Title

Gratia Pro Gratia: Augustine's Doctrine of Grace

Date of Award

8-20-2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Theology (Th.M)

Department

Systematic Theology

First Advisor

Don Fairbairn

Abstract

The thesis explores the place of the doctrine of grace in Augustine's theology in two areas. First, Augustine's view of grace is considered as a result of his personal experience of faith. By examining writings from three periods of Augustine's life, the thesis finds that this personal experience, rather than controversy per se, is responsible for his understanding of grace. His early understanding is demonstrated in his autobiographical work, The Confessions, a testimony to God's grace in his life. Augustine's later writings during the anti-Pelagian writings and in his handbook on Christianity, The Enchiridion, contain this doctrine in its fullness without changing it substantially. The thesis finds that although the presentation is different at different times, these different presentations contain a consistency in essence on three points: God's grace as sustaining, the complete responsibility of humankind for individual sins, and the related necessity for grace as the only means by which individuals can acquire salvation.

Second, the thesis analyzes the place of the doctrine in Augustine's general doctrine of salvation. It is maintained in the thesis that Augustine combines his understanding of grace with the early Church's notion of works-righteousness in such a way as to create a confusing, if not contradictory, scheme of salvation. Human beings earn salvation, but only earn salvation by the work of grace within them. Fundamental to this view is a confusion of two admittedly interrelated, but distinct, theological concepts: justification and sanctification. By examining the etymology of the two terms in light of Augustine's theology, the thesis determines that Augustine and the early Church have misunderstood the distinction between the two concepts. They are essentially synonyms in their minds. The good works which ought to be considered a part of sanctification (the process of becoming more like Christ) are instead primarily to be understood in Augustine as merit in order to earn salvation. However, Augustine's doctrine of grace clouds the issue because the works that earn salvation are only possible because God's grace creates the ability within humans. In another system, without Augustine's focus on grace, a purely moralistic system could develop; but in Augustine, grace is always the controlling thought that informs his theology.