Jerome (c. 347-420), Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533), Theodoret (c. 393–457), John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Marius Victorinus (4th century) and Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384) on Ephesians 2:8-9

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

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“Paul says this in case the secret thought should steal upon us that ‘if we are not saved by our own works, at least we are saved by our own faith, and so in another way our salvation is of ourselves.’ Thus he added the statement that faith too is not in our own will but in God’s gift. Not that he means to take away free choice from humanity… but that even this very freedom of choice has God as its author, and all things are to be referred to his generosity, in that he has even allowed us to will the good.”

– Jerome (c. 347-420), Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.8-9

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“The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity. Where there is true belief through true faith, true salvation certainly accompanies it. Anyone who departs from true faith will not possess the grace of true salvation.”

– Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533), On the Incarnation, 1.

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“’You are saved by grace’. For it is not because of the excellence of our lives that we have been called but because of the love of our Saviour.”

– Theodoret (c. 393–457), Epistle to the Ephesians, 2.4.5.

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“So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For ‘by grace are you saved’, he says, ‘through faith.’ Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying ‘and this is not of ourselves.’ Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? ‘For how’, he says, ‘shall they believe if they have not heard?’ So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, ‘the gift of God’.”

“God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent!”

– John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Homily on Ephesians, 4.2.8, 9

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“The fact that you Ephesians are saved is not something that comes from yourselves. It is the gift of God. It is not from your works, but it is God’s grace as God’s gift, not from anything you have deserved. Our works are one thing, what we deserve another.”

– Marius Victorinus (4th century), Epistle to the Ephesians, I.2.9

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“All thanksgiving for our salvation is to be given only to God. He extends his mercy to us as to recall us to life precisely while we are straying, without looking for the right road. And thus we are not to glory in ourselves but in God, who has regenerated us by a heavenly birth through faith in Christ.”

– Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384), Epistle to the Ephesians, 2.10

John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Jerome (c. 347-420), Marius Victorinus (4th century) and Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533) on Ephesians 1:4-6

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,  6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” – Ephesians 1:4-6

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“What he means [with ‘he hath chosen us in him’] is this: The one through whom he has blessed us is the one through whom he has elected us… Christ chose us to have faith in him before we came into being, indeed even before the world was founded. The word ‘foundation’ was well chosen, to indicate that it was laid down from some great height. For great and ineffable is the height of God, not in a particular place but rather in his remoteness [i.e. transcendence] from nature. So great is the distance between creature and Creator.”

“’You have been elected’, he says, ‘in order to be holy and unblemished before his face’… He himself has made us saints, but we are called to remain saints. A saint is one who lives in faith, is unblemished and leads a blameless life.”

“…to become virtuous and to believe and to advance, this too was the work of the One who called us…”

“So that our love for him may become more fervent, he desires nothing from us except our salvation. He does not need our service or anything else but does everything for this end. One who openly expresses praise and wonder at God’s grace will be more eager and zealous.”

– John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Homily on Ephesians, 1.1.4, 5, 6.

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“It is asked how anyone can be saintly and unblemished in God’s sight… We must reply [that] Paul does not say he chose us before the foundation of the world on account of our being saintly and unblemished. He chose us that we might become saintly and unblemished, that is, that we who were not formerly saintly and unblemished should subsequently be so… So understood it provides a counter-argument to one who says that souls were elected before the world came to be because of their sanctity and freedom from any sinful vice.”

– Jerome (c. 347-420), Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.1.4.

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“God in his love has predestined us to adoption through Christ. How could God possibly have Christ for his Son by adoption?… We speak of ourselves as heirs of God the Father and heirs through Christ, being sons through adoption. Christ is his Son, through whom it is brought about that we become sons and fellow heirs in Christ.”

– Marius Victorinus (4th century), Against the Arians, I.2.

“We, being such as we are, are surrounded and held fast by vice and libidinous sin. When we are set free by him, acquitted of sin and pardoned for our sins, we are also adopted as his sons. All this is therefore to the praise of his glory and grace – his glory because he can do so much, and his grace because he offers this to us freely.”

– Marius Victorinus (4th century), Epistle to the Ephesians, I.I. (4) 5-6.

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“The eternal firmness and firm eternity of God’s predestinating will consist not only in the ordaining of works. God also knows in advance the number of the elect. No one of that number may lose his eternal grace, nor may any outside that total attain the gift of eternal salvation. For God, who knows all things before they come to pass, is not confused about the number of the predestined, any more than he doubts the effectiveness of the works he has ordained.”

– Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533), On the Truth of Predestination, 3.6.

The Early Church Fathers on “Sola Fide”

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In an earlier post we looked at the early church fathers on the doctrine of “sola scriptura“, which can be found here:

https://deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/the-early-church-fathers-on-sola-scriptura/

Now we turn our attention to the doctrine of Sola Fide. It is often thought by some that the doctrine of Sola Fide (justification by faith alone) only really started with the Reformers of the 16th century, who set forth the truth of this doctrine from Scripture. If this is true, why didn’t anyone realize it before? The answer is that while the Reformers may have better systematized, organized, and rendered consistent the doctrines known under the umbrella of “sola fide,” or justification by faith alone, they were not in uncharted territory. That is not to say that the church fathers were consistent or that they all taught the same thing. Nevertheless, the idea of justification by faith alone certainly wasn’t new to the Reformers, as can be shown below:

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Clement of Rome (1st century)

“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 honored, 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”.

– First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 32 

Though Clement of Rome does not use the term “faith alone,” he specifically rules out works.

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Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300-368)

“This was forgiven by Christ through faith, because the Law could not yield, for faith alone justifies.”

The Latin says “fides enim sola justificat.”

– In Evangelium Matthaei Commentarius, Caput VIII 

The above is pretty self-explanatory.

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Basil the Great (c. 329-379)

“[As the Apostle says,] Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, [I say that] Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, [and] redemption, that, as it is written, ‘he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.’ [For] this is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and has been justified solely by faith in Christ.”

The Greek says: “πίστει δὲ μόνῃ τῇ εἰς Χριστὸν δεδικαιωμένον.”

– Homilia XX, Homilia De Humilitate, §3, PG 31:529.

In context, Basil appealed to the example of the Apostle Paul as a regenerate man. This quotation both speaks of justification solely by faith and contrasts that with works.

Jerome

 

Jerome (c. 347-420)

“God justifies by faith alone.”

The Latin says: “Deus ex sola fide justificat”

– In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Caput X, v. 3 (on Rom. 10:3)

The above speaks for itself, but note that the exact phrase “sola fide” is found.

“He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.”

The Latin says: “fide sua vivit in perpetuum”.

– Epistola CXIX, Ad Minervium et Alexandrum Monachos 

The above is an example of Jerome contrasting justification by faith with works.

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Ambrosiaster (unknown author who wrote a commentary on Paul’s epistles c. 366-384)

“Paul backs this up by the example of the prophet David, who says that those are blessed of whom God has decreed that, without work or any keeping of the law, they are justified before God by faith alone.”

The Latin says: “sola fide justificentur apud Deum.”

– In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:83. (On Rom. 4:6)

Here Ambrosiaster explicitly denies justification by works, while explicitly affirming justification by faith alone – using the exact phrase “sola fide”.

“They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.”

The Latin says: “sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei.”

– In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:79. (On Rom. 3:24)

This is similar to the previous one, and again the exact phrase “sola fide” is used.

“Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.”

The Latin says: “videntes non justificari hominem apud Deum, nisi per fidem.”

– In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:80. (On Rom. 3:27) 

Again, Ambrosiaster is affirming justification by faith alone. Here, he’s providing the perspective that there is no alternative way of being justified. It’s not like some people are justified by faith, and others are justified by works – it is only by faith.

“How then can the Jews think that they have been justified by the works of the law in the same way as Abraham, when they see that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law when the ungodly is justified before God by faith alone.”

The Latin says: “quando impius per solam fidem justificatur apud Deum.”

– In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:82-83. (On Rom. 4:5)

Again, Ambrosiaster makes it clear that faith alone justifies.

“For if the law is given not for the righteous but for the unrighteous, whoever does not sin is a friend of the law. For him faith alone is the way by which he is made perfect. For others mere avoidance of evil will not gain them any advantage with God unless they also believe in God, so that they may be righteous on both counts. For the one righteousness is temporal; the other is eternal.”

The Latin says: “Huic sola fides deest, per quam fiat perfectus.”

– In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:67. (On Rom. 2:12)

“God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins.”

The Latin says: “sola fide gratis accipit remissionem peccatorum.”

– In Epistolam B. Pauli Ad Corinthios Primam, PL 17:185. (On 1 Cor. 1:4b)

The above quotation puts another nail in the coffin of any attempted Romanist wriggling, in that here Ambrosiaster makes it explicit not only that a person can be saved without works, but that forgiveness [read: justification] is by faith alone.

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John Chrysostom (c. 347-407)

Attend to this, ye who come to baptism at the close of life, for we indeed pray that after baptism ye may have also this deportment, but thou art seeking and doing thy utmost to depart without it. For, what though thou be justified: yet is it of faith only. But we pray that thou shouldest have as well the confidence that cometh of good works.”

– On the Second Epistle of St. Paul The Apostle to the Corinthians, Homily 2

What is interesting about the above is that Chrysostom is denying the necessity of baptism for justification. He’s saying that good works provide confidence but that nevertheless one is justified by faith alone.

“That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor. Upon this head accordingly Paul has discoursed at length in his Epistle to the Romans, and here again at length. ‘This is a faithful saying,’ he says, ‘and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ As the Jews were chiefly attracted by this, he persuades them not to give heed to the law, since they could not attain salvation by it without faith. Against this he contends; for it seemed to them incredible, that a man who had mis-spent all his former life in vain and wicked actions, should afterwards be saved by his faith alone. On this account he says, ‘It is a saying to be believed.’ But some not only disbelieved but even objected, as the Greeks do now. ‘Let us then do evil, that good may come.’ This was the consequence they drew in derision of our faith, from his words, ‘Where sin abounded grace did much more abound’.”

– Homilies on First Timothy, Homily 4, 1 Timothy 1:15, 16

The reason for including the quotation above is the fact that it refers to salvation by faith alone, and this is explicitly contrasted with good works.

“God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent.”

– Homily on Ephesians 4.2.9.

Here Chrysostom explains that faith justifies and faith produces works, but still insists that works do not justify us.

“For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light.”

– Homilies on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Homily 8, Rom. 4:1, 2. 

This is a powerful statement for justification by faith alone. Chrysostom is arguing that even for those with works in addition to faith, those works do not justify them.

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Pseudo-Oecumenius (Late 7th or Early 8th Century)

Abraham is the image of someone who is justified by faith alone, since what he believed was credited to him as righteousness. But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. Of course he did not do this work by itself; in doing it, he remained firmly anchored in his faith, believing that through Isaac his seed would be multiplied until it was as numerous as the stars.”

– Commentary on James 2:23

Notice how here Pseudo-Oecumenius addresses Abraham’s justification. He affirms that Abraham is justified by faith alone, but then explains that the works provide him with approval because of their connection to his faith.

So, as stated in the beginning, we see then that while the Reformers may have better systematized, organized, and rendered consistent the doctrine of “sola fide,” or justification by faith alone, they were not in uncharted territory. That is not to say that the church fathers were consistent or that they all taught the same thing. Nevertheless, the idea of justification by faith alone certainly wasn’t new to the Reformers.

Jerome (c. 347–420) on sidestepping popular applause

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“Do not angle for compliments, lest, while you win the popular applause, you do despite to God. ‘If I yet pleased men’, says the apostle, ‘I should not be the servant of Christ’ (Gal. 1:10). He ceased to please men when he became Christ’s servant. Christ’s soldier marches on through good report and evil report (2 Cor. 6:8), the one on the right hand and the other on the left. No praise elates him, no reproaches crush him. He is not puffed up by riches, nor does he shrink into himself because of poverty. Joy and sorrow he alike despises. The sun does not burn him by day nor the moon by night. Do not pray at the corners of the streets, (Matt. 6:5) lest the applause of men interrupt the straight course of your prayers. Do not broaden your fringes and for show wear phylacteries, (Matt. 23:5) or, despite of conscience, wrap yourself in the self-seeking of the Pharisee. Would you know what mode of apparel the Lord requires? Have prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude. Let these be the four quarters of your horizon, let them be a four-horse team to bear you, Christ’s charioteer, at full speed to your goal. No necklace can be more precious than these; no gems can form a brighter galaxy. By them you are decorated, you are girt about, you are protected on every side. They are your defence as well as your glory; for every gem is turned into a shield.”

– Jerome (c. 347–420), Letter 52, To Nepotian, 13