Dear [professor],

Hi!  Hope you're doing well.


I would like to do my paper in your class on the nature of and relationship between justification and sanctification, and specifically, I would like to try to explain why the Protestants and Catholics disagree.  It seems to me the Catholics operated within a neo-Platonist-influenced medieval scale of being (pure Form/actuality ("Grace") is transcendent in God, pure Matter/potentiality ("Nature") is immanent in creation; man and salvation are midway along a continuum between; salvation actualizes Grace in Nature), such that God's grace in justification is a metaphysical principle, even a part of God's being, infused into man, and it is this one grace, in one mode, which both justifies and sanctifies.  It appears to me that Luther's emphasis, and the broader Reformation's further refinement, was that God's grace comes to us as one grace, but in two modes:  in justification it comes by imputation as an epistemological declaration, and in sanctification it comes as an infusion of ethical communicable attributes.  As such for the Reformers, God's being is not truly infused into man, but only His communicable attributes, and thereby God and man do not share the same being (God is not man, and man is not God! --they were maintaining the Creator-creature distinction), with the final result that God's glory over all creation, and especially over man in salvation, is more fully maintained.  The nature and relation of justification and sanctification appear central to this general shift in doctrine away from the medieval/Thomistic and partially dialectical conception of the relation between God and man/creation, and toward the more perfectly biblical Reformed understanding of that relation.  If justification is exclusively an epistemological declaration, then the (Aristotelian) movement from potential to actual, the (neo-Platonic) metaphysical emanation of God's being into creation, is cut off.  Grace is redefined.  It is no longer the infusion of God's being, which subtracts from God's glory.  Rather, it is the restoration and glorification of man's fallen being, knowledge, and activity, exalting God's glory over all.  As such, the Reformers were rejecting the whole Thomistic metaphysics, along with the epistemology and ethics it implied.  They were attempting to chart a more faithfully biblical course.


This is how the situation appears to me; I want to discover historically (in the sources) if this has been said by others, or if I or someone else could demonstrate it.  Then, I'd like to try to demonstrate it.

Imbalances this implies, suggested solutions

Imbalance:  Emphasis on diversity of modes.  Solution:  Emphasize real unity between justification and sanctification

I'd like to go a step further and try to say that the Catholics were right to argue for the reality of the one grace, and of the way in which by God's grace in salvation there is a real accord between God and man, an accord brought about through the implementation of the ordo salutis blessings, prepared for and accomplished in Christ's person and work of humiliation and exaltation.  I get the sense this is one thing on which Sadoleto was correct.  There is a unity between the goodness of justification and sanctification; it is the same God, the same grace, the same communicable attributes, which are applied in justification and sanctification.  The Reformed critique of Catholicism on this issue tends to emphasize the diversity of modes (justification is by imputation; sanctification is by infusion), over against the Catholic emphasis on the unity of the grace applied.  But while emphasizing a diversity of modes, the Reformed should have a clear doctrine of the unity between those modes to properly complement their emphasis on the real diversity.  A doctrine which explains clearly that justification and sanctification are the application of one grace, in two modes, can help the Reformed and Catholics both to understand each other, and scripture, with more appreciation, and I would hope, help both sides to understand the issues in an absolutely Reformed manner, but also in one which respects the Catholic concerns which they have derived from scripture (the unity of God's grace in the application of ordo salutis blessings, and the bringing of man's being back into accord with God's being.)  (I tend in this discussion to prefer to speak of God implementing His "glory" in man His creation, to get away from the scale-of-being/Thomistic conception of "grace," but the terms are very closely related here.)

Imbalance:  Emphasis on justification and sanctification.  Solution:  Emphasize regeneration

In order to accomplish this apologetic aim, a careful discussion of the communication of God's attributes in regeneration as the beginning of the reorientation and glorification of man's fallen being, as it is brought more into accord with God's being, but yet in a fully creaturely (not divinized) manner (man becomes a glorified creature; man does not become God), will be necessary at a later point, as the necessary metaphysical foundation upon which justification and sanctification depend and build.  Else the Reformed emphasis on epistemology and ethics is an inadequate answer to the Catholic concern for metaphysics.  For this paper I'll just presuppose it, and mention it where necessary.

?????  Questions:  Sources/planning the research

I'd like to look at Eastern Orthodox systematics too, in order to see what that branch of the "Christian"(?) tradition thinks; maybe they're somewhat neo-Platonic?

What specific systematic areas would you recommend I look at to study this?  I suppose the communication of attributes in Christ's person, and in the ordo salutis loci (esp. justification and sanctification), would be important.  Do you know anyplace where especially the philosophical aspects of the issues I mentioned above--whether the Catholic philosophy or the Reformed--are discussed in connection with these doctrines, especially in the context of a systematic-theological treatment of these doctrines?  In other words, where I would not have to work as hard to convince my reader that the philosophical issues are present, because the sources already identify the doctrinal issues as having a philosophical character?  Am I alone right? ; )  Hopefully not.

What books or articles do you think could point the way initially for me?  Dr. Trueman recommended Daphne Hampson, Christian Contradictions, which has proved very thought provoking so far.

If you don't have time for this, that's fine, but if you do, I am trying to work out some of the specifics of how God's communicable attributes are communicated in the creation of Adam, the Person of Christ, as well as in the application of ordo salutis benefits (metaphysically in regeneration, epistemologically in justification, ethically in sanctification.)  As in the "paper" written at the link above, I want to fully maintain the Creator-creature distinction, but also fully maintain the real relation of positive similarity and accord between man and God, in the communication of God's attributes, especially in the ordo salutis blessings.  It appears to me that in regeneration, our being is brought into accord with the perfection of God's being; in justification, our knowledge is brought into accord with the righteousness of God's knowledge and revelation; and in sanctification our ethical activity is brought into accord with the holiness of God's activity.  This appears to be essential to the point and structure of Eph. 4:24:  "and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and holiness of the truth."  Do you have any suggestions of where in Van Til or in other systematic theology I could look for a careful treatment of these issues, especially, a treatment that explicitly relates the theological categories I've mentioned to the categories and concerns of the history of philosophy which I've mentioned?  It's a broad question, because it's a large project.  Thanks!

In Christ,


Dear [friend],

Thank you also for the info on the relation btw/ justification and sanctification; yes, I am familiar with the ideas in what you mentioned, but it is always useful to me to see a new way of structuring the discussion, or to see an aspect I haven't noticed before, so thank you for Lillback's / Calvin's summary.

One thing I see is that the Reformers wanted to maintain the distinction between J & S, the Catholics the similarity/identity between them.  Here's a question:  if it is God's communicable attribute of righteousness which is (epistemologically) predicated of us by imputation, and God's communicable attribute of holiness which is (ethically) active in us by "infusion," in what senses are righteousness and holiness in fact the same thing; 2 perspectival sides of the same thing; one grace in two modes?  What happens to the "coinherence" (or maybe more precisely formulated, the relation of absolute identity and absolute distinction) between God's attributes within God once they become communicated to man in salvation?  Is the identity between righteousness and holiness lost?  The Catholic emphasis seems to be, God's righteousness/holiness is all one thing in God, in His grace, and in the ordo salutis benefits.  They seem to say there is only one grace; the Reformed reply is that God's grace is given in two modes (duplex gratia).

But I wonder if the reformed discussion, in maintaining the distinction between the modes, can still stand to explain more deeply the way in which there is still a unity between the modes, and the attributes communicated in those modes?  A couple examples of ways this unity could be explained:  1) While God's "alien" righteousness in Christ is wholly external to man, yet it is received (epistemologically) by faith, and truly is applied to the believer, as the believer's righteousness.  It must be predicated, but predicated of the man.  Imputed, but imputed to.  2)  God's righteousness in Christ is bound up with Christ's ethical holiness (good works), which is in some way the source of our ethical holiness (good works).  How then is God's evaluation of our good works as in some sense "righteous" related to His evaluation of Christ's good works as in a perfect sense "righteous?"  If the goodness of God's, or of Christ's, being and works, is necessary to His status as righteous, or to the righteousness of His knowledge revealed, then in what ways is the goodness of our being and works also in some way necessary to our status in Christ as righteous, or to the righteousness of our knowledge received?

I'm reflecting some here on how Henry Krabbendam structures his theology, and how he uses the categories of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to relate the internal structures of the contents of the several loci to one another.  Here's a summary:

(Note:  This is not a comprehensive outline of Krabbendam's systematics; e.g., he has a Christology, man in the estate of the fall, etc.  I'm just showing the pattern of these 3 categories.)

Krabbendam's theology proper:




Existence, perfections, triunity

Revelation & manifestation (word & deed)

Predestination, creation, providence

Krabbendam's definition of the heart as the core of man in the estate of creation (i.e., his anthropology):

Metaphysical Entity

Epistemological Functions (faculties)

Ethical Functioning


Thinking, willing, feeling (mind/will/emotions)

Dimensions: Moral/social

Activities: Speaking/Acting

Krabbendam's soteriology:

Ordo salutis blessing:




Mode or aspect:

Metaphysics / being

Epistemology / knowledge

Ethics / activity

Communicable attribute:




Mode/means of administration:




Means of reception:




Anthropologically focused description:

New heart

New record

New life

Anthropologically general description:

Renewed in being

Renewed in knowledge

Renewed in activity

Krabbendam's ecclesiology:

Nature of the Church

Mark of the Church

Government of the Church




Krabbendam's eschatology:

The Return of Christ

The Judgment

The Eternal State

(metaphysical presence)

(epistemological determination)

(ethical placement/life)

My outline of the covenant (people err by relating the components below dialectically in all of the above structures):





Universal component:



Sovereign Administration

Particular component:



Responsible Reception

The implication of these structures is that the new heart is necessarily a believing heart, and an ethically active heart.  The metaphysical entity is simultaneously, and necessarily, an epistemologically functioning entity, and an ethically active entity.  The whole man is renewed, as an integrated complex of man's metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, as in the words of Eph. 4:24, the new man is "created according to God in righteousness and holiness of the truth."  Interestingly, this passage describes the metaphysical nature of the new entity in terms of the epistemological righteousness imputed to it, and in terms of the ethically active holiness functioning throughout it.  It would seem that there are important ways in which regeneration, justification, and sanctification are in fact each a different perspective on the same integral unit, the new man.  Even such that the righteousness of the new man is not merely external to the new man, but also internal.  This is not to say that the new man's righteousness is based on his good works, but only to say that the righteousness is worked throughout the man as an entity, throughout his epistemology, and throughout his ethics.  Or, perhaps it's better to say that the ontic mode in which the entity exists--the "perfection" of the new man's new creational metaphysics (of his new heart)--has an analogical epistemological mode in that same entity's epistemology--the "righteousness" of his revelational epistemology.  The Reformed distinction and (logical) order of justification -> sanctification, and faith -> works, is retained in the above structures; in both cases, ethics is the outworking of epistemology.  But, a more integral relation is expressed between justification and sanctification, righteousness and holiness, in this description, and I need to both be very careful not to go wrong here, as well as try to see if there are helpful refinements of the Reformed tradition which this way of conceiving of things can provide.

Note:  I mentioned "revelational epistemology" here with the thought that "righteousness," in the NT especially, takes on quite a broad epistemological sense, if the above structures are correct.  Rom. 1-3 is fascinating in relation to this kind of understanding:  God's righteousness is revealed as at once His eternal attributes and divine nature, as His knowledge, as the sum of His saving revelation in Christ, as imputed to us, and as received by faith.  Paul then leads on to a discussion of justification (ch. 5) and sanctification (ch. 6).

You may notice I'm trying to use the doctrine of the covenant as the integrating structure of the whole of systematics; what ties all the loci together.  My outline of the covenant still needs work; it's not yet fully adequate to the task.

There is too much potential here for me to try to develop in an email; that's why I'm trying to write a paper.....sigh.  But I have many questions. 

Sorry to burden you with a long discussion.  Please feel no obligation to reply at any length.  You gave me an opportunity to think this through a bit more; I hope my explanation of what my concern is about explaining not only the distinction but also the relation and connection between justification and sanctification can provide you a similar opportunity for further reflection.


In Christ,