Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Contarini on Justification (16)

We’ve now referred to “twofold justice” a few times, viz. the justice and charity inherent in us by grace, and the justice of Christ’s perfect merit imputed to us through union with Christ by faith. But, having dealt with the potential ambiguity of the term “justice,” the cardinal comes now to the important question: on which should be rely to be justified by God? The answer may surprise you; for he answers that we should rely solely on Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by faith to be justified in God’s sight. Why? Because our own justice is so imperfect, our own sin so constant, that such justice or righteousness–even when coming from God’s grace and work in us–could never justify us. Contarini therefore counsels a reliance on Christ’s justice alone to be counted righteous before God.


What has been said so far can be seen to be sufficient so far as our justification is concerned, and they seem to me to be so clear that nothing remains on which anyone could be uncertain. But since I said that we arrive at a twofold justice by faith–I mean the justice and charity inherent in us, along with the grace by which we are made partakers of the divine nature,1 and the justice of Christ given and imputed to us, because we are ingrafted into Christ and we put on Christ–it remains to inquire on which of the two we ought to rely and on the basis of which we ought to judge that we are justified before God, that is, that we are considered holy and just. What I mean is this: the justice that befits the sons of God and is satisfactory in God’s sight–is it the justice and charity inherent in us, or is it rather the justice of Christ given and imputed to us? I by all means judge that it is a pious and Christian way of speaking to say that we ought to rely–I mean rely as on something stable–on the justice of Christ given to us, and not on the holiness and grace inherent in us. For this justice of ours is only begun and imperfect and cannot keep us from stumbling in many things2 and from sinning constantly, and we therefore need the prayer by which we ask daily that our debts be forgiven us.3 For that reason, we cannot be considered just and good in the sight of God, as it would befit the sons of God to be good and holy, on account of this justice of ours; but the justice of Christ that is given to us is true and perfect justice, which is wholly pleasing in the sight of God, in which there is nothing that offends God, nothing that is not most highly pleasing to God. Therefore, we must rely on this alone, a thing sure and stable, and believe that we are justified before God–that is, that we are considered just and called just–on account of it alone. (De iustificatione, p. 592)

  1. 2 Peter 1.4
  2. Cf. James 3.2.
  3. I.e. the Lord’s Prayer.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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