"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Justification: Six Passages, Two Interpretive Paradigms


"The Baptism of the Neophytes"
Masaccio (1426-1427)

In his Systematic Theology, Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof claims that there are six passages in the New Testament in which the term δικαιόω, translated throughout as some variation of the English word 'justify', "can bear no other sense" than the forensic sense. (p. 510) That's quite a strong claim to make, because it implies that Catholics and Orthodox must either ignore these verses or be unaware of them, or blatantly twist them to mean something other than what they most obviously mean. But Berkhof has to make such a strong claim, because the forensic conception of justification is central to what still divides Protestants and Catholics. Anything weaker would severely undermine the grounds for Protestants separating from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and remaining separated to this day. Therefore, insofar as we can resolve the Protestant-Catholic disagreement regarding the nature of justification, we clear the way for the reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics.

So here in this post I look at each of these six New Testament passages, and determine whether they can be understood according to a different paradigm, i.e. one that goes beyond the forensic paradigm viz-a-viz justification. I am not here seeking to demonstrate that these verses necessarily mean what the Catholic Church teaches about justification. My intention is simply to see whether these verses can be understood within a Catholic paradigm. If in these verses justification can be understood in a way that goes beyond the forensic sense, then we need a means of determining whether St. Paul meant the term in the forensic sense or in this stronger sense.

In my post on St. Thomas Aquinas on penance, I discussed Aquinas's claim that human grace (as in "he was in her good graces") cannot safely be assumed to be equivalent in all other respects to God's grace, on account of the Creator / creature distinction. According to Aquinas, while human grace is a response to good in the other person, God's grace *causally effects* the good in the other. Similarly, we might take that same line of reasoning and apply it to the question of the nature of justification. When a human judge declares a defendant "not guilty", this verdict effects only the legal standing of the person before the State, not the heart of the person, at least not directly. The human judge cannot see or weigh the human heart; he can see only the evidence presented by the prosecution. But God looks at the heart. "For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) And, moreover, God cannot lie. (cf. Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2) Therefore, when God declares us justified, we should not assume that He must do so as mere human judges do. Rather, we must consider the possibility that He does so in quite a different, and more powerful way. More specifically, we should consider whether when God declares us justified, He does so because He has in fact, by the grace that flows from Christ's side and is received by faith through the waters of baptism, made us actually just.

For each of the six passages, I will be asking whether the term δικαιόω must be taken forensically (i.e. declared righteous, and being cleared of punishment, though remaining internally unrighteous), or whether it could mean that the justified persons in question were actually made righteous internally by having received within themselves sanctifying grace and the righteousness of Christ through faith and the waters of the sacrament of baptism.

The first passage is Romans 3:20-28:

"because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

If St. Paul is speaking here in Romans 3 of the justification by which we are translated 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, then this passage is fully compatible with justification in that sense. There is nothing here that precludes the possibility that we are actually made righteous with the righteousness of God, not that by which He Himself is righteous, but that by which He makes us righteous, that by which He renews us in the spirit of our mind such that not only are we reputed righteous but we are truly called and are actually righteous, having received His righteousness within us as a free gift. In other words, if St. Paul is talking about what the Church has always taught takes place at baptism, then this passage seems to be fully compatible with that. And we have good reason to believe that baptism is in view here, because St. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 6, which is almost entirely about what has happened to us in baptism.

The second passage is Romans 4:5-7:

"But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered."

If believing in Christ involves, through baptism, receiving His righteousness within us, then the reason our faith is credited as righteousness, is that through faith in Christ (which is expressed in the reception of the sacrament of baptism), we receive the righteousness of Christ and are thereby made actually and truly righteous. This righteousness we receive through baptism is not the result of our works; it is a gift of God. The 'covering' of our sins need not mean that they remain in us. They remain in our past as actual events in our personal history, for God does not change or erase the past. But through the righteousness of Christ they no longer remain in us as privations of the light and life and love of Christ. Protestants read "justifies the ungodly" and tend to assume that the person is simultaneously both justified and ungodly. But it is no less possible to read "justifies the ungodly" as meaning that by the infusion of sanctifying grace, through faith in Christ, and not by human efforts, God, at the moment of baptism, supernaturally transforms the ungodly by making them actually righteous. Hence, when the Protestant quotes this verse as evidence that justification is forensic, this is, from the Catholic point of view, question-begging, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question.

The third passage is Romans 5:1:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"

Having been made righteous by faith through the sacrament of baptism, with the righteousness of Christ infused into our soul by His sanctifying grace, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Understood in this way, any Catholic can affirm this verse. This verse is fully compatible with a conception of justification that transcends the merely forensic.

The fourth passage is Galatians 2:16

"nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

This verse too can be understood as referring to a forensic-transcending justification. We are actually made righteous (translated from the state of sin to the state of infused grace and adoption), not through the works of the law, but through faith, by the grace of Christ given to us in the sacrament of baptism.

The fifth passage is Galatians 3:11:

"Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "The righteous man shall live by faith."

Again, Catholics can affirm that no one is made actually righteous (not just forensically declared righteous) by the law. We can affirm that the [actually] righteous man shall live (i.e. be made alive, and remain alive) by faith in Christ.

And the sixth passage is Galatians 5:4

"You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace"

The person who thinks that by following the law he can be translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, or that by following the law he can be made
actually righteous, has fallen from grace. He doesn't understand that no one can be made actually righteous by law-keeping, because without grace man is infinitely removed from God, no matter how many good works man does. Apart from grace, man cannot acquire the life and righteousness of God, or have fellowship with God. Only by the grace of Christ can man be made righteous and have fellowship with God. This was taught formally by the Second Council of Orange (529 AD).

Having examined each of these six passages, it seems to me that the term δικαιόω, in each of the six passages, can quite easily be understood in a way that goes beyond the merely forensic. If so, then what does this mean? Some Protestants claim that they are rightly separated from the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church "abandoned the gospel", i.e. abandoned [forensic] justification by faith alone through grace alone on account of Christ alone. Their evidence that forensic justification is the essence of the gospel is not drawn from the fathers, because in the fathers we do not find the gospel defined in terms of forensic justification. Rather, their evidence is these passages in the New Testament, drawn mostly from Romans and Galatians, as well as the lexical studies showing how contemporaries of the New Testament authors used this term in a forensic sense.

But there are certain theological presuppositions implicit in the assumption that the best way for us in the third millennium to know what a New Testament term meant is by looking to the manner in which the Greeks (or Diaspora Jews) used the term. One such assumption is that the Church fathers did not necessarily preserve the meaning of terms as handed down by the Apostles. Another assumption is that the Apostles used these terms in mostly the same way that the pagans used them. But the very reason why we cannot work our way to heaven is the very reason why unaided human reason cannot attain to the truths of divine revelation. Such truths must be revealed, or we cannot know them. They transcend the natural, human capacity. Likewise, the concepts communicated in the gospel, concepts such as justification, should not therefore be assumed to be equivalent to the concepts commonly associated with those terms as they were used in the pagan world. God's ways are higher than man's ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Therefore God's mode of justifying cannot safely be assumed to be equivalent to man's external/forensic mode of justifying.

How then can we determine whether justification should be understood as actual or merely forensic? If these passages can be understood according to either paradigm, then why shouldn't the Catholic Church, which Protestants (of the non-biblicist sort) generally believe stood firm against all heresy for the first 1500 years of her existence, receive the benefit of the doubt? If the question of whether justification is forensic or actual is reduced to a 50/50 toss-up, why then wouldn't the decision of the Council of Trent regarding the nature of justification be authoritative and binding? A schism cannot be justified by a hermeneutical coin-flip, nor would Christ leave us in such a predicament, as Tertullian understood.

God our Father, in your infinite mercy, through the grace of Your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the illumination of your Holy Spirit, please teach us and lead us into the truth regarding this doctrine of justification, so that Catholics and Protestants may be reconciled after all these years of separation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

21 comments:

tetrateuch said...

What are your thoughts on the work of N. T. Wright on the doctrine of justification?

Principium Unitatis said...

Richard,

I haven't spent much time studying Wright. So I'm not in a position to give a definitive evaluation. From what I have read, I agree with him that Paul is not talking about mere imputation. But insofar as he makes justification ecclesiological *rather* than soteriological, that seems to be a mistake. The gospel is about salvation from our sins, through faith in Christ. That's what is driving Paul. That's the purpose of the Church, for Paul, the means by which we are united to Christ to be saved from our sins and to be brought to eternal life in union with Him.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Eric Telfer said...

Bryan,

Well put. R.C. Sproul, in _Faith Alone_, seems to be saying that both the Catholic Church and a great many nominalistic Protestants are in fact in heresy. It is not just sola fide that he requires, but sola fide understood very narrowly and very strictly. Anything else is heresy, in his mind.

He asks:

"1. Is sola fide essential to the Gospel?
2. Is the Gospel essential to Christianity and to salvation?
3. Is the denial of the Gospel an act of apostasy?"

He also says:

"1. Justification by faith alone is essential to the Gospel.
2. The Gospel is essential to Christianity and to salvation.
3. The Gospel is essential to a church's being a true church.
4. To reject justification by faith alone is to reject the Gospel and to fall as a church."

Sproul admits later that if he is wrong about sola fide, he is in heresy and the Catholic Church is right.

Interestingly, it is not obvious from Scripture that the Reformers are right when we deal with the very narrow definitions of Sola Fide used by Sproul and others. Nor is it clear which Reformer would be right if one is, noting that they disagree amongst one another as to what Sola Fide means and how to spell it out in detail, with some coming very close to the position the Catholic Church offers, while stopping short.

No doubt, to get traction, some maintain sola fide, but expand the definition to something more general- usually something that most Evangelicals and Catholics would agree with. But if they agree at the general level, why insist on a schism, at least because of this issue?

If they do not agree at the very narrow, technical level, why would we grant the edge to a group that moved out of the 1500 year tradition, when in fact it agrees with so much of that 1500 year tradition, at least implicitly, and at least on a more general level? Why would that justify schism? These are at least important questions.

I disagree with Sproul's rendition, finding little reason to think it is true over and against alternatives. The alternatives are at least equally strong and at least equally possible in light of the biblical text. In fact, I think the Reformation position is, in fact, weaker, given the biblical text. And yet Sproul rests so much on it- the entire Church, regardless of anything else, it seems, including 1500 years of tradition, apostolic succession, etc.

We are not, with Sproul's methodology, speaking about knowing the Church by historical lineage and historical tradition. We are speaking about knowing the 'true Church' through an interpretation of Scripture that is not settled by Scripture because Scripture is open to several competing interpretations regarding salvation and justification.

The method: read Scripture on your own, interpret it, call that interpretation the gospel, say that the gospel is essential to salvation and to a church being the true church, and then declare all alternative interpretations, including the longest standing and most authoritative interpretation, no matter how valid they might be otherwise, to be heretical.

Eric

Jared said...

Regrding N.T. Wright,

I have read a considerable portion of Wright on Paul, and I have to say he is almost identical to the Catholic Theology. In fact, his material on justification, to a great degree, led me back to the Catholic Church. In my estimation of his work, he seems to emphasize two things. One is concerning what the gospel actually is, and its relation to the righteousness of God the way paul uses it in Romans and elsewhere. I believe he focuses in on the same Greek word Bryan uses in his blogg post. He seems to pull together the idea that the Gospel is more than about mere personal salvatoin, but the triumph of the righteosness of God in reference to his covanent keeping. This is a very important emphasis that even the Catholic Church could start recognizing more. In fact, I would regard this as the most important element of the Gospel. The element of personal salvation is weaker, maybe even hindered, without it.

The second thing he seems to emphasize is his definition of "the works of the Law" and how the reformers got it wrong. He speeks about covenantal identification, that is, who is regarded as actually in the covenant, and that the Jews understood Grace, but only in the sense of their being children of Abraham and therefore Gods special covenant people through circumsision. Wright explains that when Paul speeks of "works of the law" he has principally in mind the covenant marker of circumcision and other precepts of binding rituals and such. This is opposed to how the reformed guys understand "works of the law", for they believe any "work" we do means a "work of the law" and, therefore, no man is justified by "works". But Wright is strong in his argument that Paul is speaking of the Torah specifically, for through the Torah no man can be justified, because the Torah, though it bears witness to the righteousness of God, isn't founded on the Promises of the covenant of Grace. Thus by approaching God according to the Torah, we are severed from the Grace of God because we are not approaching him according to the covenant of Promise through wich the Grace of God comes so that we may become the righteosness of God which he requires. This is actually a biggy in the Catholic/protestant debate on justification. This is actually where I believe the big blunder of the reformers is and why there is so much confusion; the confusion of the meaning of "works of the law". I believe this element puts the nail in the cauffin that justification is more than merely forensic, in that we are actually made righteous; without faith in the promises of God we cannot "become" the righteousness of God. God desires righteousness and it doesn't come through the works of Torah. "Being ignorant of the righteousness of God(i.e. Gods covenental faithfulness according to the promise) they went about to establish their own righteousness"

I don't believe there is anything wrong with Wright's ecclesiological emphasis when it is understood properly. It is very Catholic friendly ;)

Every Catholic theologian and apologist would do well to read Wright on justification. I believe it may provide insights that will benefit greatly, in areas where I believe is needed, in the Catholic/protestant debate of Justification. I couldn't recommend his work highly enough.

For the Glory of Christ,
Jared B

Andrew McCallum said...

that Catholics and Orthodox must either ignore these verses or be unaware of them, or blatantly twist them to mean something other than what they most obviously mean.

Bryan,

Are you sure you want to lump EO and RCC together on the forensic implications of justification?

or each of the six passages, I will be asking whether the term δικαιόω must be taken forensically (i.e. declared righteous, and being cleared of punishment, though remaining internally unrighteous), or whether it could mean that the justified persons in question were actually made righteous internally by having received within themselves sanctifying grace and the righteousness of Christ through faith and the waters of the sacrament of baptism.

You understand that we have no issues in saying that the justified person really is made righteous, right?

Andrew McCallum said...

Jared - Very interesting comments on Wright. I'm sure given what you say that you understand why most Reformed folks have issues with Wright.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

You understand that we have no issues in saying that the justified person really is made righteous, right?

When Reformed theology says that a person is "really made righteous" at the moment of saving faith, it means that through Christ the penalty for sin has been cancelled, and the righteousness of Christ is applied to our account (i.e. this is what is meant by 'imputed', rather than 'infused'). The person himself remains (at that moment) internally unrighteous.

The Catholic position, by contrast, is that the person is actually (on the inside) at that moment, made righteous, by the grace of Christ. So from the Catholic perspective, the Reformed conception of justification does not (at that moment) make the person actually righteous, but balances their account (by canceling their debt and applying Christ's righteousness to their account). But I am not an account; I'm a person.

So, for Catholics, justification does not merely balance my account (while, at that moment, leaving me unrighteous); justification makes me (the person!) actually righteous.

There is a *real* difference between infusion and imputation.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jared said...

Andrew,

Yes, the reformed guys don't like Wright's theology precisely because it is a threat to "faith alone". When I was attending my old reformed Baptist church, I remember always hearing, upon the name of Wright being mentioned, "If you read Wright you will end up on the road back to Rome", or something along those lines. They simply don't like the idea of Rome being right. Moreover, it baffles me why N.T. Wright remains a protestant. There's your Anglicanism for ya. Maybe one of these days he will come around.

In Christ,
Jared B

Andrew McCallum said...

When Reformed theology says that a person is "really made righteous" at the moment of saving faith, it means that through Christ the penalty for sin has been cancelled, and the righteousness of Christ is applied to our account (i.e. this is what is meant by 'imputed', rather than 'infused'). The person himself remains (at that moment) internally unrighteous.

Bryan,

I seem to be having trouble with Google and this may be a repeat and if so please erase.

So given what you right above, what do you make of the Reformed doctrine of Regeneration?

We don't have a problem with saying that the justified person is regenerated. Christ does not justify those who are unregenerate (see II Cor. 5:17 on this). However, we do have issues with RCC theology at Trent and following that say that works which floiw out of regeneration cooperate with God's justifying grace. In the context of justification, Christ alone justifies apart from works.

We are not trying to make a separation in time between justification and regeneration. They are both glorious truths which happen at the same time in the life of the believer. I can reference this if you like.

Andrew McCallum said...

Jared,

I don't think Wright is that close to becomming Catholic. That is, I don't think that there is anything in his theology which denies justification by faith apart from works. He just treats this like a presupposition rather than a point that Paul seeks to prove. For him the real issue is who is in the Covenant, not who individually is right before God.

I think that you also have to remember that Wright is in a very different context in the very theologically liberal UK. I am actually in the UK today and worshipped at ome of hte relatively few conservative CofE churches in London (St. Helen's). Wright just has different issues to deal with there than if he were in a conservative denomination here in the US.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

Regeneration seems to me to be not exactly the same issue as the infusion vs. imputation debate.

But, what you are pointing out is that there are (at least) two disagreements regarding sola fide between Catholics and Protestants. One is the imputation vs. infusion question with regard to justification. The other is whether or not the human will is entirely passive in justification. Protestants deny that the will is active in justification, while Catholics maintain that the will cooperates in justification. That's because Catholics believe that regeneration takes place in baptism ("washing of regeneration"), and baptism is something for which we can, with our will, prepare. Of course, Catholics believe that grace precedes any effort on our part to desire baptism and prepare for it.

In this particular post, I didn't discuss the question of whether the will is passive or cooperative in justification. Hopefully, I can address that question in a future post.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew Preslar said...

Andrew,

I take it that Catholics and Orthodox are quite unequivocally one in rejecting the notion that the justification that comes from God through faith in Christ Jesus is a purely forensic matter.

Many Orthodox certainly have problems with aspects (e.g., created grace) of traditional Roman Catholic construals of justification, but they do not accept the Protestant teaching at all.

Bryan, et al,

I agree with the thesis of this post. These six passages are logically compatible with the Catholic rendering of justification as involving, qua justification, inherent righteousness. The Catholic view at least deserves a hearing.

As to the material truth of our position:

Catholics read "justification" in a more comprehensive way than do Protestants for several reasons. I will give one. Scripture seems to indicate that regeneration (the proper effect of baptism) is an aspect of justification, which seems to be the position you are staking out (please correct me if I am not reading you properly).

Part of the evidence for this view is the tendency of NT writers, especially Paul, to make intimate, even essential (I would say, in particular, causal), connections between justification, faith and baptism (cf. Gal 3.23-29).

I do not think that the Reformed would deny that there is a connection here, even an intimate connection, but might not see that connection, with respect to baptism, as causally related or in any way essential to justification.

In other words, Catholics (I hope I am appraising the situation correctly) do not see justification (by faith) and regeneration (by baptism) as two events occuring simultaneously; rather, we see these as two aspects, or ways of describing, the same event.

And, of course, there is the underlying issue of significantly, even crucially, different understandings of the sacrament of baptism. Reformed theology has always seemed hesitant, even equivocal on this matter. This troubled me (when I was part of a Reformed church).

In the NT, I found straightforward assertions concerning the power of baptism to wash away sins, that is, to make sinners righteous, that is, to justify (Titus 3.4-8). So I had to modify my (classical Protestant) understanding of justification by faith in order to accomodate regeneration as an aspect of, or way of describing, justification. And the rest is history.

Andrew McCallum said...

When Reformed theology says that a person is "really made righteous" at the moment of saving faith, it means that through Christ the penalty for sin has been cancelled, and the righteousness of Christ is applied to our account (i.e. this is what is meant by 'imputed', rather than 'infused'). The person himself remains (at that moment) internally unrighteous.

Bryan,

Above I'm quoting again what you said ealier. I know that the point of your post was not to speak of cooperation. But I was pointing that this is where we have our fundamental issue. Take a look at your last sentence above. We don't believe that the person stays unrighteous at the point of justification. The issue what is the basis of this justification. We hold that the basis for justification at this point is not partly the works which flow out of regeneration.

So yes, talking about cooperation would be a good idea.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew [McCallum],

We don't believe that the person stays unrighteous at the point of justification.

See the words in bold below:

WCF XI.1 "Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone."

If Christ's righteousness is not infused into a person, then that person remains at that point internally unrighteous. In Reformed theology, at justification, the person is *counted* righteous while remaining internally unrighteous (see this cartoon), but only gradually growing in sanctification. Otherwise, justification would be on the basis of initial immediate sanctification, which is the Catholic doctrine.

The issue what is the basis of this justification. We hold that the basis for justification at this point is not partly the works which flow out of regeneration.

Catholics agree that the basis for [initial] justification is not the works that will flow out of regeneration. A person who dies at the moment they come up from baptism is not insufficiently justified, because he didn't get a chance to do any good works that would have completed his justification.

But, there really is a difference between infusion and imputation, as I was pointing out from the WCF above. So Reformed and Catholic theologies disagree there. Also, Catholic doctrine grants that in adults, the will cooperates in regeneration, because regeneration takes place in baptism, and we can (with our will) choose to be baptized, and prepare for baptism (this preparation is the catechumenate period). So I agree that there is a disagreement about cooperation, but I think there is also a disagreement about infusion vs. imputation.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Well I thought I had left something yesterday but apparently it did not et through. So here is the 2nd try:

WCF XI.1 "Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone."

If Christ's righteousness is not infused into a person, then that person remains at that point internally unrighteous.


Bryan,

I don’t see that your conclusion follows from the WCF quote. The WCF is saying that the basis is not works. The operative word in the WCF quote is by. It is telling us that our justification is not conditional on our works. The quote does not say that the person who is justified in not regenerated at the same time. Charles Hodge in his explanation of justification and regeneration says very clearly that these two operations happen at the same time (again, I can reference this is you like). Now, you can also find in Hodge and other Reformed systematizers discussion of justification as logically preceding regeneration but this is not a temporal matter. The Reformed don't believe that a person can be justified and remain unregenerate at the same time. Hodge makes this very clear.

The reason why I think that this is important is that both Protestant and Catholic often try to break down the walls separating us on justification (thinking of ECT as a good example of this) by suggesting resolutions that don't properly reflect the historical debate. I think it is important to get right to the heart of the historical debate as Trent certainly does when it discusses the matter of cooperation of grace and free will.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

The WCF is saying that the basis is not works.

Are you claiming that regeneration does instantly infuse righteousness into the believer? If so, where is that in an official Reformed document/text?

The quote does not say that the person who is justified in not regenerated at the same time.

You keep bringing in regeneration, as if that shows that a person has infused righteousness. See my initial question directly above.

Charles Hodge in his explanation of justification and regeneration says very clearly that these two operations happen at the same time (again, I can reference this is you like).

But that does not tell us whether there is infusion of Christ's righteousness at regeneration.

Now, you can also find in Hodge and other Reformed systematizers discussion of justification as logically preceding regeneration but this is not a temporal matter. The Reformed don't believe that a person can be justified and remain unregenerate at the same time. Hodge makes this very clear.

Fair enough, but all this completely misses the point in question: does regeneration entail the instantaneous infusion of Christ's righteousness?

The reason why I think that this is important is that both Protestant and Catholic often try to break down the walls separating us on justification (thinking of ECT as a good example of this) by suggesting resolutions that don't properly reflect the historical debate. I think it is important to get right to the heart of the historical debate as Trent certainly does when it discusses the matter of cooperation of grace and free will.

Me too. But, nothing you say here shows that regeneration entails instant infusion of Christ's righteousness.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

I don't want to use the term "infuse" because I think that the term here has historical connotations that are not helpful in this context. I am responding to your claim that at the point of saving faith, "The person himself remains (at that moment) internally unrighteous." I am trying to point out from our perspective that the person at this point is regenerated. So then what is regeneration? Hodge said that regeneration "raises the elect among the spiritually dead to new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause."

If I am misunderstanding you then I apologize, but it sounds like you are trying to represent the Reformed conception of the justified individual at the point of faith as being devoid of new and living righteousness in Christ. This is certainly a common misconception among Catholics who look at Reformed conceptions of justification. I am just trying to point out that at the point of justification the person justified is in a regenerated state as Hodge summarizes that state. So then there is not a sense in which we believe in a point in time when someone is justified by Christ but internally unrighteous. If the person in regenerated then their lives have been really and truly changed by God and it is not just a matter of legal status before God.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

Where, in any official Reformed text, does it say that the regenerated person has, at the moment of regeneration, the righteousness of Christ within him?

You keep asserting that regeneration means that a regenerated person has the righteousness of Christ within him. I want to believe you, but I need to see it in a Reformed confession.

In fact, everything I have read says exactly the opposite. The very reason why forensic justification is essential to the Reformed conception of justification is precisely because the person remains internally unrighteousness.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Strider said...

Does the following passage from Richard Hooker qualify as a Reformed text? Note the connection between the bestowal of the Spirit and justification:

We have already showed that there are two kinds of Christian righteousness: the one without us, which we have by imputation; the other in us, which consisteth of faith, hope, charity, and other Christian virtues; and St. James doth prove that Abraham had not only the one, because the thing he believed was imputed unto him for righteousness, but also the other, because he offered up his son. God giveth us both the one justice and the other: the one by accepting us for righteous in Christ; the other by working Christian righteousness in us. The proper and most immediate efficient cause in us of this latter is the spirit of adoption which we have received into our hearts. That whereof it consisteth, whereof it is really and formally made, are those infused virtues proper and particular unto saints, which the Spirit, in that very moment when first it is given of God, bringeth with it. …

If here it be demanded which of these we do first receive, I answer that the Spirit, the virtues of the Spirit, the habitual justice which is ingrafted, the external justice of Christ Jesus which is imputed, these we receive all at one and the same time. Whensoever we have any of these we have all; they go together. Yet since no man is justified except he believe, and no man believeth except he have faith, and no man hath faith unless he have received the Spirit of adoption, forasmuch as these do necessarily infer justification, but justification doth of necessity presuppose them; we must needs hold that imputed righteousness, in dignity being the chiefest, is notwithstanding in order the last of all these, but actual righteousness, which is the righteousness of good works, succeedeth all, followeth after all, both in order and in time. Which thing being attentively marked showeth plainly how the faith of true believers cannot be divorced from hope and love; how faith is a part of sanctification, and yet unto sanctification necessary; how faith is perfected by good works, and yet no works of ours good without faith; finally, how our fathers might hold, we are justified by faith alone, and yet hold truly that without good works we are not justified.

Principium Unitatis said...

Thanks Strider. Hooker's view on two simultaneous justifications was, I think, quite rare. But it also suffers the following difficulty; if by the work of the Spirit we receive the righteousness of Christ within us, then the forensic justification need not be an imputation; it can be a direct, veridical declaration.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Strider said...

I'd like to suggest that Hooker and Calvin, as Alister McGrath notes in his book on justification, actually approach these questions in similar ways. The key for both is union with Christ. And it is precisely at this point, I further suggest, that Catholic/Reformed dialogue on justification should focus. What does it mean to be "in Christ" and how does this happen?

It is unfortunate that Catholic/Reformed dialogue has not progressed very far on the question of justification. One might wonder why the Lutheran/Catholic dialogue has been so product, whereas the Reformed/Catholic dialogue has not been. A comparison between Thomas F. Torrance and John Henry Newman would be particularly illuminating.

My guess is that Catholics and Lutherans have been able to make so much progress because they both could agree on baptismal regeneration, which is precisely the point (or one of many points) that separate Lutherans and Reformed. The Reformed cannot grant baptismal regeneration because of the decisive role of divine predestination in their theological speculation. How can I be born again of the Spirit and yet not be one of the persevering elect? Augustine could entertain this possibility, but Calvin could not.