Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Totus Iustus- Totus Peccator: It's Not just about Justification

When Luther talks about justification (that is, forensic justification) he is famous for describing us as "totus iustus" (totally just) and "totus peccator" (total sinner). Even though most Roman Catholics I talk to find this completely mind-blowing (for some reason), the majority of Lutheran I talk to seem to think this make sense and it's pretty simple. Empirically, as I live my life, I can't really obey the law completely. My being and nature are utterly corrupted by sin. They're not so corrupted by sin that I'm not human anymore. But they are so corrupted that I can't have a righteous status before God by my own efforts. Because of this, Jesus imputes his righteousness to me and I receive it by faith. So, I'm just because of Jesus' righteousness, and I'm sinful, because in and of myself I never really get better until temporal death.

Now, this doesn't mean that according to how I experience myself or how other experience me I don't get better. As Luther notes in the Galatians commentary (1531), because the Holy Spirit moves me towards better behaviors, people will and I myself will notice that I give into sin less easily, and am more virtuous, even if not perfect. At one point he gives the example of a man who prone to anger. He will not stop getting angry, but the Holy Spirit will change his heart so that he is simply less prone to it. On this level, one could describe the human person with faith as being partim-partim. Part sinner- part saint. This is of course not before God (coram deo), but before the eyes of the world (coram mundo). Before God, my status is always the same this sin of temporal death- all my good works are but dirty rages.

This last point brings up how sanctification works for Luther coram dei. Sin, as Luther notes (in the same commentary) is not something you remove like paint from a wall. Consequently, faith both sanctifies us, and yet at the same time, by definition, makes us unsanctified.

Let me explain what I mean on this point.

Faith trusts in God's Word and therefore sanctifies us. As Paul says, that which is not faith is sin (Rom 14:23). The paradox for Luther is that to believe and trust in God's Word is to believe and trust that I am a sinner. In that sense, I am made righteous in believing I am unrighteous. The more I believe that I am unrighteous, the more I become righteous. The more I believe I am unrighteous, the more I will trust in the gospel as a remedy for unrighteousness.

Luther argues this way to a certain extent in the Romans commentary (1516- though this is in my estimation pre-Reformation it still has many good insights), and makes statement in this regard in Galatians as well (1531).

Again, this doesn't mean that sanctification doesn't have a partim-partim dimension to it coram mundo. Coram deo, though, we must insist with Luther, that sanctification is always a paradox. As our righteousness increases, our sinful status does as well.

In temporal death, our sinful status and nature comes to its omega point. God completely destroys us in judgment, while re-creating us and thereby sanctifying us wholly. This the final goal of our simul status.

7 comments:

  1. When you say, "As our righteousness increases, our sinful status does as well," do you mean in to say in our own minds or how we perceive ourselves? Or "as our righteousness increases (corum mundo), our sinful statues (in our own estimation) does as well."

    That seems to be the argument in the rest of the post.

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  2. Since faith fulfills the law, our sanctification increases as we become more sinful in our own eyes. This means seeing ourselves more the way God sees us. We're not just kidding ourselves though or being modest.

    In another sense, we do become more sinful throughout our lives since we continue to sin. But at the same time, if we have faith, we increase in righteousness because we trust more and more that we are sinful.

    The final omega point of this is death, where grace increases so much that we are re-created in resurrection, but also judgment increases finally to the point wherein God executes his judgment on us in temporal death.

    The point I'm trying to make is that by believing that we are sinful, we are made righteous. The very act of being righteous is being sinful.

    Righteousness means stopping the unending pattern of self-justification, and saying to God "yes, your evaluation of me is correct." We are sanctified by justifying God in his words about us.

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  3. I do see and agree, to a large extent, with what you're saying. However, I wonder if this could be misleading, "by believing that we are sinful, we are made righteous." Again, I understand to point you are trying to make! However, if the Law convinces and convicts us of our sin, is that righteousness? I know that isn't that point you are trying to make, but a simple phrase like, "by believing that we are sinful, we are made righteous" could be confusing.

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog and hope you'll be teaching systematics somewhere soon!

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  4. Jack you write the more I belive I am unrighteous the more I become righteous. You also write that the more our righteousness increases the more our sinful status increases.
    Since imputed righteousness does not increase when you speak of righteousness increasing and becoming more righteous (?) I suspect you are talking about righteousness corum mundo. Are you saying that the more you realize that you are a sinner corum deo the more you become righteous corum mundo. If so then you are right on target. But perhaps I am misunderstanding you. Please correct me if I am. Also on Roman Catholic understanding of this they seem to think that we are saying that we both forensically righteous and still under the dominion and rule of sin. This of course as you pointed out is not what we are saying. The Spirit indwells us through faith and God has created a new spirit within us which in the words of St. John cannot sin. Our sinful flesh can do nothing but sin and never improves or develops. It has been dethroned and crucified and daily mortified.

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  5. "Jack you write the more I belive I am unrighteous the more I become righteous. You also write that the more our righteousness increases the more our sinful status increases.
    Since imputed righteousness does not increase when you speak of righteousness increasing and becoming more righteous (?) I suspect you are talking about righteousness corum mundo."

    Greg- I mean that our sanctification increases as we recognize our sin. In terms of righteousness as a status (divine imputation vs. the judgment of the world), I would say coram mundo our righteousness increases in a sesnse. Of course, God himself also sees us as increasing in holiness through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, though this does not effect our status before him because everything we do is tainted by sin- coram deo, everything we do until die is sin. This would go for coram mundo as well- since we do actually get better in their eyes, while recognizing that everything we do is sinful.

    Catholics in my experience don't get the simul thing because they find idea that God would say we are righteous when we are not to be incomprehensible. They have some concept of imputation, but they just can't wrap their minds around it.

    Weslie+kristina-

    "However, if the Law convinces and convicts us of our sin, is that righteousness?"

    By justifying God in his judgments and believing this, yes, that is righteousness on our part. My point is that it's a paradox. Luther's point is that we can't just think of sanctification as gradually taking some quality away from ourselves. Rather it is a paradoxical shedding of an old self that is somehow also the new self. The new self is new insofar as it believes itself to be fallen. The old self would never believe this, since it refuses to say that God is right in his judgments.

    Just look at Genesis 3.

    "thoroughly enjoy your blog and hope you'll be teaching systematics somewhere soon!"

    I'm pleased you do, thanks. Also, I hope you are correct. Finding a permanent position is very hard.

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  6. So sanctification cannot be reduced to righteousness corum mundo and is something other then righteousness corum deo?

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  7. "So sanctification cannot be reduced to righteousness corum mundo"

    Correct. Because any person with a strong will and self-discipline can be righteous corum mundo.

    "and is something other then righteousness corum deo?"

    It is other than a righteous status coram deo. Like I said, God does make us righteous via sanctification and he does see the effects of his work in us.

    Nevertheless, this does not translate into a righteous status before God, which occurs from the imputation of the righteousness of Christ alone.

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