A justification musing

We often say that if you aren’t being accused of antinomianism, then you aren’t preaching justification rightly.  True, but something else struck me:  in Galatians Paul links his doctrine of justification as opposed to the physics of the old creation (stoichea).  Galatians 5:

 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

 

Notes on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on grace

Obviously, this is not a full endorsement.

Can we know God without grace?

The act of the intellect depends upon God in two ways: it has its form by which it acts from God

Preparing the human will

The preparation of the will cannot take place without habitual grace.

Man incurs a triple loss by sinning: stain, corruption of natural good, and debt of punishment (ST 1-2, q. 109, art7).

Christ restores us in the mind but not entirely in the flesh (Thomas is working upon a faulty spirit-flesh dichotomy).

Grace is located in the essence of the soul (q. 110).

Cooperating with God (q. 111)

There is a twofold act in us: interior act of the will, which is moved by God, and the exterior act which is moved by us.

Miracles: q. 111 art. 4.  They happen today.  Thomas is most certainly (and rightly) a continuationist.

Justification

Right order in man’s act (ST 1-2, q. 113 art.1)

Infusion of grace: the logic is that God must change something in our soul for us to be right with him, since sin is a disordering of the soul.  “In the infusion of grace there is a certain transmutation of the soul” (ST 1-2, q. 113 art. 3).

Merit

It is the effect of cooperating grace (q. 114).

Merit exists on the grounds of God’s ordination (art 1).  

Man merits everlasting life condignly (art. 3).

Outline Thomas Aquinas Treatise on Law



Question 90: Of the essence of law

  1. law is a rule and measure of acts
  2. The principal and object in practical matters is the last end, beatitude.

Question 91: Of the various kinds of law

  1. There is an eternal law. It is the divine Reason.
  2. Natural law, as a rule and measure, partakes in a greater rule and measure, the Eternal Law.
  3. Human law is practical reason.  Man has natural law by creation, but he does not have the particular determinations of individual cases
  4. The divine law is twofold, Old Law and New Law.

Question 92: Of the effects of Law

  1. Law does not make men good absolutely, but relatively.

Question 93: Of the eternal law

  1. The eternal law is the type of Divine wisdom.
  2. All laws, insofar as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law.

Question 94: Of the natural law

  1. There is an analogy between the precepts of natural law and the first principles of demonstrations of speculative reason.
  2. The natural law is unchangeable in its first principles, but changeable in its secondary principles, which are proximate conclusions.
  3. Sin blots out the law of nature in particular cases, but not universally.

Question 95: Of Human Law

  1. A thing is said to be just from being right according to the rule of reason.

Question 96: Of the power of human law:

  1. human laws should be proportionate to the common good.
  2. Human law isn’t intened to represes all vices.
  3. On unjust laws
    1. a law is unjust when it is contrary to the human good
      1. with respect to an end
      2. with respect to an author of the law
    2. contrary to the divine good.

Question 97: Of change in laws

  1. Even though human law participates in natural law (which is unchangeing), human law is still subject to change, because the mind of man is imperfect.
  2. Can custom be as strong as law? Well….kind of.  When a thing is done again and again, it proceeds from rational deliberation.
    1. Further, custom can act as a temporary check when human law fails.

Question 98: The Old Law

  1. The Old Law was good because it was in accordance with Divine reason
    1. It repressed concupiscience
    2. And other sins that were contrary to reason.
  2. The Old Law was given by angels
    1. All good things were given by angels.
    2. The Old Law represents an order, and angels mediate in that hierarchy.

Question 99: Of the precepts of the Old Law

  1. A precept implies a relation to an end. The OT law is one in respect of relation to the End, but many in respect in how things are ordered to that end.

Question 100: Of the precepts of the Moral Law

  1. all moral precepts belong to the law of nature.
  2. all moral precepts of the old law are reducible to the Decalogue.
    1. knowledge of which man has immediately from God.
    2. Aquinas is excluding general principles that are self-evident.
  3. No man can act virtuously unless he has the habit of virtue, thus the mode of virtue does not fall among the precepts.
  4. Aquinas allows for other moral precepts besides those in the Decalogue.
    1. Moral precepts derive their efficacy from reason.
    2. In this section Aquinas also explains the reasons why Catholics enumerate the Decalogue differently.
  5. Justification is the causing of justice (ST I-II, q.100. art.12)
    1. It exists in the habit and/or the act.
    2. Man is made just by becoming possessed of the habit of justice
      1. This is both acquired virtue and infused virtue.
      2. The latter is caused by God through his grace.  

Question 101–103: Of the Ceremonial Precepts in themselves

  1. Thomas spends an inordinate amount of time on ceremonial ordinances, showing once again that his Treatise on Law has little to do with natural law.
  2. Ceremonial precepts were instituted with a dual purpose: the proper worship of God and the foreshadowing of Christ.

Question 104: The Judicial Precepts

  1. In every law some precept derives its binding force from the dictate of reason itself.
  2. Judicial precepts do not merely concern actions at law, but also are directed towards the ordering of actions of one man to another.
  3. Aquinas approaches profound and even “modern” exegesis at points, noting that the “entire state of that people had to be prophetic and figurative” (ST I-II, q. 104. Art. 2)

Question 105: The reason for the judicial precepts (Thomas is addressing the charge that the OT law is faulty because it didn’t prescribe a monarchy).

  1. The best form of government is one where one is given power to preside over all, while others under him have governing power.
  2. Right ordering of a state: all should take some share in the government.
  3. Loans: the difference between is that a loan is in respect of goods transferred for the use of the person to whom they are transferred, while a deposit is for the benefit of the depositor (art. 2).

Question 106: Of the New Law, the Gospel

  1. The New Law is both written and unwritten.
  2. It contains things to dispose us to receive grace, and things actually pertaining to the use of that grace.

Question 107: The New Law Compared with the Old

  1. It is different from the Old in that it is ordered towards a different end.

Question 108: Of the things contained in the New Law

  1. Some things in the New Law prompt us to receive grace
  2. The grace of the Holy Ghost is an interior habit.  It inclines us to do rightly and those we do freely those things in keeping with that grace.
  3. Difference between commands and counsels
    1. Commands are word of God status
    2. Counsels is left open to us.

 

McCormack on Thomas on Justification

From Bruce McCormack’s essay “What’s at Stake in the Current Debate?”

I do not intend this as a “refutation” of Thomas, nor is this McCormack’s larger goal in his essay.  Thomas is simply too powerful a thinker to be refuted in a 600 word blog post. But McCormack nicely highlights conceptual difficulties in Thomas’s account in particular, and various evangelical-catholic paradigms of “ontological healing” in general.

And to be fair, if one were given the option of choosing between a strong Thomism or the evangelical-catholic goofiness today, Thomas is the obvious choice.  But there are more choices.

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will (87).

This doesn’t mean Thomas is wrong, of course, but it does highlight a conceptual confusion.

 

(4) Justification, for Thomas, is a movement from a state of injustice to a state of justice.

And for those who know their Thomas and Aristotle, this means

(4*) There must be a mover (God), which sets things in motion: the movement itself and the object of the movement.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

There is one big problem:  infant baptism (89). Infants are not capable of movements of free choice towards justifying grace, and it won’t work, pace Thomas, to speak of this as an exception, since Roman Catholicism practices infant baptism as the norm.

For most of Thomas’s account, justifying grace finds its “point of entry” on the level of the intellectual powers of the soul.  McCormack writes,

“In other words: there would be no need to locate the infusion of grace in the essence of the soul if it were not for the fact that the Church’s accepted practice was to baptize infants.  And that also means that Thomas’s tendency to understand justification as rooted in an ‘ontological healing’ of the soul, rather than in a more personal understanding of the operations of grace, is a function of the fact that the regeneration of the infant is the truly paradigmatic case where that infusion of grace which initiates justification is concerned (89).

Thomas’s project would be largely free from this confusion if, say, he were a Baptist and baptismal justification worked only with adults–but that isn’t the case.  And here is where Thomas will switch metaphors from “light” (which suggests intellectual illumination) to seeing grace as a quasi-substantial “thing.”


Thesis: The work of God in us was being made the basis of God’s forgiveness (90).

And this is what the Reformers rejected and what is at stake.  If imputation holds, then the hierarchical mediations of Rome are unnecessary.  And this is precisely what is glossed over in many “ecumenical” discussions.

 

FV Joint Statement Exposed, part 1

http://www.federal-vision.com/resources/joint_FV_Statement.pdf

Our Triune God

We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations.

The problem with this is archetypal theology is specifically not communicable to ectypal theology.

As the Waters Cover the Sea

This section is fine, but the reader is encouraged to read Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope for a healthier presentation.

The Next Christendom

Again, not really a problem and neither is this what the FV is about.

Scripture Cannot Be Broken

We affirm further that Scripture is to be our guide in learning how to interpret Scripture, and this means we must imitate the apostolic handling of the Old Testament, paying close attention to language, syntax, context, narrative flow, literary styles, and typology—all of it integrated in Jesus Christ Himself…We deny that the Bible can be rightly understood by any hermeneutical grid not derived from the Scriptures themselves.

Why don’t you say what you really mean?  Go ahead and say those who hold to the Covenant of Works self-consciously seek not to be guided by Scripture.  No one rejects these propositions, so you are actually dealing from the bottom of the deck.

The Proclamation of the Word

Some words about rejecting specialized language, but since they are too scared to say specifics, there isn’t much I can do with this.

Creeds and Confessions

This section is tricky.  On one hand, no Reformed person would disagree with the propositions.  On the other hand, the CREC view of Confessionalism is loaded with self-contradictions.

See here.

The Divine Decrees

We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant.

Here is the problem.  Western Christendom, whether Protestant or Catholic, has always said the decrees of God are as immutable as God’s essence.  So, you can say “covenantal” all you want to, but at the end of the day, if you hold to the correct doctrine of God, you must agree with me.

Church

We affirm that membership in the one true Christian Church is visible and objective

It’s hard to say yes or no on that.    What do they mean by “objective”?  I think I have an idea, but that’s the problem.  It’s loaded language which the average reader won’t catch.

Reformed Catholicity

We affirm that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ, and not through works of the law, whether those works were revealed to us by God, or manufactured by man. Because we are justified through faith in Jesus alone, we believe that we have an obligation to be in fellowship with everyone that God has received into fellowship with Himself.

It’s interesting to note which phrase wasn’t used.  Again, these propositions aren’t wrong, but I am left in the dark concerning:

  1. What is the ground of my justification?
  2. What is the instrument?

Covenant of Life

I’m too tired to deal with this one.  They say that Adam was in a faith-alone relationship in the pre-lapsarian covenant.  True, on one hand God condescends to us by covenant, and covenant isn’t something we deserve, but the principle in the law is “Do this and live.” Federal Vision fails to preserve these clarities.

Harvest of Medieval Theology

Narrowly speaking, this is a work on the theology of Gabriel Biel. As it is, one must be careful extrapolating Biel’s thought onto the canvas of late medieval theology. On the other hand, Oberman conclusively argues that Biel’s nominalism is not the stark break from an earlier Pristine Thomism that one often thinks.

Indeed, as one narrative has it (Pickstock, After Writing) in the beginning there was Thomism. Instead of a serpent, we have Duns Scotus. Instead of Cain, the Reformation. While this narrative has been refuted, it holds sway among certain circles. Oberman’s thesis has the merit (no pun intended) that “nominalism” had many varieties, and rather than ruining a pure medievalism, faithfully developed many points and anticipated Trent on others. Now, on to Gabriel Biel.

Biel’s theology can be structured around a dialectic: ordained power and absolute power.

The potentia ordinata and absoluta should not be seen as two different ways of divine acting, since all of God’s works ad extra are united (Oberman 37). God does things according to the laws he has established, potentia ordinata. However, he can do everything that does not imply a contradiction, potentia absoluta.

de potentia ordinata: necessity of the consequence; relates to the contingent order. Since this is not a logical absolute, this means humans cannot predict what predestination per the contingent order will do, since it is contingent (this is a huge point in later Reformed Scholastics).

de potentia absoluta: this does not mean that God can do anything he wants. It means he can do anything that doesn’t imply a logical contradiction. This distinction allowed scholastics to speak of miracles in the created order without the later Humean charge of a violation of natural law.

These categories allow Oberman to move from prolegomena (natural knowledge of God) to epistemology proper to man’s created state to justification and beyond. What makes this book so exciting is that everything is interconnected.

Facere quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam

Do what is in you–this line summarizes Biel’s thought. It forces him to rework sacramental theology, justification, anthropology and even Mariology around it. And Biel knows all of this. Per creation and the Fall, original sin is simply an “outgrowth of natural difficulties” already present (129). Grace, therefore, “means the infusion by which man is made a friend of God and acceptable for final beatification” (136). This leads Oberman to conclude: “grace is not the root but the fruit of the preparatory good work” (141).

Biel’s conclusions are not surprising. If his maxim holds, then whenever he comes across something that seems to imply divine power “closing the gap,” so to speak, then it needs to be refocused.

Habitus and Justification

The pre-act of Justification: “the dignitas of an act is its bonitas with respect to its heavenly reward…The habit of grace is the necessary bridge between bonitas and dignitas which gives the viator a de condigno claim on his eternal salvation” (161). And consistent with Biel’s de potentia ordinata God must grant the reward to once the conditions have been met (168).

habitus: disposition necessary before man is beatified. Parenthetically, Oberman notes Biel’s concern over a problem–another area where Biel paints himself into a corner: how can one talk about free will if one has a habit of grace? Aren’t people enslaved to their habits, whether good or bad?

Three stages of Justification
Acquire the habit of grace. “The sinner can reach the demarcation line” between the state of sin and the state of grace; he does what he is able to do (175).
meritum de congruo: semi-merit that is a spontaneous act and worthy of its reward. This creates an initial problem, since no human act is worthy of heaven. That’s okay, though, if we remember the above dialectic (absoluta/ordinata). God has committed himself de potentia ordinata to reward meritum de congruo.

Are There Reformed Antecedents?

It is commonly charged that the Reformation nominalized the pristine beauty of earlier theology. But can we really say that Reformed theology is nominalistic? Not really, or not without heavy argumentation. Oberman notes concerning justification, “Biel explicitly rejects the position which later was to be characterized as Protestant” (183).

PREDESTINATION

Again, Biel’s dialectic appears and governs his thought. The potentia absoluta is God’s mercy. What causes predestination? We must first ask what is meant by cause. Biel will eventually define cause as order of priority (189). Not surprisingly, Biel will soften predestination for the most part (and this is certainly a move away from Anselm and Aquinas).

SCRIPTURE AND THE CHURCH

Keith Mathison took a lot of heat because Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for his categories Tradition I and Tradition II, except that Mathison didn’t invent these categories; Oberman did. Oberman points out that the church has long differed over whether “Tradition” is an independent stream alongside Scripture. What is important for Oberman’s argument is that the nominalists who opposed the Pope for the Council all agreed that Tradition (II) was an independent stream. Thus, any charge that nominalism is the antecedent to the Reformation is clearl false.

Evaluation

This book deserves highest possible praise and widest possible dissemination.

Trial and Triumph of Faith

Rutherford, Samuel.  The Trial and Triumph of Faith.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.

In this volume you are able to see a side of Samuel Rutherford that isn’t quite as flowery as his *Letters,* nor as analytical as *Lex, Rex.* The layout is relatively simple: 27 sermons on Christ’s words to the Syro-Phoneician. But in these sermons Rutherford examines the nature of faith, justification, and the Covenant of Redemption.

The book represents both the best of and limitations of Scottish Presbyterianism. When Rutherford waxes eloquent, he has no equal. But, likewise, when he analyzes a topic it goes on…and on…and on.

The Topics covered:

God’s love: it is infinite in its act but not in its object; the way of carrying on his love is infinite (41). “Mercy floweth not from God essentially but of mere grace” (42), otherwise universalism would entail. “For what God doth by necessity of his nature and essence, that he cannot but do.”

Covenants

Rutherford ties the promises of the covenant of grace as exemplified in the Davidic covenant (53). Son of David: Christ had a special relation to Abraham, being his seed; but more special to David, because the covenant was in a special manner established with David, as a king, and the first king in whose hand the…Church…was laid down” (74-75). Df. of covenant = “A joint and mutual bargain between two, according to which, they promise freely such and such things to each other” (75).

The promises of Galatians 3.16 apply not to the hypostatic Christ nor the mystical Christ, but to the mediatorial Christ (very important discussion, 81-83).
(1) Christ is the heir of all things and we are co-heirs with him.
(2) The covenant (Of Redemption) was manifested in time but transacted in eternity.
(3) Not every promise made is a promise made to us (84). Christ is promised a “name above every name,” and this promise cannot be made to us. Christ is promised a willing seed; we are not.
(4) This covenant structures salvation (86).

Guilt and Justification
“Justification is a removal of sin by law-way” (195). Obligation to external punishment is removed.
Formal Justification: this goes along with the order of cause, time, and a required condition of apprehending Christ’s righteousness (209).
Guilt: the guilt of sin is not the same as sin itself (222). Macula, or the blot of sin, is defilement. “Guilt” is that which issueth from the macula because you aren’t perfectly spotless. Rutherford notes that this “blot” has different relations:
(1) Blot in relation to the law. This is formally sin and not guilt.
(2) Blot in relation to God, as offended and injured. This is formally removed in justification (224).

The reality of virtual actions = no legal fiction: “The proposition is sure: for if Christ was so made sin, and punished for sin, and liable to suffer for sin, and yet had not any sinful or blameworthy guilt on him” (226), then we can also say that God declares me just on Christ.

Rutherford ends by tying the current situation of Britain with eschatological reflections. Very beautiful and moving.