Friday, July 31, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

From The Knight's Tale:

One man desires to have abundant wealth,
Which brings about his murder or ill-health;
Another, freed from prison as he'd willed,
Comes home, his servants catch him, and he's killed.
Infinite are the harms that comes this way;
We little know the things for which we pray.

[emphasis added]

And in who knows how many other ways are the things we wish and pray for not, in the end, something we'd really want thanks to the consequences of having them? It's good to be content with what we have. The troubles that accompany the things we want might not be all that nice at all.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Seven

Chapter 7 of the Decree on Justification presents a brief definition of what justification is, along with an enumeration of its causes. Justification, they say,

is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.

So justification is not merely a forensic act but is forgiveness of sins and sanctification: we become literally holy. This work is accomplished in us "through the voluntary reception of the grace and of the gifts" of God; hence it is not in us of ourselves. We for our part must freely accept this grace freely offered.

More important than this definition – at least for our purposes in this series – is the rest of the chapter, which deals with the causes of justification. Trent tells us that our sins remitted, that we are sanctified and renewed in the inner man, that we become just, that we become friends of God, that we become heirs of life everlasting; but what causes all this?

[T]he final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting

Final causes are the reasons why things are done – the purpose in doing them. Trent tells us that God's purpose in justifying us is his own glory, and eternal life for us. Though it's true that it's not explicitly said that the final cause here is God's, who else can rationally be in view? As we see below, the efficient cause of our salvation is God himself; it would be irrational (and heretical) to suppose that anything could move God to act.

the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance

Efficient causes are those things which actually bring about a result or effect. In this case we see that the efficient cause is God himself: in other words, he justifies us when he graciously washes and sanctifies us. If (as some falsely allege) the Catholic Church taught a "works-based" salvation, would we not see it here? And yet we do not. The Church teaches no such thing; rather, as we see, she teaches that it is God who justifies us, not we ourselves.

the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father

A meritorious cause isn't actually one of Aristotle's four causes, but there is still a sense in which we can rightly speak of such a thing: a meritorious cause could be described as that which brings about a result by reason of merit, so that the effect is deserved because the merits of the cause. If, as some falsely allege, the Catholic Church taught that we can merit our own salvation in some absolute sense, we would expect to see that reflected here, right? And yet we don't – again, precisely because that is not what the Church teaches. Rather, the merit that warrants our justification belongs to Jesus Christ alone.

the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified

The means by which God applies this salvation to us is the instrument of Holy Baptism.

[T]he alone formal cause [again, see here for a brief description – RdP] is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation.

The formal cause is God's justice whereby he makes us just.

That's all, folks. Trent declares no other causes of our salvation besides these. How then can it be said that we believe in a "works-based" justification? Well, it can't. Unfortunately, however, there are many silly people who foolishly say otherwise, ignoring or ignorant of the facts we have just reviewed.

Some of these folks may look at the rest of §7 and draw bad conclusions.

For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith, Catechumen's beg of the Church-agreeably to a tradition of the apostles-previously to the sacrament of Baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestows life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow: whence also do they immediately hear that word of Christ; If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they are bidden, immediately on being born again, to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first robe given them through Jesus Christ in lieu of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting. [emphasis added]

The simple fact is that although God saves us, we most certainly can reject that salvation and break fellowship with him by sinning mortally. May God preserve us from ever doing so. Consequently we have a duty – one we ought to fulfill out of grateful love for our gracious Savior – to obey God, and to keep his commandments (Jn. 14:15).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mark Shea and Semi-Permeable Membranes

Here's a brilliant little post by Mark Shea, in which he shines a perspicuous light on some of the problems with Protestant views of the Bible and tradition. I commend it to you.

Trent on Justification - Chapter Six

As we shall see, the Council's definitions in §6 cover essentially the same ground as was addressed by St. Thomas in ST I-II, Q113, AA6-8, which we examined in these three posts.

Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ's sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written; He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him; and, Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee; and, The fear of the Lord driveth out sin; and, Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; and, Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; finally, Prepare your hearts unto the Lord.

They begin by declaring that justification begins when men are "excited and assisted by divine grace." This is the first step in the logical order of things described by St. Thomas – namely, the infusion of grace. The train doesn't pull away from the station without this first thing; we cannot be saved apart from it.

Next comes the movement towards God: "conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[etc]" (emphasis added). They've already said this, of course, and we considered this more closely while looking at §5.

Thirdly there must be a movement away from sin: "…and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism…" And finally, the reception of Holy Baptism, whereby we receive remission of sins: "lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God."

Clearly St. Thomas hasn't deviated from the Catholic Faith in making it an operation of divine grace; on the contrary, he has confirmed it. The deviation from the facts of the case is on the part of those who falsely say the Gospel is "works-based". We shall see this even more clearly in my next post, wherein we see what Trent has to say about the causes of our justification.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Five

In Chapter Five of the Decree on Justification, the Council of Trent explains the preparation for justification in adults:

[T]he beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God…

Once again we see that justification is by grace ("Prevenient" == "preceding in time or order; antecedent," for those who don't know and might not take the time to look it up themselves).

…through Jesus Christ…

If justification is through Jesus Christ, it is not something we achieve on our own.

…whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called;… [emphasis added]

Justification is by the grace of God, through Christ, without any merits on our part: therefore we cannot deserve to be justified; therefore we cannot earn it; therefore it is not a human work; and so those who say we believe in "works-based" salvation are horribly misinformed.

Now we come to a portion of this chapter that perhaps some wrest from its context, so as to make it say what they wish.

…that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight.

Now some might jump on the phrase "to convert themselves to their own justification," and say "Aha!" But they who do so are misunderstanding things if they think that this means we are able to save ourselves.

What is being said here is really nothing more than what we saw St. Thomas teaching about the role of free will in our salvation, and as we have seen St. Augustine say: namely, that our salvation is not accomplished against our will. We must certainly consent, but that is hardly the same as saying that we save ourselves. We see this in what follows: "[man] is not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice."

An analogy here is that the drowning man cannot save himself; the life preserver must be thrown to him. He is free to reject that salvation: he may choose not to grab hold. But the fact that he does grab hold would hardly be cause for anyone to say that he saved himself. The claim would be lunacy.

(This is not a perfect analogy, of course, because in the case of our justification we are not able to reach out for salvation apart from God's grace.)

When I was a Calvinist, I once saw a (Calvinist-authored) comic which tried to turn this analogy on its head, claiming that we don't even grab hold of the life preserver, because "dead men don't grab the life line" (or words to that effect; I'm paraphrasing from memory): the claim that is made is that we are "dead" in such a sense that we cannot even exercise sufficient free will so as to grab hold of Christ.

There are a variety of problems with this claim. First, as long as we draw breath on this earth, we're not dead in any literal sense. Not even Adam died in a literal sense when he ate the fruit: His body remained alive; his soul remained alive (this is not to say that there was no sense in which he did die that day; of course there was). So to try to make a claim that we're "dead" (which can only be taken in some literal way, if the criticism is to hold), and therefore cannot assent to our salvation, is just wrong.

Secondly, it flies in the face of the whole of Scripture, where we are told over and over that we must choose, and that we must repent, and that we must save ourselves. Does it make a lick of sense to deny, then, that an act of our free will (being enabled by God's grace) is necessary for salvation? I don't think so. The nonsensical thing is to subject this constant testimony of God's Word to nullification by way of so-called "letting Scripture interpret Scripture." Now of course it's true that some parts of the Bible clarify others, but there is absolutely nothing unclear about the fact that the Bible calls for us to make a choice for God, to repent (which is an act of the will), and so forth. None of this means that we save ourselves, as in the illustration previously given. The fellow who is trapped in the burning building doesn't pat himself on the back that he reached out to the fireman on the ladder: he knows exactly how he was saved, and only a deluded narcissist would think he deserved credit for it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Four

The fourth chapter of the Decree offers a description of justification and connects it to Baptism:

By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated,-as being a translation, from that state wherein 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 Saviour. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written; unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.

"By which words…" continuing from §3, which ended thus: "[the Father]…hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins." The Fathers of Trent expand further what is to be understood by our "translation" into God's Kingdom. Now if anything ought to be clear, it's that this is not the sort of thing that a man can do himself. You can't move yourself into a state of grace, because you can't give yourself God's grace. The very idea is silly. No, God must give us his grace, and he must move us into a state of grace. Likewise, one cannot make God adopt himself. Such things are beyond our ability, as we have seen at the outset of the Decree in §1. And God has tied this translation to the Sacrament of Baptism.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter 3

Though it is divided into chapters, the decree is better read and understood as a continuous whole; at times (here, and previously) it demands it. This chapter addresses who is justified through Christ – something that I did not examine in my series on St. Thomas' view of justification, inasmuch as I was concerned primarily with the means of justification rather than the beneficiaries of it. Still, there are one or two points made that (as we shall see) confirm what we have seen elsewhere.

But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated.

Continuing from where they left off in §2 (where they quoted 1 John 2:2), they clarify that although Christ is indeed the propitiation for our sins and those of the world, yet not all are blessed thereby. They then proceed to draw that same analogy made by St. Paul in Romans 5: "For if by one man's offence death reigned through one; much more they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift and of justice shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).

For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust, – seeing that, by that propagation, they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own, – so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just.

[which new birth, as we shall see later, is received through Baptism]

We also see here that without this new birth we would not be justified, because in it we receive the grace by which we are made just. Indeed, that is their very point: without that new birth, men would never be justified, "seeing that" – in other words, because – in that new birth God bestows ("through the merit of [Christ's] passion") "the grace whereby they are made just."

It is grace which makes us just - which justifies us. Consequently they are flatly mistaken who say that Trent teaches otherwise, and I can only assume that they have either never read it at all, or are only familiar with pull-quotes ripped by others out of the context of the Decree as a whole.

What is more, Trent would not call us to give thanks to God for our justification if it was a result of our own works.

For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.

We give thanks to the Father precisely because he has done these things for us through Christ – things which include our redemption and the remission of sins.

Liccione on Bad Arguments Against the Magisterium

Not for nothing do I read and recommend Sacramentum Vitae. Please go read his excellent article defending the Catholic Church from certain arguments against Her Magisterium. It's plain wonderful. Dr. Liccione defends the Catholic Faith with brilliance and equanimity.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Two

Whence it came to pass, that the heavenly Father, the father of mercies and the God of all comfort, when that blessed fulness of the time was come, sent unto men, Jesus Christ, His own Son – who had been, both before the Law, and during the time of the Law, to many of the holy fathers announced and promised – that He might both redeem the Jews who were under the Law, and that the Gentiles, who followed not after justice, might attain to justice, and that all men might receive the adoption of sons. Him God hath proposed as a propitiator, through faith in his blood, for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world. [§2]

"Whence it came to pass…": This chapter continues the thought begun in §1, discussed here. The sense, then, is: "Since it is the case that man caught in sin cannot justify himself either by nature or by deeds…" This being the case, God sent his Son Jesus Christ. He takes action on our behalf, it being impossible for us to climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves.

So Christ came to redeem the Jews, and so that we Gentiles "might attain to justice," and so that we all (Jews and Gentiles) might receive adoption as sons. Secondly, he came to be "a propitiator, through faith in his blood, for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world."

How does St. Thomas measure up to this? Just fine. He teaches us that the purpose of the Incarnation was to take away both original sin and actual sin. But this is not a particularly controversial chapter, except perhaps for certain Calvinists who might deny that Christ was a propitiator not just for Christians but for the whole world. But they must wrestle with the explicit teaching of 1 John 2:2, which Trent has merely quoted:

And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. [emphasis added]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Something to Remember You By

I haven't been back to his little blog o' bigotry since then, but today stumbled across this little gem that is like the very seal of anti-Catholic prejudice.

Assuming you mean that it's my personal opinion based on a careful consideration of the claims and historical evidence that Vatican I's teaching was so far afield from history that they must have known their claims were false, I continue to have that position. [source]

I think we could safely describe this as a fruit of the wicked Reformed doctrine of total depravity, by which certain Presbyterians and others justify thinking the worst of their neighbors. It's not just theoretical with them; it's a matter of a practical disposition. They think that we act in bad faith precisely because they believe it is impossible for us to do otherwise. It's not a question of being correct or mistaken with them; it's a question of willful evil (always on the non-Protestant's part).

Ugh. Must be more careful about what junk I read.

Trent on Justification - Chapter One

Trent's teaching on Justification is found in its Decree on the subject, which you can find online here. It's probably worth observing at the outset that – at least so far as I can tell – it is not possible to read the Decree as [Demi-Semi-Hemi-Kinda-Sorta]-Pelagian or "works-based" in any way, unless the one doing so is just ripping pull-quotes from it, ignoring the context of the full Decree. That this is so becomes immediately apparent from the very first chapter, entitled:

On the Inability of Nature and of the Law to justify man.

Okay, full stop right out of the starting gate. If nature and Law provide no means by which a man may justify himself, how is it possible for him to do so? By nature he lacks the means, and by observance of the Law he can't do it either. Immediately we see then that any sort of Pelagianism or legalism is excluded.

The holy Synod declares first, that, for the correct and sound understanding of the doctrine of Justification, it is necessary that each one recognise and confess, that, whereas all men had lost their innocence in the prevarication of Adam-having become unclean, and, as the apostle says, by nature children of wrath, as (this Synod) has set forth in the decree on original sin [discussed here – RdP],-they were so far the servants of sin, and under the power of the devil and of death, that not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, therefrom; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them. [§1; emphasis added]

I suppose I could end this series right here, if all we wanted to do was see that the "Catholics think they can save themselves by their works" nonsense is exactly that. We have to be more precise than this, of course (and we shall be). But this nicely sums things up: we cannot save ourselves. Period.

I think it's worth also drawing attention to the fact that "…free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished." It's necessary that we see this because we cannot be justly held accountable for actions we do under compulsion, but also because later we shall see what St. Thomas has also said: namely, that our justification requires a movement of our free will.

How does St. Thomas measure up against this chapter? Just fine. As we have seen, he insists that we cannot merit justification by merit – neither by nature, nor by anything that we do: to merit it by nature is beyond our powers, and we are prevented from meriting it by our deeds precisely because we are obstructed from doing so by sin (not to mention the fact that deeds are of course something that we do by nature – which, as we just said, is insufficient for the attainment of justification).

We must ask, then, how it is that our critics say that we think that we "save ourselves." Clearly Trent taught nothing of the sort, and the pull-quotes that they like to use to supposedly say otherwise must be understood in the light of this chapter (to say nothing of their immediate context, which likewise does not permit their false interpretation). We cannot save ourselves. We are saved by grace.

Trent on Original Sin

Before we consider what Trent has to say about Justification – that being the follow-on to my series of posts on the teaching of St. Thomas on Justification – it seems worthwhile first to look at the Decree on Original Sin, inasmuch as the subject is (of course) related to justification, but also because the Fathers of Trent include it by reference in the Decree on Justification:

[W]hereas all men had lost their innocence in the prevarication of Adam-having become unclean, and, as the apostle says, by nature children of wrath, as (this Synod) has set forth in the decree on original sin... [chapter 1]

This being the case, it seems the prudent course to look at least briefly at that decree, so that we have it in mind (so to speak) as we consider the Decree on Justification later.

If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema. [§1]

What man lost: holiness and justice.

What man "gained" in its place: death; the wrath and indignation of God; captivity to Satan; change "in body and soul, for the worse"

If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:--whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned. [§2]

Adam's posterity (that's us) suffers the same loss of holiness and justice; we receive from him death, pains, and sin as a result. It's probably worth nothing that the say the holiness and justice that was lost had originally been received from God; the implication is that they were not ours by nature.

If any one asserts, that this sin of Adam,--which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own, --is taken away either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in his own blood, made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption; or if he denies that the said merit of Jesus Christ is applied, both to adults and to infants, by the sacrament of baptism rightly administered in the form of the church; let him be anathema: For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. Whence that voice; Behold the lamb of God behold him who taketh away the sins of the world; and that other; As many as have been baptized, have put on Christ. [§3; emphasis added]

Heh. The Fathers of Trent get ahead of themselves, anticipating the Decree on Justification: sin cannot be removed or forgiven by anything other than Christ and his merits.

If any one denies, that infants, newly born from their mothers' wombs, even though they be sprung from baptized parents, are to be baptized; or says that they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam, which has need of being expiated by the laver of regeneration for the obtaining life everlasting,--whence it follows as a consequence, that in them the form of baptism, for the remission of sins, is understood to be not true, but false, --let him be anathema. For that which the apostle has said, By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned, is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere hath always understood it. For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a tradition of the apostles, even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them that may be cleansed away by regeneration, which they have contracted by generation. For, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [§4]

Infants are baptized precisely because they too suffer the stain of original sin transmitted by their parents from Adam.

If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only razed, or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin. [§5]

The guilt of original sin is completely removed by the grace of Christ – not by anything that we do ourselves. God doesn't merely not impute it to us; rather, we are washed from the guilt, and from all that (properly speaking) is sin entirely. We are literally made pure and innocent, but with a concupiscence or inclination to sin that we must resist: not that this inclination is itself sin (for it is not).

We need to keep this decree in the back of our minds as we consider what the Council will say about Justification.

St. Thomas on Justification - Conclusion (So to speak)

We've come to the end of my little (?) series on justification as understood by St. Thomas. By way of summary, here are some of the more important points we've seen:
  • Justification is by grace
  • Justification requires an two-part act of the will: one towards God (i.e., faith), and one away from sin (i.e., repentance)
  • We receive justification by means of the Sacrament of Baptism
  • Justification is through Christ alone
  • Our natural powers cannot save us
  • God rewards our merits, but our merits are given to us by him in the first place
  • Faith is required for justification, but it may be implicit
  • God does not save us against our will
I think it's perfectly clear that the canard advanced by some Protestants that the Gospel is works-based is completely false, at least as seen through the eyes of Aquinas. But more remains to be done. I have said that St. Thomas was no innovator when it comes to preserving the Faith of the Church: that he, and his brother scholastics, were scrupulously zealous to remain true to the Deposit of Faith received from the Fathers. Consequently we ought to find that his views are consistent with the teaching of the Church. That is the question that will occupy my attention next. Is the teaching of St. Thomas with regard to justification consistent with the Council of Trent? Is it consistent with the teaching of Vatican II?

St. Thomas on justification - We must become God's friends

St. Thomas writes this concerning the moral law:

The Old Law contained some moral precepts; as is evident from Exodus 20:13-15: "Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal." This was reasonable: because, just as the principal intention of human law is to created friendship between man and man; so the chief intention of the Divine law is to establish man in friendship with God. Now since likeness is the reason of love, according to Sirach 13:19: "Every beast loveth its like"; there cannot possibly be any friendship of man to God, Who is supremely good, unless man become good: wherefore it is written (Leviticus 19:2; 11:45): "You shall be holy, for I am holy." But the goodness of man is virtue, which "makes its possessor good" (Ethic. ii, 6). Therefore it was necessary for the Old Law to include precepts about acts of virtue: and these are the moral precepts of the Law. [ST I-II, Q99, A2; emphasis added]

We must become holy in order to become God's friends. Consider: does it make any sense whatsoever to suppose that we can come to Christ for justification, but then spit in his face by living however we choose? Of course not. If we love him, we will keep his commandments (Jn. 14:15).

But – precluding the objection of those who will foolishly claim that this obedience makes our salvation "works-based" – Aquinas continues:

As Augustine proves (De Spiritu et Litera xiv), even the letter of the law is said to be the occasion of death, as to the moral precepts; in so far as, to wit, it prescribes what is good, without furnishing the aid of grace for its fulfilment. [ibid., ad 3]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Baptism confers justification ex opere operato

Nothing terribly surprising in this post, which I include more in the way of completeness than anything.

Writing about satisfaction, St. Thomas says that Baptism confers justification ex opere operato – that is, "in virtue of the deed." But it is not man's deed; rather, it is God's.

Baptism confers justification in virtue of the deed [ex opere operato] which is not man's deed but God's... [ST Supp., Q14, A3, ad 2]

In what way, then, does this order of things suggest that we believe that we save ourselves by our works? It doesn't. Hence those who say otherwise would seem to be misinformed.

Perhaps he'd like a do-over

After reading his truly ragged effort at splitting Caritas in Veritate into "Benedictine" (and consequently authoritative) and "J and P" (and thereby dismissible), maybe George Weigel would like another try. Maybe this time he'll take seriously the fact that Benedict is a brilliant scholar, and that he's not obliged to affirm the various shibboleths of American (neo-?) conservatism. Good grief. I haven't read all the social teaching of the Church, but I've read the Compendium, and one thing is certain: the Church isn't carrying America's economic, social, or political water. Get over it, George.

St. Thomas on Justification - Baptism's effect, and binding God

Today we learn two things related to justification from ST III, Q72, A6. First, we see that justification is an effect of Baptism (not that the sacrament is the principal cause of justification, as we saw previously, but rather an instrumental one). Instructing us that Confirmation depends upon Baptism, Aquinas writes:

Just as the effect of Confirmation, which is spiritual strength, presupposes the effect of Baptism, which is justification, so the sacrament of Confirmation presupposes the sacrament of Baptism. [ad 3]

Here we see again that we receive justification through Baptism – that God justifies us through Baptism.

Secondly, Aquinas agrees (centuries beforehand!) with the Catechism that although "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, … he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC §1257):

The Divine power is not confined to the sacraments. Hence man can receive spiritual strength to confess the Faith of Christ publicly, without receiving the sacrament of Confirmation: just as he can also receive remission of sins without Baptism. [ad 1]

This is one part of the reason why, although "the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude," (CCC, op.cit), the Church teaches that salvation is indeed possible for those who have never heard of Christ or the Church.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - God works through the Sacraments

In a previous post we saw that we receive justification by means of Baptism. I pointed out then that because sins are only forgiven by means of Christ's passion, it cannot be said that we can merit salvation by anything that we do ourselves. Nevertheless, there may be some ill-informed folks who might claim erroneously that Baptism, as something that we do, is sufficient to constitute the Gospel as "works-based."

It is unquestionably the case that nothing I or anyone says will satisfy every critic. So I don't expect to be able to sway every contrary opinion. Nevertheless I think that this charge is likewise false in the present case, as the following (I think) sufficiently demonstrates.

It is written (Romans 8:33): "God that justifieth." Since, then, the inward effect of all the sacraments is justification, it seems that God alone works the interior sacramental effect. [ST III, Q64, A1]

If God alone works the sacramental effect, then nothing accomplished by either the minister or recipient of Baptism plays any part in it. Consequently it is false to say on this account that the Gospel is works-based.

There are two ways of producing an effect; first, as a principal agent; secondly, as an instrument. In the former way the interior sacramental effect is the work of God alone: first, because God alone can enter the soul wherein the sacramental effect takes place; and no agent can operate immediately where it is not: secondly, because grace which is an interior sacramental effect is from God alone, as we have established in I-II, 112, 1; while the character which is the interior effect of certain sacraments, is an instrumental power which flows from the principal agent, which is God. [ibid.; emphasis added]

St. Thomas here explains what he had previously said. Only God can enter the soul so as to produce justification, and grace comes from God alone. Hence it is not possible for any other thing to produce the effect of justification in us. It's also worth nothing in this context that it seems doubtless that Aquinas has a view of justification in mind that is entirely unlike the "imputation" model of Protestantism: if justification is no more than a merely judicial declaration that a man is "just," there would be no need for God to enter the soul to accomplish this. There is no actual internal effect at all in this case. In contrast St. Thomas says that there is, which implies the infusion of righteousness.

In the second way, however, the interior sacramental effect can be the work of man, in so far as he works as a minister. For a minister is of the nature of an instrument, since the action of both is applied to something extrinsic, while the interior effect is produced through the power of the principal agent, which is God. [ibid.]

In the second way the obvious analogy is to some hand tool or other: it accomplishes nothing on its own; it's only effective in the hand of the one who wields it to accomplish some task. It would be ludicrous for us to credit the paintbrush with the beauty of the painting, for example. In the same way, it would be silly to say that the minister of Baptism is the one who justifies a man, since he can no more enter the soul than a brush can apply paint to canvas on its own. Isaiah 10:15.

Monday, July 6, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - We receive justification by means of Baptism

Writing about Baptism, St. Thomas says the following:

As the Apostle says (Romans 6:3), "all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in His death." And further on he concludes (Romans 6:11): "So do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Hence it is clear that by Baptism man dies unto the oldness of sin, and begins to live unto the newness of grace. But every sin belongs to the primitive oldness. Consequently every sin is taken away by Baptism.

… As the Apostle says (Romans 5:15-16), the sin of Adam was not so far-reaching as the gift of Christ, which is bestowed in Baptism: "for judgment was by one unto condemnation; but grace is of many offenses, unto justification." Wherefore Augustine says in his book on Infant Baptism (De Pecc. Merit. et Remiss. i), that "in carnal generation, original sin alone is contracted; but when we are born again of the Spirit, not only original sin but also wilful sin is forgiven."

No sin can be forgiven save by the power of Christ's Passion: hence the Apostle says (Hebrews 9:22) that "without shedding of blood there is no remission." Consequently no movement of the human will suffices for the remission of sin, unless there be faith in Christ's Passion, and the purpose of participating in it, either by receiving Baptism, or by submitting to the keys of the Church. Therefore when an adult approaches Baptism, he does indeed receive the forgiveness of all his sins through his purpose of being baptized, but more perfectly through the actual reception of Baptism. [ST III, Q69, A1; emphasis added]

If no sin can be forgiven except "by the power of Christ's Passion," then it is impossible for a man to win justification for himself by anything that he does. Consequently they are badly misinformed who falsely suppose that the Catholic Church teaches a "works-based" salvation.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

St. Augustine - God does not save a man against his will

I've seen this quotation in various places, and have tried to find it sometimes to no avail. Today I finally stumbled upon it again and so I'm blogging it before I forget!

"He Who created thee without thee, will not justify thee without thee." [Sermon 169; quoted here]

The point, of course, is that God does no violence to the human will when he saves us. We must consent, and it must be a real consent. Amusingly, I've seen some Protestants say silly things like this: "This notion of free will is clearly quite different from that of Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas." I say it's amusing and silly, since a) Augustine said it, and b) Aquinas appealed to this quotation as an authority in defense of his views on justification and baptism (see above link to the Summa)!

In point of fact the Catholic Church affirms the fact that our wills are free (§1711) and the fact that God has an eternal plan of predestination (§600), and her faithful sons do the same notwithstanding the difficulty (impossibility, in my case!) of comprehending this mystery.

Of course, we've seen in various posts in my series on Aquinas' view of justification that God's grace precedes any movement of our wills towards himself, so that we cannot pretend (a la the Pelagians) that by our natural powers alone we can attain justification: we can't. Nevertheless, no one is going to go to hell in spite of himself; no one is going to go to heaven against his will, either. God respects the fact that he has made us with a nature possessing a free will, and he does not violate it even when he moves us by grace to love him and hate sin.

St. Thomas on Justification - Baptism is not magic

Some folks have the mistaken idea that because we believe that the Sacraments work ex opere operato, there is no need for the proper disposition on the part of the Catholic receiving them – so that (for example) an unrepentant sinner can receive absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation. As with this example, however, it is likewise false that a man benefits from Baptism even if he seeks it insincerely and with no intent to live a godly life.

A man may be said to be a sinner in two ways. First, on account of the stain and the debt of punishment incurred in the past: and on sinners in this sense the sacrament of Baptism should be conferred, since it is instituted specially for this purpose, that by it the uncleanness of sin may be washed away, according to Ephesians 5:26: "Cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life." [ST III, Q68, A4]

Of course, the fact that a man is a sinner is not an automatic disqualifier for the Sacrament: its very purpose is to reconcile such a man to God!

Secondly, a man may be called a sinner because he wills to sin and purposes to remain in sin: and on sinners in this sense the sacrament of Baptism should not be conferred. First, indeed, because by Baptism men are incorporated in Christ, according to Galatians 3:27: "As many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ." Now so long as a man wills to sin, he cannot be united to Christ, according to 2 Corinthians 6:14: "What participation hath justice with injustice?" Wherefore Augustine says in his book on Penance (Serm. cccli) that "no man who has the use of free-will can begin the new life, except he repent of his former life." Secondly, because there should be nothing useless in the works of Christ and of the Church. Now that is useless which does not reach the end to which it is ordained; and, on the other hand, no one having the will to sin can, at the same time, be cleansed from sin, which is the purpose of Baptism; for this would be to combine two contradictory things. Thirdly, because there should be no falsehood in the sacramental signs. Now a sign is false if it does not correspond with the thing signified. But the very fact that a man presents himself to be cleansed by Baptism, signifies that he prepares himself for the inward cleansing: while this cannot be the case with one who purposes to remain in sin. Therefore it is manifest that on such a man the sacrament of Baptism is not to be conferred. [ibid.; emphasis added]

From this we see that justification is not magic that happens contrary to the will of the one receiving it. God does not compel a man to become a Christian against his will.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - We must be baptized

In his wisdom and mercy God has ordered his grace so that we receive justification through Baptism, and without Baptism we cannot be saved.

It is written (John 3:5): "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Again it is stated in De Eccl. Dogm. xli, that "we believe the way of salvation to be open to those only who are baptized."

Men are bound to that without which they cannot obtain salvation. Now it is manifest that no one can obtain salvation but through Christ; wherefore the Apostle says (Romans 5:18): "As by the offense of one unto all men unto condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men unto justification of life." But for this end is Baptism conferred on a man, that being regenerated thereby, he may be incorporated in Christ, by becoming His member: wherefore it is written (Galatians 3:27): "As many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ." Consequently it is manifest that all are bound to be baptized: and that without Baptism there is no salvation for men. [ST III, Q68, A1]

This is not to say that there is no possibility of salvation for those who are not baptized, as St. Thomas says in the very next article:

Augustine says (Super Levit. lxxxiv) that "some have received the invisible sanctification without visible sacraments, and to their profit; but though it is possible to have the visible sanctification, consisting in a visible sacrament, without the invisible sanctification, it will be to no profit." Since, therefore, the sacrament of Baptism pertains to the visible sanctification, it seems that a man can obtain salvation without the sacrament of Baptism, by means of the invisible sanctification.


Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of "faith that worketh by charity," whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. [ST III, Q68, A2 passim]

It is clear, too, that this desire for Baptism may be implicit; it need not be explicit. As we saw previously, the Old Testament Fathers "were justified by faith Christ's Passion, just as we are" (ST III, Q62, A6); but they could not have known explicitly that Baptism would be the means by which they would receive justification.

This is no more nor less than what the CCC teaches us:

The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.


Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. [§§1257, 1260; emphasis added]

St. Thomas on Justification - Baptism's power comes from Christ

Perhaps some will suppose – erroneously – that because we believe that we are justified by the Sacrament of Baptism, this is what makes the Gospel "works-based." This notion is mistaken. Aquinas makes this clear in ST III Q66 A2 ad 1, where he writes

Even before Christ's Passion, Baptism, inasmuch as it foreshadowed it, derived its efficacy therefrom; but not in the same way as the sacraments of the Old Law. For these were mere figures: whereas Baptism derived the power of justifying from Christ Himself, to Whose power the Passion itself owed its saving virtue. [emphasis added]

If Baptism justifies us, it is not a power that it holds intrinsically, but rather that it holds from Christ; hence, apart from God working through it, it would have no power whatsoever to save. A discussion of how God uses the sacraments to impart grace to us is not exactly relevant in this series. The point for our purposes here is that the mere act of Baptism does not justify us; rather, it is God working in the sacrament by his grace that justifies.

An objection might be raised to the fact that God works our justification by means of this human act. This is misplaced. Already we have seen that faith and repentance are necessary for salvation. The Protestant must necessarily believe this himself if he accepts the testimony of St. Peter's Pentecost sermon. Human participation is not contrary to grace in these respects; rather, it is the fruit of grace.

St. Thomas on Justification - We cannot merit the grace of justification

If one cannot merit the grace of justification by what he does, how can it be said that his salvation is "works-based?" Obviously he can't. Unfortunately those who say that the Gospel is works-based do not seem to have read what St. Thomas has to say about whether we can merit that grace.

The nature of grace is repugnant to reward of works, according to Romans 4:4: "Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned according to grace but according to debt." Now a man merits what is reckoned to him according to debt, as the reward of his works. Hence a man may not merit the first grace.

The gift of grace may be considered in two ways: first in the nature of a gratuitous gift, and thus it is manifest that all merit is repugnant to grace, since as the Apostle says (Romans 11:6), "if by grace, it is not now by works." Secondly, it may be considered as regards the nature of the thing given, and thus, also, it cannot come under the merit of him who has not grace, both because it exceeds the proportion of nature, and because previous to grace a man in the state of sin has an obstacle to his meriting grace, viz. sin. But when anyone has grace, the grace already possessed cannot come under merit, since reward is the term of the work, but grace is the principle of all our good works, as stated above (109). But of anyone merits a further gratuitous gift by virtue of the preceding grace, it would not be the first grace. Hence it is manifest that no one can merit for himself the first grace. [ST I-II Q114 A5; emphasis added]

We've visited this article before, so this passage isn't new for the present series. In this post, though, I want to consider the reply St. Thomas gives to the following objection:

Objection 1. It would seem that a man may merit for himself the first grace, because, as Augustine says (Ep. clxxxvi), "faith merits justification." Now a man is justified by the first grace. Therefore a man may merit the first grace.

Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Retract. i, 23), he was deceived on this point for a time, believing the beginning of faith to be from us, and its consummation to be granted us by God; and this he here retracts. And seemingly it is in this sense that he speaks of faith as meriting justification. But if we suppose, as indeed it is a truth of faith, that the beginning of faith is in us from God, the first act must flow from grace; and thus it cannot be meritorious of the first grace. Therefore man is justified by faith, not as though man, by believing, were to merit justification, but that, he believes, whilst he is being justified; inasmuch as a movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly, as stated above (Question 113, Article 4 [discussed here – RdP]). [ibid.; emphasis added]

Hence we see that a man cannot merit justification. To do so "exceeds the proportion of nature," and the very fact that we need justification demonstrates that "previous to grace a man in the state of sin has an obstacle to his meriting grace, viz. sin." Instead, as Aquinas tells us, we are justified by the faith that God gives us. It's not that we are inert in justification - as we've seen before. Indeed, the very fact that repentance is required of us implies a duty to live a holy life. Repentance isn't merely a change of attitude about sin, but likewise a determination to stop living in it and to begin pursuit of a holy life. God does not save us against our will.

Friday, July 3, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - The OT Fathers and Justification

In ST III Q62 A6 St. Thomas deals with the question whether the sacraments of the Old Law caused grace. In the midst of his reply he says:

Nevertheless the Fathers of old were justified by faith in Christ's Passion, just as we are. And the sacraments of the old Law were a kind of protestation of that faith, inasmuch as they signified Christ's Passion and its effects. It is therefore manifest that the sacraments of the Old Law were not endowed with any power by which they conduced to the bestowal of justifying grace: and they merely signified faith by which men were justified.

For our purposes in this series, two things are of interest here. First, St. Thomas affirms that we are justified by faith (as we saw in a previous post). Of course, this is not to say that our works are of no value, as we saw; but it does mean that the Protestant who claims we believe a "works-based" gospel is badly misinformed.

Secondly, it's clear that the only way that the Old Testament Fathers could have had the faith that St. Thomas describes here is implicitly: for they knew neither his name, nor the day of his coming. And this is consistent with what we have seen previously about implicit faith.

St. Thomas on Justification - Justification is by the virtue of faith

Answering the question whether faith is a virtue, St. Thomas writes:

Man is justified by the virtues, since "justice is all virtue," as the Philosopher states (Ethic. v, 1). Now man is justified by faith according to Romans 5:1: "Being justified therefore by faith let us have peace," etc. Therefore faith is a virtue. [ST II-II, Q4, A5]

It needs to be said, however, that the faith Aquinas has in view here is not the fiduciary thing held by Protestants.

As shown above, it is by human virtue that human acts are rendered good; hence, any habit that is always the principle of a good act, may be called a human virtue. Such a habit is living faith. For since to believe is an act of the intellect assenting to the truth at the command of the will, two things are required that this act may be perfect: one of which is that the intellect should infallibly tend to its object, which is the true; while the other is that the will should be infallibly directed to the last end, on account of which it assents to the true: and both of these are to be found in the act of living faith. For it belongs to the very essence of faith that the intellect should ever tend to the true, since nothing false can be the object of faith, as proved above (Question 1, Article 3): while the effect of charity, which is the form of faith, is that the soul ever has its will directed to a good end. Therefore living faith is a virtue. [ibid.; emphasis added]

Faith isn't primarily trust; it is better characterized as assent.

Now because this assent requires an act of the will, and because man has a free will, it must be said that this is something that we must do: we must have faith. We must believe the truth.

If the Protestant is going to say that this makes the Gospel "works-based," then it seems to me that he is in the same boat. He says that he must have faith as well (the fact that the faith in view is somewhat different in kind is not really relevant); consequently if a Catholic's faith is "works-based" then so too is the Protestant's.

Quotations from Dante - Be slow to judge

Unfortunately and too often we think that we are smarter than we really are, or that we know more than we really do, or that we reason better than is actually the case. The result is that we make mistakes in the judgments that we form. Dante warns us against this, putting the following into the mouth of Aquinas:

And to thy feet be this a hobble, wrought
Of lead, to make thee move at sluggard pace
Toward Yea or Nay where though perceivest naught,

For low among the dunces is his place
Who hastens to accept or to reject
With no distinction made 'twixt case and case;

Thence come rash judgements, mostly incorrect
And prejudiced, and stubborn all the more
That self-conceit shackles the intellect.

Worse than in vain does any quit the shore
To fish for truth, the fisher's art unknowing –
He'll not return the man he was before;


No one should be too self-assured
In judgement, like a farmer reckoning
His gains before the corn-crop is matured,


Let Jack and Jill not think they see so far
That, seeing this man pious, that a thief,
They see them such as in God's sight they are,

For one may rise, the other come to grief.

[Paradiso, XIII, 112-142 passim]

Amen. This is a hard thing. We are so quick to pass judgment, when we have no basis to do so. Lord, grant us grace to be humble and patient.

[As an aside, this hastiness seems to serve as a critique of the idea that we cannot trust our senses. The fact is that we trust them so completely, so implicitly, that we are ready and willing to jump to conclusions based upon what we have seen or heard or touched or felt, never mind even the possibility that we might be mistaken. But I digress.]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Only grace remits guilt

In a previous post we saw (while discussing the fact that grace justifies perfectly) that St. Thomas addressed the question of whether circumcision was a means of grace. Our primary interest for this series is that he insists in that discussion that we are only justified from sin by grace.

There have been many opinions about Circumcision. For, according to some, Circumcision conferred no grace, but only remitted sin. But this is impossible; because man is not justified from sin save by grace, according to Romans 3:24: "Being justified freely by His grace." [ST III, Q62, A6, ad 3]

In today's episode, we consider a further discussion by Aquinas related to circumcision, because once again he says something relevant to the question of our justification.

All are agreed in saying that original sin was remitted in circumcision. But some said that no grace was conferred, and that the only effect was to remit sin. The Master holds this opinion (Sent. iv, D, 1), and in a gloss on Romans 4:11. But this is impossible, since guilt is not remitted except by grace, according to Romans 3:2 [sic; however, he means Rom. 3:24 - RdP]: "Being justified freely by His grace," etc. [ST III Q70 A4; emphasis added]

Grace justifies perfectly, as we saw previously; and grace alone justifies us from sin, as we see above. What room, then, is there for the canard that we believe in a works-based "gospel"? As we see, this is not possible.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Justification can be lost

More can be said about this subject than I will say in this post; I have probably faltered in this sometimes, but my purpose in this series isn't to provide my opinions about the subject matter, nor to expand on other things that might be said about it, but rather to stick to what St. Thomas has said as a preeminent representative of the Catholic Faith.

This is said only in passing, but it's still worth mentioning. While discussing "Whether Baptism is the mere washing?", Aquinas says in response to an objection:

That which is both sacrament and reality--i.e. the character--and that which is reality only--i.e. the inward justification--remain: the character remains and is indelible, as stated above (Question 63, Article 5); the justification remains, but can be lost. [ST III, Q66, A1, ad 1; emphasis added]

This is an inevitable consequence of the fact that man has a free will: he may choose to reject Christ after having been baptized. It is a dreadful and terrible thing.

St. Thomas on Justification - Grace Justifies Perfectly

Aquinas denied that grace was available through the sacraments of the Old Law. Contrasting them with the sacraments of the New Law, he writes:

It is written (Galatians 4:9): "Turn you again to the weak and needy elements?" i.e. "to the Law," says the gloss, "which is called weak, because it does not justify perfectly." But grace justifies perfectly. Therefore the sacraments of the old Law did not confer grace. [ST III, Q62, A6; emphasis added]

For purposes of the present series on justification, the relevant portion is that grace justifies perfectly. Now if grace justifies perfectly, then there is no aspect of our justification which must be perfected by anything that we might do. Consequently we see once again that we are saved not by works (as some falsely allege) but rather by grace.

But back to the article in question. Responding to an objection that at least circumcision was a means of grace, St. Thomas replies:

There have been many opinions about Circumcision. For, according to some, Circumcision conferred no grace, but only remitted sin. But this is impossible; because man is not justified from sin save by grace, according to Romans 3:24: "Being justified freely by His grace."

Wherefore others said that by Circumcision grace is conferred, as to the privative effects of sin, but not as to its positive effects. But this also appears to be false, because by Circumcision, children received the faculty of obtaining glory, which is the ultimate positive effect of grace. Moreover, as regards the order of the formal cause, positive effects are naturally prior to privative effects, though according to the order of the material cause, the reverse is the case: for a form does not exclude privation save by informing the subject.

Hence others say that Circumcision conferred grace also as regards a certain positive effect, i.e. by making man worthy of eternal life, but not so as to repress concupiscence which makes man prone to sin. And so at one time it seemed to me. But if the matter be considered carefully, this too appears to be untrue; because the very least grace is sufficient to resist any degree of concupiscence, and to merit eternal life.

And therefore it seems better to say that Circumcision was a sign of justifying faith: wherefore the Apostle says (Romans 4:11) that Abraham "received the sign of Circumcision, a seal of the justice of faith." Consequently grace was conferred in Circumcision in so far as it was a sign of Christ's future Passion, as will be made clear further on (70, 4). [ibid., ad 3; emphasis added]

Here we see (in the highlighted portion) that Aquinas emphatically denies any possibility that we are justified by anything other than grace. This being the case, it's clear that it's flatly untrue to claim (as some do) that Catholics believe in a "works-based" gospel. We don't. We are saved by grace alone.