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The Early Church Fathers on Justification.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97)
    St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220)
    St. Theophilus of Antioch, (unknown - A.D. c.186)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)

Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97), Roman; Pope from A.D. 88-97; martyr. That St. Clement was honored by the friendship of the great Apostle, St. Peter, is not doubted. There are good reasons to believe that he was designated by that Apostle as his successor in the see of Rome. The authenticity and genuineness of St. Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians are acknowledged. We learn from Eusebius and from other writers, that it was publicly read in many churches. This second epistle is the oldest extant Christian homily we have attributed to him, (A.D. 150).

Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being humble and self-controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words. . . . Why was our Father Abraham blessed? Was it not because of his deeds of justice and truth, wrought in faith? . . . So we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, were not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the almighty God justified all men.

Letter to the Corinthians 30:3, 31:2, 32:3-4 [A.D. 95]

St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220), Greek; theologian, a scholar of Pantaenus, to whom he succeeded as head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Egypt. His writings display great acquaintance with the Gentile philosophy. He wrote with the express design of hiding the mysteries of the Christian religion from the Pagans, and the uninitiated, while at the same time, laboring to show the immense practical superiority of the Christian code of morals over that of every Pagan sect and system of philosophy.

When we hear, 'Your faith has saved you,' we do not understand the Lord to say simply that they will be saved who have believed in whatever manner, even if works have not followed. To begin with, it was to the Jews alone that he spoke this phrase, who had lived in accord with the law and blamelessly and who had lacked only faith in the Lord.

Stromateis or Miscellanies 6:14:108:4 [post A.D. 202]

St. Theophilus of Antioch, (unknown - A.D. c.186), Patriarch of Antioch, born pagan but embraced Christianity by studying the Holy Scriptures, especially the prophetical books. Wrote against idols, made contributions to Christian literature, polemics, exegetics, and apologetics.

Give studious attention to the prophetic writings, and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither has eye seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man. For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries and fornications and homosexuality and avarice and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, and in the end such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire.

To Autolycas 1:14 [ca. A.D. 181]

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in him; and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the epistle bearing the name of James.

Commentaries on John 19:6 [A.D. 226-232]


From the very beginning the Church taught that we are justified by faith which is manifested through works. As James tells us: "faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). While the meaning of this text is plain, some still deny it. They are correct in saying that salvation cannot be achieved by human works alone but only by the grace of God working in our lives. As St. Augustine (A.D. 354-428), the Doctor of Grace, has said:

You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits,
you are crowning your own gifts.


The Church's Scriptures that support the Catholic view of Justification:


There are three propositions the Catholic Church would want you to consider:


Proposition I.


When man has sinned, the remission or pardon of sin is not attainable by him, other than in and by the merits of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, who freely purchased our ransom.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.


Romans 3:21-26


8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. 9 For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:8-11


19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.


1 Corinthians 6:19-20


13 He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


Colossians 13-14


5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.


1 Timothy 2:5-6


1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:1-2

Proposition II.


It is only through the same merits of Jesus Christ, that the just man can obtain either an increase of holiness in this life, or eternal happiness in the next.

1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

John 15:1-4


9 Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.


Romans 5:9-10


8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast.


Ephesians 2:8-9


5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, 6 which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.


Titus 3:5-7

Proposition III.


The good works of a just man, proceeding from grace and charity, are so far acceptable to God, through His goodness and sacred promises, as to be truly deserving of an eternal reward; "God crowning His own gifts, when He crowns the good works of His servants."

42 And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."


Matthew 10:42


27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.


Matthew 16:27


34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'


Matthew 25:34-36


24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.


1 Corinthians 9:24-25


17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison


2 Corinthians 4:17


8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.


2 Timothy 4:8


10 For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.


Hebrews 6:10


14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe— and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, 23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.


James 2:14-26


10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; 11 so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


2 Peter 1:10-11

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