Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do Catholics Believe in Imputed Justification, External Righteousness, and Justification by Faith Alone? Yes (!), With Proper Biblical Qualifications

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_FOIrYyQawGI/TJkwl4LdfRI/AAAAAAAADBA/fY-zqzY9-So/s1600/JesusPassion.jpg

The following is an excerpt from my book, Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” -- Chapter One.

* * * * *

Many Protestants (and Catholics) are unaware that the Council of Trent does not absolutely rule out all notions whatever of justification by faith alone or even of imputation of God’s righteousness. It condemns only extreme versions of these notions. For example:


Canon IX. If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

We observe, then, that Canon 9 anathematized not faith alone (in the sense of initial justification) per se, but a minimalist, absolute position on faith alone that excludes further necessary cooperation, or “outworking” of the same faith. The term “faith alone” is carefully qualified and defined, but it is not itself rejected (the key phrase being “in such wise as to mean”).

Another way of looking at this is to say that Canon 9 doesn’t absolutely forbid imputed justification, either, as an aspect of justification, but rather, only the notion that justification consists solely of imputation. The next canon makes it clear that there is indeed a proper sense of imputed justification or “extrinsic” or “declarative” or “external” righteousness:


Canon X. If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

Again, what is asserted is the denial of a minimalist view. The first clause espouses initial imputed, external justification (“the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us”). But the second clause condemns the legalistic extreme of making this alone the cause of justification, as if there is no cooperation required (assuming the person proceeds on with his life after initial justification). Imputation is present (and indeed necessary) but not sufficient unto salvation, in and of itself. The next canon reiterates:


Canon XI. If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

We are initially justified by “the justice of Christ” and “grace,” but we are not justified by a “sole imputation.” Imputation is, thus, a truth of Catholic soteriology, but it is not the “whole ball of wax” of salvation. In this sense, and this one alone, Catholics deny imputed justification and justification by faith alone. Canons 1-3, in their condemnation of Pelagianism and salvation by works, assert essentially the same notion from a different vantage-point: the initial grace and justification comes from God, and God alone.

Moreover, it is made clear elsewhere in this section of Tridentine decrees, that justification by faith is also a Catholic concept, and that even justification by faith alone is properly applied to the stage of initial justification:


Chapter VIII. (In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously).
And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.
Even the cause of the human faith, that brings about justification, is God’s grace: so that there is not the slightest hint or trace of Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism (yet Catholics, for some reason, are falsely accused of these heresies to this day). Chapter 5 concurs (“the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ” / “disposed through His quickening and assisting grace” / “God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost”).

Initial imputation and justification by faith alone in the first stages of justification are reiterated elsewhere in the same section:


Chapter VII. (What the justification of the impious is, and what are the causes thereof.)
Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God . . .
. . . the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father . . .
. . . the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just . . .
. . . no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit . . .

Chapter X.
(On the increase of Justification received.)
Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, . . . they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, . . .

***

9 comments:

Dan Marcum said...

I am so happy to see this. I've been waiting for a good Catholic explication of these facts which are so often overlooked by Calvinists and other Protestants.

The single potential concern I have, which you might want to make clearer before publishing: in your comments on Canon 9, you say it "anathematized not faith alone (in the sense of initial justification) per se, but a minimalist, absolute position on faith alone that excludes further necessary cooperation, or 'outworking' of the same faith."

Well, Canon 9 IS referring to initial justification in that passage. We know because, compare it to chapter 4, which defines the Council's use of the word justification: "In which words is given a brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior."

That refers to initial justification. THAT is what Canon 9 says does not happen by faith alone, insofar as that means no cooperation of the will is involved.

Your explanation gave me the impression that you think the cooperation in Canon 9 was only after initial justification. I hope you didn't mean that, so you should make it more clear, in my opinion; but if you did mean that, perhaps you should think about it more in light of that context from chapter 4 and change it to reflect that context.

God bless!
-Dan Marcum

Dave Armstrong said...

I think the paper is fine as it stands. The initial impetus (especially in the section you note) came directly from Dr. Kenneth Howell: the Catholic professor who used to be a Reformed pastor.

It depends on when initial justification occurs. God initiates the whole thing in any event. If initial justification occurs as an infant, then there is no cooperation in the nature of the case. But God wholly initiates the grace and movement towards salvation. If we say He does not do so, it is Pelagian heresy.

If someone is an adult when initial justification occurs (having never been baptized) then he or she has the responsibility of cooperating in the process (once God begins). He or she could exercise faith alone at the very beginning, and be initially justified without any works involved. But that is strictly a temporary condition.

In any event, we can't cooperate in the very first stages of initial justification, if by that we mean that we start the "ball rolling" alongside God, simultaneously. He is the lone originator of the process. In that sense it is monergistic. Otherwise, it is semi-Pelagianism, which is roundly condemned by both 2nd Orange and Trent.

This is the concern and false charge of our Protestant brethren, so we have to take the greatest pains to articulate it accurately.

If they read your comment, many would say it smacks of semi-Pelagianism, even if that is not your belief or intent.

Dave Armstrong said...

To clarify further: even the "faith alone" in initial justification and any faith exercised thereafter, has its enabling cause and origin in God's grace.

Adomnan said...

I would agree that initial justification is by faith alone if you mean by that, as you do, that so-called "works" are excluded. However, I think that expressing it in this way can be confusing because it tends to lend support to the Protestant (and for that matter Augustinian) exegetical error that the "works" that Paul says are not involved in justification are something broader than works of the Jewish Law; that is, Torah observances.

In fact, Paul regarded Abraham's act of faith as a good work, which is why he said it could be credited to him for righteousness. (This instance of justification was not "initial.")

Yet it is true that one cannot do good works unless one is righteous. So in that sense good works could never precede the transformation from unrighteousness to righteousness that is initial justification. But this is a matter of logic. It's not something that Paul or anyone else in the New Testament ever asserts in so many words. Jesus implies it, though, when He says that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.

Moreover, I would suggest that faith is never alone, even in initial justification, because it is always accompanied by love and hope. God does not inspire faith in a soul, without at the same time kindling love and instilling hope.

Finally, I don't think there's any "imputation of the righteousness of Christ" in the Bible, and so I personally wouldn't use that phrase. Paul, in Romans 4, says that faith is imputed as righteousness. And, since this is the only time that he uses a word that can be translated as "impute," this excludes imputation of Christ's righteousnness. Otherwise, two things would be imputed: Faith, which Paul mentions, and Christ's righteousness, which he never mentions. Mine is an exegetical argument. (Also, I don't think Trent's decree requires us to suppose that there is such a thing as the imputation of Christ's righteousness, although it may leave open the possibility.)

clown said...

One of the condemned propositions of Jansenism said that "the semi-Pelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even the beginning of faith but they fell into heresy pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

If the Jansenists were wrong here, this implies that the doctrine of resistibility of the first grace is not heretical. In terms of this doctrine a "yes" to God's prevenient grace seems to precede initial justification in adults (while a "no" would prevent it): and wouldn't this "yes" be an act of charity under the influence of grace? Therefore such an act would precede initial justification in adults even if it did not merit it de condigno.

John McClymont

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks for your penetrating thoughts, guys. Don't have the time to get any further into this right now, though. Too many plates spinning.

Want to Help? said...

I appreciate your work here, work that Akin totally bypasses in his The Salavation Controversy. Yet, where do you get that we receive an initial imputation of righteousness but then it becomes conditional? How can that be if Christ is our federal/Representative head? It seems that you want the initial value of that headship but then it just doesn't stay, which really means you have no federal headship in Christ. Provisional headship that can be lost is not headship, it's something altogether different than the federal headship in Romans 5 and elsewhere.

Want to Help? said...

I appreciate your work here, work that Akin totally bypasses in his The Salavation Controversy. Yet, where do you get that we receive an initial imputation of righteousness but then it becomes conditional? How can that be if Christ is our federal/Representative head? It seems that you want the initial value of that headship but then it just doesn't stay, which really means you have no federal headship in Christ. Provisional headship that can be lost is not headship, it's something altogether different than the federal headship in Romans 5 and elsewhere.

Dave Armstrong said...

I "get that" the NT also teaches that salvation or justification or a state of grace can be lost if we don't persevere in the free grace that God grants us initially through baptism and justification. Many passages teach this: most from St. Paul, so it has to be included in the overall equation. Paul says we must persevere, watch, be careful to stand, etc.