Monday, July 21, 2008

St. John Chrysostom on Faith Alone

Somebody sent me these passages from "the Golden Mouth", and sorry to say, I'm no longer sure who it was. If it was you, please say so, that I may thank you. (Christopher Orr, was it you?) Or did I perhaps copy these from someone else's blog? At any rate, they're always worth reading or reading again.

Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” ( John 17.3 ), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing (fn. “i.e. believing”) doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. (Chrysostom, Homily XXXI on John (3: 35, 36). NPNF 1 vol.14. Page 106.)

Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” He shows that not faith only, but a virtuous life also is required, and the consciousness to ourselves of nothing evil. Since the holy of holies does not receive “with full assurance” those who are not thus disposed. For they are holy, and the holy of holies; but here no profane person enters. They were sprinkled as to the body, we as to the conscience, so that we may even now be sprinkled over with virtue itself. (Chrysostom, Homily XIX on Hebrews, NPNF 1 vol.14. Page 445.)

But wherefore hath He chosen us? “That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.” That you may not then, when you hear that “He hath chosen us,” imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, saith he, hath He chosen us, and on this condition, “that we should be holy and without blemish.” (Chrysostom, NPNF 1 vol.13. Page 50.3.)

After this, that we may not be confident in the gospel merely preached, nor think that faith only suffices us for salvation, He utters also another, an awful parable. Which then is this? That of the net.“For the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”And wherein doth this differ from the parable of the tares? For there too the one are saved, the other perish; but there, for choosing of wicked doctrines; and those before this again, for not giving heed to His sayings, but these for wickedness of life; who are the most wretched of all, having attained to His knowledge, and being caught, but not even so capable of being saved. Chrysostom, Homily XLVIII on Matthew, NPNF 1 vol.10. Page 295.)

"Then in order that not even these should put confidence in their faith alone, He discourses unto them also concerning the judgment to be passed upon wicked actions; to them that have not yet believed, of coming unto Him by faith, and to them that have believed, of care with respect to their life. For the garment is life and practice. And yet the calling was of grace; wherefore then doth He take a strict account? Because although to be called and to be cleansed was of grace, yet, when called and clothed in clean garments, to continue keeping them so, this is of the diligence of them that are called. (Chrysostom, Homily LXIX on Matthew, NPNF 1 vol.10. Page 423.)


William Weedon said...

So how do you understand him in his numerous other citations speaking POSITIVELY about faith alone? I know how I understand how both are speaking a fullness of truth, but I'm wondering how you explain him. I apply the set you give to his rejection of a faith that is opinion only and not trust; knowledge, not confidence in God's promises. I apply the others to that faith which is trust and sure confidence in God's promises - the faith that is true faith and cannot exist with mortal sin. Thoughts?

Tony said...

Thanks a lot for this post, Anastasia!

As for Chrysostom's opinion on faith, I would imagine it is completely in line with the thinking behind what his peers and even the canon scripture would say. Just recently on my own blog I posted this quote from Saint Diadochos of Photiki:

Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions. Our father Abraham would not have been counted righteous because of his faith had he not offered its fruit, his son (cf Jas 2:21; Rom 4:3).

And some quotes from my favorite epistle, written by James:

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! (2:19)

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (2:26)

None of them is belittling the importance of faith, for faith is what gives us the strength to commit our works. But simply saying you believe Jesus is the Son of God, or saying you're a Christian like you're a member of some country club cannot make finalize your salvation. If it was that simple, then even a monkey could be a servant of Christ.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Tony-Allen, I'm getting ready to post a snippet of that quote on this blog, citing yours in the process and linking to it. I think I scheduled that post for publication on Friday...


As you know, there were in the early Church the judaizers, who in contradiction to the Council of Jerusalem, wanted to impose Torah on every Christian. They were scared silly of not observing all 613 commandments. They couldn't imagine being saved without doing that. It's in contradistinction to that we see St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom and others speaking of faith without works. They mean it's okay not to be versed in and observant of the Mosaic Law. There is salvation apart from the Law; in fact, salvation was never by the Law. They mean there is no way to earn our way into heaven or to buy God's favor, or to bribe Him or to obligate Him to save us. It's all strictly by Grace through faith.

The person of faith walks not by the Law but by the Holy Spirit. We can do at least some of the works of the Law without faith, but we cannot have access to the Holy Spirit except through faith. Nothing outside of faith will get us to our goal. In that sense, it's faith alone.

But faith doesn't simply mean trust. It means trust as the modus operandi of our lives. It means putting our hand in the hand of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him guide and direct us and live in us and do His works in us. (There is no law, as St. Paul says, against the things the Holy
Spirit brings forth in us.)

To "have" faith means to "live" faith, or else it means nothing real. Not living it shows our so-called "faith" not only isn't trust, it isn't even our true opinion, either. It's sheer fantasy. In practice, which means in reality, we are trusting something else and demonstrating our real, deepest opinion, which is that Christ doesn't matter all that much.

That's why St. Paul tells the Corinthians, "Though I have all faith..." ALL faith! Opinion, knowledge, trust, any and all faith! So that I could move mountains! "...but have not love, I am nothing." And later, "Now remain faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love." Why? Because love gives birth to hope and life to faith.

In summary, "faith alone" vis-a-vis the Torah (or any other set of rules) but faith includes an entirely different kind of works, the works of love and of the Spirit of Love. Bringing forth these will not earn us anything, but will conform us to the image of the Son, which is our goal. Can't reach that goal without those works, either.