The 5 Causes of Justification in Catholic Theology

The 5 Causes of Justification in Catholic Theology

The Decree on Justification (Session Six decretum de iustificatione) from the Council of Trent contains sixteen brief chapters and then condemns thirty-three opinions of the Protestant Reformers.

Perhaps the most important passage in the decree is the seventh chapter listing the “five causes of justification.” They are as follows:

  1. the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting
  2. the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance
  3. the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father
  4. the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified
  5. lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation.

Note that the meritorious cause is the suffering and death of Christ. Human being are not the source of the justifying merit. Note also that the sacraments are “instrumental”. The sacraments are the “instruments” in the hand of Christ.

The formal cause is the “justice of God” not our own justice. Nevertheless, we receive His “justice within us, each one according to his own measure.”

Not even a foaming-at-the-mouth Calvinist can find fault with this aspect of Trent. It’s air-proof.

Any thoughts from either Catholics or Protestants?

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About the Author

Taylor was an Episcopal priest in Fort Worth, Texas before being received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth. Taylor was also formerly the Assistant Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., located three blocks north of the White House, where he lectured regularly. He was served under Archbishop John J. Myers and Msgr. William Stetson for the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II, the canonical structure by which Anglican clergy are received into the Catholic Church and then go on to pursue Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (M.A.R. Theology), Nashotah Theological House (Certificate in Anglican Studies), and University of Dallas (M.A. Philosophy). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Dallas where he studies the Natural Law theory of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae Ia Iaa qq. 94-108). Taylor and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their five children. He is the author of The Catholic Perspective on Paul (forthcoming). Visit his personal site at: www.taylormarshall.com Taylor is also the Editor of Christian and American at: www.christianandamerican.com.