“God Crowns His Own Gifts” Commemoration of St. Augustine of Hippo

Augustine_LateranOne day someone asked Martin Luther whether godly persons should expect merit for their good works that result from their justification.  Luther answered that even the justified were still sinners, who pray for forgiveness and live under grace.  While God promises rewards to those who do good works, no works earn any merit.  Luther explained:

In short, the article of justification by Christ solves everything. If Christ merits it, we merit nothing.  In Christ there are gifts, not merits. Likewise, since capital and substantial righteousness is nothing, how much less will accidental righteousness count in God’s sight? Substantial righteousness is the righteousness of faith, but accidental righteousness is gifts, not merits.  God crowns nothing but his own gifts, as Augustine said. (Luther’s Works 54: 329) [Emphasis Added]

In Luther’s estimation, the gift of faith in Christ formed the substance of faith, but even the outward actions derived from faith were gifts.  He described how Augustine of Hippo demonstrated that merit rests completely on God’s grace and not on human will or activity.

Augustine (d.430) influenced Western Christian theology more than any writer except for Holy Scripture.   He lived during the tumultuous era of Germanic invasions.  In fact, he died as the Vandals approached Hippo in North Africa.  While Dr. Luther did criticize Augustine’s teaching at times,  Luther always emphasized Augustine’s influence on his own (re)discovery of the Gospel and grace.  Augustine taught clearly that salvation and eternal life were gifts which God bestowed by grace through faith in Christ.  When others inquired as to the role of merit in salvation, Augustine explained that grace by its very nature cannot be obtained by meriting anything.  Rather, it is God’s grace that grants faith and any merit associated with the good works resulting from faith.  Augustine stated concisely: “If, then, your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts.” (Augustine, On Grace and Free Will 6. 15., NPNF 5: 450.)



About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


“God Crowns His Own Gifts” Commemoration of St. Augustine of Hippo — 5 Comments

  1. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
    Galatians 6:14

    “We are beggars, Wir sind alle Bettler, this is true.”
    Marin Luther

  2. Remember Augustine’s mother, Monica, who prayed all of her life for her son – a wonderful example for all mothers! She was blessed to see him brought back to the “fold”.

  3. After his conversion Augustine went to visit his mother, Monica. He described her response in the following manner:

    “She was filled with joy. We told her how it had happened. She exulted, feeling it to be a triumph, and blessed you who ‘are powerful to do more than we ask or think’ (Eph. 3:20). She saw that you had granted her far more than she had long been praying for in her unhappy and tearful groans.” Confessions 8. 12. 30, trans. Henry Chadwick (1991), p. 153.

  4. Bishop Ambrose said of Monica’s many tears for her son. “It is IMPOSSIBLE for the child of these tears to be lost.”

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