4. Early Church Councils and Magesterial Documents on Infused Grace Through the Council of Trent
Link to the full series of posts here.
Finally, we now will look at magisterial documents to see what the Catholic Church has actually codified into dogma. As helpful as everything has been that we have looked at so far, these texts should be weighted even more as they represent the actual binding teaching on the universal Church.
The following translations of texts from the principle Church documents on grace are taken from The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1955).
First up, we have a letter that is sometimes attributed to Saint Leo, that shows how Rome was dealing with the semi-pelagian debates as Augsutine’s teaching started to circulate through the Church. This letter shows that Augustine’s teaching was formalizing what was already the heart of the Church: this is that cardiac righteousness is a gift from God that enables our will to cooperate with God and grow in grace as God divinizes us. All of this, is a gift from God.
This work would come to be known under the title of Indiculus Caelestini.27 Attributed by some historians to Saint Leo, then a deacon in the church of Rome,28 and by others to Prosper of Aquitaine himself,29 this document shows clearly that Rome was then taking in large portions of Augustinism. The Indiculus recalls the approbation given to the Councils of Carthage and Mileve (416) by Pope Innocent I, and it quotes excerpts from the Tractoria of Pope Zosimus and from the Council of Carthage of 418.30 Like the latter council, the Indiculus teaches that grace is necessary for fallen man.31 It adds that the just still need grace at every moment in order to overcome temptation and persevere.32 Everything good that man does comes from God,33 who acts deep within our hearts with his fatherly inspirations.34 Thus, every good thought and plan and every good movement of the will comes from him without whom we can do nothing.35 Not just the beginning, but also the continuation of our good works and our final perseverance are the effect of Christ’s grace.36 This theology of grace, the Indiculus adds, is only the explicitation of the practical attitude of the Church. For the liturgy of the Church begs God to grant infidels the gift of faith, to lift the veil which covers the eyes of the Jews, to cure heretics, schismatics, and sinners, and to lead catechumens to the grace of baptism.37 The author of the Indiculus has so entered into the thought of Augustine that he can give clear expression to Augustine’s theme of liberating grace:
God’s help and strength do not destroy free will but free it; so that from darkness it is brought to light, from evil to good, from sickness to health, from ignorance to prudence.38
From start to finish, everything in our salvation is the work of Christ’s grace.39 It anticipates all human merit. And when God crowns the merits of his elect, he will only be crowning his own gifts.40 Even the formulas used here are Augustine’s own.
Augustine thus carried the day once more.
THE 2nd COUNCIL OF ORANGE, 529
Right before I entered the Catholic Church, I was given a book by a Lutheran Pastor giving a summary with expcerpts on the history of the great councils in the hopes it would show me the discontinuity among councils in Catholic thought. Having already done a deep dive into this topic of grace and justification, I saw the exact opposite. Where this Lutheran pastor saw elements that sounded proto-Lutheran pertaining to sin and the need for God’s grace but also saw error and contradiction with talk of cooperation and infused virtues, I saw a great chain of all the Catholic principles I had learned about through infused grace. The Council of Orange is one of the best examples where I feel like many Protestants read into it their view of sola fidea via imputed righteousness and fail to grasp the Augustinian core of cardiac righteousness and its relationship to works and merit to see how this council is entirely Catholic and teaches infused grace.
Here we have talk of infusion and cleansing of sin:
- If anyone argues that God awaits our will before cleansing us from sin, but does not profess that even the desire to be cleansed is accomplished through the infusion and the interior working of the Holy Spirit, he opposes the Holy Spirit speaking through Solomon: “The will is prepared by the Lord” [Prov 8,35 Septg], And he opposes the Apostle’s salutary message: “It is God who of his good pleasure works in you both the will and the performance” [Phil. 2,13].
Here, the council acknowledges that faith connects us to justification and faith itself is a gift.
- He is an adversary of the apostolic teaching who says that the increase of faith as well as the beginning of faith and the very desire of faith—by which we believe in Him who justifies the unjustified, and by which we come to the regeneration of sacred baptism—inheres in us naturally and not by a gift of grace. This grace is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, guiding our will away from infidelity to faith, from godlessness to piety. For St. Paul says: “We are convinced of this, that he who has begun a good work in you will bring it to perfection until the day of Christ Jesus” [Phil 1,6]. And he says: “You have been given the favor on Christ’s behalf—not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him” [Phil 1,29]. And again: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not from yourselves, for it is the gift of God” [Eph 2,8]. For those who say that it is a natural faith by which we believe in God teach that all those who are separated from the Church of Christ are, in a certain sense, believers.
- If anyone says that mercy is divinely conferred upon us when, without God’s grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, keep watch, study, beg, seek, knock for entrance, but does not profess that it is through the interior infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we believe, will, or are able to do all these things in the way we ought; or if anyone grants that the help of grace is dependent upon humility or human obedience, and does not grant that it is the very gift of grace that makes us obedient and humble, he contradicts the words of the Apostle: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”’ [/ Cor 4,1]; and: “By the grace of God, I am what I am” [/ Cor 15,10],
Here at the end of the council documents we see discussion of an interior grace received in baptism that allows the justified to work with God for the salvation of their souls. This is very clearly speaking of actual and sanctifying grace.
And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, …
According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. … We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him.
THE 16th COUNCIL OF CARTHAGE, 418
Here, we see another early council speaking of infused grace that cleanses us in initial justification and enables us to do works and sin no more.
- [The bishops of the Council] have likewise decreed: Whoever says that God’s grace, which justifies mankind through our Lord Jesus Christ, has the power only for the remission of those sins already committed, and is not also a help to prevent sins from being committed: let him be anathema.
- They have likewise decreed: Whoever says that God’s grace through Jesus Christ our Lord helps us avoid sin solely because it gives us a very clear knowledge and understanding of the positive and negative commandments, but denies that through this grace there is given to us an ability and a love of doing what we know should be done: let him be anathema. For since the Apostle says: “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies” [1 Cor 8,1], it would be very wrong to believe that we have Christ’s grace for knowledge, which puffs up, and not for charity, which edifies. Knowledge of what we ought to do and love of doing it are both gifts of God. Thus knowledge working with charity cannot make us puffed up. For it is written of God: “He that teacheth man knowledge” [Pr 93,10]; but it is also written: “Love is from God” [1 Jn4,7].
- They have likewise decreed: Whoever says that the grace of justification was given us so that grace could facilitate our fulfilling what our free will is ordered to do, as if to say that, if grace were not given, it would be possible but not easy to obey God’s commandments without that grace: let him be anathema. For the Lord was speaking of the observance of the commandments when he said: “Without me you can do nothing” [Jn 15,5]. He did not say: “Without me it will be more difficult for you to do anything.”
Council of Trent
Of course, the full topic of justification was never fully systematized because it had never been challenged until the Reformation. Like with many doctrines and dogmas of the Church, it wasn’t until these teachings were challenged that the Church moved to define the bounds of acceptable belief surrounding the topic of justification.
Here is the technical language that explains the different causes of justification. I think the precision of this statement is astounding and I have a hard believing that a large group of theologians in the midst of the storm of circumstances surrounding that Council were able to craft it apart from the guiding hand of God. I have a hard time also not seeing how Trent is simply affirming the teachings of the Church stretching back to Augustine, who simply sythesized and formalized the ideas in Church Fathers before him.
The causes of this justification are the following: The final cause is the glory of God and of Christ, and life everlasting. The efficient cause is the merciful God, who freely washes and sanctifies [Eph 1,13 f], sealing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance [1 Cor 6,11]. The meritorious cause is the beloved only-begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies [Rom 5,10], by reason of his very great love wherewith he has loved us [Eph 2,4], merited justification for us by his own most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us to God the Father. The instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the “sacrament of faith”; without faith no one has ever been justified. Finally, the only formal cause is “the justice of God, not the justice by which he is himself just, but the justice by which he makes us just” [cans. 10 and 11], namely, the justice which we have as a gift from him and by which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind. And not only are we considered just, but we are truly said to be just, and we are just, each one of us receiving within himself his own justice, according to the measure the Holy Spirit imparts to each one as he wishes [1 Cor 12, 11], and according to the disposition and cooperation of each one.
Justification is cardiac righteousness:
For although no one can be just unless he is granted a share in the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; still, in the justification of the unjustified that is precisely what happens when, by the merit of the same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Spirit into the hearts [Rom 5,5] of those who are justified and remains in them [can. 11]. Whence in the very act of being justified, at the same time that his sins are remitted, a man receives through Jesus Christ, to whom he is joined, the infused gifts of faith, hope, and charity.
For faith without hope and charity neither perfectly unites a man with Christ nor makes him a living member of his body. Therefore it is said most truly that faith without works is dead [Jas 2, 17 ff] and useless [can. 19], and that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is of any avail, nor uncircumcision, but faith which works through charity [Gal 9,6; 6,15]. This is the faith that, according to apostolic tradition the catechumens ask of the Church before the reception of the sacrament of baptism when they petition for “the faith that gives eternal life.” But faith, without hope and charity, cannot give eternal life. Next the catechumens immediately listen to Christ’s words, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” [Mt 19,11; cans. 18–20], Accordingly, as soon as they are baptized, the catechumens are commanded to keep brilliant and spotless the true Christian justice they have received, as being the best robe [Lk 15,22] that has been given them by Christ Jesus to replace the one Adam lost for himself and for us by his disobedience, so that they may wear it before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ and have life everlasting.
Justification is a gift. Nothing preceeding initial justification merits it.
Chapter 8. The correct meaning of the statement: The sinner is gratuitously justified by faith
But when the Apostle says that man is justified “through faith” [can 9] and “freely” [Rom 3, 22. 24], those words must be understood in the sense that the Catholic Church has always continuously held and declared. We may then be said to be justified through faith, in the sense that “faith is the beginning of man’s salvation,” the foundation and source of all justification, “without which it is impossible to please God” [Heb 11,6] and to be counted as his sons. We may be said to be justified freely, in the sense that nothing that precedes justification, neither faith nor works, merits the grace of justification; for “if out of grace, then not in virtue of works; otherwise (as the same Apostle says) grace is no longer grace” [Rom 11,6].
Because justification is cardiac righteousness, it comes about by grace infused into the person and can also increase over time as we grow in virtue and working with God gifts. Where Protestants want to solely call this sanctification, Catholics don’t make the hard distinction because a key component of justification is the infused grace itself.
Chapter 10. The increase of justification in one who has been justified
Therefore, in this way the justified become both friends of God and members of his household [Jn 15, 15; Eph 2,19], advancing from virtue to virtue [Pr 83, 8], renewed (as the Apostle says) day by day [2 Cor 4, 16], that is, by mortifying the members of their flesh [Col 3, 5] and showing them as weapons of justice [Rom 6, 13.19] unto sanctification by observing the commandments of God and of the Church. When faith works along with their works [Jas 2,22], the justified increase in the very justice which they have received through the grace of Christ and are justified the more [cans. 24 and 32], as it is written: “He who is just, let him be just still” [Apoc 22, 11], and again: “Fear not to be justified even to death” [Ecclus 18,22], and again: “You see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” [Jas 2, 24]. Indeed, the holy Church begs this increase of justice when she prays: “O Lord, give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity.”
Our cardiac righteousness is what makes keeping the law possible and necessary.
No one, even though he is justified, should consider himself exempt from keeping the commandments [can. 20]. And no one should say that it is impossible for the just man to keep the commandments of God, for that is a rash statement censured with anathema by the Fathers [cans. 18 and 22]. “For God does not command the impossible; but when he commands, he cautions you to do what you can, and also to pray for what you cannot do,” and he helps you so that you can do it. His commandments are not burdensome [1 Jn 5, 5]; his yoke is easy and his burden light [Mt 11, 30]. For those who are sons of God love Christ; and those who love him (as he himself testifies) keep his words [Jn 14,23], and this they can certainly do with God’s help.
Here, Trent echoes what St. Agustine said “The justice of God is here said not of the justice by which God is just but of that which God gives to man so that man might be just through God.” (Augustine. In lohannis evangelium. tractatus 26.1, in Corpus Christianorum, La, vol. 36. p. 260). It is not God’s very own justice we recieve, but it is justice from God we receive on account of Jesus did on the cross. If we exclude this infused grace in justification, though, we have missed the key part of what it means to be justified.
- If anyone says that men are justified without Christ’s justice by which he gained merit for us, or are formally just by the justice of Christ: let him be anathema [see 1523,1529}.
- If anyone says that men are justified either through the imputation of Christ’s justice alone, or through the remission of sins alone, excluding grace and charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit and inheres in them, or also that the grace which justifies us is only the good will of God: let him be anathema [see 1528 ff, 1545 f].
Both Jimmy Akin and Dr. Christopher Malloy spend time in their books talking about these two canons as they truly seem to represent a core peice of the disagreement between Protestants and Catholics.
Two key canons act in concert as a pair of “ shears.” Together, they specify the identity of the grace by which the justified stands just before God. Canon 11 maintains the reality of inhering grace, a gift infused through the Holy Spirit, as a necessary component of justification: Men are not justified solely by the favor of God. Canon I 0 maintains both that sinners cannot be justified except on account of the merits of Jesus Christ and also that sinners are not justified forrnally by Christ’s own justice. Together, these two canons exclude from Catholic faith opinions that do not identify the formal cause of justification as the sanctifying gift of grace and/or charity, bestowed by God, that inheres in the human person.
The conclusion that canon 11 does not “ touch” the traditional Lutheran position is not tenable. The real thrust of canon 11 is to affirm that justifying righteousness itself is constituted, at least in part, by the gift of grace infused through the Holy Spirit on account of the merits of Christ. Lutherans do not deny the presence of such a gift in the human person, though they formulate their understanding of it in a much different way than Catholics do. Still, the Lutheran confessional documents exclude any opinion that would “ include” in justifying righteousness the gifts that God infuses into the forgiven sinner. Canon 11 excludes not Seripando’s position but the Lutheran position; more importantly, it expresses something vitally important for Catholic faith: the inhering nature of justifying righteousness. Working in concert with this condemnation, canon 10 explicitly proscribes the notion that Christ’s righteousness formally justifies the sinner. The inhering righteousness affirmed in canon 11 , therefore, constitutes the sole formal cause of justification.
In the next post, we will conclude this series with a review of where we have been and some final remarks on why any of this matters for every Christian.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)
15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
- Rondet, Henri. The Grace of Christ. P. 152–154 ↩
- Akin, J. (2015). The drama of salvation: How God rescues us from our sins and brings us to eternal life. El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers Press. loc. 78 ↩
- Malloy, C. J. (2005). Engrafted into Christ: a critique of the Joint Declaration. New York: P. Lang. p. 79–80 ↩