Fesko's Beyond Calvin (4): Metaphysics and Justification, pt 1

The leading essay of Beyond Calvin is called "Metaphysics and Justification" (pp. 34-52). This is a lightly revised version of an article first published under the title, "Metaphysics and Justification in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Reformed Theology" in Calvin Theological Journal 46 (April, 2011):  29-47. If you are interested in reading only a few posts in this series, I recommend that you read this one and the ones to follow which cover this particular essay. In my view this essay is a uniquely useful and representative sample of the way the author works with his material and structures his arguments in the book as a whole. There is one part of the essay that may be the most important issue in the book, but I beg your patience as we get to that point by way of other important observations we must make along the way.

As a last preliminary remark, let me also add that I will endeavor to evaluate this essay against the evidence in published texts. I mention this because the author has focused his energies on my own work in this essay, and the temptation is strong to criticize his arguments at the level of what I meant to say or what I really believe. If that is what I want to do or believe I have to do, I will try to remember to tell you what I am doing: I will note the shift in my remarks explicitly because I do not think it is fair to expect others to know what someone means or thinks "behind" what he actually says in (ideally peer-reviewed) published and thus public material. (Published corrections, clarifications, or retractions are always completely valid, of course, because they belong to the literature.) Thus, I will try to interact with Fesko's treatment of my work in the same way as I will treat his handling of anyone else's work: at the level of the texts, both the author's and the historical texts under consideration. Again, if I break from this to explain myself in a way that my published words don't do sufficiently, I will signal the change and will not hold Fesko liable for failing to read my mind. (They did not offer a mind-reading class in my seminary, at least.) And now, some reflections on the first paragraph of the essay:

1. In the opening paragraph, the author notes there have been several studies in recent years on the topic of union with Christ, and indicates that he has decided to pay particular attention to my book, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology (2008). He then states, "Among Garcia's many conclusions is the claim that in the wake of the justification controversy surrounding Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander, there was a decided break between Calvin and the subsequent Reformed tradition and the Lutheran tradition on the doctrine of justification." The author then footnotes p. 251 in Life in Christ. Please keep this statement handy and note the following.

a. First of all, as a matter of clarification for the reader rather than critique of the author, the syntax of Fesko's statement is somewhat unclear: do I claim there was a "decided break" between Calvin and the subsequent Reformed tradition and then another break between Calvin and the Lutheran tradition? The earlier version of this sentence in the CTJ article is a bit clearer, and I think it more likely that Fesko means I argue that Calvin and the Reformed tradition are on one side of the "decided break" and the Lutheran tradition is on the other side.

b. I would like to draw attention, however, not only to the author's claim but what he has based this claim on. He has asserted specifically that I posit a "decided break" between Calvin (in concert with the later Reformed tradition) and the Lutheran tradition on the doctrine of justification, and that I see this as occurring in the wake of the Osiandrian controversy. My work on Calvin's refutation of Osiander is among the most important arguments in my book, and the argument I make regarding the significance of that refutation is cumulative in nature, so Fesko is justly sensitive to its importance. However, as I hope to demonstrate in later posts, I am rather strongly persuaded that he does not understand what I have argued regarding Calvin and Osiander, why I have argued it, and how it relates to the thesis of the book as a whole.

In this first hint of the problem (and it is only a hint so far), compare Fesko's statement in this first paragraph of the essay with what I say in my book in the place he cites. Once again, here is Fesko: "Among Garcia's many conclusions is the claim that in the wake of the justification controversy surrounding Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander, there was a decided break between Calvin and the subsequent Reformed tradition and the Lutheran tradition on the doctrine of justification" (footnoting Life in Christ, p. 251). And now here is what p. 251 in my book actually says (I will quote into p. 252):

The reader will recognize that at this point an interesting historical-theological question emerges. If this reading of Calvin’s refutation of Osiander is correct, then at least the possibility should be entertained that the Osiandrian controversy, and specifically Calvin’s 1559 refutation, marks the inception of an explicit divergence between Lutheran and Reformed in the area of salvation. Their sharply divergent perspectives on Christ and the Supper having been established years earlier, it is arguably here, in 1559 at the height of eucharistic controversy, that the soteriological implications of their sacramental differences are for the first time identified and employed at length by an active participant. In other words, this explicit divergence in relating justification and sanctification, evident already in earlier decades as demonstrated in Chapter 3 above, arose out of the simultaneous eucharistic (Supper) and Osiandrian (justification) controversies of the 1550s, but was not related directly to these controversies until Calvin creatively merged them, using Osiander as his foil.

[start p. 252] That said, it is of the greatest importance to observe again that the Osiandrian affair did not nullify the significant continuity that obtained, and continued to obtain in great measure during the period of Orthodoxy, between Lutheran and Reformed understandings of justification as the imputation of Christ’s uniquely meritorious righteousness. But the controversy did clarify what was already evident earlier, that the Lutheran and Reformed strands of the Reformation had in fact adopted distinguishable understandings of the justification/sanctification relationship.

c. We notice, then, that I state that "an interesting historical-theological question emerges" from what I have documented in the Calvin-Osiander material, which is to say I am proposing it for consideration. In truth, I am more confident now than I was back then that my conclusions are sound, but in the text Fesko cites I am expressing myself tentatively. We can add my "if this reading... is correct" and "at least the possibility should be entertained" to evidence of my effort to propose for consideration.

d. In the passage above, I do not argue that there was a "decided break" in the wake of the Osiandrian controversy. I argue instead that there was a divergence in relating justification and sanctification, evident already in earlier decades, and that what is new is not the divergence but the explicit nature of it in the nature and manner of Calvin's refutation of Osiander. It is not new to the Osiandrian controversy: it was already implicit, it now becomes explicit.

e. Further, I do not argue that there was a break at the level of the doctrine of justification simpliciter. I speak specifically of a divergence in relating justification and sanctification. The difference is monumentally important. I argue here and repeatedly elsewhere that it is not the doctrine of justification as such (i.e., how we define it in, say, catechism questions) but the way justification and sanctification are related that is the area of divergence. Note the second paragraph I have cited above, which makes all of this quite clear.

f. Finally, please note the express concern in the passage quoted to accent ("it is of the greatest importance") the areas of significant and continued commonality between Calvin and the emerging Lutheran tradition.

2. I will have to leave more Osiander-related material to a later point. For now, we continue to a place in this opening paragraph that is only two sentences later. Here we read the author state: "Garcia argues that, for Calvin, the duplex gratia of justification and sanctification is grounded in the more fundamental category of union with Christ and therefore justification cannot be accorded any sort of priority over sanctification."

a. The reader will note the strong language here: Garcia argues that, for Calvin, justification "cannot be accorded any sort of priority over sanctification." Not only is this an example of over-reaching; this is simply false, and demonstrably so. The reader will recall how I affirmed a sort of priority in my last post, but this is not a new affirmation. In a 2007 piece for Ordained Servant, of which we can be sure Fesko is aware and which was published long before the book under review, I said the following (in response to questions about a previous article in which I reviewed another volume):

There has been some question too about my own understanding of the relationship of justification and sanctification, particularly about any "priority" of the former to the latter. First of all, I would guess we all find language of "priority" to be at least somewhat ambiguous. What does one mean by priority, even "logical" priority? Is it chronological? Causal? Of central importance? Something else? I find that proponents of the priority of justification are ordinarily unable to explain this idea without using causal language (suggesting, for instance, that sanctification "flows from" or in some sense arises from justification as its effect) and without being left with a doctrine of union with Christ that is merely formal or nominal.

However, I would alert the reader to the fact that, in my article, I affirmed one sense in which I think language of priority is helpful: experiential, and not theological. As I said in reply to a point raised in Dr. Jones's essay, "I am not aware of anyone who would deny this [i.e., the realization that one is pardoned motivates obedience to the will of God], and speaking in this way of 'motivation' is surely appropriate. But we must not confuse the existential—what can be described in terms of my experience of grace—with the theological, as Jones, Godfrey (270, on Calvin), and others in CJPM seem to do." This is a useful and biblical way to think about priority, and I do not find it contradicts what is said in the OPC's Justification Report. In the Report, the relevant language speaks specifically of justification as the prerequisite to sanctification understood as a process (p. 60 in the edition published by the CCE). Because justification is in its very nature definitive (i.e., non-progressive), its being prior to progressive sanctification is self-evident and beyond dispute. What the Report does not affirm, however, is that justification is the prerequisite to definitive sanctification.

b. Moreover, I do not claim any such thing in the book Fesko is using for his analysis. To see this, note that Fesko follows this sentence with another before offering documentation for his claims. This next sentence is centrally important to his essay's concern. It reads, "By contrast, [Garcia] concludes that Lutheran theologians do not ground justification and sanctification in union, but rather instead place the two in a causal relationship: justification causes sanctification, or sanctification is the effect of justification." He then footnotes the following places in Life in Christ as support: pp. 61ff., 104-05, 241, 260-61, 264, 267 n. 24. It is to these places in my book that we are to expect evidence in support for both of the author's claims, namely, that I do not see in Calvin "any sort of priority" for justification in relation to sanctification, and that I argue that Lutherans see justification as the cause of sanctification. Please note:

c. There is nothing on p. 61 about either of these questions. Or on p. 62. Or on p. 63. Or on p. 64. In fact I do not know how far I should read in the "61ff." to find the evidence for these claims. There is nothing in the entire section about either topic. It is a section describing (in positive terms) Luther's relationship to mysticism, his transformation of the medieval "marriage sermon" tradition in the direction of his doctrine of justification, and his rich understanding of union with Christ.

d. Pp. 104-05 do indeed discuss Melanchthon's understanding of the justification-sanctification relationship as a matter of cause-and-effect. In fact I develop my argument in pp. 103-6. This argument is based on Melanchthon's expositions of Romans, which are the immediate concern and which are quoted and evaluated in this section of my book. There is nothing here, though, that suggests that Calvin denies "any sort of priority" of justification to sanctification.

e. There is nothing on p. 241 about either of these questions.

f. There is nothing on pp. 260-61 about Calvin denying "any sort of" priority of justification to sanctification. There is important material about the second idea, though, which is the Calvin-Lutheran relationship. I'll quote my words again for your careful comparison with what Fesko has asserted regarding my views. From p. 260:

Second, “doctrine of justification” needs explanation. If agreement on the definition of the term “justification” is in view, such as what might be sought at the catechetical level, then the question is easy to answer in the affirmative. Calvin’s understanding of “justification” is basically synonymous with the brief definitions found in the classic Lutheran confessions. In his theology as much as theirs justification is a forensic declaration grounded upon the uniquely meritorious righteousness of Christ imputed to a believer by faith, entailing the forgiveness of sins and a righteous standing before God. The effort, it should be said, to pit union with Christ against forensic imputation in Calvin may be seen now to be deeply mistaken.[1]

If, however, “doctrine of justification” means more than a bare-essentials definition such as one finds in a confessional document – if it includes, for example, the relationship justification bears to other aspects of God’s saving work and the context in which justification is to be understood, the discussion of which is naturally involved in any treatment of the theology of justification – then one must answer negatively. Unlike his Lutheran counterparts, Calvin did not ground good works in imputation or justification but in union with Christ. In contradistinction with Melanchthon, for example, Calvin argued a positive, soteric value of good works as the ordinary prerequisite for receiving eternal life. It appears that basic differences exist in their respective understandings of justifying faith: at the heart of the inseparability in Calvin’s unio Christi-duplex gratia formulation is a justifying faith defined not only passively, as a resting on Christ alone, but actively, as an obedient faith that, resting on Christ alone, perseveres in the pursuit of holiness.

g. There is nothing on p. 264 about either of these questions. On this page I speak only of Calvin's own views. There is no mention of his denying "any sort of" priority of justification to sanctification.

h. On p. 267, n. 24, I do note an example of how a more Melanchthonian form of speaking can be located within later Reformed theology. The note reads:

In later Reformed theology, a more Melanchthonian (i.e., classical Lutheran) pattern of argument appears to have become standard, resulting in the frequent exposition of justification and good works as cause and effect. See, e.g., what in light of our findings is a rather remarkable statement by Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1871; rep. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), vol. 3, p. 238: “There has never been any real difference of opinion among Protestants… It was universally admitted that good works are not necessary to our justification; that they are consequences and indirectly the fruits of justification, and therefore cannot be its ground.”

Of course, as a footnote on the penultimate page of the book (not counting appendices), it is an observation whose validity depends on what I have argued in the 250+ pages that precede this note. There is nothing, however, about the "any sort of priority" matter.

Those are the places cited thus far in support of the author's claims. And here ends our reflections on the first paragraph of the essay. We'll turn to the following paragraph in our next post, but only briefly and as a way into the first paragraph of the main section of the essay.


[1] So William Thompson, “Viewing Justification Through Calvin’s Eyes: An Ecumenical Experiment.” Theological Studies 57 (1996): 451-3. Obscuring the distinctio element in Calvin’s construct, Thompson also incorrectly claims (p. 452) that for Calvin justification is “already intrinsic and transformative.” On union and imputation, see my “Imputation and the Christology of Union with Christ: Calvin, Osiander, and the Contemporary Quest for a Reformed Model,” WTJ 68:2 (2006): 219-51.