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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article One Whether the Justification of the Ungodly is the Remission of Sins

Whether the Justification of the Ungodly is the Remission of Sins

We proceed to the first article thus:

1. It seems that the justification of the ungodly is not the remission of sins. It is clear from what was said in Q.71, Arts.1 and 2, that sin is opposed not only to justice, but to all virtues. Now justification means a movement towards justice. Hence not every remission of sin is justification, since every movement is from one contrary to its opposite.

2. Again, it is said in 2 De Anima, text 49, that each thing should be denominated by what is most prominent in it. Now the remission of sins is brought about primarily by faith, according to Acts 15:9; |purifying their hearts by faith,| and also by charity, according to Prov.10:12: |love covereth all sins.| It should therefore be denominated by faith, or by charity, rather than by justice.

3. Again, the remission of sins seems to be the same as calling, since one who is called is at a distance, and since we are separated from God by sin. Now according to Rom.8:30: |whom he called, them he also justified,| calling comes before justification. It follows that justification is not the remission of sins.

On the other hand: a gloss on Rom.8:30, |whom he called, them he also justified,| says: |that is, by the remission of sins.| It follows that the remission of sins is justification.

I answer: understood passively, justification means the movement towards justice, in the same way as to be heated means the movement towards heat. But justice, considered in its own nature, means a certain right order, and may be understood in two senses. In one sense it means the right order of a man's action. Such justice is reckoned as one of the virtues, either as particular justice, which regulates a man's action in relation to another individual, or as legal justice, which regulates his action in relation to the good of the community, as explained in 5 Ethics 1. In a second sense it means the right order of a man's inward disposition, signifying the subordination of his highest power to God, and the subordination of the lower powers of his soul to the highest, which is reason. The philosopher calls this |metaphorical justice,| in 5 Ethics 11.

Now justice of this latter kind may be brought about in two ways. It may be brought about by simple generation, which is from privation to form. Justification in this wise may happen even to one who is not in sin, through his receiving justice from God, as Adam is said to have received original justice. But it may also be brought about by movement from contrary to contrary. When it is brought about in this latter way, justification means the transmutation from a state of injustice to the state of justice which we have mentioned. It is this that we mean when we speak here of the justification of the ungodly, in agreement with the apostle's words in Rom.4:5: |But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.| And since a movement is denominated from its terminus ad quem rather than from its terminus a quo, the transmutation, wherein one is transmuted by remission of sin from a state of injustice to a state of justice, is called |the justification of the ungodly.|

On the first point: every sin involves the disorder of a man's insubordination to God. Every sin may therefore be called an injustice, and consequently a contrary of justice. As it is said in I John 3:4: |Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.| Deliverance from any sin is therefore called justification.

On the second point: faith and charity subordinate man's mind to God in specific ways, in respect of the intellect and in respect of the will. But justice means right order in general, and the transmutation referred to is therefore denominated by justice, rather than by faith or charity.

3. Again, |calling| refers to the help of God, who moves the mind from within and excites it to renounce sin. This moving of God is not itself remission of sin, but the cause of it.

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