Justification in Augustinian Tradition: The Roots of the Reformation Doctrine on Justification
Justification in Augustinian Tradition
The Roots of the Reformation Doctrine on Justification
in Catholicism prior to Roman Scholasticism According to Philip Schaff
~ by ~
Dr. Kenneth Talbot
Whitefield Theological Seminary
Phillip Schaff’s statement in Volume 7 like any statement must be understood in its context. In Section 4 “Periods of Church History” Schaff makes this statement concerning the nature of Roman Catholicism:
“In the middle age the development of the hierarchy occupies the foreground, so that it may be called the church of the Popes, as distinct from the ancient church of the Fathers, and the modern church of the Reformers.”
Carefully note the distinction being drawn by Schaff that the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages is “distinct from the ancient church of the Fathers, and the modern church of the Reformers.” Now Schaff in Volume 7, Chapter 1, and Section 2, elaborates further about this distinction and why it is important in understanding Roman Catholic dogma as responded to by the Refomers. Schaff writes:
“We must distinguish between Catholicism and Romanism. The former embraces the ancient Oriental church, the mediaeval church, and we may say, in a wider sense, all the modern evangelical churches. Romanism is the Latin church turned against the Reformation, consolidated by the Council of Trent and completed by the Vatican Council of 1870 with its dogma of papal absolutism and papal infallibility. Mediaeval Catholicism is pre-evangelical, looking to the Reformation; modern Romanism is anti-evangelical, condemning the Reformation, yet holding with unyielding tenacity the ecumenical doctrines once sanctioned, and doing this all the more by virtue of its claim to infallibility.”
Schaff has made a very important connection in this statement. Catholicism (Christianity) in the “ancient Oriental church,” early “Mediaeval church,” and “all the modern evangelical churches” are one continuous church in substance over against the apostasy of the Latin scholastic church. This distinction is important to understand as the “context” in which the Reformers were responding to that system of doctrinal formulas and practices. Schaff continues:
“The distinction between pre-Reformation Catholicism and post-Reformation Romanism, in their attitude towards Protestantism, has its historical antecedent and parallel in the distinction between pre-Christian Israel which prepared the way for Christianity, and post-Christian Judaism which opposed it as an apostasy. Catholicism and Protestantism represent two distinct types of Christianity which sprang from the same root, but differ in the branches.
Catholicism is legal Christianity which served to the barbarian nations of the Middle Ages as a necessary school of discipline; Protestantism is evangelical Christianity which answers the age of independent manhood. Catholicism is traditional, hierarchical, ritualistic, conservative; Protestantism is biblical, democratic, spiritual, progressive. The former is ruled by the principle of authority, the latter by the principle of freedom. But the law, by awakening a sense of sin and exciting a desire for redemption, leads to the gospel; parental authority is a school of freedom; filial obedience looks to manly self-government.”
Now carefully note the distinction being made concerning the developing nature of the mediaeval Catholicism as it transitions itself under the influence of Latin Romanism:
“The characteristic features of mediaeval Catholicism are intensified by Romanism, yet without destroying the underlying unity. Romanism and orthodox Protestantism believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in one divine-human Lord and Savior of the race. They accept in common the Holy Scriptures and the ecumenical faith. They agree in every article of the Apostles’ Creed. What unites them is far deeper, stronger and more important than what divides them. But Romanism holds also a large number of “traditions of the elders,” which Protestantism rejects as extra-scriptural or anti-scriptural; such are the papacy, the worship of saints and relics, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers and masses for the dead, works of supererogation, purgatory, indulgences, the system of monasticism with its perpetual vows and ascetic practices, besides many superstitious rites and ceremonies.”
As Roman Catholic theology begins its apostasy of the fundamentals of biblical Christianity as expressed in the Apostle’s Creed, their apostasy is the addition of extra-scriptural and anti-scriptural dogma and practices that are being added to the accepted biblical doctrines that were developed during the Church Fathers as essential “orthodox” beliefs of Christianity. Creeds were written to distinguish “biblical” Christianity from “false” doctrines that were being perpetuated within the Church. It is within the tradition of the Church to clarify and refine with precision the doctrines so that it was protected from heterodox influences. One must consider how many times the Church continued to refine the doctrine of Christ, each time addressing new challenges that affected the outcome of the doctrine if not addressed! It is no small task to keep Christianity “orthodox,” that is, inline with the teaching of Scripture with so many attacks upon its historic creedal theology. Schaff then draws this distinction about Protestantism:
“Protestantism, on the other hand, revived and developed the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace; it proclaimed the sovereignty of divine mercy in man’s salvation, the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a rule of faith, and the sufficiency of Christ’s merit as a source of justification; it asserted the right of direct access to the Word of God and the throne of grace, without human mediators; it secured Christian freedom from bondage; it substituted social morality for monkish asceticism, and a simple, spiritual worship for an imposing ceremonialism that addresses the senses and imagination rather than the intellect and the heart.”
Clearly the Reformers were reacting to what Romanism had done with its reformulated Gospel and how it has affected the Church of Jesus Christ. The Reformers were not rejecting “early Christian doctrine” as formulated by the Church Fathers, not at all. Just the opposite! They were advocating a return to “Apostolic Simplicity,” that is, a return to the simple doctrines of the Scripture as taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles and maintained and defined in the ancient Church and the Church of the early Middle Ages. Schaff clarifies this understanding when he states in Chapter 1, Section 4:
“The Reformation went back to first principles in order to go forward. It struck its roots deep in the past and bore rich fruits for the future. It sprang forth almost simultaneously from different parts of Europe and was enthusiastically hailed by the leading minds of the age in church and state. No great movement in history – except Christianity itself – was so widely and thoroughly prepared as the Protestant Reformation.”
The term “Reformation” literally means changing the current state of the Church (Latin Roman Catholicism) back to its early teachings by stripping away all those doctrines and practices that had driven the Church away from biblical Christianity towards another gospel altogether! The Visible Universal Church had become corrupted in its doctrines, practices by Papal authority. Note carefully how Schaff brings out this theme in Section 5 of Chapter 2. He writes:
“The Reformation was at first a purely religious movement, and furnishes a striking illustration of the all-pervading power of religion in history. It started from the question: What must a man do to be saved? How shall a sinner be justified before God, and attain peace of his troubled conscience? The Reformers were supremely concerned for the salvation of the soul, for the glory of Christ and the triumph of his gospel. They thought much more of the future world than of the present, and made all political, national, and literary interests subordinate and subservient to religion.
Yet they were not monks, but live men in a live age, not pessimists, but optimists, men of action as well as of thought, earnest, vigorous, hopeful men, free from selfish motives and aims, full of faith and the Holy Ghost, equal to any who had preceded them since the days of the Apostles. From the centre of religion they have influenced every department of human life and activity, and given a powerful impulse to political and civil liberty, to progress in theology, philosophy, science, and literature.
The Reformation removed the obstructions which the papal church had interposed between Christ and the believer. It opened the door to direct union with him, as the only Mediator between God and man, and made his gospel accessible to every reader without the permission of a priest. It was a return to first principles, and for this very reason also a great advance. It was a revival of primitive Christianity, and at the same time a deeper apprehension and application of it than had been known before.”
Scaff further clarifies this distinction in Section 6 or Chapter 2 wherein he states:
“While the Humanists went back to the ancient classics and revived the spirit of Greek and Roman paganism, the Reformers went back to the sacred Scriptures in the original languages and revived the spirit of apostolic Christianity.”
This is the background and context to your question about justification. The type of justification that the Reformers were rejecting was Scholastic perversion as eventually defined by the Council of Trent. This Romanistic teaching on justification was not the view held previously by the Church. This is why your question had to be placed in a proper context for understanding exactly what Schaff is addressing about this doctrine. Schaff writes in Chapter 2, Section 7:
“The subjective principle of Protestantism is the doctrine of justification and salvation by faith in Christ; as distinct from the doctrine of justification by faith and works or salvation by grace and human merit. Luther’s formula is sola fide. Calvin goes further back to God’s eternal election, as the ultimate ground of salvation and comfort in life and in death. But Luther and Calvin meant substantially the same thing, and agree in the more general proposition of salvation by free grace through living faith in Christ (Acts 4:12), in opposition to any Pelagian or Semi-pelagian compromise which divides the work and merit between God and man. And this is the very soul of evangelical Protestantism.”
Schaff begins with drawing an important distinction in the doctrinal formulas of the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. Salvation is an act of God’s free grace wherein the sin having been renewed by the Holy Spirit looks to Christ through the instrument of faith alone for reconciliation with God. Salvation, as a comprehensive doctrine includes regeneration, calling, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. These are all “saving graces” and man does not participate in any way meritoriously to “gain acceptance” with God. This view is juxtaposed to Romanism which is semi-pelagian in its soteriology, and also rejects its original form of pelagianism. Both systems teach a “works righteousness” either for “acceptance” with God or in the “maintenance” of one’s salvation. Pelagianism is autosoteriological and semi-pelagianism is a combination of grace and meritorious effort. Schaff further states:
“The Protestant doctrine of justification differs from the Roman Catholic, as defined (very circumspectly) by the Council of Trent, chiefly in two points. Justification is conceived as a declaratory and judicial act of God, in distinction from sanctification, which is a gradual growth; and faith is conceived as a fiducial act of the heart and will, in distinction from theoretical belief and blind submission to the church. The Reformers derived their idea from Paul, the Romanists appealed chiefly to James (2:17-26); but Paul suggests the solution of the apparent contradiction by his sentence, that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love” (Galatians 6:15).
Faith, in the biblical and evangelical sense, is a vital force which engages all the powers of man and apprehends and appropriates the very life of Christ and all his benefits. It is the child of grace and the mother of good works. It is the pioneer of all great thoughts and deeds. By faith Abraham became the father of nations; by faith Moses became the liberator and legislator of Israel; by faith the Galilean fishermen became fishers of men; and by faith the noble army of martyrs endured tortures and triumphed in death; without faith in the risen Saviour the church could not have been founded. Faith is a saving power. It unites us to Christ. Whosoever believeth in Christ “hath eternal life.” “We believe,” said Peter at the Council of Jerusalem, “that we shall be saved through the grace of God,” like the Gentiles who come to Christ by faith without the works and ceremonies of the law. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved,” was Paul’s answer to the question of the jailor: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).”
What must be kept in mind is that the early Church Fathers and the Reformers both believed that while justification is by faith alone (not meritorious works), a one time declaration by God upon the regenerated sinner, it is always accompanied by “works” as an expression of the believer’s salvation. Thus, Faith is the sole instrument and not the substance itself in justification. However, that “Faith” is never alone as if Justification is one thing and sanctification is unnecessary, conveying the idea that salvation is complete in justification alone. This idea really resembles the confusion by the Fundamentalists on the doctrine of Lordship. As if there is a chronology in the “saving graces” of God. That a man can be justified without the necessity of the “good works” of sanctification. I will deal with this later. Augustine himself is specific about what is meant by justification and sanctification. He writes in Book V, Section 18:
“Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle’s statement: “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law,” have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed “a vessel of election” by the apostle, who, after declaring that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision,” adds at once, “but faith which worketh by love.” It is such faith which severs God’s faithful from unclean demons,-for even these “believe and tremble,” as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives,-the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life. But inasmuch as we have even our good works from God, from whom likewise comes our faith and our love, therefore the selfsame great teacher of the Gentiles has designated “eternal life” itself as His gracious “gift”.”
This is the context of Augustine’s thought as well. Augustine argued that saving faith must include “good works” as an expression of one’s faith, but those works are a part of the Grace of God through regeneration. Thus, faith, repentance, good works and sanctification are all a part of SALVATION by GRACE ALONE. The Apostle Paul expresses this quite well in Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Augustine is arguing against the pelagian heresy and one must keep in mind that this is a polemical defense and not a didactic development of doctrine. August further states:
“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 ye can do nothing.” And the apostle himself, after saying, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast;” 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 hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” 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 are become new. And all things are of God.” We are framed, therefore, that is, formed and created, “in the good works which” we have not ourselves prepared, but “God hath 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.”
Augustine is not arguing that Justification is blended with sanctification and is therefore a process. Quite the contrary! However, he is contending that where there is justification, thereof necessity must be sanctification. That sanctification is tied directly to justification and they should never be blended or separated from each other. But justification and sanctification are indelibly linked together and where one is the other is also. That all “saving graces” are the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation, therefore, is all of Grace and not of works, but not to the neglect of the proper place of “good works” in its salvific context. Augustine writes in Book V, Chapter 12:
“Nothing, to be sure, but punishment was due to such a course of evil desert! God, however, who returns good for evil by His grace, which is not given according to our merits, enabled the apostle to conclude his statement and say: “But when the kindness and love of our Saviour God shone upon us,-not of works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the laver of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost, whom He shed upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Dr. John Gerstner, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Pittsburg Theological Seminary wrote on Augustine’s view of Justification:
“The most influential theologian of the early church was certainly Augustine (354-430). Before we consider his teaching about our crucial doctrine, we note in passing that the standard creed of the Reformation, the Augsburg Confession (1530), found solafideanism in Augustine’s mentor and predecessor, Ambrose, under whose preaching Augustine was converted. Article VI of the Confession speaks of solafideanism: “The same [justification by faith] is also taught by the Fathers: For Ambrose says, ‘It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved freely receiving.’”
In spite of this, many cannot find the doctrine in Augustine. Many historical theologians interpret him as confusing justification with sanctification, of which justification is merely a part. This is not accurate, however. Though Augustine finds justification and sanctification inseparable, they are not indistinguishable. Augustinian justification leads into sanctification, but is not confused with it.
According to Augustine, man’s faith in Christ justifies him. Confession of Christ is efficacious for the remission of sins. We are justified by the blood of Christ, and we have no merits which are not the gifts of God. Of course, faith is active through love (fides quae caritate operatur), but this does not imply that justification is on the basis of love.”
What is most interesting is the way in which the Puritans restated the Augustinian teaching on justification and sanctification. The Divines wrote in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), Chapter 11, Section 1:
“Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth;a not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,b they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.c”
- a. Rom 3:24; 8:30. • b. Jer 23:6; Rom 3:22, 24-25, 27-28; 4:5-8; 5:17-19; 1 Cor 1:30-31; 2 Cor 5:19, 21; Eph 1:7; Titus 3:5, 7. • c. Acts 10:44; 13:38-39; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:7-8; Phil 3:9.
Here the distinction is being made between forensic (declaring their sins forgiven and accepting their person as righteous) justification (not of works or merit) and the Romanist teaching on “infused righteousness.” Not by anything “wrought in them,” or “done by them,” nor by “imputing faith itself” which is the act of believing, or “any other evangelical obedience.” Rather, they are justified by the imputation of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, receiving and resting upon Christ and His righteousness by faith, a faith which is not a part of their human constitution, rather a faith that saves being a gift from God. Now in Section 2 we see the further explanation of the Augustinian formulation of the doctrine which is clearly expressing the concept of Free Grace in all parts of redemption to the believer. The Divines wrote:
“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification;a yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.b
a. John 1:12; Rom 3:28; 5:1. • b. Gal 5:6; James 2:17, 22, 26.
Notice that faith as the instrument of justification is “ever accompanied with other saving grace, and is not death faith, but worketh by love.” This is Augustinian theology plan and simple. Knowing controversy of this doctrine both in its Augustinian formula and the perversion by Romanism, especially as seen in the Council of Trent, the Divines anticipated the question of the relationship between justification and sanctification. They give the Augustinian answer to the proper relationship as maintained in the teaching of Scripture and by the Church Fathers as I noted in my paper: The Divines wrote in the Larger Catechism question 77: “Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?” They answered:
“Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.
1. I Cor. 1:30; 6:11 2. Rom. 4:6, 8 3. Ezek. 36:27 4. Rom. 3:24-25 5. Rom. 6:6, 14 6. Rom. 8:33-34 7. I John 2:12-14; Heb. 5:12-14 8. I John 1:8, 10 9. II Cor. 7:1; Phil 3:12-14
Sanctification, says the Divines, is inseparably joined with justification. Yes, they differ in some respects, but where there is justification there must also be sanctification. However, they differ in that justification is where God imputeth the righteousness of Christ. Whereas, sanctification, as well as all other “saving graces” are infused, in the believer, by the Holy Spirit at regeneration. It is a one time work of the Holy Spirit. First there is Justification which must logically precede the other works of the Holy Spirit, but they are not chronological, that would be antithetical to the Augustinian formula and that of the Reformers. Then the other graces express that state of forgiveness and from it flows the other graces. Salvation therefore is all of God’s Grace. At regeneration, the believer receives all the saving graces, which we are told in the Larger Catechism questions 70 through to 76 that they are “faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, and repentance unto life.” Whether acceptance or maintenance, we begin in the Spirit and end in the Spirit, that is, we are brought to acceptance by Grace and are maintained throughout our lives by Grace. That is what Paul meant in Romans 1:18 “From faith to faith.”
Again lets present the quote from Augustine from the paper:
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) wrote: “Not so our father Abraham. This passage of scripture is meant to draw our attention to the difference. We confess that the holy patriarch was pleasing to God; this is what our faith affirms about him. So true is it that we can declare and be certain that he did have grounds for pride before God, and this is what the apostle tells us. It is quite certain, he says, and we know it for sure, that Abraham has grounds for pride before God. But if he had been justified by works, he would have had grounds for pride, but not before God. However, since we know he does have grounds for pride before God, it follows that he was not justified on the basis of works. So if Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified?” The apostle goes on to tell us how: What does scripture say? (that is, about how Abraham was 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. Now when you hear this statement, that justification comes not from works, but by faith, remember the abyss of which I spoke earlier. You see that Abraham was justified not by what he did, but by his faith: all right then, so I can do whatever I like, because even though I have no good works to show, but simply believe in God, that is reckoned to me as righteousness? Anyone who has said this and has decided on it as a policy has already fallen in and sunk; anyone who is still considering it and hesitating is in mortal danger. But God’s scripture, truly understood, not only safeguards an endangered person, but even hauls up a drowned one from the deep. My advice is, on the face of it, a contradiction of what the apostle says; what I have to say about Abraham is what we find in the letter of another apostle, who set out to correct people who had misunderstood Paul. James in his letter opposed those who would not act rightly but relied on faith alone; and so he reminded them of the good works of this same Abraham whose faith was commended by Paul. The two apostles are not contradicting each other. James dwells on an action performed by Abraham that we all know about: he offered his son to God as a sacrifice. That is a great work, but it proceeded from faith. I have nothing but praise for the superstructure of action, but I see the foundation of faith; I admire the good work as a fruit, but I recognize that it springs from the root of faith. If Abraham had done it without right faith it would have profited him nothing, however noble the work was.”
This is the understanding of Augustine, the Church Fathers, and the Evangelical as pointed out by Schaff concerning justification and sanctification. The Reformation was in the business of restoring the biblical doctrines of primitive Christianity away from the Romanistic perversions forced upon them. This is the context and meaning of Schaff’s statement.
Final note: As to Schaff’s footnote wherein he states: “Augustin’s conception of justificatio is catholic, and he identifies it with sanctification.” Luther did struggle with sanctification, but not Calvin or the other Reformers. Note the key term used by Schaff, Justification is “Catholic” not Romanistic as given in the Council of Trent, and Augustine “identifies it with” sanctification. He did not blend justification and sanctification together as one doctrine like it was done in the Council of Treat. Rather, Augustine understood that Justification could not be separated from sanctification. As the Westminster Divines did in the Larger Catechism! It cannot be blended as one doctrine, nor separated from each other as standalone doctrines.
Iustificatus fide sine operibus!
 All quotes are taken from the History of the Church, Philip Schaff, Charles Scribner, New York 1882-1910 electronic database Copyright © 1999
 All quotes are taken from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Series 1, Volume 5, Anti-Pelagian writings, edited by Philip Schaff, Christian Literature Publishing Company, copyright 1887