The Vault

T.C. Hammond: JUSTIFICATION – “A Most Wholesome Doctrine”

From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, April 17, 1956.

39 Articles: Article 11 – Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings; wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

The eleventh article introduces us to the most important point of controversy in the sixteenth century. It would not be an exaggeration to say that polemics raged round the question of Justification by Faith.

It is sometimes said that the controversy on this particular issue was not as acute in England as on the Continent of Europe. It is also pointed out that a possible explanation of this fact may be found in the surmise that Cardinal Pole had certain sympathies with the Reformed position on this subject. But these statements must be taken with care. We know that Pole’s bitter enemy Caraffa, who ascended the Papal throne as Paul IV, summoned him before the newly established Inquisition at Rome, but Pole’s death prevented any inquiry into his opinions.

Another feature that must be taken into account in forming a judgment on this interesting point is that the discussion in England naturally settled round a question that could he more easily determined in a Court of Justice. The language of the Council of Trent on Justification made any discussion on the matter extremely intricate. It was much easier to secure conviction on the denial of the existence in the consecrated elements of the real and true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The shifting of emphasis consequent upon the number of indictments for heresy in the reign of Mary is easily understood, but must not be taken too readily as evidence that a cardinal point of doctrine was either ignored or relegated to a subordinate position.

Read the Homily.

Against any such hasty generalization it is highly desirable that students should consult the “Homily on the Salvation of Mankind” drawn up by Archbishop Cranmer, issued first in 1547 and endorsed by the authority of the Articles. The Article which we are considering first read in 1552 “Justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ in that sense which is explained in the Homily concerning Justification is a most certain and wholesome doctrine of Christians.” It was altered to our present form in 1563 and again endorsed in the very same form in 1571. It would be a grave error, therefore, to assume that the doctrine of Justification by Faith occupied a minor position in the thought and doctrinal formulations of the English Reformers. In view of the importance assigned to the Homily on Justification (which is beyond doubt, having regard to the subject matter, identical with the “Homily on the Salvation of Mankind”) it is a ground for regret that this important work is so little read.  It may be advisable to refer to some of the main features of the Homily later.

The expanded Article which dates from 1563 was drawn up when the Council of Trent had almost concluded its sittings. The subject of Justification was discussed in the Sixth Session of the Council held on the 13th January, 1547. So that Trent was discussing the subject shortly before Cranmer’s Homily appeared in print. Sixteen years after the Tridentine definition the Article was expanded and took its present form. The expanded form deals so directly with some of the propositions advanced at Trent that there can be little doubt that the framers were conversant with the Tridentine determination and repelled some of its decisions. Perhaps the most startling opposition to this opinion is found in Pusey’s “Eirenicon” where he stated: “There is not one statement in the elaborate chapters on Justification in the Council of Trent which any of us could fail of receiving; nor is there one of their anathemas on the subject, which in the least rejects any statement of the Church of England” (P. 19, Parker Oxford, 1865).

The Roman View.

In view of serious conflict of opinion, created mainly by the rise of the Tractarian movement, it becomes necessary to examine the Article closely and to compare it with parallel statements of The Council of Trent. Time will only permit the discussion in this section of the opening words. The Article asserts “We are accounted righteous before God.” The Latin verb employed puts the meaning beyond question. It is the word “reputemur” and has the original meaning of counting over, reckoning. Hence the Article asserts in the most positive language that the justified man is one who is reckoned righteous. The Council of Trent rejects very definitely this interpretation of the word justification. It asserts “The alone formal cause (of justification ) is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby he maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by  Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation.” (Sess. VI, Chap. VII.) There is here a direct contradiction. The Article says “We are accounted righteous”. The Council of Trent says “we are made just.” It is hardly likely that sixteen years after the Council the divines of England were unaware of this cardinal distinction. This instance alone renders Pusey’s declaration open to the gravest suspicions. In our next Article we hope to show that the Hebrew usage in the Old Testament supports the position adopted as to the meaning of the word “justify.”

This article from the ACR Vault is part of our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one.

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