Sola Fide in 1 Clement

I’m not a big fan of 1 Clement (I prefer the Ep to Diognetus) but Shane is right, this is an excellent passage.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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27 comments

  1. Scott,
    I think we have found something we have in common. Ep. Diog. is my favourite book outside of the Bible (esp. ch. 5) and I hope to write a commentary on it one day. Charles Hill of RTS has some interesting thoughts on its authorship.

  2. Scott,

    If that passage taught sola fide in the Reformed sense of the term, a Catholic couldn’t affirm it. But Catholics can and do affirm it. So that passage doesn’t necessarily imply sola fide in the Reformed sense of the term.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. What interesting ‘logic’, Bryan. Let’s break this down:

    1. If the passage teaches X, a Catholic couldn’t affirm it (it contradicts Catholic teaching)

    2. Catholics affirm the passage.

    3. So the passage doesn’t teach X.

    This is typical of how Romanists misuse and misinterpret the Scriptures, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see it in a treatment of the church fathers.

  4. David,

    Notice the shift from “doesn’t necessarily” to “doesn’t teach”. I’m not saying (nor did I say) that the passage doesn’t teach sola fide in the Reformed sense. I’m simply pointing out that it can be (and is read, and throughout Church history was always read) in a different way, with an understanding of faith in a thicker sense (as informed by charity). That fact (that historically it has been read by many more Christians in a different way) implies that the passage is open to being read either way, depending on what paradigm one approaches the passage from.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. If by ‘open to being read either way’ you mean open to misinterpretation by throwing out honest, normal rules of interpretation, sure. I will not admit that your reading is either honest or intellectually defensible. If Clement excludes even works of ‘holiness of heart’ then even works of faith, informed by love, cannot be instrumental in justification.

  6. David,

    Of course I do not mean “throwing out honest, normal rules of interpretation”. Assuming that I intended such is uncharitable to me.

    If Clement excludes even works of ‘holiness of heart’ then even works of faith, informed by love, cannot be instrumental in justification.

    Catholics agree, if we are talking about initial justification. And that’s precisely how we read Clement’s passage. Critiquing the Catholic paradigm from within the Protestant paradigm just begs the question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Fellas,
    I think it’s important to note the words sola fide have a long history in the patristic tradition (e.g. Origen), but it was Martin Luther who added a unique meaning to the expression. A Catholic can happily affirm sola fide … until you define it in the sense that Luther meant it!

  8. Catholics agree, if we are talking about initial justification. And that’s precisely how we read Clement’s passage.

    One doesn’t have to adopt a Protestant paradigm in order to do the real work of exegesis. Specifically, like demonstrating such a distinction contextually from I Clement, rather than importing the distinction from your own theology.

  9. David,

    This distinction between initial justification and subsequent growth or increase in justification is long-standing in the tradition of the Church. It can be found in the Scriptures. St. Clement is probably alluding to Titus 3:5, which shows that the initial justification that takes place at baptism is not on the basis of works “done in righteousness.” That’s because such ‘righteousness’ is apart from grace, and is therefore of no worth before God. But two times St. Paul tells St. Timothy, who already has faith and has been baptized, to pursue righteousness (δικαιοσύνην) (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22). And in Romans St. Paul teaches clearly that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (δικαιωθήσονται). (Rom 2:13) He is talking about people who already have faith, because their hearts have already been circumcised by the Spirit. (Rom 2:26-29) Therefore he is talking about a subsequent justification, not their initial justification. He goes on to say that presenting oneself as a slave to obedience (to God) results in justification (δικαιοσύνην). (Rom 6:16) And that clearly refers to a subsequent justification. Jesus likewise teaches that the person who hungers and thirsts for justification (δικαιοσύνην) will be filled. (Matt 5:6) But the person who is hungering and thirsting for justification is obviously not dead in his sins, so he already has faith. So this distinction between initial justification and subsequent growth in justification is one the Church already knew, and St. Clement’s readers already knew. That helps us understand that this passage from St. Clement shouldn’t be construed as denying the role of love and good deeds in the increase of justification. It may help (in terms of understanding the Catholic position) to note that the Catholic tradition does not make a distinction between increase in justification and growth in sanctification.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. Bryan,

    Your reasoning from Romans 2:13 does not stand up to a more comprehensive reading of Paul’s epistle. Read carefully his line of thought through to the end of chapter 3, and you will see that he is not speaking of initial and “ongoing” or subsequent justification. He is speaking of the perfect standard of God, which he then goes on in chapter three to state is not kept any man, whether Jew or Gentile (nor can it be in light of the broken covenant of works, which guilt is passed on to Adam’s kin), and that the complete solution to our sin problem and the outstanding wrath of the Father against that is the finished work of Christ.

    Tell me where Paul allows for human works or law keeping as any ground of our justification in Romans 3:20-28?

  11. Bryan,

    I am sorry to see that I have been wasting time in attempting to address your statements. I just now saw that you defected from the truth of the gospel to Romanism after having already received an education as a Presbyterian at Covenant Seminary. I hope that you will eventually feel the weight of your guilt in having brought your dear family into the arms of a false church, that you would repent of your philosophical/theological pride, and return in humility to the truth.

    I have family who are Romanists, and I have had attenders at worship who were Romanists, and I can say without shame or hesitancy that Roman Catholicism is a corrupted and corrupting influence.

    This is why I worry about the approach of much of the PCA. We bring them in, because we are trendy, and when our trendiness loses its novelty, folk such as yourself feel a need to keep wandering and looking for that special “something” apart from the simple power of the Gospel, first in Anglicanism, then in Romanism. I know a minister in our very presbytery who has stated to his parishoners (and who also graduated from Covenant, if I remember correctly) that he would become an Episcopal priest in an instant if there were a congregation nearby, and then… well, who knows? Rome?

  12. AJM,

    I agree that St. Paul does not nullify in Romans 3 what he just said in Romans 2. Romans 3 is talking about man apart from grace. Romans 2:7,10,13-16 is talking about Gentiles under grace.

    Tell me where Paul allows for human works or law keeping as any ground of our justification in Romans 3:20-28?

    Speaking from a Catholic point of view, there in Roman 3:20-28 St. Paul is talking about initial justification. He is arguing there that this justification is by grace (that comes from Christ), through faith, not as a result of law-keeping. He is not writing there about growth or increase in righteousness, which is also by grace, and to which our graced-works contribute.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. So, Bryan, basically your reading of Clement depends on us believing that Clement shared your defective reading of the New Testament. Sorry, no dice. You don’t even bother to try to find the distinction in I Clement itself. Where is this distinction in the text of this epistle? This isn’t how honest people exegete the church fathers.

  14. Bryan writes,

    “I agree that St. Paul does not nullify in Romans 3 what he just said in Romans 2. Romans 3 is talking about man apart from grace. Romans 2:7,10,13-16 is talking about Gentiles under grace.”

    Where in the world do you come up with this from, Bryan? Romans 2 is speaking about Gentiles under grace!? It’s speaking about Gentiles under the LAW. The word grace isn’t even found in Romans 2, and nothing in Romans 1 would lead to Romans 2 speaking about Gentiles under grace! Romans 2 and the early parts of chapter 3 show that all human beings are condemned by the law. It’s the bad news. Romans 3:20-28 is the good news and the part that Rome flatly contradicts.

  15. Matthew, AJM, I guess we just didn’t pick up on the fact that Paul changes the meaning of justification between Romans 2 and Romans 3. Whiplash anyone?

  16. Once upon a time, Dr. Clark wondered how he might bring Romanists and Reformed people together to bite at one another. After all, he thought to himself, there isn’t nearly enough of that going on in the world.

    And so, he started this blog, in hope that people just like you would come on and give Christians a bad name.

    If you think what I just said is true, by all means, continue this pointless and petty discussion. However, if you think Dr. Clark’s blog might have had some other purpose for its existence, then take your conversation elsewhere.

  17. Echo, was it pointless and petty for Jesus to point out that the penitent publican who cried to God for mercy went home justified while the Pharisee who considered his own righteousness did not, even while giving God credit and thanks for his good works?

  18. Matthew,

    Where in the world do you come up with this from, Bryan? Romans 2 is speaking about Gentiles under grace!? It’s speaking about Gentiles under the LAW. The word grace isn’t even found in Romans 2, and nothing in Romans 1 would lead to Romans 2 speaking about Gentiles under grace

    I agree that the word ‘grace’ isn’t found in Romans 2. But I don’t think that’s a good reason to believe that the Gentiles being discussed there (the ones having circumcised hearts) are devoid of saving grace. In Romans 2, St. Paul refers to the Day of Judgment, saying that God will render to every man according to his deeds. Then St. Paul immediately refers to those who by perseverance in doing good, seek (as their reward on that Day) glory, and honor, and immortality and eternal life. (2:7) They do this by following the law that has been written in their hearts (2:15) by the Spirit (2:29). This is true for both Jew and Gentile, but St. Paul’s primary point here in chapter 2 is to contrast these law-keeping Gentiles who have circumcised hearts, with law-breaking Jews who are physically circumcised. The latter receive their praise from men (from their external circumcision), but the former will receive their praise from God on that Day (2:29). But we know that no one can enter into eternal life without grace; to deny that would be Pelagianism. Therefore, these Gentiles in Romans 2 who have circumcised hearts, and who will receive both praise from God and eternal life on the last Day, must have saving grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. This is true for both Jew and Gentile, but St. Paul’s primary point here in chapter 2 is to contrast these law-keeping Gentiles who have circumcised hearts, with law-breaking Jews who are physically circumcised. . . . Therefore, these Gentiles in Romans 2 who have circumcised hearts, and who will receive both praise from God and eternal life on the last Day, must have saving grace.

    Unbelievable.

    On second thought, as someone who was born in that rotten communion, entirely too believable.

    Never mind that Rom. 3:9 goes on to say:

    What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
    10  As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one. . ., the locus classicus for total depravity continuing to v.18.

    May God have mercy on such blind and stupid foolishness. It is literally astounding in its audacity.

  20. Bob,

    Your interpretation treats Romans 3:9-20 as unqualified in its extension (i.e. as referring to all men whether without grace or with grace), and as a result, Romans 2:7,10,13-16, 26-29 is necessarily reduced to a counterfactual. But another interpretation sees those verses in Romans 2 not as referring to counterfactuals, but as referring to actual persons, who are being saved by grace. This hermeneutic understands Rom 3:9-10 as qualified in its extension, such that it is referring only to man without grace.

    These are two different interpretive paradigms, and reasonable people can come to either one. Comparing those two interpretive paradigms would take us far beyond the point of Scott’s post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. David,

    The disagreement Protestants have with Rome is not petty. This argument about 1 Clement, however, is.

    You obviously have some history with Bryan and so pounced on him immediately, but imagine what it’s like for someone else to read that, who doesn’t connect those dots. Think about how you make the Reformed look.

  22. Echo,

    I think that the apostle Paul probably felt pretty bad when he told the Judiazers what to do with their man-parts. He probably realized that the gospel would be discredited, that people who didn’t understand it would be offended, and would walk away shaking their heads at how divided and irrelevant the apostolic church had become. So under wise and judicious counsel from all of his level headed friends, he then took his would-be epistle to the church in Galatia, tore it up, and burned it in the trash…

    The story of the post-modern apostle.

  23. Echo, this is not an argument about 1 Clement; it is a discussion about the very foundational principles we rely on as we read and understand texts, especially the Bible, but other documents of antiquity.

  24. “In Romans 2, St. Paul refers to the Day of Judgment, saying that God will render to every man according to his deeds. Then St. Paul immediately refers to those who by perseverance in doing good, seek (as their reward on that Day) glory, and honor, and immortality and eternal life. (2:7) They do this by following the law that has been written in their hearts (2:15) by the Spirit (2:29). This is true for both Jew and Gentile, but St. Paul’s primary point here in chapter 2 is to contrast these law-keeping Gentiles who have circumcised hearts, with law-breaking Jews who are physically circumcised.”

    I agree that this is what Paul is saying, Bryan. Those who keep the law will inherent immortality and eternal life. But we CAN’T keep the law, that is Paul’s entire point as summed up in Romans 3. It isn’t instruction on how Christians are to merit justification but the demands on every human being in order to avoid the second death. Because we cannot be justified by law keeping, because we can’t keep the law, we are justified by grace through faith as a gift due to the person and work of Christ. And that alone.

  25. Your interpretation treats Romans 3:9-20 as unqualified in its extension (i.e. as referring to all men whether without grace or with grace), and as a result, Romans 2:7,10,13-16, 26-29 is necessarily reduced to a counterfactual. But another interpretation sees those verses in Romans 2 not as referring to counterfactuals, but as referring to actual persons, who are being saved by grace.

    This certainly isn’t a linear reading of the text, inasmuch as chapter 1 and 2 of Romans are establishing the very need for justifying grace expounded upon in chapter 3 and 4. Chapter 2 establishes the demands of the law for righteousness and eternal life, and in chapter 3 Paul concludes that both Jew and Gentile fail to meet these demands. It is unbelievable that anyone would try to read themselves into chapter 2 as fulfillers of the law.

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