Monday, November 05, 2007

Helpful curiosity about justification?

It appears that Alan Maricle (Rhology) is curious about what I had in mind, at least to the point where he would like to discuss it further. I have no problem clarifying my own view, and I hope it will be useful to do so.

Alan says:
So, leaving aside the fact that I also dealt with his question about boasting (which went unanswered), the central statement seems to be that, since Christ Himself is 100% God and 100% man, so must we regard our justification as 100% by the grace of God and 100% by the works of man.

It might help to back up and to deal with that response, although at the time I thought we were simply retreading the same ground. I said:
re: [Eph., ch. 2] v. 10, it seems to me that Paul is simply explaining why Christian works are not out of one's own or out of ergon, because they are Christ's own eternal creation. But again, that turns on one's Christological understanding of how the believer is united to Christ's eternal operation.

And in response to "In Eph 2, are the *works* Christ's creation or is the *person* Christ's creation?" I said, "Both, as far as I can tell. The Christian is said to be Christ's workmanship, and he is said also to be created for good works. It is that act of creating for good works that I take to make those good works Christ's own actions," to which Alan replied "It can't be both/and, as I've already pointed out several times, since Eph 2 specifically points out that it's by faith and NOT AS A RESULT OF WORKS. It's amazing to me the obtuseness of those who won't own up to that. It's almost as if their tradition is getting in their way."

Alas, I can't "own up" to it, because I honestly don't believe that "not as a result of works" (lit., "not out of works") means works aren't a part of salvation. Paul says that salvation is not "out of" works, so that we can't boast. So what does salvation being "out of" works mean? It means that there is something in the works themselves that saves. If that were the case, then there would indeed be something in which to boast. But there is nothing in the works themselves that is salvific; nothing comes out of us to make them salvific. What makes them salvific is that they were worked by Christ.

What Christ works through us is not cause for boasting in ourselves, but for boasting in Christ. To do my best imitation of a broken record, I will cite again what I cited before: Rom. 15:17-18 "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed." Gal. 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Php. 2:13 "[F]or God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." See also Php. 3:3 "For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh." One might readily add Gal. 6:14-15 for an explicit parallel to Eph. 2:10 "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation."

If works are salvific only to the extent that Christ works them, then salvation does not come out of works, and we have nothing in which to boast except Christ. Paul essentially provides an explanation in Eph. 2 why salvation can be BY works, but not OUT OF works, because it is not the fact that we worked them but that Christ worked them that makes them salvific. It's not a question of what saves, but how works save. He's not saying that salvation is not by works; he's saying that salvation does not come out of the works. There's a difference, and that is the distinction I believe that Paul is drawing in the text, i.e., a distinction about how works save, not a distinction as to whether salvation involves works or not. Obviously, I don't see how the text forces the latter, since the text itself only speaks of what salvation is "out of," not what saves simpliciter.

I repeat all of that, despite having said it before, because it's necessary to read that to understand why I consider salvation Christological. In addition to what I have said above, look at the number of times Paul (or the respective author following Paul) refers to the Christian and his salvation being "in Christ Jesus." See, e.g., Rom. 3:14, 8:1-2, 8:39; 1 Cor. 1:2, 1:30, 4:15; Gal. 2:4, 3:28, 6:15; Eph. 2:6, 2:10, 2:13, 3:11; Php. 2:5, 3:14; Col. 1:28; 1 Th. 5:18; 2 Tim. 1:9, 2:10; Phm. 6. Catholics take these as metaphysically real (ontological) relations, not merely juridical relations.

That issue was, of course, the very issue that Trent was intended to resolve: what is the correct metaphysical account for the basis of justification. Trent decreed "the alone formal cause 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. 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." And that is essentially the question: does God justify by infusion (communication of righteousness) or by imputation? The Reformers maintained that communication to fallen humanity was impossible, so that righteousness must be alien and imputed, while the Catholics maintained that salvation that was not by communication of righteousness was no salvation at all.

The responses to the following observations simply come from what I have said above:
What I hear you saying seems to me to be similar to the common RC argument about the Assumption of the BV Mary, that it "would be fitting" for Christ to show the honor shown to Enoch and Elijah to His mother as well. Ergo, she was assumed. Game, set, match.

I suppose they might be related, in that they both proceed from the premise that one oughtn't buck the Tradition unless one is absolutely certain that the Tradition is wrong. But that's probably the only respect in which they are similar. In the case of infused righteousness, the argument is that it is necessary for salvation, not that it is merely fitting.

Here, you seem to be saying that since Christ was 100% God and 100% man, it is fitting that our salvation might be 100% God and 100% man as well. But how can we justify that connection biblically? It's a just-so story, b/c *you* think it would be fitting that it be that way. But God apparently disagrees.

On the contrary, it's simply that if it isn't that way then neither I nor anyone else would have any good cause to believe that we are saved. Unless we are really deified through natural union with Christ, then I have no good cause to think that His Resurrection is of any benefit to me. In other words, if Paul were claiming that salvation were by imputation of Christ's righteousness, then I would not believe Paul's claim that people are saved by Christ.

Just a sidenote - we don't find our doctrine in "linkages" that could be seen in between biblical passages when obvious statements are made about the same, such as Eph 2:8-10 and Rom 4:6-8. This is a hallmark of Roman Catholic apologetics, as the way they go about defending the Assumption of Mary demonstrate.

Obviously, I don't consider such allegorical exegesis per se illegitimate, but this isn't nearly as close a case. I'm relying on what Paul says about boasting and being "in Christ Jesus" elsewhere; I see no reason to view those passages in a way that excludes the ontological sense in favor of a purely juridical status. Moreover, if he did, then I'd likely not believe what he had to say on the subject anyway.

CrimsonCatholic's argument would seem to require that Christ working in us is like God working in Christ and hence the works are the same. To make his argument work it would need to be modified to 100% God + 100% (perfect) man. We do not qualify for the second half and hence we are unable to contribute to our justification. Only Jesus fills that holy place.

I agree with the conclusion after the "hence," but the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. The reason that we can't contribute to our justification is not that we aren't perfect but that we are human at all. The notion that human nature can contribute to justification even before the fall is the error condemned as Pelagianism. Even a perfect human can't justify himself, not even Jesus, so the notion that Jesus saved us through His perfect obedience is likewise Pelagian. Jesus is simply the perfect example of deification; indeed, He deifies Himself so that His life will be the form of deification for all Christians (John 17:19). Since I agree fully with the notion that human nature cannot contribute of itself anything for our justification, I believe that we can only be saved "in Christ Jesus."

But the Roman Catholic may object that it is Christ's work in us, so it is still God's work. But how can you meaningfully say that it is not our works when we used our hands and mouths to do the works even if they were from God's work in us? The works Jesus does in us are our works too, just as the works God did in Christ were Christ's works too.

But Ephesians never says that we are not saved using works. It says that we are not saved out of works. The human component of the work doesn't contribute to our salvation; only the divine operation through the instrument of the work does. The operations take place together (synergistically), but the effect is divine in its cause.

Also, that response fails miserably in taking into account just how bad the human is. He doesn't seek to do good. He doesn't want to. He hates the light. This "100% man" thing would lead to our utter damnation, by logical consequence.

On the contrary, it rejects any argument that asserts the sufficiency of the flesh. We reject the capacity of human nature to deify itself (that is where we differ from Christ), and we recognize that sin has already put us in the position of having deprived us of God's grace. The 100% God is the precondition for the 100% man to have any power. Whatever power human effort has comes wholly from the divine efficient cause; it does not come in the least from human nature.

Now, CC's argument seems to me to be similar to:
Since Jesus is the High Priest, then we are also co-high priests because we are in him.
Since Jesus is the Mediator, then we are co-mediators in him.
Since Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father, we are also at his right hand.
Since Jesus is the King of Kings, we too are king of kings.
Since Jesus worked for our salvation, we too work for our salvation in him.It is taking Jesus' uniqueness and distributing it inappropriately to the redeemed. I think it is a tighter argument if you say that it is appropriate to use the God-man as a prism to interpret salvation but CC's approach fails because it generalizes from the unique God-man to humanity, which is a major problem.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1241: "The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king." But what I find odd here is the particular list of characteristics, for which one finds practically the loci classici of the concept I am outlining. See, e.g., 1 Pet. 2:9 (royal priesthood), James 5:16 (the prayer of a righteous man avails much), Eph. 2:6 (sitting with Him in the heavenly places), 2 Tim. 2:12 (if we endure, we shall also reign with him). If this is distributing Jesus's uniqueness inappropriately, then it appears that several NT authors did so as well. ISTM that this is simply a case of misunderstanding Jesus's uniqueness, which is not His perfection (although no fallen man is perfect) but His self-deification. We cannot be the source of our own grace from our human nature; Jesus was. He deifies us; we don't deify ourselves.

But I want to ask a different question as well: Why choose Christology as the link to justification?

I hope I've presented an explanation as to why Christology is the link for every element of Christian life, since Christ's life is the form for Christian life.

Here's an example: Why not link justification to the Trinity? Is not the Trinity a direct consideration in the justification of the sinner?Instead of justification being 100% by grace (from God) and 100% by works (from men) (as Christ), why not 100% from God the Father, 100% from Jesus Christ, and 100% from the Holy Spirit?

This is why I have hope that this bit of curiosity may be helpful, because it's led to exactly the right conclusion. The Trinity IS a direct consideration in the justification of the sinner, and the justification IS 100% from the Father, 100% from the Word, and 100% from the Holy Spirit. Same reasoning applies: all divine acts are common to the whole Trinity by the perichoresis of the Persons. That's why Jesus's life of self-deification is also an act of the entire Trinity; see, e.g., the baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-33). I find it not coincidental that the clearest illustration of the Trinity is also the very place in which Jesus models that Sacrament by which people are initiated into His life. This seems consistent with St. Paul's view of baptism; see, e.g., Rom. 6:3-4. So Alan has asked a very good question in terms of understanding the Catholic belief, one that must clearly be answered in the affirmative, and I hope this explanation will benefit him.

Another example: Why not link justification to the resurrection of Lazarus? It was 100% of Jesus.

Certainly we do, and for exactly that reason. It illustrates the action of grace: Lazarus is called and comes from the grave.

Another example: Why not link justification to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? It was Trinitarian as well.

We certainly do that as well, as does Paul (1 Cor. 15:13-15).

So I'd ask CrimsonCatholic and anyone else who is so inclined to defend that linkage in preference to the other examples posted.

Alas once again, I can't defend that preference, because I have no such preference. I endorse all of the linkages you identify, and I confess to seeing no difficulty with respect to Jesus's uniqueness in doing so. But the fact that you picked all of these examples suggests to me that you are starting to grasp the thinking involved, and that is at least something.


Robert said...

I've found justification to be a non-issue for me. The more I've learned about it, the less threatening I've seen any objections to it. The teaching really has a beautiful unity, which your response has shown.

Sometimes I find the usage of "100%" to be a bit problematic. I was thinking about the life of the Trinity and about Jesus, and it occurred to me that the Trinity is the mystery of complete self-giving (where the Father gives Himself wholly, etc.), and so is the Incarnation, where God gives freely His Son.

So I've been starting to think of salvation in this way. God gives Himself completely to us, and we give ourselves completely to God.

I suppose that "completely" and "100%" are identical, but there's something of the self-giving which is better captured in "completely." I'm not quite sure how to put my finger on it.

In response to Protestant objections I've found it helpful to become more specific about what Paul is condemning when he condemns works. This passage is helpful:

"A worker's wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due"(Romans 4:4).

I think we can know naturally that, being what God is, we cannot obligate Him in strict justice to anything. But, Paul spells it out very clearly here. We do not have the relationship of a worker to an employer with God. This is why the one "who does not work" is justified (cf. v. 5). This is the sense of what that passage means.

The worker obligates the employer to pay him, in strict justice. No creature could ever enter into this relationship with the Creator.

I think this is a helpful departure point because it fits nicely with another comment you made: the Catholic understanding of infused righteousness instead of a juridical understanding of imputed righteousness.

Scripture tells us quite clearly that we enter into a familial relationship with God. We are adopted as sons of God and thus share in Christ's inheritance. I can't recall exact citations, but this idea abounds in the Pauline corpus.

Since this is the case, I think it supports your position all the more. Our relationship is not a legalistic relationship based on obligating God in strict justice. No, instead our relationship is one of being incorporated into God's family and showered with His benevolence (the benevolence of a kind Father). It seems that the Pauline corpus contrasts the worker/employer relationship with the son/Father relationship.

Your thoughts would be much appreciated.


Rhology said...


Keep going past v. 5 to see the heart of the Protestant message of justification.
6just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness ***apart from works***:

It's not a worker/slave relationship ONLY. The NT uses a great deal of terminology related to our being adopted as sons, to our being in the family of God, to our redemption from being enemies to being children, to our crying "Abba, Father" by the Holy Spirit. It's both/and. ;-)
One thing that you, as an (apparently) RC, should ask yourself is: How can a man who is adopted by God and transformed into His child then be unadopted and untransformed, then readopted and retransformed, then unadopted again and untransformed again, then re- and re-... etc? Chew on it. I'd be interested to know what comes out of that.


You have said some very disturbing things here.
I've asked you and anyone else to flesh them out.


Robert said...

Dear Rhology,

Thank you for your comments.

Looking at verses 6-8 I still don't see the problem. Of course, I was aiming my post at Jonathan, so I didn't make some of my reasoning explicit. Let me explain more clearly so you can interact with my thought on that.

If the works (in v. 4) that Paul is talking about are works which try to obligate God in strict justice, then the works which Paul is condemning (in. v. 5-8) are works which try to obligate God in strict justice.

If this is the case (and I believe that no contrary interpretation is feasible), then the Catholic position is not wounded in the least. This is because when Paul says, "[justified] apart from works" he means "[justified] apart from obligating God according to strict justice."

But since the Catholic position does not believe that we are obligating God according to strict justice, it cannot be faulted for contradicting this passage from Romans.

In response to the rest of your post:

I think you misinterpreted me when you say, "It's not a worker/slave relationship ONLY."

In fact, my assertion, and Paul's via Romans 4:4 is that it is not a worker/employer relationship at all.

I'm not sure if your alteration of my term from "worker/employer" to "worker/slave" is important or not, but I would like to point out what I mean. I mean that between God and man there is not relationship of strict obligation imposed by man on God.

Scripture does at times represent our relationship to God as master/slave, but this is not what I'm referring to when I'm talking about worker/employer. The former refers to man's obligations to God whereas the latter refers to God's obligation to man. That is why the latter is an absurd and non-existing relationship. (That is, that's why man cannot have the relationship of a worker to an employer between himself and God.)

You asked:

"How can a man who is adopted by God and transformed into His child then be unadopted and untransformed, then readopted and retransformed, then unadopted again and untransformed again, then re- and re-... etc? Chew on it. I'd be interested to know what comes out of that."

Sonship is a grace for human beings, although it is quite natural for the second Person of the Trinity. If sonship meant that man someone became an uncreated son of God according to his very nature, then it would be as absurd to say that man could lose his sonship as it would be to say that the Son could lose His Sonship. But man is not made a son according to nature, but according to grace, so it is no absurdity to say that he can lose it.

And lose it he did indeed at the Fall.

Thank you for your post Rhology. God bless.


Rhology said...


Thanks for the thoughts.
Where do you get the idea that the context is "forcing" God to do sthg?
Look at v. 2-3 - Abraham has nothing to boast about, b/c it was not by anythg he did that he was justified. God credited sthg else to him as righteousness that was not Abraham's works.
v. 4 - He then illustrates the point with an example of a job - you work, you get paid.
v. 5 - But if you don't work but simply trust God who justifies the wicked (ie, you), then your FAITH is credited as righteousness. Like you hadn't sinned. Like you always did God's will.
That's the glory of the thing. All this 100% God 100% man stuff forgets that 100% of man is evil horse manure. We CAN'T do anythg.

v. 6 - God credits the righteousness APART FROM WORKS.
v. 8 - God will never count sin against the man who trusts God.

You said:
But man is not made a son according to nature, but according to grace, so it is no absurdity to say that he can lose it.

So a man can be adopted, then un-adopted, then re-adopted, then un-adopted, then re-adopted, then adopted, correct? How many times?

And lose it he did indeed at the Fall.

Adam wasn't adopted before the Fall. It's irrelevant.


Robert said...

Dear Rhology,

Could you please clarify what you mean when you say:

"Where do you get the idea that the context is "forcing" God to do sthg?"

I'm not sure how to read your comment about what my comment is 'forcing.'

That will help loads in my response.


Rhology said...

I was referring to when you said:

If the works (in v. 4) that Paul is talking about are works which try to obligate God in strict justice, then the works which Paul is condemning (in. v. 5-8) are works which try to obligate God in strict justice.

Robert said...

The context is the discussion of Abraham. But Paul gives us the key to interpreting it in Romans 4:4, because it is there that he tells us what he means when he says "work." Specifically he tells us what he means by "worker."

So if we're trying to interpret verse 5 to understand what "when one does not work" we know that it must be the negation of what he says a worker is in the previous verse.

A worker is someone who expects his wage credited as a due. It follows that one who "does not work" is someone who doesn't expect a wage credited as a due.

But Abraham, he tells us, does not work. This means that Abraham doesn't expect God to credit righteousness as a due. Verse 4 contrasts "gift" with "something due." Abraham expects God will reward him as a gift-- as a free grace, not as an obligation.

So when Paul talks about justification "apart from works" in the very next verse, it's silly to take "works" in a different sense than was just given. The sense given for "works" in v. 4, and used in v. 5 is this: the worker obligates the employer to pay him. In the context of Christianity, the worker obligates God to justify him. Justification 'apart from works' then must mean in this context, 'apart from [what Paul defines works to mean].' So as I've just argued, he means justification apart from entering into a legal relationship with God whereby man tried to obligate man to justify him.

It is by faith that we believe God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb 11:6). Abraham came to God in this very way, because he believed that God rewarded those who seek Him. Not as "something due" of course, but as a "gift" (Romans 4:4).

By taking 'work' in a broader sense than Paul here means it generations of Protestants have made Holy Scripture contradict itself, for Holy Scripture does indeed testify that Abraham was justified by works.

"So a man can be adopted, then un-adopted, then re-adopted, then un-adopted, then re-adopted, then adopted, correct? How many times?"
God's mercy is endless. No matter how often Israel strayed, He called her back. Be plain: what is your purpose in asking this?

"Adam wasn't adopted before the Fall. It's irrelevant."
Adam was a son of God by purely unmerited grace. There was no point *after* his conception which this happened, but it was still given to him as a gift when he was created.

I wasn't aware that any Christians denied that Adam was created in a state of friendship with God. That seems fairly fundamental to me. The alternative is to say that God created man for damnation.


CrimsonCatholic said...

That's the glory of the thing. All this 100% God 100% man stuff forgets that 100% of man is evil horse manure. We CAN'T do anythg.

I can hardly see the glory in making God the author of a nature that is thoroughly vitiated. The point of us being unable to do anything is not that we cannot do anything good, but that we cannot do anything commensurate with our ultimate end: God. That doesn't make nature evil, just limited.