Friday, February 26, 2016

Nice, Short Statement on Justification

It is from Rome and the Eastern Churches, Second Edition, by Aidan Nichols (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 293-294.

Although justification is gratuitous, coming about as it does through the free grace of God, this does not render it merely a legal fiction--a divine decision to regard us as other than we are.  The grace of justification is not something extrinsic, in the sense of something that remains abidingly external to our own being.  On the contrary, just as each sinner is responsible for his sins (else wrongdoing would not be his), so the forgiveness of those sins must affect every part of him.  The New Testament speaks of the transformation of the person into a new creature, who is the friend of God.  For Saint Paul, the Christian presses on to make salvation his own, as Philippians 3 testifies, and if the Christian life is seriously lived, then, for the same apostle, writing in his second extant letter to the Church at Corinth, our inner nature is being renewed every day.  There must be, in other words, a thorough and progressive appropriation of grace at all levels of our existence.


John Bugay said...

Kind of a straw man. Justification is not a legal fiction, and if a leading Catholic thinker like Aiden Nichols can spread this kind of thing, maybe you ought to think twice about going that way.

Mark Hausam said...

Thanks for your comments!

First, note that Nichols did not say that Protestants think that justification is a legal fiction. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it!

But yes, he probably had Protestantism in mind. Do Protestants think treat justification as a legal fiction? I think that some do and some don't. It depends on how you interpret the Protestant doctrine. I've addressed this here -

John Bugay said...

In the quote you've provided, Nichols clearly calls justification "merely a legal fiction". I find that to be totally dishonest. It never was such a thing for the Reformers, and I seriously doubt that it's a "fiction" for any Protestant. It is a legal declaration -- and that is absolutely the way it is presented in the Scriptures. But justification is one of many things that God effects simultaneously.

Mark Hausam said...

It is not dishonest. Protestants and Catholics disagree about whether the Protestant doctrine of justification amounts to a "legal fiction." Catholics do not adopt their view out of an intention to distort the truth. One might as well call all differing opinions "dishonest."

John Bugay said...

Catholics certainly call it a "fiction", as Nichols has done. Do you suppose, however, that a God who says "Let there be ..." and in every instance, there was ... do you suppose that his legal "Let there be" has anything lacking to it?

Mark Hausam said...

I've just written another email to someone in which I articulated the Catholic concern on this point, so I'll quote from that:

"Justification must involve the changing of people who at one point were not morally acceptable to God into people who are. How does that take place? If the Protestant position is understood to say that we become morally acceptable to God only by righteousness being imputed to us and remaining outside of us, to the exclusion of righteousness being within us, then I think that is a serious problem, because it implies that sanctification is not really morally important to God. We're fully acceptable apart from any consideration of it."

God cannot fully accept us without consideration of our inward condition, for moral righteousness, by its very nature, cannot be only a matter of declaration or existing only externally. God must recoil at inward moral corruption, and he cannot but be pleased with inward moral purity. Therefore, when Protestantism is understood to teach that God's moral acceptance of us is based entirely on imputation to the exclusion of infusion, Catholics sometimes describe this as a "legal fiction" because it portrays God as treating us as having a certain status without any adequately foundation for that status in our actual moral condition. It is as if I was "declared dead" apart from any consideration as to whether I am actually breathing, thinking, eating, moving around, etc. This could only be a sort of fiction, because it isn't rooted in my actual state.

However, I am not convinced that Protestantism must be interpreted in this way. I didn't interpret it that way when I was a Protestant. I talk about this more here -

If you want a longer article where I go into some of these things in a lot of detail, considering Protestantism as holding the "legal fiction" view I describe above, see here (but it's a very long article!) -