Page 6, 22nd November 1985

22nd November 1985
Page 6
Page 6, 22nd November 1985 — —viewpoint—

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Justification: your move

IN ATTACKING a paper on Justification which contributed to the Turvey Abbey journal One in Christ (1984), David Samuel puts into my mouth words I did not and could not use.

Historians who set out to help their readers understand complicated matters often write with affection and sympathy for people with whose opinions they do not agree. Perhaps thereby they inevitably risk attacks.

Justification is an intricate subject, the most complex of all articles of faith. At times it can seem like championship chess. Jeremy Taylor once warned his age that a full comprehension of all the issues was perilous to the soul.

Yet behind the tangle there are truths of momentous consequence not to be concealed in a cloud of words. In Mr Samuel's positive statements I find much to agree with.

And he is certainly right in declaring that the faith which is an instrument or condition of apprehending justification is not itself a 'work' (in the sense of an independent act of man). But first let us outline the nature of the question.

Martin Luther (who did not say many things that had not already been said before him) saw that the Christian life ought not to consist of human efforts to get good relations with God. It ought to spring from passive submission to his sovereign will.

Divine grace is necessary at every stage of the pilgrim path. Does this mean that the assent of the mind and will play no part in our salvation? Luther thought our will has no part to perform. At this crucial point his critics thought him mistaken.

At Regensburg on the Danube in 1541 an attempt at rapprochement was made. It failed, yet produced a formula of reconciliation on justification worthy of some note.

Among the Protestant representatives was Martin Bucer, later influential in England. The two sides agreed that there is one righteousness imparted by the love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5); and another righteousness which is Christ's perfect merit, imputed to believers who trust only in him for salvation.

Only the latter gives full ground for assurance, for the believer's good works constitute no claim to have earned heaven. Yet God rewards good works done in faith and from the Holy Spirit with the concurrernce of our freewill.

This formula failed to bring peace. Luther could not give any role to freewill. To the Pope the language was strange, perhaps ambiguous, and too concessive to Protestantism. In any event, the two parties were not also agreed about Eucharist, Ministry, and Authority. Nor did they enjoy the confident goodwill of their principals.

My 1984 paper neither said nor implied that ARC1C II's discussions will be simply solved by getting back to Regensburg. The participants in 1541 failed. But they saw that the two ways of talking about justification did not have to be necessarily exclusive, and could be complementary.

They came nearer than most theologians of that dreadful age towards discerning what the central problems in the debate actually are.

And although at the time the 1541 formula upset Catholics more than Protestants, one cannot be contemptuous of an approach to the subject respected not only by Reginald Pole but (above all) by Seripando, the master-mind behind the greater part of Trent's statement on justification issued six years later (not, as Mr Samuel says, no doubt by a slip, earlier). One can learn from failures.

In the criteria of judgment which my paper appplied to the various theologians surveyed, I sought to adhere to the biblical foundation.

From that foundation it would be hard to draw the conclusion that justification and sanctification have hardly any connection, and the Anglican theologians of the Reformation time certainly did not think that. Man cannot make himself righteous; no reader of St Paul could believe otherwise.

The act of God in justification, imparted to us by faith and sacramentally expressed and communicated in baptism, is one which the mind can distinguish from the continuing process of sanctification, as St Augustine clearly said. But the faith by which this justification is apprehended is not 'without repentance, hope, charity, dread, and fear of God'.

If Mr Samuel thinks it is, he is at variance with the explicit position of the Homily written by Cranmer and commended in Article XI of the XXXIX Articles (a document to which he wisely does not appeal for help).

To the reflecting mind justification and sanctification are distinct, but are not experienced successively in time. God infuses righteousness in the very act of justifying.

One of the most notable of English Calvinist discussions of justification insists that justification is that by which man is not only accounted justified before God, but is made so. Davenant (1631) also saw that many Catholic expositions of Trent rightly did not take the Council to deny Imputed righteousness or to say that sin is cleansed only by imparted righteousness.

The crux lies in making two affirmations on which, as I ventured to note in my paper, Catholics and Anglicans of the Reformation age converged, and in which they can converge now: (1) human moral achievements, even done under divine grace, do not constitute that by which the believer earns a right to salvation; (2) if grace does not actually transform the moral life, it has been received in vain.

Finally, Mr Samuel attributes to me a belief that "it is no longer possible or even necessary to be as precise about doctrine." That is not said in my paper, which was an attempt to be as precise as possible. 1 remarked that in the last decades of the twentieth century, when theologians have ceased to have much confidence in anyone's capacity to produce precise dogmatic formulae free of any element of approximation or historical conditioning, it might seem an easy task to produce a reconciling formula. I immediately went on to argue that this is not actually the situation at all.

Perhaps Mr Samuel disagreed with the analysis of the difficulties attending the enterprise. But on further reflection he will surely wish to reconsider his words. Those who resort to caricature, or attribute to their partners in debate statements they have not made, betray the weakness of their own position. In time he will want to occupy stronger and more biblical ground.

*The Rev Chadwick holds extensive positions in various universities, as well as being an author, lecturer, and Editor of The Journal of Theological Studies.

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