Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Contarini on Justification (3)

In the next passage (part 1; part 2), Contarini adds a fourth sense of the word “justice.”

First he had listed the particular virtue of justice; then the universal virtue of justice; then “metaphorical justice,” viz., the harmony of the properly ordered mind.

He goes on to say that none of these are sufficient for right standing before God, and so he now adds a fourth type, which he calls “Christian justice.” Here he introduces a distinction between justification before God and justification before men; “justification” cannot be predicated univocally in either case. The first three types suffice for justification coram hominibus. Only the fourth suffices in conspectu Dei.


This [that is, the more noble type of justice discussed last time] is soundness of mind; by reason of this we are accustomed to call a good man “just.” This is the human sense [modus] of justice; it makes a man good, in so far as he is a man, in so far as he is endowed with reason [rationalis]; and, therefore, in our inquiry concerning justification, about which we are speaking, not only do those two prior senses of “justice” fail to satisfy, but this third [sense] also is insufficient; we are inquiring about something more noble. For we are not inquiring about that “justice” that only befits men, but we are inquiring about the “justice” and goodness that befits the sons of God, whose adoption we obtain through Christ, such that we are called and are the sons of God, such that we are partakers of the divine nature.1 Therefore this goodness, this “justice” of the mind, that befits the sons of God is called “Christian justice”; by this [“justice”] we are justified in the sight of God, by the prior [“justices”] we are justified before men. (De Iustificatione, pp. 588-9)

  1. Cf. 2 Peter 1:4.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.