Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Contarini on Justification (14)

Cleaning out some paperwork in my office reminded me that, after three years, I should get back to this series and finish it at some point. Lo these many months ago I started a new translation of Cardinal Gasparo Contarini’s treatise De iustificatione, “On Justification.” I was not quite halfway through it when last I paused, so I’d like to bring it through to the end.

When I first began in 2014, I introduced the text briefly as follows:

In 1541, Gasparo Contarini, a cardinal in the Church of Rome, wrote a short but fascinating treatise on justification in which he espouses a position that is neither quite the pure Protestant doctrine nor the later Tridentine doctrine.

Since I still think it useful, when it is finished I still intend to put the whole thing together somewhere where it may be easily accessible. To find all previous installments, enter “Contarini on Justification” in the search bar.

I’ve included the text from part 13 below for context. I would probably revise some things from that previous draft now, but, as Contarini says below, that will have to wait for another time.


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.

[new translation begins here]

But which one is prior by nature pertains to scholastic disputations rather than to the business of faith I am treating of. For that reason, I shall put it off for another time, just as I also put off another controversial topic which someone could raise as a question for me–namely, whether the remission of sins and reconciliation with God are prior by nature, or the infusion of grace. If ever I meet with a more convenient opportunity, I shall say what I think in each case, but at the moment each should be passed. However, as to the fact that God has given us Christ and all things together with him, the text of the the Apostle in the letter to the Romans is clear: “He who did not spare his own Son, has he not given us all things together with him?”13 Likewise, “a Son has been born to us, and a Son has been given to us.”14  In the Mass, when we offer Christ to God, do we not say in the canon, “We offer to you, from your own presents and gifts, a holy victim, an immaculate victim”? The blessed father Augustine speaks of this in many places, but one now comes to mind (I do not know whether it is in the Soliloquies or the Meditations).15 “Whatever I am lacking,” says the good father, “I take to myself from the heart16 of my Lord.”17 (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.”
  13. Romans 8.32
  14. This seems to be a reference to Isaiah 9.6–as perceived by the previous translator, who tipped me off–though the Vulgate does not use “son” twice (cf. Handel’s “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” KJV).
  15. Augustine, of course, has no work with this title. The reference seems to be to a medieval collection of prayers that circulated in his name.
  16. Or “bowels,” as was common in older English; Lat. viscera.
  17. This is from the Manuale, and therefore not actually by Augustine. For more on Augustine’s views on the Eucharist, see here.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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