Archive for the ‘Imputation’ Category

Imputation Attested in the Early, Medieval, and even Counter-Reformation Era

November 20, 2012

Pastor David King was of great help in providing the following example of an early church Father, a medieval Father, a Doctor of the Church (according to Rome), and a cardinal of the Roman church, all affirming imputation in some form or other.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): The fragrance of your wisdom comes to us in what we hear, for if anyone needs wisdom let him ask of you and you will give it to him. It is well known that you give to all freely and ungrudgingly. As for your justice, so great is the fragrance it diffuses that you are called not only just but even justice itself, the justice that makes men just. Your power to make men just is measured by your generosity in forgiving. Therefore the man who through sorrow for sin hungers and thirsts for justice, let him trust in the One who changes the sinner into a just man, and, judged righteous in terms of faith alone, he will have peace with God. See Kilian Walsh, O.C.S.O., Bernard of Clairvaux On the Song of Songs II (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, Inc.,1983), Sermon 22.8, p. 20.
Latin text: Porro sapientiae tuae odorem ex eo percipimus quod audivimus quia si quis indiget sapientia, postulet eam a te, et dabis ei. Aiunt siquidem quod des omnibus affluenter, et non improperes. At vero justitiae tuae tanta ubique fragrantia spargitur, ut non solum justus, sed etiam ipsa dicaris justitia, et justitia justificans. Tam validus denique es ad justificandum, quam multus ad ignoscendum. Quamobrem quisquis pro peccatis compunctus esurit et sitit justitiam, credat in te qui justificas impium, et solam justificatus per fidem, pacem habebit ad Deum. Sermones in Cantica, Sermo XXII, §8, PL 183:881D.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Man therefore was lawfully delivered up, but mercifully set free. Yet mercy was shown in such a way that a kind of justice was not lacking even in his liberation, since, as was most fitting for man s recovery, it was part of the mercy of the liberator to employ justice rather than power against man s enemy. For what could man, the slave of sin, fast bound by the devil, do of him self to recover that righteousness which he had formerly lost? Therefore he who lacked righteousness had another’s imputed to him, and in this way: The prince of this world came and found nothing in the Saviour, and because he notwithstanding laid hands on the Innocent he lost most justly those whom he held captive; since He who owed nothing to death, lawfully freed him who was subject to it, both from the debt of death, and the dominion of the devil, by accepting the injustice of death; for with what justice could that be exacted from man a second time? It was man who owed the debt, it was man who paid it. For if one, says S. Paul, died for all, then were all dead (2 Cor. v. 14), so that, as One bore the sins of all, the satisfaction of One is imputed to all. It is not that one forfeited, another satisfied; the Head and body is one, viz., Christ. The Head, therefore, satisfied for the members, Christ for His children, since, according to the Gospel of Paul, by which Peter’s [i.e., Abelard] falsehood is refuted, He who died for us, quickened us together with Himself, forgiving us all our trespasses, blotting out the hand writing of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross, having spoiled principalities and powers (Col. ii. 13, 14). Dom. John Mabillon, ed., Life and Works of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, trans. Samuel J. Eales, Vol. II, Letter CXC – Against Certain Heads of Abaelard’s Heresies, 6.15 (London: Burns and Oates Limited, 1889), pp. 580-581. Cf. Epistola CXC, ad Innocentum II, Pontificem, Tractatus de erroribus Petri Abaelardi, Caput VI, §15, PL 182:1065B-D.

Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621): And in this way, it were not absurd, if any one should say that the righteousness and merits of Christ are imputed unto us, when they are given and applied unto us, as if we ourselves had satisfied God. For translation, see The Works of John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, General Considerations, ed. William H. Goold, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, Third printing, 1977), vol. V, p. 56.
Latin text: Et hoc modo non esset absurdum, si quis diceret nobis imputari Christi justitiam et merita; cum nobis donentur et applicentur; ac si nos ipsi Deo satisfecissemus. Roberti Bellarmini, Opera Omnia, De Controversiis, Tomus Quartus, Pars Prima, De Justificatione (Neapoli: Apud Josephum Giuliano, 1858), Liber II, Caput 10, p. 523.

Bellarmine cannot deny this when he says that Christ can rightly be said to be made righteousness meritoriously “because he satisfied the Father for us, and gives and communicates that satisfaction to us, when he justifies us, so that he can be called our sanctification and righteousness, as if we ourselves had satisfied God” (“De Justificatione,” 2.10 Opera [1858], 4:523). This he confirms on 2 Cor. 5:21: “The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us as to the satisfaction, which he made for us” (ibid., p. 524). Nor can that which our opponent adds in the same place help his cause when he says: “But not on this account can we be reckoned righteous, if the stains and corruption of sins truly inhere in us” (ibid.). For if the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us (as he had already confessed), then certainly we are considered righteous in him; for no one imputes righteousness to him whom he does not count righteous. And if the satisfaction of Christ is imputed to us, then our debts for which he satisfied are not imputed [to us], but are remitted. Falsely also he holds “that the righteousness inhering in us is here called the righteousness of God because it is given to us of God; or also because it is the image and effect of the righteousness of God” (ibid.). For the little clause “in him” stands in the way; for how could it be said to be in Christ, if it was in us? [Cardinal] Contarini acknowledges this: “The righteousness of God in him, since his righteousness is made ours, is given and imputed to us” (cf. “De Justificatione,” Casparis Contareni Cardinalis Opera [1571], p. 592). 

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 652-53, Sixteenth Topic, Third Question, Section XVII, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994)

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466) commenting on Psalm 22:1: Let it [i.e., the LXX] therefore heed John’s loud cry, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and the divinely inspired Paul’s words, “For us he made him to be sin who did not know sin so that we might become righteousness through him,” and again, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us.” So just as the one who was a fount of righteousness assumed our sin, and the one who was an ocean of blessing accepted a curse lying upon us, and scorning shame endured a cross, so too he uttered the words on our behalf. After all, if he willingly submitted to chastisement prescribed for us—“Chastisement of our peace is upon him,” the inspired author says—much more is it the case that it was on our behalf that he employed these words in our person, crying out, The words of my failings are far from saving me: do not have regard to the faults of nature, he is saying, but grant salvation in view of my sufferings. Robert C. Hill, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 101, Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms, 1-72 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), pp. 146-147.

Greek text: Ἀκουσάτωσαν τοίνυν Ἰωάννου τοῦ πάνυ βοῶντος· «Ἴδε ὁ Ἀμνὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ, ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου.» Τοῦ δὲ θεσπεσίου Παύλου λέγοντος·«Τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη ἐν αὐτῷ.» Καὶ πάλιν· «Χριστὸς ἡμᾶς ἐξηγόρασεν ἐκ τῆς κατά ρας τοῦνόμου, γενόμενος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν κατάρα.» Τοιγαροῦν ὥσπερ δικαιοσύνης ὑπάρχων πηγὴ, τὴν ἡμετέραν ἁμαρτίαν ἀνέλαβε, καὶ εὐλογίας ὢν πέλα γος, τὴν ἐπικειμένηνἡμῖν ἐδέξατο κατάραν, καὶ σταυρὸν ὑπέμεινεν αἰσχύνης καταφρονήσας· οὕτω καὶ τοὺς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐποιήσατο λόγους. Εἰ γὰρ τὴν ὡρισμένην ὑμῖν παιδείαν ὑπῆλθενἑκών· «Παιδεία γὰρ εἰρήνης ἡμῶν ἐπʼ αὐτὸν,» ᾗ φησιν ὁ προφήτης· πολλῷ μᾶλλον τοῖς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἀνθʼ ἡμῶν ἐχρήσατο λόγοις, καὶ βοᾷ «Μακρὰν ἀπὸ τῆςσωτηρίας μου οἱ λόγοι τῶν παραπτωμάτων μου.» Μὴ ἀποβλέψῃς, φησὶν, εἰς τὰ τῆς φύσεως πλημμελήματα· ἀλλὰ δὸς τὴν σωτηρίαν διὰ τὰ ἐμὰ παθήματα. Interpretatio in Psalmos, Psalmi XXI, v. 1, PG 80:1012.

Addendum, thanks to Bruce McCormack’s Justification in Perspective:

Ambrosiaster (fl. 4th century): This he says, that without the works of the law, to an impious person (that is, a Gentile) believing in Christ, his faith is imputed for righteousness, as it was to Abraham. How then can the Jews imagine that through the works of the law they are justified with Abraham’s justification, when they see that Abraham was justified not from the works of the law, but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law, since an impious person is justified with God through faith alone. Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, on Romans 4:5 (PL 17:86).

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225): In short, faith in one of two gods cannot possibly admit us to the dispensation of the other, so that it should impute righteousness to those who believe in him, and make the just live through him, and declare the Gentiles to be his children through faith. Such a dispensation as this belongs wholly to Him through whose appointment it was already made known by the call of this self-same Abraham, as is conclusively shown by the natural meaning. Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 5, Chapter 3 (see here).


Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ and John Calvin

May 2, 2012

There is not any doubt that Calvin taught that we are justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ (see Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 13, and Book 4, Chapter 14).  Moreover, in general it seems that most Reformed historians conclude with Francis Turretin that Calvin taught that specifically the active obedience of Christ, and not only his passive obedience, is imputed to believers.

Nevertheless, since the question of whether Calvin taught that the active obedience of Christ is imputed to believers, I thought I would provide a link to Cornelius Venema’s careful treatment of the matter (link to pdf), in contrast to certain rash treatments of the matter that exist.

The very short answer is that the “active/passive” distinction is a later development, but Calvin’s doctrine with respect to imputation is more consistent with the imputation of active obedience, because he distinguishes between imputation of righteousness and forgiveness of sins, and because he treats all of Christ’s obedience as indispensable.

– TurretinFan

The Real Turretin on: Imputation

April 27, 2008

Turrettin (Theol. Elench. Quaest. IX., p. 678) says, “Imputation is either of something foreign to us, or of something properly our own. Sometimes that is imputed to us which is personally ours; in which sense God imputes to sinners their transgressions. Some times that is imputed which is without us, and not performed by ourselves; thus the righteousness of Christ is said to be imputed to us, and our sins are imputed to him, although he has neither sin in himself, nor we righteousness. Here we speak of the latter kind of imputation, not of the former, because we are treating of a sin committed by Adam, not by us.” The ground of this imputation is the union between Adam and his posterity. This union is not a mysterious identity of person, but, 1. “Natural, as he is the father, and we are the children. 2. Political and forensic, as he was the representative head and chief of the whole human race. The foundation, therefore, of imputation is not only the natural connection which exists between us and Adam, since in that case all his sins might be imputed to us, but mainly the moral and federal, in virtue of which God entered into covenant with him as our head.” Again, “We are constituted sinners in Adam in the same way in which we are constituted righteous in Christ.”

Again, (Vol. II., p. 707,) to impute, he says, “is a forensic term, which is not to be understood physically of the infusion of righteousness, but judicially and relatively.” Imputation does not alter the moral character; hence the same individual
may, in different respects, be called both just and unjust: “For when reference is had to the inherent quality, he is called a sinner and ungodly; but when the external and forensic relation to Christ is regarded, he is pronounced just in Christ.” “When God justifies us on account of the righteousness of Christ, his judgment is still according to truth; because he does not pronounce us just in ourselves subjectively, which would be false, but in another putatively and relatively.”

(source, C. Hodge’s Commentary on Romans – pp. 280-281)


Misconceptions about Roman Catholicism: Works Salvation

February 29, 2008

This post is intended to be part of series on misconceptions about Roman Catholicism. In this post, we address the issue of works salvation. Roman Catholicism, according to the Reformation, teaches works salvation.

What we do not mean:

1) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism teaches that man unassisted by grace merits salvation.
2) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism denies the necessity of grace.
3) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism is fully Pelagian.
4) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism denies a role for grace at every stage of salvation.
5) We do not mean that Roman Catholicism denies any role for Christ’s sacrifice in salvation.

We admit:

1) We admit that Roman Catholicism teaches that grace is necessary for salvation.
2) We admit that Roman Catholicism teaches that grace is involved at every point in salvation.
3) We admit that Roman Catholicism ascribes great importance to grace.
4) We admit that Roman Catholicism condemns Pelagianism.
5) We admit that Roman Catholicism views good works as the product of grace.
6) We admit that Roman Catholicism has a role for the sacrifice of Christ in salvation.


We criticize the Roman Catholic position as teaching works-salvation, because of a semi-Peligian error: the ascription of a role for human cooperation in salvation. We view Roman Catholicism as teaching works-salvation because:

1) Roman Catholicism teaches that cooperation with grace is also necessary for salvation. (“by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace” – Trent, Session 6, Chapter 5, see also Canons IV and IX on Justification)

2) Roman Catholicism teaches that cooperation with grace is necessary at many points in salvation. (Ibid, chapters 7 (“the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation”) and 10 (“they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified”),

3) Roman Catholicism condemns monergism (“CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” – “CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.”).

4) Roman Catholicism teaches the meritorious value of good works performed by mere men (“CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.”).

5) Roman Catholicism teaches final justification based on actual (infused) righteousness (“For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God” … “Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ. “).

6) Roman Catholicism teaches that it is possible for human beings to expiate sin through acts of contrition. (Trent, Fourteenth Session, Chapter 5, “For venial sins, whereby we are not excluded from the grace of God, and into which we fall more frequently, although they be rightly and profitably, and without any presumption declared in confession, as the custom of pious persons demonstrates, yet may they be omitted without guilt, and be expiated by many other remedies.”)

7) Roman Catholicism teaches that Purgatory removes the guilt of sin (Trent, Twenty-Fifth Session, Decree Concerning Purgatory: “there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar;” “CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.”).

Therefore, for these reasons, we hold that Rome teaches salvation by works, in contravention of the Scriptural doctirnes of sola gratia and sola fide. We criticize the Roman Catholic position as teaching works-salvation, because of a semi-Peligian error: the ascription of a role for human cooperation in salvation. We, of course, do not conflate that particular semi-Pelagian error with historic Semi-Pelagianism in all its minutiae, nor is the label the point. The point is that works salvation is not the gospel and will not save.

We preach a different gospel: a gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and

To the glory of God alone,


The real Turretin on: Imputation vs. Infusion

February 18, 2008

Turretin, on the topic of whether Justification is by imputation or infusion writes:

“Unde colligitur vocem hanc esse forensem quae non est intelligenda physice de infusione justitiae sed judicialiter et relative de gratuita acceptione in judicio dei.”

Turretin’s Works, Edinburgh edit., vol. ii., p. 570.

Which, being interpreted is:

“Whence it may be inferred that this word (to impute) is not to be understood physically of the infusion of righteousness (or unrighteousness), but judicially and relatively regarding gratuitous acceptance in the judgment of God.”



The Real Turretin on: Imputation

January 27, 2008

Over at Beholding the Beauty we find a brief quotation from Turretin on imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience to us, believers (link), sandwiched between Ussher and Wollebius. Oh well. Good stuff.

Rating the Messiah

January 24, 2008

Nick Norelli makes a good point here, that the statement: “Jesus Christ is Overrated,” is dead wrong. (link)

It’s impossible to overrate Jesus, unless one were to try to make him greater than the Father.

Instead, the second person of the Trinity is consistently underrated. He was despised and rejected; he had no honor in his own country; he came into the world, and unto his own, and was not generally received.

Islam, while even while superstitiously muttering “[may] peace be upon him” underrates the Messiah as merely a great prophet.

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. It is impossible for us to give Him all the honor and praise he deserves. He is worthy of all our praise, and we are inadequate to the task of giving him what he is due.

Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ’s righteousness will be held to our account, for He honored the Father in all that He did,


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