Monday, December 04, 2006

Al Kimel on Augustine and Justification

Al Kimel at Pontifications solicited my thoughts on this article. Al’s blog has become one of my favorite places to visit, and while we don’t agree on everything, I usually come away enriched. The post in question discusses the Catholic teaching on justification, and uses Augustine as representative of the Catholic position. I won’t attempt to summarize the article beyond stating that Al (himself a relatively recent convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism) argues that the Catholic Church’s teaching on justification by works is consistent with both Scripture and the early church fathers—most notably Augustine. While I certainly won’t attempt to critique Al’s post in reference to Catholic teaching in general, I do have a few thoughts in relation to Augustine (which is likely why he solicited my thoughts in the first place). I will try to keep this post short, but I can already feel it getting away from me.

The first point of agreement; Al points out that Augustine does not teach justification by imputation. This is true. For Augustine, justification is not based upon the imputation of righteousness. Rather, imputation is a temporary covering that covers one’s concupiscence until final glorification. In a classic passage on imputation Augustine writes,
Carnal concupiscence is remitted, indeed, in baptism; not so that it is put out of existence, but so that it is not to be imputed for sin. Although its guilt is taken away, it still remains until our entire infirmity be healed” (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 1, chp. 38).
In order to properly understand Augustine on imputation, one needs to understand his distinction between concupiscence and volitional sin. The two are distinguished in that the former is the ontological reality that gives birth to the latter. Concupiscence is the “tinder” of volitional sin--it is the remaining indwelling corruption that clings to regenerated humanity. Further, this corruption is sufficient to merit wrath. If carnal concupiscence merits wrath, and if regenerated believers do not shed their concupiscence until the resurrection, how can the dilemma of indwelling concupiscence be solved? For Augustine, the answer is the non-imputation of concupiscence at baptism. For Augustine, imputation looks forward to the pending glorification of the Christian. In other words, God treats us now based upon what we will be. In contrast, Reformed and Lutheran construals of imputation look back toward Christ’s active and passive obedience. Further, it most be noted that Augustine teaches only a non-imputation of concupiscence. He does not teach double imputation, nor does he even teach the non-imputation of sins (in as much as all sins are remitted at baptism and subsequent sins are remitted through alms giving and prayer).

A second point of agreement; Al notes that for Augustine, final salvation is merited according to good works. This is true. Augustine repeatedly affirms the notion that it is one's God-wrought righteous deeds that merit eternal life. Pelagius and Augustine did not debate whether good works merited eternal life; on this they both agreed. Rather they were debating the source of those works. For Pelagius, good works were wrought in self, apart from supernatural, internal grace. For Augustine, good works were wrought in God through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Augustine writes,
If eternal life is rendered to good work, as the Scripture most openly declares… how can eternal life be a matter of grace, seeing that grace is not rendered to works, but given gratuitously…This question seems to me to be by no means capable of a solution, unless we understand that even those good works of our, 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.” (On Grace and Free Will, chp. 19).
It is important to note however, that Augustine is, well . . . Augustinian when it comes to grace and freewill. (He is later followed by Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, et al.) For Augustine, divine grace enables/woos the freewill to infallibly choose the good. Thus for Augustine, the good works by which the elect merit eternal life are infallibly wrought in God. Much of contemporary Catholicism (though not all) fails to follow Augustine and Aquinas on the relationship between grace and free will, adopting more of a Molinist/Arminian approach. For me, Augustine’s high view of God’s sovereignty protects salvation from the subtle suggestion of human autonomy in ways that the Molinist/Arminian paradigms do not.

And lastly, Al is correct that Augustine’s understanding of justification is identical to that of spiritual regeneration. For Augustine, justification is not a declaration of one’s legal (or even moral) righteousness before God. To be justified is to be made morally righteous. Augustine frequently uses the expressions “born again,” “regenerated” and “justified” as synonyms. The passage that Al quotes from makes this plain. Augustine writes,
The word “justified” is equivalent to “made righteous”—made righteous by him who justifies the ungodly, so that he who was ungodly becomes righteous (On the Spirit and the Letter).
For Augustine, the righteousness of justification is ontological/moral. It is not imputed or forensic. Evangelicals,who generally affirm Augustine as an ally, too often forget this fact. Those segments of evangelicalism which insist upon a Reformed/Lutheran doctrine of double imputation as the only pure expression of the gospel should be aware that when they do so, they are cutting out Augustine (not to mention Luther and likely Calvin as well—but that’s a different post).

In my next post I will note a few points of disagreement that I have with Al’s article.


Jonathan Bonomo said...


Very good start. I'm looking forward to reading your further thoughts on this issue. I especially appreciate your call to evangelicals to wake up and smell the Augustinian coffee when they continually pick and choose from the Doctor of Grace when he suits their desires, while at the same time indirectly anathematizing him by denouncing as damnable Romanist errors which undeniably have their roots in his thought.

Gerald said...

Thanks Johnathan. And of course I think you are correct that much of what we evangelicals anathematize is found in Augustine. It is one thing to suggest that the Reformed or Lutheran formulation of justification is correct--it is another to insist that any who do not maintain it have denied the gospel.

welshman said...


I'm a new reader. I've enjoyed Al Kimel's blog, so it's kind of neat to find out he's reading yours as well.

Josh Brisby apparently has a very different view, judging from the article he has posted at The author is actually Brian Schwertley. Maybe you could address some of his points?

I'm sure I'll continue to enjoy your blog.

Gerald said...


I skimmed the article you mentioned, but lost heart the second time the author wrote that double imputation is "easily deduced from Scripture." Most scholars I've read who affirm double imputation don't gloss the difficulties quite so readily! A good cogent defense of double imputation is Carson's chapter in "Justification: What's at stake in the Current Debate" (edited, Husbands and Triers). Carson acknowledges that double imputation is not taught explicitly in Scripture, but that is has to be deduced (much like we arrive at a doctrine of the Trinity). For me, anything that is not explicitly taught is not "easily deduced."

I'm not sure that I would have much to add beyond what I've written in my series on double imputation (see part 2, part 3, part 4). I do have a lengthy piece from my thesis regarding Calvin and his affirmation of single imputation that I might rework and post time permitting, but I still am trying to get to the second half of my response to Al's piece.

Thanks for reading!


Pontificator said...

Gerald, thank you for responding to my article. I'm eagerly awaiting your next installment! :-)

Jonathan Bonomo said...


Sorry to keep loading up your blog with quotes from J.W. Nevin (maybe it's just a "phase"), but I believe the following quote from "The Mystical Presence" to be quite intriguing and applicable to this topic. He proposes a sort of synthesis (not surprisingly from one who was so influenced by German idealism) between imputed and infused righteousness, where imputation leads to infusion. He doesn't use the language of infusion (he opts for "organic union"), but all the elements seem to be present"

"Do we then discard the doctrine of imputation, as maintained by the orthodox theology in opposition to the vain talk of the Pelagians? By no means. We seek only to establish the doctrine; for without it, most assuredly, the whole structure of Christianity must give way. It is only when placed on false ground that it becomes untenable in the way now stated… The Bible knows nothing of a simply outward imputation, by which something is reckoned to a man that does not belong to him in fact… The scriptures make two cases, in this respect, fully parallel. We are justified freely by God, on the ground of what Christ has done and suffered in our room and stead. His righteousness is imputed to us, set over to our account, regarded as our own. But here again the relation in law, supposes and shows a corresponding relation in life. The forensic declaration by which the sinner is pronounced free from guilt, is like that word in the beginning when God said let there be light, and light was. It not only proclaims him righteous for Christ’s sake, but sets the righteousness of Christ in him as part of his own life."

Ken Temple said...

The word “justified” is equivalent to “made righteous”—made righteous by him who justifies the ungodly, so that he who was ungodly becomes righteous (On the Spirit and the Letter).

I am enjoying reading your posts here -- can you give the reference to this quote about "On the Spirit and the Letter" -- which number(Paragraph)?

What do you think of N.R.Needham's complilation of Augustine's writings on Salvation, "The Triumph of Grace" ?
London: Grace Publications, 2000.
Ken Temple

Gerald said...


Sorry for the delay in responding. The passage you are seeking is from The Spirit and the Letter, chapter 45. (page 102 of Schaff).

And I haven't read Needham's compilation, so I'm not in a position of respond.


Ken Temple said...

Thank you for answering my other question on the reference for Augustine.

From your other article on Augustine and justification:

"He does not teach double imputation, nor does he even teach the non-imputation of sins (in as much as all sins are remitted at baptism and subsequent sins are remitted through alms giving and prayer)."

I have another question -- from the above you wrote. Where in Augustine does he say subsequent sins are forgiven by alms giving and prayer?

(especially alms giving !) Does Augustine back it up with Scripture?

I enjoyed these articles on Justification and Augustine, etc.

Feel free to answer me here or at:

What are the best books/resources on analysis of Augustine and Justification?

What do you think of B.B. Warfield's analysis of Augustine that the Reformation was Augustine's doctrine of grace and salvation winning out over his doctrine of the church?

Mateo said...

On the Warfield point, Jaroslav Pelikan has a brilliant article where he actually inverts Warfield's dichotomy. In the end, however, Pelikan argues for basic coherence between the anti-Donatist and the anti-Pelagian Augustine. Just FYI! It's in Augustinian Studies, published by Villanova. Brilliant!

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

This what St Augustine wrote:

“As the law brought the proud under the guilt of transgression, increasing their sin by commandments which they could not obey, so the righteousness of the same law is fulfilled by the grace of the Spirit in those who learn from Christ to be meek and lowly in heart; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. Moreover, because even for those who are under grace it is difficult in this mortal life perfectly to keep what is written in the law, You shall not covet, Christ, by the sacrifice of His flesh, as our Priest obtains pardon for us. And in this also He fulfills the law; for what we fail in through weakness is supplied by His perfection, who is the Head, while we are His members. Thus John says: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not; and if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: He is the propitiation for our sins.’” 1 John 2:1-2
[Contra Faustum Book 22, Chp 27]

The Law is fulfilled in us 1. imperfectly through the inworking of the Spirit intrinsically and 2. perfectly in the remission of sins by the supplying Another’s (that is, Christ our Head’s) perfect righteousness or “perfection” for our lack of intrinsic righteousness (i.e. extrinsic perfect righteousness covering/filling in for our lack of intrinsic righteousness—so that we are reckoned apart from the true deserving of our intrinsic righteousness as having fulfilled that perfect righteousness of God’s Law in Christ).