On this day, exactly 470 years ago, the August Fathers of the Sacrosanct Ecumenical Council of Trent, at the end of the sixth session, issued one of their most decisive and extensive documents, the Decree on Justification.
Justification, of course, had been the central issue of the Protestant heresies ravaging the Church in Europe since the malevolent actions of the renegade monk Martin Luther, thirty years earlier. After long debates, the Conciliar Fathers clarified all points and reaffirmed the unchangeable doctrine of the only Church of Christ on the Salvation of Souls.
The full text of the Decree is available here. The main points dealt with in the Decree can be summarized thus:
1. The Catholic Faith is the foundation of all Justification.
Session 6, Chapter VI, Decree Concerning Justification (January 13, 1547):
Now, they are disposed to that justice when, aroused and aided by divine grace, receiving faith by hearing, they are moved freely toward God, believing to be true what has been divinely revealed and promised, especially that the sinner is justified by God by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves from the fear of divine justice, by which they are salutarily aroused, to consider the mercy of God, are raised to hope, trusting that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice, and on that account are moved against sin by a certain hatred and detestation, that is, by that repentance that must be performed before baptism; finally, when they resolve (desire) to receive baptism, to begin a new life and to keep the commandments of God.
Session 6, Chapter VII, Decree Concerning Justification (Jan. 13, 1547):
This disposition or preparation is followed by justification itself,…
Session 6, Chapter VIII, Decree Concerning Justification (Jan. 13, 1547):
But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely, these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and to come to the fellowship of His sons;…
2. A person who has the Catholic Faith can attain the state of Justification if that person receives the Sacraments or has the resolve (desire) to receive them.
Session 6, Chapter IV, Decree Concerning Justification (Jan. 13, 1547):
In which words is given a brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This translation however cannot, since the promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Session 6, Chapter VII, Decree Concerning Justification:
This disposition or preparation is followed by justification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. The causes of justification are: the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ and life everlasting; the efficient cause is the merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; 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 for us justification by His most holy passion on the wood of the cross and made satisfaction for us to God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified,…
There are many other points dealt with by the Tridentine Fathers, and we heartily recommend the reading of the Decree.
[Summary on Justification and Salvation as explained by the Tridentine Fathers prepared by Brother Andre Marie]