Saturday, July 14, 2018

Newman on Justification

Father Benjamin Sawyer presented a wonderful paper Friday afternoon at the Florovsky Week:

IN HIS Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification (1838), John Henry Newman seeks to discover the essence of the gift of justification. While the Protestant perspective focuses on God’s external declaration of justice and describes faith as the essence of man’s righteousness, the Roman position, in the years subsequent to the Council of Trent, focuses on the inherent gift of righteousness that inwardly renews him. The genius of Newman lies in recognizing the limits of each of these positions for not having gone to the heart of the matter. God’s counting man as righteous is not a mere declaration, but a declaration that effects what it signifies, thus making him righteous by the reception of an inward gift of the Holy Spirit. Newman places a clear priority on the gift of uncreated grace, the inward gift of the Holy Spirit through which man participates in the sonship of Christ. This uncreated, divine indwelling is the source of both faith and charity and realizes man’s spiritual renewal.

This paper will attempt to demonstrate that John Henry Newman’s biblical-patristic theological method allowed him to rediscover and articulate the doctrine of divine indwelling, previously overlooked in the years after Trent in Catholic-Protestant debate. Newman’s method of doing theology is rooted in a return to the inexhaustible source of divine revelation itself, to the Scriptures as the soul of theology, and to the patristic sources. Newman sought to contemplate the Scriptures in the heart of the Church with the same Spirit possessed by the ancient Fathers, the same Spirit who continually animates and guides the Church in all ages and places. It was in drinking from the source of Scripture and the Fathers that Newman came to discover the mysterious truth of God, who thirsts to make his dwelling in man.

Father Sawyer's paper reminded me why Newman is so wonderful: he always finds the third way. Not just to be creative or original, but to make distinctions that neither extreme makes. In this example, it's not either justification by faith (the Protestant view) or justification by renewal (the classic Catholic view based upon the Council of Trent) but the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. Thus, it's not "Either/Or" or "Neither/Or": it's both. The Holy Trinity, dwelling within the soul of the Christian, is the source of both the faith and the renewal, of the justification and the sanctification of the believer. Since Newman loved the Fathers of the Church so much, especially the Alexandrian Fathers, and most especially St. Athanasius of Alexandria, he is an important figure for the Eighth Day Institute with its emphasis on seeing in the Fathers a cloud of witnesses that Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants may rely upon in an ongoing ressourcement of ecumenical dialogue.

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