Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Discussion: Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification

Updated: 6/28/07

My friend hilasterion is working through Alister McGrath's book. Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. I have interest in this book, not because I feel it's the definitive historical work on this subject, but rather because of the way Roman Catholics cite this book. It amazes me how frequently McGrath is either misquoted, or misunderstood by Rome's apologists. I think I first heard about this book listening to an old debate between Gerry Matatics and James White. Gerry referred to it as proof Protestant scholars see faith alone as theological novum.

hilasterion started a CARM discussion thread:


Arguments to be discarded.


I'm posting this link here so I can check in on it. He's got some people to contend with: a Lutheran that doesn't like Calvinism, one or two somewhat knowledgeable people, a confused Catholic who stated, "I have never read the book, but Im pretty sure there were post/threads in the past where people said that in that book McGrath said something to the effect that Faith Alone was an invention by Luther and had never been taught by previous Christians."

Update 6/28/07



Yes, it's true, there is now a third edition of this book. Amazon has copies around $80, and used copies start around $68. I found a reasonably priced copy here, which I did purchase. On my sidebar, I link to Abebooks. I purchase many of my books via this site. It's not always the case, but often I can find a book for much less than the Amazon price via Abebooks.

13 comments:

James Swan said...

Hi Apolonio,

I just remembered we were talking about this book a month or so ago. I completely forgot about it, and when I posted this, I was reminded. My apologies to you. I will review your comments, and if there is anything to respond to, I will do so.

Anonymous said...

James,

You might want to note that there is now a third edition of this book. He has rewritten the whole book and brought it up-to-date.

Bill Zuck

L P Cruz said...

Bill,

What of the 'theological novum' bit, any more clarification on his part?

Lito

Oddball Pastor said...

As I read McGrath, he is simply saying that Luther's vision of the nature of justification is the novum. The rest is quite historical.

From there he goes on to say two things. First, that it is no big deal to say that Luther's view has both elements of continuity with the past, and points of discontinuity, as such can be said of any theologian in any age.

Second, he points out that the fact of a novum is only damning if we assume a static model of doctrine, meaning that it does not change at all. This of course cannot be argued by Catholics in this age where RC apologetics relies so much on Newman's notions of development.

pilgrim said...

Even if they weren't taking quotes out of context-

It's true because it's in a book by McGrath?

No, it's true because it's in the Bible...

Apolonio said...

james,

ah ok, i kinda faded off on that discussion too. i still have a graduate course paper to write, contemplating on whether to present at a conference, a summer institute on philosophy to attend (which means I have hw for the next couple of weeks), a summer class, and discerning where to enter for priesthood. so it is ok to take your time on this :-)
Do contact me if you write a response and I'll get back to you when I can.

Also..I remember that some responded to my comments. I think I can let my comments stand on my own on those things, but I do recall that I owe Iohannes a dialogue which I have wanted to have for a long time. Unfortunately, time limits me.

Anonymous said...

James et al,

Here are the relevant highlights from the third edition's discussion of the relation of the Protestant doctrine of justification to that of the tradition of the western church up to that point. This is discussed in the third chapter.

"The most accurate description of the doctrines of justification associated with the Reformed and Lutheran churches from 1530 onwards is that they represent a radically new interpretation of the Pauline concept of 'imputed righteousness' set within an Augustinian soteriological framework. It is clearly of importance to account for this new understanding of the nature of justifying righteousness with its associated conceptual distinction between justification and sanctification....It is the task of the historian to account for this new development, which marks a significant break with the tradition up to this point...The Protestant understanding of the nature of justificattion thus represents a theological novum, whereas its understanding of its mode does not...the essential point is that a notional distinction is made where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine. A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification- as opposed to its mode- must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum."

Anonymous said...

James,

I forgot to sign the previous post which provided the quotations from McGrath's Justitia Dei. The reason that these quotations are important and relevant is due to the promise given by Jesus at the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to be with his Church every day until the end of the world as it carries out its mission of discipling the nations. Unless a particular doctrinal tradition can show such a continuity of proclamation, it cannot stand as the teaching of Christ in his church.

Bill Zuck

GeneMBridges said...

That would only be true if Matt. 28 is speaking of a visible institution and if historical continuity is a valid rule of faith. Where are the supporting arguments for either?

Christ being with His church every day in Matt. 28 does not select for a doctrine of indefectibility and incorruptibility, nor does it select for a rule of faith that runs along historical continuity in regard to dogmatic formulas from one generation to the next.

Already, in the NT itself, the letters were being written to counter heresies arising in the churches. The Creeds were formed to combat heresies as well. Was Nicene subordinationism to be found in the preaching of the first century church?

If true, that sort of logic would rule out Romanism and Orthodoxy. Is Rome today teaching the same thing as the Early Church Fathers on everything?

James Swan said...

Gene, well said. The claims made, when applied to Rome, defeat Rome. They sound good, but don't deliver.

In regard to the McGrath quote, a key to the phrase is "western theological tradition". I have done a lot of blog entries on this, and I dislike repeating myself. However, for the most part, I point out:

What does McGrath mean by "western theological tradition"? I would assume Roman Catholics think it means their “tradition”- that is, the Roman Catholic Church received their understanding of Justification from the Apostles, and subsequent Church history records the passing on of its understanding to the Church Fathers. Luther then came along “out of the blue” and proclaimed sola fide, quite against the "apostolic tradition."

McGrath though begins his book by studying the Pre-Augustinian “tradition”. He states of this period that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined" [p. 23]. And also, “Furthermore, the few occasions upon which a specific discussion of justification can be found generally involve no interpretation of the matter other than a mere paraphrase of a Pauline statement. Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition” [19]. So, right from the start, McGrath notes 350 years in which one cannot account for what the exact understanding of justifcation was. This compounds the Catholic understanding of justification, because history is supposed to verify their conclusions. Here are 350 years of trouble for Catholics wishing to trace their doctrines in order to validate their doctrines.

McGrath makes the case that Augustine didn't know Greek and the entire direction of the Western Church was redirected away from what the Bible means by justification.

Was Augustine’s view a “theological novum” (a favorite phrase Roman Catholics culled from McGrath)? Who previous to Augustine understood the term the way he did? Consider what McGrath notes: "The pre-Augustinian theological tradition, however, may be regarded as having taken a highly questionable path in its articulation of the doctrine of justification in the face of pagan opposition" [p. 18-19]. McGrath mentions that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined"[ Ibid. 23]. So, where is Augustine's view in the early church?

There was a great ambiguity as to what exactly "justification" was even at Trent, and this is documented by McGrath:"The Council of Trent was faced with a group of formidable problems as it assembled to debate the question of justification in June 1546. The medieval period had witnessed the emergence of a number of quite distinct schools of thought on justification, clearly incompatible at points, all of which could lay claim to represent the teaching of the Catholic church." [p. 259)]. McGrath goes on to point out "...[T]here was considerable disagreement in the immediate post-Tridentine period concerning the precise interpretation of the decretum de iustificatione" [ibid. 268]. In other words, even after Trent made its decree on Justification, Catholics were confused as to how to interpret it!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bridges,

I think you have it backwards. The Church is one body (Eph.4:4) and our bodies are made members of Christ by baptism (1Cor.6:11,15; Gal.3:27).

It is you who must prove that the Church is purely invisible, since preaching, teaching, and baptizing are intrinsically visible operations and the church is built upon the Apostles and Prophets (Eph.2:20 note the order of terms, and that they are gathered together as one genus by the article). These are the legally ordained officers of the Church on which it is built. The foundation must remain in place as long as the Church endures and the gates of death will not prevail against it (Matt.16:18).

The legal terminology of Eph.2:19 speaks of the Church as a self-governing corporation as defined by Roman law. The officers of this corporation were visibly ordained by Christ or the Apostles or the Prophets after them. (Paul, being ordained to his apostolate by the Prophets at Antioch (Acts 13), also visited Jerusalem in order to make sure that he was not ministering in vain (Gal. 2:2).) The N.T. Church was visibly heirarchical just as much as the O.T Church which is hardly surprising given that the jot and tittle of the O.T. remains in force in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt.5:17-19). I could go on.

Please state your case for a purely invisible discontinuous church from the Bible. I've never been able to find one.

Bill Zuck

David Waltz said...

Hi James,

You posted:

>>Gene, well said. The claims made, when applied to Rome, defeat Rome. They sound good, but don't deliver.>>

Me: I disagree; Rome does not (especially after the insights of Newman and Mohler) reject a certain sense of theological novem; and perhaps even more importantly, provides the vehicle by which one can determine if a novem is a legitimate clarification or heresy.


>>McGrath though begins his book by studying the Pre Augustinian “tradition”. He states of this period that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined" [p. 23]. And also, “Furthermore, the few occasions upon which a specific discussion of justification can be found generally involve no interpretation of the matter other than a mere paraphrase of a Pauline statement. Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition” [19]. So, right from the start, McGrath notes 350 years in which one cannot account for what the exact understanding of justifcation was. This compounds the Catholic understanding of justification, because history is supposed to verify their conclusions. Here are 350 years of trouble for Catholics wishing to trace their doctrines in order to validate their doctrines.>>

Me: Newman’s insightful remarks concerning the pre-Nicene Fathers and the Trinity clearly demonstrate that it was not just the doctrine of justification which did not have “exact understanding”.


>>McGrath makes the case that Augustine didn't know Greek and the entire direction of the Western Church was redirected away from what the Bible means by justification.>>

Me: As my Envoy thread on Augustine and justification indicates (http://www.envoymagazine.com/Forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=3010), McGrath may be totally wrong on his assessment of Augustine. I recently found another Prot who is in agreement with me on this:

http://iustificare.blogspot.com/2007/03/meaning-of-dikaioo.html


So it seems to me that all the wind has been taken out of the sails of McGrath’s main argument against Augustine’s view of justification; in fact, one could go so far as to say that McGrath doesn’t even have a sail left…

Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

I own the first edition of Iustitia Dei, but did not opt to by the second, and now am glad I waited! Have decided to order the third ed.; for more options on pricing, see:

http://www.allbookstores.com/book/compare/0521533899


Grace and peace,

David