- Revd Richard Power
A precious inheritance
A review of Andrew Daunton-Fear's 'Were they preaching another gospel' Justification by Faith in the 2nd century.
Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone is a doctrine treasured by all Anglicans who love their historic formularies. The Articles teach that we are 'accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings.' The Homily on the Salvation of Mankind further unpacks this truth and calls it 'the strong Rock and foundation of Christian Religion'. Article 11 commends it to us as 'a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort'.
But to what extent can it also be called a “catholic” doctrine, a doctrine to which the Church has borne historic witness down the centuries? To what extent can we say of it (as the bishops said of the Tome of Leo at the Council of Chalcedon), “This is the faith of the Fathers”? Andrew Daunton-Fear’s booklet is a concise and honest exploration of this question with respect to the Church Fathers of the 2nd Century.
The Church Fathers of the 2nd Century tend to be largely overlooked in discussions of justification. The modest aim of the booklet is to show that, despite various scholarly claims to the contrary, the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone did not pass "unnoticed” in the 2nd Century. Though certainly not expounded with the precision of later generations, justification by faith alone was nevertheless a doctrine to which the Christian Church of that time bore genuine witness.
In his short booklet (only 35 pages in all), the author makes a methodical and balanced case. In the first few pages, he examines the Scriptural evidence from Romans and Galatians. He makes the case for the traditional Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone, in contrast to more recent interpretations proposed by the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul. He then works systematically through six of the 2nd Century Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. In each case, he presents the evidence for their familiarity with the doctrine of justification by faith alone as contained in the Pauline Epistles.
Two things stand out to me from the booklet as a whole. Firstly, the author is not reticent about the errors and weaknesses he perceives in the Church Fathers. While he maintains that 'in the main, our writers quoted Paul’s doctrine without distorting it', the booklet is certainly not a work of superficial, uncritical hagiography. Clement of Alexandria, for example, comes under fire for a latent Platonism and Stoicism. The author concludes that Clement’s dependence on human philosophies ultimately led him to 'a considerably different understanding of Christianity from that of Paul'. Likewise, the propriety of Ignatius’ attitude towards his own martyrdom is questioned, leading the author to suspect that, in practice, Ignatius 'had little conception of salvation by God’s grace'. The author encourages us to engage critically with the Fathers and appreciate them for what they really were, rather than what we would like them to have been.
Yet, secondly, there is something contagious about the author’s love for this period of church history. Evident throughout the booklet is his passion both for the Apostolic gospel and for the saints of the Early Church who cherished it and proclaimed it and passed it down to us. The author treats the issue of justification by faith alone not simply as an academic inquiry, but as a precious inheritance, upon which both the assurance and the proper obedience of Christ’s people are founded. As he assesses the state of the doctrine of justification in the 2nd Century, Andrew Daunton-Fear makes a case that is both honest and heart-warming.
Click here to buy the book.