Vol II No. 5
English Reformation

Justification by Faith in Anglican History

by sinetortus


By Bishop FitzSimons Allison

(This article comprised one of the Papers given at this year’s

Prayer Book Society Conference in Savannah in February, 2018)


Part I

There are an unlimited number of ways that the biblical and PrayerBook teachings on Justification can be distorted or denied. However, they all share one factor, sin. God’s righteousness, Luther thought, was the righteousness that condemned the unrighteousness and Luther knew himself to be a sinner and thus God’s righteousness was a permanent condition of condemnation. It was only after the Gospel news broke through that Christ’s righteousness was disclosed in making us righteous- in his birth, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection for us sinners. The justice (same word as righteous) is precisely for the saving of sinners, including Martin Luther. That was the spring board for the Reformation: not condemnation but justification for sinners.

We can, however, hold this experience out before us as an idea without participating in it with our personal shame, guilt, hopes, despair, and pride. We must repent. There is a symbiotic relationship between repentance and justification. The wonderful freeing confident experience of justification (catch 22)  is not accessible without repentance and true repentance cannot be accomplshed without the experience of justification. I am not unaware that I am treading on slippery ground but we have recently been given an exhilarating recovery of true repentance that helps with this dilemma.

It is Dr. Ashley Null’s book, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance:Renewing the Power to Love. Reflecting on Cranmer (and Melancthon) he recovers for us a deeper grasp of our human condition that underlies our Prayer Book.  “What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” Repentance is not mere remorse and regret and wishing for more will-power. It is deeper than mind or will.  We tend to blame our will power when we do what is wrong. Actually it is our heart that needs to change. Our wills are the tools of our hearts. What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.

With a change of heart, repentance becomes not mere remorse or regret but a “renewing of the power to love”. Our pride will continue to blame our will power and protect our heart from responsibility or change. Jeremiah, along with the other prophets, tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things”. But Jesus said it best: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and defiles a person. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication,  theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:18,19) Only when the heart hears the Good News of true righteousness (justification) can regret and remorse turn into “renewing the power to love”. St. Paul shows us what Christ’s righteoueness truly is (2 Cor. 3:9)”For if there was splendor in the dispensation of condemnation (the law), the dispensation of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor.”

This is the great counter-culture text where the opposite of condemnation is righteousness. The message to the heart must be more than the message of law, which always  condemns, The message of righteousness, which justifies the sinner, far exceeds it in splendor.

Ashley has a way of showing Cranmer’s approach to sinners with God’s enthrallment, his allurement that evokes response from hard hearts. Has anyone said it better than John Donne? “Batter my heart three personed God . . . for I, except you enthrall me, never shall I be free.”

How does God enthrall, captivate, entice and charm us and change our hearts. He enthralls us with the infinite wonder and complexity of his creation. His enticement with us begins in what we call Christmas.  He visits us as a weak and , vulnerable baby that Christopher Smart marvels at in hymn 491, “Oh the strength of infant weakness.” He enthralls us with his wisdom at the age of 12. He captiviates us with his healings and especially with his mercy. He continues to entice us with his courage to face down the Pharisees with their cruel hope of their own self-righteousness. He entices us by treating us sinners as righteous. He enthralls us by rebuking the cynical Sadducees who denied the blesssed hope of resurrected life. He captivates us by not riding on an Arabian steed carrying a sword but on a lowly donkey. He awes us by his humble realism about the cost of mercy and even more by his willing painful payment of that cost in crucifixation and death. And does he not enthrall us as in his everlasting power over death at a meal on the road to Emmaus and eating fish with his disciples after the Resurrection?

Why have we missed this great good news about  repentance being the renewing of the power to love? I would like to add something that Ashley doesn’t mention.

The dictionary definition of repentance tells us that it means “to change our minds,” “to regret,” “to feel sorry”, “to feel remorse”. Repentance is  certainly not a happy word. But the good news is that the dictionary is wrong. Repentance is not mere regret or remorse, rather it is the “renewal of the power to love”.

How did we get this wrong? It has to do with translation. Cranmer knew our problem has to do with our hearts not our minds. The Greeks, not having the revelation of scripture, believed that it was our minds not our hearts that needed changing. The Greek word metanoien,means change of mind. Thirty eight pages in Volume IV of Kittle’s Word Book of the Bibletell us that repentance in scripture in all contexts without exception, means change of heart, not change of mind, in spite of the Greek word metanoein.

Why does it matter? For 2000 years translations of repent have falsely called it change of mind. The Greeks believed that “knowledge equals virtue” so if you become educated virtue will follow. Hence the Greeks had no word for “change of heart.” There is no such word as metakardia. To truly repent we need to know what needs changing and it is not simply our minds. Mark Twain said that giving up smoking was the easiest thing in the world. “I’ve done it a thousand times.” We can change our minds 6 times before breakfast but changing our hearts (metakardia) is a matter of God’s enthrallment. That is why true repentance and justification are symbiotic.


Part II

The righteousness,wherewith we shall be clothed in the world to come, is both perfect and inherent.  That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified, inherent, but not perfect. (Hooker, “A Learned Discourse of Justification,” Ecclesiastical Polity(Everyman Edition, p. 16)

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) is the example of classical Anglican teaching on Justification. He summarizes this teaching in these three simple sentences while making it clear that the “grand question which hangeth yet in the controversy between us and the Church of Rome, is about the matter of justifying righteousness.” (op. cit., p. 17) Hooker then proceeds to list all the significant agreements between the two communions culminating with the “grand question,” the issue of the formal causeof justification that separates us.

The formal cause is defined as “that which make a thing to be what it is.” The Council of Trent (1545-1563) had claimed it to be the “infusion of inherent righteousness” thereby making the justified truly righteous by a righteousness of their own.  This true righteousness being inherent renders the justified sinless unless or until one commits a mortal sin which then results in the loss of grace and must be restored by the sacrament of Penance.

The result of this decree denies that Christians are sinners until they commit a mortal sin. “Venial expressions of concupiscence hath not the formal nature of sin.” (Session V) This denial of sin in the regenerate, what the Reformers called simul justus et peccator, at the same time justified and a sinner, stems from Trent’s claim that the formal cause of justification is the infusion of inherent righteousness. In contrast, the Reformers claimed that Christ’s righteousness alone makes us treated, or worded, or reckoned as righteous before God.  It is not that we ourselves now satisfy the righteousness of God, as Trent claimed, but it is Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed or reckoned to us.

The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is the classical Anglican position from Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, George Downame, John Davenant, James Ussher, Joseph Hall, Robert Sanderson, John Donne, and John Prideaux: all following Prayer Book teaching until the middle of the 17th century.

Trent’s position, in reaction to the Reformers, did not easily prevail. The Conference of Ratisborn (Regensburg) in 1541 had three Roman Catholics and three Reformers who found a middle way by holding that justification of sinners was accomplished by acknowledging that although there be inherent righteousness in a justified person “nevertheless the faithful soul depends not on his own but only on the righteousness of Christ . . . thus by faith in Christ we are accepted through his merits and not on account of righteousness inherent in us . . .”

The singular advantage of this agreement acknowledges that even in the regenerate there is yet sin and in our frailty we must depend upon the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.  Unfortunately, Luther could not be persuaded by this affirmation and the subsequent Council of Trent in its 6thSession overwhelmingly defeated the position of acknowledging sin in the regenerate, the position held by Cardinals Contarini (who was a major figure at Ratisborn but died in 1542) and Seripando (head of the Augustinian Order), as well as Reginald Pole (later Cardinal).

The Cambridge scholar Dermot Fenlon has written a most important and poignant account of the fight put up by Seripando and Pole at Trent and how devastated the latter was as he rode away from the Council in depression. (Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy: Cardinal Pole and the Counter Reformation, Cambridge, 1972)

What is at stake in this argument? We get a clue from the General of the Jesuit Order, Diego Lainez, the successful leader at Trent on this issue who claimed that the position of Pole and Seripando “would undercut the structure of satisfactions, indulgences andpurgatory.(Italics provided) (Pelican J., Reformation of Church and Dogma,p.284)

Each of these issues, plus the Roman Catholic teachings of works of supererogation, stem from the assertion that our own infused righteousness satisfies the absolute righteousness of God which most people, excluding sociopaths, know is not so and are left with a hunger for righteousness other than their own. Other consequences of Trent’s teaching that inherent righteousness is the formal cause are the denial of the possibility of unconscious sin or corporate guilt which cripples pastoral ministry and curtails the nurture of responsible citizenship.

The Roman Catholic Dominican, Dom Victor White, shows the pastoral irresponsibility of denying unconscious sin.

This idea of “unconscious sin” is often a difficult one for the moral theologian to grasp.  Especially if he has been brought up in the traditions of Post-Reformation Catholicism [after the Council of Trent] he may find it particularly hard to square with his correct notions that mortal sin must be voluntary, performed with full knowledge and consent. But it is a fact that the psyche is much less indulgent to unconscious breaches of its own laws and demands . . . and will revenge itself for their disregard . . .

He appends a valuable observation:

The exclusive emphasis of later theologians on “full knowledge and consent” can have the unfortunate result of putting a certain premium on unconsciousness, irresponsibility and infantilism. (Mairet, ed. Christian Essays in Psychiatry,p. 165.)

As an obedient Roman Catholic, White must put unconscious sin in quotation marks because it seems to conflict with the “correct” notions that, since Trent, sins must have full knowledge and consent. But clearly he feels quite unhappy with this restraint under which spiritual directors and psychiatrists must work to stay in accord with the church’s teachings after Trent.

The article on “The Psychology of Guilt” in the New Catholic Encyclopediarecognizes unconscious guilt to be a pervasively destructive phenomenon. It does not relate such guilt to one’s spiritual condition and distinguishes it from moral guilt by terming it material guilt.

The issue of material guilt has no meaning to it other than its producing a feeling of excessive fear of retaliation in interpersonal relationships about wrongdoing (due to ignorance, misconceptions, immaturity, or to repression, displacement, and substitution), which loses its significance at death since it vanishes then, or before death as one learns from experience.  Moral guilt, however, binds one to an accounting for wrongdoing in the relationship with God, to be resolved by His judgment at death; therefore one must consciously seek to do good and avoid evil.

This outrageous sealing off sinfully destructive unconscious aspects of human self-damage is a direct necessity of Trent’s claim that our righteousness, though given, is without sin.  How can one possibly exegete Matt. 25:44-46.

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry

or thirsty . . .? Then he will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you

did it not to one of the least of these you did it not to me.”

Following the necessities of Trent this New Catholic Encyclopediateaches that as long as you were ignorant and did not know you were responsible, responsibility vanishes at death. This insistence by Trent that there cannot be sin while in a state of grace was reasserted by the article on “Grace” in the Catholic Encyclopedia

For since sin and grace are diametrically opposed to each other the mere advent of grace is sufficient to drive sin away . . . immediately brings about holiness, kinship with God, and a renovation of spirit . . . and therefore a remission of sin without a simultaneous interior sanctification is theologically impossible.  As to the interesting controversy whether the incompatibility of grace and sin rests on merely moral, or physical, or metaphysical contrarity, refer to Pohl (1909), Scheeben (1898)

A similarly fatal consequence of Trent is its logically consequential denial of corporate political responsibility. The article “Collective Responsibility” in the New Catholic Encyclopediadeals with collective guilt as a legitimate Old Testament phenomenon and teaching but not appropriate in the New Testament or in subsequent Christian history.  The refusal to acknowledge collective responsibility is a consequence of Trent’s denial of sin in the regenerate. Only those who have full knowledge and consent to bribery or torture are responsible. This fact has had a debilitating effect on Roman Catholic cultures and countries.  Without a sense of corporate accountability democracies do not flourish; tyranny and corruption do.

Russell Reno, an Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism and editor of the excellent journal, First Things, has an interesting wish in a recent edition (Jan. 2012) He had hoped that the Confiteorwould be used instead of the Kyrie in the new revision of the Mass because of the need to confess during Mass that what we have done and failed to do is through “my fault . . through my most grievous fault. . .” It is interesting that is exactly Hans Kung’s argument that Trent does not really mean what it has traditionally been understood to mean about sin in the regenerate (simul justus et peccator). He shows that the Mass revised after Trent made it clear that even the celebrant in a state of grace was yet a sinner by words and actions of “my fault, my most grievous fault” said as the celebrant strikes his chest three times.

Trent’s denial that sin is in a person who is in a state of grace was rebutted by the Confiteorand Anglicans, especially Lancelot Andrewes, by his asking to be shown any saint who claimed on his deathbed an inherent righteousness of his own. Instead, all without exception confessed their hope in the mercy of Christ.

One of the difficulties involved in the teaching regarding the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness” is the various English translations of logidzomai as “imputation,” “reckon,” “regard,” “treat as.” The stem of the word is logosas in “Word was made flesh . . .”  Logidzomai is the Word-made-verb.

My friend, Tom Wright, objects to Hooker’s teaching on imputation because it is “not the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer.  It is his death and resurrection.” (Justification, 232-233) But the death and resurrection isthe righteousness of Christ. In II Cor. 3:9 “For if there was splendor in the dispensation of condemnation the dispensation of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor.” This righteousness is the opposite of condemnation and the righteousness of Christ is action by which he makes righteous. As a clean housewife is clean by cleaning so Christ’s righteousness is the righteousness by which He makes us righteous. It is not a passive, aloof righteousness by which we are condemned but, to quote the Litany, it is “the holy Incarnation, the holy Nativity and Circumcision, the Baptism, Fasting and Temptation, his Agony and Bloody Sweat, his Cross and Passion, his Death and Burial, his glorious Resurrection and Ascension. . .” (It was this very transforming understanding of righteousness that was crucial in Luther’s conversion.)

After posing a contradiction between righteousness, on one hand, and death and resurrection, on the other, Wright goes on to say that because Christ has died “God regards (logidzomai) (italics supplied) me and I must regard (italics supplied) myself –as someone who had died to sin and raised to newness of life.” “The challenge to the believer . . . is to reckon (logidzomai) (italics supplied) that this is true. . .”  Here he uses “regard” and “reckon,” two standard synonyms for imputation, to repudiate imputation. What Wright is fighting is not 16thand early 17thcentury Anglican understanding of imputation, nor of modern evangelicals such as John Stott and J. I. Packer, but the teaching “that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believed in him.”(p.232) Such a view as “obtained righteousness” cannot be found in Hooker or any of these classical Anglicans, or in the Wesleys or Charles Simeon and seems to be a caricature of Evangelical teaching.(I would recommend the article on Imputation in the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Churchwhich provides a much needed replacement of the previous misleading article which misinformed us for 40 years.)