17 September 2011

Diognetus: Imputation

Was imputation taught in the early post-canonical church? Here's the very early (mid-second century?) and anonymous Epistle to Diognetus:
In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!
HT: H. D. Williams, 'Justification by Faith: A Patristic Doctrine,' JEH 57 (2006): 654.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Interesting article. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I was particularly thankful for his comment about the 'outmoded view that post-apostolic Christianity was corrupted by the vagaries of Hellenism'. Indeed.

While the passage you (and Williams) quoted from the Epistle to Diognetus may be interpreted to mean the Protestant doctrine of justification, such an interpretation isn't absolutely necessary.It's important to be careful of assuming that certain words are necessarily conveying certain concepts. In fact, I don't think even Williams would say that this teaches imputation:

Instead of mitigating the contributions of the pre-Augustinian legacy, we may rather observe the ways in which it may serve to balance the Protestant insistence that the doctrine of justification is expressed only as the imputation of an alien or external righteousness to the sinner. It can be reasonably advocated that the ancients’ less complicated emphasis on righteousness received through the incarnate Christ, rather than by adher- ence to the Law, stands closer to Paul’s message than those who would later reduce the testimony of the entire New Testament to a singular vision.

Mark the Ascetic said in his collection of proverbs on the spiritual life On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous By Works: 'Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the Kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.' I think this accurately and succinctly describes the patristic understanding on the relationship between faith and works.