29 March, 2011

Origen on Faith Alone

"The apostle is saying that it is only on the basis that one believes in
him who justifies the ungodly that righteousness is reckoned to a
man, even if he has not yet produced works of righteousness. For
faith which believes in the one who justifies is the beginning of
being justified by God. And this faith, when it has been justified,
inheres in the soil of the soul like a root that has
received rain so that when it begins to be cultivated through God's
law, branches arise from it which bring forth the fruit of works.
The root of righteousness, therefore, does not grow out of the
works, but the fruit of works grows out of the root of
righteousness, namely out of the root of righteousness which God
accepts even without works."

Origen, Commentary on Romans 2:6

Note - Origen's theology of justification as a whole, in which justification can increase or decrease, is undoubtedly a forerunner to the later doctrine of the Council of Trent. But he seems to come close, here in this much discussed passage from his commentary on Romans, to an insight similar to Luther's, whereby God justifies the ungodly without works. This insight must have haunted Origen, for elsewhere too in his great commentary on Romans he interpolates the word "alone" after "faith" when justification is in view. In fact, Origen is generally regarded as the first commenter on scripture to do this (not coincidentally he was the first ancient writer that we know of to wrestle with Romans in-depth). It is a great pity, then, that he did not integrate this insight into his theoloogy of justification as a whole; if he had, the course of Western theology may have been quite different.
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