Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Justification: The Catholic Church and the Judaizers in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

There's an interesting discussion about justification on, specifically on this post by Bryan Cross:

Justification: The Catholic Church and the Judaizers in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

It's been a couple of weeks since anyone commented on the post and I haven't read all the comments yet, so I'm going to make my comments here for now.

Here is an excerpt from Bryan's post:
What makes this difficult to understand, from a Protestant point of view, is that in Catholic theology there is a distinction between justification and an increase in justification. There is no such distinction in Protestant theologies, and for that reason Protestants not infrequently treat Catholic statements about the increase in justification as though they are about justification itself.

Justification is defined by the Council of Trent as “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.” (Trent VI.4)1 Justification takes place through the sacrament of baptism, and then, if a person falls into mortal sin, through the sacrament of penance. At the instant of justification, the person receives sanctifying grace and the theological (supernatural) virtues of faith, hope and charity (agape). This does not mean that these cannot be received prior to the actual reception of the sacrament of baptism. Even then, however, they come through the sacrament, and anticipate its reception.

An increase in justification is not the same thing as justification. An increase in justification is not the translation from a state in which one is deprived of sanctifying grace to a state in which one has sanctifying grace. An increase in justification is an increase in sanctifying grace from a condition in which one already has sanctifying grace. This is what St. Peter means in exhorting believers to grow in grace. (2 Pet 3:18) An increase in justification is not receiving sanctifying grace where there is none, but a movement of growth from grace to more grace, and thus a growth in conformity to the likeness of Christ, by an increase in the capacity of our participation in the divine nature. (2 Pet 1:4)

The reason this distinction between justification and its increase is important for understanding the Catholic doctrine concerning justification is that although a person can and should prepare for justification (Trent VI.6), he cannot merit justification by any works. But, a person who is already justified and in a state of grace, can merit an increase in justification by doing good works out of love (agape) for God. Among these good works are works in keeping with the moral law, done out of love (agape) for God. God rewards our works done in agape by increasing our capacity to participate in His divine nature, and thus by increasing our participation in His agape. He Himself is our reward, and growth in grace is growth in Him, a reward we receive already in this present life, to be multiplied abundantly in the life to come.

This brings up so many questions, I hardly know where to start. First I want to ask, if 'an increase in justification is not the translation from a state in which one is deprived of sanctifying grace to a state in which one has sanctifying grace' AND 'if a person falls into mortal sin, [justification takes place] through the sacrament of penance' THEN would you also say that if a person falls into mortal sin they are deprived of justification and sanctifying grace and must regain it by the sacrament of penance? So, a person can lose justification and regain it and can also gain more justification?
Some Catholics may know that Protestants don't speak of losing justification or gaining more of it, but instead speak of being sanctified, which means being made more like Christ as we abide in Him through His word, prayer, and obedience. Protestants don't believe in losing justification through sin, but some believe it can be lost by apostasy (defecting from the faith). Is it possible that the phrases 'increase in justification' and 'sanctification' mean the same thing or are similar? I don't know.
The main differences I see here are that Protestants don't believe in losing justification by sinning and that most don't believe that baptism confers justification. We believe that justification is by faith the moment the person believes in the gospel. We believe that regeneration, which is being made a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit, occurs at this moment as well. The person is now indwelt by the Holy Spirit and desires to be like Christ and fellowship with Him and other believers. We believe that baptism is commanded and is a sign of justification. Some believe that it is absolutely necessary for salvation and some don't, the latter believing that it is a sign of obedience and should be done; if it isn't then the person may not have faith that leads to obedience (unless there is some circumstance that makes baptism impossible, or the person dies first).
The most important difference I see here, which I mentioned earlier, is that protestants don't believe that justification can increase, and scripture doesn't speak of this either. We don't believe that someone who is 'just' can be made any more just. Scripture does speak of an increase or growth of grace, however. The Bible says 'The just shall live by faith.' This means that the one who has been justified by faith will continue to live by faith, and this faith brings more grace as we abide in Christ. This increase in grace is the ability to live as Christ wants us to, to be more and more like Him. Grace comes by faith and the Spirit and the Word working in us to make us like Christ, helping us do the good works for which we are saved. Here is an article I found which does a VERY good job of explaining grace, faith, and good works.

Here is another excerpt which engenders more questions:

Does St. Paul teach that justification is by keeping the ceremonial law? No. Does St. Paul teach that justification is by keeping the moral law? No. According to St. Paul, justification is not by works of the law, and in St. Paul “works of the Law” refers to the whole law under the Old Covenant. That’s what Robert [Sungenis] is saying, and I agree with him, and nothing I said contradicts what he said. But, as I will explain below, unless we recognize the difference between the meaning of “works of the Law” as including the ceremonial law, and the New Covenant law that does not include the ceremonial law, we can mistakenly treat St. Paul’s teaching that justification is not by the former as though it also denies increases in justification by means of the latter.

Without sanctifying grace and living faith, we cannot merit heaven; to claim otherwise would be Pelagianism. And that is why we cannot be justified by works. For St. Paul justification is by living faith, and we receive this living faith by hearing (Rom 10:17), and it is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) through the sacrament of baptism (Rom 6, Col 2). But none of that condemns or denies increases in justification through good works in accordance with the moral law done out of love (agape) for

What is the 'new covenant'? It isn't a new law, it's the law written in our hearts: the law of love for God and our neighbors, which we can now follow by faith and in love, no longer trying to save ourselves because we are saved by faith through Christ's sacrifice. We have been given His righteousness and His Spirit and so are free to act in love rather than by compulsion or fear as we would if we had to keep up our own justification or earn our own salvation by our own power.

There is a difference between 'justification by faith' in Paul (Romans 4) and James' statement 'You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.' See James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. In other words, a dead body has no spirit just as dead faith has no works.
In James he is talking about 'being shown to be justified'. So we are justified by faith and then our faith produces works which show us to be justified. I've heard that the Greek word which is translated 'justified' can mean both of these things and the context must show which one is meant. The same word can mean 'made or declared righteous or just' or it can mean 'shown or proved to be righteous or just'.
It seems that Catholics believe that our works of love make us more just, but protestants believe that our completed justification (by faith) makes us do works of love (that show our faith). Is the former what Bryan is saying about Catholicism or am I misunderstanding? Protestants believe that after justification by faith, all is now of faith and we continue to be made more like Christ as we abide in Him. We can't lose justification because it is a gift of God and we can't become MORE justified because to be justified means to be made righteous by Christ's perfect righteousness. We can't gain justification because we are already perfect in God's grace, and are alive in Him, when before we were dead in sin. We can then grow up and mature in love and obedience to Him as we learn to submit to Him and repent of our sins.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? Is James setting up a contrast here between two extremes? Between someone who thinks they are saved by faith even though they have no works afterward and someone who thinks they are saved by their own works but have no faith in Christ? In other words 'Show me your faith without your works' could mean 'show me your faith that justifies APART from works'. James then says 'I will show you my true faith that produces works.' Is this a valid understanding of what James is saying here? Faith produces works, but faith must come first and bring life, then works are the life lived out by faith.
Our works show or prove that we are just and works complete or perfect our faith. These works are done by faith and show that our faith is complete. James 2:22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”And he was called the friend of God.

No comments: