04 June 2009

Clement: Justification by Faith

In reading 1 Clement for the first time today (written around AD 96 from Rome to Corinth), I was initially struck by the way in which the heroes of old, in both OT and NT, were lauded only for their humble obedience. I began wondering if Clement would say anything about what has been seen as so central to Paul since the Reformation--justification by faith alone. Then, after Clement rehearses the divine blessings that rested upon priests, Levites, and Davidic kings, he writes this:

Therefore they were all glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works [ergon] or the righteous actions [dikaiopragias] which they had produced, but through his will; and therefore we ourselves, who through his will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified [dikaioumetha] through ourselves, nor through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or the works [ergon] which we have produced in holiness of heart, but through faith [pisteos], through which the Almighty God has justified [edikaiosen] all people from the beginning of the world; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Clem 32:3-4; my trans.)

That's not Luther. That was written one generation after Paul. And it isn't in a letter moving in a different conceptual world than the NT--say, like 4 Maccabees or Wisdom of Solomon--but a letter chock-full of quotes from the OT as well as the Gospels, Hebrews, and Paul--including Romans. Let's give due weight to the first Christian theologians and pastors, and read Paul accordingly.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I have puzzled over this quote from time to time over the years, since at face value it seems to teach a theology in strong contrast with the rest of 1 Clement.

The reading of it that seems to me to make the most sense is to understand the writer as meaning that the "faith, through which the Almighty God has justified all people" is God's own faithfulness. Thus the writer is talking about God's love and sovereignty (the faithfulness which leads him to justify humans) rather than sola fide.

ie he's not teaching "justification by faith not works", he's teaching "God is the ultimate cause of justification, not us". Such theology is reminiscent of Augustine as opposed to Luther.