Did Clement of Rome teach Justification by Faith Alone? No.

Martyrdom of Pope Saint Clement of Rome

As mentioned in a previous post, a lapsed Catholic recently trotted out several passages “proving” that the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is found in the Church Fathers. In the previous post, I demonstrated how the Epistle to Diognetus does not teach justification by faith alone, but rather that it conforms to the Council of Trent’s definition of original sin and justification (see the official Canons of the Council of Trent on Justification).

Next we turn to the so-called “Pro-Protestant” passages from Saint Clement of Rome, the fourth pope and bishop of Rome (died around A.D. 96). Here are the two quotes that supposedly prove that Saint Clement agreed with Luther’s doctrine of “faith alone”:

St. Clement of Rome Quote #1
Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.

First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 30.

I fail to see how this passage teaches “justification by faith alone” since it explicitly teaches that we are “justified by our works”. Why quote this?! It only proves what the Catholic claims already! Here the fourth pope is confirming what later popes also decreed!

St. Clement of Rome Quote #2
Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also was descended our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him arose kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.”

All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 32.

Again a beautiful quote from Saint Clement. Yet nowhere does he speak of “justification by faith alone”. As we already observed in the previous quote, Saint Clement taught “justification by works”. Clement’s comment about “works which we have wrought in holiness of heart” is also completely in accord with the Council of Trent:

In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously.

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.

The Council of Trent, like Pope Saint Clement confirm that works do not merit the grace of justification. Many Protestants misunderstand what the Catholic Church teaches. As Trent decreed, the justified “increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ” by means of “faith co-operating with good works,” to use the phrase of the Council and that of Saint James. Catholics do not earn the initial grace of justification.

Listen to the recordec message (mp3):
Are We Justified by Faith or By Faith Alone? by Taylor Marshall

Click on the triangular “play” button above.
19 minutes.

Episode #4 Justified by Faith or by Faith Alone?
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  • Peter Spiers

    One fundamental question I have .will prove, I believe to be a clear ,decisive one regarding the basis of ones “right standing”(justification) before God.Here’s my simple question;Was the person and work of Christ completely sufficient or not to save sinners? Did His perfect life and atoning death really pay it all?Does His final statment from the cross “it is finished” mean he paid it all,past ,present and future sin; does His sacrifice ;his perfect “work”have ongoing effect forever for those who trust Him as Savior and Lord or must we,can we do anything to add to that sacrifice?(John 19:30)

    The God-man Jesus Christ is the only perfect, sinless substitute for us sinners! He alone lived a perfectly righteous life and died a completely atoning death..who among any of us could do that?To teach that we must do anything to add to that perfect ,justifying act is hard to swallow.Especially considering God Himself made the payment! Only he could perfectly pay for the eternal offense of our sin.

    Naturally, once a soul embraces the good news of His life,death and resurrection on their behalf(the gospel of the grace of God found in Christ alone) and recognizes their utter inability to live such a life and pay such an unpayable debt they will, they must  live differntly.They,out of overwhelming gratitude,do good works to glorify their Father who is in heaven(Matt.5:16).The do good works not to be saved but because they are saved! The very nature of God comes to dwell in them(John 3;2 Peter 1:1-11)He stimulates them to love and good deeds if they are truly His..”My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me”(John 10:27)

    They know they can never add to the finished work of Christ on their behalf, but love and serve Him, as He commands, because He alone saved them!
    I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but Chrsit lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly”(Gal. 2:20-21)

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  • John

    infant baptism is a false doctrine