Early Church on “Justification” and Grace

Pope St. Clement of Rome ca. 1st cent.

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. (Epistle to the Corinthians, XXX)

All, therefore, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions which they did, but through his will. And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (ibid., XXXII)

The good worker receives the bread of his labor confidently, but the lazy and careless dares not look his employer in the face. It is, therefore, necessary that we should be zealous to do good, for all

things come from him. For he forewarns us: “Behold, the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work.” He exhorts us, therefore, who believe in him with our whole heart, not to be idle or careless about any good work. (ibid., XXXIV)

2nd Clement

Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [which are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also says the Scripture in Ezekiel, If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity. Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness? (2nd Clement, Chap. 6)

Hermas ca. 95

They only who fear the Lord and keep His commandments have life with God; but as to those who keep not His commandments, there is no life in them. (The Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Comm 7)

St. Ignatius of Antioch ca. 50-117

None of these things escapes your notice, if you hold fast perfectly your faith and love in Jesus Christ, for these are the beginning and the end of life. The beginning is faith, the end is love. And the two blending in unity are God, and all else follows on these, ending in perfect goodness. No man who professes faith lives in sin, nor if he possesses love, does he live in hatred. The tree is manifest by its fruit. In like manner they who profess to be Christ’s, shall be apparent by their deeds. For at this time the work is no mere matter of profession, but is seen only when a man is found living in the power of faith unto the end. (Letter to the Ephesians, 14:2; Lightfoot/Harmer/Holmes, 91)

Pay attention to the bishop, in order that God may pay attention to you. I am a ransom on behalf of those who are obedient to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons; may it be granted to me to have a place among them in the presence of God! Train together with one another: struggle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, get up together, as God’s managers, assistants, and servants. Please him whom you serve as soldiers, from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism serve as your shield, faith as a helmet, love as a spear, endurance as armor. Let your deeds be your deposits, in order that you may eventually receive the savings that are due you. (Letter to Polycarp, 6: 1-2; Lightfoot/Harmer/Holmes, 117)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna ca. 69-155

I rejoice also that your firmly rooted faith, which was famous in past years, still flourishes and bears fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins, even to the suffering of death, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of Hades, in whom, though you did not see him, you believed in unspeakable and glorified joy,” — into which joy many desire to come, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not by works” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

…Now “he who raised him” from the dead “will also raise us up” if we do his will, and walk in his commandments and love the things which he loved, refraining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness, “rendering not evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or curse for curse, but remembering what the Lord taught when he said, “Judge not that ye be not judged, forgive and it shall be forgiven unto you, be merciful that ye may obtain mercy, with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again,” and, “Blessed are the poor, and they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God

…Stand fast therefore in these things and follow the example of the Lord, “firm and unchangeable in faith, loving the brotherhood, affectionate to one another,” joined together in the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you can do good defer it not, “for almsgiving sets free from death; be ye all subject one to the other, having your conversation blameless among the Gentiles,” that you may receive praise “for your good works” and that the Lord be not blasphemed in you. “But woe to him through whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed.” Therefore teach sobriety to all and show it forth in your own lives. (Epistle to the Philippians)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word: “Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. For whosoever heareth Me, and doeth My sayings, heareth Him that sent Me. And many will say unto Me, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drunk in Thy name, and done wonders? And then will I say unto them, Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity. Then shall there be wailing and gnashing of teeth, when the righteous shall shine as the sun, and the wicked are sent into everlasting fire. For many shall come in My name, clothed outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly being ravening wolves. By their works ye shall know them. And every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.

(First Apology, Chapter XVI)

…all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God: and the Scripture foretells that they shall be blessed, saying, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes not sin;’ that is, having repented of his sins, that he may receive remission of them from God; and not as you deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this, who say, that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them. We have as proof of this the one fall of David, which happened through his boasting, which was forgiven then when he so mourned and wept, as it is written. But if even to such a man no remission was granted before repentance, and only when this great king, and anointed one, and prophet, mourned and conducted himself so, how can the impure and utterly abandoned, if they weep not, and mourn not, and repent not, entertain the hope that the Lord will not impute to them sin? (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 141)

Theophilus of Antioch ca. 2nd cent.

But do you also, if you please, give reverential attention to the prophetic Scriptures, and they will make your way plainer for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God. For He who gave the mouth for speech, and formed the ear to hear, and made the eye to see, will examine all things, and will judge righteous judgment, rendering merited awards to each. To those who by patient continuance in well-doing [Romans 2:7] seek immortality, He will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest, and abundance of good things, which neither has eye seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive. [1 Corinthians 2:9] But to the unbelieving and despisers, who obey not the truth, but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they shall have been filled with adulteries and fornications, and filthiness, and covetousness, and unlawful idolatries, there shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish, [Romans 2:8-9] and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men. Since you said, “Show me your God,” this is my God, and I counsel you to fear Him and to trust Him. (

To Autolycus, 14)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

And other sheep there are also, says the Lord, which are not of this fold Jn. 10:16 — deemed worthy of another fold and mansion, in proportion to their faith. But My sheep hear My voice, Jn. 10:27 understanding gnostically the commandments. And this is to be taken in a magnanimous and worthy acceptation, along with also the recompense and accompaniment of works. So that when we hear, Your faith has saved you, we do not understand Him to say absolutely that those who have believed in any way whatever shall be saved, unless also works follow. But it was to the Jews alone that He spoke this utterance, who kept the law and lived blamelessly, who wanted only faith in the Lord. No one, then, can be a believer and at the same time be licentious; but though he quit the flesh, he must put off the passions, so as to be capable of reaching his own mansion. (Stromata, Bk. VI, 14)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

And in like manner, the Gentiles by faith in Christ prepare for themselves eternal life through good works. (Commentary on Proverbs; ANF, Vol. V, 174)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in Him, and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the Epistle bearing the name of James. (Commentary on John,19:6)

Cyprian of Carthage +258

From which an example is given us to avoid the way of the old man, to stand in the footsteps of a conquering Christ, that we may not again be incautiously turned back into the nets of death, but, foreseeing our danger, may possess the immortality that we have received. But how can we possess immortality, unless we keep those commands of Christ whereby death is driven out and overcome, when He Himself warns us, and says, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments?” And again: “If ye do the things that I command you, henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.” Finally, these persons He calls strong and stedfast; these He declares to be founded in robust security upon the rock, established with immoveable and unshaken firmness, in opposition to all the tempests and hurricanes of the world. “Whosoever,” says He, “heareth my words, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, that built his house upon a rock: the rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” We ought therefore to stand fast on His words, to learn and do whatever He both taught and did. But how can a man say that he believes in Christ, who does not do what Christ commanded him to do? Or whence shall he attain to the reward of faith, who will not keep the faith of the commandment?  He must of necessity waver and wander, and, caught away by a spirit of error, like dust which is shaken by the wind, be blown about; and he will make no advance in his walk towards salvation, because he does not keep the truth of the way of salvation. (On the Unity of the Church, 2)

St. Aphraates the Persian ca. 270-345

For great is the gift which He that is good has given to us. While not forcing us, and in spite of our sins, He want us to be justified; and while He is in no way aided by our good works, He heals us that we may be pleasing in His sight. When we do not wish to ask of Him, He is angry with us. He calls out to us constantly: “Ask and receive; and when you seek, you shall find.” (Treatises 23,48)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

For it is not productive of virtue, nor is it any token of goodness. For none of us is judged for what he knows not, and no one is called blessed because he hath learning and knowledge. But each one will be called to judgment in these points–whether he have kept the faith and truly observed the commandments. (Life of Antony, 33)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

For the name of Faith is in the form of speech one, but has two distinct senses. For there is one kind of faith, the dogmatic, involving an assent of the soul on some particular point: and it is profitable to the soul, as the Lord says: He that hears My words, and believes Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and comes not into judgment Jn. 5:24: and again, He that believes in the Son is not judged, but has passed from death unto life. Oh the great loving-kindness of God! For the righteous were many years in pleasing Him: but what they succeeded in gaining by many years of well-pleasing , this Jesus now bestows on you in a single hour. For if you shall believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved, and shall be transported into Paradise by Him who brought in there the robber. And doubt not whether it is possible; for He who on this sacred Golgotha saved the robber after one single hour of belief, the same shall save you also on your believing.

But there is a second kind of faith, which is bestowed by Christ as a gift of grace. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit: to another faith, by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing. 1 Cor. 12:8-9 This faith then which is given of grace from the Spirit is not merely doctrinal, but also works things above man’s power. For whosoever has this faith, shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove. Mk. 11:23 For whenever any one shall say this in faith, believing that it comes to pass, and shall not doubt in his heart, then receives he the grace. (Catechetical Lectures, 5.10-11)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-390

Then, in the tenth place, work that which is good upon this foundation of dogma; for faith without works is dead, even as are works apart from faith. This is all that may be divulged of the Sacrament, and that is not forbidden to the ear of the many. The rest yon shall learn within the Church by the grace of the Holy Trinity; and those matters you shall conceal within yourself, sealed and secure. (Oration on Holy Baptism,45)

St. Gregory Nyssa ca. 335-394

Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. For faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither, however, is righteous living secure in itself for salvation, if it is disjoined from faith. (Homilies on Ecclesiastes, 8; Jurgens, II, 45-46)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397

Finally Scripture teaches us how far from common are these stones, inasmuch as, whilst some brought one kind, and others another, of less precious offerings, these the devout princes brought, wearing them upon their shoulders, and made of them the ‘breastplate of judgment,’ that is, a piece of woven work. Now we have a woven work, when faith and action go together. Let none suppose me to be misguided, in that I made at first a threefold division, each part containing four, and afterwards a fourfold division, each part containing three terms. The beauty of a good thing pleases the more, if it be shown under various aspects. For those are good things, whereof the texture of the priestly robe was the token, that is to say, either the Law, or the Church, which latter hath made two garments for her spouse, as it is written’–the one of action, the other of spirit, weaving together the threads of faith and works…. Faith is profitable, therefore, when her brow is bright with a fair crown of good works. This faith–that I may set the matter forth shortly–is contained in the following principles, which cannot be overthrown.(On the Christian Faith,II:11,13)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

You had a wife, the apostle says, when you believed. Do not fancy your faith in Christ to be a reason for parting from her. For ‘God hath called us in peace.’ ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God.’ Neither celibacy nor wedlock is of the slightest use without works, since even faith, the distinguishing mark of Christians, if it have not works, is said to be dead, and on such terms as these the virgins of Vesta or of Juno, who was constant to one husband, might claim to be numbered among the saints. (To Pammachius, Epistle 48)

But since in the Law no one is justified before God, it is evident that the just man lives by faith (Gal. 3:11)…It should be noted that he does not say that a man, a person, lives by faith, lest it be thought that he is contemning good works. Rather, he says the just man live by faith. He implies thereby that whoever would be faithful and would conduct his life according to the faith can in no other way arrive at the faith or live in it except first he be a just man of pure life, coming up to the faith as it were by certain degrees. (Commentaries on Galatians: 2,3,11)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Is it then enough,” saith one, “to believe on the Son, that one may have eternal life?” By no means. And hear Christ Himself declaring this, and saying, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. vii. 21); and the blasphemy against the Spirit is enough of itself to cast a man into hell. But why speak I of a portion of doctrine? Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” (c. xvii. 3), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. And he did not say, “awaiteth him,” but, “abideth on him,” that is, “shall never remove from him.” For that thou mayest not think that the “shall not see life,” is a temporary death, but mayest believe that the punishment is continual, he hath put this expression to show that it rests upon him continually. (Homily 31:1, On John 3:35-36)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

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.”

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:” 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 worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt;” 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”? 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.”

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.” (A Treatise on Grace and Free Will; chapters 18-20)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

This, then, He says, is eternal life, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent. Then one of those who are never weary of hearkening to the Scripture, and seriously pursue the study of Divine doctrines, will ask: Do we say that knowledge is eternal life; and that to know the one true and living God will suffice to give us complete security of expectation, and nothing else be lacking? Then how is faith apart from works dead? And when we speak of faith, we mean the true knowledge of God, and nothing else; for by faith comes knowledge: and the prophet Isaiah bears us witness, who said to some: If ye do not believe neither shall ye understand. And that the writings of the holy men are referring to the knowledge which consists in barren speculations, a thing wholly profitless, I think you will perceive from what follows. For one of the holy disciples said: Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the devils also believe and shudder. What then shall we say to this? How does Christ speak truth, when He says that eternal life is the knowledge of God the Father, the One true God, and (with Him) of the Son? I think, indeed, we must answer that the saying of the Saviour is wholly true. For this knowledge is life, travailing as it were in birth of the whole meaning of the mystery, and vouchsafing unto us participation in the mystery of the Eucharist, whereby we are joined unto the living and life-giving Word. And for this reason, I think, Paul says that the Gentiles are made fellow-members of the body and fellow-partakers of Christ; inasmuch as they partake in His blessed Body and Blood; and our members may in this sense be conceived of, as being members of Christ. This knowledge, then, which also brings to us the Eucharist by the Spirit, is life. For it dwells in our hearts, shaping anew those who receive it into sonship with Him, and moulding them into incorruption and piety towards God, through life according to the Gospel. Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, knowing that the knowledge of the One true God brings unto us, and, so to speak, promotes our union with, the blessings of which we have spoken, says that it is eternal life; insomuch as it is the mother and nurso of eternal life, being in its own power and nature pregnant with those things which cause life, and lead unto it. (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book XI, Chap. V)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

For all men, even if they are adorned with deeds of virtue, are in need of divine grace. The Apostle too, on this account, cries out: ‘By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves it is the gift of God.’ (Interpretation of the Psalms, On Ps. 31(32):10)

St. Macarius ca. 4th cent.

Take, for example, the five prudent and vigilant virgins (Mt. 25:1ff). They enthusiastically had taken in the vessels of their heart the oil of the supernatural grace of the Spirit – a thing not conformable to their nature. For this reason they were able to enter together with the Bridegroom into the heavenly bridal chamber. The other foolish ones, however, content with their own nature, did not watch nor did they betake themselves to receive “the oil of gladness” (Ps. 45:7) in their vessels. But still in the flesh, they fell into a deep sleep through negligence, inattentiveness, laziness, and ignorance or even through considering themselves justified. Because of this they were excluded from the bridal chamber of the kingdom because they were unable to please the heavenly Bridegroom. Bound by ties of the world and by earthly love, they did not offer all their love and devotion to the heavenly Spouse nor did they carry with them the oil. But the souls who seek sanctification of the Spirit, which is a thing that lies beyond natural power, are completely bound with their whole love to the Lord. There they walk; there they pray; there they focus their thoughts, ignoring all other things. For this reason they are considered worthy to receive the oil of divine grace and without any failure they succeed in passing to life for they have been accepted by and found greatly pleasing to the spiritual Brideroom. But other souls, who remain on the level of their own nature, crawl along the ground with their earthly thoughts. They think only in a human way. Their mind lives only on an eartly level. And still they are convinced in their own thought that they look to the Bridegroom and that they are adorned with the perfections of a carnal justification. But in reality they have not been born of the Spirit from above (Jn. 3:3) and have not accepted the oil of gladness. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 4.6)

This is the sign of Christianity. However much man should do and how many justifying works he should perform, he should feel that he has accomplished nothing. And when he fasts, he should say, “I have not fasted.” When he prays, let him think, “I have not prayed.” Perservering in prayer he should say, “I have not perservered. I have only begun to practice asceticism and to labor.” And even if he is righteous before God, he must say: “I am not righteous. I am not working, but I begin each day.” He ought every day to have hope and joy and confidence in the future kingdom and in redemption and say: “If today I have not been delivered, tomorrow I will be.” (ibid., Homily, 26.11)

Indeed, it is not immediately upon hearing the word of God that a person is ranked among the good. If the mere hearing brought him into the ranks of the good, there would no longer be any struggles or times of war or any race. But without any labor, if one merely heard the word, he would come into complete rest and perfection. But things are not quite like that. For you deprive a man of his free will in saying this and you also deny the opposing power that is struggling against the mind. This is what we say, that one who hears the word comes to repentance, and after this, through God’s providence withdraws for the development of the man. He enters into training and tactics of war. He enters into the struggle and conflict against Satan. And after a long race and struggle, he carries off the victory and becomes a Christian. If anyone, by merely hearing the word, without any work, would be numbered among the good, then also actors and all prostitutes would enter into the kingdom and the life. But no one will give them this without effort and struggle because the road is straight and narrow (Mt. 7:14). Along this bumpy road we must travel and patiently endure afflictions and thus enter into life. For if it were possible to succeed without effort, Christianity would not be “a stumbling stone and a rock of scandal” (Rom. 9:33). There would be no faith or disbelief. You would in fact make man into a bound creature of necessity, unable to turn toward good or evil… (ibid., Homily 27.20-21)

This is the foundation of the road to God, in much patience, in hope, in humility, in poverty of spirit, in gentleness to travel along the road of life. By such means one can possess justification for himself. We mean by justification the Lord Himself. These commandments, which so enjoin us, are like milestones and signposts along the royal highway that leads a journeyer to the heavenly city. For it says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the peacemaker” (Mt. 5:3). Call this Christianity. If anyone does not pass along this road, he has wandered off along a roadless way. He used a bad foundation. Glory to the mercies of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen. (ibid., Homily 27.23)

St. Diadochus of Photiki ca. 400-480

Spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it comes from God through the energy of love. It is on account of this that the intellect continues undisturbed in its concentration on theology. It does not suffer then from the emptiness which produces a state of anxiety, since in its contemplation it is filled to the degree that the energy of love desires. So it is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak. For nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him. (The Philokalia, Vol. 1. On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts, 7)

Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions. Our father Abraham would not have been counted righteous because of his faith had he not offered its fruit, his son (cf. Jas. 2:21; Rom. 4:3). (ibid., 20)

St. Mark the Ascetic ca. 5th cent.

He who relies on theoretical knowledge alone is not yet a faithful servant: a faithful servant is one who expresses his faith in Christ through obedience to His commandments. (The Philokalia: Vol. 1. On Those who Think That They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty Six Texts, 5)

Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice. (ibid., 12)

Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken. (ibid., 18)

When Scripture says, ‘He will reward every man according to his works.’ (Mat. 16:27), do not imagine that works n themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer. (ibid., 22)

Philosophize through your works about man’s will and God’s retribution. For your words are only as wise and profitable as your works. (ibid., 53)

One alone is righteous in works, words and thoughts. But many are made righteous in faith, grace and repentance. (ibid., 109)

St. Columbanus of Ireland ca. 540-615

Whatever virtue God sowed in us our primal state, therefore, He has commanded us to return to Him. This is the first, to love the Lord with the whole of the heart (cf. Mt. 22:37), since He first loved us from the beginning (cf. 1 Jn. 4:10). For to love God is to restore His image. But they loved God who follows His commands, for He said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). This is His commandment, a mutual love, according to the saying: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I also have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). But true love is not in word only but also in action and truth. And so let us restore to God our Father His own image undefiled in holiness since He is holy, according to the words: “Be holy since I am holy” (Lv. 11:44); in love, since He is love, according to the words of St. John, “God is love (1 Jn. 4:8), in righteousness and truth, since He is righteous and true. (Sermons, Sermon 11)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

As the memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not bring about the illumination of knowledge in the soul. (Four Hundred Chapters on Love, 1st Century: 31)

Do not say, as the divine Jeremiah tells us, that you are the Lord’s temple. And do not say that ‘mere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ can save me.’ For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works. For in what concerns mere believing, ‘even the devils believe and tremble.’ (ibid., 1st Century: 39)

Indeed, as the Scripture has it, “faith without works is dead”. Now no reasonable person would ever presume to say that anything dead or without activity should be counted among the finer things. But when by means of faith it arrives at the good which is its term, the reason ends its proper activities because its potency, habit, and act are now concluded. (The Church’s Mystagogy, Chap. 5)

St. Isaac the Syrian ca. 7th cent.

The power of nature attests that it behooves man to believe in Him Who brings forth all thing in His creation, to believe the words of His commandments, and to do them. For from this belief is born the fear of God. When a man joins righteous works to the fear of God and makes a little progress in this activity, the fear of God gives birth to spiritual knowledge, which we said is born of faith. (The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 47)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Jas 2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. What he says, from works, means from the works of faith, because no one can have perfect works without faith but many faith without works if they lack the time for works. Of them it has been said, He was taken away lest wickedness change his understanding or craftiness deceive his mind. (Wis. 4:11)

1 Pet. 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing to ours

…For it is not legal circumcision but gospel faith alone that joins the peoples of the gentiles to the ancient people of God. Yet, because the same faith without works is not able to save, there is properly appended: In the righteousness of our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.

I Jn. 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we are lying and not telling the truth. He is calling sins heresies and hatred darkness. Therefore, the confession of faith alone is not all sufficient for salvation when it lacks the witness of good works. But neither is the uprightness of works of any avail without faith and the simplicity of love. (Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

The remission of sins, therefore, is granted alike to all through baptism: but the grace of the Spirit is proportional to the faith and previous purification. Now, indeed, we receive the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit through baptism, and the second birth is for us the beginning and seal and security and illuminations of another life. It behoves as, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit, make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. For the true faith is attested by works. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 9)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

These, then, are the divine mysteries of Christians. This is the hidden power of our faith, which unbelievers, or those who believe with difficulty, or rather believe in part, do not see nor are able at all to see (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16). Unbelievers, those who believe with difficulty, or believe in part, are those who do not show their faith through works. Apart from works the demons also believe (Jas. 2:19) and confess Christ to be God and Master. “We know who you are” (Mk. 1:24), they say, “You are the Son of God” (Mat. 8:29), and elsewhere, “These men are the servants of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17). Yet such faith will not benefit the demons, nor even the humans. This faith is of no use, for it is dead, as says the divine Apostle, “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas. 2:26), just like the works without faith. How is it dead? Because it has not in itself God who gives life (1 Tim. 6:13). It has not laid hold of Him who said, “He who loves Me will keep my commandments, and I and the Father will come and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:21, 23), so that by His coming He may raise from the dead him who has attained faith and give him life, and grant him to see Him who has risen in him and who has raised him up. For this reason such faith is dead, or, rather, they are dead who have faith apart from works. Faith in God is always alive, and since it is living it gives life to those who come with a good intention to receive it. Even before they have practiced the commandments it has brought many out of death into life and has shown them Christ our God. Had they perservered in his commandments and kept them until death they too would have been preserved by them – that is, in the state to which faith alone had brought them. But since they “turned aside like a bent bow” (Ps. 78:57) and speared themselves on their former actions, they inevitably at once made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19) and miserably deprived themselves of the true riches, who is Christ our God.

So I urge you, let us keep God’s commandments with all our might, so that we may not share in their fate, but enjoy both present and future blessings, that is, the very vision of Christ. To this may we all attain through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (The Discourses, Chap. XIII Of Christ’s Resurrection: pp. 184-185)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

…but of the glory of His nature, which the Saviour has bestowed on His diciples, and through them, on all who believe in Him and have manifested their faith through their works. This glory He clearly desired them to see, For He says to the Father, “I will that they contemplate the glory You have given Me, for you have loved Me since the foundation of the world.”

Let us not the, then, turn aside incredulous before the superabundance of these blessings; but let us have faith in Him who has participated in our nature and granted it in return the glory of His own nature, and let us seek how to acquire this glory and see it. How? By keeping the divine commandments. For the Lord has promised to manifest Himself to the man who keeps them, a manifestation He calls His own indwelling and that of the Father, saying, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him”, and “I will manifest Myself to him.” And it is clear that in mentioning His “word”, He means His commandments, since earlier He speaks of “commandments” in place of “word”: “He who possessess and keeps My commandments, that is the man who loves Me.” (The Triads D.15,17)

Comments

  1. Psalm 62:12 “Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work.”

    Works-based justification is more gracious than grace-bases justification, in that it presents God as placable, able to be pleased. In grace-based salvation God is depicted as implacable, unpleasable, a crazed perfectionist who can think of no better thing to do with an imperfect creation than to burn it in hell forever. But in works-based salvation, God’s forgiveness is able to work together with man’s works without any false dichotomy between the two. The Psalmist here praises God as “MERCIFUL” for rendering to every man “ACCORDING TO HIS WORK.” To the Psalmist, grace would be tyranny. If God could render to an immoral man a great paradise, then he could equally render to a moral man great torment. In such a case, God’s justice would be the opposite of justice. Grace creates chaos and inconsistency: it creates unpredictability, much like a Communist economy. But in a world where God (as in Romans 2:6-10) renders ETERNAL LIFE to those who “by patient continuance in well doing seek glory and honor and immortality” and TORMENT AND ANGUISH to those who “obey unrighteousness rather than righteousness” there is predictability and true justice, and in this predictability and in this consistency there is a MERCY that transcends all the cruelty of that unpredictable and repugnantly inconsistent thing called GRACE.

  2. Excellent, Rey!!

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