St. Augustine, Catholic or Proto-Protestant?
There are many Protestants, mostly of the Calvinist persuasion, that believe St. Augustine was on their “side” concerning Soteriology. Is this really the case? One of the most central aspects to the Protestant understanding of Soteriology is justification by faith alone. If it can be demonstrated that St. Augustine opposed the Protestant view of justification by faith alone and maintained the Catholic view of justification then it follows St. Augustine was not a Proto-Protestant. In order to be fair to Protestants, it should be noted there are some Protestants that hold to a very similar view on justification compared to the Catholic understand of justification; however, the majority of Protestants seem to hold an antinomian view of justification.
Is Faith Alone Sufficient for Salvation?
Now, to answer the question: was St. Augustine a Proto-Protestant, let us briefly examine a few quotes from this revered Doctor of the Church.
St. Augustine wrote:
“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.” (On Faith and Works, 14:21)
According to the context of this quote, St. Augustine was refuting those who believed that all they must do in order to be saved is have an intellectual faith in Christ and even if they did not have any good works in their life after justification it was still guaranteed that they will be saved. Most assuredly, some Protestants believe good works follow justification, and St. Augustine was not refuting such a view in this passage, but he was addressing a particular view common among Protestants – the view that works do not necessarily have to follow justification in order for a person to be saved. So far, St. Augustine is on the Catholic side and opposed to the common Protestant view of justification by faith.
St. Augustine goes on to write:
“When St. Paul says, therefore, that man is justified by faith and not by the observance of the law, he [Paul] 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.” (Ibid)
This quote demonstrates St. Augustine held the Catholic view on justification by faith because most Protestants vehemently oppose any view that good works are meritorious in the eyes of God. It should be noted it is debatable what St. Paul meant when he used the phrase “works of the law” in the Book of Romans, but for our purposes it is sufficient to note St. Augustine seemed to understand the phrase to refer to works of the moral law.
The Faith of “Devils”
St. Augustine also wrote:
“St. James, moreover, is opposed to those who think that faith can save without good works that he compares them to devils.” (Ibid, 14:23)
“For the faith that saves is not the faith that the devils have and which is correctly called a dead faith, but the faith which works by charity.” (Ibid, 16:30)
A great number of Protestants are opposed to a view of justification that speaks of faith working by love, see here, but this is exactly what St. Augustine, and St. Paul whom St. Augustine was quoting, believed. Without question, St. Augustine taught all who believe good works do not necessarily follow justification have a faith no better than the “devils”. Such a view is incompatible with the popular Protestant view that good works at best are optional to the Christian life.
Is Justification Imputed or Infused?
St. Augustine wrote:
“He was handed over for our offenses, and He rose again for our justification. What does this mean, ‘for our justification’? So that He might justify us; so that He might make us just.” (Sermon 169, 13)
Protestants believe Christ’s good life and works are imputed to the person who has faith so that the person who believes in Christ is “simultaneously just and sinner”. In other words, the person who has faith in Christ is not actually just and in reality is still a sinner, yet God looks at them as just based on the life and works of Christ. This was not St. Augustine’s view. In this quote St. Augustine taught God not only justifies one based on Christ’s work but God also makes one just by an infusion of grace, this is opposed to the view that the person who has faith in Christ is “simultaneously just and sinner”.
The Verdict is In
Quotes from St. Augustine on this topic abound, but sufficed to say the teachings that good works are necessary in order to be saved, works after justification are meritorious, justifying faith works by charity and God infuses justifying grace into the one who believes in Christ are all in line with the Catholic position concerning justification. Therefore, St. Augustine could not have been a Proto-Protestant.