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(Latin justificatio ; Greek dikaiosis .)

A biblio-ecclesiastical term; which denotes the transforming of the sinner from the state of unrighteousness to the state of holiness and sonship of God. Considered as an act ( actus justificationis ), justification is the work of God alone, presupposing, however, on the part of the adult the process of justification and the cooperation of his free will with God's preventing and helping grace ( gratia praeveniens et cooperans ). Considered as a state or habit ( habitus justificationis ), it denotes the continued possession of a quality inherent in the soul, which theologians aptly term sanctifying grace. Since the sixteenth century great differences have existed between Protestants and Catholics regarding the true nature of justification. As the dogmatic side of the controversy has been fully explained in the article on GRACE, we shall here consider it more from an historical point of view.


The ideas on which the Reformers built their system of justification, except perhaps fiduciary faith, were by no means really original. They had been conceived long before either by heretics of the earlier centuries or by isolated Catholic theologians and had been quietly scattered as the seed of future heresies. It was especially the representatives of Antinomianism during the Apostolic times who welcomed the idea that faith alone suffices for justification, and that consequently the observance of the moral law is not necessary either as a prerequisite for obtaining justification or as a means for preserving it. For this reason St. Augustine (De fide et operibus, xiv) was of the opinion that the Apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude had directed their Epistles against the Antinomians of that time, who claimed to have taken their doctrines -- so dangerous to morality -- from the writings of St. Paul. Until quite recently, it was almost universally accepted that the epistle of St. James was written against the unwarranted conclusions drawn from the writings of St. Paul. Of late, however, Catholic exegetes have become more and more convinced that the Epistle in question, so remarkable for its insisting on the necessity of good works, neither aimed at correcting the false interpretations of St. Paul's doctrine, nor had any relation to the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles . On the contrary, they believe that St. James had no other object than to emphasize the fact -- already emphasized by St. Paul -- that only such faith as is active in charity and good works ( fides formata ) possesses any power to justify man (cf. Galatians 5:6 ; 1 Corinthians 13:2 ), whilst faith devoid of charity and good works ( fides informis ) is a dead faith and in the eyes of God insufficient for justification (cf. James 2:17 sqq. ). According to this apparently correct opinion, the Epistles of both Apostles treat of different subjects, neither with direct relation to the other. For St. James insists on the necessity of works of Christian charity, while St. Paul intends to show that neither the observance of the Jewish Law nor the merely natural good works of the pagans are of any value for obtaining the grace of justification (cf. Bartmann, "St. Paulus u. St. Jacobus und die Rechtertigung", Freiburg, 1897).

Whether Victorinus, a neo-Platonist, already defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone, is immaterial to our discussion. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that in the Middle Ages there were a few Catholic theologians among the Nominalists (Occam, Durandus, Gabriel Biel ), who went so far in exaggerating the value of good works in the matter of justification that the efficiency and dignity of Divine grace was unduly relegated to the background. Of late, Fathers Denifle and Weiss have shown that Martin Luther was acquainted almost exclusively with the theology of these Nominalists, which he naturally and justly found repugnant, and that the "Summa" of St. Thomas and the works of other great theologians were practically unknown to him. Even Ritschl ("Christliche Lehre von der Rechfertigung und Versohnung", I, 3rd ed., Bonn, 1889, pp. 105, 117) admits that neither the Church in her official teaching nor the majority of her theologians ever sanctioned, much less adopted, the extreme views of the Nominalists. Nevertheless it was not a healthy reaction against Nominalism, but Luther's own state of conscience that caused his change of views. Frightened, tormented, worn out by constant reflexions on his own sinfulness, he had finally found, even before 1517, relief and consolation only in the thought that man cannot overcome concupiscence, and that sin itself is a necessity. This thought naturally led him to a consideration of the fall of man and its consequences. Original sin has so completely destroyed our likeness to God and our moral faculties in the natural order, that our will has lost its freedom regarding works morally good or bad, and we are consequently condemned to commit sin in every action. Even what we consider good works are nothing but sin. Since, according to Luther, concupiscence, of which death alone shall free us, constitutes the essence of original sin, all our actions are corrupted by it. Concupiscence as an intrinsically evil disposition, has instilled its deadly poison into the soul, its faculties, and its action (cf. Möhler, "Symbolik", sec. 6). But here we are forced to ask: If all our moral actions be the outcome of an internal necessity and constraint, how can Luther still speak of sin in the true meaning of the word? Does not original sin become identical with the "Evil Substance " of the Manichæans, as later on Luther's follower, Flacius Illyricus, quite logically admitted?

Against this dark and desolate background there stands out the more clearly the mercy of God, who for the sake of the Redeemer's merits lovingly offers to despairing man a righteousness ( justitia ) already complete in itself, namely the exterior righteousness of God or of Christ. With the "arm of faith " the sinner eagerly reaches out for this righteousness and puts it on as a cloak of grace, covering and concealing therewith his misery and his sins. Thus on the part of God, justification is, as the Formulary of Concord (1577) avows, a mere external pronouncement of justification, a forensic absolution from sin and its eternal punishments. This absolution is based on Christ's holiness which God imputes to man's faith. Cf. Solid. Declar. III de fide justif., sec. xi: "The term justification in this instance means the declaring just, the freeing from sin and the eternal punishment of sin in consideration of the justice of Christ imputed to faith by God."

What then is the part assigned to faith in justification? According to Luther (and Calvin also), the faith that justifies is not, as the Catholic Church teaches, a firm belief in God's revealed truths and promises ( fides theoretica, dogmatica ), but is the infallible conviction ( fides fiducialis, fiducia ) that God for the sake of Christ will no longer impute to us our sins, but will consider and treat us, as if we were really just and holy, although in our inner selves we remain the same sinners as before. Cf. Solid. Declar. III, sec. 15: "Through the obedience of Christ by faith the just are so declared and reputed, although by reason of their corrupt nature they still are and remain, sinners as long as they bear this mortal body." This so-called "fiduciary faith " is not a religious-moral preparation of the soul for sanctifying grace, nor a free act of cooperation on the part of the sinner ; it is merely a means or spiritual instrument ( instrumentum, organon leptikon ) granted by God to assist the sinner in laying hold of the righteousness of God, thereby to cover his sins in a purely external manner as with a mantle. For this reason the Lutheran formularies of belief lay great stress on the doctrine that our entire righteousness does not intrinsically belong to us, but is something altogether exterior. Cf. Solid. Declar., sec. 48: "It is settled beyond question that our justice is to be sought wholly outside of ourselves and that it consists entirely in our Lord Jesus Christ." The contrast between Protestant and Catholic doctrine here becomes very striking. For according to the teaching of the Catholic Church the righteousness and sanctity which justification confers, although given to us by God as efficient cause ( causa efficiens ) and merited by Christ as meritorious cause ( causa meritoria ), become an interior sanctifying quality or formal cause ( causa formalis ) in the soul itself, which it makes truly just and holy in the sight of God. In the Protestant system, however, remission of sin is no real forgiveness, no blotting out of guilt. Sin is merely cloaked and concealed by the imputed merits of Christ; God no longer imputes it, whilst in reality it continues under cover its miserable existence till the hour of death. Thus there exist in man side by side two hostile brothers as it were -- the one just and the other unjust ; the one a saint, the other a sinner ; the one a child of God, the other a slave of Satan -- and this without any prospect of a conciliation between the two. For, God by His merely judicial absolution from sin does not take away sin itself, but spreads over it as an outward mantle His own righteousness. The Lutheran (and Calvinistic ) doctrine on justification reaches its climax in the assertion that "fiduciary faith ", as described above, is the only requisite for justification ( sola fides justificat ). As long as the sinner with the "arm of faith " firmly clings to Christ, he is and will ever remain regenerated, pleasing to God, the child of God and heir to heaven. Faith, which alone can justify, is also the only requisite and means of obtaining salvation. Neither repentance nor penance, neither love of God nor good works, nor any other virtue is required, though in the just they may either attend or follow as a result of justification. (Cf. Solid. Declar, sec. 23: "Indeed, neither contrition nor love nor any other virtue, but faith alone is the means by which we can reach forth and obtain the grace of God, the merit of Christ and the remission of sin.") It is well known that Luther in his German translation of the Bible falsified Rom. iii, 28, by interpolating the word "alone" (by faith alone ), and to his critics gave the famous answer: " Dr. Martin Luther wants it that way, and says, 'Papist and ass are the same thing: sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas'."

Since neither charity nor good works contribute anything towards justification -- inasmuch as faith alone justifies -- their absence subsequently cannot deprive the just man of anything whatever. There is only one thing that might possibly divest him of justification, namely, the loss of fiduciary faith or of faith in general. From this point of view we get a psychological explanation of numerous objectionable passages in Luther's writings, against which even Protestant with deep moral sense, such as Hugo Grotius and George Bull, earnestly protested. Thus we find in one of Luther's letters, written to Melancthon in 1521, the following sentence : "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more strongly, who triumphed over sin, death, and the world; as long as we live here, we must sin." Could anyone do more to degrade St. Paul's concept of justification than Luther did in the following blasphemy : "If adultery could be committed in faith, it would not be a sin "? (Cf. Möhler, "Symbolik", sec. 16). The doctrine of justification by faith alone was considered by Luther and his followers as an incontrovertible dogma, as the foundation rock of the Reformation, as an "article by which the Church must stand or fall" ( articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesia ), and which of itself would have been a sufficient cause for beginning the Reformation, as the Smalkaldic Articles emphatically declare. Thus we need not wonder when later on we see Lutheran theologians declaring that the Sola-Fides doctrine, as the principium materiale of Protestantism, deserves to be placed side by side with the doctrine of Sola-Scriptura ("Bible alone", with the exclusion of Tradition ) as its principium formale -- two maxims in which the contrast between Protestant and Catholic teaching reaches its highest point. Since, however, neither maxim can be found in the Bible , every Catholic is forced to conclude that Protestantism from its very beginning and foundation is based on self-deception. We assert this of Protestantism in general; for the doctrine of justification as defended by the reformed Churches differs only in non-essentials from Lutheranism. The most important of these differences is to be found in Calvin's system, which taught that only such as are predestined infallibly to eternal salvation obtain justification, whilst in those not predestined God produces a mere appearance of faith and righteousness, and this in order to punish them the more severely in hell (Cf. Möhler, "Symbolik", sec.12).

From what has been said it is obvious that justification as understood by Protestants, presents the following qualities: its absolute certainty ( certitudo ), its equality in all ( aequalitas ), and finally the impossibility of ever losing it ( inamissibilitas ). For if it be essential to fiduciary faith that it infallibly assures the sinner of his own justification, it cannot mean anything but a firm conviction of the actual possession of grace. If, moreover, the sinner be justified, not by an interior righteousness capable of increase or decrease, but through God's sanctity eternally the same, it is evident that all the just from the common mortal to the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary possess one and the same degree of righteousness and sanctity. Finally if, as Luther maintains, only the loss of faith (according to Calvin, not even that) can deprive us of justification, it follows that justification once obtained can never be lost.

Incidentally, we may here call attention to another significant fact, namely that it was Luther who laid the foundation for the separation of religion and morality. For, by stating that fiduciary faith alone suffices for obtaining both justification and eternal happiness, he minimized our moral faculties to such an extent that charity and good works no longer affect our relations with God. By this doctrine Luther opened a fundamental breach between religion and morality, between faith and law, and assigned to each its own distinct sphere of action in which each can attain its end independent of the other. Prof. Paulsen of Berlin was therefore justified in eulogizing Kant, who followed Luther in this matter, as the Philosopher of Protestantism". (Cf. Möhler, "Symbolik", sec. 25.)

The harshness, want of harmony, intrinsic improbability, and contradiction of Holy Writ contained in the system soon brought about a reaction in the very midst of Protestantism. Osiander (d. 1552), at once an enthusiastic admirer of Luther and an independent thinker, emphatically stated (in opposition to Luther and Calvin ) that the justifying power of faith consists in a real, instrinsic union of Christ with the soul, an opinion for which, as being Catholic , he was censured freely. Butzer (d. 1551) likewise admits, in addition to an "imputed exterior righteousness", the idea of an "inherent righteousness" as a partial factor in justification, thus meeting Catholicism half way. Luther's most dangerous adversary, however, was his friend Melancthon, who, in his praiseworthy endeavour to smooth over by conciliatory modifications the interior difficulties of this discordant system, laid the foundation for the famous Synergisten-Streit (Synergist Dispute), which was so soon to become embittered. In general it was precisely the denial of man's free will in the moral order, and of the impossibility of his full cooperation with Divine grace that repelled so many followers of Luther. No sooner had Pfeffinger in his book, "De libero arbitrio" (Leipzig, 1555) taken up defence of man's free will than many theologians of Jena (e.g. Strigel) boldly attacked the Lutheran Klotz-Stock-und-Steintheorie (log-stick-and-stone theory), and tried to force from their adversaries the concession that man can cooperate with God's grace. The theological quarrel soon proved very annoying to both parties and the desire for peace became universal. "The Half-Melanchtonians" had succeeded in smuggling Synergism into the "Book of Torgau" (1576); but before the "Formulary of Concord" was printed in the monastery of Bergen (near Magdeburg, 1557), the article in question was eliminated as heterodox and the harsh doctrine of Luther substituted in the symbols of the Lutheran Church. The new breach in the system by the Synergisten-Streit was enlarged by a counter movement that originated among the Pietists and Methodists, who were willing to admit the fallible assurance of salvation -- given by fiduciary faith -- only in case that that assurance was confirmed by internal experience. But what probably contributed most of all to the crumbling of the system was the rapid growth of Socinianism and Rationalism which during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gained so many adherents among the Lutherans. Fiduciary faith was no longer considered a spiritual means to assist man in reaching out for the righteousness of God, but was identified with a disposition which is upright and pleasing to God. Latterly, A. Ritschl defined justification as the change in the consciousness of our relation to God and amplified this idea by the statement that the certainty of our salvation is further determined by the consciousness of our union with the Christian community. Schleiermacher and Hengstenberg deviated still father from the old doctrine. For they declared contrition and penance as also necessary for justification, thus "coming dangerously near the Catholic system", as Derner expresses it ("Geschichte der protest. Theologie", Munich, 1867, p.583). Finally the Lutheran Church of Scandinavia has in the course of time experienced a "quiet reformation", inasmuch as it now, without being fully conscious of the fact, defends the Catholic doctrine on justification (cf. Krogh-Tonning, "Die Gnadenlehre und die stille Reformation ", Christiania, 1894). The strict orthodoxy of the Old Lutherans, e.g. in the Kingdom of Saxony and the State of Missouri, alone continues to cling tenaciously to a system, which otherwise would have slowly fallen into oblivion.


We have an authentic explanation of the Catholic doctrine in the famous "Decretum de justificatione" of the Sixth Session (13 Jan., 1547) of the Council of Trent, which in sixteen chapters (cf. Denzinger -Bannwart, "Enchir.", nn.793-810) and thirty-three canons (l.c., 811-43) gives in the clearest manner all necessary information about the process, causes, effects, and qualities of justification.

(1) The Process of Justification (Processus justificationis)

Since justification as an application of the Redemption to the individual presupposes the fall of the entire human race, the Council of Trent quite logically begins with the fundamental statement that original sin has weakened and deflected, but not entirely destroyed or extinguished the freedom of the human will (Trent, sess. VI, cap. i: "Liberum arbitrium minime extinctum, viribus licet attenuatum et inclinatum"). Nevertheless, as the children of Adam were really corrupted by original sin, they could not of themselves arise from their fall nor shake off the bonds of sin, death, and Satan. Neither the natural faculties left in man, nor the observance of the Jewish Law could achieve this. Since God alone was able to free us from this great misery, He sent in His infinite love His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, Who by His bitter passion and death on the cross redeemed fallen man and thus became the Mediator between God and man. But if the grace of Redemption merited by Christ is to be appropriated by the individual, he must be "regenerated by God ", that is he must be justified. What then is meant by justification? Justification denotes that change or transformation in the soul by which man is transferred from the state of original sin, in which as a child of Adam he was born, to that of grace and Divine sonship through Jesus Christ, the second Adam, our Redeemer (l.c., cap.iv: "Justificatio impii. . . translatio ab eo statu, in quo homo nascitur filius primi Adae, in statum gratiae et adoptionis filiorum Dei per secundum Adam, Jesum Christum, Salvatorem nostrum"). In the New Law this justification cannot, according to Christ's precept, be effected except at the fountain of regeneration, that is, by the baptism of water. While in Baptism infants are forthwith cleansed of the stain of original sin without any preparation on their part, the adult must pass through a moral preparation, which consists essentially in turning from sin and towards God. This entire process receives its first impulse from the supernatural grace of vocation (absolutely independent of man's merits ), and requires an intrinsic union of the Divine and human action, of grace and moral freedom of election, in such a manner, however, that the will can resist, and with full liberty reject the influence of grace (Trent, l.c., can.iv: "If any one should say that free will, moved and set in action by God, cannot cooperate by assenting to God's call, nor dissent if it wish. . . let him be anathema "). By this decree the Council not only condemned the Protestant view that the will in the reception of grace remains merely passive, but also forestalled the Jansenistic heresy regarding the impossibility of resisting actual grace. With what little right heretics in defence of their doctrine appeal to St. Augustine, may be seen from the following brief extract from his writings: "He who made you without your doing does not without your action justify you. Without your knowing He made you, with your willing He justifies you, but it is He who justifies, that the justice be not your own" (Serm. clxix, c. xi, n.13). Regarding St. Augustine's doctrine cf. J. Jausbach, "Die Ethik des hl. Augustinus", II, Freiburg, 1909, pp. 208-58.

We now come to the different states in the process of justification. The Council of Trent assigns the first and most important place to faith, which is styled "the beginning, foundation and root of all justification" (Trent, l.c., cap.viii). Cardinal Pallavicini (Hist. Conc. Trid., VIII, iv, 18) tells us that all the bishops present at the council fully realized how important it was to explain St. Paul's saying that man is justified through faith. Comparing Bible and Tradition they could not experience any serious difficulty in showing that fiduciary faith was an absolutely new invention and that the faith of justification was identical with a firm belief in the truths and promises of Divine revelation (l. c.: "illumque [Deum] tanquam omnis justitiae fontem diligere incipiunt"). The next step is a genuine sorrow for all sin with the resolution to begin a new life by receiving holy baptism and by observing the commandments of God. The process of justification is then brought to a close by the baptism of water, inasmuch as by the grace of this sacrament the catechumen is freed from sin (original and personal) and its punishments, and is made a child of God. The same process of justification is repeated in those who by mortal sin have lost their baptismal innocence; with this modification, however, that the Sacrament of Penance replaces baptism. Considering merely the psychological analysis of the conversion of sinners, as given by the council, it is at once evident that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man (Trent, l. c., can. xii: "Si quis dixerit, fidem justificantem nihil aliud esse quam fiduciam divinae misericordiae, peccata remittentis propter Christum, vel eam fiduciam solam esse, qua justificamur, a.s."). Since our Divine adoption and friendship with God is based on perfect love of God or charity (cf. Galatians 5:6 ; 1 Corinthians 13 ; James 2:17 sqq. ), dead faith devoid of charity ( fides informis ) cannot possess any justifying power. Only such faith as is active in charity and good works ( fides caritate formata ) can justify man, and this even before the actual reception of baptism or penance, although not without a desire of the sacrament (cf. Trent, Sess. VI, cap. iv, xiv). But, not to close the gates of heaven against pagans and those non-Catholics, who without their fault do not know or do not recognize the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, Catholic theologians unanimously hold that the desire to receive these sacraments is implicitly contained in the serious resolve to do all that God has commanded, even if His holy will should not become known in every detail.

(2) The Formal Cause of Justification

The Council of Trent decreed that the essence of active justification comprises not only forgiveness of sin, but also "sanctification and renovation of the interior man by means of the voluntary acceptation of sanctifying grace and other supernatural gifts " (Trent, l. c., cap. vii: "Non est sola peccatorum remissio, sed et sanctificatio et renovatio interioris hominis per voluntariam susceptionem gratiae et donorum"). In order to exclude the Protestant idea of a merely forensic absolution and exterior declaration of righteousness, special stress is laid on the fact that we are justified by God's justice, not that whereby He himself is just but that whereby He makes us just, in so far as He bestows on us the gift of His grace which renovates the soul interiorly and adheres to it as the soul's own holiness (Trent, l. c., cap. vii: "Unica formalis causa [justificationis] est justitia Dei, non qua ipse justus est, sed qua nos justos facit, qua videlicet ab eo donati, renovamur spiritu mentis nostrae: et non modo reputamur, sed vere justi nominamur et sumus, justitiam in nobis recipientes unusquisque suam"). This inner quality of righteousness and sanctity is universally termed "sanctifying (or habitual) grace", and stands in marked contrast to an exterior, imputed sanctity, as well as to the idea of merely covering and concealing sin. By this, however, we do not assert that the "justitia Dei extra nos" is of no importance in the process of justification. For, even if it is not the formal cause of justification ( causa formalis ), it is nevertheless its true exemplar ( causa exemplaris ), inasmuch as the soul receives a sanctity in imitation of God's own holiness. The Council of Trent (l. c. cap. vii), moreover, did not neglect to enumerate in detail the other causes of justification: the glory of God and of Christ as the final cause ( causa finalis ), the mercy of God as the efficient cause ( causa efficiens ), the Passion of Christ as the meritorious cause ( causa meritoria ), the reception of the Sacraments as the instrumental cause ( causa instrumentalis ). Thus each and every factor receives its full share and is assigned its proper place. Hence the Catholic doctrine on justification, in welcome contrast to the Protestant teaching, stands out as a reasonable, consistent, harmonious system. For further explanation of the nature of sanctifying grace, see SUPERNATURAL GRACE. Regarding the false doctrine of the Catholic theologian Hermes, cf. Kleutgen, "Theologie der Vorzeit", II (2nd ed., Munster, 1872), 254-343.

According to the Council of Trentsanctifying grace is not merely a formal cause, but " the only formal cause" ( unica causa formalis ) of our justification. By this important decision the Council excluded the error of Butzer and some Catholic theologians ( Gropper, Scripando, and Albert Pighius ) who maintained that an additional "external favour of God " ( favor Dei externus ) belonged to the essence of justification. The same decree also effectually set aside the opinion of Peter Lombard, that the formal cause of justification (i.e. sanctifying grace ) is nothing less than the Person of the Holy Ghost , Who is the hypostatic holiness and charity, or the uncreated grace ( gratia increata ). Since justification consists in an interior sanctity and renovation of spirit, its formal cause evidently must be a created grace ( gratia creata ), a permanent quality, a supernatural modification or accident ( accidens ) of the soul. Quite distinct from this is the question whether the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost , although not required for justification (inasmuch as sanctifying grace alone suffices), be necessary as a prerequisite for Divine adoption. Several great theologians have answered in the affirmative, as for instance Lessius ("De summo bono", II, i; "De perfect. moribusque divin.", XII, ii); Petavius ("De Trinit.", viii, 4 sqq.); Thomassin ("De Trinit.", viii, 9 sqq.), and Hurter ("Compend. theol. dogmat.", III, 6th ed., pp. 162 sqq.). The solution of the lively controversy on this point between Fr. Granderath ("Zeitschrift fur katholische Theologie", 1881, pp. 283 sqq.; 1883, 491 sqq., 593 sqq.; 1884, 545 sqq.) and Professor Scheeben ("Dogmatik", II, sec. 169; "Katholik", 1883, I, 142 sqq.; II, 561 sqq.; 1884, I, 18 sqq.; II, 465 sqq., 610 sqq.) seems to lie in the following distinction: the Divine adoption, inseparably connected with sanctifying grace, is not constituted by the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost, but receives therefrom its full development and perfection.

(3) The Effects of Justification

The two elements of active justification, forgiveness of sin and sanctification, furnish at the same time the elements of habitual justification, freedom from sin and holiness. According to the Catholic doctrine, however, this freedom from sin and this sanctity are effected, not by two distinct and successive Divine acts, but by a single act of God. For, just as light dispels darkness, so the infusion of sanctifying grace eo ipso dispels from the soul original and mortal sin. (Cf. Trent, sess. VI, can. xi: "Si quis dixerit, homines justificari vel sola imputatione justitiae Christi, vel sola peccatorum remissione, exclusa gratia et caritate, quae in cordibus eorum per Spiritum Sanctum diffundatur atque illis inhaereat. . ., a.s.") In considering the effects of justification it will be useful to compare the Catholic doctrine of real forgiveness of sin with the Protestant theory that sin is merely "covered" and not imputed. By declaring the grace of justification, or sanctifying grace, to be the only formal cause of justification, the Council of Trent intended to emphasize the fact that in possessing sanctifying grace we possess the whole essence of the state of justification with all its formal effects; that is, we possess freedom from sin and sanctity, and indeed freedom from sin by means of sanctity. Such a remission of sin could not consist in a mere covering or non-imputation of sins, which continue their existence out of view; it must necessarily consist in the real obliteration and annihilation of the guilt. This genuinely Biblical concept of justification forms such an essential element of Catholicism, that even Antonio Rosmini's theory, standing half way between Protestantism and Catholicism, is quite irreconcilable with it. According to Rosmini, there are two categories of sin :

  • such as God merely covers and does not impute (cf. Psalm 31:1 );
  • such as God really forgives and blots out.
By the latter Rosmini understood deliberate sins of commission ( culpae actuales et liberae ), by the former indeliberate sins ( peccata non libera ), which "do no harm to those who are of the people of God ". This opinion was censured by the Holy Office (14 Dec., 1887), not only because without any reason it defended a twofold remission of sin, but also because it stamped indeliberate acts as sins (cf. Denzinger -Bannwart, "Enchir.", n.1925).

Although it is a Catholic dogma that sanctifying grace and sin (original and mortal) do never exist simultaneously in the soul, there may be, nevertheless a diversity of opinion regarding the extent of this incompatibility, according as it is considered as either moral, physical, or metaphysical in character. According to the now universally rejected opinion of the Nominalists (Occam, Gabriel Biel ) and the Scotists ( Mastrius, Henno) the contrast between grace and sin is based on a free decree and acceptation of God, or in other words, the contrast is merely moral. This would logically imply in contradiction to the "unica causa formalis" of the Council of Trent, a twofold formal cause of justification (cf. Pohle, "Dogmatik", II, 4th ed., Paderborn, 1909, p.512). Francisco Suárez (De gratia, VII, 20) and some of his followers in defending a physical contrast come nearer the truth. In their explanation grace and sin exclude each other with the same necessity as do fire and water, although in both cases God, by a miracle of his omnipotence, could suspend the general law and force the two hostile elements to exist peacefully side by side. This opinion might be safely accepted were sanctifying grace only a physical ornament of the soul. But since in reality it is an ethical form of sanctification by which even an infant in receiving baptism is necessarily made just and pleasing to God, there must be between the concepts of grace and of sin a metaphysical and absolute contradiction, which not even Divine omnipotence can alter and destroy. For this last opinion, defended by the Thomists and the majority of theologians, there is also a solid foundation in Holy Writ . For the contrast between grace and sin is as great as between light and darkness ( 2 Corinthians 6:14 ; Ephesians 5:8 ), between life and death ( Romans 5:21 ; Colossians 2:13 ; 1 John 3:14 ), between God and idols, Christ and Belial ( 2 Corinthians 6:15 sqq. ), etc. Thus it follows from Holy Writ that by the infusion of sanctifying grace sin is destroyed and blotted out of absolute necessity, and that the Protestant theory of "covering and not imputing sin " is both a philosophical and a theological impossibility. Besides the principal effect of justification, i.e. real obliteration of sin by means of sanctification, there is a whole series of other effects: beauty of the soul, friendship with God, and Divine adoption. In the article on GRACE these are described as formal effects of sanctifying grace. In the same article is given an explanation of the supernatural accompaniments -- the three theological virtues, the moral virtues, the seven gifts, and the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost . These, as freely bestowed gifts of God, cannot be regarded as formal effects of justification.

(4) The Qualities of Justification

We have seen that Protestants claim the following three qualities for justification: certainty, equality, the impossibility of ever losing it. Diametrically opposed to these qualities are those defended by the Council of Trent (sess. VI, cap. 9-11): uncertainty ( incertitudo ), inequality ( inaequalitas ), amissibility ( ammisibilitas ). Since these qualities of justification are also qualities of sanctifying grace, see GRACE.

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Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


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