Aquinas on instant a progressive justification
In my previous post, I referred to two different senses of the word 'sanctification', one referring to an instantaneous sanctification, and the other referring to a progressive sanctification. Why is this distinction important? Because one of the most common Protestant objections to Catholicism (and hindrances to Protestant/Catholic reconciliation) is the claim made by some Protestants that the Catholic Church makes justification depend upon sanctification, so that the believer is progressively justified as he is progressively sanctified. Hence, a Protestant professor of theology like R. Scott Clark can write:
"In the Roman view, sanctification is justification. You are as justified as you are sanctified. Sanctification is progressive and therefore justification is progressive. Ordinarily no one leaves this life justified."
That characterization oversimplifies the Catholic position, precisely because it fails to distinguish between the two types of sanctification. More precisely, it fails to recognize the sense in which the Catholic Church teaches that we are instantly justified (and instantly sanctified) by faith, in baptism, the "sacrament of faith". (Council of Trent VI.7)
To understand the basis for the difference between these two types of sanctification (i.e. instant and progressive), consider St. Thomas Aquinas's answer in Summa Theologica I-II Q.113 a.1 to the question: "Whether the justification of the ungodly is the remission of sins?" (His words are in green font.) He writes:
Justification taken passively implies a movement towards justice, as heating implies a movement towards heat. But since justice, by its nature, implies a certain rectitude of order, it may be taken in two ways: first, inasmuch as it implies a right order in man's act, and thus justice is placed amongst the virtues--either as particular justice, which directs a man's acts by regulating them in relation to his fellowman--or as legal justice, which directs a man's acts by regulating them in their relation to the common good of society, as appears from Ethic. v, 1.
Secondly, justice is so-called inasmuch as it implies a certain rectitude of order in the interior disposition of a man, in so far as what is highest in man is subject to God, and the inferior powers of the soul are subject to the superior, i.e. to the reason; and this disposition the Philosopher calls "justice metaphorically speaking" (Ethic. v, 11). Now this justice may be in man in two ways: first, by simple generation, which is from privation to form; and thus justification may belong even to such as are not in sin, when they receive this justice from God, as Adam is said to have received original justice. Secondly, this justice may be brought about in man by a movement from one contrary to the other, and thus justification implies a transmutation from the state of injustice to the aforesaid state of justice. And it is thus we are now speaking of the justification of the ungodly, according to the Apostle (Romans 4:5): "But to him that worketh not, yet believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly," etc. And because movement is named after its term "whereto" rather than from its term "whence," the transmutation whereby anyone is changed by the remission of sins from the state of ungodliness to the state of justice, borrows its name from its term "whereto," and is called "justification of the ungodly."
Aquinas first says that justification implies a movement toward justice. Then he says that justice implies, by its very nature, a certain rectitude (i.e. rightness) of order. But he notes that rectitude of order can be present in man in two ways.
In one way, justice implies rectitude of order in human actions. And this is justice in the sense of virtue, one of the four cardinal virtues. That is because virtues are habits that exist in the powers of the human soul. (ST I-II Q.50 a.2) And since virtues are rightly ordered habits, it follows that the actions of a man who has the virtue of justice also have rectitude of order. Justice, as a virtue, is rectitude of order in the human will. (ST I-II Q.56 a.6, II-II Q.58 a.4) A man who has the virtue of justice acts justly in relation to his fellowman, considered individually, and in relation to his society, considered with respect to the common good.
The other way that rectitude of order can be present is internally, namely, in the hierarchical relation of the powers of the soul to each other. This is the mode of justice Plato discusses in Book IV of his Republic (427d-444e), and Aristotle discusses in Book V.11 of his Nicomachean Ethics (1138b6-1138b9). According to Aquinas, when the highest power of the soul (i.e. reason) is subject to God, and the inferior powers of the soul are subject to reason, and the body is subject to the soul, then there is rectitude of order (i.e. justice) in man. Adam and Eve had this internal justice as a gift of grace, before they fell. (See here.) They lost this justification instantly, at the very moment that they sinned. Internal justice is lost through mortal sin because mortal sin destroys internal justice by expelling grace and charity. And without grace and charity, there can be no rectitude of order between God and the highest power of our soul. Just as this internal justice was lost instantly, so, according to Aquinas, this internal justice is reacquired instantly by grace on account of Christ, in the justification of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 4:5. Aquinas writes,
"The justice which faith works in us, is that whereby the ungodly is justified, that which in itself consists in the due coordination of the parts of the soul" [iustitia quae fit per fidem in nobis, est per quam iustificatur impius, quae quidem in ipsa debita ordinatione partium animae consistit].(ST II-II Q.58 a.2 ad.1)
By grace our will is turned back to God and away from sin, and so rectitude of order is restored between the highest power of our soul and God. (ST I-II Q.113 a.8) But the rectitude of order between reason and the inferior powers of the soul is not restored instantly by grace. This remaining disorder is called concupiscence, and it remains after our baptism, for the sake of our participation in overcoming it, for our humility and so to remind us that our true home lies in the life to come. (ST III Q.69 a.3) Likewise, the rectitude of order between the soul and the body is not restored instantly by grace. This is why our bodies are subject to sickness, and why bodily death remains. (For the sake of simplicity I am not here addressing the topic of infused moral virtues -- cf. ST I-II Q.63 a.3.)
Since justice can be in us in these two ways, therefore justification can be both instant and progressive, without any contradiction.
Instant justification is the restoration of rectitude of order between the highest power of our soul and God, by the infusion of grace, and thus by the gifts of faith, hope, and charity in which our will turns to God in love, and turns away from loving other things more than God. It is a fundamental reorientation of the will, and that is why it cannot be gradual, for either our will is oriented to God in love, or not. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters." (St. Matthew 6:24) And "He who is not with me is against me". (St. Matthew 12:30) This fundamental orientation of the will at the moment of death determines whether a person spends eternity with God as friend, or eternally separated from God.
Progressive justification, by contrast, is the gradual restoration of rectitude of order between reason and the lower powers of the soul (i.e. the gradual reduction of concupiscence), and the gradual increase of rectitude of order in the habit of the will with respect to action, namely, giving to God and man what each is due, out of love for God as Father, through an increase in sanctifying grace (i.e. an increase in our participation in the divine life of the Trinity). This is how we gradually grow in justice, and thus gradually grow in sanctification. This can be seen in Chapter X of Session VI of the Council of Trent, which reads:
Having, therefore, been thus justified and made the friends and domestics of God, [Eph 2:19] advancing from virtue to virtue, [Ps. 83:7 / 84:7] they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day, [2 Cor. 4:16] that is, mortifying the members [Col. 3:5] of their flesh, and presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, [Rom. 6:13, 19] they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith cooperating with good works, increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ and are further justified, as it is written: He that is just, let him be justified still; [Apoc. 22:11] and, Be not afraid to be justified even to death;[Ecclus. 18:22] and again, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only? [James 2:24] This increase of justice holy Church asks for when she prays: "Give unto us, O Lord, an increase of faith, hope and charity." [Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost]
When the Council of Trent refers to our "having been justified", it is referring to the instant justification by which through grace we are made friends with God, by the reorientation of our will toward God in charity. When the Council of Trent then says that we "increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ", it is referring both to the progressive increase in the virtue of justice by the doing of virtuous acts (made possible by grace), and to the progressive mortification of the members of our flesh (i.e. the subjugation of our lower passions to reason) through our putting to death the "deeds of the body" by the Spirit (Rom 8:18). Notice also that it is in this way that the Council of Trent understands James 2:24. The justification that takes place through our works is not the instant justification that takes place in baptism by which we are made friends with God, but is rather the increase in justification that takes place as we grow in the virtue of justice and in the continual subjugation of concupiscence, and in the growing perfection of our love for God.
This explains, I hope, why it is misleading to claim that the Catholic Church makes sanctification depend on justification, without distinguishing between these two different ways in which through Christ we are justified. To have rectitude of order in all these ways is to be pure, for any impurity is an absence of rectitude of order. In this way, justification is sanctification, for sanctification is the purity necessary for us to see God. (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14) So these two ways in which we are justified are the two ways in which we are sanctified. Moreover, this also shows, I think, why philosophical anthropology is crucial for understanding soteriology. We cannot understand salvation until we understand the sickness from which we are saved. And we cannot understand this sickness until we understand the philosophical 'structure' of the human person.