04 June 2007

Someone Needs to Write a Book...

...that was my first thought on beginning to read the paper that Christopher Orr linked up on his blog from erstwhile LCMS, Robert C. Koons. The book I was thinking of was a thorough treatment of Chrysostom's treatment of justification. It needs to be by someone who reads Chrysostom in the Greek (that's not me!) and who will be able to deal with the data without trying to fit it into either an "Orthodox" or "Lutheran" straight-jacket, let alone a "Roman" one. I say this because it seems to me that Mr. Koons does not do justice to the complex picture of this doctrine that Chrysostom presents. There are so very many passages that popped into my mind in reading his work (and I'm not done it yet - but this is one of the topics he tackles up top), but a few that I think need to be reckoned with are these:

God does not wait for time to elapse after repentance. You state your sin, you are justified. You repented, you have been shown mercy. – Homily 7 On Repentance and Compunction, p. 95 in FOTC, vol. 96.

And he well said, "a righteousness of mine own," not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence. Chrysostom, Homily on Philippians 3

God is a great lover of man. He did not hesitate to surrender His Son as prey in order to spare His servant. He surrendered His only-begotten to purchase hard-hearted servants. He paid the blood of His Son as the price. O the philanthropy of the Master! And do not tell me again, “I sinned a lot; how can I be saved?” You cannot save yourself, but your Master can, and to such a great degree as to obliterate your sins. Pay attention very carefully to the discourse. He wipes out the sins so completely that not a single trace of them remains. – Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church FOTC: vol 96, pp. 116,117

What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone. Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest apart from the Law.” But the justice of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and not through any labor and suffering. --Discourse Against Judaizing Christians, VII:III:2

They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed." - Homily on Galatians 3 (Schaff)

Here he shows God's power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only. Homily 7 on Romans (Schaff)

There are many others that I've collected over the years in reading this great father that speak similarly, but how anyone can interpret these passages in harmony with Trent's doctrine of justification is beyond me. Still, I would be the first to admit that I am at a distinct disadvantage in reading him in a different language than his own, and that I have read only a fraction of his works - most of the quotes I've collected from him, though, come from his preaching on the passages in the NT that deal with the topic of justification directly. But it needs a thorough research. Some young enterprising grad student should go for it!


Kepler said...

Sounds like a job for Eric Phillips.

William Weedon said...

You know, I kinda was thinking the EXACT SAME THING. :)

123 said...

Koons' point doesn't seem to be that Chrysostom can't sound like a Lutheran, it's just that his thought in total is not Lutheran. One can assume that other half (or more) of his thought was just an assumed, un-thought out, unconscious mistake, or one can assume that he knew what he was saying and making a different argument outside of the framework a Lutheran is looking for.

Whether it matches with Trent, I don't know. Reading his article though underlined a primary reason I became Orthodox. Orthodoxy sidesteps the cul-de-sac of despair and sophistry that the Roman Catholic vs. Lutheran debate seems to always devolve into, which all seems to stem from the paradigm set up by either Augustine or perhaps Latin and philosophical categories as understood in the Latin West.

I agree it needs research, but at the end of the day we have a limited context to work with when looking only or primarily at the surviving texts of Paul. And besides, faith can latch on to reality, or it can latch on to what it wants to see (e.g., the 'veracity' of horoscopes and fortune tellers).

William Weedon said...


I think that in regards to justification - when St. John Chrysostom is treating that topic specifically - there tends to be huge overlap with Lutheran teaching on the subject. But he seems to me to be a true Biblical theologian (Antioch, remember!) and feels little compunction to systematize his thought: the text before him is what he treats. In this he is certainly not Lutheran: he feels no compunction to refer the text always back to justification.

I find that to be a bit different different in, say, Chyrsologus. A Western father, of course. I remember the smile that came to my face when he is expositing Luke and comes across: Zecharias being a righteous man. Right away he asks: But if no living man is righteous before God how can he be called righteous? He concludes right away: This he had not of himself, it was the gift of God to him. He makes a similar move a couple times. It struck me a difference between him and the Golden-mouth (well, and the fact that St. Peter valued CONCISION!).

William Weedon said...

About "what one wants to see" PLEASE don't trot that one out, if it is a means of ignoring what the Father actually said!!! I hope you didn't it mean it to discount the Father's words here. The key is just to go read him. To read his exposition of St. Paul (and St. John and St. Luke and whatever else you can get hold of) and see what is there.

Contrary to what folks may think, I never set out to read Chrysostom to prove him a "Lutheran." I read him assuming - as I had been taught - that he was terrible at confounding law and Gospel, and expecting to find no clear statements of justification at all. To my utter shock and delight, he is perfectly clear on the topic - again and again. So many, many places could be cited. But I invite and encourage everyone to read him for themselves. We've got a lot of him online and so very accessible. What I encourage NO ONE to do is to assume: "He can't mean what he said because we know he was Orthodox and the Orthodox don't teach X." That's just silly. He challenges Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans. He fits cleanly into no box. I suspect that's why we ALL regard him as a Father of the Church.

Anonymous said...

I was just reading a little something from Chrysostom tonight:

'Is it not, therefore, enough to believe in the Son.' You will say, 'to have eternal life?' By no means. Listen to Christ making this point clear by saying: 'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.' Furthermore, blasphemy against the Spirit is sufficient, even of itself, to cast into hell. But why do I mention only part of the doctrine? Even if one believes in an orthodox manner in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but does not live a moral life, he does not gain profit from his faith for his salvation.
Therefore, even when He says:'Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God', let us not think that the knowledge mentioned is of itself sufficient for salvation for us. We also need uprightness of life and character.... - Daily Readings From the Writings of St. John Chrysostom

Now, I have very little experience reading the fathers. But both Chrysostom and Ephraim the Syrian in A Spiritual Psalter seem to go back and forth on this issue. When I read your quotes, it continues to confuse me. Could you comment?

Diana Frost

William Weedon said...


I don't think it is a flip flop on the issue as much as it is a struggling with the terms. If one says "faith alone justifies" as St. John Chrysostom does in many places, he is speaking of that faith which exists only in penitence. If one says "faith alone is not to justify," as he does in the passage you cited, he is rejecting that "faith" which is assent to Orthodox teaching (as in James - "even the devils believe and tremble").

The key is to look to what he means by faith in each context in which he uses it.

The Reformers also struggled with how to say this, and ended up adopting the language I used above: "the faith that saves exists in penitence." A faith that does not issue in repentance and its fruits can't and won't save a soul.

As he says "knowledge is not sufficient." This is the way that the Apology to the Augsburg Confession expresses the exact same matter:

"Likewise, the faith of which we speak exists in repentance...Therefore it cannot exist in people who live by the flesh, who are delighted by their own lusts and obey them.... Paul is writing about faith that receives forgiveness of sins in a terrified heart and flees from sin. Such faith does not remain in those who obey their desires, neither does it dwell with mortal sin." (V:21-23)

Earlier the same document says: "We speak of the kind of faith that is not an idle thought, but liberates form death and produces new life in hearts. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This does not coexist with mortal sin." (IV:64)

I think that's the key to why Chrysostom, Ephrem the Syrian, other fathers (and also the Lutheran Confessions) can speak both ways. I hope that helps.

William Weedon said...


I thought after I wrote that of this excellent passage that explains it better than I did:

Since faith unites us so closely to Christ, it is really the mother all virtues in us. Where faith is, there Christ is; where Christ is, there is a holy life, namely, true humility, true gentleness, true love. Christ and the Holy Spirit are never separated; and when the Holy Spirit is present in a soul there is true holiness. Therefore, where the life is not holy, the sanctifying Spirit must be absent; and if the Holy Spirit be absent, Christ cannot be there; and if Christ is not there, then neither is *true* faith there. Any branch that draws not its life and succor from the vine cannot be considered as united with the vine; so we are not united to Christ by faith unless we derive all our spiritual life and strength from Him.

Sounds like Chrysostom in many ways, but it is not. It is Johann Gerhard, preeminent Lutheran dogmatician of the 17th century. It is from his *Spiritual Meditations* XII.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,

The problem, though, is how Chrysostom (and the consensus of the Fathers) would answer the question, 'Are good works necessary *for salvation*, as understood as before the final judgment seat of Christ?' The quote that Diana provided says that not only faith, but also 'uprightness of life and character' are necessary *for salvation*. And I'm sure a myriad of others that say similar things could be drummed up as well.

This obviously goes a step beyond what the Lutheran Confessions say. Good works are necessary as the fruit of faith, but they are not necessary for salvation.

As you know, the Lutheran Confessions equate justification, or the forgiveness of sins, with salvation; and while this is in a sense true, it doesn't seem to be the whole picture. It doesn't do justice to a holistic understanding of salvation. It seems to me that a comprehensive understanding of salvation is predicated upon good works -- sure, it's all by grace, it's all the work of the Holy Spirit, and yes, we cannot save ourselves. But good works still seem to be necessary for salvation.


Anonymous said...

One more thing:

The judgment is a terrible thing to think about, that's for sure. All the more reason to live what time we've got left in repentance, trusting God who is merciful and loves mankind, and supplicating Him for 'a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ'.

Lord, have mercy!


William Weedon said...


But reread carefully what Diana posted. I think you have added something in that the saint did not say. He said (at least in that citation):

"Even if one believes in an orthodox manner in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but does not live a moral life, he does not gain profit from his faith for his salvation."

Does not gain profit from his faith for salvation is not the same as saying "good works are necessary for salvation." I may be wrong, but I *suspect* that what he'd say, if you put it to him like that, is something along these lines: "But you mean of course that good works are necessary AS salvation!"

For these are precisely what we are saved for and to speak of being saved and not having good works then is to speak like someone saying I can be nourished without eating. The faith that saves doesn't merely look upon the feast of salvation and say: "That's mine in Christ." The faith that saves digs in and begins devouring it!

William Weedon said...

All of this discussion, by the way, illustrates the point of the original post: St. John's teaching on justification is complex and it would be great if someone could produce a work on it that took the vast array of things he said on it and looked at ALL of them.

Here he speaks on John 3:18:

"He that believes in the Son, is not judged." He that "believes," not he that is over-curious: he that "believes," not the busybody. But what if his life be unclean, and his deeds evil? It is of such as these especially that Paul declares, that they are not true believers at all: "They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him." ( Tit. i. 16 .)

Here he seems to run with the idea of "true faith" and by implication a sham faith - and that could be one key to understanding the "works as necessary" question.

As for not misusing God's gracious pardon for the sake of continuing in sin (impenitence) it seems to be a favorite theme of his (and of the Apostle Paul's). He mentions it specifically in his treatment of Ephesians 2:10:

Listen to the Scripture, which says, "Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins." (Ecclus. v. 6.) He does not forbid us to say, "His mercy is great." This is not what He enjoins; rather he would have us constantly say it, and with this object Paul raises all sorts of arguments, but his object is what follows. Do not, he means, admire the loving-kindness of God with this view, with a view to sinning, and saying,"His mercy will be pacified for the multitude of my sins." For it is with this object that I too discourse so much concerning His goodness, not that we may presume upon it, and do any thing we choose, because in that way this goodness will be to the prejudice of our salvation; but that we may not despair in our sins, but may repent. For "the goodness of God leads you to repentance," (Rom. ii. 4.) not to greater wickedness.


Sch├╝tz said...

Dear Pastor,

I had not yet read all these comments when I posted on my own blog about this post. So, if I misrepresented you as trying to "Lutheranise" the Goldentongue, do forgive me.

But I write to alert you to an entry on the First Things blogsite by Dr Adam Cooper (link from the blog on my page), a local Lutheran theologian here in Melbourne.

He engages with the justification aspects of Dr Koons' essay, and asks about the consequences of certain approaches to Justification that seem to deny the importance of the body. He also ends with a "Lutheran sounding" quote from Chrysostom.

123 said...

About "what one wants to see" PLEASE don't trot that one out

I had responded to this yesterday but something must have gotten mixed up and it didn't go through. I just wanted to be clear that I wasn't charging you with doing anything like this, i.e., cherry-picking. I was claiming that any study that attempted to show what the 'real' view of Chrysostom was on justification would be marred by the fact that we are all biased in our reading, we bring our own subjectivity, ability to understand, etc. We all tend to weigh certain statements more than others, explain certain statements away as being wrong or unclear, and we all use different key texts to interpret the rest. We all do this when explaining differences between language used by Paul and James, grace, faith and works and how these do or do not square with our dogmatic formulations; we also do this with texts pertaining to the Trinity, Christ's humanity and divinity, as well as with our understanding of accessibility of the Divine Nature and how this squares with II Peter 1:4. The list can go on and on as to how we each of us see what we think is most probable, most likely, true; unfortunately, we are all in danger of seeing what we want in a way similar to how some see truth in a fortune teller's tales.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

The Formula of Concord on Free Will reads as follows:

65] From this, then, it follows that as soon as the Holy Ghost, as has been said, through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness. But this [that we cooperate] does not occur from our carnal natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Ghost has begun in us in conversion, 66] as St. Paul expressly and earnestly exhorts that as workers together with Him we receive not the grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. 6, 1. But this is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God. But if this were understood thus [if any one would take the expression of St. Paul in this sense], that the converted man cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the manner as when two horses together draw a wagon, this could in no way be conceded without prejudice to the divine truth. (2 Cor. 6, 1: Sunergou'te" parakalou'men: We who are servants or coworkers with God beseech you who are God's husbandry and God's building, 1 Cor. 3, 9, to imitate our example, that the grace of God may not be among you in vain, 1 Cor. 15, 10, but that ye may be the temple of God, living and dwelling in you, 2 Cor. 6, 16.)

67] Therefore there is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized men. For since, according to the doctrine of St. Paul, Gal. 3, 27, all who have been baptized have put on Christ, and thus are truly regenerate, they have now arbitrium liberatum (a liberated will), that is, as Christ says, they have been made free again, John 8, 36; whence they are able not only to hear the Word, but also to assent to it and accept it, although in great weakness.

End quote

Just as there are those who, as Koons states, misrepresent the true teachings of Roman Catholicism, there are those who misrepresent this particular teaching in Lutheranism, giving the impression that we do not teach good works in this sense.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,

Why, then, the petition in the litany for 'a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ', if the answer to that question for Chrysostom is Christ's own righteousness imputed to him who has has faith? The lex orandi, lex credendi maxim comes into play here -- there's a reason no Lutheran liturgy (not even the modified Ukrainian liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) incorporates this petition; it flies in the face of evangelical doctrine.

If Chrysostom were truly committed to evangelical doctrine, if he was in fact a kind of proto-Lutheran, there'd be no reason for this petition.


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

We petition God for many things we know he will provide. The Lord's Prayer is a perfect example, as is this petition for a good defense, which God has promised to provide.

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He is the propitiation concerning our sins, and not concerning ours only, but also concerning the sins of all the world. 1 John 2

That's the only defense I'll trust at the final Judgment! I'm certainly not going to show my own putrid life as a defense!!!

And I petition God daily for this defense, asking him to forgive my sins on account of Christ... and right after I ask him to give me my daily bread, which he has also promised to provide.

There's absolutely nothing in this petition for a good defense at the judgment seat which "flies in the face of evangelical doctrine."

What are you talking about?

William Weedon said...


I agree with Erich on this. Why should any Lutheran NOT pray for a good defense on the day of judgment?

In the Litany (of our Church) we do pray:

"In all time of our tribulation; in all time of prosperity; in the hour of death; *and in the day of judgment* Help us, good Lord!"

In the same Litany we ask God to deliver us from everlasting death.

In our hymnody we sing:

"Save us from the terror of the fiery pit of hell!" (LSB 755:2)

At every funeral, as I walk before the body to the graveside, I read from the liturgy the appointed words:

"In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help? From You alone, O Lord, who by our sins are justly angered. Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death. Lord, You know the secret of our hearts; shut not Your ears to our prayers, but spare us, O Lord. Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and merciful Savior: deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death. O worthy Judge eternal, do not the pains of death turn us from You at our last hour..."

All of which is to plead that on the last day we stand before Him as the Publican and not the Pharisee, so that we might go "to our home, justified." "Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner!"

William Weedon said...


Another prayer to consider is the closing petition of General Prayer 2 from LSB:

As we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith *and a godly life* to prepare for the world to come, doing the *work* You have given us to do while it is day, before the night comes when no one can work. And when our last hour comes, support us by Your power, and receive us into Your heavenly Kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

If that's not pleading for a good defense for the day of judgment, I don't know what is!

William Weedon said...

Another prayer that might help. It's from Starck's Prayerbook - beloved and used by Lutherans for centuries:

I know, O God, that it appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment; therefore I place myself now before Thy Judgment-seat while I am living, and wish to be reconciled with Thee before I die. O righteous God, since I not know how long it will be till I depart from this world, behold, I come before Thy judgment and accuse myself. Oh, I acknowledge that I am a great sinner. I have transgressed all Thy holy commandments, and that, frequently and knowingly. I have not loved Thee with my whole heart, with all my soul, with all my strength. I have not always followed in the footsteps of my Jeuss, nor have I always let the Holy Spirit lead me, as I should have done. I remember that I was made Thy child in Holy Baptism, but I have not always lived as a child of God; that I have often made promises to Thee at confession and communion, but have kept few and have again become conformed to the world. O Lord, I have not done right; yea, the load of my sins is weighing me down; I have not walked the way which Thou hadst appointed me. Mine iniquities are gone over my head; as an heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

O gracious God, Thou hast promised that Thou hast no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Behold, I come now, desiring to make my peace with Thee, while I am still in my sound mind and can recall my past life. Oh, I repent of my sins; I prostrate myself before Thy tribunal and say: Lord God, Father in heaven, have mercy upon me; Lord God Son, the Savior of the world, have mercy upon me; Lord God Holy Ghost, have mercy upon me. O Father, I take refuge in Thy mercy and say: I have sinned in Thy sight and am no more worthy to be called Thy child, and do not cast me away because of my transgressions. I flee to Thee, O Jesus, my Advocate: oh, intercede now for me, poor sinner, in the hour of my death. For if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Oh, pardon my iniquities for the sake of Thy blood, and let me find mercy at the bar of strict justice because of Thy holy wounds. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness; according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. O blessed Holy Spirit, I flee to Thee. Oh, create in me a clean heart; bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of God, have been received into favor with God. Yea, work in me a sincere repentance, a living faith, and a holy resolve to live only to Thy glory and to die in childlike obedience to Thee.

Oh, work in me holy thoughts, devout supplications, sweet meditations on death. Grant me a refreshing contemplation of heaven and the future glory. Let my heart hear the comforting words: My son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee. Then I shall not be afraid to die, because I know that the sins which have been forgiven here are forgiven also in heaven. O Holy Trinity, have mercy upon me; let me find grace with Thee at my departure from this world, and do not charge against me anything that I have ever done amiss, but have compassion on me according to Thy love.

It's Starck, but it sounds a LOT like Ephrem the Syrian, no?

Anonymous said...

I was wrong. Forgive my inconsequential writing. I'm reminded yet again of why I shouldn't stick my nose where it doesn't belong.

For clarity's sake, why was this petition taken out of the Ukrainian liturgy, if it is consistent with evangelical doctrine?


Past Elder said...

If Dr Koons wants to find a misrepresenter of the teachings of Roman Catholicism he is now in the best possible place to do so, having joined the greatest one on earth, the post conciliar Roman church.

What these guys are all misty eyed about I saw emerge in the 1960s and was taught by some of the perpetrators. Somewhere along the line they may encounter the real deal, and the mist will turn to tears.

William Weedon said...

Dear Andrew,

You are NEVER sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong when you comment or question on this blog. I welcome your participation at any time.

As to why the petition was dropped in the recension of the liturgy used by the Ukrainian Lutherans, I haven't got the foggiest. But I know that it cannot be that that phrase would be found doctrinally wanting. It's just not a problem at all. I wonder if it was dropped as part of the "tightening up" of the Service (it doesn't have as many repetitions or as many petitions in general as the Byzantine original).

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Ask Pr. David Jay Webber. If anyone would know, he would. :-)