Justification: an Event or a Process in Thomas Aquinas?

Discussion in 'Theology and Doctrine' started by Stalwart, Apr 21, 2021.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    In recent Roman apologetics, there has been an attempt to claim that justification is a process, a continual procession in time where one is made 'more righteous' with God.

    This goes against the Reformational doctrine of justification as a single event. We can find many Anglican divines teaching justification as an 'event' rather than as a 'process', as well as taught in the Articles of Religion.

    The Roman doctrine of justification as a 'process' has scored a lot of conversions in recent years; literally, people packing up and swimming the Tiber, because of this one doctrine. Here is a video from Jordan B. Cooper that attests to the misery caused by recent Lutheran theologians who left Lutheranism for Rome in part because of this very question:
    https://youtu.be/e_F2VLa0210

    Why has it been so successful for them? Because (and this is a truth), for many years the Protestants caricatured and misunderstood the full Roman doctrine as pelagian. But when they are exposed to the actual doctrine, such as in the Council of Trent, it seems incredibly persuasive and the rest falls in due course.

    To summarize the Roman doctrine briefly, justification is not a one-time event, but a continual process. In the initial stage it is entirely by faith (sola fide!). that's called Initial Justification, and there are no works at all. It is entirely gratuitous, 'by grace through faith', it might as well be protestant. But continuing, after that initial time God will continue to perfect and make the person more righteous, through works, so that at the end of this life-long process, at the Final Justification, man will be judged by his works as well as faith. Here is the text of the VI session of Trent, from 1547, which covers Justification:
    https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html

    Now this has proven irresistible to recent Protestants who were taught to believe that Rome does not teach sola fide. Once they encounter a competent Romanist theologian who will affirm for them that yes, justification (the initial part of it), is entirely sola fide, and only the latter stages of it have works come into the picture, they have no answer. Worse, it seems to better accommodate the Scriptural data, incorporating the justification "by faith" in St. Paul with justification "by works" in St. James. (I've already written about justification in Paul and James in a previous thread.)

    --

    Now, here is one way I suggest we look at this question of 'event' vs 'process', when looking through church history, or the Sacred Scriptures. It's not enough to find a church father or scripture speak about justification by faith (they already all say that, which is why Rome had to scramble to invent this new theory). We also have to ask: did this father or scripture see a time in a person's life AFTER his justification? That's the condition that would disqualify the Roman view (because to them there is no 'after', and justification proceeds until the time of death).

    So now, with that extra filter, I've already found statements in St. Augustine where he would say things like, "After one's justification,..." and so on, continuing his thought. At first I wanted this thread to contrast Trent to the Fathers, in this fashion. But then I wanted to find out, how late can we go into history before this clean understanding becomes corrupted? (We already know it is corrupted by the time of Trent in 1547.)

    So I looked at Thomas Aquinas. And before any more adieu, I present to you a study of Aquinas' doctrine of justification, from Theophilogue, https://theophilogue.com/pdf-catalogue/:

    Screen Shot 2021-04-21 at 8.15.55 PM.png


    The full PDF is attached, if anyone wants the complete reference.


    Cheers everyone,

    Stalwart out.
     

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  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for this. It clarifies the slippery, deceptive reasoning that is holding well-indoctrinated RCs in thrall. You express it much more clearly than I've heard it expressed before, even by RCs (many of whom have some fuzziness in their understanding of their own doctrine on the subject).
     
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  3. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    It seems to me though, (and that could be my fault entirely, but I don't think it is), that there is insufficient thought given to the fact that Justification is a sovereign and judicial act of God, outside of the control of us individual human beings, regarding God's sovereign right to hold us culpable for sinful rebellion against His Divine Majesty. Justification simply happens in a moment, in an individual's life, (be they aware of it or not), whereby God counts them as though they are actually 'righteous'.

    (It is usually the very moment they trust only and entirely in Jesus Christ for their salvation, preservation and all the blessings of this and the next life)

    What for a lifetime, follows on from that, is not Justification but Sanctification. This is the Reformed position and the Anglican Denomination is catholic and reformed.
    .
     
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  4. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I always thought it was an event and then we moved on towards Holiness.
     
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  5. PDL

    PDL Active Member Anglican

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    I confess this is an argument which loses me in its niceties.

    I find it very difficult to believe justification is achieved through faith alone. I cannot accept that my faith is enough. If I only have faith and my behvaiour does not matter it would imply I can do anything and still merit heaven rather than punishment in hell.

    If the line of argument is going to be that a person of faith will do good works anyway I do not see the point where we differ. It becomes, it seems to me, to be a hair-splitting argument.
     
  6. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I, on the other hand, think the difference is much greater than the thickness of a hair. It's all in the motivation, the 'why one does the good works,' and this motivation derives from the person's heart and heartfelt beliefs about the efficacious nature of Christ's redemptive work.

    If one believes Jesus' words that He bestows eternal life to all who truly believe in Him, one has confidence that the work has been done. No other works which a man might perform can come close to even contributing an iota to the finished, fully efficacious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He took every one of our future shortcomings, sins, and failures to the cross and nailed them there with Him. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1), because those who truly trust in the Lord are also led by the Spirit and motivated in the inner man by God's grace to willingly and joyfully do good works.

    In stark contrast, the one who only has bare mental assent to the concept of Jesus' redemptive work but has not truly believed (has not fully accepted the unmerited gift from God) will always feel the need to push himself to do good works in the fear that he has not yet done enough to earn grace unto eternal life (or to supplement the redemptive work). Although the end result in this natural world appears so identical as to be the splitting of a mere hair (good works are performed either way), the motivation of each person is a "canary in a coal mine" as to what his heartfelt belief actually is; is his full faith and trust in the blood of Jesus, or is he leaning (either partly or wholly) on his own 'blood, sweat and tears' in a vain effort?
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2021
  7. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    You’re right and this is where a lot of people get this confused. It’s not that “faith is enough”. What the doctrine says is that faith is the only way to be righteous in the face of God. Put in other words, it is impossible to perform an action that would let you stand toe to toe with God and assert that you are righteous in his sight and he has to acknowledge you. That is all that justification by faith teaches.

    But we also assert the absolute importance of good works, where if you don’t have good works, then did you have the faith in the first place? So works are not only important, they’re an absolute necessity. The only thing is, you can’t point to them and strut your chest the presence of God and say how righteous you were because of them.

    In the sight of God, no creature not even his Angels, can stand toe to toe and assert they’re righteous.
     
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  8. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    The Nature and Elements of Justification. Justification may be defined as that legal act of God by which. He declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, or sanctification, and does not affect the condition but the state of the sinner. It differs from sanctification in several particulars. Justification takes place outside of the sinner in the tribunal of God, removes the guilt of sin, and is an act which is complete at once and for all time; while sanctification takes place in man, removes the pollution of sin, and is a continuous and lifelong process. We distinguish two elements in justification, namely:

    (a) The forgiveness of sins on the basis of the righteousness ness of Jesus Christ. The pardon granted applies to all sins, past, present, and future, and therefore does not admit of repetition, Ps. 103:12; Isa. 44:22; Rom. 5:21; Rom. 8:1; Rom. 8:32-34; Heb. 10:14; 2 Cor.5:19. This does not mean that we need no more pray for forgiveness, for the consciousness of guilt remains, creates a feeling of separation, and makes it necessary to seek repeatedly the comforting assurance of forgiveness, Ps. 25:7; Ps.32:5; Ps.51:1; Matt. 6:12; Jas. 5:15; 1 John 1:9.

    (b) The adoption as children of God. In justification God adopts believers as His children, that is, places them in the position of children and gives them all the rights of children, including the right to an eternal inheritance, Rom. 8:17; 1 Pet. 1:4. This legal sonship of believers should be distinguished from their moral sonship through regeneration and sanctification. Both are indicated in the following passages: John 1:12-13; Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:5-6.

    Louis Berkhof. Summary of Christian Doctrine (Kindle Locations 1257-1267). Kindle Edition.
     
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  9. PDL

    PDL Active Member Anglican

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    I understand what you are saying and I accept this.

    No human is ever going to match up to God. I never for a single moment thought we could.

    I also accept that works alone are insufficient. I can do all the so-called corporal works of mercy but to no avail without faith.

    However, I never considered or thought to do works without faith. That is why I have probably always had problems with this idea of faith alone. It seems to me to rely solely on that is insufficient. We must do works because those are the natural actions, if you like, of a Christian with faith. I could not see it right being smug that one had faith but ignored the pain and suffering of others.
     
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  10. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    If you believe that, then you are on the 'sola fide' camp. According to the Roman teaching, justification is something that eventually does make you righteous enough, and holy enough, to be able to stand toe to toe with God. That's what their entire notion of justification as a process means. What does the process lead to? A final moment in time when our intrinsic merit and righteousness will be so high that God will have no choice but to accept and acknowledge us.
     
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  11. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    The RCC in latter years appears to have ignored 2Corinthians 5:21, For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 'Salvation as a process' would have people become the righteousness of God by progression in their own works. Christ Himself is our righteousness, and by faith in Him we receive the perfect righteousness of God, a righteousness upon which no mortal can improve.

    Apart from God's grace, humans are not worthy to gather the crumbs under His table. But He has bestowed His inimitable grace upon us (who do not deserve it) because He promised to do so if we would believe; and God keeps His promises. Therefore, with and by God's grace, we have been raised to sit with Him and are bidden to partake of the abundant life He will provide.

    (Eph 2:6-7) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

    ...I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

    We are not consigned to gather crumbs under the table. Instead, God has set us at the table and has made us able to feast upon the Lamb who gave us life while we commune & fellowship with Him by the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2021
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  12. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    That sounds dangerously like, not only a heresy but a satanic lie, to me. My guess is that Satan is still biding his time in the hope that what you describe will eventually have to be conceded by God for him also. :laugh:
    .
     
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  13. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Quite so! And what's more works, (of any kind whatever) cannot secure salvation. There is no such thing as a work of supererogation because we can never ever do enough good works and works cannot earn salvation. We are always 'unworthy servants'. Luke 17:10.
    .
     
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  14. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Yes, this poses a conundrum in the minds of many Christians: how to be humble, acknowledging that we are nothing better than 'unworthy servants' in our own strength, while simultaneously acknowledging and rejoicing that God has given to us His Presence, sonship, and more than we could ask or think (Eph 3:20). Many (perhaps most?) Christians have trouble balancing the superimposed realities, I think, and they center too heavily either on one or the other.
     
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  15. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    The first question in the Baptism is 'Do you turn to Christ?' and the response is 'I turn the Christ'.

    Now if you are out and about in the car one day and you suddenly realise you are travelling in the wrong direction you have a number of choices.
    • You can reef the handbrake and effect an emergency U-turn.
    • You might pull over and with due caution, consult the map, and then execute a thoughtful three point turn.
    • You might take a detour and take a slower roundabout tour bringing you back to the right road in the right direction.
    All these measures will ultimately have you travelling in the right direction.

    Ephesians 8:8-10
    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.​

    Article XI. Of the Justification of Man.
    We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

    Article XVIII. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
    They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.​

    I have a little concern sometimes that we want to make sure everyone turns in the same manner, rather than more simply that we all turn to Christ. Good works are clearly important, and whilst our turning to Christ will undoubtedly attune us to good works, the good works are not the mechanism of the turn, but rather the fruit of the turn. Sanctification is the journeying into holiness, which of course requires us to be turned to Christ.

    I am an Anglican, because I am an Anglican. I am not an Anglican because I am opposed to anyone else's faith walk. There is in my view a clear distinction between justification and sanctification, and yet they are both clearly part of our redemption, our salvation. Faith is our ultimate positive response to grace, and faith tells us that grace is the driving force of atonement, and the primary source of the grace is the dying on the cross and rising from the grave of Jesus.

    Article 18 tells us that we are not saved by any specific correct or peculiar doctrine, but by the name of Jesus.

    Let us all turn to Christ.
     

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  16. PDL

    PDL Active Member Anglican

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    I disagree for two reasons. First, I am still in the process of comprehending the concept of justification. Therefore, I am not in any camp. I also do not think a third party can say where I stand based on a single statement. Things are more complex than that.

    Secondly, I would stand by my original statement even if I were a firm believer in the need for 'works'. I do not believe that one's faith alone or any number of good works done by one that one could ever match up to God.
     
  17. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Justification may be defined as that legal act of God by which. He declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is not an act or process of renewal,

    Justification is not the result of anyone's faith but Christ's. Rom.3:20-24.

    For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

    Righteousness through Faith. ( The mistake most Evangelicals and Baptists make is in thinking that until an individual is old enough to have understanding and therefore faith, they cannot be 'justified'. But this is wrong headed and makes justification no longer a gift of God's grace but a condition for receiving salvation.)

    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,

    The redemption which is in Jesus Christ applies to the world that the Lamb of God has redeemed of necessity, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but God no longer holds their sins against them, as a gift and a judicial act of grace.

    BUT: Heb.11:6. still applies in every practical sense when it comes to appreciating what God has gifted to us all by grace. Many run the danger of refusing and abusing God's gracious gift of Salvation out of disbelief that God could or would ever be so graciously generous. (Quite a few 'believers' don't either). Thus they potentially insult the majesty of God by falsely accusing Him of being mean, miserly or manipulative with his generosity toward sinful mankind.
    .
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2021
  18. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Let's look back at the quote from Romans again, and add part of the next verse (which is relevant!):
    Rom 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
    Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
    Rom 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
    Rom 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.


    "Rightly dividing the word of truth," we see that people are justified as a gift, and the gift is received by (or through) faith. It is not good to take verse 24 in isolation and read too much into it, for one might then falsely conclude that the gift has been received by all of mankind, when in truth the gift is only received by those who believe.

    Imagine if I said that I had placed a large sum of money into a bank account for Tiffy, but suppose Tiffy didn't believe that I'd done any such thing. Would Tiffy have actually 'received' the money? Not if it sits unclaimed in the bank. To receive the funds, Tiffy would need to go to the bank and withdraw the money (or write checks on it, or something). Otherwise he might die without ever having received so much as a pence; yet the gift was there, waiting to be received.

    The blood of Jesus makes justification freely available to all, but to receive what's available they must believe in Jesus.
     
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  19. Invictus

    Invictus Member

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    This is great. Informative, and well argued.
     
  20. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    So Jesus didn't die for all those people in Australia, Borneo or the USA before the 'white men came', even though they were all sinners too, all the same? Rom.2:12-16, Rom.3:23, Rom.5:8.

    Once again you are limiting God's grace by making atonement conditional. It is either a gift, period, or a gift with the condition that one has to know one has it. Atonement though is not conditional. It is salvation through faith which is conditional. That is why the Gospel is a two edged sword. It cuts both ways. If you genuinely have never heard it, then you genuinely have never rejected it and where there is no law there is no condemnation. Rom.4:15, Rom. 5:13.
    .