Welcome to this series of posts giving a survey of what the early church fathers have written about justification and works of law with reference to Paul. Click this link to go to the first post with the contents of the whole.
In today’s post we look at Augustine of Hippo (c.e. 354–430). He was an early Christian theologian whose writings had massive influence over Western Christianity including Roman Catholicism and the Reformers. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius, located in Numidia (a Roman province of Africa). He is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity for his writings in the Patristic Era. Among his most important works are The City of God and Confessions.
Justification as a process
The following is a series of quotes from McGrath’s Iustitia Dei, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. It gives a good overview of his theology of Justification.
“Augustine drew a distinction between operative and co-operative grace (or, more accurately, between operative and co-operative modes of gratuitous divine action: Augustine does not treat them as distinct species). God operates to initiate humanity’s justification, in that humans are given a will capable of desiring good, and subsequently co-operate with that good will to perform good works, to bring that justification to perfection. …
The justification of humanity is therefore an act of divine mercy, in that they neither desire it (because the liberum arbitrium captivatum is incapable of desiring good) nor deserve it (because of their sin and lack of merit). On account of the Fall, the free will of humans is weakened and incapacitated, though not destroyed. …
Once justified by divine action, the sinner does not at once become a perfect example of holiness. Humans need to pray to God continually for their growth in holiness and the spiritual life, thereby acknowledging that God is the author of both. God operates upon humans in the act of justification, and co-operates with them in the process of justification. Once justified, the sinner may begin to acquire merit – but only on account of God’s grace. Merit is seen to be a divine rather than a human work. Thus it is clearly wrong to suggest that Augustine excludes or denies merit; while merit before justification is indeed denied, its reality and necessity after justification are equally strongly affirmed. …
Central to Augustine’s doctrine of justification is his understanding of the ‘righteousness of God’, iustitia Dei. The righteousness of God is not that righteousness by which he is himself righteous, but that by which he justifies sinners. The righteousness of God, veiled in the Old Testament and revealed in the New, and supremely in Jesus Christ, is so called because, by bestowing it upon humans, God makes them righteous. …
‘What does ‘justified’ mean other than ‘made righteous’, just as ‘he justifies the ungodly’ means ‘he makes a righteous person out of an ungodly person’? (Spirit and Letter, xxvi, 45)
Augustine has an all-embracing transformative understanding of justification, which includes both the event of justification (brought about by operative grace) and the process of justification (brought about by co-operative grace). Augustine himself does not, in fact, see any need to distinguish between these two aspects of justification;
“ (p42-47, McGrath, A., Iustitia Dei, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification)
However noting this explanation of Augustine’s views here on justification, he does say a reasonable amount about the ‘works of the law’.
Letters of Saint Augustine
In this letter Augustine is explaining the Antioch incident between Peter and Paul. He writes about Paul’s motivations behind his occasional observance of the works of law.
You do not require me to teach you in what sense the apostle says,
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews,” (1 Cor 9.20)
and other such things in the same passage, which are to be ascribed to the compassion of pitying love, not the artifices of intentional deceit. For he that ministers to the sick becomes as if he were sick himself; not, indeed, falsely pretending to be under the fever, but considering, with the mind of one truly sympathizing, what he would wish done for himself if he were in the sick man’s place. Paul was indeed a Jew; and when he had become a Christian, he had not abandoned those Jewish sacraments which that people had received in the right way, and for a certain appointed time.
Therefore, even although he was an apostle of Christ, he took observing these; but with this view, that he might show that they were in no wise hurtful to those who, even after they had believed in Christ, desired to retain the ceremonies which by the law [of Moses] they had learned from their fathers;
provided only that they did rebuild on these their hope of salvation, since the salvation which was foreshadowed in these has now been brought in by the Lord Jesus.
For the same reason, he judged that these ceremonies should by no means be made binding on the Gentile converts, because, by imposing a heavy and superfluous burden, they might turn aside from the faith those who were unaccustomed to them.
The thing, therefore, which he rebuked in Peter was not his observing the customs handed down from his fathers—which Peter, if he wished, might do without being chargeable with deceit or inconsistency, for, though now superfluous, these customs were not hurtful to one who had been accustomed to them—
but his compelling the Gentiles to observe Jewish ceremonies,
which he could not do otherwise than by so acting in regard to them as if their observance was, even after the Lord’s coming, still necessary to salvation, against which truth protested through the apostolic office of Paul.
Nor was the Apostle Peter ignorant of this, but he did it through fear of those who were of the circumcision.
Manifestly, therefore, Peter was truly corrected, and Paul has given a true narrative of the event, unless, by the admission of a falsehood here, the authority of the Holy Scriptures given for the faith of all coming generations is to be made wholly uncertain and wavering. For it is neither possible nor suitable to state within the compass of a letter how great and how unutterably evil must be the consequences of such a concession. It might, however, be shown seasonably, and with less hazard, if we were conversing together.
Paul had forsaken everything peculiar to the Jews that was evil, especially this:
“That, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they had not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom 10.3)
In this, moreover, he differed from them: that after the passion and resurrection of Christ, in whom had been given and made manifest the mystery of grace, according to the order of Melchizedek,
they still considered it binding on them to celebrate, not out of mere reverence for old customs, but as necessary to salvation, the sacraments of the old economy, which were indeed at one time necessary,
else had it been unprofitable and vain for the Maccabees to suffer martyrdom, as they did, for their adherence to them.
Lastly, in this also Paul differed from the Jews: that they persecuted the Christian preachers of grace as enemies of the law. These and all similar errors and sins he declares that he
“counted but loss and dung that he might win Christ;” (Phil 3.8)
but he does not, in so saying, disparage the ceremonies of the Jewish law, if only they were observed after the custom of their fathers, in the way in which he himself observed them, without regarding them as necessary to salvation, and not in the way in which the Jews affirmed that they must be observed, nor in the exercise of deceptive dissimulation such as he had rebuked in Peter.
For if Paul observed these sacraments in order, by pretending to be a Jew, to gain the Jews, why did he not also take part with the Gentiles in heathen sacrifices, when to them that were without law he became as without law, that he might gain them also?
The explanation is found in this, that he took part in the Jewish sacrifices, as being himself by birth a Jew; and that when he said all this which I have quoted, he meant, not that he pretended to be what he was not, but that he felt with true compassion that he must bring such help to them as would be needful for himself if he were involved in their error.
Herein he exercised not the subtlety of a deceiver, but the sympathy of a compassionate deliverer. In the same passage the apostle has stated the principle more generally:
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some,” (1 Cor 9.22)
the latter clause of which guides us to understand the former as meaning that he showed himself one who pitied the weakness of another as much as if it had been his own. For when he said,
“Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Cor 10.29)
he did not wish it to be supposed that he pretended to suffer the infirmity of another, but rather that he showed it by sympathy
Augustine of Hippo. (1886). Letters of St. Augustin. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. G. Cunningham (Trans.), The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work (Vol. 1, pp. 273–274). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Augustine says Paul allows for the observance of the Jewish ceremonies provided the person observing them does not think they are necessary for salvation. Salvation has been brought in by Jesus.
He explains Paul rebuked Peter because he made the Gentile converts believe they had to observe the Jewish ceremonies.
He also calls the ceremonies, ‘customs’ and ‘sacraments’. These include the sacrifices of the Jewish law.
He goes into greater detail regarding the work of law in his interactions with Faustus.
Reply to Faustus the Manichæan
Written about c.e. 400 Augustine wrote this to a man named Faustus who was part of a Manichæan sect. Augustine wrote against him because of Faustus’ attack on the Old Testament Scriptures, and on the New Testament so far as it was at variance with Manichaean beliefs. The incarnation of Christ, involving his birth from a woman, is one of the main points of attack as we saw from my series of the early church and the gospel.
In this section Faustus rejects christ’s declaration that he came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (Mt 5.17), on the ground that it is found only in Matthew’s gospel, who was not present when the words purport to have been spoken. Augustine rebukes the folly of refusing to believe Matthew and believing manichæus instead. He shows what the passage of scripture really means and along the way we get to see his views on the works of the law.
The passage itself, in which Christ tells the Jews not to think that He came to destroy the law, is rather designed to show that He did destroy it. For, had He not done something of the kind, the Jews would not have suspected Him. His words are: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law.” Suppose the Jews had replied, What actions of thine might lead us to suspect this? Is it because thou exposest circumcision, breakest the Sabbath, discardest sacrifices, makest no distinction in foods? this would be the natural answer to the words.
(Augustine of Hippo, 1887. Reply to Faustus the Manichæan. In P. Schaff, ed. St. Augustin: The Writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, pp. 234f.)
Augustine says many things in response. I will concentrate on what he says about the law of Moses and the works of the law.
Since you continue repeating what has been so often exposed and refuted, we must be content to repeat the refutation. The things in the law and the prophets which Christians do not observe, are only the types of what they do observe. These types were figures of things to come, and are necessarily removed when the things themselves are fully revealed by Christ, that in this very removal the law and the prophets may be fulfilled.” … (ibid)
Faustus will again repeat his focus on these particular commands in the law of Moses.
At this point it might be helpful if I show a table describing what kinds of commands are in the law of Moses. It’s from my series on the Jewish law.
|Love||Circumcision||Idolatry and Foreign Worship||Firstborn|
|Honor||Festivals and holidays||Murder and Violence||Property, Land and Servants|
|Worship and Sacrifice||Sexual immorality||Punishment and Restitution|
|Purity and Washings||Stealing||Social Justice and the Poor|
Then it appeared that I, as a Gentile, could get nothing by coming to Christ, for I brought nothing that he could fill up by his additions. This preparatory supply is found, on inquiry, to consist of Sabbaths, circumcision, sacrifices, new moons, baptisms, feasts of unleavened bread, distinctions of foods, drink, and clothes, and other things, too many to specify.
This, then, it appeared, was what Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill. Naturally it must appear so: for what is a law without precepts, or prophets without predictions?
Besides, there is that terrible curse pronounced upon those who abide not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them (Dt 27.26; cf. Gal 3).
With the fear of this curse appearing to come from God on the one side, and with Christ on the other side, seeming, as the Son of God, to say that he came not to destroy these things, but to fulfill them, what was to prevent me from becoming a Jew? The wise instruction of Manichæus saved me from this danger.
But how can you venture to quote this verse against me? Or why should it be against me only, when it is as much against yourself? If Christ does not destroy the law and the prophets, neither must Christians do so. Why then do you destroy them? Do you begin to perceive that you are no Christian?
How can you profane with all kinds of work the day pronounced sacred in the law and in all the prophets, on which they say that God, the maker of the world, himself rested, without dreading the penalty of death pronounced against Sabbath-breakers, or the curse on the transgressor?
How can you refuse to receive in your person the unseemly mark of circumcision, which the law and all the prophets declare to be honorable, especially in the case of Abraham, after what was thought to be his faith; for does not the God of the Jews proclaim that whosoever is without this mark of infamy shall perish from his people?
How can you neglect the appointed sacrifices, which were made so much of both by Moses and the prophets under the law, and by Abraham in his faith?
(Distinction in foods)
And how can you defile your souls by making no distinction in foods, if you believe that Christ came not to destroy these things, but to fulfill them?
(Feasts and festivals)
Why do you discard the annual feast of unleavened bread, and the appointed sacrifice of the lamb, which, according to the law and the prophets, is to be observed for ever?
Why, in a word, do you treat so lightly the new moons, the baptisms, and the feast of tabernacles, and all the other carnal ordinances of the law and the prophets, if Christ did not destroy them?
I have therefore good reason for saying that, in order to justify your neglect of these things, you must either abandon your profession of being Christ’s disciple, or acknowledge that Christ himself has already destroyed them; and from this acknowledgment it must follow, either that this text is spurious in which Christ is made to say that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, or that the words have an entirely different meaning from what you suppose.” (ibid)
Augustine will now respond explaining why Christian’s do not observe these commands.
If you allow, in consideration of the authority of the Gospel, that Christ said that He came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, you should show the same consideration to the authority of the apostle, when he says, “All these things were our examples;” and again of Christ, “He was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea; for all the promises of God are in Him yea;” that is, they are set forth and fulfilled in Him. In this way you will see in the clearest light both what law Christ fulfilled, and how He fulfilled it. …
The entrance of the law made the offense abound, not because the law required what was wrong, but because the proud and self-confident incurred additional guilt as transgressors after their acquaintance with the holy, and just, and good commandments of the law; so that, being thus humbled, they might learn that only by grace through faith could they be freed from subjection to the law as transgressors, and be reconciled to the law as righteous. So the same apostle says:
“For before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which was afterwards revealed. Therefore the law was our schoolmaster in Christ Jesus; but after faith came, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Gal 3.23-25)
That is, we are no longer subject to the penalty of the law, because we are set free by grace. …
Here we see Christ coming not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. 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, Thou shalt 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 ye 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 Jn 2.1-2) … (ibid)
Augustine is clearly familiar with Paul’s Galatians letter, quoting from a chapter that has things to say about the works of law and justification.
He recognises the inability of unbelievers, still outside grace to keep the law as well as the role of grace and Christ’s sacrifice in freeing people from subjection to the law of Moses.
Christ also fulfilled the prophecies, because the promises of God were made good in Him. As the apostle says in the verse quoted above,
“The promises of God are in Him yea.”
Again, he says:
“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.”
Whatever, then, was promised in the prophets, whether expressly or in figure, whether by words or by actions, was fulfilled in Him who came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. You do not perceive that if Christians were to continue in the use of acts and observances by which things to come were prefigured, the only meaning would be that the things prefigured had not yet come. Either the thing prefigured has not come, or if it has, the figure becomes superfluous or misleading. Therefore, if Christians do not practise some things enjoined in the Hebrews by the prophets, this, so far from showing, as you think, that Christ did not fulfill the prophets, rather shows that He did. So completely did Christ fulfill what these types prefigured, that it is no longer prefigured. … (ibid)
Augustine explains Jesus fulfilled the commands which ‘prefigured’ (predicted his coming and his works) him.
Augustine now explains why Christians do not observe these commands.
Accordingly, when you ask why a Christian is not circumcised if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, my reply is, that a Christian is not circumcised precisely for this reason, that what was prefigured by circumcision is fulfilled in Christ. Circumcision was the type of the removal of our fleshly nature, which was fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ, and which the sacrament of baptism teaches us to look forward to in our own resurrection. The sacrament of the new life is not wholly discontinued, for our resurrection from the dead is still to come; but this sacrament has been improved by the substitution of baptism for circumcision, because now a pattern of the eternal life which is to come is afforded us in the resurrection of Christ, whereas formerly there was nothing of the kind.
So, when you ask why a Christian does not keep the Sabbath, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, my reply is, that a Christian does not keep the Sabbath precisely because what was prefigured in the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. For we have our Sabbath in Him who said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
(Distinction in foods)
When you ask why a Christian does not observe the distinction in food as enjoined in the law, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that a Christian does not observe this distinction precisely because what was thus prefigured is now fulfilled in Christ, who admits into His body, which in His saints He has predestined to eternal life, nothing which in human conduct corresponds to the characteristics of the forbidden animals.
When you ask, again, why a Christian does not offer sacrifices to God of the flesh and blood of slain animals, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that it would be improper for a Christian to offer such sacrifices, now that what was thus prefigured has been fulfilled in Christ’s offering of His own body and blood.
(Feast of unleavened bread)
When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feast of unleavened bread as the Jews did, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that a Christian does not keep this feast precisely because what was thus prefigured is fulfilled in Christ, who leads us to a new life by purging out the leaven of the old life.
When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feast of the paschal lamb, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, my reply is, that he does not keep it precisely because what was thus prefigured has been fulfilled in the sufferings of Christ, the Lamb without spot.
(New moon festivals)
When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feasts of the new moon appointed in the law, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that he does not keep them precisely because what was thus prefigured is fulfilled in Christ. For the feast of the new moon prefigured the new creature, of which the apostle says: “If therefore there is any new creature in Christ Jesus, the old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
(Purification and cleanliness rituals in the law)
When you ask why a Christian does not observe the baptisms for various kinds of uncleanness according to the law, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that he does not observe them precisely because they were figures of things to come, which Christ has fulfilled. For He came to bury us with Himself by baptism into death, that as Christ rose again from the dead, so we also should walk in newness of life.
(Feast of Tabernacles)
When you ask why Christians do not keep the feast of tabernacles, if the law is not destroyed, but fulfilled by Christ, I reply that believers are God’s tabernacle, in whom, as they are united and built together in love, God condescends to dwell, so that Christians do not keep this feast precisely because what was thus prefigured is now fulfilled by Christ in His Church. (ibid)
Clearly there is a variety of reasons Augustine explains why Christians do not observe these commands. All of them however are because of the gospel and what Jesus says and does in it.
I touch upon these things merely in passing with the utmost brevity, rather than omit them altogether. The subjects, taken separately, have filled many large volumes, written to prove that these observances were typical of Christ.
So it appears that all the things in the Old Testament which you think are not observed by Christians because Christ destroyed the law, are in fact not observed because Christ fulfilled the law. The very intention of the observances was to prefigure Christ. Now that Christ has come, instead of its being strange or absurd that what was done to prefigure His advent should not be done any more, it is perfectly right and reasonable.
The typical observances intended to prefigure the coming of Christ would be observed still, had they not been fulfilled by the coming of Christ; so far is it from being the case that our not observing them now is any proof of their not being fulfilled by Christ’s coming. There can be no religious society, whether the religion be true or false, without some sacrament or visible symbol to serve as a bond of union. The importance of these sacraments cannot be overstated, and only scoffers will treat them lightly. For if piety requires them, it must be impiety to neglect them. … (Ibid)
Augustine explains ‘the very intention of the observances was to prefigure Christ. Now that Christ has come, instead of its being strange or absurd that what was done to prefigure His advent should not be done any more.’
It’s in the next few quotes from Augustine he will call this section of commands by various expressions.
Thus the sacraments of the Old Testament, which were celebrated in obedience to the law, were types of Christ who was to come; and when Christ fulfilled them by His advent they were done away, and were done away because they were fulfilled. For Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfill. And now that the righteousness of faith is revealed, and the children of God are called into liberty, and the yoke of bondage which was required for a carnal and stiffnecked people is taken away, other sacraments are instituted, greater in efficacy, more beneficial in their use, easier in performance, and fewer in number.
And if the righteous men of old, who saw in the sacraments of their time the promise of a future revelation of faith, which even then their piety enabled them to discern in the dim light of prophecy, and by which they lived, for the just can live only by faith; if, then, these righteous men of old were ready to suffer, as many actually did suffer, all trials and tortures for the sake of those typical sacraments which prefigured things in the future; if we praise the three children and Daniel, because they refused to be defiled by meat from the king’s table, from their regard for the sacrament of their day; if we feel the strongest admiration for the Maccabees, who refused to touch food which Christians lawfully use; how much more should a Christian in our day be ready to suffer all things for Christ’s baptism, for Christ’s Eucharist, for Christ’s sacred sign, since these are proofs of the accomplishment of what the former sacraments only pointed forward to in the future!
For what is still promised to the Church, the body of Christ, is both clearly made known, and in the Saviour Himself, the Head of the body, the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, has already been accomplished. Is not the promise of eternal life by resurrection from the dead? This we see fulfilled in the flesh of Him of whom it is said, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
In former days faith was dim, for the saints and righteous men of those times all believed and hoped for the same things, and all these sacraments and ceremonies pointed to the future; but now we have the revelation of the faith to which the people were shut up under the law; and what is now promised to believers in the judgment is already accomplished in the example of Him who came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.
It is a question among the students of the sacred Scriptures, whether the faith in Christ before His passion and resurrection, which the righteous men of old learned by revelation or gathered from prophecy, had the same efficacy as faith has now that Christ has suffered and risen; or whether the actual shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God, which was, as He Himself says, for many for the remission of sins, conferred any benefit in the way of purifying or adding to the purity of those who looked forward in faith to the death of Christ, but left the world before it took place; whether, in fact, Christ’s death reached to the dead, so as to effect their liberation. To discuss this question here, or to prove what has been ascertained on the subject, would take too long, besides being foreign from our present purpose.
Meanwhile it is sufficient to prove, in opposition to Faustus’ ignorant cavils, how greatly they mistake who conclude, from the change in signs and sacraments, that there must be a difference in the things which were prefigured in the rites of a prophetic dispensation, and which are declared to be accomplished in the rites of the gospel; or those, on the other hand, who think that as the things are the same, the sacraments which announce their accomplishment should not differ from the sacraments which foretold that accomplishment. For if in language the form of the verb changes in the number of letters and syllables according to the tense, as done signifies the past, and to be done the future, why should not the symbols which declare Christ’s death and resurrection to be accomplished, differ from those which predicted their accomplishment, as we see a difference in the form and sound of the words, past and future, suffered and to suffer, risen and to rise? For material symbols are nothing else than visible speech, which, though sacred, is changeable and transitory. … (ibid)
So far he calls them ‘sacraments’ and ‘ceremonies’.
Works of Law
Corresponding to this change in words is the change which naturally took place in the substitution of new sacraments instead of those of the Old Testament.
In the case of the first Christians, who came to the faith as Jews, it was by degrees that they were brought to change their customs, and to have a clear perception of the truth; and permission was given them by the apostle to preserve their hereditary worship and belief, in which they had been born and brought up; and those who had to do with them were required to make allowance for this reluctance to accept new customs. So the apostle circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father, when they went among people of this kind; and he himself accommodated his practice to theirs, not hypocritically, but for a wise purpose (Acts 16.3). For these practices were harmless in the case of those born and brought up in them, though they were no longer required to prefigure things to come. It would have done more harm to condemn them as hurtful in the case of those to whose time it was intended that they should continue. Christ, who came to fulfill all these prophecies, found those people trained in their own religion.
But in the case of those who had no such training [Gentiles], but were brought to Christ, the corner stone, from the opposite wall of circumcision, there was no obligation to adopt Jewish customs. If, indeed, like Timothy, they chose to accommodate themselves to the views of those of the circumcision who were still wedded to their old sacraments, they were free to do so. But if they supposed that their hope and salvation depended on these works of the law, they were warned against them as a fatal danger. So the apostle says:
“Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing;” (Gal 5.2)
that is, if they were circumcised, as they were intending to be, in compliance with some corrupt teachers, who told them that without these works of the law they could not be saved.
For when, chiefly through the preaching of the Apostle Paul, the Gentiles were coming to the faith of Christ, as it was proper that they should come, without being burdened with Jewish observances—for those who were grown up were deterred from the faith by fear of ceremonies to which they were not accustomed, especially of circumcision; and if they who had not been trained from their birth to such observances had been made proselytes in the usual way, it would have implied that the coming of Christ still required to be predicted as a future event;—
when, then, the Gentiles were admitted without these ceremonies, those of the circumcision who believed, not understanding why the Gentiles were not required to adopt their customs, nor why they themselves were still allowed to retain them, began to disturb the Church with carnal contentions. Because the Gentiles were admitted into the people of God without being made proselytes in the usual way by circumcision and the other legal observances.
Some also of the converted Gentiles were bent on these ceremonies, from fear of the Jews among whom they lived. Against these Gentiles the Apostle Paul often wrote, and when Peter was carried away by their hypocrisy, he corrected him with a brotherly rebuke (Gal 2.11-14).
Afterwards, when the apostles met in council (Acts 15), decreed that these works of the law were not obligatory in the case of the Gentiles, some Christians of the circumcision were displeased, because they failed to understand that these observances were permissible only in those who had been trained in them before the revelation of faith, to bring to a close the prophetic life in those who were engaged in it before the prophecy was fulfilled, lest by a compulsory abandonment it should seem to be condemned rather than closed; while to lay these things on the Gentiles would imply either that they were not instituted to prefigure Christ, or that Christ was still to be prefigured.
The ancient people of God, before Christ came to fulfill the law and the prophets, were required to observe all these things by which Christ was prefigured. It was freedom to those who understood the meaning of the observance, but it was bondage to those who did not.
But the people in those latter times who come to believe in Christ as having already come, and suffered, and risen [the gospel], in the case of those whom this faith found trained to those sacraments, are neither required to observe them, nor prohibited from doing so; while there is a prohibition in the case of those who were not bound by the ties of custom, or by any necessity, to accommodate themselves to the practice of others, so that it might become manifest that these things were instituted to prefigure Christ, and that after His coming they were to cease, because the promises had been fulfilled.
Some believers of the circumcision who did not understand this were displeased with this tolerant arrangement which the Holy Spirit effected through the apostles, and stubbornly insisted on the Gentiles becoming Jews. These are the people of whom Faustus speaks under the name of Symmachians or Nazareans. Their number is now very small, but the sect still continues.
The Manichæans, therefore, have no ground for saying, in disparagement of the law and the prophets, that Christ came to destroy rather than to fulfill them, because Christians do not observe what is there enjoined:
for the only things which they do not observe are those that prefigured Christ, and
these are not observed because their fulfillment is in Christ, and
what is fulfilled is no longer prefigured;
the typical observances having properly come to a close in the time of those who, after being trained in such things, had come to believe in Christ as their fulfillment.
Do not Christians observe the precept of Scripture “Hear, O Israel; the Lord thy God is one God;” “Thou shalt not make unto thee an image,” and so on?
Do Christians not observe the precept, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?”
Do Christians not observe the Sabbath, even in the sense of a true rest?
Do Christians not honor their parents, according to the commandment?
Do Christians not abstain from fornication, and murder, and theft, and false witness, from coveting their neighbor’s wife, and from coveting his property,—all of which things are written in the law?
These moral precepts are distinct from typical sacraments: the former are fulfilled by the aid of divine grace, the latter by the accomplishment of what they promise. Both are fulfilled in Christ, who has ever been the bestower of this grace, which is also now revealed in Him, and who now makes manifest the accomplishment of what He in former times promised; for
“the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1.17)
Again, these things which concern the keeping of a good conscience are fulfilled in the faith which worketh by love; (Gal 5.6) (ibid)
Augustine now gives the name of ‘customs’ and ‘works of law’ to the same list of commands in the law of Moses.
Interestingly he makes a distinction between the ‘works of law’ (which prefigured Christ and Christians do not observe) and the ‘moral precepts’ (which Christians observe).
Today’s post was the last of the Early Church Fathers we will be looking at. In the next post I will give a summary of the main elements associated with justification and works of law in all the posts.
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