Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Contarini on Justification (10)

The next installment of Contarini’s On Justification. Here Contarini attributes justification to God in a tricolon with exactly parallel structure (“God alone remits sins, God gives grace, God justifies the wicked”). He then attempts to elucidate the relationship in conversion between the action of the Holy Spirit and the human will and intellect. The will is not moved without the prior action of God, and yet the will, when it does move, does so voluntarily and without coercion. The Holy Spirit turns (convertendo) the will (voluntas) to God, and yet the turning (conversio) is voluntary (voluntaria). The “turning” or conversion is a kind of double movement, away from one contrary (wickedness) and toward another (God). Conversion, then, is for Contarini a motion, and that motion is faith, identified with trust in the divine promises.


Now is the time for us to come to an explication of justification, and first of all of that justification by which a wicked adult [adultus] goes from being1 an unjust man to a just one. If one inquires about the efficient cause of this justification, no one can doubt that it is from the Holy Spirit, for God alone remits sins, God gives grace, God justifies the wicked. The mode, however, by which the Holy Spirit brings this about is a motion–and even an inspiration, by which He enlightens the intellect and moves the will, for in fact this is the mode by which a man does anything in so far as he is a man, such that, as is plain, he does it of his own accord and voluntarily. The Holy Spirit, moreover, moves the will of a man by turning [convertendo] it to God, and by this procedure [hac ratione] is both the heart prepared by the Lord and a man prepares himself, in so far as this turning is voluntary, in no way coerced. But since no one is able voluntarily to turn to God, unless he turn away from wickedness and from sin (just as happens in any motion at all, for in any given case one draws back from one contrary in order to come to the other contrary), for that reason first the will of man draws back from sin, leaves wickedness behind,2 through the renunciation of wickedness and sin; next he raises himself to God, to whom he turns back. This first motion of the soul, as blessed Thomas says and as can be inferred by the plainest reason, is the motion of faith, which motion or act [actum] we call “faith.” This motion, moreover, begins from the will, which, being obedient to God and to faith, brings it about that the intellect assents without hesitation to the things handed down by God and, for that reason, has confidence [confidat] in the divine promises and from them conceives firm trust [fiduciam], which pertains to the will, with the result that this faith, as it were by a circle, begins from the will and terminates upon the will. (De Iustificatione, p. 590)

  1. The Latin term is fit: “becomes,” “is made,” “is rendered,” “is regarded.”
  2. The connective is omitted intentionally, reflecting the asyndeton in the original.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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