Author(s)Lee Gatiss
Date 25 February 2016

How old is the doctrine of justification by faith alone? Was it just invented at the Reformation? Was it the brainchild of Martin Luther or John Calvin?

Well, the Church of England’s official view on that subject is that justification by faith alone is an ancient doctrine—taught by the Bible itself and found in the best theologians of the early church in both East and West. So despite what some today might say, it is not a mere “distortion due to the heated atmosphere of the time.”

Indeed, as the Homily of Salvation says, it is an absolutely vital doctrine at all times. As you can see in today’s extract…

“That we are justified by faith only, freely and without works, we do often read in the best and most ancient writers. Beside Hilary, Basil, St. Ambrose (before rehearsed), we read the same in Origen, St. Chrysostom, St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, Prosper, Oecomenius, Photius, Bernardus, Anselm, and many other authors, Greek and Latin…

But this proposition — that we are justified by faith only, freely and without works — is spoken in order clearly to take away all merit of our works, as being insufficient to deserve our justification at God’s hands, and thereby most plainly to express our weakness and the goodness of God, the great infirmity of ourselves and the might and power of God, the imperfection of our own works and the most abundant grace of our saviour Christ. And thereby wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification to Christ only and his most precious bloodshedding.

This faith the holy scripture teaches. This is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion. This doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s church do approve. This doctrine advances and sets forth the true glory of Christ, and suppresses the vain glory of man. Whoever denies this is not to be reputed for a true Christian, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary of Christ and his gospel, and for a setter forth of man’s vainglory.”