Monday, August 28, 2006

Is justification a mystery, and if so in what sense; or is it simply a forensic fact? If it is not a mystery, but a fact, what basis, if any at all, must it have, first, in the mystery of Divine Procession, and secondly, in the Incarnation of the Word?


jbrim said...

I think the answer lies in the question. That one even needs to ask those questions indicates that, at least to a signifcant degree, it is a mystery. If we were to posit that justification is simply a forensic fact then it should be discernable based on given criteria. In other words, Protestantism would be right in saying that we can be certain about it. It would be objectivly verifiable like checking to make sure the sky really is blue by looking at it. This in fact is how traditional Protestant pastoral counsel on the issue has been presented. Just read any of the Puritan/Reformed works on Assurance.

Yet it seems from the language of scripture that there remains an uncertainty about justification. Not in its existance, but on its application. We can say definitivly that the elect are justified but we must be careful in saying that thus and so is or I am justified. This is not to say that we live our lives in doubt and fear. We are told by Holy Scripture to be charitable in our assumptions, even with ourselves. The danger comes when we presume upon the goodness of God and live lives unworthy of the gospel under the guise of "having be justified" so I may live as I please with the full assurance that I am in good standing with God.

Personally I believe I am justified. But if I leave the way of righteousness and live the life of a sinner my past justification will yeild me nothing good on the day of judgment. Yet I may presently live in the spiritual comfort that God is for me and with me and I have nothing to long as I live my life as a friend of God.

However, the mystery of justification is that it belongs to God to justify as Scripture says "It is God who justifies". Thus it is hidden in his eternal providence. We may come to share in it, but we cannot peek into the hidden counsels of God. "The things which are revealed belong to us and to our children that we may observe all the words of this law. But the secret things belong to the Lord our God." If it were NOT a mystery, hidden in God, I fail to see how it could be a gift of grace. It should therefore be attainable by human effort and Pelagius should be a saint.

In one sense we have the assurance that things are well for us; we get this from living holy lives and the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. On the other hand, and this may sound rather austere, there is NO assurance at all. God has not given us letters of commendation which we may point to. We cannot put stock in dreams of a bible falling open to the passage that reads "Calling and election sure". We have nothing to fall back on but the mercy of God til our dying breath. Now I personally find that to be a quite comfortable place. Others though may find it horrifying. I'm not advocating any kind of spiritual stoicism. Rather I am saying that objectively we have very little to go on. We simply must live lives that are faithful and true hoping (real Christian hope, not a "hope so" attitude) that God will be merciful to us when the time comes to give up our life.

Sigh, I've probably gone all the way around the topic of justification without really touching on it. But there are my comments for what their worth.


Thomas said...


I think that’s exactly the Tridentine teaching on predestination. If we could have divine certainty of our election as individuals, where would be the need for hope? The relationship between hope and assurance is analogous to the relationship between faith and knowledge. A person doesn’t “know” the object of faith. Similarly, a person doesn’t have certainty of the object of hope. At the same time, a person is not ignorant of the object of faith nor does he despair of the object of hope.

It does no good to argue against this – as some Reformed might do – that the formal object of our hope is God’s goodness and fidelity rather than our individual election. And thus that the problem is solved in that the certainty of election comes indirectly from this hope in the Gospel.

The problem with this response is that divine truthfulness and immutability are not the objects of hope, but rather presupposed to faith, and in certain cases with certain men can be naturally known through rational demonstration.

In other words, my own personal election is the object of my hope..."hope" not faith. If my individual election were the object of faith, it would demand the assent of every believer, for whom the objects of faith, according to St. Augustine, are common.

Josef Pieper argues that the Reformation doctrine of certainty is very close to the vice of presumption.