Chrysostom on Righteousness

January 27th, 2006
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And he well said, “a righteousness of mine own,” not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence.

–Chrysostom, Homily on Philippians 3

With thanks to W.W. for the quote.

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  1. Holger Sonntag
    November 25th, 2006 at 10:20 | #1

    These are fine words by Chrysostom. Yet would we not think that he really has no clear grasp of the distinction of law and gospel, when he states, in that same sermon: “For when the sun hath appeared, it is loss to sit by a candle: so that the loss comes by comparison, by the superiority of the other. You see that Paul makes a comparison from superiority, not from diversity of kind; for that which is superior, is superior to somewhat of like nature to itself. So that he shows the connection of that knowledge by the same means, by which he draws the superiority from the comparison.”
    Is this not, I wonder, the same type of gradualism that Luther rejected in the Scholastic theology of his time? The Law’s righteousness is good; Grace’s righteousness is better — and the former is “nothing” only in comparison to the latter? Would we as Lutherans not maintain, contra Chrysostom, that the righteousness of the law is indeed one of “diversity of kind,” not just “superiority” to something “of *like* nature,” when compared to that offered in the gospel?
    Elsewhere, in the same sermon, Chrysostom said: “And how has the law become gain? And it was not counted gain, but was so. For consider how great a thing it was, to bring men, brutalized in their nature, to the shape of men. If the law had not been, grace would not have been given. Wherefore? Because it became a sort of bridge; for when it was impossible to mount on high from a state of great abasement, a ladder was formed. But he who has ascended has no longer need of the ladder; yet he does not despise it, but is even grateful to it. For it has placed him in such a position, as no longer to require it. And yet for this very reason, that he doth not require it, it is just that he should acknowledge his obligation, for he could not fly up. And thus is it with the Law, it hath led us up on high; wherefore it was gain, but for the future we esteem it loss. How? Not because it is loss, but because grace is far greater.”
    The law, again, is portrayed as the first step toward God, a ladder that leads us on high, closer to God. Grace then does the rest. Again, I submit, this is quite litterally gradualism, albeit still without the scruples of conscience (“can we sinners really make this kind of big first step?”) that mark the late medieval theology of humility Luther was acquainted with from Staupitz and others (and which he later rejected as just a humble form of gradualism). The Orthodox will likely say the scruples come from Augustinian influences over the West, while they will consider themselves to be free from his negative thinking on man’s powers.
    Just some food for thought for those who study the Eastern fathers, I guess…

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