Augustine on Faith and Works

Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love is a work written to a Roman layman to be a brief but comprehensive exposition of the Christian faith. It can be viewed as a sort of early Catechism, an overview of the beliefs of the Church at the end of the 4th century.

When one reads Augustine, it should be no surprise at how “Catholic” his writings are. This short book alone is filled with such passages, and we will merely take one as an example.

Chapter 67 starts out: “It is believed, moreover, by some, that men who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who have been baptized in the Church by His baptism, and who have never been cut off from the Church by any schism or heresy, though they should live in the grossest sin and never either wash it away in penitence nor redeem it by almsgiving, but persevere in it persistently to the last day of their lives, shall be saved by fire; that is, that although they shall suffer a punishment by fire, lasting for a time proportionate to the magnitude of their crimes and misdeeds, they shall not be punished with everlasting fire. But those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity. For Holy Scripture, when consulted, gives a very different answer.”

I have always been amazed at the protestant apologists who use Augustine as an adherent of “faith alone” theology.  Augustine is, I think rightly, called the Doctor of Grace, by both Catholic and non-Catholic believers.  But he shows here, and in so many other places, that his doctrine of grace never excluded our cooperation from a place in salvation.  Of course, Luther loved Augustine, was an Augustinian monk, and one would think that he was well read in Augustine’s writings, this one being, of course, one of the more popular works and very accessible.

One starts to see the “selection process” that must have taken place.  Those people who shorten the Scriptures or somehow write off certain of its passages seem to show at least this consistency: they do likewise with non-Biblical writings when supporting many of their doctrines as well.


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