Augustine on Faith and Works and does Ben Despain Concur?

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Big Nate recently wrote a great post on Melanchthon, his relationship to Luther, and his theological work on justification. I never knew this, but his view on forensic Justification was brought forth in light of Augustine’s view of faith and works. This peaked my interest because I have always loved Augustine but I have never thought of his views on this topic. So I checked out Augustine’s book On Faith and Works and read it last night and found it really helpful. I recommend it because it is real short and insightful.

Here are my personal notes on the book if you want them.

Outline of Faith and Works by Augustine

Here some random thoughts on his view.

  • It is important to know that this book was written against a certain group of people who wanted the Church to allow people to be baptized and partake in communion regardless of whether or not they have repented of sin. They were antinomian. So Augustine is hammering down a certain point that we need works to be saved. This is the opposite of when he was arguing against Pelagius when he argued that we are saved by Grace alone. So we need to consider who he is arguing against when examine his argument. (Nate points this out in one his comments)
  • When it comes to faith and works here are a couple quotes that kind of give you a taste of what he thought.
    • This is to preach Christ: to not only say what one must believe about Christ but also how one must live who wishes to be joined to the body of Christ. Or We can’t preach Christ the head, with out preaching Christ the body.
    • If we are not to give the sinner a false security, or even an authorization to commit sin, this then, in accordance with true and sound doctrine, is the procedure we must follow in our instructions, namely, that all who are to be baptized are to believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as is prescribed in the Creed; that they are to do penance for their sins; and that they are not to doubt that all their past sins will be forgiven them when they receive baptism. They must be told that this forgiveness is not a license to commit sin, but a release from sin; that it is a remission of sin, not a permission to sin. Then it can be truly said tof them, in a spiritual sense; “You are made whole, sin no more.”….. How can the opponents say this. For if adultery is not a disease, and a serious and fatal disease, then I do not know what it is.
  • I agree with Big Nate in that his categories are not clear when it comes to justification. But in his view it is clear that man is saved completely by grace. He enters the Church only on the account of the blood of Christ. But he produces good works only on the account of the Spirit. He sees at least two purposes (probably more) in the cross: (1) It reconciles sinners to God and (2) It crucifies sinners to the wicked world. It removes the stain of sin from man and it removes man from the world of sin.
  • So does Augustine think people are justified by their good works? No, he thinks that we are all saved by Grace, but one cannot say they have faith in God if they are still loving sin more than Him. For God sets us free from sin to love Him and not the World.
  • His view on works is this, before Christ we could never live up to the law because of our sin and because we don’t have the Spirit. All are condemned by the Law. But because we are part of the Church, by Grace we have the Holy Spirit and now we can live in faith and produce live according to His law. It has a eschatological connotations.
  • I think the confusion is in this, his opponents only wanted to preach the forgiveness of sins without the repentance from sins. Augustine’s whole book centers on the fact that people are saved by Grace. That means that Jesus died for our sins, so that we can leave them and pursue God. If you don’t have to leave your sins then you are destroying the Gospel.
  • His high view of the Spirit, Sacraments, and the Church was refreshing. I think we have lost a lot of the significance of these aspects of our faith.
  • I also appreciate his view on Church discipline. If anybody wants a well rounded thought on this topic this book will flesh out a healthy concept of it.

In the end, I think if Melancthon and Augustine were to meet in a room and talk they would both agree with eachother. Melancthon was arguing against legalism and Augustine against anitnomianism. Both believe in the utter grace of God in both Justification and Sanctification.

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6 responses to “Augustine on Faith and Works and does Ben Despain Concur?

  1. It is interesting once again how much theology and discussions on God are based in a context. For instance, if I am arguing today against someone who holds to such a high view of grace that they diminish works, it will look like I am arguing for works as a part of justification. This is also my main problem in understanding Paul. It often seems that Paul is polemically addressing certain issues that were very localized to the audience reading them. All of his thoughts are Judiazers can be judged as such.

    It is interesting that you think Melancthon and Augustine would agree, but “Melancthon was arguing against legalism and Augustine against antinomianism.” Every generation, in my opinion, will have its “golden calf.” What do I mean by this?

    I mean, if you read the text in Hebrew, the name for the golden calf is still Elohim (the name used for God in other places in the OT). The Hebrews in the wilderness were simply following the cultural norms of their time. The Israelites were not as stupid as we sometimes make them out to be. They did not think there was some mystical power in the golden calf. Rather, they believed that it was an earthly representation of the heavenly gods. This is what all the other cultures of their time were doing, and they probably would not have thought anything of it if Moses had not come down and thrown a bunch of stuff and killed a bunch of Israelites.

    The struggle of theology at all times is to be contextual without losing the fact that God calls us to be completely “other” from society. This is the challenge of the church for all ages, and it is not easy task. It takes much theological reflection. I commend you for showing us how this has been done by Augustine. I definitely want to look at that book now.

  2. I totally agree with context, and that Augustine and Melanchthon would agree. I also think Augustine would label much of the Catholic theology on justification heretical. According to Paul, our guilt and our justification are based upon being connected to either Adam or Christ. We are guilty because of Adam’s sin- he fell, many died. So the sheer fact that we were born put us at odds with God, the relationship needing to be reconciled from our first heartbeat. I guess that’s why being born again is absolutely neccessary.

    In the second birth, we are born into a new reality, connected to Christ not by genetics, but by faith. It is this connection to Christ that justifies, and this connection comes through faith (as many as believed in him, he gave them the right to become children of God). And with this faith comes a new nature, a nature that hates sin. Like Johnny says, if a person makes a practice of sinning, he is a liar and the truth is not in him.

    At the end of the day, it is all about affections. A faith that is ok with living in sin is a dead faith, a faith that even the demons have. But a faith that saves is inseparable from love for God. I think this was Augustine’s thought, and due to the climate of the day, Melanchthon and Luther were forced to separate the faith from the love for the glory of Christ and the humility of men in the process of salvation.

  3. Justin Richter

    Well said Nate. Thanks for the dialog. I have learned a lot through it. I love these older guys because they keep us humble. Although technology has changed people haven’t and we can still keep coming back to these guys for guidance in life. I Hope life is going well for you.

    Oh, and Coldfire thanks for your input as well brother. I am glad to get your spin on things. Keep it coming.

  4. Since my name is actually in the title, I guess I should actually post something on this one. Just think of my posting as a hit and run driver: Its always wrong, messy, and you don’t really know where he is coming from.

    I have been following this post since Big Nate’s first post, by the way very well presented. Sadly, however, I do disagree with almost all the conclusions. Shocking right!

    Basically, I think, we make the same error today that Luther and Melanchthon made in the sixteenth century, they misunderstood what Augustine’s doctrine of grace actually was. It is true Augustine is the “Doctor of Grace,” but it was anachronistic of the Reformers, and us, to think that the terminological similarity ensured doctrinal continuity. Augustine’s doctrine of grace is wrapped up in his conception of the institutional church and the sacraments, which bestow grace. Fundamentally this means that the different polemical positions that Richter attributes to Augustine are not opposite, but the same. Without going into an extended explanation here, I think the comment made from the first post, and eluded to here, which remarked that Augustine and Melanchthon would be able to agree, to some degree, that RC doctrine of Justification as heresy, is wrong. RC doctrine of infused righteousness is Augustine’s doctrine and it is irreconcilable with imputed righteousness. I would point anybody interested in understanding the fundamental difference better than I can explain it to Alister McGrath’s “Iustita Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification” and McGrath’s “Forerunners of the Reformation? A Critical Examination of the Evidence for Precursors of the Reformation Doctrines of Justification” HTR, Vol. 75, No 2.

    I wish B.B. Warfield’s remark that the Reformation was Augustine’s doctrine of grace over his doctrine of the Church and that RC was Augustine’s doctrine of the Church over his doctrine of grace, but, sadly, it is not so. Augustine’s doctrine of grace is intimately woven with his doctrine of the Church (the church is what dispenses grace in Augustine’s thought).

    Currently I am working on a research paper that examines Augustine’s doctrine of grace in the semi-pelagian controversy, so if you want wait until the end of April to tar and feather me and I will post my paper.

  5. Quickly I want to apologize for any shortness or generalizations that have overlooked a number of the nuances presented in the previous posts. I am not arguing that anyone believes that Augustine and any of the later Reformers agree entirely or that among the posts the differences in their theologies have not been represented. I am saying that those differences are fundamental and irreconcilable. And typically Protestants interpret Augustine through Protestant lens instead of according to his own theological context. Forgive if I seemed un-sympathic towards the fullness of the presentation among the other posts.

  6. Yeah, I completely agree with you about his high ecclesiology and sacramentology. These are very different then the reformers. Not completely different though. As far as I see it Luther and Augustine had very similar views on Baptismal regeneration. But I think we can interpret his view with his lens and because of that we can see the similarities of the two views. They are putting salvation into different categories because of the context that is at hand. I really do think that both Augustine and Melancthon made there categories based on their polemical situations. Do you really think Mel thinks that we can be saved apart from the Church or baptism. I certainly hope not. I think I did error a little by making them sound exactly the same but then again I don’t think they are that different. But, I do look forward to reading your paper. It should be interesting. Thanks Ben, I look forward to more of your insight.

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