Lesson 11: Justification - God Works In Us

Read: Summa Theologiae, I-II, 112.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1987-1995.

There is another division of grace, which was not treated in that section because it is not a division between kinds of grace as such, but only effects of grace. This is the division between operating and cooperating grace. These are not two kinds of grace, but two effects of the same sanctifying grace. How do they differ? Operating grace has two elements; cooperating grace has three. In operating grace, God moves and the soul is moved (freely). In cooperating grace, God moves, the soul is moved and in turn moves all of the other powers of man to the moral acts of ordinary life. Operating grace is also called justification. Cooperating grace is also called merit.

St. Thomas begins to examine this question by making a distinction between the virtue of justice and justification, which is what Aristotle calls metaphorical justice. The virtue of justice is in the will and has to do with a disposition to give rights to others. Justification refers to a rightness of order within the person himself. It is not a disposition but an ordering of the intellect, the will and the emotions within themselves because they are ordered towards the true ultimate end of man. In this inner ordering or righteousness, the emotions are subject to the intellect and will and the intellect and will are subject to God. Adam was created in this state before the sin. For everyone after the sin, justification involves a change not just from being without justice but from being in a state contrary to righteousness. Man after sin suffers from concupiscence which means that he has lost inner ordering and now all his powers go their own way. He experiences darkness in the intellect, rebelliousness in the will and does not really enjoy being virtuous in the emotions.

Justification now is a movement from the state of sinfulness involving forgiveness of sins to a state of being in grace. Justification thus includes two conditions now in the time after the Original Sin: the forgiveness of sins and the divine indwelling of the Trinity without which there could be no forgiveness of sins. This is what conversion means.

The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man" (CCC n. 1989).

Justification cannot just be an overlooking of sin on the part of the offended party, as Luther tended to suggest. It must truly involve the presence of habitual or sanctifying grace in the soul. Sin is an offense against God and sin can only truly be forgiven when the mind of the offended party has been reconciled with the offender or when we are at peace with God. God can only be at peace with us because of our natural capacity for Him when his love creates a new form in us which is union with his own divine nature. This peace with God is sanctifying grace. Forgiveness of sins must be the presence of the divine form of God's own life in us. "[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized" (CCC n. 1988).

In an adult, there must be a movement of free choice to experience justification and the presence of grace. John 6:45 says, "Everyone who hears the Father and has learned from Him comes to Me." Learning entails an act of free choice because in order to learn one must consent to what the teacher is explaining. The movement of free choice would not be necessary for someone who did not have the possibility of freely choosing like infants and the insane. They can be justified by baptism. Their catechesis and consent occur after they have reached the age of reason and is to a justification already experienced.

Justification is a movement of free choice, which is twofold: the renunciation of sin and the movement of faith to God. There are four aspects of this movement of free choice: the infusion of grace from God the mover, the movement of free choice to God from the one moved, the movement of free choice rejecting sin which is also moved by God, and the forgiveness of sins itself which is the termination of the movement of justification. This can be seen in the questions asked at baptism:

Do you reject Satan?

And all his works?

And all his empty promises?

Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Since God is an infinite agent who brings about justification, He does not depend on a long preparation. In all natural changes there is a gradual change from one condition to another. This can be the case with justification. The Apostles had three years of instruction by Christ; St. Augustine had about thirty. But God does not have to bring about such a change successively. He can bring it about in an instant as is witnessed in the most famous conversion in the history of the Church, the conversion of St. Paul. This is a moral change and God is not limited by the lack of malleability of the matter, in this case the free choice of the soul. He can dispose it to choose for him in an instant.

From the point of view of the manner of working, the greatest work of God is creation because God brings something into existence from nothing. But creation is completed in the categories of time. Justification consists in God raising a created soul to the categories and experience of eternity. Justification finishes in the nature of God Himself. For this reason, one justified soul from the point of view of the work itself is greater than the whole created universe put together. "The good of grace in one is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe" (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 113, 9, ad 2).

Justification is miraculous if one looks at it from the point of view of human power to bring it about. The Pelagians taught that man could merit justification by his own power. All grace did was allow man to do what he could have done by his own power but just in an easier way. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no active power in man by which he can attain grace. Every work, which can be done by God alone, is miraculous in this sense.

Sometimes the manner in which justification is carried out is beyond the customary order and in that sense is miraculous. An analogy would be when a sick man recovers his health instantaneously completely beyond the skill of art or nature. St. Paul's justification was like this, but not the other Apostles.

But for something to be completely miraculous there can be no passive potential in the nature of the thing for the particular action. For example, there is no power in asses to prophesy or in the wind and the sea to be calmed by the word of a man or a body to rise from the dead by the work of a man. Yet, Balaam's ass prophesied and Jesus raised the dead and calmed the wind and sea by his word. This is not the case with grace. There is a natural capacity in man for God and therefore for grace because of the presence of the intellect. "The soul is naturally capable of grace" (ST, I-II, 113, 10, corp.). "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you" St. Augustine.

The one thing, which must be crystal clear, is that no one merits justification by works. Man can prepare himself to receive the justification of grace by allowing God to move his free will, but this is not a human motion in origin. It is only a human motion in effect. The primary cause is God.


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