Friday, May 18, 2007

Luther, Calvin, and Trent on Justification

Task: Explain the views of either Luther or Calvin
on the justification of the sinner.

Why do Luther and Calvin insist that justification is by faith alone?

With significant reliance on Augustine and in reaction to Gabriel Biel (1420-1495), Luther insisted that justification was “by faith alone” because of the belief that humanity was totally impaired by the impact of the fall of Adam, such that nothing could tend to human salvation from the person himself. Throughout his work on justification, Luther addresses the issue of the certainty of human salvation with a somewhat novel explication of faith; in the western tradition, faith was understood to be an (intellectual) assent to the truth of what tradition teaches, whereas hope and love were understood to be functions of the will.

Luther proposes an idea of faith that is both forensic and unitive; faith “binds” us to Christ. (In Aristotelian terms, we would say that Christ is the form of faith. In interpersonal terms, we would say that faith joins us to Christ, much like a married couple is “joined,” but more deeply. If employing material terms, we would say that faith renders Christ and humanity become as having been cooked into one big lump – as a cake that’s been baked). In all of these senses, faith does not involve recognizing that you’ve been saved, but juridical a union to Christ, since Christ dwelling in the heart by faith is the righteousness that justifies us. Thus, Christ is present in the very faith itself, and the linking term to Christ is faith itself. Faith is not so much an action, but something more primordial, a kind of relationship that can create a new substance.

It is important for Luther, in his radical distrust of the human self and his insistence on the external nature of salvation, that faith takes us outside of ourselves to join us to God (as beings who have become utterly foreign to God), and makes us rely not on ourselves, but upon the truth and promise of God. Faith sees what Christ has done and naturally trusts it, leading us to look outside ourselves for faith and salvation. After all, if we looked inside ourselves we would see nothing good. But having relied on Christ with faith, faith also joins the person to Christ so that the person gains a new self.

The same can be said of Calvin, with the following qualifications and elaborations. Calvin’s concern in Institutes Book III is to resolve how we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on His Son, that He might enrich us. As we are beneficiaries of Christ’s reward, Calvin considers how Christ’s effective merits take hold of us and are applied to us. Calvin argues that as long as Christ remains outside of us, His work is useless to us; we must obtain Christ’s benefits through faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, who joins us to Christ for salvation through the union with Christ that is accomplished through faith. Here, faith is defined as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded on the truth of the freely given promises in Christ… revealed to our minds, sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Institutes III.2.7. Calvin thus balances the cognitive/affective aspects of faith in a very rich account, including both “knowledge… of benevolence… founded on the truth of a promise made in Christ (the reliability of one who has made a supreme promise to us- both revealed to the mind, sealed upon the heart,” etc.)

Thus, as with Luther, Calvin posits faith “uniting” persons to Christ, such that we are juridically made one body with Him and sharers in all that He is.

In what sense do Luther and Calvin see justification as having a forensic or legal character?

Luther and Calvin’s accounts of justification are both highly forensic; in fact, Luther often speaks as though God were fooling himself about our situation. God thus knows we are sinners, but God pretends that we are really just, in as much as we are ‘covered’ by Christ’s righteousness. (Luther’s image of choice is that of “snow falling on a dunghill.”) Luther draws these ideas Scriptural passages such as the Genesis 15/Romans 4 depiction of Abraham being “reckoned as” righteous; thus we are accounted righteous by God because Christ is righteous, not because we are righteous. These ideas were not new to medieval theology. Luther draws on previous theologians’ use of legal/economic metaphors to show that our salvation depends entirely on God’s acceptance of us through a “legal verdict” on God’s part, since no act of ours could be inherently worthy of salvation.

God’s “legal” verdict of our justification has to do with Luther’s notion of Christ’s “bearing” of human sin on the Cross, such that human sin is taken into the Logos and there traded for His imputed righteousness (significant church Fathers such as Cyril would have argued that sin does not so much “enter” Christ as it bounces off of Him , comes to an end, disappears, evaporates, disintegrates, etc. at encountering God Himself). In Luther’s scheme, Calvary is the great off- loading of sin onto Christ, so that we may take on His righteousness through a kind of legal transfer.

Calvin describes justification as the granting of mercy by Christ alone, followed by God’s acceptance, following by the remission of sins. As in Luther, righteousness is imputed by virtue of one’s union with Christ through faith.

What is the relationship between justification and holiness, or sanctification for Luther and Calvin?

For Luther, the primary sin is primordial mistrust of God’s benevolent promises; we are so corrupted by superstitions and idolatry emerging from mistrust that we can no longer see God in our natural capacities at all. Thus Luther emphasizes justification and expends separate notions of sanctification. Luther holds that having been justified, we inevitably and spontaneously begin to do good works; Luther thus makes no sharp distinction between discreet stages of “justification” and “sanctification.” Luther held that justification itself creates the substance of God in us, by our very relationship with Him itself, without any need for the ecusing cooperation of the will towards sanctification; in Luther’s own words, “faith makes the person.” For Luther, justification is the sum total of the Christian experience; sanctification has no salvific significance; sanctification is merely a sign of justification, which is given to the elect. For Luther, salvation itself has nothing to do with works of righteousness; salvation is not bound up in those works.

In sum, Luther holds that sanctification is divorced from justification, which occurs only through the imputed and alien grace of Christ; thus it would be possible to be a sinner, and yet to be saved at the same time. At the time of this imputation, the justification of the person is complete and instantaneous, occurring totally apart from the state of the person and his sanctity. While growth in holiness was important for Luther, it was not determinative, because the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ was always purely gratuitous and far removed from anything that humanity might purport to “contribute.” Since righteousness is never our own, but always the imputed alien righteousness of Christ for Luther, the divine act of justifying pertains to the whole Christian life from the first moment on. God continually “regards” our works as righteousness, though they in reality are contaminated by sin, and only in this way are the “good works” of the justified pleasing and acceptable to God, but only in Christ.

For Calvin, sanctification plays a much more important role in Christian salvation. Calvin actually addresses sanctifcation before justification in the Institutes, presuming that given our understanding of the new life in Christ, the nature of the prior justification may be understood. Calvin makes a clear distinction between justification and sanctification, unlike Luther. Luther reasoned that having been justified, we begin to do good works; there is no such sharp distinction, since justification itself creates the substance of God in us, by the very relationship. Calvin, on the other hand, agrees that justification is a matter of forensic imputation, and the declaration of Christ’s righteousness, which must be followed by mortification/vivification. Both the benefits of justification and sanctification are received by faith, but they are very distinct.

The distinction between justification and sanctification for Calvin is best understood not as a sequential distinction, but rather as two discreet aspects of a double, twofold grace, both of which flow from Christ in our union with Him by faith, both being absolutely necessary for salvation. Though justification/sanctification are ultimately impossible to separate, in Calvin’s though, there no chronological relationship or order or priority; but the two are independent from each other, twin graces flowing from union with Christ. The two graces are necessary to one another; “we are not justified at all without works, although not at all by the works..”
Thus Calvin emphasizes sanctification, partly in response to Luther, for whom justification was the sum total of the Christian life. For Luther, sanctification has no real salvific significance. For Calvin, salvation is union with Christ and the enjoyment of the “twin graces” of union with Him. Both are integral to salvation, and are of equal value with regard to salvation, and it is impossible to have one without the other. In this regard, the Holy Spirit is very important for Calvin, since he links the Holy Spirit to the work of sanctification, which is essentially that of uniting us to Christ and participating in His life.

Calvin also emphasized sanctification as a function or sign of election; and the two are parallel graces proceeding purely from the same source; Christ justifies no one whom He does not also sanctify at the same time.

For Calvin, there is no salvation which does not include BOTH justification and sanctification; thus salvation is necessarily accomplished with good works, but works are not the sole condition.

What objections does the Council of Trent bring against the view of justification represented by Luther and Calvin? Why does Trent regard these objections as telling?

Luther’s language (more so than Calvin’s) is disturbing to some aspects of the Christian tradition. The fundamental objection is that Luther’s proposal fails to appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit, and the making of “new creatures” in Christ. It is thus objected that Luther’s proposal leaves the sinner ultimately untouched by the transformative, re-creative power of God’s love. These objections are summarized in the Canons of the Council of Trent on Justification.

Trent emphasizes the importance of human cooperation in salvation. Referring heavily to Aquinas, Trent describes a threefold chart of the movement from sin, to grace, and then to glory. In this progression, God’s initial grace justifies the sinner. The grace of God is then continually infused into the person, such that he is literally changed and re-made into the image and likeness of Christ by the grace of Christ. Trent thus insists on a kind of ‘realism’ with regard to righteousness; human righteousness is a real thing, in which a person can make progress, and which can, by God’s grace, become a characteristic of the human person. These ideas are opposed by Luther’s notion of righteousness as a mere legal fiction which God merely assigns to the person in grace.

1) The grace of God is made available to persons entirely apart from their merit or response. At baptism, the person is made a fully righteous, just human, with sins and their sins effects and punishment remitted. However, the inclination to sin remains even in the justified. The beginning of justification is thus the first movement from sin to grace when the person accepts God’s offer, and the first step is then followed by an increase in grace (this idea is opposed by Luther’s proposal that justification is final and total, and does not wax or wane, but is complete in the moment it is given).

2) Justification consists in sanctification, being made holy, not just remission of sins; rather justification and sanctification proceed together. Thus the unjust becomes just, and the enemy becomes a friend. Thus faith must be formed by love in order to amount to “saving faith;” and this sort of love must issue forth in works, and is necessary to the works.

3) Thus while the grace of conversion, as the first grace, cannot possibly be “merited” or elicited by humanity, but can only be passively received, Christians can convert themselves to their own justification, freely assenting to and cooperating with the prior, initiating grace of Christ which induces hope in God’s mercy, which blossoms further into more love of God. The process of increasing justification is thus a remission of sins and attendant, simultaneous sanctification and renewal in the making of a just man from an unjust man.

4) In sum: Trent responds to the principle of “justification by faith” by explaining that “faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of it… brought about freely in as much as none of those things which preceed justification merit it.” Thus justification free/ but the full and final realization of it requires human cooperation in works that (brought about solely by God’s grace) evince love of God. Trent’s over-riding principle is concerned wit REAL RIGHTEOUSNESS, as opposed to Luther’s juridically declared righteousness.

Do Trent and your theologian really succeed in disagreeing about justification, or are the differences between them primarily verbal rather than substantive?

... to be resolved...



Post a Comment

<< Home