In What Sense Justification is wholly “apart from works” – My Olive Branch to Protestants

Papyrus_26_-_Papyrus_Oxyrhynchus_1354_-_Bridwell_Papyrus_1_-_Epistle_to_the_Romans_1,1-16_-_recto

Papyrus 26 – Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1354 – Bridwell Papyrus 1 – Epistle to the Romans 1:1-16 – recto (7th century)

 

We have to be careful to not push things into the context of St. Paul’s argument. When St. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works, he means there are no works causally connected to that justification. It would be like me saying my store is open during daytime hours, apart from nighttime hours. I couldn’t possibly mean my store is open both daytime and nighttime hours. So St. Paul does truly intend to exclude works. It is the same in Romans 9-11. “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy”.

So when St. Paul describes the gift of justification, he wants to exclude all human merits and works.
So where do we differ between Protestants and Catholics in the exegesis of Romans? It is not on whether works are excluded – that much is agreed upon. What is disagreed upon is *what is Justification*? The Protestants say it is a mere declaratory sentence which changes the legal stance of the sinner from guilty to innocent, and the real basis for this change is a legal imputation of Christ’s innocence and righteousness to that of the sinner.
Catholics readily admit this. After all, St. Paul says in Romans 8:34, “Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns”? So the gift of justification certainly includes the notion of having all charges of guilty withdrawn. But Catholics also realize that more is involved when it comes to the *real basis* upon which this verdict is reached. We believe that not only does our legal stance change, but that there is something real in the human person which is involved in the cause of that legal change. What is that reality? St. Paul calls it the “washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, that having been justified, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). So there is a real ontological changing which occurs and which causes our being declared “just” in God’s eyes. And in that very passage of Titus, St. Paul adds just before “not by works of righteousness which we have done, by according to His mercy He saved us”. Period. Not by works, but because of God’s mercy. This regeneration or renewal by the Holy Spirit is our being infused, by grace, with the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love. It must be an infusion of that which is pleasing to God. Now, when we say love is infused, I do not mean here that “loving acts” are being infused, but the “disposition to love” is what is being infused. It must somehow involve this disposition or habit to love God, believe God, and to hope in everlasting salvation. Why is that? Because justification transits the human sinner from enmity with God to friendship with God. As in the words of Paul – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). But, we are told in another place that we were “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Col 1:21). So if the cause of enmity and alienation was our mind which was disposed to wicked works, it absolutely must be that our peace and reconciliation with God is devoid of said mind disposed to wicked works. And this is why the Catholic Church has always emphasized the interior transformation from the mind so disposed to a new mind which is disposed to holiness and righteousness, and that, as a cause to our being in friendship and peace with God.
Now, in systematic Catholic theology, there is a distinction between justification as this transition from old to new man, or the regeneration which we undergo through the power of Baptism , and that is what St. Paul is speaking of in Titus 3:7, and many other various justification texts. Now, I don’t intend to seclude this into something like a purely “initial justification” after which it is proceeded by another kind of justification. This justification we receive in Baptism is both our entrance into and the state of justification itself. This is why Paul can refer to it as a transition we entered in the past (Rom 5:1) as well as a current state from which we derive hope (5:2-3). That said, in Catholic theology, however, we have more to teach using the same word “justification” to describe the ongoing and progressive Christ-likeness that we attain through jointly co-operating with grace in performing good works. Paul doesn’t really reserve his work dikaios or dikaiosune to refer to this ongoing progress, at least as much as he does to the supernatural transition from Adamic-state to Christic-state. However, even this concept of “progressive justification” is not by works” in the Romans 4:1-4 sense, since it is not by the strength of human nature, but by the strength of God’s Spirit. So, in a sense, even our progressive justification and sanctification is “apart from works” in that sense. However, it is “according to works” in another sense, namely, through our joint cooperation with divine grace in the actual performance of good works by the operation of the will. Yet, in this sphere, “it is God who is at work in us both to will and to do” (Phil 1:6, 12). Human nature as it is rooted and born in Adam, our corrupted font, is devoid of such divine operation by nature unless coupled with the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). And so it is rendered completely disabled from living out the justified & sanctified life.
Lastly, there is the justification which is eschatological, and which is different than *justification-as-translation* and *progressive-justification*. This *eschatological-justification* is more a constructive term, although it has semblance from NT texts such as Rom 2:13. It is the verdict God will produce after examining each person on the last day (Rom 2:4-following). This is purely forensic, but its basis will be “according to the works of each one”. The elect will merit the verdict of justification by their works, although, as already said, those works were NOT done out of the principle of “works” performed from human nature (that by which Abraham found nothing before God, Rom 4:1-2), but from the principle of divine and supernatural grace. God will be rewarded that which He already gave us, in other words, that God might be all in all.

2 thoughts on “In What Sense Justification is wholly “apart from works” – My Olive Branch to Protestants

  1. Erick, toward the end of the article you make a statement wherein you write, “The elect will merit the verdict of justification by their works, although, as already said, those works were done out of the principle of “works” performed from human nature (that by which Abraham found nothing before God, Rom 4:1-2), but from the principle of divine and supernatural grace (second to last sentence of the post).” This seems to be a refutation of one thing (“‘works’ performed from human nature…”) in favor of another (…[works performed] from the principle of divine and supernatural grace), but it seems that you are affirming BOTH things here. Should the sentence be rewritten to show that this “verdict” is done NOT according to “‘works’ performed from human nature…?” This would seem more in agreement of the passage. If I am mistaken, can you please tell me how this final justification, which occurs at Judgment, is both about works which proceed from human nature (which have no supernatural value) and works which proceed from the grace of God? Thanks!

    • Yes you are right. A gross typo, indeed!

      It should say:

      “The elect will merit the verdict of justification by their works, although, as already said, those works were NOT done out of the principle of “works” performed from human nature (that by which Abraham found nothing before God, Rom 4:1-2), but from the principle of divine and supernatural grace (second to last sentence of the post).”

      I think you for pointing this out

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s