Dialogue With Cyril:
Augustine: Let me be clear on how you are using this term — what do you mean by “works-righteousness”?
Cyril: I mean that we can do something to secure a place in heaven.
Augustine: What do you mean by “something”?
Cyril: Performing acts of charity under God’s grace.
Augustine: Okay. So what bothers you is the claim that God has promised to reward acts of charity, brought about by his grace, with eternal life. That’s a very specific statement. Where do you see that contradicted in Scripture?
Cyril: Titus? “He saved us not by deeds of righteousness that we had done…”
Augustine: Yes, Titus 3:5, and note the tense of the verb: “He *saved* (past tense) us not by deeds of righteousness,” thus it refers to initial salvation, when we first came to God, not final salvation at the end of life, which is what Catholics are talking about when they speak of righteousness as a reward/merited.
Cyril: In your paper on Paul and the Law you admit that we are not saved by any kind of works, though you say that Paul in Romans is only talking about Torah works. I guess you mean we are not saved by any kind of works in “initial salvation”?
Augustine: The phrase “not saved by any kind of works” can have two meanings. It could refer to initial salvation in an absolute sense [see my paper Justification in Catholic Theology], but if the term “saved” is used to refer to earning then it applies to final salvation as well. No works of any kind are needed for initial salvation, and we are not saved by works in the sense of earning either initial *or* final salvation. I’d have to see the context in which I used it to know which I had in mind.
Cyril: So what, then, is James the Just talking about when he says that we are justified by works?
Augustine: In the key verse, Jas 2:24 (“You see then that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”) he is referring specifically to progressive justification or growth in righteousness over the couse of the Christian life. I go into this in my paper on James 2, and this is the sense in which the verse is used by Trent. However, in the broader context of James 2, he does have salvation in mind since he sets up the discussion by asking the rhetorical question, “Can faith *save* him?” He is just bringing in Genesis 15:6 [“Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” cf. James 2:23] and Genesis 22 [“when he offered his son Isaac on the altar” — James 2:21] as an illustration, though Genesis 15:6’s specific application is to progressive justification.
Cyril: Don’t you think he is alluding to the verse in 1 Maccabees [2:52] that says Abraham was justified by his actions?
Augustine: Yes I do. In fact, I’m going to be including that in a paper I’m working on dealing with New Testament references to the deuterocanonical books. But though he is alluding to 1 Maccabees 2:52 [“Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?”], he is alluding *through that* to Genesis 15 and 22.
Cyril: So is he saying that a “genuine” faith must bear fruit, or is he saying that confidence in divine mercy is not enough?
Augustine: James is not distinguishing between “genuine” and “non-genuine” faith. When James says “faith” he means “intellectual assent.” What he is saying is that intellectual assent is not sufficient to save. It must be completed by works, which in his context is good works. Thus one needs the virtue of faith (intellectual assent) and the virtue of charity (good works). He does not mention the virtue of hope, but it is implicit. I have a big section in the James 2 paper showing why all the other interpretations of “faith” besides “intellectual assent” don’t work.
Cyril: Have you read Gordon Clark’s treatment of “saving faith”?
Augustine: In which of his works? (He’s got about a bazillion of them.)
Cyril: Faith and Saving Faith.
Augustine: Yes. I have that one, but I haven’t done more than skim it. What does he say?
Cyril: He argues that saving faith is nothing more that belief in the right set of propositions. To him, faith is belief in certain propositions. The set of propositions in which one believes determines whether the faith is sufficient to save.
Augustine: He said *THAT*? If that’s all he said then he completely omitted the need for personal trust in God, which even Evangelicals admit is necessary. That would be rank easy believism, which is uncommon among conservative Presbyterians like Clark.
Cyril: Believing in the proposition “There is a God,” for instance is not sufficient. Nor is “There is a God and His son, Jesus”, but “There is a God and His son Jesus died for me and if I trust him I will be saved” is.
Augustine: Ah, but then you have to do the trusting, which is an act of the will, not just intellectual assent to a proposition.
Cyril: Read it if you ever have a chance. It’s one of the more astute works on the philosophy of faith that I’ve read by a P.
Augustine: P meaning Protestant or P meaning Presbyterian? 😉
Cyril: The former.
Cyril: I now have a question about the pope. I really like the present pope. He seems to be a very humble man. I’ve gotta tell you, though — I really have a problem with some of the previous popes.
Augustine: Which ones? (I have a problem with some of the previous ones too.)
Cyril: Ones that allowed themselves to be paraded around like gods, wearing raiment that would put Dives to shame.
Augustine: Dives the man from the parable “Lazarus and the Rich Man” (also known as “Lazarus and Dives”)?
Cyril: Yes. I don’t think that Peter would have done that.
Augustine: One must make allowances for culture. In previous cultures to dress poorly in high office would have weakened the respect for the office, just as if today John Paul II wore an ordinary Italian business suit, it would weaken the respect for his office and thus decrease his effectiveness. However, there certainly were popes that were vain and relished fine trappings. But God never promised popes would be humble. That’s not part of the Petrine charism (though it is something which should already be present in anyone elected to the office.)
Cyril: I’m not talking about wearing vestments.
Augustine: No, I don’t mean vestments either. The pope isn’t wearning vestments with his ordinary white clothing (vestments are what he wears during Mass). My point is just that at different times different clothes are expected of a person in office. If president Clinton showed up for the State of the Union address in tattered bluejeans, he would kill his public image (or what’s left of it).
Augustine: In the past, those in high office (whether secular or religious) were expected to dress in high fashion. This also applies to being carried in a litter. It was just the custom of the day.
Cyril: But do you think that Peter distinguished himself from others by his dress?
Augustine: He may well have. If you read your Pentateuch, you see God instructing Moses to have garments made for Aaron and his sons *specifically* to bring them glory and honor, reflecting the office God gave them. [Exodus 28:2 “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor,” literally “glory and beauty.”]
Since every Christian priest and bishop and certainly apostle is higher in rank than any Jewish levite, priest, or high priest (since they are in the kingdom of God, see Jesus’ statement about the least in the Christian age being greater than any who came before [Luke 7:28, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”]), they deserve corresponding garments.
However, due to economic restrictions in the first century they may have not been able to have these garments, and due to social conditions then [the non-acceptance of Christianity] they may not have been able to wear them in public, but I don’t see any reason why they may not have worn some kind of distinctive garments when among Christians and especially when celebrating Mass.
Cyril: Well, let me see . . .
Augustine: Just to tie up that last thread . . .
Cyril: Bad pun! :^)
Augustine: Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa! No pun intended!
Augustine: Your concern is over a matter of style, not a matter of theology. I share your concern over the style, but it does not touch the question of whether Catholicism is true, which is *the* question.
Cyril: Yes, I agree with you.
Augustine: Yes, that argument is in The Priesthood Debate piece.
Cyril: A 4th century B.C. Gentile looking at Israel may have said, “Israel can’t be God’s chosen people; the truth cannot lie there.” But the truth was there!
Augustine: I’m glad you were helped by it. It really helped me keep things in perspective when I was entering the Church. I had to look past the flaws in the humans in the Church and look at the question “Is what the Church teaches *true*?”
Augustine: There is an interesting story in The Decameron [written in the 1300s] in which a Jewish man agrees, at the behest of his Christian neighbor to investigate Christianity, so he goes to Rome to see how the Church is run, which makes his neighbor despair of the man’s salvation, knowing what he will see there, this being a bad period in Church history. But when the Jew returns, he announces that he will become a Christian because he has concluded that no organization run like the Vatican at that time could have survived and prospered unless God was behind it.
Augustine: I’ve thought about seeing about trying to reprint that story in This Rock, but am afraid it would be perceived as anti-Semitic (as if sharing the gospel with Jews were anti-Semitic)
Cyril: I don’t think it would be perceived that way by anyone but Jews.
Augustine: Okay, so are you ready to become a Catholic now? 😉
Cyril: Almost I really am close.
Augustine: Good for you. I know the feelings you must be having right now. . . . the being almost ready, and exhilirated at the prospect, but still needing to work up the courage to take the step.
Cyril: That pretty much sums it up.
Cyril: I feel indignant now when I hear someone Catholic bashing.
Augustine: I know what you mean. I heard a broadcast of the Whitehorse Inn radio program a while back and had been out of the Presbyterian-Reformed loop for so long that I was stunned at the overwhelming smugness in their position. I had completely forgotten that. I thought CURE (Christians United for REformation — the hosts of the program) should have been named CURS (Christian United in Reformation Smugness).
Cyril: Yes, and since I will be getting married soon, I will need to make my decision quickly.
Augustine: Well, you could be received into the Church in as soon as six weeks once you make the decision and find a priest. You could also time it so you are received into the Church at your nuptial Mass. Have you shared with your fiancee your hope/intention to convert yet?
Cyril: Oh yes . . .
Augustine: How has she responded to that?
Cyril: And my family.
Augustine: How have *they* responded to that?
Cyril: She is delighted.
Cyril: They are indifferent
Augustine: Really? No hostility?
Cyril: No, they don’t really care what church I belong to. My dad is a norminal Jew and my mom a nominal Baptist.
Augustine: Oh, really? I’m not sure if I knew that. If it ever comes up, you might mention to your dad that there were several Jewish popes in the middle ages. Thus any antisemitism at that time was theological, not racial. The racial antisemitism started in Germany after the time of Luther. In the middle ages, if a Jewish person had converted, he could rise to become pope.
Cyril: He is aware of that. He knows a lot about history.
Augustine: Three of the other papabile are Africans.
Cyril: Yes, I read an article in Time magazine> about them
Augustine: There is a really good article about the papabile in Latin Mass magazine.
Cyril: Next time — if you don’t mind — I’d like to ask you some more practical questions, mainly about Catholic sexuality (since I’m getting married, of course).
Augustine: That’d be fine.
Cyril: Well, gotta catch some zzzz’s before church tomorrow.
Augustine: Okay, God bless you, brother!
Cyril: Rest well in the Lord tonight.
Augustine: You too, my friend.