Sunday, November 15, 2009

Catholic But Not Roman Catholic: Baptismal Regeneration: Clement of Rome

Note: The following is an excerpt from a study by a Research Analyst for NTRMin named Jason Engwer, who has been posting a series on the NTRMin Discussion Board called "Catholic But Not Roman Catholic" which studies different theological areas taught by the Early Church Fathers and compares them to the teachings of Roman Catholicism. I found it very helpful so I'm posting parts of it so others can read it. The first section is quotes from the Fathers on baptismal regeneration. Today I'm posting the section with quotes from Clement of Rome with commentary by Jason Engwer.

Clement of Rome
Clement, a first century Roman bishop, wrote that we're saved through faith, apart from works. He excludes all works, even "works that we have done in holiness of heart" (First Clement, 32). Just after excluding works from the gospel, he goes on to encourage Christians to do those works he had just excluded. Thus, it can't be argued that he was only excluding bad works, graceless works, faithless works, etc. He was excluding all works, including good works:

"And we who through his will have been called in Christ Jesus are justified, not by ourselves, or through our wisdom or understanding or godliness, or the works that we have done in holiness of heart, but by faith, by which all men from the beginning have been justified by Almighty God, to whom be glory world without end. Amen. What, then, shall we do, brethren? Shall we cease from well-doing, and abandon charity? May the Master never allow that this should happen to us! but let us rather with diligence and zeal hasten to fulfil every good work. For the Maker and Lord of all things rejoiceth in his works. By his supreme power he founded the heavens, and by his incomprehensible understanding he ordered them. The earth he separated from the water that surrounded it, and fixed it on the firm foundation of his own will. The animals which inhabit therein he commanded to be by his ordinance. Having made beforehand the sea and the animals that are therein, he shut them in by his own power. Man, the most excellent of all animals, infinite in faculty, he moulded with his holy and faultless hands, in the impress of his likeness. For thus saith God: Let us make man in our own image, and after our own likeness. And God made man. Male and female made he them. When, therefore, he had finished all things, he praised and blessed them, and said, Be fruitful, and multiply. Let us see, therefore, how all the just have been adorned with good works. Yea, the Lord himself rejoiced when he had adorned himself with his works. Having, therefore, this example, let us come in without shrinking to his will; let us work with all our strength the work of righteousness." (32-33)

For a Roman bishop to advocate salvation through faith alone has devastating implications for Roman Catholicism. Thus, Roman Catholics have put forward various arguments in an attempt to prove that Clement didn't advocate the doctrine.

For example, it's sometimes argued that Clement was only excluding works we do in our own strength, not works God empowers us to do. But notice the closing words in the quote above. Clement encourages people to do works "with all our strength". In the previous chapter, he had excluded from the gospel works "done in holiness of heart", which can only be good works. Therefore, this popular argument used to reconcile Clement with Roman Catholicism fails.

Often, Catholics will ignore what Clement said in chapters 32-33 and quote what he said elsewhere. But that doesn't explain chapters 32-33. And what they quote from other parts of the letter doesn't necessarily contradict what Clement wrote in chapters 32-33. For example, Catholics often cite the following:

"justified by our deeds, and not by our words" (30)

That *sounds* like a rejection of sola fide, until you read the context. Here are the same words, but with the surrounding context included:

"Let us clothe ourselves with concord, being humble, temperate, keeping ourselves far from all whispering and evil speaking, justified by our deeds, and not by our words. For he saith, He who saith many things shall, in return, hear many things. Doth he that is eloquent think himself to be just? -- doth he that is born of woman and liveth but for a short time think himself to be blessed? Be not abundant in speech. Let our praise be in God, and not for ourselves, for God hateth the self-praisers. Let the testimony of right actions be given us from others, even as it was given to our fathers who were just. Audacity, self-will, and boldness belong to them who are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness, to them that are blessed of God." (30)

Clement is addressing justification in the sense of *vindication*, such as we see in Luke 7:35, not in the sense of attaining eternal life. He says, "Let the testimony of right actions be given us from others", which is a reference to vindication, not a reference to the attaining of eternal life. Roman Catholics often single out the phrase "justified by our deeds", but the context doesn't support the meaning they pour into that phrase.

Some Catholics cite the following:

"Through faith and hospitality Rahab the harlot was saved" (12)

But, again, we should read the context. Clement is addressing salvation in the sense of safety from the Israeli invasion, not the attaining of eternal life. Clement goes on to quote Rahab saying to the Israeli spies, "save me and the house of my father" (12). Clement then quotes the spies saying, "When, therefore, thou hast perceived that we are coming, thou shalt gather together all thy household under thy roof, and they shall be saved" (12). The salvation in question is physical, not spiritual. Rahab wasn't asking the spies to give her eternal life.

Clement does say some things that suggest that he may have held to something closer to the Methodist view of salvation than the Calvinist view. For example:

"For as God liveth, and as the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, and the Holy Spirit, the confidence and hope of the elect, he who observeth in humility with earnest obedience, and repining not, the ordinances and commands given by God, he shall be reckoned and counted in the number of them that are saved by Jesus Christ" (58)

Clement could be referring to the possibility of loss of salvation. Or he could be referring to the fact that saving faith produces a life of good works, which is a concept that the Protestant reformers taught. Even if we assume that Clement rejected eternal security, his view of salvation was still contradictory to that of Roman Catholicism. He said nothing of baptismal regeneration, but instead referred to us being saved the same way people were saved prior to the institution of baptism. Clement believed that people are saved today the way they always have been, through faith and apart from works, including good works. Thus, the earliest church father, who was a Roman bishop, agreed with the Reformation doctrine of salvation through faith alone.

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