Read Part 1.
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.
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.
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.