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December 30, 2007 / vivator

Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue (Part 5)

Traditional Catholic Doctrine

This is my last post for 2007 as well the fifth part of my series of posts (or reviews) on a book written by Prof. Anthony N.S. Lane: Justification by Faith in Catholic – Protestant Dialogue.  Prof. Lane is Professor of Historical Theology and Director of Research at the London School of Theology.  His book was published in 2002 and 2006 (second edition).  In this post I try to extract what he wrote about Catholic Justification – as usual all his statements, whether his own or quotation from others, as long as copied from his book, are in italic.

Prof Lane started with the work of Augustine, whom he claimed to be ignorant of Greek and therefore derived his works on Justification based on its Latin word, iustificatio.   He noted that only once Augustine understood that the verb ‘to justify’ means ‘to hold just’ or ‘to account just’, which agrees with Protestants’ understanding.  Following Augustine, the Catholic Church always understand the word ‘justified’ to mean ‘made righteous’ – made righteous by him [God] who justifies the ungodly, so that he who was ungodly becomes righteous (quoted from Augustine work: The Spirit and the Letter 26:45).  Prof. Lane quoted the following Augustine’s words:

By the law comes the knowledge of sin; by faith comes the obtaining of grace against sin; by grace comes the healing of the soul from sin’s sickness; by the healing of the soul comes freedom of choice; by freedom of choice comes the love of righteousness; by the love of righteousness comes the working of the law.

Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter 30:52

Prof. Lane stated that what Augustine wrote above corresponds to Protestant’s understanding of Sanctification by faith.  Keep in mind that in Protestantism Sanctification and Justification are distinct entities but inseparable – one cannot have one without the other.  Catholics, on the other hand, consider Sanctification as part of Justification and therefore, as noted by Prof. Lane, Catholics understand that to be justified means to become a righteous person through the inner working of the Holy Spirit.  To Protestants, to be justified means to be declared righteous through the imputation of Christ’ righteousness, and this comes through faith.  

Next Prof. Lane noted that before (council of) Trent there was no authoritative pronouncements on Justification from the Catholic Church.  He is right but this is commonly happens through out history – the Catholic Church made official or authoritative declaration on something related to faith when there is dispute or events that related to it.  It was Reformation that made the Catholic Church declares her official positions on matters contested by the Reformers – Justification is one of them.  The Council of Trent (1545 – 63) set out to define Catholic dogma in a firmly anti-Protestant manner and this is true in particular of the Decree on Justification (1547).  Based on Trent council’s pronouncements, Prof. Lane summarizes Catholic Justification in three parts:

1. Initial Justification of Adults

  • All people have lost their innocence in Adam’s sin and are children of wrath.

  • Neither Gentiles nor Jews could by their own efforts escape from their bondage to sin.

  • God sent his Son as a propitiator for our sins and those of the whole world.

  • In order to be justified they [men] need to be born again in Christ, i.e. to move from their fallen state in Adam to a state of grace and adoption. This move cannot take place without baptism or the desire for it. With adults the first move is taken by God’s predisposing grace, a call which comes from him without any merits on their part. They then have the free choice as to whether to assent to this grace and cooperate with it or to reject it.

  • It is wrong to suppose either we do nothing or that we can turn to God of our own free will without grace.

  • Cooperating with grace leads to a series of events which prepare us for justification:

    • believing that God is the one who justifies by his grace

    • recognizing that we are sinners

    • considering God’s mercy, we turn from fear of divine justice to hope in God’s mercy, trusting that God will be favourable to us for Christ’s sake.

    • We begin to love God, who is the source of righteousness; to hate sin and to repent of it

    • We receive Baptism, begin a new life and keep the commandments

  • Justification is not only the forgiveness of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner person, whereby we change from being unrighteous to righteous.

  • We are not only considered to be righteous but are truly called and are righteous, each receiving righteousness [of God] within ourselves.

  • To be justified we need to receive the merits of Christ’s passion but this involves the love of God being poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and abiding in us. In justification we receive not just the forgiveness of sins but also the infusion of faith, hope and love.

2. Progression in Justification

  • We need to keep the commandments and preserve our righteousness spotless for the day of judgement and thus gain eternal life.

  • We need (through faith and works) to grow in the righteousness which we have received through Christ’s grace, increasing in justification. This comes through day-to-day discipleship and obedience to the commandments of God and of the church.

  • Justification does not exempt us from keeping the commandments and we should not say that they are impossible to observe, with God’s help.

  • God will reward the works of the faithful Christian. Eternal life at the end is both a grace promised in mercy and a reward given to good works and merits. It is indeed a gift of grace in that it is only by God’s help that we can achieve it.

  • Our righteousness is our own, but it does not originate from us. Our righteousness is the same righteousness that is imparted to us by God through Christ’s merit.

  • God has promised a reward for our works, but we must remember that our merits are his gifts and trust and glory in him, not in ourselves.

3. Loss and Recovery of Justification

  • Only those who persevere to the end will be saved and therefore we need to be vigilant

  • If we lose the grace of justification we can regain it through the sacrament of penance.

  • Grace of justification is lost through falling from faith or through committing mortal sin, even if faith remains.

  • Through sacrament of penance God remits the eternal punishment but temporal punishment remains.

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