Is justification instantaneous?

Apr 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

What happens in justification and is it instantaneous? In ST IaIIae q. 113, a. 6, Thomas answers that there are four things necessary for justification of the wicked:

1.    Infusion of grace
2.    Movement of free-will toward God
3.    Movement of free-will from sin
4.    Remission of sins

This follows because there must be a mover, something moved, and the end for which there is a motion. The mover is God who operates through the infusion of grace. That which is moved is the free-will in the double movement of the free-will disposing itself toward God and away from sin. The remission of sin is the goal of the movement. Thomas calls this the “natural order” of justification (a. 8, c).

A difficulty arises in how one understands that which is moved, i.e. the free-will. Thomas grants that there are two ways of looking at the problem. First, one might look at it from the perspective of the thing moved. From point of view of that which is moved, the free-will logically first moves from sin and then to God. However, from the point of view of the agent (who is God) the order is reversed, because in the agent the form is pre-existing. The example given is that the sun with respect to removing darkness holds illumination as prior to dispelling darkness.

These distinctions regard only the natural order and do not indicate a temporal order of events. The succession of opposites is a philosophical problem that Thomas wrestles with in the replies to a. 7. It relates to the question of “instants” following “instants”. This relates to Zeno’s paradox of an infinitely divisible space or time. Thomas, following Aristotle, simply states that previous time can be terminated by an instant. The last instant of the previous time because the first instant of the subsequent time. In other words, the moment the ungodly man is justified, he is instantly infused with grace, inclined to God, away from sin, and all sins are remitted. Thus, the four elements of justification occur instantly and simultaneously in time although logically they follow the natural order delineated by Thomas.

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  1. I get the feeling that there’s something unsaid here, a conclusion that I’m missing…

  2. A conclusion to this would be that if grace is forfeited by an individual through mortal sin, then so is justification. Thus, justification may be enterered into once again provided the person enters into the graces of Christ through repentance. So, justification isn’t a once for all event in regards to particular individuals.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  3. This is rather an implication, not so much a conclusion.

  4. Two intended observations:

    1) Calvinists might be impressed that St Thomas Aquinas teaches that justification is understood chiefly as instantaneous and not as progressive.

    2) Although instantaneous, the infusion of grace is logically prior to the movement of the will.

  5. Alot of this is over my head but this really hits home:

    1. Infusion of grace
    2. Movement of free-will toward God
    3. Movement of free-will from sin
    4. Remission of sins

    This is exactly what I feel inside me. Even at times being kind of skeptical of God’s existence I still feel this. I don’t doubt that God exists, just sometimes I get hung up on the hope that science can prove it. Though I need to better understand that something aren’t meant for science to even tackle. Science can’t give us proof for anything, because all findings of science are ultimately tentative and subject to change.
    But there’s no denying that I feel this internally.
    That there is something very different inside of me. So much so that it helps me notice that some things that I do are wrong and that there is a right direction. I even have feelings of guilt, like something in me letting me know I’m going in the wrong direction. And I actively choose to go along with that Thing in me…. or I decide to follow my old ways.

    For a once pluralistic, hedonistic agnostic this is kind of crazy.
    But it gives me a hope I never had with my old views.

    Thanks for the article.

  6. Dwight,

    Thank you for the comment and honesty. May God bless you.

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