Skip to content
December 8, 2007 / vivator

Augustine on faith, works, grace, free will and eternal life

Many Protestants and “Bible only” Christians accuse Catholics of believing in salvation by works and insist that Scripture teaches it is by faith alone.   This, of course, is a false charge originating from their misunderstanding and/or ignorance of Catholic teaching.   Catholics believe we are saved by grace and do reject salvation by faith alone.   We look at what Augustine wrote about faith, works, grace and salvation in A Treatise on Grace and Free Will Chapter 18 to 21 (English translation from Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series I, Vol. 5):

Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle’s statement: “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law,” [Romans 3:28] have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed “a vessel of election” by the apostle, who, after declaring that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision,” [Galatians 5:6] adds at once, “but faith which worketh by love.” It is such faith which severs God’s faithful from unclean demons,-for even these “believe and tremble,” [James 2:19] as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives,-the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life. But inasmuch as we have even our good works from God, from whom likewise comes our faith and our love, therefore the self same great teacher of the Gentiles [apostle Paul] has designated “eternal life” itself as His gracious “gift.” [Romans 6:23]

According to Augustine faith alone does not save – it must be accompanied works of love and that’s what the Catholic Church teaches.   Note that some Protestants and “Bible only” Christians would agree with what Augustine wrote.  Remember while they still declare salvation is by faith alone they also say “it is not by faith that is alone” or true faith must be accompanied by works.  Strictly speaking they no longer adhere to the principle of by faith alone salvation.  Augustine also stated our good works are from God who recompenses our works with eternal life and eternal life is a gift from Him.  These also agree with what the Catholic Church teaches.  Augustine was aware that some will have problem to understand why eternal life is the outcome of our works as well as a free gift (or grace) from God.  

And hence there arises no small question, which must be solved by the Lord’s gift. If eternal life is rendered to good works, as the Scripture most openly declares: “Then He shall reward every man according to his works:” [Matthew 16:27] how can eternal life be a matter of grace, seeing that grace is not rendered to works, but is given gratuitously, as the apostle himself tells us: “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt;” [Romans 4:4] and again: “There is a remnant saved according to the election of grace;” with these words immediately subjoined: “And if of grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace”? [Romans 11:5, 6] How, then, is eternal life by grace, when it is received from works? Does the apostle perchance not say that eternal life is a grace? Nay, he has so called it, with a clearness which none can possibly gainsay. It requires no acute intellect, but only an attentive reader, to discover this. For after saying, “The wages of sin is death,” he at once added, “The grace of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]

This question, then, seems to me to be by no means capable of solution, unless we understand that even those good works of ours, which are recompensed with eternal life, belong to the grace of God, because of what is said by the Lord Jesus: “Without me ye can do nothing.” [John 15:5] And the apostle himself, after saying, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast;” [Ephesians 2:8, 9] saw, of course, the possibility that men would think from this statement that good works are not necessary to those who believe, but that faith alone suffices for them; and again, the possibility of men’s boasting of their good works, as if they were of themselves capable of performing them. To meet, therefore, these opinions on both sides, he immediately added, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10] What is the purport of his saying, “Not of works, lest any man should boast,” while commending the grace of God? And then why does he afterwards, when giving a reason for using such words, say, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works”? Why, therefore, does it run, “Not of works, lest any man should boast”? Now, hear and understand. “Not of works” is spoken of the works which you suppose have their origin in yourself alone; but you have to think of works for which God has moulded (that is, has formed and created) you. For of these he says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Now he does not here speak of that creation which made us human beings, but of that in reference to which one said who was already in fullmanhood, “Create in me a clean heart, O God;” [Psalms 51:10] concerning which also the apostle says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:17, 18] We are framed, therefore, that is, formed and created, “in the good works which” we have not ourselves prepared, but “God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” It follows, then, dearly beloved, beyond all doubt, that as your good life is nothing else than God’s grace, so also the eternal life which is the recompense of a good life is the grace of God; moreover it is given gratuitously, even as that is given gratuitously to which it is given. But that to which it is given is solely and simply grace; this therefore is also that which is given to it, because it is its reward;-grace is for grace, as if remuneration for righteousness; in order that it may be true, because it is true, that God “shall reward every man according to his works.” [Matthew 16:27, Psalms 62:12, Revelation 22:12]

Augustine used the phrase “grace for grace” to explain how good works, which he considered to belong to grace of God, produces another grace, i.e. eternal life.   We may compare his statement to Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2027.  Furthermore he stated that while God works through us to do good works He does not take away our free will.

Perhaps you ask whether we ever read in the Sacred Scriptures of “grace for grace.” Well you possess the Gospel according to John, which is perfectly clear in its very great light. Here John the Baptist says of Christ: “Of His fullness have we all received, even grace for grace.” [John 1:16] So that out of His fullness we have received, according to our humble measure, our particles of ability as it were for leading good lives-“according as God hath dealt to every man his measure of faith;” [Romans 12:3] because “every man hath his proper gift of God; one after this manner, and another after that.” [1 Corinthians 7:7] And this is grace. But, over and above this, we shall also receive “grace for grace,” when we shall have awarded to us eternal life, of which the apostle said: “The grace of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” [Romans 6:23] having just said that “the wages of sin is death.” Deservedly did he call it “wages,” because everlasting death is awarded as its proper due to diabolical service. Now, when it was in his power to say, and rightly to say: “But the wages of righteousness is eternal life,” he yet preferred to say: “The grace of God is eternal life;” in order that we may hence understand that God does not, for any merits of our own, but from His own divine compassion, prolong our existence to everlasting life. Even as the Psalmist says to his soul, “Who crowneth thee with mercy and compassion.” [Psalms 103:4] Well, now, is not a crown given as the reward of good deeds? It is, however, only because He works good works in good men, of whom it is said, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” [Philippians 2:13] that the Psalm has it, as just now quoted: “He crowneth thee with mercy and compassion,” since it is through His mercy that we perform the good deeds to which the crown is awarded. It is not, however, to be for a moment supposed, because he said, “It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” that free will is taken away. If this, indeed, had been his meaning, he would not have said just before, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” [Philippians 2:12] For when the command is given “to work,” their free will is addressed; and when it is added, “with fear and trembling,” they are warned against boasting of their good deeds as if they were their own, by attributing to themselves the performance of anything good. It is pretty much as if the apostle had this question put to him: “Why did you use the phrase, ‘with fear and trembling’?” And as if he answered the inquiry of his examiners by telling them, “For it is God which worketh in you.” Because if you fear and tremble, you do not boast of your good works-as if they were your own, since it is God who works within you.

My related post: My second post on: Was Augustine a monergist?



Leave a Comment
  1. Concerned sister / Aug 19 2010 4:53 am

    Each member of the family is required to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Unfortunately, I am the only committed Catholic Evangelical Christian in my family of two other adult siblings.

    Although they go to Mass when they can one does not go to communion nor does his wife. The other is in a state of adultery with a common law wife and two new young children. Yet at his adult son’s wedding recently he went to communion and so did his common law wife.

    The teachings of the church have been dismissed and the latter do their own thing? I have been praying for the past thirty years for them to know Jesus. Is it wrong to have sent my brothers an article on worthy communion?

  2. vivator / Aug 19 2010 6:20 pm

    My suggestion is to keep on praying for them – Only God can change their mind. It is is good to remind them that they are not supposed to take the Eucharist when they still live in sin.

    • Jeph / Apr 5 2012 5:32 pm

      Why pray if in the final analysis (as Rome teaches) it is man’s choice that will ultimately determine his own salvation?

      • vivator / Apr 7 2012 9:58 pm

        You still misunderstand Catholic position. Catholics do believe in predestination of the Elect. There is no predestination of our salvation ultimately depends on our will because we are the one (not God) who choose to be saved.
        Following Scripture (Titus 2:11) God gives sufficient grace for salvation for all men. The initiative comes from God, not from men – Men cannot use their freewill to will their salvation. When God gives them sufficient grace they can either cooperate or reject it. In Thomism who believes in Unconditional Election, when the Elect cooperate (using their freewill) they will receive efficacious grace. In Molinism, who believe in Conditional Election, sufficient and efficacious grace come together.
        Most Calvinist confuse synergism with semi-pelagianism. In semi-pelagianism we can use our freewill to initiate our salvation and then God will assist us through His grace – i.e. in this case our freewill determines our salvation, hence there is no predestination.

      • Jeph / Apr 8 2012 2:33 pm

        You are obviously doing double-talk.

        In one instance you told me that Grace precedes the human will, but when it has done it’s enabling work, men are left to themselves to either cooperate or not with this grace so that good may be done. It’s like you’re telling me that Grace is called “sufficient”, but not so sufficient in so far as it cannot infallibly lead a sinner to willingly cooperate with Grace.

        This idea is what I was referring to when I said that Rome teaches that man’s choice is the ultimate determiner of his Salvation. Note that I didn’t say that man’s will INITIATES his Salvation, but that at the end of the day, after Grace has done its part, it is still man who will ultimately seal his eternal destiny by either cooperating or not with grace and persevering therein unto the end.

      • vivator / Apr 13 2012 9:28 pm

        If men ultimately determines his eternal destiny then there is no predestination. Catholics do believe that God predestines the Elect by giving them his grace in abundance (Eph 1:7-8). The problem with Calvinist view of grace alone without human cooperation is it will inevitably lead to double predestination, i.e God simply bypass those whom he does not want to save. This view does not go in-line with Scripture (1 Cor 15:22, Titus 2:11).

      • Jeph / Apr 14 2012 9:24 am

        [If men ultimately determines his eternal destiny then there is no predestination.]

        Exactly my point. How can you believe in an absolutely sovereign predestination while holding at the same time that man’s freewill is the ultimate determiner of his own Salvation at the end of the day after Grace has done its part?

      • vivator / Apr 14 2012 9:43 am

        How many times I need to tell you Catholics do not believe that men ultimately determines his destiny. You simply caricature Catholicism – ironically you accuse me of doing the same to your Calvinism.

        I am still waiting your answer on how you reconcile 1 Cor 15:22 with your belief. If you cannot answer it just admit it – even Calvin skipped 1 Cor 15:22 in his commentary. Calvin Commentary of most books of the Bible (save 3 John and Revelation) are available online at, courtesy of Calvin College.

      • FourFingersBackAtYou / Apr 14 2012 9:53 pm

        The two scripture citations (1 Cor 15:22 and Titus 2:11) fit very well with Calvinism and nullify your position. But why ask for an interpretation of verses for which the Catholic church has no official position? Are you prepared to go where the evidence leads or will you engage in a prohibited interpretation of your own and say I’m wrong?

        Nevertheless, the following is for those with courage to read without bias; to see without thick Rome-colored lenses:

        22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
        23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 1 Cor 15:22-23

        Now since neither Rominism or Calvinism teach universal salvation, there must be some other limiting factor at work in these verses…

        Verse 22 makes clear what this limitation is:
        Since all who are ‘in Adam’ die, all are “dead in sin.” Therefore only those who are “in Christ” are saved – they are “the elect.”
        The “dead in sin” cannot ‘cooperate’ or ‘choose’ or exercise faith in Christ. They must first be “made alive.”

        How then, is a person “made alive in Christ”?
        Eph 2:5 “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—BY GRACE you have been saved…”

        (where is the cooperation of man there?)
        Col 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

        The following exegesis was provided in part by a contributor at

        “Made alive” is this Greek Word: ζωοποιέω
dzo-op-oy-eh’-o, from the same as G2226 and G4160; to (re-) vitalize (literally or figuratively): – make alive, give life, quicken.
        What comes first here: faith or regeneration? [Dead men can’t exercise much faith.]

        Paul wrote:

        1Co 15:44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 
1Co 15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

        The same Greek word is used there too, “life-giving”, as is used above it, “made alive.” However that is not the Greek Word that should enlighten your understanding here. It is another Greek word and as I said above, it is only used twice in the New Testament and only used by Paul. Here are the two places the Greek word is used. After the citations I will paste the Greek word so you can “compare” it with that other Greek word, zoopoieo, a word used many many times throughout the New Testament.

        Eph 2:5 “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved…”
        Col 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

        The Greek: συζωοποιέω
From G4862 and G2227; to reanimate conjointly with (figuratively): – quicken together with. Do you see the difference and the significance in the meaning of the two words, zoopoieo, suzoopoieo?

God Himself “conjoins” us, “reanimates” us and “quickens” us together with Christ! This is the union, “…union with Christ undergirds the whole ordo salutis (order of salvation) and then says justification grounds union with Christ.”

        “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are IN CHRIST JESUS.” Romans 8:1
        “BUT IF CHRIST IS IN YOU, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10.

        Regarding Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”
        See the following logical, theological, biblical proof at

        Pitiful to see you continue to misrepresent Calvinism as “double-predestination” and more pitiful that you continue to go against your own Catholic Encyclopedia regarding free will’s impotence in Thomism. If you hate Calvinism, you hate Thomism.
        It’s clear you committed yourself to Catholicism before you fully understood the biblical doctrines of grace, and now no amount of proof will move you. I hope you don’t trade stocks with this kind of methodology!

      • vivator / Apr 15 2012 3:29 pm

        You wrote” Since all who are ‘in Adam’ die, all are “dead in sin.” Therefore only those who are “in Christ” are saved – they are “the elect.” I don’t see the logic here – in the first “all” you claim the word “all” refers to all, i.e. no exception (which I agree) but in the second one you reduce it to mean “the Elect”, thus exempting billions of people from the word “all”.
        You wrote “The “dead in sin” cannot ‘cooperate’ or ‘choose’ or exercise faith in Christ. They must first be “made alive.” I understand this is the fundamental teaching in Calvinism – we have to be first monergistically regenerated by God. Once we are regenerated then our will, that was in bondage in sin (i.e. we can only choose freely to sin), becomes free and we can choose to believe in Christ. Here you draw parallel between spiritual dead and physical dead – physically dead man can only do what physically dead man can do, which is nothing . So far so good and it does make sense. But Revelation 3:20 says he who HEAR and OPEN the door to welcome Christ (who takes the initiative to knock at the door) will be with Christ. Can a “dead” person hear and open the door to welcome Christ?
        Let me correct you – I do not hate Calvinism but strongly disagree with it. Disagreement and hatred are not always coupled together. I (and you) may disagree about anything but we don’t need to hate each other. There are other Protestants or Evangelicals who strongly disagree with Calvinim – I recommend you to visit this site of evangelical arminian at Don’t accuse them of hating Calvinism just because they disagree with it.

      • FourFingersBackAtYou / Apr 16 2012 3:02 pm

        There is no problem with the logic. If your will was operating as freely as you think it is, you would have read my response with more objectivity; but instead you approach this with pre-existing biases. How do I know this?
        First, because this is a very human thing to do.
        Second, because the thrust of my response (thus the quotation marks) are around the phrases ‘in Adam’ and/or ‘in Christ.’ The word “all” is not the point here since, as mentioned earlier, neither of us is a universalist. Surely you don’t imply there should be a parallelism here: that ALL “in Adam” are also ALL “in Christ” – a thing which is nonsensical and non-biblical?
        Take this proposition: “All human beings drinking the poison will die.” Would it be wrong to follow that with “all those drinking the antidote will live.”?
        A good scientist (or stock trader) would want to avoid ‘a priori’ denials or affirmations of propositions – long enough at least to weigh the evidence dispassionately.

        Regarding Rev. 3:20…why is this a problem for a believer in the biblical doctrines of grace? I am confident that if freed from every bias or encumbrance you would find an honest way to reconcile your citation of Revelation 3:20 with John 6:37 and John 6:44.

        “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37
        “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44

        Re.: your hatred of Calvinism: you have described Calvinism as “sinister” and “unbiblical” and that it makes God the author of sin. Heaven help anyone who does not hate a doctrine that is “sinister,” “unbiblical,” and that slanders the character of God.
        Bad doctrine is sin. And we should hate our sin.

      • God Doesn't Lie / Apr 20 2012 7:16 pm

        Right you are, ‘FourFingersBackAtYou’.

        30 And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
        31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
        1 Cor. 1:30,31

        No room there for the cooperation of man.

  3. pam / Sep 15 2011 9:37 pm

    vivitar, as mortal and imperfect humans, are any of us without sin? If we are not without sin, should anyone partake of Eucharist? Jesus did not offer his body and blood to sinless disciples. God knows we are imperfect and flawed, yet God still pursues us and through Jesus offers us the gift of grace in the cup and the bread.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: