St. Jerome (c. 343-420) vs. “Faith Alone”

St. Jerome (c. 343-420) vs. “Faith Alone” April 29, 2024

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Good Works Necessary for Salvation

For neither celibacy nor marriage avails anything without works, since even faith, which is specially characteristic of Christians, if it have not works, is said to be dead, . . . (Against Jovinianus, Bk. I, 11)

For when Peter, representing the Apostles, says to the Lord: [Matthew 19:27] Lo we have left all and followed you, the Lord answered him, [Luke 18:29-30] Verily I say unto you, there is no man that has left house or wife, or brethren, or parents, or children for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this time, and in the world to come eternal life. (Against Jovinianus, Bk. I, 26)

For if the woman is saved in child-bearing, . . . why did he add if they continue in faith and love and sanctification . . . ? [1 Tim 2:15] (Against Jovinianus, Bk. I, 27)

In vain do we make our boast in him whose commandments we keep not. To him that knows what is good, and does it not, it is sin. James 2:26 As the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead. And we must not think it a great matter to know the only God, when even devils believe and tremble. He that says he abides in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked. Our opponent may choose whichever of the two he likes; we give him his choice. Does he abide in Christ, or not? If he abide, let him then walk as Christ walked. But if there is rashness in professing to copy the virtues of our Lord, he does not abide in Christ, for he does not walk as did Christ. (Against Jovinianus, Bk. II, 2)

But, beloved, I am persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation. For it is not accordant with the righteousness of God to forget good works, . . . (Against Jovinianus, Bk. II, 3)

Lot also, God’s friend, whom He saved upon the mountain, who was the only one found righteous out of so many thousands . . .
(Letter 22: To Eustochium, 8)

What great power compassion has and what high rewards it is destined to win, the blessed Cyprian sets forth in an extensive work. It is proved also by the counsel of Daniel who desired the most impious of kings — had he been willing to hear him — to be saved by showing mercy to the poor. [Daniel 4:27] (Letter 66: To Pammachius, 5

When in the gospel the apostles ask their Lord and Saviour what He will give to those who have left all for His sake, He tells them that they shall receive an hundredfold now in this time and in the world to come eternal life. [Mark 10:28-30] [Letter 108: To Eustochium, 3]

One who despairs of salvation can have no expectation of a judgment to come. For if he dreaded such, he would by doing good works prepare to meet his Judge. Let us hear what God says through Jeremiah, withhold your foot from a rough way and your throat from thirst and again shall they fall, and not arise? Shall he turn away, and not return? [Jeremiah 8:4] Let us hear also what God says by Isaiah: When you shall turn and bewail yourself, then shall you be saved, and then shall you know where you have hitherto been. We do not realize the miseries of sickness till returning health reveals them to us. So sins serve as a foil to the blessedness of virtue; and light shines more brightly when it is relieved against darkness. Ezekiel uses language like that of the other prophets because he is animated by a similar spirit. Repent, he cries, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the Lord. [Ezekiel 18:30-32] Wherefore in a subsequent passage he says: As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked turn from his way and live. [Ezekiel 33:11] These words show us that the mind must not through disbelief in the promised blessings give way to despair; and that the soul once marked out for perdition must not refuse to apply remedies on the ground that its wounds are past curing. (Letter 122: To Rusticus, 1)

In Egypt the monasteries make it a rule to receive none who are not willing to work; for they regard labour as necessary not only for the support of the body but also for the salvation of the soul. (Letter 125: To Rusticus, 11)

. . . that he may not be shut out by the bridegroom because being unprovided with the oil of good works his lamp has gone out. [Matthew 25:1-10] (Letter 125: To Rusticus, 20)

The same may be said of sanctification and of that chastity without which no man shall see the Lord. Each of these is a step on the upward way, yet none of them by itself will avail to win the virgin’s crown. The gospel teaches us this in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins; the former of whom enter into the bridechamber of the bridegroom, while the latter are shut out from it because not having the oil of good works they allow their lamps to fail. [Matthew 25:1-12] (Letter 130: To Demetrias, 11)

Baptismal Regeneration / Baptism & Salvation / Born Again

If it were possible for us to be always immersed in the waters of baptism, sins would fly over our heads and leave us untouched. The Holy Spirit would protect us. (Against the Pelagians, Bk. III, 1)

No sooner do they rise from the baptismal font, and by being born again and incorporated into our Lord and Saviour thus fulfil what is written of them, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered, than at the first communion of the body of Christ they say, Forgive us our debts, . . . (Against the Pelagians, Bk. III, 15)

If baptism makes a man new and creates a wholly new being, and if there is nothing of the old man held over in the new, that which once was in the old cannot be imputed to the new. (Letter 69: To Oceanus, 2)

All iniquities, we are told, are forgiven us at our baptism, and when once we have received God’s mercy we need not afterwards dread from Him the severity of a judge. The apostle says:— And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. [1 Corinthians 6:11] All sins then are forgiven; it is an honest and faithful saying. (Letter 69: To Oceanus, 4)

What the true effect of baptism is, and what is the real grace conveyed by water hallowed in Christ, I will presently tell you . . . (Letter 69: To Oceanus, 5)

And it is to the grace of baptism that the prophecy of Micah refers: He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us: he will subdue our iniquities, and will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. [Micah 7:19] (Letter 69: To Oceanus, 6)

Time would fail me were I to try to lay before you in order all the passages in the Holy Scriptures which relate to the efficacy of baptism or to explain the mysterious doctrine of that second birth which though it is our second is yet our first in Christ. (Letter 69: To Oceanus, 7)

. . . baptism ensures the salvation of the child . . . (Letter 107: To Laeta, 6)

. . . regeneration through the baptismal laver, . . . (Letter 123: To Ageruchia, 11)

Of those engendered of the seed of Adam no man is born without sin, and it is necessary even for babes to be born anew in Christ by the grace of regeneration. (Letter 144: To Optatus, 9)

Infused Justification / Sanctification

Amongst other passages, Paul the Apostle writes to the Romans: [Romans 6:21-22] What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. I suppose too that the end of marriage is death. But the compensating fruit of sanctification, fruit belonging either to virginity or to continence, is eternal life. (Against Jovinianus, Bk. I, 37)

Working Together with God (Synergy)

God created us with free will, and we are not forced by necessity either to virtue or to vice. Otherwise, if there be necessity, there is no crown. As in good works it is God who brings them to perfection, for it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that pities and gives us help that we may be able to reach the goal: so in things wicked and sinful, the seeds within us give the impulse, and these are brought to maturity by the devil. (Against Jovinianus, Bk. II, 3)

We are agreed, then, that in good works, besides our own power of choice, we lean on the help of God; in evil works we are prompted by the devil. (Against the Pelagians, Bk. I, 2)

Now where there is grace, this is not given in return for works but is the free gift of the giver, so that the apostles’ words are fulfilled: it is not of him that wills nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. [Romans 9:16] And yet it is ours to will and not to will; and all the while the very liberty that is ours is only ours by the mercy of God. (Letter 130: To Demetrias, 12)

Since our wills are free, they argue, we are no longer dependent upon God; and they forget the Apostle’s words what have you that thou did not receive? Now if you received it why do you glory as if you had not received it? [1 Corinthians 4:7] A nice return, truly, does a man make to God when to assert the freedom of his will he rebels against Him! For our parts we gladly embrace this freedom, but we never forget to thank the Giver; knowing that we are powerless unless He continually preserves in us His own gift. As the apostle says, it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. [Romans 9:16] To will and to run are mine, but they will cease to be mine unless God brings me His continual aid. For the same apostle says it is God which works in you both to will and to do. [Philippians 2:13] And in the Gospel the Saviour says: my Father works hitherto and I work. [John 5:17] He is always a giver, always a bestower. It is not enough for me that he has given me grace once; He must give it me always. I seek that I may obtain, and when I have obtained I seek again. (Letter 133: To Ctesiphon, 6)

Human Beings Helping Cause Others to be Saved

For me, too, I feel sure, she makes intercession and asks God to pardon my sins in return for the warnings and advice that I bestowed on her, when to secure her salvation I braved the ill will of her family. (Letter 39: To Paul, 7)

Another would perhaps describe how for his salvation you left the east and the desert and how you soothed me your dearest comrade by holding out hopes of a return: and all this that you might save, if possible, both your sister, then a widow with one little child, or, should she reject your counsels, at any rate your sweet little nephew. (Letter 60: To Heliodorus, 9)

Not content with assuring her own salvation she has sought yours also, in former days at home and now in the holy places. (Letter 122: To Rusticus, 1)

. . . yet you will not follow her when her salvation leads you to the threshold of the faith! P. . . your fellow-servant who daily sighs for your salvation and never despairs of it. While you are wandering about your own country . . . she is interceding for you in the venerable spots which witnessed the nativity, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, and in the first of which He uttered His infant-cry. She draws you to her by her prayers that you may be saved, if not by your own exertions, at any rate by her faith. (Letter 122: To Rusticus, 4)

Falling Away from Salvation (Apostasy)

Therefore I keep under my body and bring it into subjection lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway. [1 Corinthians 9:27] If Paul is afraid, which of us can venture to be confident? If David the friend of God and Solomon who loved God were overcome like other men, if their fall is meant to warn us and their penitence to lead us to salvation, who in this slippery life can be sure of not falling? (Letter 79: To Salvina, 7)

. . . without the gift of grace afterwards received and kept they cannot be saved. (Letter 85: To Paulinus, 2)

It is better to lose a portion of one’s substance than to imperil the salvation of one’s soul. It is better to lose that which some day, whether we like it or not, must be lost to us and to give it up freely, than to lose that for which we should sacrifice all that we have. . . . the sinner must not despair of salvation nor the righteous man rest secure in his virtue. (Letter 123: To Ageruchia, 15)



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Photo credit: St. Jerome, by Leonello Spada (1576-1622). The first eyeglasses were invented in Italy, c. 1286 [!] [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: I compile writings from St. Jerome (c. 343-420) which substantiate his opposition to the novel 16th century Protestant innovation of “faith alone”.

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