The Reformation in 95 Words

Indulgences, receipts for forgiveness bought;
A long way from sin merely fought.
A monk was incensed. Straightway he nailed
A challenge to debate that derailed
The reigning Roman emperor (excuse me, Pope)
From his building project of largest scope.

Soon as the Theses on the church door were pinned
The world came to realize that it had sinned.
As soon as Christ’s blood upon the Altar rings
The soul in faith from damnation springs.
In what shall we trust, the Church’s bare word?
Trust in the Bible, in which Life is stirred!

Soli Deo Gloria!


New Book Project

I have been toying with this idea for a long time, but now I desire to start work on it. I have gone on Amazon and looked at any and all books that will help me with this, but I want to cast my net wider than currently published material. What I want to do is collect conversion stories that are based on God using a particular text of Scripture to convert that person to the true faith. I will then put these narratives in canonical order so that pastors will have a great resource for illustrations that show the power of the Word of God. If anyone is willing to share such a conversion narrative of their own (that is based on a particular text of Scripture; I am not looking for generalized conversion narratives at this point), and you are willing for your story to be part of a book, please append your story with the added information of whether you want your name listed, or whether you wish for it to be anonymous.

Hilary of Poitiers on Justification

Hilary of Poitiers was a French bishop of the fourth century. It is disputed by Roman Catholics and Protestants as to what Hilary taught regarding justification. The most relevant passage comes from his commentary on Matthew chapter 8, paragraph 6. Here is the translation in The Fathers of the Church series (the passage under consideration is the healing of the paralytic and the forgiveness of his sins):

A pattern of the truth is followed in these events, even as an image of the future is fulfilled in the words. It disturbed the scribes that sin was forgiven by a man (for they considered that Jesus Christ was only a man) and that he forgave sin, for which the Law was not able to grant absolution, since faith alone justifies. When the Lord discerned the murmuring of the scribes, he said that it was easy for the Son of Man to forgive sins on earth. For truly no one is able to forgive sins except God alone. He who forgave, therefore, is God because no one can forgive except God. For the Word of God which abides in that Man offers to a man healing, and there was no difficulty for him to do and speak since it is given to him to perform everything that he said he would do.

The particular sentence under dispute is obviously the one that mentions that faith alone justifies. In Latin, the sentence runs “Et remissum est ab eo, quod lex laxare non poterat; fides enim sola justificat” (from Migne PL volume 9, column 961). The author of The Thoughts of Francis Turretin blog has a lengthy article on Hilary, including a very brief mention of this passage, arguing that the passage is in itself clear. However, Matt1618 has a lengthy argument against a “Protestant” understanding of the passage. We will assess Matt1618’s argument carefully.

To put it briefly, Matt1618 argues from what Hilary does not say in order to import a whole lot of Roman Catholic theology into the silences. Observe case number one: Matt1618 says, “Here it is apparent St. Hilary is speaking about initial justification.” I would answer “yes and no.” I would agree that Hilary is talking about a moment in time. I would disagree that Hilary implies a process that starts with initial justification. Hilary does not mention any kind of process at all. Instead, he is simply contrasting what the Law can do versus what faith can do. Faith justifies, and the Law cannot.

Case number two: Matt1618 says, “He does not mean or say that once one is justified, one cannot lose that justification through sin as Calvin or Luther would say.” In Matt1618’s eagerness to prevent anachronistic readings of Hilary, he neglects to mention that, although Hilary does not speak of an unlosable justification, that does not imply that Hilary is speaking about a losable justification. It is an argument from silence on Matt1618’s part. Hilary doesn’t address the question of whether justification is losable here at all. In the context following (paragraph 7), Hilary does speak of irrevocable gifts like resurrection, and a state wherein “sickness and sorrow will affect our bodies no more.” But he nowhere in the context mentions a losable justification, whether by words or ideas.

Case number three: Matt1618 says, “Of course, just as in other fathers, St. Hilary has faith explicitly linked to baptism so the reference to faith here does not mean that justification is without baptism.” Excuse me, but where does Hilary explicitly link justification to baptism? In the entirety of chapter 8 of the commentary, neither the word “baptism” nor the idea of baptism appear. The closest we get is “deep waters” in section 4. However, since Hilary is there talking about “a desire for the world instigated by demonic forces,” this is hardly applicable to baptism. At this point I am wondering if Matt1618 and I are reading the same text.

Case number four: Matt1618 says, “Nor does he say that following initial justification that sacraments or works are not necessary to maintain that state of justification.” Again an argument from what Hilary does not say. Hilary doesn’t here say that the sacraments or works are necessary to maintain such a state of justification, either. Again, he simply doesn’t address the question. He is not, in this passage, interested in the maintenance of the state of being justified, but rather the mechanism by which we become justified, and that is by faith alone.

Case number five: Matt1618 says, “He just spells out here that the law without faith, in and of itself does not justify, something any Catholic would hold to.” This is precisely what Hilary does NOT say. Hilary is saying that the Law is unable to grant absolution (the forgiveness of sins), since faith alone (i.e., without the Law) justifies. In order for Matt1618 to be correct, Hilary would have had to say something like this: “The law without faith is powerless, but the law with faith can justify.” This is almost, though not quite, the opposite of what Hilary actually said. Hilary said that the Law is not involved in justification from our side. Only faith justifies.

Case number six: Matt1618 then adduces passages from Hilary’s On the Trinity and later in the Matthew commentary, none of which are talking about justification. The passage from 9.5 from Hilary’s work on the Trinity is talking about the importance of good works (which no Protestant but an antinomian would deny). If Matt1618’s interpretation is correct, then Protestants ignore the place of good works entirely. This is manifestly an incorrect interpretation of Protestantism. But it is obvious that Hilary is not talking about justification, but about the behavior of the justified.

Section 18.8 of the Matthew commentary is talking about the power of the keys, not justification. That there should be “a tremendous fear” is certainly the goal of what Hilary writes in this section. That Hilary is talking about justification is not clear at all. He is talking about the ability of the church to make assessments about the spiritual state of a member of the church.

It becomes clear, then, in the course of this investigation, that Hilary taught that a person is justified by faith alone, apart from the works of the law. While his theology was not as developed on this point as the Reformers would be, it is not difficult to see the continuity of Hilary’s statement here with the Reformers’ teaching on justification.

1 Clement 32 and Justification

I was reading Thomas Schreiner’s recent book Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification, and he referenced this chapter of 1 Clement as a proof that at least some of the early church fathers believed in justification by faith alone. He doesn’t fall prey to the anachronistic fallacy of thinking that Clement’s doctrine was as clear on this point as the Reformers, but more that it was in line with what the Reformers would later say. This chapter is disputed in its meaning between Protestants and Catholics. I will put both an English translation and the original Greek here, and then discuss it in dialogue with Protestant and Catholic interpretations.

English: 1 Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognise the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. 2 For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.” 3 All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made 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. 4 And 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; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Greek: 1 Ἐάν τις καθ᾿ ἓν ἕκαστον εἰλικρινῶς κατανοήσῃ, ἐπιγνώσεται μεγαλεῖα τῶν ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ δεδομένων δωρεῶν. 2 ἐξ αὐτοῦ γὰρ ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευῖται πάντες οἱ λειτουργοῦντες τῷ θυσιαστηρίῳ τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐξ αὐτοῦ ὁ κύριος Ἰησοῦς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα. ἐξ αὐτοῦ βασιλεῖς καὶ ἄρχοντες καὶ ἡγούμενοι κατὰ τὸν Ἰούδαν· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ σκῆπτρα αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἐν μικρᾷ δόξῃ ὑπάρχουσιν, ὡς ἐπαγγειλαμένου τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς οἱ ἀστέρες τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. 3 πάντες οὖν ἐδοξάσθησαν καὶ ἐμεγαλύνθησαν οὐ δι᾿ αὐτῶν ἢ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῶν ἢ τῆς δικαιοπραγίας ἧς κατειργάσαντο, ἀλλὰ διὰ τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ. 4 καὶ ἡμεῖς οὖν, διὰ θελήματος αὐτοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ κληθέντες, οὐ δι᾿ ἑαυτῶν δικαιούμεθα, οὐδὲ διὰ τῆς ἡμετέρας σοφίας ἢ συνέσεως ἢ εὐσεβείας ἢ ἔργων ὧν κατειργασάμεθα ἐν ὁσιότητι καρδίας, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς πίστεως, δι᾿ ἧς πάντας τοὺς ἀπ᾿ αἰῶνος ὁ παντοκράτωρ θεὸς ἐδικαίωσεν· ᾧ ἔστω ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν.

Protestant interpretations include Ingolfsland, Turretin Fan, and my own previous post. For Roman Catholic treatments, look at Bryan Cross, Taylor Marshall, and Matt1618. This will be enough to get on with.

What must first be done is to clear away misconceptions of Protestant and Catholic positions alike in order to arrive at the real issue. For instance, Marshall argues that Protestants have misunderstood the Catholic position for a long time:

The Council of Trent, like Pope Saint Clement confirm that works do not merit the grace of justification. Many Protestants misunderstand what the Catholic Church teaches. As Trent decreed, the justified “increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ” by means of “faith co-operating with good works,” to use the phrase of the Council and that of Saint James. Catholics do not earn the initial grace of justification.

It might very well be true to say that Protestants have misunderstood Catholics on the initial point of what Catholics describe as the process of justification. What Catholics believe is that the grace of God infuses the beginning of righteousness into a person, which infusion is by grace, not by works. Then, throughout life, assisted by the sacraments (in which grace is received), believers co-operate with the grace of God by their works (which come from God-infused virtues). Justification is thus a process that occurs throughout life, and is not complete in this life, though it has its beginning in baptism. To put it in a linear fashion: God’s infusing grace at baptism resulting in the beginning of a believer’s own God-given righteousness->conversion->believer’s cooperation with grace by good works and by use of the sacraments->death->purgatory (for most)->final judgment justification.

Protestants, of course, do not believe that justification is a process, but a one-time act or declaration, based not on infused righteousness, but on imputed righteousness. That righteousness is then not ours but Christ’s. It is not delayed until judgment, but rather the judgment is brought forward in time to the point of initial faith. The transfer of our sin to Christ and His righteousness to us happens outside us, not inside us, as RC’s believe with their view of infused righteousness.

What then, do the Catholics say about this passage in Clement, positively speaking? Putting together Matt’s, Taylor’s, and Bryan’s arguments, we come up with something like this. 1. Clement is speaking about being transferred from death to life, from being in the first Adam to being in the second Adam, and this transfer does not occur by means of our works, but by faith (Cross); 2. The faith in view is a faith informed by love (from Galatians 6 and Romans 5:5, Cross). 3. Clement is not speaking of justification by faith alone, but it is evident that we are justified by our works from chapter 30 of the letter (Marshall and Matt1618). 4. As quoted above, the initial grace of the justification process is not merited by our works; 5. Working on one’s own power is not sufficient for justification (Matt1618). 6. The works that contribute to our justification are done by God’s grace (Matt1618).

It is to be noted here that an issue arises that also arose in my debates with Doug Wilson on faith’s aliveness. Protestants believe that faith alone justifies, and that the aliveness of faith, while present even at the moment of justification, is not directly relevant to the question of justification. In other words, faith does not justify because it is alive. This would make faith’s aliveness into a ground for justification. Rather, faith justifies because of the Person on Whom that faith rests. Christ’s person and work is the ground of our justification. This leads us to a serious caricature of the Protestant position that Catholics hold. Catholics seem to believe (this seems evident particularly in Cross’s treatment) that because Protestants do not believe that our love for God plays any part in our justification, that therefore Protestants must believe in justification by a dead faith. The faith that justifies is alive, but does not justify because it is alive. It justifies because of its connection to the One Who justifies us. This leads, though, directly to a counter misinterpretation of Catholics by Protestants, who fail to make the distinction that Catholics make between virtue and works. Cross puts it this way:

Protestant theology tends not to give conceptual space to agape as a virtue, seeing it only as a work. Scott Clark, for example, denies that faith and agape are virtues. And that tends to lead to a misunderstanding on the part of Protestants, who think that when Catholics talk about faith-informed-by-agape, it means faith accompanied by works. If it meant that, then we could have no confidence that baptized babies who die before reaching an age in which they can do any works, could be saved. But, we believe that at baptism, the virtues of faith, hope, and agape are infused into the soul by the Holy Spirit, and therefore that the infant is justified at that very moment, because he now has faith-informed-by-agape, even though has not yet done a single good work.

In other words, for RC’s, virtue can be infused and received without any works being present, and that therefore the justification of a baby, while still by an infusion of grace, consists of an infusion of faith informed by virtue, specifically faith, hope, and love. The difficulty with this formulation becomes obvious when we compare this version of “virtue” with faith itself. If faith without works is dead, then how can virtue without works be alive? Cross seems to be allowing for a situation where a virtue can be present without any manifestation of it whatsoever.

So now the question remains: what does Clement mean? Does 1 Clement 30:3 (the operative phrase is “being justified by works and not by words”) control somehow our understanding of 32? Ingolfsland argues that it does not, and that Clement is simply speaking in the manner of James:

As we have seen, however, this phrase is part of a longer train of thought that can be traced back to First Clement 26:1 where Clement is talking about holiness that is the result of “good faith.” Clement is not speaking of people who need to be saved but to those who are already “his own portion” (1 Clem. 29:1; 30:1). Clement is arguing that those who already belong to the Lord should be careful to do good works. It is in this context that Clement must be understood when he continues, “keeping ourselves from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words” (1 Clem. 30:3).

As might be guessed, I find Ingolfsland’s argument more convincing than Taylor’s and Matt1618’s, because Ingolfsland understands 30:3 in its own context (both immediate and larger), whereas Marshall and Matt1618 do not make the attempt to argue what 30:3 means in its immediate and larger context. I commend Ingolfsland’s entire article on the question as a well-argued paper that indirectly answers the RC arguments.