Thursday, March 18, 2010

Justification and love

Justification consists in God's forgiveness of our sins. What does this forgiveness consist in? At least partly in the taking away of the penalty. But what, most deeply, is the penalty? One thinks here of hell-fire. But while hell may contain fire (or it may contain great cold!), it is not constituted by fire, but by separation from God. Now, lack of charity—lack of the right kind of love for God—is at the heart of separation from God.

So: Divine forgiveness must consist, at least in part, in the removal of the penalty of separation from God, and the removal of our lack of charity. Therefore, the instilling of charity is at least partly constitutive of divine forgiveness. Hence, basic sanctification—the movement from lack of charity to the presence of charity—is not merely causally tied to justification, but is at least partly constitutive of justification. Moreover, this sanctification is not appropriate, and maybe not possible, apart from justification, since a just being is unlikely to waive punishment without forgiving.


Dan Johnson said...

What you call "basic sanctification" sounds to me like what Reformed theologians have called regeneration or the new birth -- which is a necessary (and maybe sufficient) precondition for saving faith. This is just one part of overall sanctification -- the movement to complete moral perfection.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Right, so the claim is that insofar as degeneration is the penalty, regeneration is (at least partly) constitutive of the forgiveness.

Dan Johnson said...

You know, Alex, I'm really comfortable with this claim. I think that, in our conversation, I took you to be claiming that regeneration/transormation is ALL there is to forgiveness or (alternatively and differently) that it is sufficient for forgiveness. That is the claim I'm uncomfortable with.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am open to there being more to it than that, but I don't know what the "more" would be. Part of my worry is about divine simplicity or even immutability.

At t0, you're unforgiven.
At t1, you're forgiven.
What changed?

Tempting suggestion: God's attitude. On the simplest working out of that suggestion, this contradicts immutability.

So, try this: God immutably has a condemnatory attitude towards you-at-t0 and a non-condemnatory attitude towards you-at-t1.

But now: This fact about the attitude either does or does not supervene on facts about creation. If it does not so supervene, then divine simplicity is violated, because presumably in another world God has a condemnatory attitude towards you-at-t1, and the difference between these two worlds will be internal to God. So God could be internally different, which contradicts simplicity.

So, we need supervenience. But now I want to know what the supervenience base is.

Suggestion 1: Charity in the individual.
Suggestion 2: Faith in the individual.
Suggestion 3: Some other property in the individual that is correlated but not identical with charity and faith.

Heath White said...


I follow the reasoning in your last comment, about the need for a supervenience base. There are a couple of issues involved, but here’s one: from the fact that there needs to be a supervenience basis in creation for forgiveness-status, nothing (yet) follows about the direction of causality between the basis in creation and God’s attitude. That is, God’s gracious attitude might cause/explain the change of human attitude (whatever that amounts to), or the change of human attitude might cause/explain God’s attitude. This is roughly the difference between Reformed and Arminian Protestants. I am actually not clear what a Catholic wants to say on this matter.

Second, the original post could be read as saying that the only thing separating us from God is our lack of love for him. This is indeed a problem and needs fixing. If I’m not mistaken, however, it’s pretty universally acknowledged that our natural powers are insufficient to enable us to “reach up to” God; that it requires some effort on God’s end to “reach down” too.

I think the Reformers were most concerned to emphasize this latter dimension of salvation. So what saving faith consists in is the trust or confidence that God will make the necessary effort to reach down to (i.e. love) us. Granted, in addition, we will need to love God. But both pieces need to be in place, and the Reformers would have wanted to say that God’s action is the one to concentrate on.

Dan Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Johnson said...

Alex, some additional suggestions for the supervenience base:

(4) Atonement for sins
(5) Appropriation of that atonement by faith. (This is more specific than suggestion 2, because it specifies the object of faith, so that not just any faith will do, and specifies that there need be an objective act of atonement to be appropriated.)

I think 4 and 5 may explain why the NT emphasis (or at least Paul's) with regard to justification is on faith rather than the instillation of charity, because it is faith which is the means by which the atonement is appropriated.

This also captures my sense that the instillation of charity is not sufficient for forgiveness -- because God could instill charity and a kind of faith (trust that God will do the right thing, perhaps) without providing an atonement for sins, and without the atonement forgiveness is not warranted. (Well, maybe this is strictly speaking metaphysically impossible given that God is necessarily just and wouldn't instill charity without providing atonement -- this basically grants the main point of your post -- but it is at least conceptually possible.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here is an apposite quote from Aquinas: "by sinning a man offends God as stated above (Question [71], Article [5]). Now an offense is remitted to anyone, only when the soul of the offender is at peace with the offended. Hence sin is remitted to us, when God is at peace with us, and this peace consists in the love whereby God loves us. Now God's love, considered on the part of the Divine act, is eternal and unchangeable; whereas, as regards the effect it imprints on us, it is sometimes interrupted, inasmuch as we sometimes fall short of it and once more require it. Now the effect of the Divine love in us, which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby a man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive the remission of guilt, without the infusion of grace."