Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canons 12–14

Canons 12-14 of Trent on Justification seem to constitute the Council’s canonical repudiation of Protestantism’s “sola fide.” That is, it was forbidden by the canons of Trent for a Catholic to hold this view; but these canons do not constitute the Council’s teaching on justification, which is to be found in the Decree on Justification (see the previous link, as well as our previous looks at chapters VII and VIII of the Decree).

CANON XII. If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII. If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV. If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.

Protestantism’s “sola fide” is an error; there is a sense in which it can rightly be said that we are justified by faith, as the Council says, but the error rejected by these canons is not it. Justification is not subjective and consequently contingent upon some internal subjective state of mind; faith is not confidence—although of course we ought to have complete confidence in God.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Eleven

Canon 11 on Justification addresses certain errors related to what it means to be justified.

If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

The first error seems to be related to what was said in §10:

If any one saith,…that it is by [Christ’s] justice itself that [men] are formally just; let him be anathema.

It is not the case that justification consists solely in the imputation of Christ's justice, nor solely in remission of sins. Justification is not a legal fiction. Rather, as the canon says, the grace and charity of the Holy Spirit are poured into our hearts, and become inherent in us: we are made holy, not simply made not guilty.

Note again that this infusion of grace and charity is something that God does: we do not make ourselves holy. We do not make ourselves just. It is the work of God.

Trent on Justification - Canon Ten

The tenth canon on justification makes it clear that we do not merit justification by anything that we do.

If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

Christ merits for us to be justified: nothing that we do can accomplish this for us. Consequently they who say that the Catholic Church teaches a works-based gospel are wrong. We cannot justify ourselves, nor merit it as a reward; rather, Christ merits our justification.