You Are What You Love - A Review (Part 2a)

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In the Scholastic period of Catholic theology the classic languages were re-learned and many old works were read, including Aristotle. His ideas about the formation of the soul found purchase in the minds of theologians like Abelard, Scotus, and Thomas Aquinas. In You Are What You Love, Smith depends heavily on these men for his thesis. In this paper, we will consider what they believed.

Thomas Aquinas said this about justification:

The righteousness and sanctity which justification confers, although given to us by God as efficient cause (causa efficiens) and merited by Christ as meritorious cause (causa meritoria), become an interior sanctifying quality or formal cause (causa formalis) in the soul itself, which it makes truly just and holy in the sight of God.1

For Thomists,2 the soul is truly made just in the formal aspect of justification. The Christian’s identity as a just person is made real in the formation of his soul. R.C.Sproul puts it like this:

The Council of Trent (1547, session VI) followed suit and defined justification as inner renewal plus pardon and acceptance, the renewal being the basis of the pardon, and went on to affirm that the “sole formal cause” (unica formalis causa) of justification, in both its aspects, was God’s righteousness imparted through baptism as its instrumental cause. “Formal cause” means that which gives a thing its quality; so the thesis is that the ground of our being pardoned and accepted by infused grace is our having been made genuinely righteous in ourselves.3

If you are without faith and grace, you will act according to your nature. You will sin, making yourself unrighteous. But if you have grace and faith, which God gives freely through the church (sacraments), then through that grace and faith, you gain a new nature; you are formed into a just person. And you, as a just person, will do justly. Thus, by grace and faith you have been justified; you have become a person who acts justly.4 That is formal justification.

The Council of Trent, 1563, Session 6, chapter VII, defines the “alone formal cause” of justification as

the justice of God whereby He makes us just, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s co-operation.5 If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

The council applied this in Canons X (“If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema”) and XXIV (“If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema”).

We might be inclined to say that the Thomist believes he will stand justified on the basis of the merit of Christ and the faith- and grace-enabled good works the believer has done. But that’s not quite true. Formal justification is not actually in the body of good works the justified has done. Rather, it is the way grace and faith, together with his good works, have changed his soul into a just one. Because of this, a knowledgeable Thomist will deny that he believes in justification by works.

Protestant Justification

In the Protestant view, believers are simul justus et peccator—at the same time “justified” and “sinful.” Justified means that I am declared perfect. As Timothy Keller said,

In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Or take Romans 8:1, which says “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”6

But we also observe that we are not perfect. We sin. We fail. We hurt one another. We fail to understand God’s Law and we fail to obey what we do understand. Protestant understanding of justification can be seen in the formulation of the Westminster Confession:

Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.7

Where is the difference and which is correct?

Protestants hold to positional sanctification (perfect holy standing before God that we now possess) and progressive sanctification (the continuing but unfinished work of God to sanctify us).

Thomists also believe in these, in a sense. They label them, respectively, “justification in its meritorious cause” and “justification in its formal cause.” But, for Thomists, these are so tied together as to be inseparable; they are different ways of describing the same thing. There is no “simultaneously justified and sinful.” There is justification by Christ’s merit and grace and faith. And it is formally manifested in the way He forms my soul into a just one, “each one according to his own measure.”

This means that justification is partial; our justification is under way. It is seen in the partial formation of our soul into a just soul. Protestants are faced with a tension—what appears to be a contradiction—that Thomists don’t have. It could be said that Thomists are, in this sense, more logical.

The protestant view embraces the tension of fully affirming both. We are simultaneously two things that are as different as night and day. The Thomist view holds that we are justified and that that justification is formed in our souls as our hearts love God’s ways. Since our hearts and ways are not pure, we are not yet finished with our justification. And while they do at times embrace the “now” aspect of justification,8 Thomists are far more likely to emphasize the “not yet” aspect.

The protestant belief that we are simul justus et peccator attempts to deal with something that is beyond our comprehension. We are forced to embrace contradictory ideas.

The Nature of Light

The justification debate is reminiscent of the debate over the nature of light between the 17th and 20th centuries. Isaac Newton said, “Light is a particle,” and he could prove it. But it is also a wave, and other scientists like Huygens and Young could prove that. But these are incompatible contradictory ideas. And so they were debated for a long time. Neither side considered it possible that both sides could be right.

Albert Einstein wrote:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.9

When a physicist says, “Light is not a wave; it is a particle,” he needs correction, not because he’s wrong that it’s a particle, but because it is also a wave. There are a few questions like this in Christianity to which we must accept contradictory, even mutually exclusive, answers. God is sovereign; we are responsible. We are simultaneously sinner and saint. These are not each 50% true. They are both truly true.

Similarly, we are absolutely perfect, justified by the grace of God. And we are sinners. Two statements must be made about our identity: 1) We are perfect, 2) We are sinful.

Instead, Thomists say that we have one justification and that it not finished, but is happening as we, by God’s grace and through faith, are formed into just souls.

What should our response to this be? Our tendency is to say, “You’re wrong.” But that would be like a modern physicist telling Isaac Newton that he’s wrong to say that light is a particle. Actually Newton was right; light is a particle. But he was wrong to deny it is a wave.

And rather than saying the Thomist is wrong, I suggest that we should say the Thomist is right, in a sense, that we are only half-justified. That is the “sinner” part of simul justus et peccator. And we Protestants affirm that “sinner” aspect of our identity. It pushes us to look to the Word and repent. And yet, the Thomist’s failure to see the whole of the doctrine of justification and his subsequent fixation on its progressive aspect means he is unable to fully explain justification. This idea will be important in discussing You Are What You Love.

Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart. and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affections, and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through Thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart;
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found.

Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own,
And the covenant love of Thy crucified Son;
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy, and pardon, and righteousness mine.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy, and pardon, and righteousness mine.

John Stocker

Notes

2 Followers of Thomas Aquinas. For the most part, Roman Catholics.

4 I have not elaborated on Aristotle’s idea of the formation of the soul. Simply, virtues (good deeds) form the soul so that one loves good deeds while vices form the soul so that one loves vice.

5 For further Catholic writing on what is meant and not meant by “co-operation,” see JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church

6 Keller, Timothy, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (Kindle Locations 339-343).

7 WCF XI.1

8 JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, 1999, paragraph 11:  “[Justification] is acceptance into communion with God: already now, but then fully in God’s coming kingdom.” Though the declaration claims to be in line with Trent, I do not believe it is.

Dan Miller Bio


Dan Miller is an ophthalmologist in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is a husband, father, and part-time student.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

First, found this quite interesting and much appreciate the research. Thanks!

On this....

We might be inclined to say that the Thomist believes he will stand justified on the basis of the merit of Christ and the faith- and grace-enabled good works the believer has done. But that’s not quite true. Formal justification is not actually in the body of good works the justified has done. Rather, it is the way grace and faith, together with his good works, have changed his soul into a just one. Because of this, a knowledgeable Thomist will deny that he believes in justification by works.

This is a distinction without a difference. When we say "justification by works" we are not saying the works are justified. We are saying the individual is justified on the basis of the works he has done. Nobody claims the justification is "in the body of good works."

Protestants are faced with a tension--what appears to be a contradiction--that Thomists don’t have. It could be said that Thomists are, in this sense, more logical.

I don't see any logical tension at all. Logically, the act of giving A the official status of B, while acknowling that A is not yet B is not a problem at all. The question would be whether it's honest or ethical to declare A officially B when it isn't there yet. This is also not a problem for the non-Roman view (it's older than "Protestant" -- it's Pauline) because (a) God's timeless nature allows Him to say, as in Rom. 8:29ff that those he predestined are justified and glorified. The fact that we aren't there yet in our tiny little scale of time is truly trivial from a divine justice standpoint. (b) Because the nature of Christ's substitutionary atone is revealed to be sufficient to declare those who believe righteous (even while yet not transformed). In other words, the ethical question is revealed to be resolved "in Christ" so that God is both "just and justifier." We do not need to know how this is possible, only that it is so.

... and this one of those truths that gets my pulse quickened and my eyes a bit teary. What an amazing thing.

The protestant belief that we are simul justus et peccator attempts to deal with something that is beyond our comprehension. We are forced to embrace contradictory ideas.

There is actually no contradiction and the concept is not beyond comprehension. God's reasons for doing this are beyond comprehension, yes! But there is no contradiction in saying "I know you are still a sinner but I grant you righteous standing before Me." God does not simultaneously declare that we are in fact sinners and in fact righteous. Rather, he declares that we are in fact sinners but that we are imputed with righteousness. It is credit. It is grace "in which we stand" (Rom. 5:1-2).

 The language of adoption helps some here. When we adopt a child, we go through the process of making them fully and legally our child, but we do not deny that they were actually born to someone else. It's a matter of standing/status. So we aren't saying to the child "You are my and not my child [in the same sense]." We are saying "You are my child in one sense and not my child in a different sense." No contradiction there.

The Thomist is quite wrong.

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
...

Protestants are faced with a tension--what appears to be a contradiction--that Thomists don’t have. It could be said that Thomists are, in this sense, more logical.

I don't see any logical tension at all. Logically, the act of giving A the official status of B, while acknowling that A is not yet B is not a problem at all. The question would be whether it's honest or ethical to declare A officially B when it isn't there yet. This is also not a problem for the non-Roman view (it's older than "Protestant" -- it's Pauline) because (a) God's timeless nature allows Him to say, as in Rom. 8:29ff that those he predestined are justified and glorified. The fact that we aren't there yet in our tiny little scale of time is truly trivial from a divine justice standpoint. (b) Because the nature of Christ's substitutionary atone is revealed to be sufficient to declare those who believe righteous (even while yet not transformed). In other words, the ethical question is revealed to be resolved "in Christ" so that God is both "just and justifier." We do not need to know how this is possible, only that it is so.

... and this one of those truths that gets my pulse quickened and my eyes a bit teary. What an amazing thing.

The protestant belief that we are simul justus et peccator attempts to deal with something that is beyond our comprehension. We are forced to embrace contradictory ideas.

There is actually no contradiction and the concept is not beyond comprehension. God's reasons for doing this are beyond comprehension, yes! But there is no contradiction in saying "I know you are still a sinner but I grant you righteous standing before Me." God does not simultaneously declare that we are in fact sinners and in fact righteous. Rather, he declares that we are in fact sinners but that we are imputed with righteousness. It is credit. It is grace "in which we stand" (Rom. 5:1-2).

...

I wonder if we're differing over semantics. 

Consider the hymn I quoted at the end. We boldly sing of "righteousness mine."

- When someone comes and says, "Wait - is that righteousness in fact yours?" I believe we should answer Yes, it is mine. I am holy before God. But the Thomist, if I understand him correctly, ought to say, "Well, it is mine in the sense that I am on the journey towards it becoming mine. And I am becoming more righteous as I grow in love by God's grace. So it is partly mine." 

- When someone pushes and says, "But I know that you are an angry person. You easily and often fly off the handle. You are not holy." I say, "Yes, in Christ, I am holy. I am also a sinner. But my position in Christ as a righteous, holy man is not dependent on my performance." The Thomist, IIUHC, ought to say, "I confess that anger. And God forgives me for it as I confess and do penance. Through those things, He re-makes me into a more-holy person." AND, overhearing my answer, the Thomist says, "It makes no sense to me that you claim to be righteous when you agree you are not."

I embrace the apparent contradiction that "righteous" is true of me and "unrighteous" is true of me. Aaron embraces these ideas as both necessary, but speaks of them in different "senses." 

Dan Miller's picture

I agree that the Thomist is wrong. But he's not wrong about everything.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Since a clear understanding of justification by faith is at the heart of the gospel, I have to say that semantics matters. That is, how we say it matters, not only for accuracy's sake but for the sake of minimizing confusion. I suppose the latter matters to me most.

There is a world of difference between saying "A is B and also not B" vs. saying "A is B in one sense and not B in another sense."

Several examples might help.

  • Dying is difficult in one sense and not difficult in another (difficult to endure, not difficult to accomplish)
  • A fight between two lovely sisters is ugly in one sense and not ugly in another (ugly in the sense of unpleasant to watch, not ugly in the appearance of the participants)
  • A child is innocent in one sense and not innocent in another (innocent of felony assault, not innocent of lying to his parents)
  • A believer is just in one sense and not just in another (just in standing, not just in nature)

There really isn't anything to be gained by treating any of these examples of different senses of the same word as though the difference was not categorical and complete. It is, in every case. Language is such that we use the same words in ways that are contextually quite different in meaning.

When it comes to justification, we should reject language that confusing condition and standing. We work to alter the first, we do not work to alter the second. We should do everything we can to be unequivocal about that.

Dan Miller's picture

I'm in agreement with what you're saying. (I think - confusing cat-fight notwithstanding.)

A believer is just in one sense and not just in another (just in standing, not just in nature)

My main point is that the Thomist can't really say this. He will say instead that we're just in one sense and that justice has a formal cause. This "formal cause (causa formalis) in the soul itself, which it makes truly just and holy in the sight of God.1"

In other words, for the Thomist, the sense in which we're "truly just and holy" is the progressive manner in which God forms us into just souls who act justly.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Yes, we're on the same page about what the Thomists are saying, sounds like. For them, the whole category of "accounted" righteousness as distinct from righteous character (aka formation) doesn't exist. In the biblical view, that distinction is not only key to understanding salvation by grace, but also to understanding how sanctification works. So there tends to be confusion on both sides of the cross, so to speak, when there is confusion about what justification is and how it comes to be.

You've probably read more of the Thomists on this than I have, certainly recently... do they rely heavily on James for understanding "justification"? I wonder if in the effort to resolve the tension between Paul's use of the term and Jame's use of the term (justified by works), they failed to properly contextualize. That is, rather than understanding James in light of Paul, decided to take Paul in light of James? (Why should Paul have priority? Well, it's not that his authorship is superior or anything, but that his teaching on the topic is direct and systematic, whereas James makes a brief reference in a more oratorical delivery... apparently in response to a particular problem.)

Dan Miller's picture

I would not say that Thomas read Paul in light of James. He just reads Paul differently. 

Key to the difference is: What is meant by "reckon" logizomai, in Rom 4. 

We would say reckon means "impute." It is Christ's righteousness credited to Abraham's account.

Thomas would say (well, now he knows better - he would have said), "No, logizomai refers to an accounting that is true. So this must be what is actually true about Abraham himself."

Here's the long version:

From Reading Romans with St. Thomas Aquinas, edited by Matthew Levering, Michael Dauphinais

“Reckoning” as God’s Recognition of Justice

    As Thomas reads Paul, the opening verses of Rom 4 aim to show that Abraham does have glory before God, but not in the way we might expect. Abraham has what leads to glory, that is, to fully glorifying union with God, namely justice or righteousness. The requires that he be justified by faith, and not by works of the law, since no act of which human beings are capable by their natural powers can generate that interior “justice which has glory in the eyes of God.” For just this reason, on Aquinas’s reading, St. Paul insists (cf. Rom 4:12) that the justice Abraham had from work of the law may have brought glory before men, who see only the outward deed, but it brought none before God, who sees within. When Paul initially says that “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as justice” (4:3), therefore, it means that God “regarded it as justice that [Abraham] believed,” and in this way, rather than by the works of the law, Abraham “had glory before God.”

    Here, God’s reckoning that Abraham is just (set ei reputatum) is not a counterfactual judgment on God’s part, a covering or ignoring of Abraham’s sin. It is, rather, God’s perception or recognition of the sober truth about Abraham. Faith, as St. Thomas likes to say, is “the first motion of the mind into God.” By it we subject that which is most noble in us, our mind, to God. The justice Paul finds in Abraham’s faith consists in precisely this willing submission of the mind to what God teaches.

    Justice, after all, is essentially rendering what is due. Every creature owes all that it is and has to God. The creature’s justice consists, therefore, in “rendering” all that it is and has to God. This the creature does by being fully conformed-subject-to God’s intention for it, which depends on the sort of creature it is. The highest gift God has given human nature is the mind. Our supreme justice therefore consists in the complete subjection of our mind to God. This happens by faith, which believes what God tells us… So when God looks upon believing Abraham he first of all sees not sin that needs to be covered, but real justice, that interior renewal of the heart by which the believer can do what he could never do on his own: bring forth “works proportioned to divine glory.”

    Of course in seeing this justice in Abraham God simply looks upon what he himself has caused. We certainly do not merit justice by faith, rather, “belief itself is the first act of justice which God works in us.

    … God regards Abraham as just, because he is, and God knows this better than anybody. So understood, “reckoning” involves no voluntary or dispositional element on God’s part at all. It simply notes the fact that here, as always, God sees things just as they are.

Note in there that Thomas (and the those who follow him) see the progressive just-ness in Abraham as "not counterfactual," "the sober truth," "real justice," and what "is." This is my issue with the Thomists. Yes, inner heart-conforming justice is real (what we call progressive sanctification). But speaking of it in these terms suggests (and above it is stated openly) that reckoning righteousness does not invovle the imputation of the righteousness of Another.

(btw, this is how the New Perspective guys read "reckon" also.)

Aaron Blumer's picture

That's a lot to chew on, but I believe I have the gist. The trick in so much Bible doctrine, is letting things be as simple as they truly are, but not rejecting complexity because we really want the truth to be simpler (because we are called to teach it to people!).

Both the New Perspective guys and the Thomists seem to me to be introducing a mix of both error and unnecessary complexity to what is in reality fairly simple. I can imagine though that a Thomist would think our "imputed but not yet realized" is overly complicated.

But they'd be wrong. Smile

Dan Miller's picture

Some things are hard to understand because they're complicated; other things are hard to understand because they are simply beyond our understanding.

The Thomist understanding of justification sounds complicated because so many terms are new (or have a new definition) to us Protestants. But on the contradictory (different in different 'senses') side, the Thomist system is simpler.

The Thomist says that God reckoning us just is "not counterfactual," but for us, it is counterfactual in the sense that is is NOT based on the facts of our lives.

For the Thomist, our justification is "the sober truth," "real justice," and what "is," because there's not two different 'senses' of justification. There's one sense and it's not contradictory. Our justification is completely merited by Christ and partially formed in us (part of the reason that purgatory is necessary). 

So if you ask the Thomist, "Are you completely justified?" They will say, "Well, I'm on that journey."

And if you ask a Christian, what should the answer be? If you say, "Yes, completely," then what about the sin you still have? And the heart of sin (evil desires) you still have?

I know Aaron wants to say, "It's not contradictory. It's complete justification in one sense and not complete in another sense." And I prefer to embrace the fact that those two senses are both true (even though they say the opposite about us).

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