Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Contarini on Justification (17)

In this installment, Contarini continues on the theme of justification before God by imputation, that is, by the merit of Christ apart from any works of our own. The justice or righteousness by which we are justified–by which we are wholly pleasing to God–is that which is gratuitously given to us, in distinction from that which is inherent in us by grace. For Contarini, it is the “treasure,” the “pearl” spoken of in the gospels. And he issues a solemn warning: those who rely on their own holiness in order to be accepted or justified before God should beware of what the Lord says in Revelation, lest they be found naked before God while thinking they are rich in sanctity. We must rather rely on what God gives to us; that is the point of his use of Revelation 2, in which the giving of the stone signifies the gift of Christ to the believer. Justice in this aspect comes to us extra nos.


This is Christians’ precious treasure; he who finds it sells everything he has in order to buy it.1 This is the precious pearl; he who finds it abandons everything in order to have it.2 The Apostle Paul says, “I have counted all other things as loss in order to gain Christ, not having a justice of my own, but that which is by faith in Christ.”3 But to those who rely on their own holiness, the following is said in Revelation: “Because you are lukewarm, I shall commence to vomit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I need nothing,’ and you do not see your nakedness,” etc., and elsewhere.4 Likewise in Revelation: “I shall give to you a new stone, on which is written a name that no one knows except him who receives.”5 This name is the name of Christ, and truly no one knows except him who receives.6 (De iustificatione, 592-3)

  1. Matt. 13.44.
  2. Matt. 13.46.
  3. Phil. 3.8-9.
  4. Rev. 3.16-17.
  5. Rev. 2.17.
  6. I’ve left the direct object here and at the end of the previous sentence ambiguous, because Contarini does not give a direct object.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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