Friday, May 13, 2011

Christology and Justification in Galatians

Victorinus, Augustine, and Luther
                In Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, he rebukes those congregations for being “so quickly transferred to another gospel from Him who called them to the grace of Christ.”  The villains are the Judaizers who have convinced the Gentiles that they basically need to be Jews in practice before they can be Christians.  The Epistle attacks what we would understand as legalism, i.e. insisting that works of the law are necessary for a man to be justified.  From this, the Christian Church finds the central article of her faith, that men are not justified by works.  To Christians who have always been taught that good works contribute nothing to salvation, they find it confusing that one would subscribe to Paul’s teachings and at the same time claim that good works do contribute to the justification of man. 
            In the Council of Trent, Canon 9 on Justification states:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.[1]
            The first Canon states that if anyone teaches that man is justified by works apart from grace, he must be anathema.  At first glance, this seems like it contradicts Canon 9; however, this only demonstrates all the more the subtlety of the papists’ teaching on justification.  Whereas Lutheran theologians have emphasized sola fide and sola gratia, the papists have emphasized “not without grace.”  They are right.  No one is justified without grace; however, saying “not without grace” does not necessarily mean “grace alone.”  In fact, saying “grace alone” does not even have the same meaning for the papists. 
 In the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,”[2] an ecumenical statement from 1997 drafted jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, the papists are able to say that man is justified “by grace alone;” however, their understanding of “grace alone” must be understood in light of their teaching of cooperative grace (gratia adiuvans seu cooperans).  God is the first cause (causa prima) in justification.[3]  God is not the only cause; rather he is the first cause whereby He stimulates, helps, and cooperates.  Thus, man has a role in his justification.  The papists cling to their synergistic interpretation of grace in order that they might retain sola gratia.  But how do they interpret Galatians?  More specifically, how did they end up with this interpretation? 
            I do not intend on indefinitely answering this question; however, by an examination of three commentaries on Galatians, I hope to shed light on the papists’ interpretation of grace.  The three commentaries are by Marius Victorinus (b. 280), St. Augustine (354-430), and Martin Luther[4] (1483-1546).  Most importantly, this examination of commentaries will identify and clear up certain extra-textual presuppositions in order to identify and understand Paul’s teaching on the article of Justification.
            Part I: Christology
            Mario Victorinus, a Roman professor of rhetoric in the fourth century,[5] was converted to Christianity between 354 and 359.  During the time of Victorinus’ career as a theologian, two major issues were pressing the Church.  In 325, the Council of Nicea condemned Arius and his heresy which denied the Divinity of Christ.  In 381, around the likely date of Victorinus’ death,[6] the first Council of Constantinople condemned the Macedonian heresy which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  Also, Julian the Apostate, Roman emperor from 355-63, was attempting to reestablish the old pagan religions of Rome against Christianity.  Although he seems to address both of these errors (anti-Trinitarian and Paganism) in his Pauline commentaries,[7] Victorinus’ defense of Trinitarian theology, specifically Christology, unites most intimately with the doctrine of Justification.
            In Galatians 1:2 Paul explains that he is an “Apostle not by men neither through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”  Here, Paul juxtaposes men and Christ.  Victorinus catches this significance, and by it, he asserts that Jesus is God.[8]  Augustine also makes this connection in his commentary, emphasizing that rather than by a mortal, Paul was an Apostle through Christ, “now wholly God.”[9]  Luther does not make the connection in the same way.  He more so emphasizes the difference between a mediate and immediate call from God into the ministry, also mentioning that there would have also been false apostles who were sent by God neither mediately through the Apostles nor immediately.[10]  He does, however, make this observation in the third verse.  Paul greets with grace from both God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  From this, Luther draws the Christological connection.  Luther uses this as a segue into the doctrine of Justification.  He points out that it is given to Christ to condemn sin, destroy death, and conquer the devil.  He continues:
No angel is able to give that.  But since by Christ, this is given, it is necessary that He is by nature God.[11]

                Luther’s Christology leads directly into Justification.  Only Christ can give victory over sin. 
Part II: Justification
            Augustine presents some difficult language when considering the doctrine of Justification; this is specifically in regards to Galatians 2:16.  It reads: “But knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law save through faith in Jesus Christ.”  In Jerome’s Bible translation, he appropriately translates ἐὰν μ as nisi.  They both mean ‘except’ ‘unless,’ or ‘save.’  In his commentary, Augustine understands the verse to mean that no man is justified by works of the law unless it is through faith in Jesus Christ.  From this, Augustine determines that there is a distinction between opera legis and spiritalia opera legis.  This distinction is not damaging unless one draws the type of conclusion drawn by AugustineFor him, grace and faith are qualifiers rather than the means by which man is justified, contrasted with works of the law.  He writes:
…but through grace itself [in] faith, they know that they are able to fulfill the spiritual works of the law. (emphases added)[12]
            In other words, one cannot fulfill the works of the law and be justified by them unless those works are qualified by adding grace and faith, thus making them spiritual. 
            This idea of being able to fulfill the spiritual works of the law carries on within Augustine’s commentaryGalatians 2:19 reads: “For I through the law have died to the law, in order that I might live to God; I have been crucified with Christ (Christo confixus sum cruci).”  Commenting on this passage, Augustine views the law as a tutor which is no longer needed when one is given grace and faith.  He compares it to infants who need nursing and one who needs a ship to travel home.  Once the infant is older, he no longer needs his mother’s nursing.  Once one is home, the ship is no longer needed.[13]  This analogy fits with the premise that the law is a tutor, and that the tutor is no longer necessary for one who has faith and grace.  We could understand Augustine as simply saying that the law instructs, and once God has given you faith by grace, the law cannot harm you.  At the same time, however, in light of Augustine’s claim that through grace one could fulfill the spiritual works of the law, Jesus almost seems like another lawgiver of works, but ones with spiritual functions. 
            Victorinus identifies the two laws mentioned in 2:16 as the law of Christ and the law of Moses.  Luther does this as well.[14]  Like Augustine, Victorinus speaks of the spiritual and the carnal when distinguishing between the two laws; however, whereas Augustine speaks of a fulfillment in the spiritual works of the law (spiritalia opera legis), Victorinus simply speaks of the spiritually understood law (spiritaliter intelligent).[15]  Augustine still speaks of the spiritual understanding; however, he does not speak of it as a result of being saved, as Victorinus does.  Rather, Augustine speaks of one dying through the spiritual understood law[16], lest he should carnally live under the law. 
            Victorinus says that when one has died to the law, i e. has been converted, the law is now (nunc) spiritually understood.  It is not until one lives to God when one now rightly understands the law of God.  He writes:
But after (postea quam) the Savior, the true and spiritual Light, has appeared, the law begins to be understood spiritually.[17] 
            First there is salvation and the true Light; then there is a better understanding of the law.  One is not saved through this new understanding; rather one acquires it after Christ has given Light.  Both Victorinus and Luther understand this passage as a law and gospel distinction.  This is not so in AugustineFor him, it seems, the spiritual understanding of the law is the means for rather than a result of Justification. 
            After one has been justified by the law of Christ, i.e. the gospel, one now has a spiritual understanding of the law.  This simply means that the Christian who has been given faith in Christ better understands what it is that pleases God.  Only a Christian, whose sins have been forgiven on account of Christ, has a spiritual relationship with God.  Therefore, only a Christian can rightly understand the law of God.[18]
                                    Modern Issues and Conclusion
            It is evident from Augustine’s understanding of grace that the papists would have room for their synergistic interpretation.  When grace becomes that qualifying element which merely allows us to do spiritual works, it makes sense that the papists would hold to a progressive justification through the gift of supernatural grace. 
            Today, we find “new”[19] issues.  N. T. Wright, a British theologian and former Bishop of Durham, advocates for his so called New Perspective on Paul.  In this new perspective, Wright claims that when Paul argues against the “works of the law” he only refers to the ceremonial laws of the Jews.  A. Andrew Das (2010) makes the point that “works of the law” should not be limited to ethnic observations.[20]  It is certainly true that in his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul addresses specifically what the Jews were imposing on the Gentiles.  This, however, does not demonstrate that the “works of the law” are not simply referring to the general law of God. 
            Victorinus, although mentioning the specific ordinances which the Jews imposed on the Gentiles such as circumcision, Sabbaths, etc., nevertheless makes no distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law.  Luther even relates the Galatians’ controversy to his own contemporary struggle with the papists and their errors.  He likewise explains that the law does not only include the ceremonial law, but the whole law, and he shows that the papists in fact make the same error as the “false apostles” in Galatia.[21]  Luther writes concerning 1:4:
Who gave Himself for our sins.
… [Paul] does not say: “Who received from you your words;” he did not say: “Who accepted sacrifices of the Mosaic Law, worshiping, Masses, vows, pilgrimages etc.;”…[22]
            The works of the law, just as both Victorinus and Augustine affirm, are carnally understood and observed apart from faith.  Here, Luther makes a list of what the Papacy called good works.  Whether the works are deeds which help your neighbor or simply ceremonial rites, to go back to works-righteousness is simply foolish and ungrateful.  Victorinus comments on this very issue from 2:21:
That since He has made me an heir through Christ, and Christ has given Himself up for me; therefore, forgiven, I have all the hope which is in Christ. Returning to the hope of the law -- that believing that I am justified by the works of the law -- this is to be ungrateful of Him who gave so much to me, that He has died for me, and has freed me from sin through the sin in His punishment.[23]
            The issue of Justification comes down to the grace of God in Christ.  Christ gives us His righteousness through faith in Him; this is prompted by God’s grace, i.e. His favorable disposition toward mankind through His Son.  God’s grace either prompts Him to merely help us build up enough righteousness, or it prompts Him to actually accomplish the work for us.  If someone does not acknowledge the latter or strays from it, Victorinus calls him ungrateful.  This is living to God, that one believes what God has already accomplished for him in Christ Jesus.
            As we have seen, Augustine confused the definition of grace, and this allowed the papists to take advantage and infiltrate their cooperative grace, thus imposing the role of man in the teaching of Justification.  Although Augustine was truly a doctor of the Church, it is still important that all Lutheran theologians identify his short-comings.  By identifying his errors, we admit that Augustine was fallible, and we can avoid looking at him as too high of an authority.  This also allows us to identify pure doctrine in his works and in the works of others by critically examining all theological writings, judging them by the rule and norm of our faith: the Holy Scriptures.  This is the only way a Lutheran is able to truly subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions and determine that they certainly are the normed norm (norma normata) of all Christian doctrine and the true exposition of God’s pure Word. 

[1] "Council of Trent the Sixth Session." Hanover Historical Text Project. J. Waterworth, London, Dolman;    1848, 1995. Web. 10 May 2011.                                                                                                                     <>.
[2] "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." The Lutheran World Federation.  Lutheran World       Federation and the Catholic Church, 1997. Web. 10 May 2011. <>.
[3] gratia adiuvans seu cooperans: helping or cooperating grace;“… as a helping or co-operating grace (gratia adiuvans seu cooperans), it produces the act conjointly with the will.  According to this explanation, not only does Divine grace make a supernatural act possible, but the act itself, though free, is wholly dependent on grace, because it is grace which makes the salutary act possible and which stimulates and assists in producing it.
”Hebermann, George, Edward Aloysius Pace, and C. B. Pallen. The Catholic Encyclopedia. X. Albany,        NY: Encyclopedia Press, Inc, 1913. 438. Print.
[4] My Latin translations from Luther’s 1535 Comentary on Galatians
 D. Martin Luthers Werfe. Weimarer Ausgabe, 40, Hermann Böhlaus Machfolger, 1911.
[5] Cooper, Stephen Andrew. "The Life and Times of Marius Victorinus". Marius Victorinus' Commentary      on Galatians : introduction, translation, and notes.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 16.                        Print.
[6] Ibid,  Cooper: “Nothing is known about the date of his decease, except that he died some time before Augustine’s encounter with Simplician in 386.”
[7] Ibid, 35
[8] Victorinus, Marius. "In Epistolam Pauli ad Galatas." Documenta Catholica Omnia. Vatican, n.d. Web.       10 May 2011.          0372,_Victorinus_Afrus,_In_Epistola_Pauli_ad_Galatas,_MLT.pdf.
 …sed per Iesum Christum, scilicet Deum.  …but through Jesus Christ, namely God. 
[9] Augustinus, St. "EPISTOLAE AD GALATAS EXPOSITIONIS." Augustinus Hipponensis. Nuova BiBlioteca Agostiniana, 2011. Web. 10 May 2011.  
…novissimus est apostolus Paulus per Christum iam totum Deum… The newest is the apostle Paul through Christ now wholly God. 
[10] Luther, Martin. Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Translated by Theodore Greabner. Grand    Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949. 70. Print.
[11] WA, 82;  Ista nullus Angelus donare potest.  Cum autem Christo haec tribuantur, necesses est Eum esse natura Deum.    
[12] Augustinus, prg 15;…sed per ipsam gratiam fidei spiritalia opera legis eos implere posse cognoscerent.
[13] Ibid, prg 17
[14] Luther (Zondervan Edition), 70
Luther explains 2:19 as Paul pitting the law of grace against the law of Moses; the law of Moses can no longer condemn, because it has been condemned by the law of grace and liberty.  He demonstrates that the Scripture often use this illustration. 
WA, 267;  “...the law is opposed by the law, sin by sin, death by death, bondage by bondage, the devil by the devil, fire by fire...”  Luther demonstrates that God uses that which is evil to defeat evil.
[15] Victorinus,  1165,  spiritaliter intelligitur vs. carnaliter intelligentEgo enim per legem quae nunc spiritaliter intelligent, legi mortuus sum;  For I have died to the law through the law which now is spiritually understood. 
[16] Augustinus, pargraph 17, sive per legem spiritaliter intellectam legi mortuus est  Or should I say through the spiritually understood law, one has died to the law. 
[17]Victorinus, 1165,  at postea quam Salvator verum et spiritale lumen apparuit, intelligi lex coepit spiritaliter;
[18] Chemnitz affirmed, as did Luther and Melanchthon, that in granting the forgiveness of sins, eternal life in Christ, and peace with God, the gospel alone gives a clear understanding of the law.  For a clear account of this, see this article written by J. A. O. Preus II:
Preus, J. A. O. “Chemnitz on Law and Gospel,” Concordia Journal, Vol. 15, No. 4, October 1989.
[19] See Dr. Thomas Winger’s review, “What is so new about the New Perspective?” in the same LOGIA issue as Das’ article. 
[20] “While Dunn and Wright have rightly recognized the intensely ethnic dimension to the apostle’s reasoning, they have wrongly denied Paul’s critique of works in general (Rom 4:4-5; 7:14-25).  The debate here should not be framed as an either/or matter…  If God saves in Christ and not through the law of Moses, then the Gentiles may be included in God’s salvation without becoming law-observant.  The inclusion of the Gentiles is the consequence of Paul’s Christological reasoning and not the reverse.”
Das, A. Andrew. “Modern Pauline Studies for the Uninitiated,” LOGIA, Vol. 14, No. 2, 12-13, Eastertide        2010
[21] Luther (Zondervan Edition), 70
[22] WA, 82
[23] Victorinus, 1166… ut cum ipse me haeredem fecerit per Christum, et Christus se tardier pro me, ego dimissa Omni spe quam habeo in Christo, redeam ad spem legis ut credam ex operibus legis me justificari.  Hoc est ingratum esse ei qui mihi tantum praestitit, ut pro me se objiceret, et me a peccatis liberaret per peccata in se punita.
Note also that what is commonly called “cheap grace” is that which is being ungrateful for God’s grace, often attributed to not trying hard enough to keep the law.  Victorinus says the opposite.  He is ungrateful who tries to be justified by the works of the law. 

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