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

Contarini on Justification (13)

It’s been about six months, and it’s time to get back to Gasparo Contarini’s De iustificatione. I will include the previous two installments above the new one for the sake of context.

The bit that is new here begins “These Protestants…” and is, in my view, one of the more important passages in the treatise due to its discussion of duplex iustitia, “twofold justice/righteousness,” the one imputed (in this instance he uses the verb donare, but elsewhere imputare) and the other infused or imparted (“poured out”), with the two carefully distinguished rather than collapsed into one another even though they are granted simultaneously to the sinner.


The promise of God, moreover, which it [i.e., faith] firmly believes–and for that reason conceives trust [fiduciam]–is (as blessed Thomas says in the First Part of the Second Part), that God remits sins and justifies the wicked through the mystery of Christ. For He Himself became the author of salvation for all those who believe in Him.1 Therefore this motion of faith, after the renunciation of sin, raises the mind to God and turns [convertit] the soul [animum] to Him. When [the soul] has been turned, God, pouring his own Spirit [into it], heals, sanctifies, justifies, adopts it for a son through the Spirit of his own Son, through whom, when He has been poured into our hearts, we cry, “Abba, Father.”2 In addition, he grants to us, together with the Spirit of Christ, Christ Himself; and all his justice–for free [gratis], out of his own mercy–he makes ours, he imputes [imputat] to us who have put on Christ.

Meanwhile, however, while the soul is thus being prepared3 by the Lord and prepares itself, since this preparation does not come about in a moment of time, except in the case of a miracle, as happened to the Apostle Paul, if the opportunity should be present he who is being turned [converted] does good works and refrains from evil. Nevertheless, justification and sanctification is not rendered4 for works–as Paul says, as blessed Augustine says in countless passages, and as Thomas [says] expressly in the First Part of the Second Part–but is owed to faith,5 not because we merit justification by faith and because we believe, but because we receive it6 by faith; for thus the Apostle says in the Letter to the Galatians: “receiving the promise of the Spirit by faith.” Likewise in the Letter to the Romans: “through whom we have access into this grace by faith.” In the Letter to the Hebrews: “It is necessary that the one approaching God believe,” because by believing do we approach this access. That which the Apostle calls “receiving” blessed Thomas in the Third Part names “application,”7 saying that the passion of Christ is, as it were, a common8 medicine, which each one applies to himself by faith and the sacraments9 of faith

These Protestants name [it] “apprehension”–not with the meaning that you suppose in the letter given to me, which obviously pertains to the knowledge of the intellect, but with the meaning set out above: obviously, by that meaning [of the term] we say that we “apprehend” that thing at which we arrive and which we reach10 after our movement.11

We reach, moreover, a twofold justice: the one inherent in us, by which we begin to be just, and are made partakers of the divine nature, and have charity poured out in our hearts; the other, however, not inherent, but bestowed12 on us together with Christ–I mean the justice of Christ, and all his merit. Each one is bestowed on us at the same time, and we reach each through faith. (De iustificatione, pp. 590-1)

  1. Or “was made.” Cf. Heb. 5:9; hence my translation “became,” rather than “has become.”
  2. There is a slight awkwardness here, in that the thing that is justified, adopted, etc. is the soul (animus) (hence, “it”) rather than a person (“him”); but the syntax demands it.
  3. The previous translator was, I think, right to take these verbs with progressive aspect and helped to clarify my own interpretation of the passage.
  4. Often, a verb with a compound subject is singular if its nearest subject is singular. Perhaps that is all that is occurring here (and also with debetur shortly afterwards). But it just may also be significant of the simultaneity of the gifts of inherent and imputed righteousness hinted at last time and soon to be discussed in greater detail; and so I have left it singular in English. It should be noted, however, that the simultaneity of the two does not, for Contarini, elide the all-important distinction between the two.
  5. Perhaps an ironic figure of speech: justification is not, properly speaking, “owed” at all, but, improperly speaking, it is “owed” to the non-meritorious instrumentality of faith.
  6. That is, justification.
  7. Or “joining.”
  8. I.e., shared.
  9. Or “mysteries.”
  10. attingimus. The primary meaning is “to touch” (and so passim in this passage).
  11. I.e., for Protestants, the meaning of “apprehending” Christ and his righteousness is not bare intellectual knowledge: it is not a matter of just thinking about it and giving cognitive assent. We actually attain to Christ, whose righteousness is given to us, by faith.
  12. donatam. The primary meaning of the term is “to give as a present.”

By E.J. Hutchinson

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