Saturday, January 22, 2005

Augustine and Justification - Part II

and continuing from previous post...

"Augustine arrives at a different understanding of justification than later Reformed theologians precisely because he begins from a different understanding of culpability. Reformed theologians such as Hodge increasingly came to view culpability as grounded in volition in relation to the law.

Further, the influence of nominalism significantly influenced the understanding of original sin (with the notable exception of Edwards). Within a nominalistic framework, each individual is condemned not through his own inherit essential corruption stemming from a realistic union with Adam, but in that Adam’s volitional sin (as opposed to his essential corruption)is passed to his descendants through imputation, Adam being the representative head of his race.

Thus for later Reformed theology, man is condemned by the imputation of Adam’s volitional disobedience before he is actually essentially sinful. This foundation of volitional culpability (as seen in Law and original sin) then drives the logic of justification in later Reformed thought. In the later Reformed paradigm, the righteousness that justifies is volitional precisely because that which renders one culpable is also volitional. This in turn, even more so than Calvin, moves regeneration increasingly towards the peripheral of sotieriology.

Above all, we must first decide whether or not Augustine was essentially correct regarding culpability. If Augustine’s basic conclusion regarding culpability can stand the exegetical test (and I believe it can), the implications for the doctrine of justification are significant. We are not condemned chiefly because we have sinned, but above all because we are sinners.

No longer can we approach the doctrine of justification from the Reformed presupposition that mere positive legal standing before God is sufficient as the sole basis for inheriting eternal life. We do not mean to suggest by the term “sole basis” that Reformed theology does not recognize the absolute necessity of spiritual regeneration and sanctification. Calvin’s mystical union (as well as Luther’s insistence that it is the Holy Spirit who applies the grace of justification) demands that more than a positional righteousness is granted to the believer. Yet in spite of the insistence that regeneration and sanctification necessarily precede and follow justification respectively, clearly within Reformed sotieriology, the righteousness that justifies and merits eternal life is Christ’s legal fulfillment of the Law in the sinner’s stead – both through his death and active obedience. It is this volitional, external righteousness, as opposed to any essential, internal righteousness, that serves as the basis of justification in Reformed sotieriology.

But if culpability, as Augustine maintained, is indeed grounded in essence, then mere volitional righteousness will not suffice, either our own or Christ’s. Imputation alone, as understood by Calvin and Melanchthon, cannot be sufficient for satisfying the justice of God. In Augustine’s scheme, regeneration does not serve as an ancillary element of salvation – it is salvation.

To be sure Augustine understands the need for judicial forgiveness regarding volitional sins, but the foundational element of his doctrine of justification is centered on regeneration. It is through new life (indeed the divine life), poured out through our union with Christ via the Holy Spirit, that we inherit eternal life. “Unless a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”


Scottie P said...

"You truly have a dizzying intellect."- Princess Bride
This is I don't have to come visit you, because I can have "Gerald Time" anytime I want. Just kidding. It is good to see that you're not conforming to the rules of "blogging is just a college thing".

David Nebraska said...

we can only hope this will not be misconstrued as a doctrine of "salvation by works." Although positional righteousnous is needed for individual "sins" it can not suffice for our sin "nature." we must be regenerate "glorified", if you will, before we can stand before a holy God in judgment. If there can be no sin in the kingdom i would think by default there will be no sin nature. so would hodge say we have positional righteousness on this Earth with no expectation or need for regeneration until the day of Christ Jesus? then all of a sudden we are changed at the resurrection? No need for maturity in Christ on this Earth? What do they fear? is it that this idea of an Earthly transformation can not be defined in any set terms? is it not black and white enough for them? this change is different for each individual and cannot be defined except on God's terms of which we are not aware. who are we to question God?

Grant said...

Paul Fiddes' Past Event, Present Salvation might be a helpful read for your research. (

I find it interesting that every encounter with the Holy One as recorded in the Bible left the participant in horror of their real, willful sin - not their "inherited corruption." It appears the Spirit points out and convicts of the former to the end of the repentance, not the latter.

Good luck with your research!

Gerald said...


Thanks for the comment, though I think I would still have to disagree (if in fact you were disagreeing with me). Isaiah states "I am a people of unclean lips" speaking more to ontology than volition. And Paul's comments in Ehp 2 (by nature an object of wrath) and Rom 5 (for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam) meaning that culpability remains even apart from the imputation of volitional sin, seem to indicate that culpability is grounded first in essence even before volition. But this is huge topic. I guess my main objective with my Augustine posts is to show what Augustine thought, not necessarily defend it. Maybe I need to add a biblical defense of Augustine's doctrine of culpability to my "future posts" list... Anyway, thanks for reading.

Roy D. said...

I'm just curious... do you really think the average person walking around in the days of Abraham or Jesus went to such lengths to define "righteousness," "justification," etc.? Isn't it possible, in fact more likely, that the average "man on the street" had a much more simplified understanding of the concepts. The Bible was not written to baffle and amuse theologians, but rather to appeal to the ordinary man in regard to life, death, eternity. We not only have the cart befoe the horse; we have turned the cart into something the average horse couldn't even budge.

Gerald said...


Of course you are correct that the Bible was not written to baffle and amuse theologians. And it is almost certainly true that the "man on the street" had a simplified versions of "righteousness" and "justification." But the difficulty for us--almost 3,000 years later and transcending multiple cultures--is to understand just what that simple understanding was. And that's not always so simple.