Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What Is Justification?

Martin Luther's "snow-covered dunghill"
"theculturewarrior" asked the following 3-part question in the Q&A board at Phatmass:
What does it mean to be "justified?"
Here are some definitions from a few Catholic reference works:

1910 New Catholic Dictionary:
"That process in the soul of a sinner by which he is transferred from the state of enmity with God to the friendship of God."

New Advent Encyclopedia:
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.

Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Almanac Online: Glossary:
The act by which God makes a person just, and the consequent change in the spiritual status of a person, from sin to grace; the remission of sin and the infusion of sanctifying grace through the merits of Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit.

Pocket Catholic Dictionary: "Justification, Theology of":
The process of a sinner becoming justified or made right with God. As defined by the Council of Trent. “Justification is the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior” (Denzinger 1524). On the negative side, justification is a true removal of sin, and not merely having one’s sins ignored or no longer held against the sinner by God. On the positive side it is the supernatural sanctification and renewal of a person who thus becomes holy and pleasing to God and an heir of heaven.

Pocket Catholic Dictionary: "Justifying Grace":
The grace by which a person is restored to God’s friendship, either for the first time, as in baptism, or after baptism, as in the sacrament of penance.

Also see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1987-1995.

Here's is a helpful way that I have found to define justification as it relates to sanctification:
"Justification" seems to refer more to your standing before the Lord, your relationship with Him. "Sanctification" seems to refer more to the state of your soul, its "cleaniless" if you will. A soul that has been sanctified is without the stain of sin. One may also say that we are justified through sanctification by God's grace. In other words, once we have been cleansed ("sanctified") we can be said to be in right relationship with the Lord ("justified"). Justification could also be defined as "the state of being considered innocent; not indebted to anyone."
Now, on to your next question:
What is "justification by Faith?"
Well, most protestants believe that "justification by faith" means "an assurance of salvation that is granted to a person once he acknowledges that he is a sinful being, repents of his sin, and confesses that Jesus Christ is his personal Lord and Savior." Also, this assurance of salvation usually comes via imputed righteousness, or "the state of being declared righteous, in a judicial sense, even though we are in fact filthy."

However, as Catholics, we believe that "justification by faith" means "being truly made righteous via an infused grace that we receive through the sacraments, and of which we were compelled to seek because of our faith in Christ and His Church." In other words, the cognitive assent, in and of itself does not justify. Instead, faith justifies because it compels us to receive the sacraments, which justify us through the grace that they impart to us. Furthermore, this justification actually makes us clean, instead of merely declaring us clean when we aren't.

For more on this, see "Justification by Faith" in Galatians and Romans
What does it mean when I do that which I ought not to do, and do not do that which I ought to do?
This is from Rom 7, either vs. 15 or 19. Here are the verses in context:

Rom 7:14-25 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

With that, here are a few Catholic commentaries on this passage:

Navarre Bible Commentary:
14-25. As can be seen from the use of the present tense, the "I" in vv. 14-25 is no longer Paul before his conversion, but rather after it: and it also stands for all mankind redeemed by Christ's grace. Here we have a vivid description of the interior struggle which everyone experiences, Christians included. These words are in line with something we are all well aware of : in our bodies there is a "law", an inclination, which fights against the law of our spirit (cf. v. 23), that is, against the spiritual good which God's grace causes us to desire. The very expression "the law of sin which dwells in my members" emphasizes how strenuously our senses, appetites and passions try to reject the dictates of the spirit; however, the spirit can gain the upper hand. The Church's teaching is that Baptism does not take away a person's inclination to sin (fomes peccati), concupiscence: he or she still experiences a strong desire for earthly or sensual pleasure. "Since it [concupiscence] is left to provide a trial, it has no power to injure those who do not consent and who, by the grace of Christ Jesus, manfully resist" (Council of Trent, De peccato originali, can. 5).

The Jews were able to keep the Law of Moses only through the help of divine grace granted them in anticipation of the merits of Christ. Without grace they were like slaves "sold under sin" (v. 14). After Christ, a person who rejects the Redemption is in a similar position, for "in the state of corrupt nature man needs grace to heal his nature and enable him to avoid sin entirely. In this present life this healing is brought about in his mind [the spiritual part of man]: the carnal appetite is not completely healed. Hence the Apostle (Rom 7:25) says of the person healed by grace, 'I serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.' In this state a person can avoid mortal sin [. . .] but he cannot avoid all venial sin, due to corruption of his sensual appetite" (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 109, a. 8).

Hence our need for God's help if we are to persevere in virtue; hence also our need to make a genuine personal effort to be faithful. The St. Pius V Catechism, when dealing with the fact that even after Baptism man is subject to various disabilities, including concupiscence, explains that God has willed that death and suffering, which originate in sin, remain part of our lot, thereby enabling us to attain mystical and real union with Christ, who chose to undergo suffering and death; and, likewise, we still have concupiscence, and experience bodily weakness etc. "that in them we may have the seed and material of virtue from which we shall hereafter receive a more abundant harvest of glory and more ample rewards" (II, 2, 48). "'Infelix ego homo!, quis me liberabit de corpore mortis huius? Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?' The cry is St. Paul's. --Courage: he too had to fight" (Bl. J. Escriva, The Way, 138).

14. After original sin, man was subject to his passions and exposed to the continuous assault of concupiscence--"sold under sin". Healed by Christ's grace in Baptism, he is free of this slavery, but not totally so: there is still this inclination to sin, and his enslavement grows the more he sins. On the other hand, if he responds to grace, he becomes ever more free." Just think: the Almighty, who through his providence rules the whole universe, does not want the force service of slaves; he prefers to have children who are free. Although we are born proni ad peccatum, inclined to sin, due to the fall of our first parents, he has placed in the soul of each and every one of us a spark of infinite intelligence, an attraction towards the good, a yearning for everlasting peace. And he brings us to understand that we will attain truth, happiness and freedom if we strive to make this seed of eternal life grow in our hearts" (Bl. J. Escriva, Friends of God, 33).

Igantius Study Bible:
7:15-20 On his own, man is unable to rise above his fallen condition or to close the distance between what he ought to do and what he actually does. This leads to the overwhelming sense of helplessness that Paul verbalizes in these verses (CCC 2542).

7:23 the law of sin: Traditionally called concupiscence, which is the inclination of fallen man to misuse his free will in sinful and selfish ways. It manifests itself as an unremitting desire for pleasure, power, and possessions. Even the baptized have to wrestle with this inner force, although Paul insists that the Spirit can igve us victory over its unmanageable urges (
8:2, 13). So concupiscence remains in the believer, but it need not rule us like a tyrant (6:12-14) (CCC 405, 1426, 2520).

7:24 who will deliver me . . . ?: The desperate cry of humanity apart from Christ.

7:25 I serve . . . sin: Insinuates that believers will continue to struggle with sin throughout their lives. There is thus an ongoing need for confession (
1 Jn 1:9) and forgiveness (Mt 6:12).

Fr. William G. Most, Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul): "Chapter 8. Letter to the Romans":
Summary of Romans 7:14-25

Paul [so no one will misunderstand his remarks about the law] says he knows that the law is spiritual. But he is fleshy. He has been sold under sin. He does not understand the way he acts. For he does what he does not wish, and hates what he does. In that case, since he does what he does not want to do, he agrees that the law is good. But it is no longer he who does such things, but the sin dwelling in him. He knows that good is not in him, in his flesh. For he can wish to do good, but cannot do good. For he does not do the good he wants to do, but he does the evil he does not want to do. In that case, not doing what he wants, it is no longer he who does it, but the power of sin dwelling in him. So he notices a pattern [law] in himself: when he wants to do good, evil is at hand. He is pleased with the law of God in his heart. But he sees a different pattern [law] in his body, making war against the pattern [law] of his mind, taking him captive in the law of sin, the law that is in his body. He exclaims: Oh! I am a wretched man! Who will rescue me from this death? [It will be grace, in chapter 8]. Praise to God through Jesus Christ! In his mind he wants to fully follow the law of God, but his flesh follows the law of sin.

Comments on 7:14-25

In the lines above, verses 7-13, Paul gave a historical -- theological picture of a person who is faced with the law, but does not have grace. This is, briefly, a focused picture. Of course, to be under a heavy demand, with no strength, means a fall. In these lines, verses 14-25, he repeats the same picture, but now in a psychological instead of an historical-theological perspective. So he says, more than once: I see the law is good. I want to obey it. But I cannot. So it is the power of sin in me that makes me fail. I am wretched! What will rescue me? It will be the regime of the grace of Jesus Christ, explained in a focused way in chapter 8. If one did not know about the focused perspective, he would probably take these lines as a factual picture of Paul, or any Christian. That cannot be true. Paul said in Philippians 3:6 that he even before his conversion had kept the law perfectly. And we notice the shift in verb times or tenses. In 6:17; 20-22 he said they formerly were slaves of sin: but no more. Yet here he says I am fleshy, as if still under sin. This makes sense only if the picture in chapter 6 was a focused picture of the regime of grace, but here we see a focused picture of the regime of the flesh. No wonder Luther wrote a book, The Bondage of the Will. He simply did not understand.

Fr. William G. Most, Basic Scripture: "Chapter 23. St. Paul's Epistles":
7:14-25: Paul repeats the ideas of 7-13, but in a psychological presentation. Within a focused picture, he can see what is right, but has no strength. So he is wretched. But Jesus, in chapter 8, will rescue him. If we did not understand the focusing here, we would seem to see the total corruption Luther imagined: we can see what is good, but cannot do it.

I know that all of this is a lot to digest. Just take your time with it, and pray about it. If you have any more questions about this, just let me know.

Pax Christi,


Jon said...

Salvation Controvery by James Akin, check the first chapter

phatcatholic said...

yea, that's an excellent book on this subject. short and easy to read too.

Anonymous said...

You find now, at least in the evangelical parts of protestantism that there is a concept called "sanctification" in which the person is already "saved" but is trying to become "sanctified" I know it does not carry the same soteriological implications of a standard catholic theology; but the progress is enduring.

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