On Justification, Faith and Works

by Maximus Scott

This article lays to rest any idea that the protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is anything but an innovation – and a heresy. It wasn’t St. Paul’s doctrine, it was Luther’s. And to kick off the list, let us begin with Phillip Schaff, protestant scholar and translator.

Phillip Schaff 1819-1893

If any one expects to find in this period, or in any of the church fathers, Augustin himself not excepted, the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone as the “articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae,” he will be greatly disappointed.

The incarnation of the Logos, his true divinity and humanity, stand most unmistakably in the foreground, as the fundamental dogma. Paul’s doctrine of justification, except perhaps in Clement of Rome, who joins it with the doctrine of James, is left very much out of view, and awaits the age of the Reformation to be more thoroughly established and understood. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II.§154. Other Doctrines)

The sufficiency of the natural reason and will of man would seem to make supernatural revelation and grace superfluous. But this Pelagius does not admit. Besides the natural grace, as we may call his concreated ability, he assumes also a supernatural grace, which through revelation enlightens the understanding, and assists man to will and to do what is good. This grace confers the negative benefit of the forgiveness of past sins, or justification, which Pelagius understands in the Protestant sense of declaring righteous, and not (like Augustine) in the Catholic sense of making righteous…(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III Chap IX § 151. The Pelagian System Continued: Doctrine, of Human Ability and Divine Grace)

Augustine restricted grace to the specifically Christian sphere (and, therefore, called it gratia Christi), though admitting its operation previous to Christ among the saints of the Jewish dispensation; but within this sphere he gave it incomparably greater depth. With him grace is, first of all, a creative power of God in Christ transforming men from within. It produces first the negative effect of forgiveness of sins, removing the hindrance to communion with God; then the positive communication of a new principle of life. The two are combined in the idea of justification, which, as we have already remarked, Augustine holds, not in the Protestant sense of declaring righteous once for all, but in the Catholic sense of gradually making righteous; thus substantially identifying it with sanctification. Yet, as he refers this whole process to divine grace, to the exclusion of all human merit, he stands on essentially Evangelical ground. …(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III Chap IX   § 157. Augustine’s Doctrine of Redeeming Grace)

…tradition, at least from the sixth to the sixteenth century, strongly favors the belief in transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass, both of which he (Martin Luther) rejected. And if the same test should be applied to his doctrine of solifidian justification, it would be difficult to support it by patristic or scholastic tradition, which makes no distinction between justification and sanctification, and lays as much stress on good works as on faith. He felt it himself, that on this vital point, not even Augustin was on his side. His doctrine can be vindicated only as a new interpretation of St. Paul in advance of the previous understanding. (Vol. VII Chap. V §85. Enlarged Conception of the Church. Augustine, Wiclif, Hus, Luther)

His view of the absolute supremacy of the Word of God over all the words of men, even the best and holiest, led him to a critical and discriminating estimate of the fathers and schoolmen. Besides, he felt the difference between the patristic and the Protestant theology. The Continental Reformers generally thought much less of the fathers than the Anglican divines…

…”The fathers,” says Luther, “have written many things that are pious and useful (multa pia et salutaria), but they must be read with discrimination, and judged by the Scriptures.” “The dear fathers lived better than they wrote; we write better than we live.” (Melius vixerunt quam scripserunt: nos Deo juvante melius scribimus quam vivimus. Bindseil, l.c. III. 140; Erl. ed., LXII. 103.)

Augustine did more than all the bishops and popes who cannot hold a candle to him (XXXI. 358 sq.), and more than all the Councils (XXV. 341). If he lived now, he would side with us, but Jerome would condemn us (Bindseil, III. 149). Yet with all his sympathy, Luther could not find his “sola fide.”  Augustine, he says, has sometimes erred, and is not to be trusted. “Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers.” “When the door was opened to me for the understanding of Paul, I was done, with Augustine” (da war es aus mit ihm. Erl. ed., LXII. 119). (History of the Christian Church Vol. VII. Chap. V, NOTES. LUTHER’S VIEW ON THE CHURCH FATHERS)

Jaroslav Pelikan 1923-2006

The relation between grace and perfection was fundamental to the Pelagian doctrine of man, and nothing less than perfection was commanded in such biblical precepts as Matthew 5:48, “an injunction which [Christ] would not have issued if he had known that he enjoined was beyond achievement.” The issuance of a commandment implied ability on the part of the hearer to obey the commandment. Not only the Sermon on the Mount, but the moral preachments of the Old Testament made it explicit that “every man shall be put to death for his own sin” and that a man was able to respond to the commandments of God and could be held personally responsible if he failed to do so. In this emphasis upon responsibility, faith assumed a prominent role. God “proposed to save by faith alone those about whom he foreknew that they would believe.” (Pelag. Rom.8.29 [Souter 2:68]) Faith was accounted for righteousness because it granted forgiveness of past sins, justified in the present, and prepared one for good works in the future. God justified the wicked man whom he intended to convert “sola fide,” (Pelag. Rom. 4.6 [Souter 2:37])by faith alone, and forgave his sins “sola fide.” (Pelag. Rom. 4.5 [Souter 2:36])

Alister Mcgrath:

Despite the astonishing theological diversity of the late medieval period, a consensus relating to the nature of justification was maintained throughout. The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification represents a theological novum… It will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it.

The essential feature of the Reformation doctrines of justification is that a deliberate and systematic distinction is made between justification and regeneration. Although it must be emphasized that this distinction is purely notional, in that it is impossible to separate the two within the context of the ordo salutis, the essential point is that a notional distinction is made where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine. A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification—as opposed to its mode—must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum. (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, the Beginnings to the Reformation, two volumes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 1:184-5)

Whereas Augustine taught that the sinner is made righteous in justification, Melanchthon taught that he is counted as righteous or pronounced to be righteous. For Augustine, ‘justifying righteousness’ is imparted; for Melanchthon, it is imputed in the sense of being declared or pronounced to be righteous. Melanchthon drew a sharp distinction between the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous, designating the former ‘justification’ and the latter ‘sanctification’ or regeneration.’ For Augustine, these were simply different aspects of the same thing . . .The importance of this development lies in the fact that it marks a complete break with the teaching of the church up to that point. From the time of Augustine onwards, justification had always been understood to refer to both the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous. Melanchthon’s concept of forensic justification diverged radically from this. As it was taken up by virtually all the major reformers subsequently, it came to represent a standard difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic from then on…(Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993, 108-109, 115; emphasis in original)

Norman Geisler:

[O]ne can be saved without believing that imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) is an essential part of the true gospel. Otherwise, few people were saved between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation, since scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) during that period!

…For Augustine, justification included both the beginnings of one’s righteousness before God and its subsequent perfection — the event and the process. What later became the Reformation concept of “sanctification” then is effectively subsumed under the aegis of justification. Although he believed that God initiated the salvation process, it is incorrect to say that Augustine held to the concept of “forensic” justification. This understanding of justification is a later development of the Reformation.

Before Luther, the standard Augustinian position on justification stressed intrinsic justification. Intrinsic justification argues that the believer is made righteous by God’s grace, as compared to extrinsic justification, by which a sinner is forensically declared righteous (at best, a subterranean strain in pre-Reformation Christendom). With Luther the situation changed dramatically… (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, co-author Ralph E. MacKenzie, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1995, 502, 85, 89,91-93, 99, 222)

Pope St. Clement of Rome ca. 1st cent.

Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words. (Epistle to the Corinthians, XXX)

All, therefore, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions which they did, but through his will. And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (ibid., XXXII)

The good worker receives the bread of his labor confidently, but the lazy and careless dares not look his employer in the face. It is, therefore, necessary that we should be zealous to do good, for all things come from him. For he forewarns us: “Behold, the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work.” He exhorts us, therefore, who believe in him with our whole heart, not to be idle or careless about any good work. (ibid., XXXIV)

2nd Clement

Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [which are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also says the Scripture in Ezekiel, If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity. Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness? (2nd Clement, Chap. 6)

Hermas ca. 95

They only who fear the Lord and keep His commandments have life with God; but as to those who keep not His commandments, there is no life in them. (The Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Comm 7)

St. Ignatius of Antioch ca. 50-117

None of these things escapes your notice, if you hold fast perfectly your faith and love in Jesus Christ, for these are the beginning and the end of life. The beginning is faith, the end is love. And the two blending in unity are God, and all else follows on these, ending in perfect goodness. No man who professes faith lives in sin, nor if he possesses love, does he live in hatred. The tree is manifest by its fruit. In like manner they who profess to be Christ’s, shall be apparent by their deeds. For at this time the work is no mere matter of profession, but is seen only when a man is found living in the power of faith unto the end. (Letter to the Ephesians, 14:2; Lightfoot/Harmer/Holmes, 91)

Pay attention to the bishop, in order that God may pay attention to you. I am a ransom on behalf of those who are obedient to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons; may it be granted to me to have a place among them in the presence of God! Train together with one another: struggle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, get up together, as God’s managers, assistants, and servants. Please him whom you serve as soldiers, from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism serve as your shield, faith as a helmet, love as a spear, endurance as armor. Let your deeds be your deposits, in order that you may eventually receive the savings that are due you. (Letter to Polycarp, 6: 1-2; Lightfoot/Harmer/Holmes, 117)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna ca. 69-155

I rejoice also that your firmly rooted faith, which was famous in past years, still flourishes and bears fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins, even to the suffering of death, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of Hades, in whom, though you did not see him, you believed in unspeakable and glorified joy,” — into which joy many desire to come, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not by works” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

…Now “he who raised him” from the dead “will also raise us up” if we do his will, and walk in his commandments and love the things which he loved, refraining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness, “rendering not evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or curse for curse, but remembering what the Lord taught when he said, “Judge not that ye be not judged, forgive and it shall be forgiven unto you, be merciful that ye may obtain mercy, with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again,” and, “Blessed are the poor, and they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God

…Stand fast therefore in these things and follow the example of the Lord, “firm and unchangeable in faith, loving the brotherhood, affectionate to one another,” joined together in the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you can do good defer it not, “for almsgiving sets free from death; be ye all subject one to the other, having your conversation blameless among the Gentiles,” that you may receive praise “for your good works” and that the Lord be not blasphemed in you. “But woe to him through whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed.” Therefore teach sobriety to all and show it forth in your own lives. (Epistle to the Philippians)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word: “Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. For whosoever hears Me, and doeth My sayings, hears Him that sent Me. And many will say unto Me, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drunk in Thy name, and done wonders? And then will I say unto them, Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity. Then shall there be wailing and gnashing of teeth, when the righteous shall shine as the sun, and the wicked are sent into everlasting fire. For many shall come in My name, clothed outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly being ravening wolves. By their works ye shall know them. And every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.

(First Apology, Chapter XVI)

…all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God: and the Scripture foretells that they shall be blessed, saying, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes not sin;’ that is, having repented of his sins, that he may receive remission of them from God; and not as you deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this, who say, that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them. We have as proof of this the one fall of David, which happened through his boasting, which was forgiven then when he so mourned and wept, as it is written. But if even to such a man no remission was granted before repentance, and only when this great king, and anointed one, and prophet, mourned and conducted himself so, how can the impure and utterly abandoned, if they weep not, and mourn not, and repent not, entertain the hope that the Lord will not impute to them sin? (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 141)

Theophilus of Antioch ca. 2nd cent.

But do you also, if you please, give reverential attention to the prophetic Scriptures, and they will make your way plainer for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God. For He who gave the mouth for speech, and formed the ear to hear, and made the eye to see, will examine all things, and will judge righteous judgment, rendering merited awards to each. To those who by patient continuance in well-doing [Romans 2:7] seek immortality, He will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest, and abundance of good things, which neither has eye seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive. [1 Corinthians 2:9] But to the unbelieving and despisers, who obey not the truth, but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they shall have been filled with adulteries and fornications, and filthiness, and covetousness, and unlawful idolatries, there shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish, [Romans 2:8-9] and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men. Since you said, “Show me your God,” this is my God, and I counsel you to fear Him and to trust Him. (

To Autolycus, 14)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

And other sheep there are also, says the Lord, which are not of this fold Jn. 10:16 — deemed worthy of another fold and mansion, in proportion to their faith. But My sheep hear My voice, Jn. 10:27 understanding gnostically the commandments. And this is to be taken in a magnanimous and worthy acceptation, along with also the recompense and accompaniment of works. So that when we hear, Your faith has saved you, we do not understand Him to say absolutely that those who have believed in any way whatever shall be saved, unless also works follow. But it was to the Jews alone that He spoke this utterance, who kept the law and lived blamelessly, who wanted only faith in the Lord. No one, then, can be a believer and at the same time be licentious; but though he quit the flesh, he must put off the passions, so as to be capable of reaching his own mansion. (Stromata, Bk. VI, 14)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

And in like manner, the Gentiles by faith in Christ prepare for themselves eternal life through good works. (Commentary on Proverbs; ANF, Vol. V, 174)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in Him, and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the Epistle bearing the name of James. (Commentary on John,19:6)

Cyprian of Carthage +258

From which an example is given us to avoid the way of the old man, to stand in the footsteps of a conquering Christ, that we may not again be incautiously turned back into the nets of death, but, foreseeing our danger, may possess the immortality that we have received. But how can we possess immortality, unless we keep those commands of Christ whereby death is driven out and overcome, when He Himself warns us, and says, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments?” And again: “If ye do the things that I command you, henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.” Finally, these persons He calls strong and steadfast; these He declares to be founded in robust security upon the rock, established with immoveable and unshaken firmness, in opposition to all the tempests and hurricanes of the world. “Whosoever,” says He, “heareth my words, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, that built his house upon a rock: the rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” We ought therefore to stand fast on His words, to learn and do whatever He both taught and did. But how can a man say that he believes in Christ, who does not do what Christ commanded him to do? Or whence shall he attain to the reward of faith, who will not keep the faith of the commandment?  He must of necessity waver and wander, and, caught away by a spirit of error, like dust which is shaken by the wind, be blown about; and he will make no advance in his walk towards salvation, because he does not keep the truth of the way of salvation. (On the Unity of the Church, 2)

St. Aphraates the Persian ca. 270-345

For great is the gift which He that is good has given to us. While not forcing us, and in spite of our sins, He want us to be justified; and while He is in no way aided by our good works, He heals us that we may be pleasing in His sight. When we do not wish to ask of Him, He is angry with us. He calls out to us constantly: “Ask and receive; and when you seek, you shall find.”  (Treatises 23,48)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

For it is not productive of virtue, nor is it any token of goodness. For none of us is judged for what he knows not, and no one is called blessed because he hath learning and knowledge. But each one will be called to judgment in these points–whether he have kept the faith and truly observed the commandments. (Life of Antony, 33)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

For the name of Faith is in the form of speech one, but has two distinct senses. For there is one kind of faith, the dogmatic, involving an assent of the soul on some particular point: and it is profitable to the soul, as the Lord says: He that hears My words, and believes Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and comes not into judgment Jn. 5:24: and again, He that believes in the Son is not judged, but has passed from death unto life. Oh the great loving-kindness of God! For the righteous were many years in pleasing Him: but what they succeeded in gaining by many years of well-pleasing , this Jesus now bestows on you in a single hour. For if you shall believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved, and shall be transported into Paradise by Him who brought in there the robber. And doubt not whether it is possible; for He who on this sacred Golgotha saved the robber after one single hour of belief, the same shall save you also on your believing.

But there is a second kind of faith, which is bestowed by Christ as a gift of grace. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit: to another faith, by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing. 1 Cor. 12:8-9 This faith then which is given of grace from the Spirit is not merely doctrinal, but also works things above man’s power. For whosoever has this faith, shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove. Mk. 11:23 For whenever any one shall say this in faith, believing that it comes to pass, and shall not doubt in his heart, then receives he the grace. (Catechetical Lectures, 5.10-11)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-390

Then, in the tenth place, work that which is good upon this foundation of dogma; for faith without works is dead, even as are works apart from faith. This is all that may be divulged of the Sacrament, and that is not forbidden to the ear of the many. The rest yon shall learn within the Church by the grace of the Holy Trinity; and those matters you shall conceal within yourself, sealed and secure. (Oration on Holy Baptism,45)

St. Gregory Nyssa ca. 335-394

Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. For faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither, however, is righteous living secure in itself for salvation, if it is disjoined from faith. (Homilies on Ecclesiastes, 8; Jurgens, II, 45-46)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397

Finally Scripture teaches us how far from common are these stones, inasmuch as, whilst some brought one kind, and others another, of less precious offerings, these the devout princes brought, wearing them upon their shoulders, and made of them the ‘breastplate of judgment,’ that is, a piece of woven work. Now we have a woven work, when faith and action go together. Let none suppose me to be misguided, in that I made at first a threefold division, each part containing four, and afterwards a fourfold division, each part containing three terms. The beauty of a good thing pleases the more, if it be shown under various aspects. For those are good things, whereof the texture of the priestly robe was the token, that is to say, either the Law, or the Church, which latter hath made two garments for her spouse, as it is written’–the one of action, the other of spirit, weaving together the threads of faith and works…. Faith is profitable, therefore, when her brow is bright with a fair crown of good works. This faith–that I may set the matter forth shortly–is contained in the following principles, which cannot be overthrown.(On the Christian Faith,II:11,13)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

You had a wife, the apostle says, when you believed. Do not fancy your faith in Christ to be a reason for parting from her. For ‘God hath called us in peace.’ ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God.’ Neither celibacy nor wedlock is of the slightest use without works, since even faith, the distinguishing mark of Christians, if it have not works, is said to be dead, and on such terms as these the virgins of Vesta or of Juno, who was constant to one husband, might claim to be numbered among the saints. (To Pammachius, Epistle 48)

But since in the Law no one is justified before God, it is evident that the just man lives by faith (Gal. 3:11)…It should be noted that he does not say that a man, a person, lives by faith, lest it be thought that he is contemning good works. Rather, he says the just man live by faith. He implies thereby that whoever would be faithful and would conduct his life according to the faith can in no other way arrive at the faith or live in it except first he be a just man of pure life, coming up to the faith as it were by certain degrees. (Commentaries on Galatians: 2,3,11)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Is it then enough,” saith one, “to believe on the Son, that one may have eternal life?” By no means. And hear Christ Himself declaring this, and saying, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. vii. 21); and the blasphemy against the Spirit is enough of itself to cast a man into hell. But why speak I of a portion of doctrine? Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” (c. xvii. 3), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. And he did not say, “awaiteth him,” but, “abideth on him,” that is, “shall never remove from him.” For that thou mayest not think that the “shall not see life,” is a temporary death, but mayest believe that the punishment is continual, he hath put this expression to show that it rests upon him continually. (Homily 31:1, On John 3:35-36)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

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,” 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,” 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,” 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 selfsame great teacher of the Gentiles has designated “eternal life” itself as His gracious “gift.”

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:” 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;” 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”? 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.”

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.” 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;” 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.” 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 full manhood, “Create in me a clean heart, O God;” 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.” 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.” (A Treatise on Grace and Free Will; chapters 18-20)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

This, then, He says, is eternal life, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent. Then one of those who are never weary of hearkening to the Scripture, and seriously pursue the study of Divine doctrines, will ask: Do we say that knowledge is eternal life; and that to know the one true and living God will suffice to give us complete security of expectation, and nothing else be lacking? Then how is faith apart from works dead? And when we speak of faith, we mean the true knowledge of God, and nothing else; for by faith comes knowledge: and the prophet Isaiah bears us witness, who said to some: If ye do not believe neither shall ye understand. And that the writings of the holy men are referring to the knowledge which consists in barren speculations, a thing wholly profitless, I think you will perceive from what follows. For one of the holy disciples said: Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the devils also believe and shudder. What then shall we say to this? How does Christ speak truth, when He says that eternal life is the knowledge of God the Father, the One true God, and (with Him) of the Son? I think, indeed, we must answer that the saying of the Saviour is wholly true. For this knowledge is life, travailing as it were in birth of the whole meaning of the mystery, and vouchsafing unto us participation in the mystery of the Eucharist, whereby we are joined unto the living and life-giving Word. And for this reason, I think, Paul says that the Gentiles are made fellow-members of the body and fellow-partakers of Christ; inasmuch as they partake in His blessed Body and Blood; and our members may in this sense be conceived of, as being members of Christ. This knowledge, then, which also brings to us the Eucharist by the Spirit, is life. For it dwells in our hearts, shaping anew those who receive it into sonship with Him, and molding them into incorruption and piety towards God, through life according to the Gospel. Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, knowing that the knowledge of the One true God brings unto us, and, so to speak, promotes our union with, the blessings of which we have spoken, says that it is eternal life; insomuch as it is the mother and nurso of eternal life, being in its own power and nature pregnant with those things which cause life, and lead unto it. (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book XI, Chap. V)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

For all men, even if they are adorned with deeds of virtue, are in need of divine grace. The Apostle too, on this account, cries out:

‘By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves it is the gift of God.’ (Interpretation of the Psalms, On Ps. 31(32):10)

St. Macarius ca. 4th cent.

Take, for example, the five prudent and vigilant virgins (Mt. 25:1ff). They enthusiastically had taken in the vessels of their heart the oil of the supernatural grace of the Spirit – a thing not conformable to their nature. For this reason they were able to enter together with the Bridegroom into the heavenly bridal chamber. The other foolish ones, however, content with their own nature, did not watch nor did they betake themselves to receive “the oil of gladness” (Ps. 45:7) in their vessels. But still in the flesh, they fell into a deep sleep through negligence, inattentiveness, laziness, and ignorance or even through considering themselves justified. Because of this they were excluded from the bridal chamber of the kingdom because they were unable to please the heavenly Bridegroom. Bound by ties of the world and by earthly love, they did not offer all their love and devotion to the heavenly Spouse nor did they carry with them the oil. But the souls who seek sanctification of the Spirit, which is a thing that lies beyond natural power, are completely bound with their whole love to the Lord. There they walk; there they pray; there they focus their thoughts, ignoring all other things. For this reason they are considered worthy to receive the oil of divine grace and without any failure they succeed in passing to life for they have been accepted by and found greatly pleasing to the spiritual Brideroom. But other souls, who remain on the level of their own nature, crawl along the ground with their earthly thoughts. They think only in a human way. Their mind lives only on an eartly level. And still they are convinced in their own thought that they look to the Bridegroom and that they are adorned with the perfections of a carnal justification. But in reality they have not been born of the Spirit from above (Jn. 3:3) and have not accepted the oil of gladness. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 4.6)

This is the sign of Christianity. However much man should do and how many justifying works he should perform, he should feel that he has accomplished nothing. And when he fasts, he should say, “I have not fasted.” When he prays, let him think, “I have not prayed.” Persevering in prayer he should say, “I have not persevered. I have only begun to practice asceticism and to labor.” And even if he is righteous before God, he must say: “I am not righteous. I am not working, but I begin each day.” He ought every day to have hope and joy and confidence in the future kingdom and in redemption and say: “If today I have not been delivered, tomorrow I will be.” (ibid., Homily, 26.11)

Indeed, it is not immediately upon hearing the word of God that a person is ranked among the good. If the mere hearing brought him into the ranks of the good, there would no longer be any struggles or times of war or any race. But without any labor, if one merely heard the word, he would come into complete rest and perfection. But things are not quite like that. For you deprive a man of his free will in saying this and you also deny the opposing power that is struggling against the mind. This is what we say, that one who hears the word comes to repentance, and after this, through God’s providence withdraws for the development of the man. He enters into training and tactics of war. He enters into the struggle and conflict against Satan. And after a long race and struggle, he carries off the victory and becomes a Christian. If anyone, by merely hearing the word, without any work, would be numbered among the good, then also actors and all prostitutes would enter into the kingdom and the life. But no one will give them this without effort and struggle because the road is straight and narrow (Mt. 7:14). Along this bumpy road we must travel and patiently endure afflictions and thus enter into life. For if it were possible to succeed without effort, Christianity would not be “a stumbling stone and a rock of scandal” (Rom. 9:33). There would be no faith or disbelief. You would in fact make man into a bound creature of necessity, unable to turn toward good or evil… (ibid., Homily 27.20-21)

This is the foundation of the road to God, in much patience, in hope, in humility, in poverty of spirit, in gentleness to travel along the road of life. By such means one can possess justification for himself. We mean by justification the Lord Himself. These commandments, which so enjoin us, are like milestones and signposts along the royal highway that leads a journeyer to the heavenly city. For it says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the peacemaker” (Mt. 5:3). Call this Christianity. If anyone does not pass along this road, he has wandered off along a roadless way. He used a bad foundation. Glory to the mercies of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen. (ibid., Homily 27.23)

St. Diadochus of Photiki ca. 400-480

Spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it comes from God through the energy of love. It is on account of this that the intellect continues undisturbed in its concentration on theology. It does not suffer then from the emptiness which produces a state of anxiety, since in its contemplation it is filled to the degree that the energy of love desires. So it is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak. For nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him. (The Philokalia, Vol. 1. On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts, 7)

Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions. Our father Abraham would not have been counted righteous because of his faith had he not offered its fruit, his son (cf. Jas. 2:21; Rom. 4:3). (ibid., 20)

St. Mark the Ascetic ca. 5th cent.

He who relies on theoretical knowledge alone is not yet a faithful servant: a faithful servant is one who expresses his faith in Christ through obedience to His commandments. (The Philokalia: Vol. 1. On Those who Think That They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty Six Texts, 5)

Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice. (ibid., 12)

Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken. (ibid., 18)

When Scripture says, ‘He will reward every man according to his works.’ (Mat. 16:27), do not imagine that works n themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer. (ibid., 22)

Philosophize through your works about man’s will and God’s retribution. For your words are only as wise and profitable as your works. (ibid., 53)

One alone is righteous in works, words and thoughts. But many are made righteous in faith, grace and repentance. (ibid., 109)

St. Columbanus of Ireland ca. 540-615

Whatever virtue God sowed in us our primal state, therefore, He has commanded us to return to Him. This is the first, to love the Lord with the whole of the heart (cf. Mt. 22:37), since He first loved us from the beginning (cf. 1 Jn. 4:10). For to love God is to restore His image. But they loved God who follows His commands, for He said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). This is His commandment, a mutual love, according to the saying: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I also have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). But true love is not in word only but also in action and truth. And so let us restore to God our Father His own image undefiled in holiness since He is holy, according to the words: “Be holy since I am holy” (Lv. 11:44); in love, since He is love, according to the words of St. John, “God is love (1 Jn. 4:8), in righteousness and truth, since He is righteous and true. (Sermons, Sermon 11)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

As the memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not bring about the illumination of knowledge in the soul. (Four Hundred Chapters on Love, 1st Century: 31)

Do not say, as the divine Jeremiah tells us, that you are the Lord’s temple. And do not say that ‘mere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ can save me.’ For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works. For in what concerns mere believing, ‘even the devils believe and tremble.’ (ibid., 1st Century: 39)

Indeed, as the Scripture has it, “faith without works is dead”. Now no reasonable person would ever presume to say that anything dead or without activity should be counted among the finer things. But when by means of faith it arrives at the good which is its term, the reason ends its proper activities because its potency, habit, and act are now concluded. (The Church’s Mystagogy, Chap. 5)

St. Isaac the Syrian ca. 7th cent.

The power of nature attests that it behooves man to believe in Him Who brings forth all thing in His creation, to believe the words of His commandments, and to do them. For from this belief is born the fear of God. When a man joins righteous works to the fear of God and makes a little progress in this activity, the fear of God gives birth to spiritual knowledge, which we said is born of faith. (The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 47)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Jas 2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. What he says, from works, means from the works of faith, because no one can have perfect works without faith but many faith without works if they lack the time for works. Of them it has been said, He was taken away lest wickedness change his understanding or craftiness deceive his mind. (Wis. 4:11)

1 Pet. 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing to ours

…For it is not legal circumcision but gospel faith alone that joins the peoples of the gentiles to the ancient people of God. Yet, because the same faith without works is not able to save, there is properly appended: In the righteousness of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

I Jn. 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we are lying and not telling the truth. He is calling sins heresies and hatred darkness. Therefore, the confession of faith alone is not all sufficient for salvation when it lacks the witness of good works. But neither is the uprightness of works of any avail without faith and the simplicity of love. (Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

The remission of sins, therefore, is granted alike to all through baptism: but the grace of the Spirit is proportional to the faith and previous purification. Now, indeed, we receive the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit through baptism, and the second birth is for us the beginning and seal and security and illuminations of another life. It behooves as, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit, make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. For the true faith is attested by works. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 9)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

These, then, are the divine mysteries of Christians. This is the hidden power of our faith, which unbelievers, or those who believe with difficulty, or rather believe in part, do not see nor are able at all to see (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16). Unbelievers, those who believe with difficulty, or believe in part, are those who do not show their faith through works. Apart from works the demons also believe (Jas. 2:19) and confess Christ to be God and Master. “We know who you are” (Mk. 1:24), they say, “You are the Son of God” (Mat. 8:29), and elsewhere, “These men are the servants of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17). Yet such faith will not benefit the demons, nor even the humans. This faith is of no use, for it is dead, as says the divine Apostle, “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas. 2:26), just like the works without faith. How is it dead? Because it has not in itself God who gives life (1 Tim. 6:13). It has not laid hold of Him who said, “He who loves Me will keep my commandments, and I and the Father will come and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:21, 23), so that by His coming He may raise from the dead him who has attained faith and give him life, and grant him to see Him who has risen in him and who has raised him up. For this reason such faith is dead, or, rather, they are dead who have faith apart from works. Faith in God is always alive, and since it is living it gives life to those who come with a good intention to receive it. Even before they have practiced the commandments it has brought many out of death into life and has shown them Christ our God. Had they persevered in his commandments and kept them until death they too would have been preserved by them – that is, in the state to which faith alone had brought them. But since they “turned aside like a bent bow” (Ps. 78:57) and speared themselves on their former actions, they inevitably at once made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19) and miserably deprived themselves of the true riches, who is Christ our God.

So I urge you, let us keep God’s commandments with all our might, so that we may not share in their fate, but enjoy both present and future blessings, that is, the very vision of Christ. To this may we all attain through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (The Discourses, Chap. XIII Of Christ’s Resurrection: pp. 184-185)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

…but of the glory of His nature, which the Savior has bestowed on His disciples, and through them, on all who believe in Him and have manifested their faith through their works. This glory He clearly desired them to see, For He says to the Father, “I will that they contemplate the glory You have given Me, for you have loved Me since the foundation of the world.”

Let us not the, then, turn aside incredulous before the superabundance of these blessings; but let us have faith in Him who has participated in our nature and granted it in return the glory of His own nature, and let us seek how to acquire this glory and see it. How? By keeping the divine commandments. For the Lord has promised to manifest Himself to the man who keeps them, a manifestation He calls His own indwelling and that of the Father, saying, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him”, and “I will manifest Myself to him.” And it is clear that in mentioning His “word”, He means His commandments, since earlier He speaks of “commandments” in place of “word”: “He who possesses and keeps My commandments, that is the man who loves Me.” (The Triads D.15,17)

Patriarch Jeremias II Tranos of Constantinople 1530-1595

[3. Idle Faith and Faithless Work]

Therefore, since it is undoubtedly and completely sure that we must believe without doubt, only this remains, that which it is necessary to seek with all one’s might and is to be found by every means. What in reality is this? It is this: that we may attain salvation with all that we do. For idle faith and works without faith are both rejected in the sight of God. Let us consider what has been said in the light of the following: for God, who has shown himself to us as being of three hypostases, has also shown this most evident way to us. And, indeed, know also that faith, hope, and love [cf. I Cor 13:13], the golden threefold rainbow, when kept by us, effects salvation for us.

[4. Faith in Hope and Love]

And now we will elaborate at length: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” [Heb 11:1]. In faith, the impossible is possible; weakness becomes strength; suffering is painless; and the perishable, imperishable; and the mortal, immortal. Indeed, “this is a great mystery” [Eph 5-32]. Hope is a wealth of unthinkable riches, and without doubt it is a treasure beyond treasures. Love is the source of faith, a depth of mercy, a sea of humility, and exaltation of holy souls, a likeness to God, as far as is possible for humans. Apart from these three it is impossible to find salvation. The three greatest witnesses of the past in our midst are sufficient to confirm the matter.

[5. The Apostles on the Means of Justification]

Come thou, Peter, leader of the venerable Apostles, and thou, John, the most beloved in Christ, and thou, James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem, bear witness concerning what has been said. Peter in the first chapter of his Second Epistle cries out in this manner and solemnly testifies thus:

for this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours, and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted [2 Pet 1:5-9].

Moreover, the Son of Thunder (the Evangelist John] in the first chapter of his First Epistle says:

‘that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin’ [I Jn 1:5-7]. ‘He who says he is the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling’ [I Jn 2:9-10]. ‘He who does not love [his brother] remains in death. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him’ [I Jn 3:14-15].

Also, in the third chapter of the same Epistle: “but if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need” [I Jn 3:17], etc., and [John says] many other things concerning love.

[6. Saint James on the Relation of Faith and Works]

Also, the brother of God [James] in the 2nd chapter of his Epistle agrees saying:

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has  not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead. But someone will say: ‘You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.’ You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son, Isaac, upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone, as we said a short time ago. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead [cf. Jas 2:14-24, 26].

[7. Intercorrelation of Faith, Hope, and Love for Salvation]

Let us consider whether it has not been said in vain, that apart from faith, hope, and love, it is impossible to be saved. For as we, indeed, need the eyes of our body for viewing visible things, so doubtless we have need of faith for the study of the divine things. For as knowledge of the matters comes according to the proportion of the accomplishments of the commandments, so also the knowledge of the truth comes according to the measure of the hope in Christ [cf. Jn 7:17]. And as, indeed, it is meet to worship nothing else than God, so one should not hope in any other than God alone who is the One who cares for all [cf. Mt 4: 10]. As he who has hope in man is accursed, so blessed is he who rests in God. And just as the memory of the flame does not warm the body, in the same manner faith without love does not effect the light of knowledge in the soul. Indeed, it is impossible for love to be found apart from hope. Hence, the Holy Fathers say one thing is permanent: the hope in God. All other things are not in reality, but merely thought. He who has fastened his heart on the power of faith has nothing without works. And when one has nothing, he limits everything to faith. Indeed, the power of faith is in good works. And he who has been deprived of love, has been deprived of God himself. One ought to strive in such works and also hope in Him. For if you ask yourself or another true Christian on what ground the ones being saved have hope of salvation, he would by all means say that we hope only in the mercy of God. But this is the forbearance of God. For if He would not endure evil for us, no one would be saved, since no one among men is without sin. “If even his life on the earth should be but one day on the earth” [Job 14:4-5]. Therefore, if we have the hope of salvation in the forbearance of God, this hope of salvation, indeed, is given only to those who endure the evil and not to those who bear malice. Let us then, as far as possible, be patient, piously forgiving others who have trespassed against us; and then the Heavenly Father will not only forgive us, but He will bestow upon us life everlasting in Christ. (The Second Reply of Patriarch Jeremiah II to the Lutheran Tubingen Theologians, Concerning the Augsburg Confession)

Patriarch Dositheus II Notarius of Jerusalem 1641-1707

We believe no one to be saved without faith. And by faith we mean the right notion that is in us concerning God and divine things, which, working by love, that is to say, by [observing] the Divine commandments, justifies us with Christ; and without this [faith] it is impossible to please God. (Confession of Dositheus, Decree IX)

We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which works through love, that is to say, through faith and works. But [the notion] that faith fulfilling the function of a hand lays hold on the righteousness which is in Christ, and applies it unto us for salvation, we know to be far from all Orthodoxy. For faith so understood would be possible in all, and so none could miss salvation, which is obviously false. But on the contrary, we rather believe that it is not the correlative of faith, but the faith which is in us, justifies through works, with Christ. But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becomes efficacious, and as in themselves meriting, through the Divine promises {cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10} that each of the Faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it be good or bad, forsooth. (ibid., Decree XIII)


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