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Sundays with Augustine

November 20, 2006

New feature to our blog: Every Sunday, we’ll put up a great quote from the many works of St. Augustine of Hippo

“Let us now consider the question of faith. In the first place, we feel that we should advise the faithful that they would endanger the salvation of their souls if they acted on the false assurance that faith alone is sufficient for salvation or that they need not perform good works in order to be saved. This, in fact, is what some had thought even in the time of the apostles. For at that time there were some who did not understand certain rather obscure passages of St. Paul, and who thought therefore that he had said: ‘Let us do evil that there may come good.’ They thought that this was what St. Paul meant when he said: ‘The law entered so that sin might abound. And where sin abounded, grace did more abound.’ But what St. Paul means here is this: When man received the law, he presumed too much on his own strength. He was too proud to ask God’s help, as he should have done, that he might overcome his evil desires. The result was that his sins were now more and greater because of the law which he did not observe. When he realized his guilt, he turned to the faith for pardon and for ‘help from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ Thus it was necessary that the Holy Spirit fill his heart with love, in order that he might overcome his evil desires and perform out of love for God whatever God commanded him. This is what St. Paul means, and this too is what the Psalmist means when he says: ‘There infirmities were multiplied; afterwards they made haste.’

“When St. Paul says, therefore, that man is justified by faith and not by the observance of the law, he does not mean that good works are not necessary or that it is enough to receive and to profess the faith and no more. What he means rather and what he wants us to understand is that man can be justified by faith, even though he has not previously performed any works of the Law. For the works of the law are meritorious not before but after justification.”

Augustine, De fide et operibus 14.21


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