Excerpts From
Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies

The Catholic Doctrine on Justification

"Ex inimico amicus"

THE KEY to the Reformers' breach with traditional Catholic teaching is found in their doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Its logical consequence was the rejection of the Church and the whole Catholic Sacramental concept. Their hatred for the Mass cannot be appreciated adequately without some understanding of their teaching on Justification, but before doing this it is necessary to clarify what the Church teaches. In a brief study of this kind it is not possible to study the Catholic teaching in any depth and such complex matter as efficacious grace and predestination will not be touched upon.

Justification involves the establishing of a right relationship between God and man in the light of the Fall, of making man just in the sight of God. In Catholic theology this is achieved by man's acquisition of a new life with new powers and new privileges; a participation in the Divine nature by the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. This will culminate in the Beatific Vision, the sharing in God's knowledge and love of Himself, by union (though not identity) with the Son, the Word of God. The new life bestowed upon the justified man is the life of grace, and wherever grace is mentioned in this chapter it will refer to sanctifying grace unless actual grace is specifically mentioned.

The great benefit of Justification is, as Cardinal Newman explained, "This one thing-----the transference of the soul from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ." l  It is, to quote the Council of Trent, "not only the remission of sins, but the sanctification and renovation of the interior man through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts, whereby a man becomes just instead of unjust and a friend instead of an enemy (ex inimico amicus), that he may be an heir in the hope of life everlasting (Titus 3:7)." 2


Trent teaches that while the final cause (the ultimate purpose of and reason for) justification is the glory of God, "the meritorious cause is the beloved and only-begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who when we were enemies (Rom. 5:10), by reason of His very great love wherewith He has loved us (Eph. 2:4), merited justification for us by His own most holy Passion on the wood of the Cross, and made satisfaction for us to God the Father." 3

Christ our Lord is the cause of grace and the first and greatest gift of grace. He is our Emmanuel, "God with us"; forgiveness and redemption are the gifts He bestows upon us.

Grace is our adoption as sons of God, not adoption in the normal legal sense but actually a rebirth. A human parent who adopts a child can give it only his name and the rights of sonship; he cannot beget it again so that it becomes a child of his own blood, shares his nature as it were. Through grace we are begotten anew and actually share in the Divine life of God; our nature is "divinised" by sharing in the Divine nature. We are, as the beautiful Offertory prayer expresses it, "made partakers of His Divinity Who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity." Through grace we are able to "put on "the Son of God and become "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17) and share with Him the awe-inspiring privilege of calling our Creator "Abba! Father! " By nature man is a servant of God and must call Him "Lord"; and now by grace he has become a "new creature," a heavenly creature who is able to call Him "Father." St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the gift of grace in a single man is a greater and more noble work of God than the excellence of the whole of natural creation. 4

Grace is a ray of Divine light, a heavenly beauty filling the soul and stamping it with Christ's image through the seal of the Holy Ghost. The man in grace shares the Divine nature, receives Divine privileges, eternity, happiness, perfection, and holiness. It binds a man to God in a way we could never have imagined possible but for His revelation, making us children of the heavenly Father, brothers and sisters of Christ-----dying and rising with Him and sharing His inheritance. The man in grace knows that God is his Father, and Heaven is his home; he knows that Christ is his brother Who went before him to prepare him a dwelling place; that grace is only the "first fruits" of the Holy Ghost to be followed by full redemption of body and soul, eternal happiness and a share in the glory of God. Grace is the pledge of the Beatific Vision and the man filled with true hope of this eternal happiness carries the seed of Heaven in his heart.

Holiness is the highest attribute of God. It is an attribute which He alone possesses as a right. In his own nature man can be good, upright, moral, but never holy. The highest Angel is not holy by nature. The Angels who stand before God's majesty cover their faces and never cease to cry: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." The word 'holy' has tended to become devalued and is used to describe virtue and piety but in reality God alone is holy-----and yet we are also made holy through grace which incorporates us into Christ as the branch into the vine stem. The life of grace is the life of Christ. In the Mystical Body, Head and members share the same life, the same holiness.


Trent teaches us that God prepares the soul of an adult for Justification by an offer of actual grace, a call to repentance. "The purpose of this call is that they who are turned away from God by sin may, awakened and assisted by His grace, be disposed to turn to their own justification by freely assenting to and co- operating with that grace. The result is that, when God touches the heart of man with the illumination of the Holy Ghost, the man who accepts that inspiration certainly does something, since he could reject it; on the other hand, by his own free will, without God's grace, he could not take one step towards justice in God's sight." 5

The justified sinner receives the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity with the gift of sanctifying grace. But Faith is not only a theological virtue infused with grace but a necessary preparation for its reception. Faith is the first step which the sinner must take on the road to grace. Without it the second step is impossible. It alone can prompt us to look for grace and find it. Faith is the morning star that shines in the darkness of our souls without which we cannot come to God. "And without faith it is impossible to please Him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him " (Heb. 11:6). This text is cited by the Council of Trent which teaches that adults who have freely co-operated with the grace of God's initial call, still assisted by Divine grace, " conceive faith from hearing, and they are freely led to God. They believe that the Divine revelation and promises are true, especially that the unjustified man is justified by God's grace 'through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 3: 24)." 6 The gift of faith can still exist in a man who has forfeited sanctifying grace by mortal sin for which he is unrepentant. Such a faith, however, is a dead faith and remains dead until the sinner repents.

The Council of Trent explains that, having acknowledged their sinful state through faith in Divine revelation, sinners: "by turning from a salutary fear of Divine justice to a consideration of God's mercy . . . are encouraged to hope, trusting that God will be merciful to them for Christ's sake. They begin to love God as the source of all justice and are thereby moved by a sort of hatred and detestation for sin, that is by the repentance that must take place before Baptism. Finally, they determine to receive Baptism, begin a new life, and keep the Divine commandments."

The meaning of justification has already been explained and, as was stressed by the Council of Trent, it is not simply the remission of sins but the sanctification and renewal of the interior man. Indeed, the distinction which can be made between justification and sanctification is, to a certain extent, theoretical: the gift of sanctifying grace clearly sanctifies the sinner as its name implies. The great difference between the Catholic and Protestant theology of grace is, as will be made clear in the next chapter, that the former explains grace as something positive inhering in the soul of the justified man which he did not possess in his unjustified condition. It is a positive quality which makes him pleasing to God in himself  for he has "put on" Christ. The Reformers denied this.


No possible analogy can even begin to convey an adequate idea of the transformation of the soul by grace. An iron thrust in the fire remains iron yet takes on new qualities beyond its normal range-----heat, light, burning power. There is a fable of the common briar into which was budded the stem of a royal rose. When June came it bore fragrant roses of great beauty and, passing by, the gardener smiled and said: "Your beauty is not due, dear briar, to that which came from you but to that which I put into you." The marvel of God's grace in His people is not due to what they were by nature, wild briars, but to what He put into them
-----Christ Himself, the source and cause of grace and its first and greatest gift.

Justified men, Trent teaches us, whether they have continuously kept grace, or lost it and recovered it again, "should consider these words of the Apostle: 'Abound in every good work, knowing that your labour is not vain in the Lord' (1 Cor. 15:58); 'for God is not unjust that He should forget your work and the love you have shown His name' (Heb. 10: 35)." 8 Faith without good works is dead, as St. James makes clear: ..What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead" (James 2: 14-17).

Although justification itself, the gift of sanctifying grace, cannot be merited, justified men can merit an increase in grace by good works. This increase is not produced by their efforts alone; God grants it freely as a reward. The Reformers denied such a possibility as they claimed that it would make God man's debtor, clearly an impossible situation. But there are two ways by which we can justly expect recompense of another: by having done him a service which puts him under an obligation to us or because he had previously promised us a reward if we performed certain actions. It is in the latter respect that we can merit an increase of grace, because it is a reward freely offered by a bountiful Lord. St. Paul clearly believed that he would receive such a reward when he wrote: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7, 8). The words "crown of righteousness" and "righteous judge" express very forcibly the idea of a recompense which has been merited and is due in justice. As the Council of Trent explains: "Christ promises even to the person who gives a drink of cold water to one of His least ones that he shall not be without his reward" (Matt. 10: 42). 9 The teaching of the Church as defined by this Council is that good works done with the help of God by one who is a living member of Christ truly merit increase of grace and the life eternal.


The good works of a justified man are by no means something done in isolation from Christ for which he can claim a purely personal credit. They are meritorious only and precisely because they are in a very real sense Christ's actions, activities of the new Divine life of grace. It is not for us to boast as Christ brings forth the fruit.
(Rom. 3:27)

Christ has made Himself the Head of the new humanity; He wishes to make of redeemed mankind one Body and thus make it the extension and fulfillment of Himself. Grace is life in Christ-----the good works of a member of the Mystical Body are done with Christ, for the life of grace is a life of co-operation between Christ and His members. "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing . . . By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (Jn. 15:4, 5, 8). Nor are our good works done in isolation from the other members of the Mystical Body, incorporation into Christ incorporates us into all His members, that fellowship of grace which we call the Church. The ultimate end of Holy Communion is not simply the union of the individual soul with Christ but the unity of the Mystical Body.

Pope St. Leo said in a Christmas sermon: "Let us thank God the Father through His Son in the Holy Ghost, Who took pity on us in the great love He bore us, and Who, when we were dead in sin, gave us life in and with Christ, that in Him we might become a new creature, newly fashioned. Let us renounce our old selves and all that we did then, and having received a share in the Sonship of Christ let us put away the works of the flesh. Christians, recognise your dignity, and having received a share in the Divine nature, beware of falling back into your former lowliness. Consider Whose Body it is of which you are a member, and Who its Head. Remember how you were snatched from darkness and set in God's kingdom of light. Through the Sacrament of Baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Ghost. Beware of driving out so great a Guest by your sinful deeds and subjecting yourselves once more to the slavery of the devil. For your ransom was the Blood of Christ. He will judge you in justice, Who redeemed you in mercy." 10

1. Lectures on Justification, 112.
2. D, 799.
3. Ibid.
4. ST, I-II, Q. CXIII, art. 9, ad. 2.
5. D, 797.
6. D, 798.
7. Ibid.
8. D, 809.
9. D, 810.
10. Roman Breviary, 2nd Nocturn, Lesson vi, Christmas Day. For a detailed treatment of Justification and Grace see: ESR, Chapter VI. CDT, Entries on Justification, Grace, Merit. TCC, Chapters XVI and XVII.
CT, Decree of Justification of the Council of Trent, p. 230 ff. Pius Parsch, Seasons of Grace (London, 1963). This is an invaluable exposition of the nature of grace as taught through the readings at Mass during the liturgical year. Much of this chapter is based upon Fr. Parsch's book. D. Knowles, Grace, The Life of the Soul, C.T.S.

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