JUSTIFICATION:DOCTRINE OF COUNCIL OF TRENT
by Fr. William Most
What is justification? Loosely, it means getting right with God. But there
is an impassable gap between the Catholic and the Lutheran position after
that point. Luther insisted that even after justification we are totally
corrupt and really, have no free will (, tr.
James Packer & O. R. Johnston, Revell Co. Old Tappan, N. J. 1957, p.
273). (He even taught our will is like a horse:either God or satan will
ride it, and so we do good or evil and go to heaven or hell. We have
nothing to say about which rider gets on: p. 103-04. So those who go to
hell are "undeserving": p. 314).
The Catholic teaching is that justification means the reception of
(sanctifying) grace for the first time. This grace changes us, making us
share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1. 4) which is far different from
being totally corrupt. It gives us the basic ability to take part in the
face to face vision of God in the next life (1 Cor 13:12). So the soul
becomes even now the temple of the Holy Spirit: 1 Cor 6:19 - could we
imagine God joining Himself for eternity to a soul that is totally
corrupt? Rather, "who can stand when He appears? For He is like the
refiner's fire": Mal 3:2).
This is a tremendous thought. When I look at you, I do not take you into
my mind, I take in an image of you. But no image could let me know what
God really is, so there must be no image in the process (Defined thus by
Benedict XII: DS 1000). So it must be that God joins Himself directly to
the human soul or mind, without even an image in between so that the soul
may know Him face to face.
2 Peter 1;4 said by this grace we share in the divine nature. So we are
made children of God, "heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ - provided
that we suffer with Him so that we may be glorified with Him": Rom 8:17.
We notice the condition attached at the end. We are saved and made holy if
and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him. So we are
not saved alone, we are saved as brothers of Christ, sharing the same
divine nature with Him (2 Pet. 1:4).
Now the child of a Father has a claim to inherit. So we have, by
justification, a claim to inherit from our Father, to inherit a place in
His mansions. But, a merit is simply a claim. So we could say that having
grace is a merit. Yet we gained that first grace without any merit of our
own. We got our ticket to heaven for free:DS 1532; DB 801. We can,
however, merit increases in it (DS 1582; DB 842), since we then have the
dignity of sons of God. If we keep that grace, we will enter His mansions.
But we could lose it by mortal sin. So Trent defined (DS 1574; DB 834):
"If anyone says that the justification that is received is not kept and
even increased before God by good works. .
. A. S. ." But this presupposes reception of grace for the firs time without any merit at
all. As to "keeping" justification: All concrete actions are either good
or evil. If we commit evil, mortally, we lose that grace. If we do not
commit mortal sin, then this grace is kept.
We achieve justification by faith. But Luther, without any checking,
simply assumed that faith means confidence that the merits of Christ apply
to me. Then I would be infallibly saved, for in a ledger for myself, on
the credit page I would write infinity, the merits of Christ; on the debit
page, the number for my sins. Hence no matter how much I have sinned, am
sinning, will sin - all is outbalanced by the infinite merits of Christ.
So I have infallible salvation.
The trouble is that, as we said, Luther made no effort to see what St.
Paul meant by faith. If we read all of Paul, we find three things:1) If
God speaks a truth, we believe it in our mind; 2) If He make a promise, we
are confident in it; 3) If He tells us to do something, we must do it--
"the obedience of faith" : Rom 1:5. -Even a standard Protestant reference
work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, in Supplement, p. 333,
describes Pauline faith just as we have done). But poor Luther did not see
that faith includes obedience to God, and so he wrote: "Be a sinner and
sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. . . . No
sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and
murder a thousand times a day." (Weimar ed. vol. 2. p. 372; Letters I,
Luther's Works, American ed. vol. 48, p. 282. Luther in his Exposition on
the Psalms 130. 4; wrote:"If this article [justification by faith] stands,
the church stands;' if it falls, the church falls." Since he did not know
what St. Paul meant by faith, his church never did stand. -- and further,
he had no means of knowing which books are part of Scripture. He tried to
say that if a book preaches justification by faith strongly, it is
inspired. He did not notice that most books of Scripture do not even
mention the subject.
Here are the chief texts of the Council of Trent on these matters:
Capitulum 8 on justification. DS 1532; DB 801: ". . . we are said to be
justified gratuitously for this reason, because nothing of those things
that come before justification, whether faith, or works, earns the grace
of justification itself. . . ."
Canon 32 on Justification. DS 1582:DB 842: "If any one says that the works
of a man who has been justified [has received first grace] are in such a
way the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of the one who
is justified, or that the one who is justified does not really merit by
good works, which are done by him through the grace of God and Jesus
Christ [does not really merit] eternal life and the attainment of eternal
life itself (if however he dies in grace) and even an increase in glory,
let him be anathema." COMMENT: They are merit in that they are a claim to
a reward. The claim is established since first grace, unearned, makes us
children of God, who as such have a claim to inherit. And we are brothers
of Christ, who did establish a claim albeit on the secondary level. After
we are made children of God, this dignity gives a ground for merit of
additions to grace.
1. There is justification by faith, without works. Examine each of the
a) Justification;Means getting right with God. It makes us adopted sons
(Rom 8. 17) and sharers in the divine nature (2 Pt. 1. 4) and temples of
the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6. 19). That is not a spatial presence, spirits
do not take up space. A spirit is present wherever he causes an effect.
What effect? The transformation of the soul making it radically capable of
the vision of God in the next life: 1 Cor 13. 12.
2) Faith It is itself a gift (Eph 2. 8). It includes three things
according to Paul:belief in mind, confidence, obedience.
3) Without works: which works? Not just the ceremonial and dietary works
for that could imply that other works can justify us. But they cannot do
that for no man is just before God by his own power (Rom 3. 24:we are
justified gratis). Abraham had works other than those, but they did not
earn justification, if they did, he would have a boast, but not before
Final salvation is an inheritance: 1 Cor 6. 9-10. We could not earn the
inheritance, nor need we do it, but we could earn to lose it: ibid. We are
adopted children. But children do not earn their inheritance, though they
could earn to lose it: Rom 6. 23. We get a claim not of ourselves, but
inasmuch as we are brothers/members of Christ, who did earn, and are like
Him in all things, including work of rebalancing the objective order: Rom
8.17. Yet we do have a claim, inasmuch as first grace, unmerited, makes us
children of God, who as such, have a claim to inherit.
2. What of the OT "justifications"? They did not of themselves give this
grace, but promised temporal reward: Probably did not know eternal reward
until time of Antiochus IV. -- And no OT sacrifice was provided for sins
be , but only for .
3. Why good works? Because faith includes obedience, which results in
them. Also, out of gratitude to so good a Father who even gives us by
grace an inclination to good works. He, being Holiness, loves all that is
good, and so is pleased with our good works. But they do not at all earn
salvation in primary sense (Cf. DS 1532 above): if they did, we would have
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