In What Sense Justification is wholly “apart from works” – My Olive Branch to Protestants


Papyrus 26 – Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1354 – Bridwell Papyrus 1 – Epistle to the Romans 1:1-16 – recto (7th century)


We have to be careful to not push things into the context of St. Paul’s argument. When St. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works, he means there are no works causally connected to that justification. It would be like me saying my store is open during daytime hours, apart from nighttime hours. I couldn’t possibly mean my store is open both daytime and nighttime hours. So St. Paul does truly intend to exclude works. It is the same in Romans 9-11. “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy”.

So when St. Paul describes the gift of justification, he wants to exclude all human merits and works.
So where do we differ between Protestants and Catholics in the exegesis of Romans? It is not on whether works are excluded – that much is agreed upon. What is disagreed upon is *what is Justification*? The Protestants say it is a mere declaratory sentence which changes the legal stance of the sinner from guilty to innocent, and the real basis for this change is a legal imputation of Christ’s innocence and righteousness to that of the sinner.
Catholics readily admit this. After all, St. Paul says in Romans 8:34, “Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns”? So the gift of justification certainly includes the notion of having all charges of guilty withdrawn. But Catholics also realize that more is involved when it comes to the *real basis* upon which this verdict is reached. We believe that not only does our legal stance change, but that there is something real in the human person which is involved in the cause of that legal change. What is that reality? St. Paul calls it the “washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, that having been justified, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). So there is a real ontological changing which occurs and which causes our being declared “just” in God’s eyes. And in that very passage of Titus, St. Paul adds just before “not by works of righteousness which we have done, by according to His mercy He saved us”. Period. Not by works, but because of God’s mercy. This regeneration or renewal by the Holy Spirit is our being infused, by grace, with the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love. It must be an infusion of that which is pleasing to God. Now, when we say love is infused, I do not mean here that “loving acts” are being infused, but the “disposition to love” is what is being infused. It must somehow involve this disposition or habit to love God, believe God, and to hope in everlasting salvation. Why is that? Because justification transits the human sinner from enmity with God to friendship with God. As in the words of Paul – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). But, we are told in another place that we were “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Col 1:21). So if the cause of enmity and alienation was our mind which was disposed to wicked works, it absolutely must be that our peace and reconciliation with God is devoid of said mind disposed to wicked works. And this is why the Catholic Church has always emphasized the interior transformation from the mind so disposed to a new mind which is disposed to holiness and righteousness, and that, as a cause to our being in friendship and peace with God.
Now, in systematic Catholic theology, there is a distinction between justification as this transition from old to new man, or the regeneration which we undergo through the power of Baptism , and that is what St. Paul is speaking of in Titus 3:7, and many other various justification texts. Now, I don’t intend to seclude this into something like a purely “initial justification” after which it is proceeded by another kind of justification. This justification we receive in Baptism is both our entrance into and the state of justification itself. This is why Paul can refer to it as a transition we entered in the past (Rom 5:1) as well as a current state from which we derive hope (5:2-3). That said, in Catholic theology, however, we have more to teach using the same word “justification” to describe the ongoing and progressive Christ-likeness that we attain through jointly co-operating with grace in performing good works. Paul doesn’t really reserve his work dikaios or dikaiosune to refer to this ongoing progress, at least as much as he does to the supernatural transition from Adamic-state to Christic-state. However, even this concept of “progressive justification” is not by works” in the Romans 4:1-4 sense, since it is not by the strength of human nature, but by the strength of God’s Spirit. So, in a sense, even our progressive justification and sanctification is “apart from works” in that sense. However, it is “according to works” in another sense, namely, through our joint cooperation with divine grace in the actual performance of good works by the operation of the will. Yet, in this sphere, “it is God who is at work in us both to will and to do” (Phil 1:6, 12). Human nature as it is rooted and born in Adam, our corrupted font, is devoid of such divine operation by nature unless coupled with the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). And so it is rendered completely disabled from living out the justified & sanctified life.
Lastly, there is the justification which is eschatological, and which is different than *justification-as-translation* and *progressive-justification*. This *eschatological-justification* is more a constructive term, although it has semblance from NT texts such as Rom 2:13. It is the verdict God will produce after examining each person on the last day (Rom 2:4-following). This is purely forensic, but its basis will be “according to the works of each one”. The elect will merit the verdict of justification by their works, although, as already said, those works were NOT done out of the principle of “works” performed from human nature (that by which Abraham found nothing before God, Rom 4:1-2), but from the principle of divine and supernatural grace. God will be rewarded that which He already gave us, in other words, that God might be all in all.

5th-Century Marian Devotee: Saint Cyril of Alexandria (376-444)


St. Cyril (376-444+), Patriarch of Alexandria (412-444), was a prominent theologian in the 5th-century disputes on Christology. He is famous for combating the error of Nestorius, who refused to say the Virgin Mary was the “Mother of God”, thinking she was limited to “Mother of Christ”. The person of the Son of God was who was born of Mary, in the nature of human being, and thus she gave birth to God. That much is plain and simple. At the Council of Ephesus, St. Cyril preached against Nestorius with the following praise of the Virgin Mary. I thought it would be worth posting especially since I’ve come across people who say that the whole “Mother of God” controversy was not about Mary, but solely about the identity and deity of Christ. This typically comes from Protestants, but can even be supposed by critical historians. However, as can be seen, this is very much a hasty observation from nothing other than a lack of study. Here below we are told by this Pontiff of Alexandria, the second See of holy Christendom, that the Virgin Mary is the treasure of the entire world and that, through her, all of creation is set aright. Even the sacred sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation are said to have depended upon her instrumentality. He makes mention of a Church in Ephesus which was formally dedicated to the Virgin; which is something you don’t see in the world of Protestant communities anymore. At least, I’m not aware of any, unless they are perhaps high-Church Anglo-Catholics, or the like. One cannot but help, however, to see that Mary’s greatness depends, not on her works of piety, but on the grace and mercy of God to choose her for the task and privilege she was given. One also cannot but help to notice that this is another early instance of Marian devotion, e.g. a celebratory prayer to the Virgin herself.

I hope you enjoy.

“I see the assembly of the saints, all zealously gathered together, invited by the holy Mother of God, Mary, ever-virgin. I was feeling very sad, but then the presence of the holy Fathers changed this sorrow into merriment. Now the sweet words of the hymnographer David has been fulfilled in our presence: ‘Behold how fair, and how pleasant it is, when brother dwell together as one’! (Ps 133:1). Hail, we say, O holy and mystic Trinity, who have called us together in this Church dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. We hail you, O Mary Mother of God, venerable treasure of the entire world , inextinguishable lamp, crown of virginity, scepter of orthodoxy, imperishable temple, container of him who cannot be contained, Mother and Virgin, through whom it is said in the holy Gospels: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matt 21:9). Hail, you who held the Uncontainable One in your holy and virginal womb! Through you, the Holy Trinity is glorified; the precious Cross is celebrated and adored throughout the world; heaven exults, the angels and archangels rejoice, the demons are put to flight, the devil, the tempter, falls from heaven, the fallen creation is brought back to paradise, all creatures trapped in idolatry come to know the truth. Through you, holy baptism and the oil of gladness are administered to the believers; through you, churches are established throughout the world; the peoples are led to conversion. What more shall I say? Through you, the only begotten Son of God shone forth as a light upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. Through you, the prophets made their predictions, and the apostles preached salvation to the nations; through you the dead rise, sovereigns reign, and through you the Holy Trinity reigns. But who among men is capable of celebrating Mary most glorious? The virginal womb; such a great wonder! This miracle has me enraptured. When has it ever been heard that a builder was prevented from dwelling in temple that he himself built? Could he, who calls his own handmaid to be his Mother, be considered deserving of this shame? Behold, now: the whole universe is rejoicing. The sea obeyed, recognizing [in the Fathers] its fellow servants. For while the water surged in stormy billows, the passage of the saints made it smooth and calm. The creature water remembered the voice of the Savior ‘Silence! Be Still!’ (Mk 4:39). The passage of the Fathers also subdued the earth, which previously had been infested with brigands. ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news of peace’ (Rom 10:15). But what peace is this? Jesus, our Lord, who was born from Mary, as He Himself willed”

Homily IV – Preached at Ephesus contra Nestorius 431 A.D., P.G. 77, 992-96; Translation taken from Luigi Gambero, “Mary and the Church Fathers”, pp. 247-48)

Update on Health


Momento Mori: Remember You Will Die

I know there are many of my readers, acquaintances, close friends, and family members praying for my health and well-being, and so I thought it fitting to provide one big update so you can observe the effect of your charity. A preliminary review of events, and then an up-to-date description.

During this past month, I was hospitalized twice, with an additional Emergency Room (ER) visit, all for three different problems. As many of you know (I’ve shared this plenty), I have struggled since 2008 with heart problems such as Cardiomegaly/Cardiomyothopy and Left Ventricular Hypertrophe (LVH). Even though the mechanical measurements were not extreme, the symptoms were difficult to bear with since they came all of the sudden at the age of 21, and even endured when my physical stature was in relatively good condition. The major symptom was violent episodes of arrhythmia exploding during the night, leaving me terrified of sleep. I was already accustomed to sleep paralysis prior to this, which itself began as a scary thing but eventually became routine. Fast forward 10 years, and I was where I was this past December month. I went into the ER with cardiac complaints (again, from night time symptoms), and was incidentally diagnosed with a 2.6 cm wide Pituitary Macroandenoma Tumor right in the middle of my head from a CT scan & MRI. I was quickly admitted to the Neurosurgery department of a different location within the same medical center and scheduled for brain surgery in the next couple of days, especially since there had been signs of it being a hemorrhagic growth (i.e. bleeding). Now, I had not carried any symptoms of this at all, and I fail any of the physical evidence tests for it as well, except for the identifiable variance in hormone levels. However, it turned out that the plan for surgery was t-boned by an intervention of the onsite Endocrinologist team which took notice of the fact that my Prolactin levels were high, and when these sorts of tumors coincide with this high Prolactin, the tumor can often be treated with medication that brings down the Prolactin level to normal over time, though this route leads to a continuous reception of the medication for the duration of life, since the tumor can regrow. I am still not out of the woods yet since a progressive follow up will determine how the medication is working, and whether surgery will need to occur anyway. Your prayers certainly appreciated. All this happened just before December 15th, and so I thought I was good for the rest of Advent and Christmas to be with family back at home in my normal routine. What was in store, however, was a ratcheting up of the nighttime cardiac problem, and a return to the Emergency room it was just several days later, and this time they admitted me to the Cardio department instead of Neurosurgery where they can monitor the heart at night. The hospital Doctors found my pulse going down to 44, and my oxygen levels down well below 88% more than 20 times, and that from just a few hours of sleep. This caused a tap to Pulmonary who recommended an oxygen tank to assist sleeping, and eventually the attainment of a CPAP machine to provide adequate air for breathing. I have found this to be very helpful at night, and I am sleeping much better now. But unfortunately, the symptoms have still to be with me, and we are now thinking it has something to do with blood circulation as a result of the heart in someway. We will not know for sure until more testing can be done, but the symptoms include waking up numb in several places of the body, partly unconscious and disillusioned, unable to talk properly, and the sensation of being extremely weak in bodily functions. A third visit to the ER was in store, and this time they diagnosed me with degenerative disk disease at the bottom of my spinal cord  as well as early arthritis, which explains why the left leg was going constantly numb in significant spots. This has also been a chronic problem for years now, culminating in what it is now. Obviously, it would seem that nerve damage would not cause this sort of problem with the hearth and blood circulation (if that is what it is), but this is as far as my desire for hospitals are going to take me. I have a much better chance, God willing, getting specified research with medical specialists. The only drawback is the extension in time of getting tests/results, and the plan for recovery. Until then, each night has its unwanted challenge, and for the first time in my life I desire to be awake more than asleep. Now, more than ever, am I weak spiritually as well. It is one thing to live under the victory and Lordship of Jesus Christ when this life is proving itself an easy passage, but it is something altogether different to meditate on that very same victory and Lordship when half your face is numb, and you cannot foresee if your health will improve. Truly, this has been a very revealing and humbling experience. Most challenging is that I must continue as a father whose children know next to nothing about all of this, save for one (my 9 year old). They depend on me daily. I will need all the prayers I can get for perseverance.

The best part of all of this is the way in which the love of God through Christ’s body has manifested itself to me. First recognition goes to my lovely wife, Victoria, who has exemplified a determined perseverance to serve me at my side the best she can, while at the same time raising 4 small boys, including  1 toddler. While I’ve been greatly disabled from helping this past month, she has boldly taken on the responsibility of continuing to care for them all the while visiting me in the hospital and being my advocate in the face of this trial; and with absolutely no complaints whatsoever. I can’t think of a better image than a strong horse who is relentless and tireless under stress. In addition, we have had several families (you know who you are) come to assist at at critical moments when we needed help with caring for the children, even adding 4 children to another 4 or 5 more children in a single household. Tremendous charity was felt during all of this. There was also a great long visit from my favorite priest, who gave me three sacraments at once. I even had a couple visits from a Orthodox priest-friend, whose children all drew me “Get Well” cards, and also received a nice prayer book. Several phone calls from friends were also extremely meaningful, especially one in particular who hooked me up with a contact of his who had faced the same sort of tumor, but with much worse symptoms, and was nevertheless healed. This person I had never met ended up spending extensive time with me on the phone, explaining his life and how God has changed him through the process. He still sends texts periodically, checking up on me. And lastly, even on Facebook, there have been countless messages and notices for prayer that have meant far more than you can imagine. Thank you all and everyone else who has prayed for this brief and small trial!