Clement of Rome and Bryan Cross – Justification by Faith Alone or Faith and Works?

I’m glad that my friend Lane Keister recently highlighted the point that 1 Clement teaches justification by faith alone. The author of 1 Clement (whether Clement is the author or the scribe is an open question) does clearly indicate that justification is by faith alone, and by faith to the exclusion of works of holiness.

The contemporary Roman response to this (and Bryan Cross’s response is illustrative of this category) is the same as their response to Paul’s similar clear teaching to the Romans (the ancient Romans) and the Galatians. That response is to attempt to divide justification up into parts, suggesting that initial justification could be by faith alone in some sense, while suggesting that final justification is by faith and works.

There are major and minor problems associated with this response. First, neither Paul nor the author of 1 Clement make this distinction. Second, Paul in Galatians denies this tactic: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Next, notice that in their responses, Rome’s advocates invariably go to places where the author doesn’t mention justification. Bryan, to take an example, goes to Romans 5:5 and 1 Clement 12, 49, 50, 10 and 31, none of which mention justification.

The author of Clement does actually refer to the word justification in another place, and one in which he speaks about justification by works. The naive reader may be wondering whether Bryan has just overlooked this passage. No, there’s a good reason that Bryan does not go there. In that place, the author is using the term justification the way James does:

Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. “For God,” saith [the Scripture], “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words. For [the Scripture] saith, “He that speaketh much, shall also hear much in answer. And does he that is ready in speech deem himself righteous? Blessed is he that is born of woman, who liveth but a short time: be not given to much speaking.” Let our praise be in God, and not of ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers. Boldness, and arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness to such as are blessed by Him.

(1 Clement 30)

In that place, the author of Clement is describing justification in the eyes of others. The author suggests that we should seek to be justified by our deeds as opposed to our words – much like the man in James who claims to have faith, but doesn’t show it by works.

But let’s turn to the passages that Bryan cites. First, let’s look at Chapter 12. Bryan cites the first line, but let’s look at the whole thing:

On account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab the harlot was saved. For when spies were sent by Joshua, the son of Nun, to Jericho, the king of the country ascertained that they were come to spy out their land, and sent men to seize them, in order that, when taken, they might be put to death. But the hospitable Rahab receiving them, concealed them on the roof of her house under some stalks of flax. And when the men sent by the king arrived and said “There came men unto thee who are to spy out our land; bring them forth, for so the king commands,” she answered them, “The two men whom ye seek came unto me, but quickly departed again and are gone,” thus not discovering the spies to them. Then she said to the men, “I know assuredly that the Lord your God hath given you this city, for the fear and dread of you have fallen on its inhabitants. When therefore ye shall have taken it, keep ye me and the house of my father in safety.” And they said to her, “It shall be as thou hast spoken to us. As soon, therefore, as thou knowest that we are at hand, thou shall gather all thy family under thy roof, and they shall be preserved, but all that are found outside of thy dwelling shall perish.” Moreover, they gave her a sign to this effect, that she should hang forth from her house a scarlet thread. And thus they made it manifest that redemption should flow through the blood of the Lord to all them that believe and hope in God. Ye see, beloved, that there was not only faith, but prophecy, in this woman.

The first point to note is that the author of Clement is describing the instrument of Rahab’s salvation from the destruction of Jericho. He’s not saying she was justified from her sins by a combination of faith and something else. Interestingly, this would seem to be Rahab’s initial act. So, if hospitality is a good work added to faith, then this would mean that her initial justification was not by faith alone. What an absurd result, even on Roman terms!

But note the spiritual lesson that the author of Clement derives. He actually states that she illustrates that redemption flows from the blood of Christ to all who “believe and hope in God.” When he comes to applying her physical salvation to spiritual salvation, her works are not in the picture – just her faith and hope in God. Yes, she places the thread in the window, but that thread for Clement illustrates Christ’s blood, not her deeds.

The second passage that Bryan goes to (twice, actually) is chapter 49 to which we will append chapter 50, since it was also excerpted and is a related thought:

(49)Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.
(50) Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, “Enter into thy secret chambers for a little time, until my wrath and fury pass away; and I will remember a propitious day, and will raise you up out of your graves.” Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.” This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Chapter 49 is a long praise of love and an exhortation for those who have love in Christ to obey the commandments of God. It is not an admonition to them to seek justification through observation of the commandments of God. Chapter 50, by contrast, is a suggestion to beg for love from God. While we are exhorted to love “so that through love our sins may be forgiven us,” notice that it does not say “through our love.” Notice as well that the author does not attribute the blessedness to the man who is most careful to keep the commandments, but rather to those chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continuing in the order that Bryan picked, let’s jump back to chapter 10:

Abraham, styled “the friend,” was found faithful, inasmuch as he rendered obedience to the words of God. He, in the exercise of obedience, went out from his own country, and from his kindred, and from his father’s house, in order that, by forsaking a small territory, and a weak family, and an insignificant house, he might inherit the promises of God. For God said to him, “Get thee out from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make thee a great nation, and will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shall be blessed. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” And again, on his departing from Lot, God said to him. “Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place where thou now art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, [so that] if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” And again [the Scripture] saith, “God brought forth Abram, and spake unto him, Look up now to heaven, and count the stars if thou be able to number them; so shall thy seed be. And Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” On account of his faith and hospitality, a son was given him in his old age; and in the exercise of obedience, he offered him as a sacrifice to God on one of the mountains which He showed him.

Notice that the author of Clement describes here how Abraham is recognized as faithful. He is recognized as faithful by his obedience. Moreover, a reward was given him for his faith and hospitality, but that reward was not justification, not is it eternal life, but a son in his old age.

Then following Bryan’s hopping and skipping through 1 Clement, we come to chapter 31:

Let us cleave then to His blessing, and consider what are the means of possessing it. Let us think over the things which have taken place from the beginning. For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? Isaac, with perfect confidence, as if knowing what was to happen, cheerfully yielded himself as a sacrifice. Jacob, through reason of his brother, went forth with humility from his own land, and came to Laban and served him; and there was given to him the sceptre of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Bryan seems to suppose that Abraham’s blessing referenced here is either justification or eternal life, but that’s not what 1 Clement says. Indeed, the blessings mentioned by Clement are largely temporal blessings. Abraham gets a son in his old age and Jacob gets a huge family. We see that it is not justification or eternal life that is in view, but other blessings when we look at the next chapter, chapter 32, which completes the thought:

Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. 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.” 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. 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.

Notice how this chapter coming immediately on the heels of 31 undermines Bryan’s claims. Notice that even when it comes to these great gifts, the author of Clement says it was not “for their own sake, or for their own works,” taking back with one hand what he seemed to Bryan to give with the other hand. Moreover, it is at this very juncture that the author indicates that our justification is by faith alone.

It is remarkable how in his post Bryan tries to suggest that the question is about whether the author of Clement is talking about dead faith or not (“The question is this: Is he talking about about living faith (i.e. faith informed by the virtue of agape), or is he talking about dead faith (i.e. faith where there is not the virtue of agape)?”). One really wonders if Bryan seriously thinks that our position is that the author of Clement is suggesting that dead faith justifies. Of course, what Bryan means by “dead faith” and what we and James mean by “dead faith” are two different things. In Bryan’s attempt to re-frame the question away from justification by faith, he has simply added an additional layer of imposed meaning on the author of Clement. The author does not here distinguish between “dead” and “living” faith – and certainly does not do so in the sense that Bryan’s argument requires.

Moreover Bryan’s argument relies on a mis-framing of the real question. The real question is not whether the author of 1 Clement viewed love as a virtue or as good works. After all, while Trent did argue that Faith must be accompanied by both Love and Hope (Chapter VII), Trent also positively stated that men are justified through the works that they do:
Chapter X:

Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, “Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.”

And this erroneous understanding of James’ epistle is irreformably made part of Rome’s dogma in at least two canons:
On Justification:
CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

What Rome anathematizes, we embrace – for it is the apostolic teaching of justification by faith alone apart from works. That’s the real question – not the question of whether love is properly a virtue.

– TurretinFan

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12 Responses to “Clement of Rome and Bryan Cross – Justification by Faith Alone or Faith and Works?”

  1. Natamllc Says:
  2. Natamllc Says:
  3. Natamllc Says:
  4. Hebrew Student Says:
  5. turretinfan Says:
  6. Hebrew Student Says:
  7. Lucian Says:
  8. turretinfan Says:
  9. David Waltz Says:
  10. Vincent Says:

    I would like to comment here if I may. First let me make it clear that i am not a Roman Catholic in any way, so dont confuse me for sometype of apologist. First I would like to add that those qoutations of Trent are not dealing with justification, but with the increase of justice which is distinct from justification itself. In Roman thelogy the event of justification happens instantly at baptism where one is instantly infused with sanctifying grace. Works are there to help preserve that gift received and further incresase it. This second aspect is called progressive justification which is not the same as the justification Paul is talking about. Paul is referring to the state where the sinner first comes in a relationship with God not increase of justification. So I think its oversimplifying the issue if we say that romanists believe in justification by faith and works, which is clearly not the case. I think the real issue comes to view when we realize that for Rome justification is both an event and process that encompasses the entirety of the Christian life not just the beginning.

  11. turretinfan Says:

    Maybe you should read up more on this topic, Vincent. I simply refer you back to what I already wrote in the article.

  12. Vincent Says:

    I think Bryans main error is reading medieval scholastic theology back into the fathers and first century christianity. The whole idea of faith and love as virtues was something invented by the medieval scholastics. It is completely foriegn to the fathers and Paul, who know of no such concept of faith.

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