is the first act of the justice God works in him. For from the fact that he believes in God justifying, he submits himself to his justification and thus receives its effect. This is the literal explanation and accords with the intention of the Apostle, who lays special stress on the words, “it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6)” a saying which is used when that which is lacking on someone’s part is reckoned to him gratis, as if he had accomplished the whole. That is why the Apostle says that such reckoning would have no place, if righteousness were from works, but only as it is from faith.[3]

The Beatific Vision | "Final and perfect happiness can consi… | Flickr

Man could never achieve the beatific vision of his own powers, for that end exceeds our natural abilites. We need the free gift of sanctifying grace from God to achieve that.

  1. Against this one might object that becoming accustomed to outward works generates an inward habit, according to which a man’s heart is also well disposed and so made ready to perform well and take pleasure in good works, as the Philosopher teaches in Ethics II. The answer is that this takes place in human justice, through which man is ordained to the human good. For the habit of this justice can be acquired through human works, but the justice which obtains glory before God is ordained to the divine good, namely future glory, which exceeds human ability, as is stated in 1 Cor 2(:9), “It has not arisen in the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him.” 168 Consequently, a man’s works are not proportioned to causing the habit of this justice; rather, a man’s heart needs first to be justified inwardly by God, so that he can perform works proportioned to divine glory.[4]

Aquinas also sees Abrham’s faith as giving him an interior righteousness. Abraham’s outward works reflected the inward righteousness that was a gift from God given through Abraham’s faith. This is similar to the circumcision of the heart line of thought in Paul in Romans 2:28–29.

  1. Then when he says For what do the Scriptures say, he disproves the consequent, which was negative, by proving the opposite affirmative, namely, that Abraham did have glory before God. He proves this on the authority of Scripture: first, he cites the authority; secondly, he explains, there [v. 4; n. 328] at Now, to him. 327. First, therefore, he says: I say that Abraham was justified in a way that gave him glory before God. For what do the Scriptures say (Gen 15:6): Abraham believed God who promised that his seed would be multiplied. “Believe God and he will help you” (Sir 2:6). And it was reputed to him, i.e., by God, as justice: “Was not Abraham found faithful when tested?” (1 Macc 2:52). Consequently, it is clear that before God, by whom that he believed was reckoned to him as justice, he has glory. But it should be noted that Abraham expressed the justice described, which God regards, not in some outward work but in the inward faith of the heart, which God alone sees.[5]

Aquinas, in this section, speaks of how faith justifies a person (through sanctifying grace) so that even if one died immediately after baptism they would be truly just and recieve heaven as their reward as if they had done works of justice.

Then (v. 5) he shows how the eternal award is related to faith, saying, but to one who does not work outward works, for example, because he does not have time to work, as in the case of one who dies immediately after baptism, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, namely, in God, of whom he says below (8:33): “It is God who justifies,” his faith is reckoned, i.e., faith alone without outward works, as righteousness, so that in virtue of it he is called just and receives the reward of justice, just as if he had done the works of justice, as he says below (10:10): “Man believes with his heart and so is justified,” according the purpose of the grace of God, i.e., accordingly as God proposes to save men gratuitously: “Who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28); ”He accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).[6]

Finally, Aquinas also sees an argument for justification apart from circumcisionin Paul’s thought in Romans 4. As we saw above, though, Aquinas also thinks Paul teaches that we receive our cardiac righteousness apart from any works.

After excluding the glory which the Jews took in the Law, on the basis of which they preferred themselves to the Gentiles [n. 169 and 248], the Apostle now excludes their glory in regard to circumcision. About which he does two things. First, he takes up the question he had raised earlier [n. 247], when he asked: “What is the usefulness of circumcision?” And because Abraham was the first to receive the command about circumcision, as stated in Genesis 17(:10), he repeats the question in the person of Abraham himself, saying: If it is true that God justifies the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised, What usefulness then shall we say Abraham to have found, who is our father according to the flesh? That is, according to circumcision and other bodily observances. For it does not seem fitting to say that he found no usefulness, since it is stated in Isaiah 48(:17), “I am the Lord, your God, who teaches you useful things.” 323. Secondly, when he says, For if Abraham, he answers the question he had raised. He does two things. First, he shows that Abraham did not obtain justification through circumcision and the other works of the Law, but rather through faith; secondly, he commends his faith, there [v.18; n. 367] at who against hope…the Apostle intends to argue in the following manner: If Abraham were justified from works of the Law, he would have no glory with God; therefore, he was not justified from works. Hence, he presents the conditional [statement, saying]: It has been asked what Abraham found in virtue of bodily circumcision, and it is obvious that he did not find himself justified from works of the law, such that his justice consisted in the works of the Law. For he has glory, namely, before men, who see the outward works, but not before God, who sees in secret: “The Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam l6:7); “So let no one boast of men” (1 Cor 3:21). Hence it is written against some that “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John l2:43).[7]

3.2 St. Augustine on Romans 4 and the role of grace in justification

I almost don’t even know where to begin with Augustine, because he so clearly taught in many places an infused righteousness that is received gratuitously through faith. Hence, why he is often called the Doctor of Grace. Reading St. Augustine directly during the period leading to my enterance into the Catholic Church was one of the biggest reasons for me starting to side with the Catholic view of things.

Before we jump into specifics, here are some updated quotes from Alister McGarth’s book Iustia Dei showing showing the difference in Luther’s alien righteousness view vs. Augustine’s view of infused righteousness.

The point at issue is a little difficult to explain. It centers on the question of the location of justifying righteousness. Both Augustine and Luther are agreed that God graciously gives sinful humans a righteousness which justifies them. But where is that righteousness located? Augustine argued that it was to be found within believers; Luther insisted that it remained outside believers. That is, for Augustine, the righteousness in question is internal; for Luther, it is external.

In Augustine’s view, God bestows justifying righteousness upon the sinner in such a way that it becomes part of his or her person. As a result, this righteousness, although originating outside the sinner, becomes part of him or her. In Luther’s view, by contrast, the righteousness in question remains outside the sinner: it is an “alien righteousness” (iustitia aliena). God treats, or “reckons,” this righteousness as if it is part of the sinner’s person. In his lectures on Romans of 1515–16, Luther developed the idea of the “alien righteousness of Christ,” imputed – not imparted – to the believer by faith, as the grounds of justification.[8]>

Furthermore, Augustine also sees justification as faith working through love, something Melanchthon and other Lutherans adamantly denied (e.g. Apology of Augsburg Confession IV 107–116). But this teaching on faith working through love was the standard teaching of Augustine and the Catholic Church.

So what is this ‘faith’, by which we are justified? Augustine tends to understand faith primarily as an adherence to or confidence in the Word of God, which inevitably introduces a strongly intellectualist element into his concept of faith. Faith alone is merely assent to revealed truth, itself inadequate to justify. For Augustine, we must speak of ‘faith working through love’, fides quae per dilectionem operatur, a term which would dominate western Christian thinking on the nature of justifying faith for the next thousand years. The process by which Augustine arrives at this understanding of the nature of justifying faith illustrates his desire to do justice to the total biblical view on the matter, rather than a few isolated Pauline gobbets.

In his treatise De Trinitate, Augustine considers the difficulties arising from I Corinthians 13:1–3, which declares that faith without love is useless. 16 This leads Augustine to draw a distinction between a purely intellectual faith (such as that ‘by which even the devils believe and tremble’ Games 2: 19)) and true justifying faith, by arguing that the latter is faith accompanied by love. Augustine finds this concept conveniently expressed within the Pauline corpus at Galatians 5:6: ‘In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith that works through love (jides quae per caritatem operatur).’ Augustine’s emphasis on being justified by a faith which is expressed in love – for example, of God and neighbour – rather than a purely cerebral intellectual assent found wide acceptance in the Middle Ages. 17[9]

FN: 17 See the rich array of material assembled in Levy, ‘Fides quae per caritatem operawr’.

FN: 18 Plumer, Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, 101- 5.

FN: 19 See For example, Expositio quarundam propositionum ex Episwla ad Romanos 22; Ad Simplicianum I, ii, 3; Sermo 131, 9; 292, 6; Epistola 160, xxi, 52; De gratia et libero arbitrio vi, 13. Other expressions used include efficitur iustus (e.g., De spiritu et littera xxxii, 56) pius (e.g., Sermo 160, 7; InJoannis evangelium tractatus iii, 9).

Lastly, Augustine also doesn’t see the righteousness of God as God’s own intrinsic righteousness imputed to us, but just the righteousness that he gives us (sanctifying grace).

File:Ascension of Christ. Descent of the Holy Spirit - Google Art Project.jpg

The one formal cause is the “justice of God.” However, lest the reader interpret “justice of God” to be the very justice of God himself, who is his own justice and who does not participate in justice, the authors employ Augustine’s terminology, “ not that by which he himself is just, but that by which he makes us just.” 15

Augustine employed this terminology to affirm, on the one hand, that in light of Adam’s fall, no human person can be just or wise or holy without God ’s mercy. He also employed this terminology. on the other hand, in order to distinguish God’s own justice, wisdom, and holiness from human participation in that justice, wisdom, and holiness. 16 The twofold purpose for this pattern of expression appears clearly in his commentary on John. In Tractate 26, Augustine linked the “ bread of heaven” to the “ righteousness” for which the blessed (in the beatitudes) hunger. This “ righteousness” does not arise from human powers; that is, it is not according to human works. It is, nonetheless, given to the human person by God (Rom 10:3): “ **The justice of God is here said not of the justice by which God is just but of that which God gives to man so that man might be just through God.” 17** Augustine’s concern, here, is with the agent that establishes this justice. He contends, against the Pelagians, that the agent is God. The sinner is miserable in himself apart from God; he can do nothing to help himself. However, the sinner can be changed so as to know and love God if God turns him to himself. So, Augustine distinguished the justice of God from the justice of man not in order to explain the former forensically but in order to show that the former is “ given freely.” 18 When the “ love of God” is poured forth into the human heart, the justified person can fulfill the law. 19 God changes the creature but remains the same, since God, who is his own being and justice, cannot change. The human creature, in contrast, exists and is just only by participation. 20 This participation in God’s justice truly makes the human person just, even though only the saints enjoy perfect justice, since all earthly pilgrims sin at least venially. McGrath contrasts Augustine’s understanding of the communication of God’s justice with the Protestant understanding: “ Man’s righteousness, effected in justification, is regarded by Augustine as inherent rather than imputed, to use the vocabulary of the sixteenth century.” 21[10]

FN: 16 See Augustine. De Trinitate. XIV. chaps. 12–15 [ 15–2 1], pp. 442–51.

FN: 17 lustitia Dei hie dicitur, non qua iustus est Deus, sed quam dat homini Deus. ut justus sit homo per Deum (Augustine. In lohannis evangelium. tractatus 26.1, in Corpus Christianorum, La, vol. 36. p. 260).

FN: 18 Augustine. Enarrationes in psalmos, XXX, 6 (PL 36, col. 233–34).

FN: 19Augustine. Epistle CXL: De gratia novi testamenti fiber, chap. 4, par. 11 (PL 33. col. 542). Hence. faith alone cannot justify, according to Augustine, who conceived of faith as an assent to revealed truth. Rather. only faith that is accompanied by love can justify (see McGrath. lustitia Dei, p. 30).

FN: 20 See Epistle CXL. pars. 10 and 12 (PL 33, col. 541–42).

FN: 21 McGrath, lustitia Dei, p. 31.

St. Augustine on Romans 4

Like everything we have seen before, St. Augustine also sees Romans 4 as teaching that we do not recieve the righteousness of God (i.e. sanctifying grace) because of anything we do or anything inside of us – it is a completely free gift from God.

He does not, indeed, extend His mercy to them because they know Him, but that they may know Him; nor is it because they are upright in heart, but that they may become so, that He extends to them His righteousness, whereby He justifies the ungodly. Romans 4:5[11]

Here, St. Augustine references many things that should resonate well with Lutheran teaching – that faith is what brings us so many spiritual gifts and these are all truly gifts from God not things we earn. St. Augustine, however clearly shows that he thinks that charity is the primary gift and it is through charity and faith infused inside of us that we are justified.

This is the faith by which the just man lives; Romans 1:17 this is the faith whereby he believes on Him who justifies the ungodly; Romans 4:5 this is the faith through which boasting is excluded, Romans 3:27 either by the retreat of that with which we become self-inflated, or by the rising of that with which we glory in the Lord… For the just man, who lives by faith, hopes undoubtedly for eternal life; and the faith likewise, which hungers and thirsts for righteousness, makes progress therein by the renewal of the inward man day by day, 2 Corinthians 4:16 and hopes to be satiated therewith in that eternal life, where shall be realized that which is said of God by the psalm: Who satisfies your desire with good things. This, moreover, is the faith whereby they are saved to whom it is said: By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8–10 This, in short, is the faith which works not by fear, but by love; Galatians 5:6 not by dreading punishment, but by loving righteousness. Whence, therefore, arises this love — that is to say, this charity, — by which faith works, if not from the source whence faith itself obtained it? For it would not be within us, to whatever extent it is in us, if it were not diffused in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to us. Romans 5:5 Now the love of God is said to be shed abroad in our hearts, not because He loves us, but because He makes us lovers of Himself; just as the righteousness of God Romans 3:21 is used in the sense of our being made righteous by His gift; and the salvation of the Lord, in that we are saved by Him; and the faith of Jesus Christ, Galatians 2:16 because He makes us believers in Him. This is that righteousness of God, which He not only teaches us by the precept of His law, but also bestows upon us by the gift of His Spirit.[12]

And more on the necessity of love for justification:

32. There is no gift of God more excellent than this [love/charity]. It alone distinguishes the sons of the eternal kingdom and the sons of eternal perdition. Other gifts, too, are given by the Holy Spirit; but without love they profit nothing. Unless, therefore, the Holy Spirit is so far imparted to each, as to make him one who loves God and his neighbor, he is not removed from the left hand to the right. Nor is the Spirit specially called the Gift, unless on account of love. And he who has not this love, though he speak with the tongues of men and angels, is sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal; and though he have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and though he have all faith, so that he can remove mountains, he is nothing; and though he bestow all his goods to feed the poor, and though he give his body to be burned, it profits him nothing. How great a good, then, is that without which goods so great bring no one to eternal life! But love or charity itself — for they are two names for one thing — if he have it that does not speak with tongues, nor has the gift of prophecy, nor knows all mysteries and all knowledge, nor gives all his goods to the poor, either because he has none to give or because some necessity hinders, nor delivers his body to be burned, if no trial of such a suffering overtakes him, brings that man to the kingdom, so that faith itself is only rendered profitable by love, since faith without love can indeed exist, but cannot profit. And therefore also the Apostle Paul says, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by love: so distinguishing it from that faith by which even the devils believe and tremble. Love, therefore, which is of God and is God, is specially the Holy Spirit, by whom the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by which love the whole Trinity dwells in us. And therefore most rightly is the Holy Spirit, although He is God, called also the gift of God. And by that gift what else can properly be understood except love, which brings to God, and without which any other gift of God whatsoever does not bring to God?[13]

Here, St. Augustine is saying, again, that God makes us just not just imputes us Christ’s righteousness while we remain unjust on the inside.

God makes the ungodly man godly, in order that he might persevere in this godliness and righteousness. For a man is justified in order that he might be just, not so that he might think it is all right to go on sinning. [St. Augustine, On Romans 22]


File:Holman Moses and Joshua Bearing the Law.jpg

Here, Augustine says that by infused grace we are able to fulfill the law.

“The law is not done away with, but strengthened by faith, because faith obtains the grace by which we fulfill the law. In the same way, free choice is not done away with by grace, but strengthened, because grace heals the will by which we freely love righteousness.”

Augustine, De spiritu et littera 30.52 (CSEL 60:208)

Here is what I think is a pretty stunning explanation from Augustine where he shows how Paul in Romans 4 is not in conflict at with James 2. He does so by saying the works we do before justification are not meritorious, but the works done after justification are.


(1) The apostle Paul, in proclaiming that a man is justified by faith without works, was not properly understood by those who took this word in such a way that they considered, when once they had believed in Christ, that they could be saved through faith, even though they carried on their wicked deeds and lived scandalously and dissolutely. For this reason, this passage in the letter before us explains how that particular thought of the apostle Paul is to be understood.2

Accordingly [James] prefers to use3 the example of Abraham, that faith is barren if not accompanied by good works, because the apostle Paul also used the example of Abraham, [but] to prove that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law.4 For when the passage mentions the good works of Abraham which attended his faith, it shows adequately that the apostle Paul does not use Abraham to teach the following: that a man is justified by faith without works so that, if someone should believe, good works are not required of him. Rather, [he teaches] that no one should suppose that he has attained by the merit of previous works the gift of the justification which is in faith.

Indeed, in this respect the Jews wanted to vaunt themselves over the gentile believers in Christ, because they were saying that they had attained the grace of the gospel by the merits of the good works which are in the Law. Accordingly there were many Jewish believers who took offense at the grace of Christ being handed on to uncircumcised gentiles. For this reason the apostle Paul says that a man can be justified without works—preceding works. For, having been justified by faith, how can he in turn do anything but what is righteous, although, when earlier he did nothing righteous, he attained the justification of faith, not by the merit of good works, but by the grace of God, which cannot now be barren in him when now he does good works through love? But, should he depart this life soon after having believed, the justification of faith remains with him, though not because of preceding good works, since he attains justification by grace rather than by good works, and not because of subsequent good works, because he is not allowed to continue in this life. Hence it is clear that the apostle Paul’s claim, “For we consider a man to be justified by faith without works,”5 must not be understood in such a way that we say that a man who has received faith and continues to live is righteous, even though he leads a wicked life.

Consequently the example of Abraham is used both by the apostle Paul, because Abraham was justified by faith without the works of the Law, which he had not received, and by James, because he demonstrates that good works followed on the faith of the same Abraham, [and thus] he shows how the preaching of the apostle Paul is to be understood.

(2) Now those who think that the apostle James’s statement is contrary to that of the apostle Paul can consider even Paul himself to be inconsistent, because he says in another place: “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God; rather, the doers of the Law will be justified.”6 And in another place [he says]: “but faith which is active through love.”7 And again [he says]: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if you by the spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.”8 As for the deeds of the flesh which must be put to death by the works of the spirit, he shows what they are in another passage with these words: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: they are acts of fornication, impure deeds, lewdness, idolatry, magic arts, enmities, acts of strife, outbreaks of jealously, angry quarrels, dissensions, factions, envyings, bouts of drunkeness, revellings, and things like these. In regard to these things I am warning you as I have warned you, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”9 And to the Corinthians he says: “Do not be mistaken! Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with men, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor the drunken, nor the foul-mouthed, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such you indeed were; but you have been washed, but you have been made holy, but you have been justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”10 With these statements he teaches quite clearly that they have not attained through past good behavior the justification of faith nor through their merits this grace which has been given when he says: “And such you indeed were.” However, when he says: “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” he adequately shows that moral conduct is required of believers from the moment of their faith. James as well says this, and in all sorts of places the same apostle Paul, with sufficiency and candor, preaches to all believers in Christ the necessity of living aright in order to avoid coming to punishment. Even the Lord himself mentions this when he says: “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord,’ ‘Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven; rather, he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he it is who will enter into the kingdom of heaven.”11 And in another place [he says]: “Why do you say to me, ‘Lord,’ ‘Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?”12 Again [he says]: “As for everyone who hears these my words, I will liken him to a prudent man who built his house upon a rock … And as for him who hears these my words and does not act upon them, I will liken him to a foolish man who built his house upon sand.”13

Wherefore the statements of the two apostles Paul and James are not contrary to one another when the one says that a man is justified by faith without works, and the other says that faith without works is vain. For the former is speaking of the works which precede faith, whereas the latter, of those which follow on faith, just as even Paul himself indicates in many places.[14]

How does Augustine not fall into the rightful problems that you point out with Romans 4? How is it that our works somehow are meritorious after initial justification? He does so by making the key point that since cardiac righteousness is a grace from God, all these “merits” for eternal life are really still just God’s gifts. Here, we again have Augustine quoting Romans 4 showing that we are not “justified” – given cardiac righteousness – by any works we do. However, Augustine fully acknowledges eternal life is still spoken of as a reward in scripture and is able to reconcile it by the difference between works done by our natural selves before justification and works done in cardiac righteousness after justification.

Chapter 19 [VIII.]— How is Eternal Life Both a Reward for Service and a Free Gift of Grace?

And hence there arises no small question, which must be solved by the Lord’s gift. If eternal life is rendered to good works, as the Scripture most openly declares: Then He shall reward every man according to his works: Matthew 16:27 how can eternal life be a matter of grace, seeing that grace is not rendered to works, but is given gratuitously, as the apostle himself tells us: To him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; Romans 4:4 and again: There is a remnant saved according to the election of grace; with these words immediately subjoined: And if of grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace? Romans 11:5–6 How, then, is eternal life by grace, when it is received from works? Does the apostle perchance not say that eternal life is a grace? Nay, he has so called it, with a clearness which none can possibly gainsay. It requires no acute intellect, but only an attentive reader, to discover this. For after saying, The wages of sin is death, he at once added, The grace of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

Chapter 20.— The Question Answered. Justification is Grace Simply and Entirely, Eternal Life is Reward and Grace.

This question, then, seems to me to be by no means capable of solution, unless we understand that even those good works of ours, which are recompensed with eternal life, belong to the grace of God, because of what is said by the Lord Jesus: Without me you can do nothing. John 15:5 And the apostle himself, after saying, By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast; Ephesians 2:8–9 saw, of course, the possibility that men would think from this statement that good works are not necessary to those who believe, but that faith alone suffices for them; and again, the possibility of men’s boasting of their good works, as if they were of themselves capable of performing them. To meet, therefore, these opinions on both sides, he immediately added, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 What is the purport of his saying, Not of works, lest any man should boast, while commending the grace of God? And then why does he afterwards, when giving a reason for using such words, say, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works? Why, therefore, does it run, Not of works, lest any man should boast? Now, hear and understand. Not of works is spoken of the works which you suppose have their origin in yourself alone; but you have to think of works for which God has moulded (that is, has formed and created) you. For of these he says, We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Now he does not here speak of that creation which made us human beings, but of that in reference to which one said who was already in full manhood, Create in me a clean heart, O God; concerning which also the apostle says, Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new. And all things are of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17–18 We are framed, therefore, that is, formed and created, in the good works which we have not ourselves prepared, but God has before ordained that we should walk in them. It follows, then, dearly beloved, beyond all doubt, that as your good life is nothing else than God’s grace, so also the eternal life which is the recompense of a good life is the grace of God; moreover it is given gratuitously, even as that is given gratuitously to which it is given. But that to which it is given is solely and simply grace; this therefore is also that which is given to it, because it is its reward —grace is for grace, as if remuneration for righteousness; in order that it may be true, because it is true, that God shall reward every man according to his works.[15]>

It is in this context of works done before cardiac righteousness vs. those done after cardiac righteousness that Augustine can famously say ““If, then, your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts.” (Augustine, On Grace and Free Will 6. 15.)

There is so much more that could be said on Augustine, but this at least gives a broad outline of his thinking on infused righteousness and merit within the context of Romans 4.

Other Church Fathers before Augustine

Of course, Augustine is the first Church Father that we see such a systematic treatment of the teachings of grace, I imagine because he was forced to do so in response to heresey (e.g. Pelagianism). Nonetheless, we could certianly look at other earlier sources, as needed. All the documents I have read from the earlier Fathers all follow the same general pattern, though: we are adopted into Christ by faith apart from works, faith itself is a gift, and we are then required to do works with effects recieved (i.e. sanctifying grace, charity, etc.) from adoption into Christ. We will be judged by our works we did in Chirst at the final judgement. Again, here is Matthew J. Thomas coming to the same conclusion.

In evaluating the correspondence between the old perspective and early patristic arguments against the works of the law, it is easy to envision the two sides talking past one another, since they hold different conceptions of the works under discussion and the significance of practicing them. In the case of Luther, his three arguments against works of the law—that no one can perform them due to humanity’s sinful condition, that they do not justify, and that trying to perform them is itself a sinful self-idolatry—do not find close correspondence in the second-century sources. With the first argument, the patristic witnesses do not characterize works of the law as impossible to perform, though they would affirm that the Mosaic law and its practices are unable to address the underlying problem of sinful human nature. As Justin writes, though not strictly under Israel’s curse, all of humanity stands cursed by its actions and is in need of healing, which the Torah cannot provide (Dial. 95.1–3; cf. Is 53:5). There is difficulty in assessing correspondence with Luther’s second argument: while the patristic testimony would confirm that the Mosaic law’s works are not able to justify, this is not interpreted as an absolute rejection of works in relation to justification. Though itself the subject for another study, the common soteriological pattern of the early patristic sources is that initial justification is completely by grace apart from works of any sort, and that final judgment (or final justification) is based on the outworking of this grace in one’s subsequent life.14 Within this paradigm, the works of the Mosaic law have no role, either as bearers of the grace of salvation (or somehow prerequisites for it), or as criteria that will have any kind of significance at the last judgment. While the second-century sources would affirm with Luther that no works are necessary for initial justification, they would still regard works as the basis for final justification—and in either case, they understand the points in contention within Pauls disputes not as works in general, but the Mosaic law’s dictates in particular. Finally, Luther’s third argument regarding the sinfulness of attempting to obey the law does not find attestation among the early patristic witnesses; there is no problematizing of moral effort in this period, nor any view that the pursuit of righteousness represents a devaluation or displacement of Christ. Luther himself is often very forthright in his view that, save for Augustine, the patristic tradition failed to understand Paul in matters related to faith, works of the law and justification.15 In Luther’s view, “the same thing would have happened to Augustine if the Pelagians had not eventually exercised his full attention and driven him to the righteousness that is of faith,” though even Augustine is not spared from Luther’s later objections.16[16]

Galatians 5:5-6 (ESV)

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. 

Blog End

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on Romans.  ↩
  2. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.  ↩
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on Romans.  ↩
  4. ibid.  ↩
  5. ibid.  ↩
  6. ibid.  ↩
  7. ibid.  ↩
  8. **McGrath, Alister. Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 4th ed. p 125–126**  ↩
  9. McGrath, Allister. Iustia Dei. 4th ed. p. 46  ↩
  10. Malloy, C. J. (2005). Engrafted into Christ: a critique of the Joint Declaration. New York: P. Lang. p. 25–26  ↩
  11. Augustine. On the Spirit and the Letter. Chapter 11  ↩
  12. Augustine. On the Spirit and the Letter. Chapter 59  ↩
  13. Source. St. Augustine. On the Trinity (Book XV). Translated by Arthur West Haddan. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.  ↩
  14. Augustine of Hippo. (1982). Eighty-Three Different Questions. (H. Dressler, Ed., D. L. Mosher, Trans.) (Vol. 70, pp. 193–196). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.  ↩
  15. Augustine. On Grace and Free Will  ↩
  16. Thomas, Matthew J. Paul’s “Works of the Law” in the Perspective of Second Century Reception. p.279  ↩

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